Opinions on faith and life

The Hidden Agenda of "Eternal Sonship"

2007-11-10

I have written much about what has been given the euphemistic name complementarianism, more accurately called patriarchalism, or most accurately, male supremacism (I’ll abbreviate it as MS). But as bad as the mere belief of MS is, it has begun to sink into outright heresy. They are pushing the belief that Jesus, the Son, has always been subordinate to the Father, a concept known as eternal sonship (ES). Let’s look first at some views of the Trinity in history.

The famous theologian Athanasius (b293/296-d373) fought against early opposition to the scriptural concept of the Trinity in his debate with Arius, and Constantine convened the first ecumenical council of Nicea (325 a.d.) in order to end the controversy. Arius held that Jesus was not just subordinate to the Father in function but that he was of an inferior substance, while Athanasius held that Jesus had to be the same substance as the Father or he couldn’t have died for our sins and rose again. So the concept of all three members of the Trinity as all fully divine was established as a result.

But the language of the Nicene Creed hints at an early belief in ES (see this excellent article): that in spite of being of the same substance as the Father, Jesus was nonetheless always subordinated in role, from eternity past. We’ll get more into the why (motivation) in a moment, but first let’s quote some respectable teachers. Ironically, I’ll use the documentation so nicely provided at This ES Site:

As God, the person we now know of as Jesus Christ had no beginning, was not begotten, was not a Son, and did not come into being... but as man and as God’s Son He was not eternal, He did have a beginning, He was begotten, this being the same time Mary had a Son. Therefore, the doctrine of eternal sonship of Jesus Christ is irreconcilable to reason, is unscriptural, and is contradictory to itself. [Finis Jennings Dake, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Bible Sales, 1963) 139 (N.T.).]

The Scripture nowhere calls Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God, and He is never called Son at all prior to the incarnation, except in prophetic passages in the Old Testament. The term Son itself is a functional term, as is the term Father and has no meaning apart from time... Many heresies have seized upon the confusion created by the illogical eternal Sonship or eternal generation theory of Roman Catholic theology, unfortunately carried over to some aspects of Protestant theology. Finally; there cannot be any such thing as eternal Sonship ... the word Son definitely suggests inferiority. [Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985) 117-118.]

Some 900 years before Jesus was born God prophesied, I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to Me (Heb.1:5; 2 Sam. 7:14), indicating that in eternity past that, though there were always three persons in the Trinity, there were not yet the roles of Father and Son. Those designations apparently came into being only at the incarnation. In the announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary, the angel Gabriel declared, He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;...the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God [Luke 1:32,35]. Son was a new name, never before applied to the second person of the Godhead except prophetically, as in Psalm 2:7, which is interpreted in Hebrews 1:5-6 as referring to the event of His incarnation. John wrote, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). Only when the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us as the only begotten God (John 1:14,18) did He take on the role and function of Son [emphasis his]. [John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary--Galatians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), p.108 (see his comments under Galatians 4:4).]

I would like to emphasize the very clear words of Hebrews 1:5, For to which of the angels did God ever say, ’You are my Son; today I have become your Father’ ? Or again, ’I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? One cannot already be what one will become. And also Philippians 2:5-11, where we see that Jesus (1) was equal with the Father, (2) voluntarily laid aside his position and became human, and (3) returned to his original place beside (not beneath) the Father. But eternal sonship is also an oxymoron which tries to deny that any father must necessarily precede his son in time; it is impossible for a father not to predate his own son.

In spite of clear scriptural backing for the view that Jesus was not subordinate to the Father before his incarnation, nor kept that lesser role after his ascension (except as concerns his humanity, which he will always share with us), many are strongly pushing the opposite. Why? They certainly are not compelled by scripture. What purpose would such a belief serve, and why is it being made into such a pivotal belief, to the point of calling those who reject it heretics? Although they concede we do not deny that In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, they count it as blasphemy to deny Jesus’ eternal subordination to the Father.

