The Trinity and MarriageI have tried to cover and comment on many topics related to the current discussions on gender in the Church; but one thing that I have not commented about previously is the association that some make between the relationships within the Trinity and the relationship between a husband and wife.

Some complementarians argue that, while Jesus and God the Father are essentially equal in being, Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father. This view has been termed Subordinationism.[1] These complementarians go on to say that men and women are also essentially equal in being, but that women are, and will be, eternally subordinate to men. I am not persuaded by their arguments.

Despite disagreeing with the conclusions complementarians draw from the supposed subordination of Christ, I have purposefully stayed out of any debates about it. The following are the reasons I distance myself from the gender debates based on the Trinity and Subordinationism.

(1) The debate is biased

The presentation of Scriptural investigation and surveys of the Creeds and Christologies of early and classic Christian theologians, and the ensuing debate about whether or not Jesus Christ is eternally subordinate—when it is given by people who have a strong interest in either the subordination or liberation of women—is not entirely free from bias. This bias will hinder a true understanding and appreciation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(2) The Trinity is a profound mystery and we do not fully understand it

While some of us may think we have some idea about the nature of Triune Godhead—Father, Son/Messiah, and Holy Spirit—I believe that we are all in for stunning surprise when we are finally able to see God as he really is. Furthermore, I don’t think that anyone can possibly know what the (supposed) subordination of Jesus means in the eternal scheme of things. (I also don’t think we have a true comprehension of what 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 [given in endnote 2] really entails.) Of course the mystery of the Trinity shouldn’t stop us from trying to seek a greater understanding of the nature of the Godhead, but when this pursuit is done with an agenda of trying to prove the status and relationships of men and women, we are heading away from genuine theology.

(3) There is a danger of arrogance in arguing emphatically about Jesus’ status

Jesus graciously condescended by coming to earth in order to live as a human being and in order to die as a redemptive sacrifice. However, I think we are in danger of arrogance if we insist that Jesus continues to condescend himself and function as a subordinate member of the Godhead. Furthermore, the Church has continually failed to understand Jesus’ perspective on hierarchy and subordination in human relations, so how can we possibly understand hierarchy and subordination in the Divine, assuming it even exists?[3]

(4) The Trinity is not a model for marriage

Finally, it is very important to acknowledge that nowhere in Scripture does it suggest, or even hint, that the relationships between the members of the Godhead are an illustration of the marriage relationship. While both men and women are made in the image of the Triune God, I simply cannot see that a case can be made to use any of the relationships within the Trinity as a model for marriage. And so it is worrying when people think that husbands are somehow analogous to God the Father, and wives are somehow analogous to Jesus Christ (or occasionally, the Holy Spirit.)

The Scriptures do give us an illustration of marriage. In Ephesians 5:21-33 Paul tells us that the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church (and not God the Father and Jesus) reveals an aspect of marriage. The loving, supportive and close association of Christ and his Church is a model for the loving, supportive, sacrificial and close relationship between husband and wife. [More on this here.]

Conclusion

The complementarian argument—that Jesus is equal with God the Father but subordinate to him, so women should be content with being “equal” but subordinate to men—is bogus! I think that by combining the notion of the eternal subordination of Jesus with the notion of the subordination of women we are doing neither Christology nor Christian marriages any favours. I am particularly concerned with what effect these debates are having on our Christology. So, for all these reasons, I am staying out of any debates about so-called “Subordinationism”.


Endnotes

[1] Complementarians hold to the view that men and women are “equal in being” but “unequal in role”; a view that I fail to see as logical. While complementarians believe that men and women are “equal but different,” I maintain that men and women are “different and equal—no buts.”

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, NASB:

. . . then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all thing in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “ All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

[3] I cannot in good conscience align myself with some Christian egalitarians who state that the relationships within the Trinity are of mutual, reciprocal submission. I don’t think the Scriptures give us enough information or insight about this. What if, for instance, the members of the Godhead are not equal as we understand equality? I imagine that the divine relationships within the Trinity defy labels such as hierarchy, subordination or equality, etc. I do believe however, that the will of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are identical. Since each member of the Godhead shares the same plan and purpose, then God’s will is ‘one will’ and not three different wills either competing or submitting. This degree of unity would certainly be ideal in marriage. Still, the Bible simply never states that the Trinity is a model for marriage.


More information 

The Trinity Statement website here.

Here is a long article entitled The Trinity in Gender Debates by Dr Fred Sanders which is on a blog from the Torrey’s Honors Institute. It is well worth the read.

Or you can watch this excellent video. If you can’t watch the whole thing – it’s long – just watch the first half hour and you’ll catch Kevin Giles’ main message. Fred Sanders also presents a message on this video.


Related Articles

Separate Spheres and Distinct Roles in the Trinity and in Marriage? 
Monogenes: Only Begotten?
Proving that Jesus is God from Old Testament Scripture
Paul’s Main Point in Ephesians 5:22-33
(1) Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:1-6
(2) Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7-8
Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters
Gender Obsessions: Emphasizing our Differences or our Similarities?