Friday, December 08, 2006

Thoughts on 1 Peter 3:7 and the "Weaker" Vessel

In my estimation, marginalization and oppression can ultimately be traced to a combination of sin and raw physical power. White Europeans oppressed Native Americans both because they wanted to, and because they could (they had greater physical superiority through weaponry and numbers). We in the United States enslaved Africans for the same reason. It is latent within the fallen psyche for the greater to oppress the weaker. Simply put, to the strong goes the spoils.

In my mind, this same dialect between physical power and oppression applies to the relationship between the sexes. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter refers to the woman as the “weaker” vessel. It seems evident that the weakness Peter has in mind is physical (as opposed to moral, intellectual, or spiritual weakness). It is because of this weakness that women so often suffer under the hands of men. And I am not referring simply to physical suffering. Historically speaking, virtually every culture has marginalized women. At a root level, it is because men are physically stronger than women that women are marginalized. If women possessed the same physical power as men, oppression and marginalization would be not take place. Of course, the relationship between physical power and oppression is masked in our civilized, Christian/post-Christian, law-abiding culture. But the privileged status of women within our culture is only there because of the thin veneer of civilization that masks and restrains the Beelzebub that lies beneath the male psyche. It is in fact, only in a civilized culture that protects the equality of women with the use of force that we can even have a discussion about the equality of men and women. So what are we to make of the inherent physical inequality that exists between men and women? Should we be for it or against it?

Lest we suppose that the greater physical strength of the man is a product of the fall, it seems evident that the vulnerability of the woman is part of God’s original design. Too often the complementarian/egalitarian debate gets lost in a discussion about what should be, rather than embracing what is. Peter is not saying that women should be vulnerable before men; he is saying that they are. There is nothing that we can do to change this reality. I often get the sense when interacting with egalitarians that they resent the vulnerability of the woman before the man. For many egalitarians, equality of power is the ultimate goal. As long as the woman is vulnerable before the man, the egalitarian goal has not been realized. Complete independence from the dominance of men is what this form of egalitarianism seeks. But God does not desire the woman to be independent from the man (or man from the woman). He detests the abuse of power to be sure, but the imbalance of physical power is by his design. I fear that many egalitarians are balking at an inevitable God-ordained inequality, when what they should be fighting against is the abuse of this inequality.

In light of such chronic abuse, one appropriately wonders why God created women with an inherent physical weakness that so easily translates into marginalization. Why make one sex vulnerable before the other? I think that there is no way of satisfactorily answering this question—or the questions regarding “gender roles”—without considering the typological relationship that exists between human gender and the divine anti-type. God created the woman to be vulnerable and dependent upon the man as a reflection of the Church’s vulnerability and dependence upon Christ. It should not be our goal to help women be less vulnerable before men—which is physically impossible anyway—but rather to work toward the realization of the image of Christ’s self-sacrificial relationship to the Church.

Women by their very nature will always be vulnerable before men. The call of Christ is not to pursue an ill-fated attempt to abolish this vulnerability, but rather to protect and honor women in the midst of it . The man is to use his God-given strength for the exaltation and honoring of the woman. This is the way of Christ, who used his greater power for the exaltation and honoring of his beloved.


h said...

I agree when you state the weaker vessel means STRENGTH wise or phyically. They are to protect those that are weaker - both genders are asked to do this all thru the bible. Weaker in alot of ways not just strength! I mean think about it we are to take care of the widows, elderly, sick and emotionally and physically or spiritually weaker! NOT because we are better or higher, but because God wishes you to do this in love - which is his way in everything.

1 Peter 3:7 I believe also points to the fact that is you abuse your privilege because you are STRONGER you compromise your relationship with God. You don't only neglect and abuse your relationship with your wife, but you ruin your relationship with God. She is your Co-Heir to Grace, and she may be weaker in strength but that doesn't mean LESS THAN!

Anonymous said...

Having been in an abusive relationship, I want to say that I agree with you. I am 100% against abuse. Hate it more than you can imagine, but I have also resisted the typical response among counselors and authors (even Christian ones) that the answer is to make me less vulnerable. I AM vulnerable. My husband misused his God-given strength. I fled. He continues to misuse his God-given strength and even the law and a divorce do not protect me as I long to protected.

But my healing has come through trusting God in my vulnerability, not in trying to become less vulnerable. Not in seeking to destroy, outwit, overcome or beat my husband in his power games (which continue because of our children and how he can "play the law" in his favor).

It is hard to explain, but mainly I wanted to thank you for stating what I have come to believe even more strongly after suffering abuse of power in the most intimate relationship, designed to reflect God's relationship with us.

Gerald said...


Thanks for your affirmation. Given your first-hand experience with abuse, your words carry more weight than my own.

God's blessing and protection to you.