ARP and Subordination in the Trinity as a Model for Men and Women

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SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
In the position paper "Women in the Life of the Church," the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church claims subordination in the Trinity is a model for the roles of men and women.

Page 6 [emphasis mine]:

From this survey, we conclude that there is a consistent and pervasive line of teaching in the New Testament recognizing the importance of some functional difference between men and women in the home and in the church. The principle of “headship” applies to both home and church, according to the New Testament writers, and this headship involves a priority of authority and responsibility on the part of the male. Moreover, this teaching is grounded, not in temporary circumstances or in the effects of the Fall, but in the order of creation, in the redemptive relationship between Christ and the church, and in the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.

Pages 12-13:

Finally, a recent but persistent form of argument has challenged the connection traditionally drawn, in part on the basis of 1 Corinthians 11:3, between male headship and the doctrine of the Trinity. As we saw above, advocates of the traditional understanding of gender roles have argued from the intra-trinitarian relationship involving a functional subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father to the functional subordination of female to male. Some egalitarians have responded by contending that those who argue in this fashion are guilty of the trinitarian heresy of “subordinationism.” In fact, however, recent studies have demonstrated that this notion of equality and unity of essence combined with subordination of function is firmly rooted in the orthodox Christian tradition. Furthermore, proponents of this argument equate “subordination” and “subordinationism” in a manner that obscures rather than illumines the history of trinitarian discussion. More disturbing still is the fact that much contemporary revisionist discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity seems to be driven by gender considerations; in other words, the sociological tail seems to be wagging the theological dog. In fact, as W. B. Evans has observed, this line of argument appears to be part of a larger trend in contemporary theology “in the direction of ‘social theories’ of the Trinity (with little or no apparent ontological basis for divine unity), and we may legitimately question whether evangelical feminists will be able to avoid falling into tri-theism.”

Finally, an approving reference is given in a footnote to an article titled “A Defense of the Eternal Subordination of the Son” in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (p 13).

Should this be addressed in light of the recent controversy?
 

KGP

Puritan Board Freshman
I've been thinking a lot about this topic in light of 1 Tim 2 in the past year, and what I keep coming back to is that the opponents of the traditional view end up attacking Godly unity in the name of equality. They undermine the exactly what they claim to be fighting for it seems, There is a real sense in which the authors of the egalitarian works I've read themselves suffer from the same misconceptions of gender roles and stereotypes they try to correct in their approach to the 'problem' to set out to solve, which is partly why they don't really get beyond offering works of church reform and self accomplishment as solutions.
 

Parakaleo

Puritan Board Sophomore
Should this be addressed in light of the recent controversy?

Yes, it needs to be revisited. As I have studied through this issue myself, I keep returning to the same thought. It seems egalitarians want to have a "gotcha" moment with traditional gender-role people by saying that their interpretation of passages such as 1 Cor. 11:3 leads to ESS or EFS. In turn, some complementarians have "doubled down" by actually defending these Trinitarian views and searching for them in church history. This, in my opinion, is needless. Why can't we stop at the economic roles of the Trinity in redemption and say these serve as paradigmatic for male and female roles? Redemption is central to creation and began unfolding in it, even before God created Eve.

But I want you to understand that the Head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the Head of Christ is God. 1 Cor. 11:3

Is Christ's subordination to the Father in the economic Trinity somehow not "weighty" enough to provide a basis for human male and female roles? Is it absolutely necessary to go to the ontological Trinity for this?
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
My question is, why do we even need to appeal to the Trinity at all for gender issues? Isn't the Bible clear enough?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
My question is, why do we even need to appeal to the Trinity at all for gender issues? Isn't the Bible clear enough?

Clear enough? Perhaps. But if we only look to the Bible for clarity regarding rules, we are left in a sad place. The Bible also gives us reasons and examples that help us to embrace God's rules and to enjoy the nobility and inherent goodness of those rules. This is an aspect of obedience that should not be overlooked. Clarity is not enough. God gives us much more.

So if the Bible does present Christ as an example of submission and/or subordination, we ought not to disregard this part of the Bible as if having the rule spelled out elsewhere makes this particularly glorious application of the rule unnecessary. No, if the example is there, then it is there to help us (not just in male-female roles, but in all situations that require godly submission). It is there to be an encouragement—one we should not overlook.

Our culture makes a huge assumption about subordination. It assumes that to accept one's proper, subordinate place is to accept disgrace and stifle potential. That's a lie. Amazingly, the Bible doesn't just argue against this lie; it beautifully shows us the nobility and power of proper submission in the person of Christ. It makes us want to obey as he obeyed. It shows us the glory behind the rule.

