Peter is explaining to his powerless readers, who are resident aliens and temporary residents, how to live as Christians within the Roman Empire. The principle that shapes his thinking is found in 2:11-12, and that principle is to avoid sin and to do good. This, he says, will make the maximum impact. First, he addresses how to relate to the State, and then how household slaves are to relate to their masters, and then he turns to wives and husbands. What does he say? How do you approach this text? Do you “transfer” or “adjust” or “repudiate”?
In short order, Peter encourages the women of unbelieving husbands to live “within the order” in order to “gain” their husbands for the faith. They are to dress modestly, they are to speak to their husbands respectfully. Husbands are to be sensitive and considerate so their prayers will not be hindered. Is this for today?
Today and tomorrow I want to look at radical and liberal feminist approaches to a text like this, and then on Friday I will look at evangelical feminist and traditionalist approaches. In each case we are deal with “types” and not addressing all the nuances that attend each view. This approach derives from my reading of A.C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics.
Feminists read the Bible through the lens of their own history, both socio-politically (the suffrage, womens’ rights, ERA, etc) and personally (the individual feminist’s realities), and come to the conclusion that the text is a “text of terror” that seeks to use power to prevent women for attaining a just and equal standing.
1.0 Radical feminism
The method of radical feminism is called a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” That is, the approach to the text suspects that an ideology of male power is involved in the substance of the text. And along with this approach to the text is the foundational directive force of female experience of oppression. Thus, the text of 1 Peter 3:1-7 is about male power being used to keep women in their place. The response of the radical feminist is to rebel against such categories and injunctions in order to pursue equality and justice. In effect, the entire biblical tradition can be repudiated and the seams and corners of the text investigated to find the “real” condition of women.
2.0 Liberal Christian feminism (for want of a better expression)
Once again, a hermeneutic of suspicion comes into play and in many ways this approach is the same. However, the Liberal Christian approach seeks to salvage something from the biblical texts, even texts like 1 Peter 3:1-7. There are elements of the biblical tradition, like justice and peace and the like, that are to be retrieved and there are other elements that are to be repudiated (like male leadership and female submission). That which is to be retrieved derives from a hermeneutic that knows what it wants and many times what it wants (equal rights, for example) are derived as much from outside factors as inside (the Bible) factors. The most significant element of the biblical tradition is liberation, and liberation is used as a “canon within a canon”.
In brief, for this group most of what is said in 1 Peter 3:1-7 is repudiated, though the impact of women at the spiritual level will be observed and retrieved. Thus, submission, modest attire, the inculcation of quiet behaviors, submissive address to their husbands — these are repudiated.
Tomorrow I’ll look at how evangelical feminists have looked at this text, along with the traditional view.