Does 1 Peter condone Domestic Violence?

In his first letter, the Apostle Peter directs the following words to wives:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live, having observed your pure lives lived with respect. (1 Peter 3.1–2)

These words have sometimes been used to expect victims of domestic violence to remain within their abusive relationships. Women are seen to be encouraged to put up with suffering under domestic abuse for the sake of the salvation of their spouses.

First of all, let me say straight up that domestic violence is always wrong. Always. There is never a time that domestic violence should be condoned or encouraged. Never. Ever.

Second, I believe that using Peter’s words here to encourage victims of domestic violence to remain in abusive situations is a complete misunderstanding and misuse of Scripture. Let me explain why I believe that.

Peter, the author of this letter, is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was one of the Twelve—the inner circle whom Jesus handpicked. The Twelve were Jewish men—evocative of the twelve tribes of Israel. The symbolism of twelve Jewish men points specifically to the establishment of a new people of God. In other words, in appointing the Twelve, Jesus was deliberately starting a new movement that he defined as a new people of God, but with specifically Jewish roots. He was viewing the people that would grow around him and the Twelve as the faithful remnant of Israel.

It’s no wonder, then, that Peter was seen as an Apostle to Jews. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul, who was considered an Apostle to Gentiles, describes his encounter with the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (who were all Jewish) as follows:

…they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised. For the one working through Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised also worked through me for the Gentiles. (Galatians 2.7–8)

Paul acknowledges that Peter was specifically commissioned to minister among Jewish people (the circumcised), while he, Paul, was commissioned to minister as an Apostle to the Gentiles.

Why is this important?

It’s important because Peter’s vocation as an Apostle to the Jews (i.e. the circumcised) is on display in the way he opens his letter. I’m offering my own translation of the Greek texts throughout this post, but here I’ll also quote the Greek text for those who are able to read it. That way I want to highlight something that is often passed over too quickly in translation:

Πέτρος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας καὶ Βιθυνίας…

Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect migrants of the Diaspora of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1.1)

When we understand Peter’s vocation as an Apostle to the Jews, we cannot help but recognise that he is writing his letter to the ‘Diaspora’—that is, to Jewish people living as migrants in the ancient countries of what we today know as Turkey. ‘Diaspora’ is the standard way of referring to all Jews who lived outside the ‘Promised Land’ (Judea, Samaria, and Galilee).

More specifically, Peter is writing to those whom he views as ‘elect’ among the Diaspora. This is his way of addressing Jewish people who have come to believe in Jesus as Israel’s messiah. In other words, Peter is not writing to all Christians—Jews and Gentiles—as is sometimes espoused. Rather, he is writing to the people to whom he ministered specifically as an Apostle to the Jews—that is, to Jews! To underscore this, he even says to them later:

Conduct yourselves well among the Gentiles… (1 Peter 2.12)

Evidently, then, Peter sees a distinction between his audience and Gentiles. They are very clearly Jews. Critically, though, they have come to believe that Jesus is Israel’s messiah, just as Peter himself has.

Now, let’s look at Peter’s words in chapter 3. There he addresses ‘wives’. Let’s read his words again:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live, having observed your pure lives lived with respect. (1 Peter 3.1–2)

The wives Peter addresses are Jewish women who believe that Jesus is the messiah. Peter is not addressing each and every Christian woman in every age regardless of her cultural heritage or context. He is writing specifically to women who have grown up as Jews. These Jewish women would, in virtually all cases, have been married to Jewish men. We know that this was the standard case in the ancient world, since Jewish communities of the first century were endogamous—that is, they married within their own ethnic group. Thus, Jewish women were married to Jewish men. While it was possible for a Gentile man to marry a Jewish woman, it was most certainly not the norm. In fact, it was so exceptional that when it happened, it caught people’s attention and was worthy of specific mention (see Acts 16.1). The norm was that Jewish girls would marry Jewish boys and have Jewish babies. There is nothing here in Peter’s letter to indicate any exceptional circumstances that might call this into question. It is, therefore, logical to conclude that when he was addressing wives, Peter was thinking of Jewish women married to Jewish men.

So Peter is addressing Jewish women who believe that Jesus is the messiah. Amongst these women would be some whose Jewish husbands were not convinced that Jesus was actually the messiah. This would naturally have created a significant division within the family—a division that even Jesus appears to have expected within Jewish families:

“Do not think that I came to set up peace on the earth. I did not come to set up peace, but a sword. For I came to turn

a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man’s enemies will be
the members of his household.