Now, that's no reason to overstate the case when it comes to eternal subordination, if that's what's happening. But neither should we say the submission of Christ has no bearing on this matter because the rules are clear elsewhere. We do not live by rules alone. The glorious example of Christ always matters.
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
My question is, why do we even need to appeal to the Trinity at all for gender issues? Isn't the Bible clear enough?

1Co 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

Joh 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Joh 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.


John 17

WCFII.3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

For the reason of 1 Cor. 11:3 alone, God appeals to the Trinity in gender issues, so we must as well.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
Well, this the very point of contention. 1 Cor. 11:3 isn't talking about intra-trinitarian relations, it is about the incarnate Christ's relationship with God. To see this as the person of the Son submitting to the person of the Father is to multiply wills in the Godhead. The only other option is "head" doesn't imply authority and submission in 1 Cor. 11.

Calvin says in his commentary:
God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
 
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Parakaleo

Puritan Board Sophomore
1 Cor. 11:3 isn't talking about intra-trinitarian relations, it is about the incarnate Christ's relationship with God.

Agree 100%. There's nothing in the text that would make us think Paul had the ontological Trinity in view. In fact, today I was thinking about the difference between the way God formed men and women. Though men and women are equal bearers of God's image, there is a difference in how they we formed and for what purpose. Is it not the same in the economic Trinity? Christ, by His incarnation, added a human nature that was radically different and subordinated to the Father by nature. Such an incredible condescension, planned for all eternity, before the creation of Adam and Eve, surely this ultimate example of subordination is worthy and weighty enough to provide men and women with a paradigm for their own earthy roles!

Besides, if one wants to take subordination to the ontological Trinity, I don't see how they could then argue against continuing submission of women to men into the eschaton.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Is it not the same in the economic Trinity? Christ, by His incarnation, added a human nature that was radically different and subordinated to the Father by nature.

I hope we all agree that women and men are of the same human NATURE. That being the case, women cannot be subordinate in NATURE to men in the way that Christ as man was subordinate in NATURE to God. The teaching of 1 Cor. 11 must be restricted to function or office. It should not be extended to ontology.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I think there are several ways people engage in hand-waving to get around sexual differences, but it is inevitably somewhat inconsistent. In this strange new era, in many ways older-style feminists are our unwitting allies. One of the main areas of hand-waving is to say that differences are cultural - imposed on children by nurture. That might be true of a large number of differences, to be sure (e.g., the "gender-reveal" colors). But why does one society after another impose these gender distinctions? Why is resisting them so hard? Why can we never remain "woke" enough to avoid them completely?
 
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Toasty

Puritan Board Sophomore
1 Cor. 11:3 isn't talking about intra-trinitarian relations, it is about the incarnate Christ's relationship with God.

Agree 100%. There's nothing in the text that would make us think Paul had the ontological Trinity in view. In fact, today I was thinking about the difference between the way God formed men and women. Though men and women are equal bearers of God's image, there is a difference in how they we formed and for what purpose. Is it not the same in the economic Trinity? Christ, by His incarnation, added a human nature that was radically different and subordinated to the Father by nature. Such an incredible condescension, planned for all eternity, before the creation of Adam and Eve, surely this ultimate example of subordination is worthy and weighty enough to provide men and women with a paradigm for their own earthy roles!

Besides, if one wants to take subordination to the ontological Trinity, I don't see how they could then argue against continuing submission of women to men into the eschaton.

Does the teaching that God is the head of Christ refer only to Christ's human nature? Does the submission of Christ only refer to Christ's human nature?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Does the teaching that God is the head of Christ refer only to Christ's human nature? Does the submission of Christ only refer to Christ's human nature?

"God" is the divine nature. The second person of the Godhead is equally divine because He is the same in substance with the other persons. Therefore Christ, as He is divine, cannot be under the headship of the divine nature as a matter of NATURE. Economical subordination is a different thing because it requires a voluntary act on the part of the Son that is not necessary to the personal property of Sonship.

The God-man, Christ, is one person. As such He is in submission to the divine nature. As a divine person He voluntarily submitted to the divine will to accomplish the purpose of redemption. This submission required Him to assume an human nature, which is inferior to the divine nature. We distinguish, then, between the different ways in which the God-man is subordinate to God.

From the verse under discussion it is clear that there is a gradation of headship. We know it cannot depend on a gradation of nature or of personal properties without lessening the quality of the woman as an HUMAN PERSON. The rationale behind this gradation must be economical, not ontological.

When people go searching for inferior qualities in the woman there is a rejection of the biblical idea of headship. It is her suitability and equality to the man which requires headship. Any inferior quality would make her unsuitable to the man just as the animals were unsuitable to the man. If she were inferior the man would have dominion, not headship. But as it stands man and woman have dominion over the creatures, and the man exercises headship over the woman. His headship assumes there is an equality of nature but a superiority of office.
 
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