Weak Women? (Doriani)

Sometimes Christians read 1 Peter 3:7 and come to the wrong conclusion that women are inferior to men in many ways. Sometimes people read Peter’s phrase “the weaker vessel” and take it out of context while forgetting so much other biblical teaching about women. This makes some Christians believe all women are always weaker than men physically, intellectually, morally, etc.

This thinking, however, is not biblical. In fact, the prevalent view of secular Greco-Roman culture in Paul’s day was that women were inferior to men in every way. Some Jewish teachers also said similar things about women. But if you think biblically about Peter’s phrase in 1 Peter 3:7, it becomes evident that the phrase “weaker vessel” is a generalization. Typically, women are not as physically strong as men. Men’s bodies are different than women’s bodies. But Peter doesn’t say that all women are weak and he isn’t saying that women are less intelligent or inferior in morality. In fact, I know women who are stronger and smarter than me in various ways.

We might think about the Proverbs 31 woman. She is quite tough! She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong (31:17). The theme of her strength is repeated in 31:25: “She is clothed with strength and honor” (NET). This woman is a strong and hard working woman who speaks with wise intelligence. The song of Deborah in Judges 5 also highlights the prophetess as a protector of Israel. In this song Jael is also praised for how she brilliantly and courageously killed Sisera. Abagail is another example of female courage and wisdom. She bravely stepped in front of David when he was raging in anger as he attempted to kill the fool Nabal. She then gave David wise counsel that prevented David from murder. David later praised God for her and praised her for her good judgment (1 Sam. 25:32-33). Or think about the woman from Abel-Beth-Maacah in northern Israel during David’s reign. Joab was bent on destroying the city to kill the scoundrel Sheba. But a “peaceful” and “wise” leading woman of the city bravely talked Joab down and saved the city from destruction. Everyone there followed her wise counsel (2 Sam. 20:17-22). From a different angle, it’s important to note that when God calls his people to be strong and courageous (e.g. Ps. 31:24, 1 Cor 16:13) it’s not just a call for men. It’s a call for all who trust in the Lord – men and women, young and old!

There are other stories and places in Scripture that clearly show how women exemplify courage, wisdom, intelligence, and strength. We have to remember all those places in Scripture about women when we interpret the phrase “weaker vessel” in 1 Peter 3:7. This will help keep us from having an unbiblical view about women. Furthermore, don’t forget about the context of 1 Peter 3:7. Husbands are to “honor” their wives and be very understanding towards them because their wives are equally co-heirs of grace.

I like how Daniel Doriani puts it in his comments on 1 Peter 3:7. (Note: I’d kindly argue with this phrase below: “…no part of Christian tradition promotes it.”)

Peter simply means that women are, generally, physically weaker than men. There are many exceptions, but taken as a whole, men are larger and stronger than women. Some say that women are more vulnerable emotionally, although that is disputed, and in most societies women are economically dependent on their husbands. In Peter’s age, Jews and Greeks commonly also viewed women as being weaker morally and mentally. But Scripture never says that, and no part of Christian tradition promotes it.

On the contrary, a Christian husband must honor women, and especially his wife. Physically, she is probably weaker, but spiritually she is a joint heir of grace. At a minimum, husbands must never bully, threaten, or strike their wives, nor should they demean their wives for being weak or slow-footed. Marriage is a union of two weak and sinful people, even if we are weak and sinful in different ways.

Doriani, Daniel M. 1 Peter. Edited by Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani. Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015