Some Background and Statement of the Question
In my previous post, “ESS, Slavery, and the Metaphysic of Oppression,” I first rejected the simple metaphysic of “unequal in nature, therefore unequal in authority” as Biblically inapplicable to human relations. I next noted that with the failure of the simple metaphysic, defenders of slavery within the Church turned to a metaphysic of “equal in nature, yet subordinate in subsistence”, or a metaphysic of the inequality of equals. I next noted that Complementarians in modern evangelicalism have also turned to the metaphysic of “equal in nature, yet subordinate in subsistence” to rescue male headship from the feminist onslaught, but with a much more robust footing supplied by the supposed Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) teaching. I rejected this position as well as a metaphysic of oppression, grounded as it is in Trinitarian error and the subordination of persons as to their very subsistence.
Of course the questions/push back from evangelicals has been to question how one could still believe in male headship in the home, as I do, yet reject both of the above metaphysical principles. It is a good question and warrants more than a brief answer. If the metaphysic grounded in the ESS view of the Trinity is a metaphysic of oppression, then one must believe in the inequality of nature to maintain male headship, right? And if one rejects both, then aren’t we left with egalitarianism as the only remaining option? I, of course, have no newfangled answer, nor my own special way of treating the subject; it has been treated better and more extensively by others. Rather, I believe that the very asking of this question just shows how much subordinationist thought has infiltrated evangelicalism, so I hope only to point the reader in a different direction and perspective to continue studying the issue.
The problem, as I see it, is that Complementarianism can in itself be a fine expression of Biblical headship, so long as it is not imbued with the false teaching of ESS and its implications; it is complementarity as grounded in ESS that produces the metaphysic of oppression. In fact, I believe the very fabrication of ESS itself was born of the need to ground a mysterious and inexplicable metaphysic in something already shrouded in mystery and yet also infinitely venerable, viz., the Trinitarian nature of God Himself.
For ESS proponents, the very fact that (1) the Son is from the Father, and the Spirit from the Father and the Son, (2) that there is an eternal unchanging order of operations amongst the Persons of the Trinity, and (3) that the Father is the “Father” and the Son is the “Son”, all demonstrate that there is an eternal order of authority and submission between the Persons. This order of subordination is necessary for the Trinity to even exist:
If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God. But if we do not have economic subordination[…]then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity. For example, if the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father in role, then the Father is not eternally “Father” and the Son is not eternally “Son.” This would mean that the Trinity has not eternally existed.
Thus, for the analog, husband and wife, we are told that just as the Persons of the Trinity are coequal, so are men and women. Nevertheless, the very fact that (1) Adam was created before Eve, (2) that the woman is from the man, (3) that there is a created order of purpose and working among men and women, and (4) that the husband is male and the wife female, each bearing the image of God differently according to their gender, all demonstrate that there is an eternal order of authority and submission between the persons. Note well that on this parallel with ESS, these relationships between men and women are creational, part of the very subsistence of the persons, and could not be otherwise without eliminating maleness and femaleness as such, any more than the relation of authority and submission can be eliminated in the Trinity without the Father losing His father-ness, or the Son His son-ness. This is why I call it a metaphysic of oppression, because even with all of the complementarian talk of “roles” and “functions”, these relations are part of their created being, are as intractable as gender itself, and necessitate subordination by the very subsistence of the human persons.
Fortunately, we can agree with ESS apologist Wayne Grudem on the following: “Of course, if this [ESS] is not true among the members of the Trinity, then it is not necessarily true between husband and wife either”. It is not true of the Trinity and is not true of husband and wife. So what does complementarity and male headship look like without the pollution of the ESS analogy?
Complementarity Without Subordination of Persons
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:27)
There are between men and women created distinctions; God specifically creates His image bearers as male and female, and joins them together as perfect complements in His created order. But there are indeed differences; some quite obvious and true of each and every individual in his created class, some less so, even some with nearly equal general distribution among individuals. This truth does not just result from our own personal and scientific perceptions, but is clear throughout the Scripture. So when we say that men and women are equal, we do not mean to flatten any and all general differences in attributes, aptitudes, or fitness to excel in one area or less so in another, but rather are declaring that all men and women share the one divine image of their Creator and as such are of exactly equal value, dignity, and glory as each are created after the one likeness of God Himself.
The Scripture is also clear that there was a distinct order of creation—first Adam, then Eve: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13). And Eve was formed from Adam, therefore “man is not from woman, but woman from man” (1 Cor. 11:8). Further, there was a created orientation: “Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:9). Last, there was a specific purpose for forming Eve: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” (Gen. 2:18). They are in turn made one flesh,
And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen. 2:23)
Adam and Eve were created as complements and were, it must be made clear, together given authority and dominion to rule over creation: “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Gen. 1:28). They were blessed together and commissioned together to live and work according to their created complementary order. I think at this point in the Genesis narrative, Chrysostom is on point:
[…]you see, she was not subjected as soon as she was made; nor, when He brought her to the man, did either she hear any such thing from God, nor did the man say any such word to her: he said indeed that she was “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh”: but of rule or subjection he no where made mention unto her.
