The Weaker Vessel

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman
1 Peter 3:7

A thought occurred to me as I read this verse. No doubt one will occur to you as well, “why would he write about such a divisive topic?” But that wasn’t my thought. Certainly though, if you mentioned this statement among a group of women today imagine the civil discourse that would ensue! You would probably only be able to imagine, as perhaps all civility may be abandoned.

When this verse of Scripture was written the place of the sexes was not much questioned in society, at least vocally or publicly. The woman being the weaker sex was probably understood since the men worked outside the home hunting/gathering/ warring and women worked inside, childbearing, caring for the family. But reading this verse today can’t be understood in those terms because society changes, times change and God’s Word has to be applicable forever.

So what really did Peter mean by the use of the phrase? Or is this one of those impenetrable sayings that Peter attributes to Paul “in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16) though he has a number of his own? (Like verses nineteen and twenty in this chapter or verse six in chapter four!)

In the Twenty-first century there is little doubt that men and women are about as equal as they can be across the spectrum of society in many ways. And that the Scriptures call each gender to be held equally in honor and respect and love is undeniable. And that some societies need to raise the bar concerning the treatment of women with equity, like equal pay for equal work, is also undeniable. There are also the obvious differences between men and women, child bearing, emotional and psychological differences. Do any of these have a bearing on the debate surrounding the “weaker vessel” issue of this text? Or is this one of those issues best left to the end of the age when the Lord returns and we stop seeing through “a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12). Personally I’m going to love the “Sunday School” class Old Testament Explained, taught by our Lord Jesus, which was begun on the road to Emmaus when the two disciples met and didn’t recognize Him, and “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) What a fantastic course that will be!

But back to the thought I had when I read this verse from Peter. A “weaker vessel” as many translations have it, or “someone weaker,” or “most delicate partner,” or “the weaker partners.” My mind went back to the Garden of Eden when it was just Adam and Eve. God had told Adam, before Eve was around, not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or in the day he ate its fruit he would die. We don’t know how much time elapsed between the time Eve was created until the time the Serpent tempted her at the Tree. But why did he tempt Eve and not Adam? He had to have had a rationale for selecting Eve instead of Adam to discuss how it would be beneficial to consider this particular Tree, pulling a fruit from a branch and taking a bite. Why not Adam? What did he see in Adam that made him think he would not make a successful temptation? What did he see in Eve that made her a better choice?

Maybe it was that Adam was the direct recipient of the command and Eve was not around. Eve was dependent upon Adam telling her the information second hand. We are lacking a lot of information about their relationship. This is frustrating. We wish they had left their diary behind for us to read so we would have more insight. But the details are sketchy for a reason I think. We need to walk by faith, not by sight. We need to trust in God, not be spoonfed all the answers. It’s frustrating, yes, but that’s how babies grow up to be adults. Maybe the information Adam gave Eve was not as accurate as it could have been. Or maybe he gave her the command God gave him verbatim, but she remembered it wrong. Or maybe she was confused by the argument presented by the serpent. Perhaps the dialog in Genesis is not the entire sequence of events. Maybe it is just the salient points, the Readers Digest version. In any event, we know that Eve told the serpent incorrect information about the commandment from God (He didn’t say they couldn’t touch the tree) and I think this is what the Serpent was looking for, the wedge he could use in his negotiation to sin. Did he somehow know she was “the weaker vessel” and he took advantage of this in his manipulation of the facts??

On a side note of this temptation scene I should mention, if you wonder how could anyone possible make such a monumentally simple yet horribly tragic mistake like this I suggest you read a C.S. Lewis book, Perilandra, It is book 2 from his science fiction trilogy. There is a scene in chapter 9 which portrays a temptation that makes the Fall completely understandable and you’d see that you too would probably fail the test.

Perhaps the “weaker vessel” is the result of this temptation, Eve eating the fruit, and leading Adam in the deed that results in women being saddled with this label. Maybe it is just a part of the whole Curse problem.