The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. The person who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt 10.34–37)

Peter’s advice to Jewish wives who believe in Jesus is not to attempt to separate from their husbands who do not share their belief about Jesus, nor even to disparage their husbands. Rather, he encourages them to stay committed to their marriages, with the specific goal of convincing their husbands that Jesus is indeed the messiah.

In other words, Peter gives advice here to Jewish women who live in a household where there is a difference of opinion over who Jesus is. Women in that situation would be encouraged to continue observing Jewish customs, along with their Jewish husbands. This is something Paul even advises the Gentile Christians in Rome to do for the sake of commending the gospel of Jesus as messiah to Jewish people (see Rom 12.1; 15.7–12). After all, these customs were not incompatible with belief in Jesus. As Paul acknowledged, the Law is holy, just, and good (Rom 7.12). Indeed, the Apostles viewed their belief in Jesus as the logical endpoint of their Jewish faith. They believed that Israel’s whole history and culture had culminated in Jesus the messiah (see Hebrews). Therefore, Peter is urging women married to Jewish husbands who do not share their belief in Jesus to cling to their Jewishness as a means of demonstrating to their Jewish husbands that Jesus is indeed Israel’s messiah. To put it another way, Peter urges the wives here to find the common ground with their husbands and work constructively within that common ground to commend the gospel of Jesus to their husbands.

So that’s what Peter is saying. What, then, is he not saying?

Peter is not addressing every Christian woman in any possible context. And he is most certainly not encouraging women to submit to domestic violence. The logic of Peter’s argument critically involves common ground. Common Jewish ground in his particular letter. For Jewish women married to Jewish men, that common ground existed in their cultural heritage, expressed chiefly in observance of the Mosaic Law. But there is no such common ground in situations of domestic violence. Indeed, domestic violence sees one partner abusively using power and violence to deprive the other partner of wellbeing, safety, and options. In such situations, there is no common ground anymore. One partner simply dominates the other, abolishing any sense of commonality. To have commonality, you need two consenting adults. When there is only one consenting adult, the very notion of commonality has ceased to exist. Indeed, part of the reason domestic violence is such a terrible problem is that the victim feels so utterly trapped within the world of their partner.

To use Peter’s words in 1 Peter to encourage women (or men for that matter) to remain in situations of domestic violence is a misunderstanding of the context, logic, and intent of Peter’s words. It is a tragic misappropriation of Scripture.

More than that, the New Testament makes the point that belief in Jesus is something that God himself grants to people (Eph 2.8–10). To expect a victim of domestic violence to remain in the abusive situation for the sake of their spouse’s salvation is effectively expecting the victim to save their spouse—to do the work that only God himself does. In that case, not only is the person trapped within the violent situation, but the cruel chains of bad theology keep them there, entrapping them even further. It is a terrible situation! No one should be expected to do the work that only God himself does. So we should never expect a victim of domestic violence to continue suffering for the sake of their spouse’s salvation.

2 Peter 1.4 states that part of what it means to be a Christian is to escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Not only should we think of this in terms of being freed from the sin we ourselves commit, but we should also think of it in terms of helping victims escape the terrible situations in which they suffer. We would never think of encouraging sex slaves to remain in their situation for the sake of saving their pimps or clients. That would be reprehensible. So we should never think of encouraging anyone in an abusive relationship to continue in that situation either. The gospel of Christ is meant to bring freedom and peace, and Christians should be brokers of that very freedom and peace.

Domestic violence is both tragic and wrong. There is no other way to view it. The New Testament never condones it. No one ever should.


14 thoughts on “Does 1 Peter condone Domestic Violence?

  1. Excellent.

    I’ve preached on that passage and found many people are surprised when you place it in context. That is, most people think Peter is talking about ALL women EVERYWHERE.

    But context narrows the focus and allows people to see what Peter is saying.

    Thanks for posting. Will bookmark it for future reference.

  2. George, I would go further and say that to preach the error you underscore is to further abuse a woman who already being abused. But it is arguably worse. It is using the authority of the word of God as a tool of spiritual abuse. Wittingly or no. Thank you for your insightful contextual work. Stuart Adamson

  3. Pingback: Does 1 Peter condone Domestic Violence? – by George AthasGuest | God's Heart For Women

  4. Thank you so much for this. It’s an excellent example of how a Scripture, when properly understood in context, is transformed from something that twists people’s minds and keeps them in oppression to something that makes perfect sense and brings freedom.

