Does a Christian woman have a spiritual covering? In a previous article, I discussed whether a woman needs a spiritual covering. In response, a reader named Hansel asked me about the structure of marriage and the covering of a woman in marriage. The reader also said that I had ignored 1 Peter 2:25-3:7 and asked me to respond from these verses. This article will deal with a few more verses than Hansel suggested as the context of Peter’s instruction should include 1 Peter 2:9-3:17 to get the full context.
Does Peter identify that women have a spiritual covering?
The term “covering” is not found in 1 Peter concerning wives. However, we also need to consider whether a responsibility of leadership over the wife is found in the text without the term covering. Hansel brought up example of a husband and wife arguing:
If it’s true that her husband is to be her covering, then the other half of that teaching is also true, and she’d need to get back under “submission” so as to be “covered”.
The teaching that a husband is responsible for his wife’s behavior because he is a covering for her is not found in the Scripture. In fact, the covering/authority/responsibility teaching has caused great harm to the body of Christ and to many marriages. When a husband enters the marriage believing that he is responsible for his wife’s actions, it can lead to him believe that he is responsible for making her perfect. Many Christian husbands literally believe that God will hold them responsible for her behaviour and so it becomes a huge burden on their shoulders to deal with their own failures…and hers too!
On the other hand, many Christian women pick up the idea that the husband is to grow them into the type of woman that Christ desires them to be. For those who believe this teaching, the women believe that they do not have the responsibility for their own behavior. The fact is that this belief tends to make women dependent and unable to be responsible for their own behavior. Instead of being the husband’s equal as God created her to be, she becomes one who needs a ruler, and he is responsible to rule her. This isn’t the way that God created marriage, and it keeps both men and women in an unhappy, frustrated predicament.
Let’s look at the passage in 1 Peter chapters 2 & 3 to see if submission has anything to do with a spiritual covering.
Instructions to the entire people of God
In 1 Peter 2:9 Peter speaks about the entire body of Christ as a people, a nation, a royal priesthood, and a chosen race.
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
1 Peter 2:9 is not written to just husbands and wives, but to all of us. Peter also explains that all of us have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Here is the start of the passage in question and it is important to note that the instructions start with the entire people of God.
In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter tells all of the people of God that they are to abstain from fleshly lusts:
1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
Peter then explains the importance behavior of the people of God among unbelievers:
1 Peter 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
The key here is that Christians will bring glory to God through their good deeds even among those who would slander them as evil because they are Christians. Peter starts the context of the whole people of God.
Submission and the entire people of God – to Government
Peter now describes submission and the entire people of God.
1 Peter 2:13–15
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Notice that the submission is “for the Lord’s sake”. Submission to the government is part of what is required of us to do what is right in the sight of unbelievers, and the submission silences the “ignorance of foolish men”.
Peter then gives some more principles for the entire people of God before he goes to any specific application.
1 Peter 2:16–17
16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
In 1 Peter 2: 16, 17, Peter tells the entire people of God to:
- Act as free men – All are free
All are free persons, no longer or not under the ownership, authority, or in the servitude of another.
- Do not use your freedom as a concealment or a cover-up for evil.Here the word “covering” is used, but the meaning is a concealment to prevent something scandalous from becoming public. None of the people of God are to use our freedom for a covering for evil.
- Use your freedom as slaves of God. In other words, we are to use our freedom to bring honor and glory to God to whom we belong.
- Honor all people
- Love the brotherhood of believers
- Fear God
- Honor the king
How submission is lived out amongst the free people of God
1. Servants who are in the people of God are told to act as free people (1 Peter 2:16). As the people of God, they are to honor all men including their masters.
1 Peter 2:18–20
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
Just as in 1 Peter 2:12, if these slaves of Jesus are slandered as evil doers by their worldly masters because the slaves are Christians, their good behaviour will bring glory to God. In God’s kingdom they are no longer under the ownership of men, or in the servitude of another, yet they are to live as one who finds favour with God in doing what is right for their masters.
2. Christ is free, yet he gave up his rights and suffered for us leaving us an example to follow as the people of God.
1 Peter 2:21–25
21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
We have been called as the free people of God for the purpose of suffering by doing what is right and patiently enduring it just as Christ did.
We have been called as the free people of God not to revile those who revile us.
We have been called as the free people of God to entrust ourselves to the righteous Judge.
We have been called as the free people of God to have one Shepherd and one Guardian of our souls.
Does a Christian woman have a spiritual covering?
3. Wives are told to act as free people of God who are not under the ownership, authority, or in the servitude of another (1 Peter 2:16), yet as slaves of Christ, they are to honor and give submission to their husbands so that their husbands may be won over to the Lord by the behavior of their wives.
1 Peter 3:1–6
1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
Women have been called to act as free people of God, yet they are to be slaves of Christ by their respectful behavior.
Sarah showed her respect to her husband by calling him a respectful term. Sarah found favour with God by hoping in God who was her only Shepherd and the only Guardian of her soul. Sarah was called the free woman, yet she gave honor to her husband because she had faith in God. Sarah was called a holy woman, a free woman, one who did was was honorable.
4. Husbands are told to act as free people who are not under the ownership, authority, or in the servitude of another (1 Peter 2:16), yet as slaves of Christ they are to honor their wives “in the same way” with their honor to be lived out with gentleness and understanding.
1 Peter 3:7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
Husbands are to show their wives honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. Husbands are free and not under the servitude of their wives, yet they are told that their prayers will be hindered if they do not honor their wives. They are free, yet under the authority of Christ as slaves of Christ and bound to give Him glory by honoring all people.
Peter sums it all up
Peter sums up his entire instruction on how the free people of God are to act toward all people:
1 Peter 3:8–9
8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.
All of the people of God (not just the slaves and the women, but all of us) are to be:
- Humble in spirit
- Not returning evil for evil
- Not returning insult for insult
- Giving a blessing even if insulted
- Called to suffer for righteousness sake to inherit a blessing
Seek peace and pursue it
The free people of God are to seek peace and pursue it with each other and with unbelievers for the sake of the Lord.
1 Peter 3:10–12
10 For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. 11 “He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it. 12 “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
All of you, Peter said, are to be zealous for what is good. Wives are not to fear their husband’s intimidation nor are any of the free people of God to be troubled.
1 Peter 3:13–17
13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
Our good behavior in Christ is for His sake and to bring unbelievers to Christ. Our submission is not to place ourselves under the servitude of another.
No place for the teaching of ownership, authority or servitude over another in the body of Christ
There is no place in 1 Peter 2:9 – 3:17 that places the wife under the authority or under the servitude of her husband. Rather, wives are joint heirs in Christ and are free in Christ of all worldly servitude. Yet in Christ all are to treat each other with respect for the sake of Christ and for peace.
Does a Christian woman need a spiritual covering?
No! The Christian woman is free in Christ. She is covered by His blood alone. She is free and is a slave to no one. However, because she has been bought with a price, she is a slave to Christ to honor Him just as her Christian husband is to be a slave to Christ. And just as Christ lowered Himself to become a slave for our sakes to live as one under the law to redeem us, let us serve Him with all our hearts. Let us love and serve each other for His sake.
To read part one of this series on whether a woman needs a covering click here.