1 Peter – Chapter Three VII

by Ed Urzi

“For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror” (1 Peter 3:5-6).

Throughout his letter, the Apostle Peter has touched upon the concept of submission in various contexts. Those contexts involved our relationships with civil authorities, our workplace relationships, and our spousal relationships. Jesus serves as our example in this regard, for He willingly submitted to God’s plan for human redemption (1 Peter 2:21-25).

Here in verse six, Peter revisits that topic in the person of Sarah, the great Old Testament matriarch. Sarah was first known as Sarai, a name meaning “princess” (Genesis 11:29). Sarai was known by that name until God changed it to “Sarah” (or “noblewoman”) in Genesis 17:15. She was married to Abraham, the father of all who call upon God in faith. Sarah once had a memorable encounter that Peter referenced in this passage in order to make an important point…

“And [God] said [to Abraham], ‘I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.’ (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'” (Genesis 18:10-12).

Although Sarah’s reference to her husband as “lord” is undoubtedly discomfiting to some contemporary audiences, this word actually has several meanings. For instance, the word “lord” may translate to “God,” “owner,” “mister,” or “sir,” depending on the context. In this instance, the latter two designations (“sir,” or “mister”) are in view.

This tells us that Sarah employed this title as an expression of respect for Abraham. As one source adds, “In the patriarchal period, it was a polite way to address someone of higher authority or one to whose status one wished to defer…” (1) However, that element of respect worked both ways in their marriage relationship. For instance, we’re told that Abraham deferred to Sarah on at least one occasion, a response that God later affirmed (see Genesis 21:1-12).

Thus, Peter reminded his audience that Sarah treated Abraham with the same respect she desired in return. In setting that example, Sarah lived out a principle that Jesus would later codify: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).

(1) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary [1 Peter 3:6].