Question: "What does it mean that wives are the "weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7)?"
Answer: The context of 1 Peter 3:7 is the Apostle Peter’s instructions concerning living as godly believers toward one another beginning in the home (1 Peter 3:1-12). The wife is addressed first and then the husband. This is the same order the Apostle Paul uses in Ephesians 5:22-33. Husbands are instructed to “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” (ESV). Other translations of 1 Peter 3:7 render the phrase “weaker partner” (NIV, CSB), “someone weaker” (NASB), or “weaker than you are” (NLT).
What does it mean that the wife is a “weaker vessel”? The passage does not specifically say. There are many speculations. The most common proposal is that 1 Peter 3:7 is referring to physical weakness since the vast majority of husbands are significantly physically stronger than their wives. Some interpreters see other ways that women are, generally speaking, weaker than men, such as being less in control of their emotions. Others point to the idea that women are more easily deceived (based on 1 Timothy 2:14). The primary problem with these theories is that this passage, and the Bible as a whole, nowhere specifically identifies ways that women are weaker than men. First Timothy 2:14 simply says that Eve was deceived. It does not say that women are more easily deceived than men.
First Peter 3:7 is not about identifying weaknesses in wives. Rather, it is about how husbands are to treat their wives. According to 1 Peter 3:7, husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, show them honor, and recognize that their wives are heirs with them of the grace of life. The consequence of a husband not honoring his wife is hindered prayer, something every Christian husband should strive to avoid.
While it is interesting to study what precisely Peter may have meant by “weaker vessel,” ultimately, it misses the point. Whatever “weaker vessel” means, the application is that husbands are to understand, honor, and value their wives. In context, “weaker vessel” likely carries the meaning of “worth protecting” and “something to cherish” far more than it is intended to identify specific weaknesses or in any way diminish the strength and value of wives.