Or maybe the real explanation is that there is no weaker gender, no stronger gender, as may be implied in the text. After all what exactly does the text say? “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker . . . .” You have to notice that it doesn’t say that anyone is actually weaker. It just says that the husband is to live in such a way as if the wife was weaker. The precedent for this reasoning is a similar passage from Paul concerning husbands and wives, in Ephesians 5:22-33. Verse 25 says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . . .” How does the “weaker” concept come into play? Well, definitely humans, inside the church or out, are weaker than Christ. Existing in the form of God, Christ left His glory and became man and gave Himself up to death to pay the penalty for our sins. That was living with a weaker people in love, and He left us this example for husbands to behave towards their wives. Quite a high bar to set, right? But it is behavior to be expected of husbands according to Paul and Peter. Probably rarely seen, but expected none the less. If you think I’m joking read the rest of Ephesians chapter 5 that ends with “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself. . . .” And verse 28, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.” If that sounds impossible its probably because we have become pretty selfish in our society. And that sin is still too prevalent in our lives doesn’t help either.

The reality is that both husband and wife are complete equals in God’s sight. There are roles assigned to each, God has assigned to the husband the “head,” but we see that has no bearing on how the wife is to be treated or with what attitude the husband is to have toward her except to mimic the love Christ has for the church, and we see what He did for her. What could be the result of such a thing as this but complete marital bliss? That and the normal tensions children, money and careers bring to every marriage.

But we really can’t escape the next phrase in the New American Standard. This version translates the text, which I’ll underline here as “live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman;” Other translations do not translate the Greek συνοικοῦντες (gynaikeio) in the manner of “since she is a woman.” You can see here how the Greek and English get translated in this interlinear view. I wonder why they omit this reference since it does seem to be implied in some way in the text? Is there some fear of raising charges of sexism? In the context of the statement there seems no issue of sexism nor degradation. The Greek word σκεύει translated as “vessel” is generally meant as the body, and it is recognized that women are generally weaker physically than men. A simple explanation of this argument is explained here.

And let us not forget the entire gist of this paragraph. Which is that honor is to be showered by the husband on the wife, and this attitude of the spouses toward each other is loudly and frequently preached in the New Testament, I’ve only briefly touched upon it above.

So regardless of what Peter may have meant by his mysterious “weaker vessel” statement, if we can’t know for certain in this life, what we can know with certainty is that we need to love one another. That commandment is never in any doubt. And the rest will be explained in the New Creation, and I will bet that the class The Old Testament Explained will be standing room only, just like its companion course, The New Testament Letters Explained.

[Last edited 11/1/2014]

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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No Hometown Hero

Luke 4:22-24, 28,29
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'”
And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;
and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.

This is how every priest, preacher, prophet, and shepherd dreams his ministry would begin, with enraged listeners rushing him to the top of the nearest cliff to heave him over. This scenario would be a little less incomprehensible had it occurred among strangers, but in your home town, among your own family? Those with whom you grew up? What a bizarre response from the congregation!

Here Jesus comes back to Nazareth to start His ministry and begins reading from Isaiah and somehow some of the things He says angers the crowd. Just prior they were quite impressed. They initially flattered Him. He had not yet said anything to them though that challenged their lifestyle, their behavior, their mindset, their practices. He just quoted a fabulous verse from Isaiah, the promise of the culmination of prophetic history, and He told them it was completed in that very hour! That would have got their attention.

But He knew what was in their hearts. It isn’t revealed in the text what exactly that was. We aren’t shown just what got Him riled up, what initiated the verbal attack, though the hints are there with the references to their wondering how He could speak so graciously, and their knowing He was merely Joseph’s son. But sternly upbraids them Jesus does in verses 23 and following. “Physician, heal yourself.” “You think you’re better than we are, we know you, we’ve known you since you were in diapers, you want to heal us? Heal yourself!”