None of this natural complementarity either presupposes or necessitates hierarchy of authority nor an order of right to command and duty to obey. It is only as a result of the cosmic and relational disorder introduced by sin that right to rule and duty to submit are mandated and a hierarchical order of human relationships is introduced. God first introduces this in Genesis 3. He declares to Eve,
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)
The pre-fall created complementarity is leveraged in the new order and dispensation introduced by sin, and is now legislated as an order of authority and submission. The hierarchy of authority is not in itself a curse, rather an amelioration of the disordering effects of sin. As such, it is a blessing. But again, please allow me to emphasize: it is not the created complementarian order of husband and wife that is introduced in Genesis 3:16, rather it is the right to rule and duty to obey which is introduced in response to the cosmic and relational disorder caused by sin. That this hierarchy of authority, right to rule and duty to obey, is not natural to manhood as such, or womanhood as such, is abundantly clear even in the context of the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the husband-wife relationship in 1 Corinthians 11. After discussing the complementary order of creation, including the “for whom” and “from whom” as manifested and enforced under the temporal hierarchy, he immediately states that, “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12). He says elsewhere as well, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28).
Even now, though temporally under the dispensation of sin and curse, those who have the first fruits of the New Creation by the Spirit, who are positionally in the New Creation (“in Christ”), and who are in terms of realized eschatology glorified, are not in principle hierarchically ordered. Of course I want to make clear that the order of authority introduced at the fall is indeed still in force, but I want to make even more clear that this authority is not a property of the created complementarity, nor is it a property of manhood and womanhood as realized eschatologically, and is therefore not a relation that endures into the New Heaven and Earth. For Christ will “deliver the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24). All temporal rule and authority is just that, temporary. Once sin has been finally and ultimately done away with, and all consequent disorder transformed into perfect order under the coming Kingdom, there is no longer need for hierarchical ordering among men.
A Few Necessary Corollaries and Clarifications
- Paul was not constructing an analogy in 1 Corinthians 11:3
[…]in the relationship between man and woman in marriage we see also a picture of the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. Paul says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Here, just as the Father has authority over the Son in the Trinity, so the husband has authority over the wife in marriage. The husband’s role is parallel to that of God the Father and the wife’s role is parallel to that of God the Son. Moreover, just as Father and Son are equal in deity and importance and personhood, so the husband and wife are equal in humanity and importance and personhood. And, although it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, the gift of children within marriage, coming from both the father and the mother, and subject to the authority of both father and mother, is analogous to the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son in the Trinity.
Leaving aside the tortured interpretation and utter ahistorical nature of this reading of 1 Corinthians 11, we are reminded that Grudem and nearly all ESS proponents read an analogy into this passage: just as the Father and the Son are co-equal, yet the Son is eternally subordinate, so husband and wife are co-equal, yet the latter is subordinate to the former.
But there simply is no analogy here. Paul does not say “as”, “just as”, “so as”, “in like manner”, or anything similar, even though Grudem attempts to supply them. Further, if the ESS analogical reading were accepted, it would prove much more than they intend, for the passage runs that God is the Head of Christ, Christ is the Head of man, and man the head of woman. If man being the head of woman is analogous to God being the Head of Christ, then the middle term, Christ is the head of man, is also part of the analogy. Thus, if part of the purpose of this passage is to teach that just as Father/Son are co-equal, then man/woman are co-equal, then we must also conclude that the middle term shows that God and man are co-equal—an absurd and unacceptable conclusion. When Paul does actually give an analogy of the husband wife relationship in Ephesians 5, he is explicit with “as to”, “even as”, “so also”, “as”, and the like.
- The Scripture defines male headship in Ephesians 5, not 1 Corinthians 11
Where Paul does give an analogy of the husband and wife relationship, he writes,
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph. 5:22-33)
I cannot stress enough that when Paul does give an analogy for husband and wife, it is decidedly not an analog of God the Father and God the Son, but rather Christ and His Church. And how is this headship of Christ characterized in Ephesians 5? In self-sacrificial love and service, as to the care of one’s very own body. This is tremendously important, for in ESS readings of 1 Corinthians 11, we have the exact opposite! If we allow an analogy in 1 Corinthians 11:3, we see that the suffering Servant role of Christ toward God is the role of the wife to her husband. That is, on their fallacious reading, the wife’s coequality is realized in her self-sacrificial servant role under the headship of her husband. On the contrary, in Ephesians 5 we see the husband bearing the self-sacrificial role of loving service on behalf of his wife. In the ESS analogical reading of 1 Corinthians 11, headship implies rule over the self-sacrificing servant wife; in Ephesians 5, where an actual and explicit analogy is present, headship implies self-sacrificing service on behalf of the wife.
