How do evangelical feminists and traditionalists look at 1 Peter 3:1-7? If the feminist approach is basically one of a hermeneutic of suspicion and repudiation/retrieval, how do evangelical feminists approach such texts — text asking women to be “submissive”?
3.0 Evangelical feminists
The approach of an evangelical feminist is a hermeneutic of (guarded) trust. That is, the text can be trusted, but that text has to be approached through two other grids: (1) the history of its abuse by men who have been anything but sensitive (as is taught in 3:7) and (2) the historical conditioning of the text for its time: it is 1st Century, it is a different day and out of a different culture. That is, the text can be trusted but it must be interpreted and adjusted because the “order” has changed. With the changing of order comes the changing of expectations and how Christians live within the order.
Here is where our series on seeing 1 Peter as “emerging” theology comes into play. An evangelical feminist knows that Peter was giving advice to a set of Christians in the 1st Century on how to live in the Roman world. And how they were to live would (to use Steve Taylor’s expression) “mix” Jewish, Christian, and Roman, not to mention specific Asia Minor codes into a healthy new brew of lifestyle. The evangelical feminist says: “Yes, that is it: this is how to live then but not necessarily how to live now. But, we learn from this text both how to flesh out our Christian existence and how the Church has taught us to live.”
Furthermore, most evangelical feminists realize that the early Christian message was one of spiritual equality that was itself finding its way even within the Christian world, and a text like Galatians 3:28 would be the magna charta for some ongoing developments in the Church. That text, however, was too early snuffed out by hierarchy and male leadership, so the seeds that were sown did not blossom at the time. It is now time.
And one way of seeing this in the text is to see that Peter does not ground “living within the order” as good but as something done “because of the Lord” (2:13). In other words, he sees a certain amount of freedom for the Christian but it would be bad for the gospel to live out that freedom and create anarchy and chaos everyhwere. Time, however, would alter that “order” and when that time came new behaviors would be in place.
Hence, to “live within the order” means two things — one thing for women in Peter’s day and another thing for women in our day. Since the “order” has changed (who would dispute this?), so living “within the order” has changed. That means that this text can be mined for clues on how to live today: women are to do what is right in order to win their husbands, and they are to dress modestly, but “modesty” today means something different than it did then, and women are to inculcate piety and virtue and to speak respectfully to their husbands — not because of male domination but because it is good and loving for equals to treat one another this way. There are lots of issues to discuss here, but I recommend Kroeger and Evans, The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, pp. 784-788.
The approach is a hermeneutic of trust and a critique of culture. That is, the cultural shaping of the 1st Century, by and large, is not to be laid aside but preserved (always with some kind of adjustments). The weight is given to the critique of culture by this text. The feminist movement is not good; it has wreaked havoc on families and culture, and it comes because of departure from the clear teachings of Scripture, and the Christian’s responsibility is to regain that teaching.
In short, God’s hierarchical plan is God/Christ/Males/Females/Children. This plan is to be applied in our world with a minimum of restructuring. The text has control, in spite of experience and in spite of culture. The so-called equality principle of Galatians 3:28 pertains to the spiritual relationship rather than to the social and ecclesial relationships. It should be clear that this approach has a fuller theological scope that is only partly expressed in 1 Peter 3:1-7, and that approach is that hierarchy is inherent to God and his created order, and that the roles of men and women are assigned by God in a complementarian way.
So, women are to submit to their husbands’ leaderly headship; they are to dress modestly; they are to address their husbands with respect; their roles are complementarian. Husbands are to be leaders; they are to be godly and priestly in approach; they are to be sensitive, ever looking after the good of their wives and families.
Next Monday I’ll look specifically at what the text says to husbands.