There is a related saying, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and some of this may have come into play in Nazareth. But in speaking before family and friends the tendency of many may be to tone down, moderate, not offend. But Jesus was not about to coddle. He was not on this earth to mince words. He was going to speak the whole truth in love. To His family, to strangers, to royalty, to everybody. They were all just His creatures. All in need of healing. All in need of His love and needing to hear the words that would bring salvation to the broken soul. He couldn’t afford to mince word, their eternity hung in the balance.

Jesus knew He was going to be a rock of stumbling, that people would take offense at the things He was going to have to say. People were doing things that, should He say it, were not Godly. Just read the Scriptures. All throughout the Old Testament, His own people never failed to do the wrong thing. Now He finally came to Earth, to walk among them to show them how it is done, to tell them how it is done. Of course these things are not going to be easy to hear. That’s why He so often said “he who has ears to hear.” To everyone else the Gospel was offensive. He preached the word anyway. It didn’t mean He hated the sinner, far from it. No one felt compassion like Jesus. But even though strangers or family did not understand and took offense at His message He still told them God’s message per chance they might be saved. And some did come around. James, His brother became the leader of the Jerusalem Church. But for now they were quite puzzled.

Shortly after, His family came to Him, still not understanding Him or his objective, thinking He had lost His senses, Mark 3:20, 21 but He told His listeners, “whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35 So He continued day after day to speak the words the world needed to hear. He never minced words. He spoke directly when it was required, in parables when needed, the Scribes and Pharisees understood His barbs and jabs perfectly clearly. The poor understood the power of His miracles more than words could show. The hypocrites remained confused by His parables. But sadly He was never able to go back home. He had another Home waiting, in Glory. Where He is going to receive many, many of His mothers and sisters and brothers. And they won’t be misunderstanding anything He will be saying in that Hometown.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Confronting Christ as Accuser

Mark 14:61-64
Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further need do we have of witnesses?
“You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.

We’ve all made mistakes in our professions. Even major mistakes. Some massively major mistakes. In a book manufacturing job I bought 65,00 sheets of book cover material that were too small to use on the book for which they were ordered. In my defense the layout was drawn and approved by someone on the floor and given to me to order, but it was my name on the purchase order. I could mention other blunders but you too can recall some embarrassing errors that you and your company would just as soon forget ever happened. These professional lapses are, in today’s jargon, learning opportunities, everyone has them. In fact I remember one time letting my temper get the best of me when my boss advised me that management wanted employees to walk in the painted lines outside the buildings and I commented that my mother taught me how to walk when I was an infant. I immediately apologized for this minor outburst of of rudeness. This is what you do when you know you make a mistake.

There are mistakes, and then there are moral judgments that are diametrically opposed to one’s profession. Would you talk to your CEO or the President of your company with supreme contempt and malevolence for no justifiable reason? Would you publicly slap him and spit in his face and abuse him? I very much doubt it. You would most likely accord him the respect he deserves unless he was some diabolical son of Satan or something.

But I keep reading these verses above and am baffled. These leaders are the board of directors of the Jewish institution and they knew full well who they had standing in front of them! They had seen the miracles Jesus performed the last few years. They heard His wisdom and His teachings and knew of His power. They must have known in their hearts He was from God. I’ll bet during this interrogation the words of the parable of the vineyard were ringing in their ears,

“This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours!” Mark 12:7

because they knew at that time this parable was spoken that it was directed at them.

But they did have a fear. Afraid of what they would lose. They knew the end game was very near. They knew they would lose all their power and authority and standing as teachers of the Law before the Jewish people and before the Romans in Jerusalem if they allowed Jesus to continue living. Curiously they had no concern for the things of the Spirit, their concern was all about the things of the earth. And they want Him removed from the earth. It’s their audacity that amazes me. They knew in their hearts who He was and they could still look Him in the eye and say these things and act this way!

Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face. Mark 14:65

Who would have the temerity, the fearlessness, the recklessness, the insanity, to do such things to the Creator of the universe! Did they think they would actually somehow get away with this? This is just beyond crazy! But the insanity continues, and no one stops it, the ball keeps rolling and picks up speed and it gets only more wild and crazy until the whole thing blows up in train wreck of horrible torture and a public, ugly, brutal death.

But of course we now know that stopping this wasn’t the plan. From the beginning Redemption was set on this exact hinge-pin described in all its gore above and continuing. As far back as Abraham who mentioned God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice (Genesis 22:8) which John the Baptist said was Jesus for taking away the sins of the world (John 1:29). For those who faced Jesus with such hostility in that initial interrogation that Last Supper night, they will have some explaining to do and there will be no words for them then.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Noah, Man, Myth or Lie

Isaiah 54:9 “For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you.

Speaking of Noah, he has a Blockbuster film released in theaters this Spring starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. It struck me when reading this verse a month or so ago that how ironic that so many Christians think of Noah and a mythological person like Bigfoot or elves, even when reading his story out of Genesis. (Kudos to the movie producers to try to keep as close to the Biblical story as possible.) What I found ironic when reading the above verse was that some Christians have little confidence in the veracity of the flood story itself and the person of Noah. Certainly God has no such qualms as seen in His quote.

How nice that God could remember His relationship with Noah so many years ago and not forget His old friend and could use the flood story as an example of how merciful he could be to those who possessed His covenant.

So you skeptics, be smug about who this guy is, just legend like the ogres, someone to fill out bedtime stories to your young ones to help then go to sleep, or keep Sunday School children amused for a class period. Go ahead, wink at the rest of us gulables. We can see that God was able to remember him, calling the event to mind so that He could console Israel that they had some remarkable final days to look forward that they might keep this hope in mind no matter what might come. But using fake history to promise a fake future simply doesn’t work and people see right through that and historically there has never been any successful outcome using it. So for God to talk about “these are like the days of Noah” if there really had never been any days of Noah, well, how could you put any trust in what He said?

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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Blindness of Hate

Mark 3:1-2 [Jesus] entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.

How would you react if you saw something so amazing your eyes would grow large, your skin would crawl, and you’d be frozen in your tracks. That’s about what would have happened if you witnessed someone standing near you who had a withered hand all gnarled and deformed from birth, and then with no one touching it just saw it straighten out into a normal hand all by itself. You’d pinch yourself, thinking you were dreaming. But if it was the person of Jesus that was standing in front of the man, and you’d been hearing for weeks that He had been doing this kind of thing and this was your first eye witness event, you would still be amazed, right, but at least you could attribute this awesome power to the glory of God, right, since this was something good?

Imagine then your surprise when those pastors and teachers whose sermons and religious instructions you had been listening to for so many years had a completely different reaction to this event.

Mark 3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

What shock! Did they just see the same thing you did? Why didn’t they glorify God at this amazing miracle? A man’s deformed hand had been made completely normal and what did they want to do? They wanted to destroy Jesus! This is not a normal reaction to witnessing a miracle. This is completely abnormal. The correct response is one of joy because this is a good thing, someone was, in a sense, not well, and had been made well. So this was a great event! But this reaction is one of destruction and hatred! Who do you know that would stand before a person and call his healing something negative and attack the healer? No, this is Satan’s work at full power.

It’s amazing the way so many of Jesus’ contemporaries looked at Him and His work, seeing Him yes, but looking right through Him, Viewing with their eyes the wonderful things He did and at the same time not really seeing them. Just a few paragraphs later when He comes home His family wants to take Him into custody, for they were saying, “He has lost His senses”, and others of the religious called Him possessed by Beelzebul. Such phenomenally dark hearts, not to be able see the obvious, or choosing not to. The power of hate is amazing, too bad they couldn’t see that it really had nothing on the overwhelming power of love that finally conquered it all.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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