1 Peter 3: The Example of Sarah


Peter enjoined Christian wives married to men who did not share their faith to live in a [Godfearing] pure manner of life in the same way Jesus did, using Jesus’ life as the example for their own. By doing so, their husbands—who were not believing or obeying the Word (logos) might be won over without a word.

Peter offered some practical ways to live honorably, by making their transformed life their chief “adornment” rather than their jewels, fine clothing, and costly hair styles. Now, Peter would point to the founding matriarch of the Jewish people as a fine example of what he was seeking to describe.

In researching this post, I turned to the insightful work of Bruce C. E. Fleming in his book “Familiar Leadership Heresies Uncovered.” He also provides a deep dive into these verses in workshops found on the YouTube channel Tru316 Project Genesis 3:16 and beyond.


Sarah, Founding Matriarch

It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by [accepting the authority](1) of their husbands. Thus Sarah [obeyed](3) Abraham and called him [lord](2). You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you.

1 Peter 3:4-5 (NRSV)

I think the above is a fairly representative translation of what is found in most English Bibles. However, there are some misleading aspects to this translation that—though the words themselves -are- translated accurately (more or less)—will leave us with the wrong impression of Peter’s intention.

HUPOTASSO

  1. The first bracketed phrase, [accepting the authority], is derived from the Greek verb ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso, featured in Thursday’s post. A versatile word, it seems best to use the most likely meaning of willing cooperation. In fact, Peter used the exact same phrase with these godly women of antiquity that he used in his instructions to Christian wives married to unbelieving husbands. The better translation is, “It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by willingly cooperating with their own husbands

A close look at what Abraham asked of Sarah, to risk her life to save his, actually exposed a deep breach in their relationship, a rupture God personally attended to in gentle rebuke of Abraham, and affirmation of Sarah (you can learn about that here).

During those events, though Sarah complied with Abraham, she had little choice, and Abraham put countless lives at risk, as well as his marriage, the life of Sarah his wife, and even the glorious future and covenant promises God had given him. It was only by God’s direct intervention in both situations that the Lord’s promise to Abraham (which was also meant for Sarah) was preserved. These two episodes cannot have been in Peter’s mind as examples to follow.

KURIOS

  1. It was, in fact, on the occasion God came to speak with Abraham, and to convey the Lord’s astonishing prophecy that Sarah would be integrally involved in the formation of the people of God, that Sarah called Abraham “lord.” Only, the word Peter used, κύριος, kurios, -can- mean lord, or -can- mean Lord (as in the Lord God), or -can- mean, simply, sire. We might say “sir,” today.

The Apostle Paul often meant the Lord when he used the word kurios, but in the circumstances when Sarah called Abraham the equivalent of kurios (וַֽאדֹנִ֖י in Hebrew, adon), she was thinking the word to herself.

Then one [the Lord God] said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”

Genesis 18:10-12 (NRSV)

Did you miss it?

That is because some translations do not translate adon as lord in this context, it is translated as husband. Nevertheless, Peter’s point is made. Despite everything,

  • despite the way Abraham had treated Sarah, indicating she was not important to God’s plan,
  • that Abraham was vital to God’s covenant, but Sarah was replaceable,
  • despite having risked her life and their marriage, not once but twice,
  • despite Abraham agreeing to take Hagar as his consort

. . . Sarah still honored her husband.  

HUPAKOUO

  1. [Obeyed] In Greek, ὑπακούω, hupakouo, is better translated to give heed,  hearken, listen to, regard, answer, yield, concede. It has a different feeling to it than simply to obey. If Peter had wanted to convey being obedient, he would have used the word πειθαρχώ, peitharxo, which -only- means obey.

So when did Sarah hearken, or give heed, or yield, to Abraham? Throughout their marriage. When Abraham decided to follow the call of an unknown God, Sarah yielded. When Abraham wanted to protect his life above hers, Sarah yielded. When Abraham agreed to Sarah’s plan of a surrogate, she yielded.

Sarah put her hope in God instead of giving way to fear.

And God had come through for Sarah. God supernaturally protected her from being made the wife of Pharaoh or Abimelech. God made sure Sarah was restored to Abraham intact and unharmed, and that both Abraham’s and Sarah’s lives and livelihood would be safeguarded.

In the same way, Peter counseled, You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you.

Husbands of Unbelieving Wives

Though there were many more women than men who were married to nonChristians, still, there were some men who needed the same encouragement and instruction.

In the same way, husbands live together [with unbelieving wives] according to knowledge: this wife is a weaker vessel, giving honor, and this one is a co-heir of grace of life, as your prayers not be hindered.

1 Peter 3:7 (my translation)

In the same way.

In the same way as what?

In the same way as Peter had instructed the wives of unbelieving husbands, so now Peter was instructing the husbands of unbelieving wives.

In the same way Christian wives followed the example of Christ, so Christian husbands are to follow the example of Christ.

In the same way that nonChristian husbands might be won over to The Word without a word, through the believing wife’s Godfearing and pure manner of life, so might the nonChristian wife be won over.

The Christian husband is to be considerate of his wife, honoring his wife, understanding that though she may be the weaker vessel, spiritually, still, she is his partner in the grace of life.  

Paul had already reassured believers married to nonChristians that

The unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

1 Corinthian 7:14 (NRSV)

In this way, the husband’s prayer for his wife, that she might also come to saving faith in Christ, will not be hindered.


[Heracles and Omphale, Roman fresco, Pompeian Fourth Style (45–79 AD), Naples National Archaeological Museum, Italy | By Stefano Bolognini – Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3572377

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