Essential Equality and Functional Subordination: A Complementarian Novelty?

Did complementarians invent the notion that beings can be equal in essence and yet one be subordinate to the other in terms of function or role? That’s what many egalitarians claim.

Here’s an interesting selection from Ambrosiaster:

The subjection of Christ to the Father means that every creature will learn that he is subject to Christ, who in turn is subject to the Father, and will thus confess that there is only one God. But Christ’s subjection to the Father is not the same thing as our subjection to the Son, because our subjection is one of dependence and not the union of equals.1

“Christ’s subjection to the Father is . . . one of . . . the union of equals.” The notion that a being can be equal in one sense yet subject in another sense is quite apparently not novel.

Footnotes

  1. Commentary on Paul’s Epistles, 81.3:173–74. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. Vienna, 1866–. Quote in Gerald Lewis Bray, “1 Corinthians 15:28,” 1–2 Corinthians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: NT 7 (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999), 163.

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4 Responses to Essential Equality and Functional Subordination: A Complementarian Novelty?

  1. GD January 30, 2008 at 10:53 pm #

    “The notion that a being can be equal in one sense yet subject in another sense is quite apparently not novel.”

    What idea is novel in this day and age?

    So complementarians are pressing the idea that a person can be born into a role of subordination as an aspect of their being, and yet still considered equal in “essence” (equally human) with the chosen rulers.

    This is hardly a novel idea. It is common to every privileged class of elites ever to walk the earth.

    Complementarians are living in a strange time and place. The idea that some people were born to be subordinates to a rightful ruling class is antithetical to current Western mindsets. Most Americans view such an idea as anti-Constitutional, anti-American and immoral. Which it is.

    So complementarians spend their time in contortions trying to explain how their ideas are somehow different than the Samurai, the nobility of Europe, the upper castes of India and so on and so forth.

    This means they have to repeat the phrase “equal in essence” with the same fervor that Miss America contestants talk about “world peace”.

    It is extraordinarly kooky to suggest that there is practical subordination in the Trinity outside of Christ’s incarnation. The Father and Son are the same Person. They do not disagree with each other, nor do they even conceive of thoughts independently. Do they? Can you be subordinate to you?

    It seems more likely that this “subordination” involves Jesus as the one designated to act upon the Trinity’s decisions in various situations. This would mimic the behavior of a human subordinate. Maybe some of the language in the bible is descriptive rather than definitive.

    At any rate, I don’t believe women can be born subordinates and yet equal to men. Why don’t complementarians just admit that they believe men are superior to women?

  2. Phil Gons January 31, 2008 at 8:11 am #

    Thanks for your comment, GD. The point of the post wasn’t to delve into the larger debate, but to show that the notion that equality and subordination are compatible is not new.

    It is extraordinarily kooky to suggest that there is practical subordination in the Trinity outside of Christ’s incarnation. The Father and Son are the same Person. They do not disagree with each other, nor do they even conceive of thoughts independently. Do they? Can you be subordinate to you?

    Your analogy fails pretty badly here. God is Trinity—both one and three. I am not. I am merely one. Can the Father be subordinate to the Father? Of course not. Can the Son be subordinate to the Father? Absolutely. Scripture is clear on the point. At the end of all things (i.e., long after the incarnation) when the Son delivers the kingdom back to the Father, the Son Himself will be subjected to the Father (1 Cor 15:28). As kooky as you may think that sounds, it’s biblical. No one is claiming that there is any disagreement between the Father and the Son. Disagreement has absolutely nothing to do with subordination.

    Why don’t egalitarians just allow for the kind of nuancing that Ambrosiaster does?

  3. Nick Norelli February 14, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    I’m an egalitarian that readily acknowledges the functional subordination within the Trinity. The subordination is eternal and arises from the ταξις (order, not rank) of the Trinity. The Father begets, the Son is begotten, the Spirit proceeds. The Father sent the Son, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit. This is the Biblical witness. Having said that, I have some issues with some things that GD said.

    It is extraordinarly kooky to suggest that there is practical subordination in the Trinity outside of Christ’s incarnation.

    But this is exactly what is suggested in the Father sending the Son. The Son was willingly obedient to the Father prior to the Incarnation. His continued obedience in his incarnate state only reflects his eternal obedience.

    The Father and Son are the same Person.

    No, they are not the same person (that’s modalism). They are two eternally distinct persons. The entire Father/Son metaphor is lost if there is only one person in view.

    They do not disagree with each other, nor do they even conceive of thoughts independently. Do they? Can you be subordinate to you?

    While they do not disagree with one another that is not to say that they cannot conceive thoughts independantly. Apparently they do conceive thoughts independantly as can be seen in Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus can pray that the Father’s will and not his be done. A distinction in wills speaks volumes. And only if your understanding of God is modalistic can you ask the question: “can you be subordinate to you?” The Son is not the Father although they share the same essential nature. So one person of the Trinity can be subordinate to another person of the Trinity.

  4. Mark Bird March 29, 2008 at 7:49 am #

    I agree that there is order in the Trinity, while the three members are equal in power and glory, and their essence is the same. The Son is homoousios (same substance)with the Father because he was eternally begotten of the Father–out of the same essence. But also, since the Son is begotten of the Father it is natural to see the Father as having priority in function as well. The Son is eternally submissive to the Father because he is eternally begotten of the Father.

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