Author: Ron Graham
In this lesson we think about the Bible verse which calls a woman "the weaker vessel" (1Peter 3:7).
1Peter 3:7 This is the "problem verse" for our lesson. This phrase has been misunderstood, and some women have felt insulted at being described as "the weaker vessel". We need to clear that up and find out what manner of weakness Peter is referring to.
2Timothy 2:19-21 Paul uses the "vessel" metaphor when he exhorts every Christians to be "a vessel for honour, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work" (2Timothy 2:19-21). This is true for anyone, male or female, who "names the name of the Lord". This does not tell us what Peter means by calling a woman "the weaker vessel", but it certainly shows us something he does not mean. A woman who belongs to God and names his name is no less honoured, no less sanctified, and no less useful to the Master than a man who belongs to God and names his name.
Acts 9:15, Luke 1:26-56 The "vessel" metaphor is also used by God. Jesus said of Paul, "He is a chosen vessel unto me" (Acts 9:15). There have been times when God has intervened in the life of some person and selected that person for a special purpose. Paul was one, Mary was another. She was the chosen vessel whereby "God sent forth his Son born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4). We would be hard pressed to think of any person in history more wonderfully chosen than Mary, chosen to be the mother of the Lord (Luke 1:26-56). This does not tell us what Peter means by calling a woman "the weaker vessel", but it certainly shows us something he does not mean. Among God's chosen vessels a woman was bestowed and blessed with no less greatness than a man.
Ephesians 6:10-13 A different metaphor, that of a soldier, is used by Paul when he exhorts, "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armour of God that you may be able to stand firm..." (Ephesians 6:10-13). Whom is Paul addressing? Whom is he calling to battle? Who is to gird their loins with truth and plate their breasts with righteousness? Whose feet are to be shod with the gospel of peace, and who is to grasp the shield of faith? Who is to don the helmet of salvation and to bravely wield the sword of the Spirit? Who is to march into battle against the powers of darkness, the terrible spiritual forces of wickedness? It is no battle for a weakling. Who shall be a soldier for Christ? The answer does not tell us what Peter means by calling a woman "the weaker vessel", but it certainly shows us something he does not mean. In the Lord's army women and men fight shoulder to shoulder and one is as "strong in the Lord" as the other.
Hebrews 12:1-2 Yet another metaphor, that of an athlete running the marathon, is used by the Hebrew writer when urging us to "run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1-2). Who is to run this race of endurance? Whose legs are to be strong, and whose feet swift? Whose will is to get them through the pain barrier, and discipline them to make the distance? The answer does not tell us what Peter means by calling a woman "the weaker vessel", but it certainly shows us something he does not mean. In the Christian race, women and men run together without handicap. Women and men start and finish at the same lines. Women "run with endurance" the same race as men.
Gen 1:27, 2:18-23 "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them". The first two humans were different, but neither was superior or inferior to the other (Gen 1:27). Adam could not find a wife among all the creatures of flesh and blood. So God took a part of Adam himself, one of his ribs, and from it created a woman who corresponded to Adam. She alone among all flesh was his equal. Otherwise she would have been unsuitable like the other creatures (Gen 2:18-23). This does not tell us what Peter means by calling a woman "the weaker vessel", but it certainly shows us that he does not mean, "God created woman to be the weaker sex." Woman is not a lesser being than man, for she came out of man and like him was created in the image of God. Peter himself said that woman and man are "heirs together of the grace of life" (1Peter 3:7).
Romans 6:23 Paul says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". It's true there was some difference between Adam and Eve in the fall. "Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived fell into transgression" (1Timothy 2:14). Eve sinned because she was deceived. Adam sinned because he couldn't say no to his wife. Who then was the weaker? Adam gets most of the blame for the fall. "Through one man's disobedience sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). Whilst Paul refered to "silly women laden with sins" he was pointing rather at "men of corrupt minds" and "their folly" (2Timothy 3:6-9).. To describe a woman's attitude as "silly" and a man's as "folly" seems pretty even-handed to me.
1Peter 3:4 Peter speaks of a woman's "hidden person of the heart with the incorruptible adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" Although all of us should be "tender-hearted" (1Peter 3:8), a woman is generally more ready to be so than a man —and this strength is paradoxically her weakness. Her virtue of gentleness leaves her vulnerable to abuse and in that sense "weaker" (1Peter 3:7). Peter goes on to say that "even if you suffer for righteousness' sake you are blessed" (1Peter 3:14). But surely no decent man will exploit this vulnerability; rather, he will understand and honour his woman because of her noble virtues.