The Weaker Vessel

Theodore Dalrymple is a British essayist. His work as a psychiatrist and medical doctor in a prison and hospital gave him a unique perspective on society. Although not Christian, his essays reflect conservative and traditional values. This is his encounter with a young girl who was the victim of domestic violence.

“I can look after myself,” said my seventeen-year-old.

“But men are stronger than women,” I said. “When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage.”

“That’s a sexist thing to say,” she replied.

A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

“But it’s a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact,” I said.

“It’s sexist,” she reiterated firmly.

A stubborn refusal to face inconvenient facts, no matter how obvious, now pervades our attitude towards relations between the sexes. An ideological filter of wishful thinking strains out anything we’d prefer not to acknowledge about these eternally difficult and contested relations, with predictably disastrous results.1

This provides a good lead in to consider Peter’s language in 1 Peter 3:7: “living with the wife according to knowledge as the weaker vessel.” By the way, “vessel” is not a disparaging word. Paul was a “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15), and Christians are “vessels of clay” (traditionally “jars of clay”) that contain the great treasure of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7). But what does Peter mean by weaker?

Since Christian wives are fellow heirs of the gospel with their Christian husbands, it is clear that they are of equal worth. Since wives may be Christians and their husbands not (3:1), it cannot mean that they are weaker morally or intellectually. The only thing that makes sense is that they are weaker physically.

The above statement is a generalization. We might easily find a woman who could beat the tar out of some man. But admitting to exceptions, there is wisdom in telling men, who are frequently more aggressive, to use knowledge in living with their wives. The knowledge or understanding Peter is after is the awareness of a woman’s vulnerability and our common Christian hope. In ministry, I’ve seen the great damage that occurs when a woman becomes fearful of her husband.

Peter’s message may offend modern ears, but we live in a world where domestic violence is a reality. We still need his message about living according to understanding and honoring our wives.


1Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom, p. 37.

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