Opinions on faith and life

The Trinity and Subordination

2006-06-01

Are you being told to believe in the “eternal Sonship of Jesus”, that he was always and will always be inferior to the Father? Most likely, and the reason is not because it’s necessarily a clear Biblical teaching, but because it’s necessarily the justification for women’s subordination. I’ll comment briefly, but I would encourage you to read the article at this link for more detail and documentation.

As I wrote about in one of my web documents on women and the Bible, complementarians (comps)— those that teach women’s subordination to men— base their argument partly on the concept that Jesus’ subordination to the Father is eternal, not confined to his humanity. They use the term ontological subordinationism, meaning subordination in being or essence. A legitimate example of this kind of subordination would be that of man to God. There has never been and will never be a time when man is equal in essence or authority to God; it is intrinsic in ourselves to be eternally subordinate to God.

But the ’persons’ of the Trinity, as Giles argues in the article, are all of the same essence and being; they are One. Any terminology we see in the Bible as to submission has to do with the voluntary and temporary situation wherein Jesus laid aside his divine privilege to become human and pay for our sins (see Philippians 2:5-11). He also points out that “the sending of the Son is best explained in terms of the Jewish shaliach principle: the one sent has the same authority of the one who sends. If this is the case, sending does not indicate subordination but equal authority.”

The concept of ontological subordination is claimed by comps to be the historical orthodox view held by the “church fathers”, but Giles shows that the exact opposite is true. In fact, the councils of Nicea and Constantinople firmly rejected the idea. The early theologian Athanasius argued against this heresy, which was being promoted by Arius, some of whose ideas were Gnostic in origin.

What has this to do with women’s subordination? Comps will say that because they believe Jesus is eternally subordinated to the Father, and because the relationship of the church to Jesus is the basis of and model for the relationship between a husband and wife, then the wife is eternally subordinated to her husband. In addition, they extend this to the relationship of all women in the church to all men in the church. But if the Bible does not teach the eternal subordination of the Son, then the basis for the comp argument is refuted.

We have a hard time wrapping our brains around what is called the “hypostatic union”, the idea that Jesus is fully God and fully man at the same time. Nonetheless, like the concept of the Trinity itself, our inability to fully grasp a concept found in the Bible is no excuse to reject it. The Bible teaches that Jesus voluntarily submitted himself to the Father in his humanity, not permanently but to accomplish our salvation, which is “finished”. He ascended back to his original position of divine equality after he arose from the dead, having made the final sacrifice for sins “once for all”.

It is utterly impossible for Jesus (or anyone) to be equal in essence but eternally subordinated. That being established, it follows that the command for wives to “submit themselves” to their husbands cannot be seen as a permanent or universal statement of being. Women, who are clearly presented in the scriptures as “co-heirs” and full spiritual equals with men, can therefore not be subjected to ontological subordination. The Bible presents it instead as voluntary submission to an equal, NOT required and involuntary inferiority of being. The popular phrase “equal in being but not in function” is thus an unBiblical oxymoron.