Right from the onset, the Bible gives clear descriptions and instructions concerning the male and female genders. These are well spread out in the Bible. However, when we go further in, we meet Peter, in 1 Peter 3:7, who refers to women as weaker vessels. Huh? Did Peter live in a different time from when women would carry pregnancies for nine months…and then labour after? Did he not live in a time when women worked in their homes, cooked, cleaned, ironed, planned the home etc. So what does Peter really mean when he highlights women as weaker vessels? Could he mean that they are more vulnerable physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally?
These are some questions that I genuinely grappled with, and I suspect I am not alone. I remember bumping into a video on social media showing how men and women live with the flu differently. The video portrayed the woman working around the home as she battled with her flu while the man stayed covered in bed. I found the video very funny, realising that it was, of course, meant for entertainment purposes. Nevertheless, it all the more stirred my battle with Peter’s words. Therefore, I resorted to searching through the scriptures to get an understanding. Hence, this article seeks to offer a Biblical response to the question of women being weaker vessels.
What it does not mean
If God is the one who created both men and women (Genesis 1:27) and the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), why would God, through Peter, call women weaker vessels? This should assure us that Peter is not commenting negatively or ignorantly about women’s abilities. From his tone and message, we can infer that he is not implying that women are less of God’s creation than men, nor does he mean that women have less significance in God’s eyes. We should also not assume that women are inferior spiritually, mentally, character-wise or in any way that would be contrary to the heart of Jesus and what he thinks of women.
A few examples in the Bible let us in on God’s heart for women. For instance, during the time of Christ, Rabbis would usually just choose men as disciples, while Jesus had both men and women (Matthew 12:48-49). These men would sit at their Rabbi’s feet to learn from them. Jesus affirms women when he allows Mary to sit at his feet and tells Martha that Mary has chosen the good portion (Luke 10:38-42). Paul in Galatians also highlights that every man and woman has the same identity in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
Context is Key
Even before we answer the question of what Peter means, we must be careful to understand the context of Peter’s words. Context is important because it keeps us from misinterpretation, faulty theology and confusion. Meaning is derived not only from the passage itself but also from the passage surrounding it. Each verse connects to the surrounding verses, thus connecting the whole passage.
As we read this part of scripture, it is easy to think that Peter encourages the old patriarchal system where women are seen as less valuable than men. Peter, in this verse, is giving a command to husbands to live in understanding with their wives as “weaker vessels.” Why? Because: 1. They are heirs with them of the grace of life (Galatians 3:28) and 2. So that their prayers may not be hindered. The idea, however, has an earlier genesis; Peter calls Christians to live in a God-honouring manner amongst non-believers so that they may see their good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:11-12). He then calls them to do so by submitting to authority (2:13-25), servants to be subject to their masters (2:18-25), and now in this passage, he instructs wives to honour their non-believing husbands (1 Peter 3:1-6) and husbands to honour their wives as weaker vessels.
The weaker vessels
The word ‘vessel’ is used in the New Testament to refer to our physical bodies; thus, the verse points out that women have less physical strength than men. This does not mean that women are not strong physically (Note: he does not say women are weak, he says they are weaker). “This difference is not a disadvantage in the body of Christ; it is in God’s beautiful design. Elizabeth Elliot said, “Our inequalities are… essential to the image of God.” She wasn’t saying that the worth or value of men and women is unequal. She simply means that we are different, with distinct but overlapping roles/strengths.”
In light of this truth, men are to take special care of their female counterparts in circumstances where physical strength is required. This should not be done begrudgingly because it is a command from the One who searches hearts. Therefore, men need to understand their position in God’s design to partake of their role joyfully and, consequently, have their prayers unhindered, a definite win.
Ladies, we have access to everything we need in Christ. We must never forget who we are in Christ as women so that we do not fall prey to the lies of this age. We are equal yet different from men. There is, therefore, absolutely no reason why we should compare ourselves with men. Our roles are defined, and it is up to us to seek to live out our God-given purpose. While at this, let us look to Christ and rejoice in the glory of feminine strength defined and found in Him.
- A-typical Woman by Abigail Dodds