Is marriage a partnership or patriarchy?


It is very common in modern American culture to refer to one’s spouse as their “partner”. Even one of the definitions of partner according to Webster’s online dictionary is: “someone’s husband or wife or the person someone has sexual relations with”.

But often times what is read into “partner” is a “partnership of equals”, like two people who own a business together. They must agree on all decisions and if they don’t then have to go to court to settle their differences.  This idea of marriage being  a “partnership of equals” does not have any Biblical support whatsoever.

Take for instance the translation of the 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.

I Peter 3:7

I am not a KJV Only person. I quote from the KJV a lot on my site (if there is no version by a verse then it is KJV) but I also will quote from other versions like the NASB and sometimes I quote from the NIV. But the NIV really takes liberties with some passages and translations especially when it comes to gender and marriage and this is one of them.

Nothing in the original language(Greek) of this verse says anything about the wife being the weaker “partner”. The literal rendering is “weaker vessel”. Here is the KJV version of this verse:

 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.

I Peter 3:7

“Vessel” is referring to her body, including her emotional state. A woman’s emotion can sometimes be her greatest asset, and at other times her own greatest enemy. A man has to use wisdom in listening to his wife and understanding her insights. She is also weaker physically, but a man should never treat his wife with disrespect because she is the weaker vessel, instead he should honor her for the position that God has given her as his wife and the mother of his children.

This passage, rather than teaching equality in marriage, teaches that man and woman are equal heirs of the grace of God, men don’t get more grace then women, and women don’t get more grace then men. God loves us equally, and Jesus Christ died for men and women the same. In our souls men and women are completely equal.

Our vessels however –are not equal. Just as woman is the “weaker vessel”, man is the stronger vessel.

Rather than being a partnership of equals, marriage is actually a hierarchy which reflects God’s design in creation. In this same passage in I Peter just before God speaks to husbands about the proper treatment of their wives he speaks to wives about the behavior he expects them to have toward their husbands:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.

 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

 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.

I Peter 3:1-7

A wife is to “be in subjection” to her husband and have a “meek and quiet spirit”. She is to follow Sarah’s example who obeyed her husband and called him “lord”.  This does not paint a “partnership of equals”, but rather a leader and follower, a master and servant relationship, a hierarchy.

But obviously this is no ordinary hierarchy, because it is also a relationship based on love. Ephesians 5 beautifully shows how marriage is a hierarchical relationship that must be bathed in love:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

Ephesians 5:22-33

So again we can see the clear teaching that husbands are the head of their wives. God created a beautiful picture in marriage of the relationship between God and his people. Man is symbolic of God in marriage, and woman is symbolic of the people of God. Man is called to lead his wife as Christ leads the church and the wife is called to submit to her husband as the Church submits to Christ.

The scriptures are clear – marriage is a patriarchy (male lead), not a partnership.

If marriage could be compared to anything I believe a sports team would be a much better comparison. The husband and father would be the like the coach, the wife and mother would be like the team captain. The coach sets the polices and calls the plays, and the team captain carries out those polices on the field (the home) with the other players (the children). Just as a team captain has authority over the other players, so too the mother has delegated authority from the father over the children. Just as a team captain can influence a coach’s decisions, so too a wife and mom should be able to influence her coach’s (her husband’s) decisions.

12 thoughts on “Is marriage a partnership or patriarchy?

  1. What do you believe the term ‘one flesh’ means in marriage? I think you’ve written on it, but I can’t seem to find it.

  2. You mentioned that ‘ a marriage was not sealed’ until a man had sex with a woman’. That’s why I believe when the Lord spoke in Matthew 5:32 about divorce, that this was during the betrothal period as was the example of Mary & Joesph. In Bible days,if you were betrothed to someone, you were considered married, but were not yet living under the same roof or sleeping together. This was the only condition or grounds that a man could put away his ‘wife’ if he found her to be unfaithful during this time period. I believe after the marriage is consummated, there is no grounds for divorce. There are times i believe when a couple needs to separate because maybe there is physical abuse involved… no woman should have to put up with an abusive husband, but actual divorce is not an option.

  3. Jeff,

    I have heard that interpretation before, especially in some churches that I grew up that believed there was no allowance for divorce. I agree that the betrothal period was considered almost just like marriage. Christ was actually offering mercy to women in Matthew 5, because if a woman committed adultery during the betrothal period or actual marriage she would be executed. Here Christ is saying only that she can be divorced, not that she has to be executed.

    The word here in the Greek for “adultery” found in this context, very much applies to married women, and MAY also apply to engaged women. I personally could not read the word for adultery here, and come away thinking it was only of an engaged woman, that is far too limited in my view.

  4. No. The word used here is fornication, which of course as we understand, is sex outside of marriage. Before i had a pastor explain this in a message several yrs. ago, this verse was confusing to me as to why the word adultery was not used. the reason of course is that i didn’t understand that aspect of Bible culture at that time. When he explained it that they were not officially ‘married’, it made perfect sense. Her perceived immorality was ‘outside of marriage’ Until the angel appeared to Joesph, he was going to ‘put her away privily, or privately, and not make her a public example for from what he thought was her being unfaithful. He had the right under the Law to do that, but he was showing mercy.

