*This post is the first in a new category entitled “Big Ryan”. The posts in this category are written by my husband affectionately referred to as Big Ryan since the birth of our daughter, his namesake. This post is in response to my recent post, “Myths of a Submissive Wife”.*
In response to my lovely wife’s blog on being a “submissive wife”, I would like to add some comments of my own from a husband’s standpoint. However, rather than focusing on Ephesians 5:22, where this term is taken, I would like to look at 1 Peter 3:7.
This verse is a popular weapon in the arsenal of those who would seek to denounce the so called sexist and domineering Biblical relationship between a husband and wife. The most commonly quoted version of this verse states, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the weaker vessel/partner.” Wait a minute, hold the phone…does the Bible really call women THE weaker vessel? What kind of self-respecting woman would choose to admit that women are weaker than men? No, it doesn’t mean physically weaker. It means the weaker sex, or so this is the argument.
In the field of psychology, there is a phrase known as “learned helplessness”. This phrase was coined based on the results of an experiment, in which dogs were placed in cages that would periodically deliver a shock through the floor of the cage into the dog’s paws. The cage would setup in a manner that allowed the dogs to jump back and forth between two different sides of the cage. When a shock was delivered, the dog instinctively jumped to the other side of the cage in order to get away from the shock sensation. However, the shock would then be delivered to the side they retreated to. (Obviously, there weren’t as many animal protection considerations during this time. I think a few organizations would have a field day with this today!) What eventually happened is the dog realized he could not get away from this shock no matter what he did; therefore, the dog would just lie down and accept the shock. Hence, the term “learned helplessness” was invented.
This is what I liken the idea to of women being the weaker vessel. They have no control. They do what they are told. They are at the mercy of their husband. It is a form of psychological abuse in which helplessness is enforced upon you until you accept it.
Having said all of that, there are a few major issues with the translation of this verse that need to be addressed. R.A. Torrey was a well-known American evangelist and pastor who warned people to watch out for a “minute modification of what the Bible really says”. So let’s take a look at the entire verse, because the second part is commonly and conveniently left out.
“Likewise, husband’s live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Now, the first major consideration can be filed under reading comprehension 101. Often this verse is translated to refer to the behavior of “Christian” men and how they treat women in general. Notice it says “husbands” and “wives” not “men” and “women”. The verse is stating how 1 man should treat 1 woman under the Biblical context and vows of marriage. It does not say to tell your wife to submit to your authority. It says to treat her in an understanding way, to be considerate and empathetic towards her. Furthermore, it says to show her “honor”. If you are a manly action movie buff and have seen such films as “Men of Honor” or “The Last Samurai”, you will understand the significance of this word. To honor her means to hold her in high regard or esteem, such as you would with someone you look up to or who is superior to yourself.
The second major consideration is the use of the word “as”. Note, it does not say “show honor to the weaker vessel” but rather “as the weaker vessel”. If you paid attention all those years ago in English class, you will remember the word “as” is known as a simile. A simile is a rhetorical figure that expresses comparison of the predicate (weaker vessel) to the subject (woman). Compare this to a similar Biblical example: “Behold, I send you out as sheep amongst wolves” (Matthew 10:16). But why would it use the word weaker? In what way is she weaker? Is it because she was the first to be deceived by Lucifer? In the annals of history, women have taken just as large a part, if not larger in defining and shaping the world. Women serve in every profession a man does today. Studies are even beginning to show men cannot endure the labor pains of giving birth (pretty funny videos if you have not seen them). The Proverbs 31 woman is someone to be reckoned with. But I think there is more to it than that. To quote the great Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think.” When I think of a vessel, I think of either a ship or a piece of pottery. The latter being the more appropriate in this case, since God is called The Potter. When a master potter creates a fine piece of pottery, a vessel if you will, you treat it with respect. You honor it. The weakness does not illustrate fragility like fine china; it illustrates treating her with respect as the work of a master craftsman. This idea of weakness is further denounced when we look at the third consideration.
“They are heirs with you in the grace of life”. Wives are heirs in life with their husbands, not subordinates or submissive servants. Wives stand equal to husbands in the eyes of God. There was a reference I once heard made in reference to when God created Eve from Adam’s rib. God did not take a bone from his head to lord over him, nor did he take a bone from Adam’s foot to be trampled by him. God took a bone from his side, next to his heart, so that she may walk side-by-side with him through life. This simple notion is tied to the spiritual wellness of the husband when God says “so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Put simply, do what I say or you’re on your own, a Biblical notion of “my way or the highway”.
One final thing I would like to point out is this: Jesus calls us the bride and he is our bridegroom. In essence we are all weaker vessels. No distinction is made between men and women on this point. We are all joint heirs of the grace of God and His kingdom. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be from God and not of ourselves…for momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 18)