Was Abigail Submissive?

In this study, we will look at scripture giving wives advice about submission, and compare that with Abigail’s behavior in 1 Samuel 25. It will be helpful to review this chapter at this point, if you are not familiar with it.

1 Peter 3:1-9  says the following about godly submission:
"...the holy women of the past...were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.  You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.  Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."

Authors and Christian counselors Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson offer a perspective on healthy submission in cases of domestic violence, based on 1 Peter 3:1-9 1:

"Peter told women that they will become daughters of Sarah by faith if they ‘do what is right and do not give way to fear’ (v. 6). That statement is critical for a woman to understand if she is going to learn how to be submissive in a godly way. [The phrase] ‘Do what is right’

...calls a woman to be devoted to doing what is good for others. Jesus addressed the issue of doing good when He said, ‘which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’ (Luke 6:9). Doing good means doing what is necessary to save and preserve life. Doing evil means...to kill and destroy life. ...A lovingly submissive wife is called to be engaged in doing what she can ‘to save’ and preserve the life of her spouse. This is submitting to (aligning herself under) God’s good purposes for him as a man and fulfilling God’s design for her as a woman.

What does it look like to ‘do what is right’? Rather than tolerating abuse, a biblically submissive and loving wife will creatively learn to be as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a dove (Matthew 10:16) in exposing him and letting others know about the destructiveness of his abuse, and to invite him to know the goodness of God’s mercy. ...[She] will be motivated by her loving respect for him because she believes in his potential of becoming the kind of loving man he could be if he submitted to Christ’s leadership in his life. ...There is no guarantee of how a husband will respond to a loving wife who exposes the evil of his abuse.2 All too often, the abuser has so hardened his heart that he is unwilling to admit his sin and accept any responsibility for harm caused to others. In such cases, separation may be the only ‘severe mercy’ that can be offered to him."

Abigail took action to preserve the life of her husband, and the lives of the other members of her household (1 Samuel 25:34). She also helped to prevent David from sinning (25:33). She respected her husband by not covering up the situation and by explaining the averted destructiveness of his actions in a tactful manner (25:36-37). Certainly this was "doing what is right". But what about the fact that she did not obey her husband’s command to withhold repayment from David and his men? Careful examination of the Greek word for submission directed to wives in 1 Peter 3:6, as well as Ephesians 5:22-24 and Colossians 3:18, shows that it does not mean the same as obedience, but rather is a voluntary act of allegiance, support, and response to the needs of another.3  In this sense, then, Abigail submissively supported her husband and met his needs by seeking to save his life.

The excerpt we read reveals that a submissive wife is "doing right" by her husband when she seeks to end abuse and encourages him to return to godliness. It is important to understand that the Bible condemns, and names as sin and wickedness, the kinds of behaviors often seen in domestic violence (Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Matthew 15:18-20; 1Peter 3:7). It even says such sins can prevent an unrepentant person from entering the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:21; Revelation 21:8; Matthew 5:22). A loving wife would not want her husband to continue to sin against God, or to stumble and fall spiritually. She would not be supporting him or meeting his needs if she did.

It can be difficult for a woman to know how to respond to domestic violence in a godly way. There are often no easy answers, but our Lord sees our hearts and understands. It is important that women pray and seek the Lord first as they try to determine how to respond to abuse, so that they submit "as is fitting in the Lord" (Colossians 3:18).


Discussion Questions:

  1. Abuse, like any other sin, tends to "snowball" over time, if not dealt with. Have you seen abuse became worse over time?
  2. Sometimes what is taught about submission does not match what the Bible says about it.  Can you give any examples of this?  Have you ever heard anyone use scriptures about submission to encourage tolerance of abuse?




1. When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse, by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson, Radio Bible Class, Grand Rapids, MI 49555-0001.

2. When dealing with an abuser, safety must be the top priority. It can be helpful to have a safety plan and to discuss the situation with your local domestic violence program or women's shelter, before deciding to take action.

3. What Paul Really Said About Women, John Temple Bristow. Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1991.

4. Heart To Heart About Men, Words of Encouragement for Women of Integrity, Nancy Groom. Navpress, 1995; pp.144, 148-149.


Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy