Vol. 11 No. 9 September 2009
By Bonnie Rushmore
Three of the Gospel records document the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. This fact proves that even though Peter’s wife is not mentioned in the Scriptures, he was married, and we can glean useful knowledge about her from the context surrounding Peter and his mother-in-law.
Let us begin with the backdrop of Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:30 and Luke 4:38. According to the Book of Matthew, at the conclusion of the “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus left the mountain and entered into the city of Capernaum. This city was located on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was the home of four of the original twelve apostles (Peter, Andrew, James and John), and it appears that Capernaum became the home city of Jesus as well (Matthew 4:13; 9:1; 17:24). The Book of Mark adds that Jesus was in the synagogue teaching prior to entering the family home of Peter and Andrew. It was not uncommon during biblical times for multiple family members to live in the same house. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states, “The father…was the head of the family…or household…which was a religious (1 Samuel 20:6, 29; Exodus 12:3; Job 1:5) as well as a social and political unit, consisting usually of a combination of families in the modern sense.” Those individual families may consist of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. (It was not much unlike the fictional Walton family on television a few decades ago and the current practice in other countries.)
James and John accompanied Jesus, Peter and Andrew to the residence (Mark 1:30). This shows the household was accustomed to having guests in its home. Mrs. Peter and the other female family members must have made a habit of showing hospitality to others.
Family members told Jesus that Peter’s mother-in-law lay sick with a great fever. As the Great Physician who can heal spiritual and physical ailments, Jesus went to her, lovingly touched her hand and healed her. She immediately rose and served the guests in the home. Usually, the miracles performed by Jesus, and the apostles, were immediate, without the need for repeated attempts or rehabilitation. The miracles were genuine, not mirages or fakes.
The only other reference to Peter having a wife is found in 1 Corinthians 9:5. This passage appears in the context of the apostle Paul defending his apostleship and his rights as an apostle. One of the privileges that Paul is defending is that a preacher can be paid for his services. Furthermore, a married preacher should be paid enough to maintain his family. Paul used the example of Peter and the other apostles who were married and whose families traveled with their husbands as the final proof for his right to be paid and to marry should he choose to marry. However, Paul chose to remain single and to “make tents” in Corinth to alleviate the financial burden from the congregation meeting in that city (1 Corinthians 9:18).
The reference to the word “sister” in verse five implies that the wives were Christians as all in Christ are brothers and sisters (1 Corinthians 7:15; James 2:15). Albert Barnes made the following observation in his commentary:
And if THEY were married, it is right and proper for ministers to marry now, whatever the papist may say to the contrary. It is safer to follow the example of the apostles than the opinions of the papal church. The REASONS why the apostles had wives with them on their journeys may have been various. They may have been either to give instruction and counsel to those of their own sex to whom the apostles could not have access, or to minister to the needs of their husbands as they traveled. It is to be remembered that they traveled among pagans; they had no acquaintance and no friends there; they therefore took…wives to minister to them, and sustain them in sickness, trial, etc.
Adam Clarke suggests that:
And secondly, we find that their wives were persons of the same faith; for less can never be implied in the word sister. This is a decisive proof against the papistical celibacy of the clergy: and as to their attempts to evade the force of this text by saying that the apostles had holy women who attended them, and ministered to them in their peregrinations, there is no proof of it; nor could they have suffered either young women or other men’s wives to have accompanied them in this way without giving the most palpable occasion of scandal.
For the apostles to encourage single or married women (without their respective husbands) to travel with them would leave the appearance of indecency. This behavior would have a negative effect on the lost souls they were trying to reach with the Gospel of Christ. Certainly, the apostles and we today need to ensure that our actions and behaviors are upright and holy and that those observing us can conclude the same.
The apostle Peter was also an elder (1 Peter 5:10; therefore, Mrs. Peter was an elder’s wife. First Timothy 3:1-11 outlines the qualifications of an elder. Any man desiring to serve God in the capacity of an elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of money; patient, not a brawler, not covetous, one that rules his own house having his children in subjection and he must have a good report of those without the body of Christ. Many of these characteristics could not be fulfilled without a wife who equally strives to pattern her life accordingly. Could a man serve effectively as an elder if his wife did not have a good reputation within the community?
Although the Bible records Peter’s mother-in-law as the one who served the guests, we can assume that Mrs. Peter and any other women living in that home assisted with the meal and the other necessities of making their visitors comfortable. Mrs. Peter would have learned from her mother the art of hospitality. The Bible is full of examples of hospitality. The list would include Sarah, Martha, Lydia, the widow of Zarephath, the Shunammite woman, Zacchaeus, Phoebe and the Good Samaritan.
