Hierarchy Does Not Necessitate Opposition

I’m baffled when I read egalitarians who think that functional hierarchy presupposes disunity or the prospect of it.

Take, for example, this statement by Gilbert Bilezikian:

One of the weirdest heresies that has been generated in the last century pertains to the postulation of a hierarchical order within the members of the Trinity—as if there ever could exist a threat of discord or of misconduct that would require the exercise of authority within the oneness of the Godhead.1

Kevin Giles is guilty of this fallacious reasoning as well:

What seems to have happened is that contemporary conservative evangelicals who are opposed to women’s liberation in the church and the home have read back into the Trinity their understanding of the subordination of women: God the Father has become the eternal “head” of Christ, and the differences among the divine persons have been redefined in terms of differing roles or functions. Rather than working as one, the divine persons have been set in opposition—with the Father commanding and the Son obeying.2

I see three possible ways to account for statements like these:

  1. These men genuinely cannot comprehend how functional hierarchy can exist without sin.
  2. These men have intentionally used fallacious argumentation to defeat their opponents.
  3. These men have unintentionally conflated unrelated ideas in their zeal to disprove what they consider erroneous.3

That functional hierarchy can exist without disunity seems so obvious as not to need any defense, but perhaps it does. So here are a few lines of evidence:

  1. Hierarchy existed prior to the fall when opposition and disunity were nonexistent.
  2. Hierarchy will exist in the new earth, where there will be no disunity nor even the possibility of it.
  3. Hierarchy exists among the elect and sinless angelical beings. The term ἀρχάγγελος (1 Thes 4:16; Jude 9) refers to “a member of the higher ranks in the celestial hierarchy.”4 Would anyone think that this hierarchy presupposes “a threat of discord or of misconduct” and results in the angels being “set in opposition” to each other?
  4. During the incarnation there was clearly a relationship of authority and submission between the Father and the Son,5 and there wasn’t a hint of opposition or “a threat of discord or of misconduct.” If hierarchy and perfect unity can coexist for a time, they can coexist for all eternity as well.

I highly doubt that Bilezikian and Giles have never taken the time to think about how functional hierarchy does not in any way necessitate disunity. Men of their intelligence would certainly realize something so obvious. So #1 is unlikely. In love (1 Cor 13:7) I’m inclined to give these men the benefit of the doubt and not charge them with intentionally using fallacious argumentation. So #2 is out. That leaves explanation #3: perhaps they have made some unguarded statements that unintentionally create straw men of their opponents’ position. This kind of thing is easy to do, and I’ve been guilty of it plenty of times myself. I hope it serves as a reminder that will help me to strive to be fair with my opponents in the same way that I want them to be fair with me (Mat 7:12).

What am I missing here? Is the point that I think is so obvious really not that obvious? Or is this just another example of Christian argumentation falling short of what it should be, even if unintentionally so?

Update: Mike mentioned my post at his blog. I responded with a comment.


  1. Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1, emphasis mine.
  2. The Trinity and Subordinationism (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), 16, emphasis mine.
  3. In all fairness, a fourth option might be that they are correct in their contention that hierarchy necessities disunity. But even if they are correct, this is clearly not what egalitarians maintain, though both Bilezikian and Giles make it sound otherwise.
  4. BDAG, 137.
  5. Complementarians and egalitarians agree on this much.

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7 Responses to Hierarchy Does Not Necessitate Opposition

  1. Joe Miller February 24, 2008 at 10:09 pm #

    I have a feeling this same line of reasoning is influencing many in the EC movement who reject all authority in the church. I just may have to refer back to this article when I eventually post some stuff on that topic. Good start!

  2. Mike Aubrey February 25, 2008 at 7:33 pm #

    (this is posted at my blog too)

    Hi Phil,

    Agreed, there was hierarchy before the fall.

    My guess is that the answer for your question about which option it is is a combination of your #3 with the possibility of viewing the Fall as the cause of hierarchy between men and women causing some egalitarians to be a bit myopic and narrow toward other hierarchies.

  3. Sue February 25, 2008 at 10:25 pm #

    CBMW’s teaching on the functional subordination of the Son directly counters what I was taught in my fundamentalist upbringing about the Father and Son having one will. They then go on to affirm that the role of women is to imitate the “submission and work” of Christ which is his death on the cross where he is punished by a just God, implying that the just suffering of women is their like punishment by men.

    I speak for women who are victims of male violence in asserting that this teaching is disturbing in the extreme and should be denounced as non-Christian. I am shocked at the callousness of men who are unwilling to call this apostate.

    However, I think Giles and Bilezikian are barking up the wrong tree. Grudem has established in his Systematic Theology his doctrine of the subordination of God. It is incredible that the desire to subordinate women has pushed people to accept this book. Grudem writes,

    “Recently some writers have denied that the creation of Eve as a helper fit for Adam signals any difference in role or authority, because the word helper (Heb. ezer) is often used in the Old Testament of someone who is greater or more powerful than the one who is being helped. In fact, the word helper is used in the Old Testament of God himself who helps his people. But the point is that whenever someone “helps” someone else, whether in the Hebrew Old Testament or our modern day use of the word help, in the specific task in view the person who is helping is occupying a subordinate or inferior position with regard to the person being helped.”