This insistence on hierarchy among the members of the Trinity has been born of the desire to keep women beneath men. You read that right: lust for male power and rulership is the driving force behind the resurgence of ES, first seen in 1977 in New Testament Teaching by G. Knight III. It is absolutely essential to MS philosophy. It must teach this eternal hierarchy, because if the Father as the head of Christ* does not mean boss, then man as the head of woman does not mean boss either. It seeks to turn temporary roles or functions into a chain of command that exists within the Trinity, in order to justify this same chain of command between men and women. Let me quote something from Ben Witherington which boils down the inherent logical fallacy of this teaching:

The problem arises with the word eternal. If the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father, and cannot be otherwise, then he does not just function subordinately, he is the subordinated Son. His subordination defines his person or being. Eternal functional subordination implies by necessity ontological subordination. Blustering denials cannot avoid this fact.

That excellent article goes on to expose the fact that without this driving ambition to forever keep women behind men, ES would never have become an issue. That’s the motivation: to keep men in a permanent ruling position over women. And all sorts of dire warnings (the slippery slope fallacy) are proclaimed upon any society or church that entertains the notion of equality between the sexes. Why, if women are allowed to go directly to God instead of through their male intermediaries (← that is blasphemy!), people will think we’re all identical and the next thing you know we’ll be ordaining homosexuals!

One of the assertions I often come across in the writings of MS promoters is in defining mutual submission. They claim that when the man leads and the woman follows, this is mutual submission. But it is not mutual unless all parties share equally in some benefit, per Webster’s Dictionary:

Mutual:

  1. directed by each toward the other or the others (mutual affection)
  2. having the same feelings one for the other (they had long been mutual enemies)
  3. shared in common (enjoying their mutual hobby)
  4. joint

It is the MS contention that he leads, she obeys (and by extension, Father leads, Son obeys) can be considered mutual submission. But let’s test that contention:

Mutually assured destruction: Does it mean each side has the ability to destroy the other, or does it mean one side can destroy but the other side can only be destroyed?

Mutual admiration: Does it mean two people admire each other equally, or does it mean one person admires the other and that other person only accepts the admiration?

Therefore, if one person leads and the other follows, it cannot be defined as the two having mutual roles. That is, hierarchy and mutuality are, uh, mutually exclusive. Further, it means that leading and following are not two different expressions of the same thing. Now let’s define submission (again, Webster’s Dictionary):

  1. a legal agreement to submit to the decision of arbitrators
  2. the condition of being submissive, humble, or compliant
  3. an act of submitting to the authority or control of another

If, as MS claims, submission between men and women is in fact mutual, then this must mean each submits to the authority of the other. Since we’ve already established that mutuality has to be equal to be mutual, then mutual submission must mean that both husbands and wives submit to each other’s authority. This definition of mutual submission is entirely Biblical.

Some may ask how it is possible for every believer to thus submit to every other believer as the Bible commands, and further to ask how a church or a marriage can work unless one is the boss. The answer is in timing. Sometimes one person leads, sometimes the other person leads; each leads in the area of their strength. So in such times as Person A’s strengths are needed, Person A leads and Person B submits to their leadership. Likewise, in such times as Person B’s strengths are needed, Person B leads and Person A submits to their leadership. In this way, all submit, only not all at the same time.

Is this not a picture of the Body of Christ functioning as designed? If the eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you, then the male cannot say to the female, God doesn’t need you for the list of things I made up (which the Bible never lists). The left hand cannot dictate to the right hand, and the right cannot dictate to the left. Both get their orders from the Head, which is Christ. Therefore, since they lead, you follow is not mutual submission, and since the Bible orders mutual submission among all believers, then hierarchy between believers is unbiblical. In addition, if God has ordained mutual submission in Christ’s Body, then who is to say such mutual submission cannot exist among the members of the Trinity?

So rather than the historic and scriptural view, this new ES teaching distorts the nature of the Trinity for the purpose of keeping women behind men while still insisting that both are equal in being. Yet it cannot be denied that a permanent, involuntary, and unidirectional submission is neither mutual nor Biblical.

 


 

* Note: A frequent source of misunderstanding is the practice of arbitrarily interchanging Father and God. The Greek word for father is pater, but the word for God is theos. So when the Bible calls God the head of Christ, it’s not saying the Father is the head, but the Trinity. That is, the whole Trinity is the head or source of the Son. Technically, it was the Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary, not the Father. (And you thought you had this all locked down!)

(Updated Nov. 12, 2007)

7 Comments

AP

The responses are silly and unBiblical, seasoned with a little misrepresentation of what I believe and what Patriarchy is for good measure.

