Gender Complementarian Trinitarian Analogies Do Not Work
Blogger and author Scot McKnight made a series of posts about complementarianism and the Trinity this past week. I tweeted links to some of these blog posts earlier. The other night, blog Wartburg Watch made a post about these McKnight posts.
In that comment thread at TWW blog, I made a few comments, which I’ll get to in a moment.
For now, here are links to the McKnight posts (on his “Jesus Creed” blog):
Civil War Among The Complementarians – Aug 16
Why Did It Take So Long? – Aug 17
Some complementarians use a doctrine called E.S.S. (Eternal Subordination of the Son) to ground the subordination of wives to husbands in their very being (they use ESS as an ontological device).
They argue that because (in their view) that Jesus Christ is supposedly eternally subordinate to God the Father, in the same way, married women are subordinate to their husbands.
(I am unclear if the complementarians arguing ESS mean to say all women, regardless of marital status, are to be subordinate to all men or not. In all the cases I’ve seen of complementarians arguing ESS, it’s generally been on the basis of marital submission.)
For starters, I am a woman over the age of 40 and have never been married. I do not see how this complementarian belief of the Son supposedly being eternally subordinate to the Father impacts me or my life at all; it does not speak to me or about me, nor do I see how it has any implications for divorced or widowed women.
I’ve often felt that complementarians, aside from being consumed with dreaming up reasons to bar women from preacher or leader positions, are obsessed with marital roles, in that single adult women and men do not factor into their thinking or world views at all.
Three In One Vs. Two in Marriage
Secondly, as some complementarians like to use the Trinity to draw comparisons to married couples, I fail to see how this is or can be applicable to human marriages.
Christians believe that the Trinity is comprised of three in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Traditionally, married couples have consisted of two people.
In the discussions I’ve seen of this issue, complementarians leave the Holy Spirit out of the loop: they argue that the Son is in submission to the Father, the Father is “in charge over” the Son, but I’ve not seen them comment about the Holy Spirit.
Complementarians like to compare the Trinity (or shall we say the Divine Duo of Father and Son – they drop the Holy Spirit) to human marriages, where they proclaim that the Father is analogous to a human husband, and the Son is analogous to a human wife. As the Son submitted to the Father, they say, so too is a wife to submit to her husband.
So, complementarians have this formula set up that looks something like-
God the Father (in authority) = Husband
God the Son, Jesus (in submission) = Wife
Christian wives are told to be like Jesus in this analogy (ie, submissive).
Bible Says The Father Gave All Authority to Jesus
One problem of a few I see with this view are these words of Jesus Christ (and this is one of the observations I raised in the thread at TWW blog):
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)
The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (John 3:35)
1 When Jesus had spoken these things, He lifted His eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. 2 For You granted Him authority over all humanity, so that He may give eternal life to all those You have given Him. (John 17)
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah [Jesus], and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)
In reference to Messiah (Jesus):
He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:14)
Additional verses about this theme on this page:
Even if one were to grant the pro-ESS complementarian position – that Jesus is supposedly eternally subordinate to the Father – many of these Bible verses indicate that God the Father put Jesus in charge of everybody and everything, gave him all authority, Jesus will judge the nations at the end of time, or else will reward those under his authority (see link).
If complementarians want to follow their Trinitarian analogy through, this means that the men (men = Father) would have to give to women (women = Jesus) all authority and power and the rights to judge and reward others.
Do complementarians want to do this, and therefor apply their belief consistently?
No. Because many of them are motivated by a combination of sexism and a quest for power. Many men under complementarianism do not want to give up power and control or compete with women.
The Complementarian ‘Equal in Worth Not in Role’ Argument Has No Foundation Without Basing Gender Roles in Ontological Considerations: Enter Complementarian Support of ESS
The entire exercise by complementarians in arguing on behalf of a permanently subordinated Son is to ground all women’s perpetual submission to men in ontological considerations.
Once all the other complementarian arguments have been refuted and accounted for, showing that complementarians do not have a biblical and logical basis on which to say why it is they believe all women should be inferior to all men for all time in all roles, complementarians fall back to this ESS argumentation to say God wants women subordinate due to their very being or very nature – not due to gifts, talents, skills or something mutable.
Complementarians seem to suggest that God, for some strange reason, doesn’t ever want any women “in charge of” men, or in positions of leadership or influence – due to what, I have asked them? The complementarians usually don’t explain this.
I’ve not seen contemporary complementarians argue that the reason God wants all women to submit to all men (or only wives to husbands) is because God created women to be dumber than men or more incompetent than men.
I have a college education. I have a college degree. I was a straight A student in college.
I was at one time engaged to a guy who barely made it through high school, he was barely literate, and who was dumb as a box of rocks. Surely complementarian men have to admit that it’s not true that all men are smarter or more capable than all women – because reality shows this is not always so.
