We see from these passages then that the idea of headship and submission within a personal relationship did not begin with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1987. Nor did it begin with some writings of the apostle Paul in the first century. Nor did it begin with a few patriarchal men in a patriarchal society in the Old Testament. Nor did the idea of headship and submission begin with Adam and Eve’s fall into sin in Genesis 3. In fact, the idea of headship and submission did not even begin with the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 and 2. No, the idea of headship and submission existed before creation. It began in the relationship between Father and Son in the Trinity. The Father has eternally had a leadership role, an authority to initiate and direct, that the Son does not have. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is subject to both the Father and Son and plays yet a different role in Creation and in the work of salvation.
That’s the really inconvenient thing about the Bible – as soon as you think you have proof of something down “leaders may only be men” then there’s examples of leaders like Deborah, Huldah, Phoebe, and Junia who definitely weren’t men and who didn’t ruin God’s plans because they were women. Just as soon as you think you’ve got down the ‘Father rules, Son obeys‘ aspect, you see verses that elaborate on the equality and oneness of the Father and the Son. Now this next section begins to sound a little bit like Aristotle in a few places but it’s a much worse reality than that; Aristotle’s understanding was a very human one, based on his own observations about the world in which he lives; subject to change as society changes through the centuries. The author, on the other hand, is reading this from Scripture, making it a permanent conclusion drawn from the implications of his beliefs about the trinity filtered through his twenty-first century understanding to fill in the gaps where he has divorced cultural and historical context from being relevant to the original audience.
When did the idea of headship and submission begin, then? The idea of headship and submission never began! it has always existed in the eternal nature of God Himself. And in this most basic of all authority relationships authority is not based on gifts or ability (for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in attributes and perfections). It is just there. Authority belongs to the Father, not because He is a more skillful leader, but just because He is the Father. Authority and submission between the Father and the Son, and between Father and Son and the Holy Spirit is a fundamental difference (or probably the fundamental difference) between the persons of the Trinity. They don’t differ in any attributes, but only in how they relate to each other. And that relationship is one of leadership and authority on one hand and voluntary, joyful submission to that authority on the other hand. We can learn from this relationship among the members of the Trinity that submission to a rightful authority is a noble virtue. It is a privilege. It is something good and desirable. It is the virtue that the eternal Son of God has demonstrated forever. It is His glory, the glory of the Son as he relates to His father.
Aristotle wrote that he believed that men and women were equal (if they were free, slaves were obviously unequal) but that men were more fit to rule over women. He had to ask a question: if men and women have the same virtues – then why is it that men are the natural ruler and women are the natural subject? He said: Nevertheless, when one rules and the other is ruled we endeavor to create a difference of outward forms and names and titles of respect … Now we’ve already established that the persons of the trinity are all equal, but there has to be some difference as to why only the Father leads, only the Son obeys, and the Holy Spirit is subject to both of them. It’s already been established that Father is the ruler and the Son and Holy Spirit are the ruled; so the difference of names and titles of respect exists, but as to the form – the difference is the relationship of authority and submission. But looking at scripture, the emphasis of the Father/Son relationship is not one of authority and submission or obedience, but love is it’s primary motivator, reason for being, and it’s cause for action. It’s not: “For God so ruled the world with authority that he commanded his one and only obedient and submissive son …” It’s not: “no greater authority has one man than this: to order others …” When one removes love from a father / son relationship, all that remains is authority and submission; this God would not be a God of love.
In modern society, we tend to think if you are a person who as authority over another, that’s a good thing. If you are someone who has to submit to an authority, that’s a bad thing. But that is the world’s viewpoint, and it is not true. Submission to a rightful authority is a good and noble and wonderful thing, because it reflects the interpersonal relationship within God Himself. We can say then that a relationship of authority and submission between equals, with mutual giving of honor, is the most fundamental and most glorious interpersonal relationship the universe. Such a relationship allows there to be interpersonal differences without “better” or “worse”, without “more important” and “less important.” And when we begin to dislike the very idea of authority and submission – not distortions and abuses, but the very idea – we are tampering with something very deep. We are beginning to dislike God Himself.
I think modern society has developed a bit of a bad taste in our mouths when it comes to authority and submission because we’re finally coming to terms with the question: “If a superior officer orders you to murder an innocent person, is it ‘right’ to obey them or is it ‘wrong’ to obey them?” We’ve seen how ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely‘ misuse of authority and forced submission has resulted in some of the greatest acts of evil of our time affecting us at all levels of our being – in our countries and in our homes, in our past, present, and possibly future; not limited to but including: genocide, slavery, and epidemic levels of domestic violence. We’ve developed this idea of conscience that helps us know right from wrong, whether we should obey our commander to murder the innocent or obey our moral compass that tells us it is right to disobey in this instance to spare the life of the innocent. We accept that humanity’s interpretation of authority and submission is subject to our fallen natures to desire power and control and can blind us to the harm we inflict on others; hence our consciences tell us which instances are which; authority and submission are, to us, never one hundred percent ‘good’ because we know our history and how much ‘evil’ has been the result of blind obedience and complete submission to a corrupt authority. But the author is saying that if you exclude these bad examples of authority and submission, then it’s a good thing; but that’s only so in the relationship of a perfect God in relationship with Himself. It takes a special kind of person in authority to lay it down so that his subject is not bound to his rule. This is the example set in Scripture – when Jesus didn’t call down destruction from heaven or a host of angels to do his will – the Son laying down his own authority for our benefit.
Now this truth about the Trinity creates a problem for egalitarians. They try to force people to choose between equality and authority. They say, “If you have male headship, then you can’t be equal. Or if you are equal, then you can’t have male headship.” and our response is that you can have both: just look at the Trinity. Within the being of God, you have both equality and authority. In reply to this, egalitarians should have said, “Okay, we agree on this much. In God you can have equality and differences at the same time.” In fact, some egalitarians have said this very thing. But some prominent egalitarians have taken a different direction, one that is very troubling. Both Gilbert Bilezikian and Stanley Grenz have now written that they think there is “mutual submission” within the Trinity. They say that the Father also submits to the Son. This is their affirmation even though no passage of Scripture affirms such a relationship, and even though this has never been the orthodox teaching of the church throughout two thousand years. But so deep is their commitment to an egalitarian view of men and women within marriage, that they will modify the doctrine of the Trinity, and remake the Trinity in the image of egalitarian marriage, if it seems necessary to maintain their position.
Christians didn’t begin to start answering questions about the nature of the Trinity until the council of Nicaea in the year 325 a.d. They were content to spend those years being really confused about what it all meant, debating it, creating beliefs that would soon be either heresy (lots of those) or orthodox (few of those). Now here we are 1700-ish years later and we think we have all the answers; we ‘know‘ what God is – authority and submission, we ‘know‘ what God did in eternity past before creation, and we ‘know‘ what eternity future holds. This is why we think we ‘know‘ that God intended men to have male headship over women who are to be subordinate because God the father has authority and God the son obeys and submits.
Let’s not forget that the greatest power there is is not being able to command the obedience of others, it’s the power to not use your power to control others. God lets us have free will to choose what path we will take. He is our example to not use our authority to force others to submit, not to use the authority of a husband, to not use the authority of a pastor, to not use the authority of leader to control or force others or bend them to our will. The sum of the scriptures isn’t the story of of a sovereign God who reigns from beginning to end, or a dutiful Son who obeys every command of his powerful Father, but of a lover – a faithful husband to faithless Israel and unfaithful Judah (her sister) who divorced them and sent them away because of the idolatry they committed was the equivalent of adultery. God loves us so much that He died for us, laying down his life to save ours. That’s why we say “God is love” and why we don’t say “God is authority and submission.”
Aristotle likewise pointed to Zeus to bolster his teaching about the role of men: “The relation of the male to the female is of this kind, but there the inequality is permanent. The rule of a father over his children is royal, for he rules by virtue both of love and of the respect due to age, exercising a kind of royal power. And therefore Homer has appropriately called Zeus ‘father of Gods and men,’ because he is the king of them all. For a king is the natural superior of his subjects, but he should be of the same kin or kind with them, and such is the relation of elder and younger, of father and son.” Was Paul really trying to say that the whole point of headship lies within the authority of a king over his subjects in the same way a father has authority over his son? That Aristotle understood the nature of gods and also God correctly?
If we get so focused on headship that we lose sight of what love is, then we’ve missed the whole point:
Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. (1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1)
To re-focus, all we have to do is picture how Jesus’ love for us over-rode his authority to control and command us; how we were given free will to choose to love and how to express that love; how we are loved and because we are loved we are not and do not have to be controlled, ordered, or commanded to do anything. And that’s why these ten reasons don’t prove headship existed before the fall of Adam and Eve. They don’t whisper or shout that authority and submission is the most important thing about God’s nature and the pattern that marriage and headship is based off of. What we have are a few accounts, stories that serve as descriptions to answer: Why is there something rather than nothing? Where does everything come from? Where do people come from? What is our purpose? and other Big Questions about the meaning of life and our place in the the unfolding story. It’s not and never was intended to be a prescription for how we ought to live our lives for all time, how we ought to order our relationships, how we ought to have authority to command or to submit to authority. For we will either ‘love‘ the one master and ‘hate‘ the other, we will ‘love‘ love or we will ‘love‘ authority and submission, and we will ‘hate‘ love or we will ‘hate‘ authority and submission; we can’t serve both masters – it’s not in our nature.
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