Christ, who confronted traditions and overthrew the old order, and had absolutely no problem confronting error of any sort still managed to choose 12 MEN. The Women-who-want-to-be-like-men movement will then say "well, Christ accomodated himself to the ignorant patriarchal tendencies of that time" or something like that. Really? The one who caused offense nearly everywhere He went? The one who cleansed the temple? Christ bowed to Male Supremacy Error? Yes, that is the feminist "jesus"! That is the corner they are boxed in when the fact that He choose 12 men to be the leaders, and NO WOMEN. So, they will PRETEND they are defending the Trinity against Patriarchal "heresy", and yet they feminize and weaken the Son of God, who we see from Scripture would never bow to any kind of nonsense like MS, if this accusation from the feminists is true. The fact He did choose MEN TO LEAD the church He was building, and ONLY MEN speaks VOLUMES to this issue, and no amount of sqwaking or Ad Hominem can change the truth.

Paul PLAINLY TAUGHT, as did Peter, that the husband is THE HEAD of the wife JUST AS Christ is the head of the church. Peter even cited where Sarah called Abraham "lord" as an example to believing women how a quiet and submissive spirit can win an unbelieving husband to the Lord "without a word".

So, it is simple--where Paul and Peter says that the wife is to be submissive to the husband, that the husband is the head of the wife, that she is to OBEY her husband and tend to matter at home and with her children, what do the rebellious feminists do? Well they sure don’t submit to God’s Word either! They will engage in one fallacy and sidestep after another, including demonizing the man who dares point out what the NT teaches. They won’t submit to God’s Word because they CAN’T. When you are already in rebellion, and committed to it, you can’t even submit to plain Scriptural statements.

So one more time--The Holy Ghost said through Paul that the husband is THE head of the wife just as Christ is THE head of the church, and that the wife are to be obedient and submissive. To this you say...what?

Let me also try again to help the feminists here understand simple logic. If Patriarchy is true, then the violation of it OF COURSE would have severe repurcussions of family and the society at large. Well it JUST SO HAPPENS that with the advent of the feminist movement, adultery, divorce and homosexualtiy arose in direct proportion to the success of feminism. One plus One equals Two ladies, it doesn’t matter how you "feel", facts are facts. Women in the workplace committing adultery with their bosses or other co-workers COULDN’T HAPPEN if they weren’t there. Duh. Also, wives give their bosses the type of courteous obedience and respect they OUGHT TO give their husbands, but instead, are giving it to some other man, who they seek to please. Imagine if wives treated their husbands like they do their employers! What we have are misplaced loyalties and affections, misplaced industry and respect. By the time the career girl gets home, she has no time nor patient for her "stupid" husband. She speaks to him and treats him like he is one of the kids. O how often I have seen this in Christian families and even ministers! O how dishonoring to God and destructive to their own lives and spirituality it has been.

Lastly, men do not "squelch" the Holy Spirit in women--some women CLAIM the Holy Spirit is leading them to do things that the Holy Spirit WROTE they are not to do, and some women claim men are not what the Holy Spirit WROTE men are, so men and some godly women simply say "That is not the Holy Spirit telling you this, but the spirit of error". It doesn’t line up with the Holy Scriptures, therefore it IS NOT the "Holy Spirit". Feminists love to take it into the subjective realm of "the Holy Spirit is showing me I am to be a pastor" because they can’t get that out of the Bible, but actually the opposite is what you find taught in the Bible! Paul said if a MAN desires the office of a bishop HE desires a good work, and then he lists the qualifications needed for such a man, and one of them is that he is THE HUSBAND OF ONE WIFE WHO RULES HIS HOUSE WELL AND HAS HIS CHILDREN IN SUBJECTION, for if a MAN cannot rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"

Well no woman can be the HUSBAND of one WIFE. No woman is called to RULE HER HOUSE, the man is. But of course, there are some feminists who claim they ARE called to rule their homes, and some feminist groups do teach a woman can be a husband--the lesbians ones! So, if you are willing to posit lesbianism and women ruling over men in the home, then you can qualify to be an elder! Again, this is the corner he egalitarian lands every time. Will she submit to the Word of God, or will she rail against the messenger? Based on my experience, I will be likened yet again to a Neanderthal. Ad Hominem is just so easy, why bother with exegesis, esp when the feminist view can’t do it? So flame away girls, I expect this from you.