In order for complementarians to sustain a permanent male hierarchy, they would need to show that all women, every where, for all time, somehow lack some quality or another that makes all of them, on the basis of their biological sex alone, incapable or disqualified from leading or holding preacher positions or doing whatever other thing or holding whatever position: and complementarians today not able to do this.
Marriage Mirrors the Godhead and As Apologetic?
Complementarians may want to argue that God designed women dumber or less “whatever” quality than men, merely to echo the Trinity: that is, maybe a complementarian would say a man married to a woman should “mirror” the Trinity – but the Bible does not teach this.
(Complementarians Inadvertently Teaching that Jesus Christ Is Dumb and Incompetent
By the way, if this were so: if complementarians argue that God created women to be dumber and more incompetent than men…
And since women represent or are Jesus in this complementarian analogy of the Trinity and marriage…
That would mean complementarians are in effect saying Jesus is also dumb and inept – remember, God patterned the female sex after Jesus; women are reflecting Jesus and were meant to reflect Jesus, complementarians say.
Do complementarians really want to argue that Jesus is dumb and incompetent? Because that is where their view leads to; that is the conclusion one can arrive at, if they say God created women to be less “X” or less “Y” than men, because Jesus is less “X” or less “Y” than the Father.)
I would also ask complementarians, even if that were so, to what end? Why would God insist that wives submit to husbands to mirror the Trinity? What purpose would that serve?
So that atheists could see a so-called “godly” marriage (of wifely submission) and be convinced through this that God exists, and that Christianity is true? The Bible does not teach this at all.
(And doesn’t this view rob the Holy Spirit of his duty or role of convicting a person of his or her sin, of bringing a person to Christ? If all evangelization or salvation took was someone pointing to a wife submitting to a Christian husband, why would Jesus send the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t this view make the Spirit moot?)
When the Apostle Paul wanted to convince Non-Christians of Jesus’ divinity, he seemed to suggest he went about this by teaching “Christ and Him crucified.” When Paul preached on the resurrection to Non-believers, if memory serves, he brought up the fact that the tomb was empty three days later.
I don’t remember Paul telling Non-believers, “Look at this Christian marriage and see how the wife submits to the husband! There is your proof that God exists and Jesus is resurrected!”
When Jesus went about trying to demonstrate he was the Messiah, he did things like give sight to the blind, heal the lepers, and so on – not once, at least according to the New Testament, did Jesus point to a Jewish marriage of his time and say, “See how the wife submits to the husband? This is an example of the relationship I have with the Father: believe in me!”
The marriage and Trinity analogy was not used as an apologetic for Christianity in the Bible. So how or why today’s complementarians feel motivated to use marriage in this fashion is beyond me.
What of Adult Singleness in this Marital Analogy?
And what of men and women who never married, who are widowed, or who divorce?
How does complementarian harping on marriage as supposedly being like the Trinity make sense for those of us who are single?
Do I have to be married for the Gospel to apply to me or my life, or to work for me?
Does God love single adults less than married couples? Does God consider singles to be less valuable than married people?
I don’t have a husband to submit to, and the Bible does not instruct, in the New Testament, that single Christian women are to submit to a brother, preacher, uncle, grandfather, or some other human man.
If it is your view that God somehow favors married people to singles, or marriage to singleness, please explain 1 Corinthians 7 to me:
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.
…Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.
…Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife.
… But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
…An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided.
An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.
(end Bible verse quotes)
If marriage is very important to modeling the Trinity and winning converts, or God somehow favors married people to singles, why is Paul so very fine with people remaining single, and even saying singleness is better in some ways for serving God than being married?
Can singleness also not serve as some kind of witness, apologetic, analogy, or symbol to non-believers? Hmm, complementarians?
Good News For Women
I wish I could do a better job of articulating this point about complementarians needing Eternal Subordination of the Son as last resort, because without this apologetic, they do not have a biblical grounds (or logical one) upon which to justify their position that all women are to be submissive to men for all time for all roles on the basis of their biological sex.
But if you’d like to see this view explained far better than I could do here, please get a copy of the book “Good News for Women” by Rebecca Groothius and read through that. (You might be able to read snippets from this book for free on Google Books.)
My understanding of this aspect of the Groothius book (which I read years ago, my copy was misplaced, I was unable to get a new copy) is that without a Trinitarian backed or Trinitarian related argument, complementarians are without a leg to stand on, regarding having a substantial, “biblical” argument upon which to say women are inherently subordinate to men, less capable than men, and/or designed by God intentionally to be permanently subordinate to men and not allowed to perform some task or another (such as preaching, or what have you).
I find complementarianism itself and complementarian tactics more and more repulsive the more I think about it.
It’s bad enough that complementarians are preaching a form of sexism to women to start with, telling them sexism is “godly” and “biblical…”
Then complementarians gas-light women by telling them, why no, complementarianism isn’t sexism…
But that some of them would go so far as to re-purpose, exploit, appropriate, and twist the doctrine of the Trinity to serve their sexist agenda is even more distasteful.
They will apparently stoop to any level out of desperation to further their view.