In the same spirit [likewise! See chapter 2:21-25] you married women should adapt yourselves to your husbands, so that even if they do not obey the Word of God they may be won to God without any word being spoken, simply by seeing the pure and reverent behavior of you, their wives….Similarly, you husbands should try to understand the wives you live with, honoring them as physically weaker yet equally heirs with you of the grace of eternal life. If you don’t do this, you will find it impossible to pray properly. (I Peter 3:1,2,7, JBP)
This week’s reading assignment is chapter 3 of St. Peter’s first letter in the New Testament. In writing a bit about this chapter, I am going to draw upon not only the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, but also The Message, Catholic/Ecumenical Edition and The New Testament in Modern English (JBP) a translation/paraphrase by J.B. Phillips, a British scholar (see Sources and Resources). I am familiar with both of these translation/paraphrases from my Protestant days, and know that they are reliable and can give us a fresh encounter with the Scriptures. It is often helpful to use such resources when we study God’s written Word.
The first place to which I’d like to direct you in understanding this passage from St. Peter is my previous post on Ephesians 5, because what Peter says can be confusing and misused unless we understand both the circumstances in which it was written and also the unchanging principles of both married life and Christian witness in a world full of unbelievers. Because Ephesians 5 contains similar exhortations to men and women, I’d suggest getting into the archives of this blog and selecting the post for April 12, 2014. There is an excellent passage from John Paul II as well as enlightening Scripture passages to help us wade through this teaching successfully.
Another suggestion is to purchase (it is available from Amazon for the Kindle reader, as well) Elisabeth Leseur, Selected Writings, a volume in the series called The Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press. Her cause for canonization is underway, and she was particularly appreciated by Bishop Sheen. This book is especially helpful for people whose spouses are unbelievers, and/or who live a life full of social/family demands involving agnostics or atheists or simply very tepid believers.
Finally, verses 13-18 of chapter 3 are wonderfully paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message:
“If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you’re still better off. Don’t give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all–was put to death and then made alive–to bring us to God.
“He went and proclaimed God’s salvation to earlier generations who ended up in the prison of judgment because they wouldn’t listen. You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact–saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience. Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.”