Did you know that Peter was married?
I’m sure I learned this fun fact at some point during seminary, but I had forgotten about it until this week when my pastor mentioned it. Peter’s wife doesn’t enjoy much remembrance because she doesn’t appear directly in Scripture. In fact, the only biblical reference to Peter’s marital status comes from Matthew 8:14–
When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.
Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, by the way, and it is probably because of miracles like this one that Peter’s wife became quite the committed disciple herself. We know this from an account written by Eusebius, a Roman historian born in the late 4th century who documented the growth of the early church.
According to Eusebius, Peter’s wife was martyred the same day that Peter was famously crucified upside down. In fact, Peter’s wife was executed first. What follows is the account of that day:
“They say, accordingly, that when the blessed Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, ‘Oh thou, remember the Lord.’ Such was the marriage of the blessed, and their perfect disposition toward those dearest to them.”
As stunning as this story is, Peter’s wife was not the only woman to die a violent death for her faith. Several years ago I posted the story of Perpetua, a young Christian woman in the early church who refused to recant her faith, despite the pleas of her family. She then gave birth in prison before walking proudly to a gruesome end.
The women of the early church were lionesses. I have no doubt they were afraid, but they were able to face death with such courage and resolve because their eyes were fixed on their Father above, not the challenge before them.
That is an example I find both terribly inspiring as well as humbling. I am humbled into questioning my own commitment to Christ were I to be so tested. Yet I am also humbled by the comparatively low expectations we hold for women today. Perpetua and Peter’s wife appear so firm and unflinching, whereas Christian women in American appear so fragile. Much of women’s ministry is devoted to lifting women out of suffering, whereas Perpetua and Peter’s wife walked straight into it.
Granted, there are different types of suffering and God does not call us to pain for pain’s sake. Scripture contains both words of comfort and calls to take up one’s cross and die. While suffering is a guarantee, there are certainly times when healing and protection are powerful marks of the Kingdom of God in our lives.
But perhaps we have wandered off the path that leads a recovered soldier back into battle. This wouldn’t be surprising given the degree to which women are treated like porcelain dolls, damsels in distress to be rescued by their princes. Husbands are protectors and women are, too often, the wounded in need of saving.
Where, in all of this, is the kind of marriage we see between Peter and his wife? What does it mean for a husband to send his wife valiantly to execution while declaring, “Remember the Lord!” Protector, he was not. Proud co-laborer for Christ, he was.
Consider also the example of Perpetua, a mother who would rather die than recant her faith and protect her child. Do we even have language for that understanding of motherhood and family?
The stories of women like Perpetua and Peter’s wife challenge us to question how much of our beliefs and practices are actually Biblical, or merely a reinforcing of our own romantic ideals. Are we using God to deliver us from suffering and give us the life we want, or are we depending on God to run the race hard and fight the good fight? At the heart of all these questions lies a core question about priorities: What is your life ultimately about? You serving God, or God serving you?
When I read about Perpetua and Peter’s wife, I become convinced that we expect too little of Christian women today. Women are stronger than we give them credit for, and I make that statement not on the basis of natural human power but on the God we serve. Women belong to a God who possesses an infinite supply of courage and might, and on that basis we are a force to be reckoned with. I think it’s time to raise the bar.