    Then he goes on to quote Cline who says about God and anyone who helps,

    “… in the act of helping they are being “inferior”

    This is on page 461 and 462 of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem and is available through books.google.com

    There is no doubt that this book clearly teaches that in helping man, God is “inferior” to man.

    I no longer consider this movement to have anything but a remote and vestigial connection to biblical Christianity.

    Let men who subordinate women trust in an inferior and subordinate God.

    I am sorry if you agree with this doctrine. I can’t tell that from your post. It has done deep damage to many lives.

  4. Phil Gons February 26, 2008 at 9:35 pm #

    Sue, I appreciate the fact that you are passionate about what you believe. I wasn’t sure whether to post your comment since it hardly relates to my post and it’s clear that you’ve got an ax to grind. Yet I’d like to take the opportunity to respond to some of what you said. That may not be until tomorrow evening (PST) at the earliest.

  5. Sue February 26, 2008 at 10:45 pm #

    I come from an extremely fundamentalist background where all decisions were subject to the leading of the Spirit and the emphasis was put clearly on their being “one will” both in the Godhead and in the one body of the church.

    Like Bilezekian and Giles, I believe that the transference of the teaching of “one will” into “submission and authority” requires two wills. Or three wills.

    This teaching of subordination in the Godhead was deliberately resurrected and taught in order to keep women subordinate after the influence of women’s liberation, getting the right to vote and earn a fair wage. We know for a certainty that the form this teaching takes today is a casting onto the Godhead of a model that human theologians have posited about gender, by reworking the teaching of Eph 5 from sacrifice and submission to authority and submission.

    In the Brethren model there is no place for functional hierarchy as an ideal. This is considered a sin against the Holy Spirit who makes us truly one. The fact that there are 12 apostles in heaven is representative hierarchy only and not functional hierarchy. For the Brethren all disunity is subsumed into unity and there is no functional hierarchy. Functional hierarchy is not a theological necessity.

    To come back to gender, the unity of Father and Son, whether through one will or through a hierarchy of wills is in no way related to the joining of male and female in one flesh. The narrative of Abraham and Isaac is central. Sarah cannot take Isaac’s place on the alter and retain the metaphor. Only the offspring, the one who is the seed of the other can be sacrificed – not the wife, who is other. They become one flesh, not one will or one being.

    Husband and wife retain two wills and both relate to God in equivalent ways or they are not coheirs. Therefore, the will of the wife cannot be subsumed into the will of the husband.

    Lig Duncan expressly teaches that wives are to imitate the submission and work of Christ vis-s vis the Father. This is explicitly his death on the cross. I don’t think that I am taking this too far. These statements are made and they are irresponsible. Look at what turns up on John Pipers blog,

    It is a great sadness that in our modern society—even in the church—the different and complementary roles of biblical headship for the husband and biblical submission for the wife are despised or simply passed over. Some people just write them off as sub-Christian cultural leftovers from the first century. Others distort and misuse them—I actually sat in my office once with a husband who believed that submission meant his wife should not go from one room to the other in the house without asking his permission. That kind of pathological distortion makes it easier for people to dispense with texts like these in the Bible.

    What is terrible about this is that men like this get their ideas of how to treat a wife from teaching in the church about submission and obedience, because the world does not teach this.

    So now it is time for theologians to wake up and realize that women who have lived out their lives under this kind of regime would like to see this prevented for the next generation of women.

    The pain of this kind of existence is difficult to communicate but it is very real. Where is that women and what has her life been like? How will God restore to her the years spent in cowering and misery getting permission to go from one room to the next to meet the needs of her children? Do not think for one minute that Piper exaggerates about this. What would you say to a woman who had lived out her life like this?

    In any case, it is important to state clearly that some people simply reject the subordination of women as non-Christian. I have read Grudem’s books carefully and I do not accept them as Christian because of his presentation of an inferior God and for the unsightly way he calls men wimps among other things.

    He also admitted to me that he had not been aware of the gender neutral use of aner for example, although it is in the lexicon – you don’t need to read Greek to understand this. This is a minor example, but all his lexical date have irregularities. So he is not a good example of male teaching authority. I could list and prove many factual errors in his writing. His books do not have scholarly authority in linguistic detail. If you wish I will provide citations and page numbers. I have no desire to spread false rumours.

  6. Ted Hans July 4, 2008 at 2:06 pm #

    While i sympathise with some of the issues Sue raised i must say, respectfully, that I think she is off point concerning Wayne Grudem and the whole question of Male Headship.

    I do not want to get dragged into an ungodly exchange so i shall not attempt myself to refute her position. I simply supply a link to Grudems response to Sue for those interested: http://adrianwarnock.com/2006/12/wayne-grudem-replies-to-critic.htm

    I do think sue raises some issues from her experience that need to be dealt with, but i don’t think a blog is necessarily the right forum to bare all out.

  7. Truth Unites... and Divides March 3, 2010 at 4:18 am #

    Hi Sue,

    You get around a lot.

    Truth Unites… and Divides