Lately I’ve noticed a trend among some Christians to call their husband or wife their “partner” instead of what that person really is – a husband or wife. I’m over fifty and no one ever – ever – called their husband or wife their “partner” in Christian circles until the past few years. Why the change? I believe it is part of a bigger trend among progressive Christians, in particular, to eschew using biblical terms so as to seem more with it and less offensive.
I think this is a mistake. As the saying roughly goes, the person who defines the terms wins the argument. I believe that biblical Christians are making a significant mistake if they accept and begin to use the word “partner” instead of husband or wife. Why? Here are three reasons.
The Bible Uses Husband and Wife, Not Partner
One, “partner” is not the term God has given us to use in the Scriptures.
I wanted to make sure I was correct with this so I looked up the word partner to see how it was used in Scripture, especially as it might relate to marriage. I started with the NIV and there were a number of verses where partner is used. Most of them are used in the context of being partners in spreading the Gospel and have nothing to do with marriage.
There were a few verses where there was a marriage context. In each case, partner is used either after the words husband and wife as another way to refer to the other person and/or in conjunction with the idea of a marriage covenant.
1 Peter 3:7 – 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.
Malachi 2:14 – You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
Proverbs 2:17 – who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.
I then looked up 1 Peter 3:7 in various versions to see how often “partner” was used. It wasn’t used very often. Even The Message did not use the term “partner.” Here are several versions.
NIV: 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.
NASB: You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
KJV: Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
RSV: Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered.
ESV: Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
PHILLIPS: Similarly, you husbands should try to understand the wives you live with, honouring them as physically weaker yet equally heirs with you of the grace of eternal life. If you don’t do this, you will find it impossible to pray properly.
The Message: The same goes for you husbands: Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.
So although the word partner does pop up a few times, it is clearly not the word of choice in the Scriptures when referring to a husband or wife. This seems especially true when referring to the husband. The only place it seems to be used in this way is Proverbs 2:17.
Someone pointed out to me that in order to be more accurate, we should use the words my man for husband and my woman for wife since the New Testament Koine Greek would translate them as “man” and “woman.” I would have no problem with that if a Christian insisted on using those terms because they are a more literal translation of the Scriptures. Why? Because they are using them in an effort to be biblically precise, something I would support. There is nothing biblically precise about using the culturally popular term “partner.”
A Marriage Covenant is More Than a Partnership
Two, I think using the term “partner” cheapens the marriage covenant.
The idea of covenants is a powerful one throughout the Old and New Testaments. Likewise, the marriage covenant is something amazing and glorious. A man and woman stand before God and make a covenant to become one flesh. To simply call this a partnership makes it much less than it is.
Clearly the Bible values partnerships when it comes to sharing the Gospel. Paul speaks often of those who are partners with him in the spread of the Gospel. But we don’t make a covenant with the people we are working with to spread the Gospel. Marriage is on an entirely different level when it comes to human relationships.
Calling the one person on earth we have entered into a sacred marriage covenant with simply our “partner” cheapens the richness of what we have.
Giving In to Political Correctness
Three, I’m not a language expert, but I can see trends around me. We’ve used the words husband and wife for hundreds and hundreds of years. Now, in the past few years, I see Christians dumping them for the trendy “partner.” Why? What is motivating that change? Something is driving it.
I don’t think it is driven by a desire to be faithful to the Scriptures or the foundational concepts of the Christian faith.
It’s not because “partner” is a better word. Partner can be used in many different situations. Husband and wife are unique to the covenant of marriage.
It’s not because Bible translators realized that husband and wife are poor or inaccurate word choices.
It’s motivated by wanting to fit in with the culture, pure and simple. Using the term “partner” is a capitulation to the current politically correct culture.
Rather than bringing the life-giving Word of God to a culture that desperately needs it, Christians are adopting a word devoid of any real biblical or spiritual meaning when it comes to the marriage covenant. We are called to be set apart ones. I think one of the ways we can demonstrate our set-apartness and commitment to Christ and the Scriptures in a culture that mocks them is to use the beautiful terms and images God has provided for us. This includes marriage. This includes not tossing aside the words husband and wife.
I think we should purposefully not participate in the “partner” trend. So I encourage Christians to rejoice in calling the one with whom they made a marriage covenant their husband or wife.