Bible Answer

Should a wife obey a husband when he asks her to sin?

In 1Peter 3 Sarah is praised for obeying Abrahan's request that she lie when they entered Egypt, but the Bible also says lying is a sin. Should wives obey husbands when they demand we sin? 

In praising Sarah, the Bible was reflecting a nuanced and important principle: when our obedience to two commandments in Scripture comes into conflict, our obedience must be to the greater commandment. This principle recognizes that there are times in life when we have only two options, and yet both options are sin. When we find ourselves in such a dilemma, what is the proper course? The Bible teaches that we must obey whichever commandment is aligned with the will of God in that moment, and our faith and the Holy Spirit will lead us through.

For example, when Rahab received the spies in Jericho, she had only two choices: tell the truth and reveal them to the king of Jericho, or lie and save them and all Israel. By faith in the God of Israel, Rahab chose to lie to protect Israel, which was the will of God. Scripture does not convict her for her choice. Instead, the word of God holds her up as an example of a believer acting in faith (Hebrews 11:31).

In another example, David was in need of food when he asked the priest to give him the tabernacle showbread in 1 Samuel 21. The priest had two choices: deny the Lord’s anointed so he may obey the Law, or preserve David’s life by violating the command of the Law. Either choice could be called “sin” yet Jesus commends the priest for violating the Law to ensure the greater good was accomplished for David’s sake. Jesus later uses this example to prove the same point (Mark 2:25-28).

Finally, in the case of Sarah and Abraham, Sarah had two choices: obey her husband and protect him by lying to Pharaoh at the risk of her own safety, or tell the truth to Pharaoh to protect her honor at the risk of disobeying her husband and losing him to murder. Sarah chose the greater good of honoring her husband and protecting his life, and Peter commends her for this action, holding her out as an example to all women (1 Peter 3:6). 

So when our obedience to God conflicts, we must act in keeping with faith, and as we do we are not sinning. Pastor Steve was not teaching a broad principle that wives must always do what their husbands tell them. He was teaching that we must obey the leading of God in doing the greater good according to Scripture. So if a husband’s demands of a wife are violating a great good of Scripture, then the woman must disobey her husband. Yet in all cases her actions must be based on faith and trust in the will of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

As a gentle reminder, we cannot read Scripture in a “wooden” way that overlooks the complexities and nuances of living it out. We should not fear a nuanced interpretation when the context demands it, because as long as we remain faithful to the context, the Bible will give us the proper answer, as we see in this example. 

On the other hand, we will overlook the Bible’s subtleties from time to time, and adopt interpretations that set one Scripture in conflict with another. In this case, if we interpret Sarah’s actions as “sin” (rather than as a proper course given her options), we can’t reconcile our interpretation with the teaching of 1 Peter 3:6. When we encounter a conflict like this, it tells us that our interpretation is flawed.