One of the qualifications of elders is that they be “given to hospitality” (1 Timothy 3:2) or a “lover of hospitality” (Titus 1:8). This means that elders must willingly and enjoy entertaining strangers and friends alike. When Paul wrote to Timothy about the care of the widows, a true widow to be cared for by the church was to have “…lodged strangers, and…washed the saints’ feet,” (1 Timothy 5:10). A true widow was one who cared for non-Christians and Christians. First Peter 4:9 reads, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” Hospitality means love of strangers and is a command for all Christians.
It seems that the art of hospitality is losing the battle in this modern day. Women working outside the home, extra-curricular school activities with our children, an abundance of restaurants and motels, a mad rush to recreation and a society that seems to put “me first” above everything else places hospitality on the back burner of our lives. We have freezers with meat ready to be cooked, or meals already prepared waiting to be heated. Bread is already baked and waiting to be purchased. Some stores have entire meals cooked ready to take home and eat. Entertaining today is much easier than it was during Bible times. Let us learn the art of hospitality once again. Let us teach it to our daughters. Let us open our homes to our friends and to those with whom we worship each Lord’s Day. The best way to really know our brothers and sisters in Christ is to put our feet under the same table as we share a meal together. Let us open our homes to those we would like to reach with the Gospel of Christ. It is easy to open our homes to those with whom we have a close relationship, but what about those we do not know very well? Do you use the blessings God has given you to show hospitality to others? Do you quickly act on opportunities to serve others?
We should entertain not because we are commanded to, but with a desire of love and concern. Be a Mrs. Peter. Show hospitality toward your brethren and the lost souls around you.
As a traveling companion with her husband, Mrs. Peter had many opportunities be an encourager to her husband. An encourager is one who gives confidence, cheers, supports, promotes or heartens another. With the cares of the church upon his shoulders as an elder and as a missionary, Peter would need words of encouragement from time to time. Mrs. Peter would be the one to best offer those words. Just as Mrs. Peter encouraged her husband, today Christian wives need to be an encouragement to their husbands. We need to listen to their frustrations as they deal with ungodly men, immature Christians and try to reach a world that does not know it is lost without Christ. Our husbands need to know that what is discussed will NOT be repeated. We need to offer encouraging words and make suggestions that may help. We all become discouraged from time to time. We all need words of encouragement.
We can use the example of Barnabas to learn how to be an encourager. Barnabas took Paul to Jerusalem after his conversion (Acts 9:26-27). When other Christians were fearful (and rightly so), Barnabas stood by Paul and proclaimed him as a righteous preacher. Barnabas gave John Mark a second chance when he took him on another missionary journey even though John Mark prematurely left the first journey (Acts 12:25; 13:13; 15:37).
Mrs. Peter may have had opportunities to teach lost souls the way to heaven. As she traveled with Peter, we can assume Mrs. Peter assisted her husband in teaching the lost. In a time period and culture that limited the male/female associations, she would have opportunities to talk with other women that Peter probably did not have. Mrs. Peter must have had an understanding of God’s Word to have the ability to teach others.
Today, Christian women need knowledge of the Scriptures so that we can teach others. We need to “study the Scriptures daily” as the Bereans in Acts 17:11 did. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Many preachers are hindered in their work by wives who discourage their husbands from preaching God’s Word in the local arena or on the foreign field. They may refuse to move away from family and friends or when they move they become sullen and depressed about all they left behind. Do you remember what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back? She left children, friends and possessions behind. God turned her into a pillar of salt when she looked back (Genesis 19:1-26). Jesus taught that those who love family more than Christ are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37-38).
In addition, some wives are jealous of the time their husbands spend preparing lessons, studying the Bible with others, visiting the sick, etc. As husbands and fathers, preachers need to fulfill their family responsibilities. They need to balance those responsibilities with Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:16, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” As Christians we need to seize every opportunity to bring others to Christ.
Many godly men, not just preachers, are discouraged from fully serving God by their wives. These women make unreasonable demands on the time and resources that could be used to glorify God.
Are you like these wives? Do you hinder your husband from serving God to his fullest potential? Are you envious of the time he spends serving God? If so, please change. If you desire more time with your husband, go visiting with him, study the Bible with him, and accompany him as he teaches others the way to Christ. You will become a stronger servant of God, and together you will lead lost souls to heaven.
Are you a Mrs. Peter? Are you encouraging your husband or others as they serve God? Do you show hospitality to the stranger as well as to your close friends? Are you a missionary reaching out to the lost? If so, I commend you for your goods works.
Barnes, Albert. Barnes’ Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.