  5. Jeff,

    Sorry but I have to disagree with your Pastor as well as mine on this. The word for fornication “porneia” actually applies to all sexually immoral behavior, not just sex outside of marriage. Fornication would include premarital sex, sex with prostitutes and whores, homosexual sex,orgies, incest, bestiality and yes even adultery. Adultery is just a more specific type of fornication(porneia). So when Christ used the word “porneia” he was covering whether she had sex with another man during the betrothal period, or during the actual marriage – she could be divorced. The reason this is so significant is, that her sexual faithfulness toward her husband is symbolic of the Churches faithfulness toward Christ.

    If you look in the Jeremiah 3:8 God said:

    “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. ”

    The idea of putting a woman away for unfaithfulness is not limited to before marriage.

  6. That’s ok. We’re not going to agree on 100% of everything all the time. i’m so grateful for your site and how its helped me personally. So much I’m learning and do agree with and will continue to read your articles.

  7. “A woman’s emotion can sometimes be her greatest asset, and at other times her own greatest enemy.”

    You can say that about anybody. In our society, men act out of emotion an cause more damage than women do and on a larger scale, at that. Consider the long list of male serial killers, terrorists, rapists, etc.

    There is no Biblical precedent for stating that a female is emotionally weaker than a male.

  8. Jenn there is precedent to say that woman is weaker than man, and I believe that weakness extends to her emotions. The Bible calls woman the “weaker vessel” and it was considered a shame when God told Israel “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.”(Isaiah 3:12). Women and children are weaker then men. We will have to agree to disagree as to the extent of that weakness where you limit it only actually lifting strength and I believe(as well as many others) that it extends to the emotions as well. Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. A woman’s vulnerability makes able to work with children so much better than a man. Her emotional nature when channeled as God would have her to use is her greatest asset.

  9. Jenn,

    While it is true that there are more male serial killers, terrorists and rapists then women – do you understand that in the case of serial killers and rapists they often lack emotion? It is not their feeling that lets them do these horrible things, but rather their lack of emotion – their basic lack of human empathy that lets them do these things.

    But you want to know an area where emotion plays a HUGE part – divorce. Almost 70 percent of all divorces are filed by women, and a very small percent of those are filed over infidelity or abuse. Most are filed over emotional reasons like “falling out love”. Women in the millions have been lead astray by their emotions into divorcing their husbands. They have been lead to believe a lie, that marriage is based in feeling and emotion, and not in duty and commitment. The word most often used for love in the Bible is Agape, which is a love based in duty and commitment, a love of the will, not of emotion.

    Feelings are good, and God tells us “…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” – Matthew 22:37 (KJV) But our faith, just as our marriage, cannot be completely based in our feelings. This why the vast majority of references to loving God is with a love of the will, not based in emotion and only a few passage reference loving God with our heart(our feelings), but only as part of our larger devotion of our soul and mind.

  10. In a marriage there are two categories that are very distinct – parents and children. In the analogy of a team, you make the wife a team member – just like the children. That’s an unnecessary oversimplification that dishonors the wife. God has has given her the title of mother – parent – and the analogy strips that title from her. Don’t you think a more biblical analogy would be the husband as Head-coach, the wife as Assistant-coach and the children as team members (with perhaps the oldest child as team captain)?

    In this way, the wife is a coach (parent) and still submits to the Head-coach, but she is not in the category of team member (child).

  11. jandredip,

    It was not my intent in this analogy to say that mother’s are their children equals underneath the husband/father. I agree 100% that a woman’s title as both wife and mother are worthy of special honor as the Bible clearly states (Ephesians 6:2, 1 Peter 3:7). I think though the reason I originally chose the analogy as team Captain for the mother, and not assistant coach was for two reasons.

    First, I wanted to emphasize that there is only one head of the family and that he is not just the final decider, he is the decider. When we think of partners say in law firms, they all discuss things and make decisions as a group and perhaps the senior partners will break ties and make final decisions when agreements cannot be reached. But that is not how marriage works. He leads, he decides and the wife follows and implements his vision. Can she offer advice? Certainly.

    The second reason I chose the analogy of team captain for the wife is that the team Captain is actually on the field directing and playing alongside the other players in moment to moment decisions always having in the back of their head the vision and plan of the head coach. I was thinking of the field as the home. The assistant coach does not get on the field and he is not in thick of the game with the other players.

    For instance, the mother may direct her daughters in doing the dishes, laundry and meal preparation. But if she is not also involved in doing these things herself, then she is not doing what God called her to do. The Scriptures show us that it is the wife herself and not her maidens or children who “riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.”(Proverbs 31:15).

    In many ways a mother is called to lead her children by example. She is to demonstrate a good work ethic around the house, being the keeper of the home God called her to be. She is also to demonstrate proper submission and honor toward their father. Children very much take their cues from how to treat their Dad from how their mother treats him.

    I don’t think either analogy is perfect, that of the assistant coach, or that of the team captain. Marriage is a very unique institution. Yet we can still learn things from imperfect analogies. And so I do not believe equating the mother to the team Captain dishonors her if we preface it with the fact that she is not equal to her children, she is above her children and below her husband in God’s order. But I do see the mother as a player in the field of the home, not just a director.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.