Does marriage involve mutual submission?

What is the significance of "Likewise" in 1 Peter 3:7?

Peter uses this word three times in his first epistle. The third use is "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder" (1 Peter 5:5). As the overseers submit to the Chief Shepherd in doing the work He entrusted to them, so the younger are to submit to older believers. This is the Lord’s arrangement; it is done because of submission to Him and for His approval.

The other two uses of "likewise" in the epistle are in chapter three. The chapter begins, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands." This links this section of the chapter with the previous chapter. At its conclusion, chapter two highlights the suffering of the Lord Jesus which was inflicted unjustly, but which brought us such great blessing because the Sufferer trusted His God (vv 22-25). This is our pattern to follow (v 22). Earlier in the chapter believers are suffering wrongfully, but as they act in a godly way, blessing results. Now chapter three focuses specifically on a believing wife with an unbelieving husband. Through no fault of her own, she may suffer rejection, but she is to continue, as Sara did, to trust in the Lord and submit to her husband. She expects that her "well-doing" will be used by God for the blessing of her husband.

Most commentators take the "likewise" that begins the next paragraph addressed to husbands to merely balance the message to wives and continue the exhortation within the domestic sphere of marriage. Typically, they understand "as heirs together of the grace of life" to mean that the husband and wife share together in salvation, the grace of spiritual life. They may also understand "your prayers" to refer to the prayers of the husband and wife.

A difficulty with this view is that "likewise" in verse one and here in verse seven links this passage back to the truth in chapter two. The context is suffering wrongfully, which hopefully doesn’t apply to husbands in a Christian marriage. Giving honor to a believing wife "as unto the weaker vessel" hardly qualifies as suffering, or especially suffering wrongfully. The thought of submission which runs through chapter two hardly seems evident here either.

If we understand "the grace of life" to be a description of the exalted state of marriage, this may help. Christianity exalts marriage - whether involving believers or unbelievers - to a higher level. Marriage is a unique provision of God for the good (Genesis 2:18) of the human family. It has the possibility of involving the highest experience of love known in human relationships (Ephesians 5:25-32). Christianity teaches that marriage has the potential of being the "crowning grace" of life. In addition, since the teaching addresses husbands, is it not likely that "your prayers" are the prayers of the husband? Why should the failure of a husband to properly honor his believing wife hinder his wife’s prayers?

The full potential of marriage is within the reach of a believing couple. If the believing husbands in this verse are living with unbelieving wives, just as the believing wives, in the previous verses, are living with an unbelieving spouse, what an encouragement to them! God has handed these husbands the possibility that their marriages will rise to their full potential if they show Christian grace and consideration. Thus honoring a wife who rejects the gospel and perhaps appears to reject her own husband can only be the result of submission to the Lord. In so doing, he will cooperate with the Lord in seeing his prayers answered in His wife’s salvation.

D. Oliver