SaberTruth

Excellent comments, TS and Lydia. AP was repeating Adam’s line, "That woman you gave me..." but unlike Eve, we know better than to "follow him out of the Garden" where we are in the direct presence of God. His only feeble attempt at dealing with scripture was, as Lydia pointed out, a description instead of a prescription; the rest was pure misogyny, which is not a fruit of the Spirit by any stretch. Too many today seem to think Jesus did practically nothing for us; they don’t recognize any social changes or ontological changes except the ones they pick and choose, which just happen to benefit men. And of course, nobody even tries to show how the world that has always been run by men could possibly be worse if run by women.

Lydiasellerofpurple

"The feminist movement is rebellion, plain and simple, and it has destroyed our culture and family life in America.The minute women left home to be career girls, adultery, divorce and the homosexual plague was unleashed upon our nation. "

So, the women really were in charge the whole time! Men cannot do what is right unless they can be in authority over women.

There is a problem with your logic. Homosexuality has always been rampent in Patriarchal cultures. Career women was not a huge problem in Sodom. Nor was it in Afghanistan under the Taliban. And interestingly enough, God had to make sure the Isrealites knew it was a horrid sin even though there wern’t alot of career women there, either. Wonder why?

So women are responsible for the sins of men because they cannot control themselves. Does not say much for your opinion of men.

Truthseeker

AP, I agree with you and Paula that the desire isn’t to keep women under men. You are right-women should only be under God and His word and order. Given your clear statement that the desire isn’t to keep women under men, we know you don’t see that as part of God’s order. Neither do we. AP, the bible records patriarchy in the bible, as it it records many things, including polygamy, murder, etc. That is not the same thing as endorsing patriarchy, murder, etc. Mutuality, which Paula is describing, is not synonymous with feminism. So, AP, I have to conclude you are against women being church secretaries since that definitely takes them out of the home. Interesting that so many so-called conservative Christian homemakers actually make money (read ’careers’) away from home promoting books, teaching seminars, selling products, etc. I didn’t know sins such as adultery, as you mentioned, could be unleashed. I thought they were committed. If we can blame these sins on feminism, then the sinners who committed these sins need not repent of them, they need only say ’feminism made me do it’ which would mean they are not responsible for their individual sins. I am not aware of any scripture that supports the non-culpability of a person for his or her own sins. Also, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality predated any feminist movement in this country.

SaberTruth

And I love this doublespeak: The desire IS NOT to keep women under men The Bible teaches Patriarchy from Genesis to Revelation. Let me know when you make up your mind.

AP

This article is utter nonsense. The desire IS NOT to keep women under men, but under God’s Word and His order. The feminist movement is rebellion, plain and simple, and it has destroyed our culture and family life in America. The minute women left home to be career girls, adultery, divorce and the homosexual plague was unleashed upon our nation. Nice job. And to think that rebellious feminists now pretend to portray themselves as the orthodox defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity! LOL! It just shows how low they will go. They have no case Biblically speaking. The Bible teaches Patriarchy from Genesis to Revelation.

SaberTruth

Thank you for your opinion, and for noticing a three-year-old article of mine. I too desire to be "under God’s Word and HIS order" instead of man’s words or orders. That’s why I study scripture. And having studied, I find that it is male supremacism which defies that divine order and desires to usurp that which is God’s alone. The Holy Spirit is in every believer regardless of the flesh, and there is only one Mediator between the believer and God: Jesus. Anyone who tries to wedge himself between any believer and their Lord is a usurper and a blasphemer. "Not so among you" leaves no room for exceptions or for believers who fight for places of authority in God’s kingdom. God is STILL not playing favorites and STILL not judging by the flesh. The male supremacist movement is "bowing to culture" and rebelling against God, squelching the Holy Spirit in women’s lives, and catering to the flesh. You can have your knuckle-dragging, flesh-worshiping, Spirit-defying religion, which is exactly like Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and just about every other religion there is. I’ll follow the Jesus that let Mary sit at His feet as any rabbinical student instead of going back to the kitchen, who allowed a Samaritan woman to be the first to hear the blueprint for the coming church age, and who chose women as His first resurrection witnesses. The Bible teaches that the seed of the WOMAN would be required to undo the sin of the MAN. You must be reading the Quran or something.