  5. Thank you Barbara for the clarity you brought here. I have struggled with that scripture. No more. I have heard Christian leaders encouraging women to submit to their husbands, and in return they will receive love and protection. The love and protection should have been their’s anyway. I knew this in my heart, but now I have an intellectual understanding thanks to you. You’re a light on my path. God bless you. I thank him for the way he is using you to teach. I know the horror of domestic abuse and I am grateful for the freedom your work provides. 💖💖

  6. Love this article. As a former victim of domestic violence I stayed married for longer than I should’ve because of passages like this. I wish I had this information 10 years ago. The good news is I am free from his grasp and on the road to recovery. Articles like this certainly encourage me and cement my decision to leave him. It also helps me educate others.

  7. Comments from Barbara Roberts (posted with her permission):

    Well argued George! I agree with all the points you made and I particularly like this one:—
    “We would never think of encouraging sex slaves to remain in their situation for the sake of saving their pimps or clients.”

    I also agree with Stuart Adamson’s point that It is spiritually abusive to teach that 1 Peter 3 means an abused woman ought to stay with her abusive husband. That kind of spiritually abusive teaching is fairly common in evangelical circles. Many abuse victims I interact with have been spiritually abused by that kind of teaching. Victim/survivors often report that this kind of spiritual abuse from ‘c’hristians is even harder to recover from than the abuse from their primary abuser.

    The pain goes deep because as Christians we are taught to expect that the church (especially church leaders) will support us and protect us when we are suffering through no fault of our own. But many so-called Christians consciously or subconsciously blame the victim of abuse for what she is suffering. I’m speaking about the victim being female; that is the most common scenario and the one addressed in George’s post here. But I do know that sometimes the genders are reversed.

    Male intimate abusers are VERY skilled at grooming and recruiting allies. Don Hennessy has just published a book which addresses exactly that very topic. It is titled: “How He Wins: Abusive Intimate Partners Going Free”.

    Here is a link to Don’s book:

    I am making a short video to help publicise Don’s book. I will publish the video at my own blog, cryingoutforjusticeDOTblog, and Liberties Press will feature the video when they do their book launch (maybe early 2021).

    I have two posts about 1 Peter at my blog A Cry For Justice. I hope you don’t mind me sharing them here, George.

    1 Peter 3:6 — Sarah’s children do what is right and do not give way to fear

    Should wives submit to harsh husbands just like slaves submitting to harsh masters? (1 Peter 2 & 3)

  8. Hi George, thanks for publishing my comment.

    To try to diagnose what was causing the problem with me submitting comments to your blog, I have logged out of my WordPress account and am submitting this comment to see if you get it. I’m using a different email address, giving only my first name in the name field, and leaving the website field blank.


  9. You have no idea how much I appreciate this post. I’ve never been able to reconcile this in my mind. I was told, by church leaders, it was my job to be the example, and bring my husband to Christ. I stayed in a marriage 32 years because of it. When I finally realized the harm it was doing to my children, I had to leave. I took a risk, and told myself it was better to face spiritual condemnation from my church, than to let my kids endure one more minute of psychological abuse. The guilt and shame I’ve harbored towards myself has been horrible. I could never figure this scripture out. The Jesus I know is kind, compassionate, and understanding. The church people who were forcing this scripture down my throat were anything but compassionate. I felt judged by them and then went on to horribly judge myself. Thank you beyond words for the freedom I now have because of your post. In my heart I knew I couldn’t be responsible for saving my husband. But everyone else sure believed it and made a point of flaunting where I had fallen short. What freedom there is when we don’t have to be God! There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and are called according to his purpose!!! Thank you somehow doesn’t express all the gratitude I feel towards the Lord, and towards you for sharing this post…. Bless you…

    • Anna, what a terrible slavery you’ve been freed from. I’m so sorry to learn that you experienced such difficulty, both within your marriage and from those who should have cared for you. And for so long! I think sometimes that, as Christians, we forget that our theology has profound impact upon real people. It’s not simply a matter of assenting to a belief, but of understanding how what we believe shapes our own lives and affects those around us. It’s why we need good, contextual, robust understanding of the scriptures. It’s not a case of letting what we want to be right determine our theology, but of placing our theology into its proper context so that we can derive good, proper, godly ethics from it. So yes, you’re absolutely right: no condemnation. None. None!

  10. THIS!!!

    “2 Peter 1.4 states that part of what it means to be a Christian is to escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Not only should we think of this in terms of being freed from the sin we ourselves commit, but we should also think of it in terms of helping victims escape the terrible situations in which they suffer. We would never think of encouraging sex slaves to remain in their situation for the sake of saving their pimps or clients. That would be reprehensible. So we should never think of encouraging anyone in an abusive relationship to continue in that situation either.”

    I agree with Barbara – this is the point that will help me help abuse survivors. Such a simple analogy, but a powerful parallel.

    Thank you, George!!

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