3 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
— 1 Pet 3:1-6, NIV
As he promised in August, Pastor Doug Wilson has revisited the subject of submission in his recent post Miserable Wives*. Much of the post is good, and Wilson does say that (some) wives should submit to their husbands. Yet there is a common pattern with Wilson where he seems to think that in order to teach something good, he must simultaneously teach something false so he doesn’t seem extreme in his adherence to Scripture. Sadly, Wilson follows this same pattern in this recent post. He awkwardly breaks from the subject at hand and assures us that if the husband a jerk, a wife’s godly responsibility is to oppose him and “bring things to a head” (emphasis mine):
Now before getting into what we see, I wanted qualify something first. I want you to know and understand that nothing said here would apply to a woman who was married to a genuine tyrant. I have often wished that more women would be willing to be Abigails in dealing with their Nabals, and those situations are scarcely rare. I know that there are marriages where the husbands are thugs and bullies, and that their wives need to learn how to bring things to a head. I know of such situations at first hand. When that happens, and it happens too often, I am firmly in the corner of the wife who is the victim. Many women need to learn to be an Abigail.
Wilson is teaching the opposite of what the Apostle Peter taught in 1 Peter 3:1-6. In the process he has substituted Abigail for Peter’s example of Sarah. Sarah as you will recall submitted to Abraham even when Abraham foolishly instructed her to say he was her brother and not her husband. Sarah complied, and but for the intervention of God this would have caused Sarah to have been raped! Sarah is the example Peter gave for Christian women to follow, to submit to their own husband even if he does not believe/obey the word**. If they do this, they will please God and be Sarah’s daughters.
Peter’s instruction to wives with sinning husbands is a hard teaching for us to accept. However, note that modern Christians are quite enthusiastic about this teaching once they apply it to the husband instead of the wife. Modern Christians love the passage if they can do some cross-dressing; it is only in the original form that they can’t stomach it.
Not only is Sarah (and not Abigail) the woman Scripture tells us Christian wives should emulate, Wilson is badly misrepresenting Abigail. In 1 Sam 25 Abigail does not take action to “bring things to a head”. In fact, her aim is to do the opposite. Abigail intercepts David on his way to kill her husband Nabal and pleads with David not to do so. Things were about to “come to a head”, and Abigail interceded just in time to prevent this from happening. Moreover, when Abigail returns home and her husband is drunk, she delays telling him what she has done to avoid provoking him in his drunken state.
It is true that Abigail tells David that her husband is a worthless fellow and a fool, but Abigail knows that David is God’s anointed and that Nabal had deeply offended this man in whom God has favor. Abigail is saying this in an effort to stop David from killing him:
23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25 Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal[c] is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. 26 Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. 27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. 28 Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince[d] over Israel, 31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”
**See Cane Caldo’s You Bowed Up When You Should Have Bowed Down for a discussion of the application of this when a husband instructs his wife to do evil.