The principle of rule and authority that ought to govern all relationships within the home and Church is found in the following:
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)
In seeking to put 1 Corinthians 11 in service of ESS Complementarity, ESS proponents have in fact turned Biblical headship on its head.
- All authority is delegated authority
For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. (Rom. 13:1)
No man, being as he is a creature and bearing the same image of the Creator as do all men, has inherent right to rule. Even from the beginning of their creation Adam and Eve were given dominion, they did not possess it by virtue of their very being and attributes. Only the Creator has inherent right to rule. This should not be a controversial statement, but it seems clear to me that complementarity grounded in ESS runs afoul of this principle, for if the analogy holds, and the statements of its proponents are to be taken seriously, then men have authority simply by being male, i.e., as created first, not made of woman, not for woman but woman for man, etc. That is part of how he bears the image of God in his subsistence. And woman, being formed after man, from man, and for man, bears the image of God in her subsistence as subjection. But the truth is to the contrary; just as God has delegated authority for the dispensation of sin and curse, Christ will also put an end to all rule and authority. It is temporary. But gender is not temporary.
- The submission of the wife is “to the Lord”
In Ephesians 5, the wife is called to submit to her husband “as to the Lord”. As in the above, men do not possess authority due to their person, and wives do not owe submission to husbands because they are male. Rather, like all commands to Christians, the requirement for self-sacrificial love on the part of the husband and submission as to Christ on the part of the wife are alike calls to regenerate Christians to live righteously before the Lord—not primarily before each other. The call of the wife to submit to her husband is not a call to the husband to require this submission of his wife, nor extract it by virtue of his superiority, by manipulation, sanctions, or even allurements. This is because her call is to submit as to Christ; that is, her submission is part of her Christian walk before the Lord and is not owed to her husband by virtue of his or her subsistence. The husband is not endowed with such inherent authority.
- And finally, can we all agree that “role” means role and “function” does not?
It has become abundantly clear to me (and others) that the words “function” and “role” are being used illicitly and beyond their normal meanings in almost all ESS Complementarian literature. First, “functions” are based on properties of being, nature, and essence and can’t be used to claim that relations of authority and submission between men and women are therefore not according to their very being. Bruce Ware is absolutely correct when he states that, “function always and only follows essence. Put differently, what something can do is an expression of what it is”; that truth is part of the very definition of “function”.
And the use of “role” fares no better when squared with the body of ESS Complementarian teaching, for a role is by definition not a necessary relation, nor an eternally fixed relation; a role could have been otherwise and can always become otherwise. If one is in an immutably created, necessary, and counterfactual-excluding relation, then one is simply not in a relation of role. When we say that men and women have different functions, we are speaking about nature and being. When we say men and women have different roles, and we are intending to speak English, we mean they have temporarily taken up different offices.
So when we read earlier in this post, “All temporal rule and authority is just that, temporary,” we can also justly say that all temporal rule and authority are simply roles.
Lord willing, with a clearer understanding of the Biblical ground for authority and submission in place, as well as a Biblical understanding of the terms being used, we can steer clear of both the metaphysic of natural inequality as well as the metaphysic of the inequality of equals, while still holding firm to Biblical male headship. I hope we can also see more clearly that not only does the supposed Eternal Subordination of the Son fail on its own merits, but also needlessly supports a metaphysic of oppression.
To be clear, there is such thing as male and female without subordination. There is such thing as created complementarity without subordination. There is also such a thing as temporary and transient hierarchy introduced due to the disordered dispensation of sin and curse. Such temporary authority is delegated, not inherent, and is defined primarily by service. Further, submission is primarily a duty to the Lord, not to another human as such. In short, no human being is subordinate in his or her subsistence or personhood to any other.
 I do not intend to iterate quotes from ESS proponents that were already included in the previous post. This piece is written under the assumption that the former has already been read and the evidence weighed. I have also assumed throughout that gender is part of one’s identity and personhood and as such will continue into eternity. I don’t think many on either side will debate this. Last, I do not intend to get into detailed discussion of 1 Corinthians 11 and the meaning of kephale in this piece. For good discussion on this see Alastar Roberts here and here. See also Anthony Thiselton here.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Ch. 14.D.3; Note here also that Grudem uses “economic” in an idiosyncratic sense. Please see “Subordination, Ligonier, and the ‘Economic’ Trinity“. I will also be discussing ESS proponents use of “economic” in a coming post.
 Ibid., Ch. 14.E
 Systematic Theology, Ch. 14.E; Note here Grudem’s equivocation on “personhood”. He denies inequality of personhood, but also plainly maintains it with reference to subordination. The only way I see to avoid equivocation here is to redefine “person” within the Trinity to not include unbegotten (“Father”) or begotten of the Father (“Son”), for on Grudem’s terms, these defining characteristics of the Persons are not applicable if subordination is rejected.