butter light

Are there gender relations in the Trinity?


File:Irish Army Pipe Band.jpgOld myths die hard and it seems that newer myths may be just as persistent. In either case a process of myth deconstruction can be therapeutic. Let the therapy begin. First I’ll mention a couple of myths, a basic course correction and then at the end a quick look at one of the fave proof-texts used by trinitarian/genderists.

myth #1 All Complementarians believe that gender roles are grounded in the Trinity. 

course correction In reality, not all Complementarians wear the same kilt sett (pattern). Some Complementarians DO NOT believe in the Eternal Subordination of the Son. So, at the very least there are 2 categories of Comps, ESS Complementarians and then there are Vanilla Complementarians. In fact, there may be many kilt patterns.

We Vanilla Complementarians take heart in the careful and kind admonitions of Dr. Fred Sanders against seeing parallels between the Trinity and gender relations/roles. There are other Comp scholars speaking against trinitarian subordination and we cheer them on too, with or without kilts. We Vanilla Complementarians might also be found speaking in union with some egalitarians when they too speaking against gender relations in the Trinity. They aren’t an enemy clan to us. Now, the next myth.


myth #2 I Corinthians 11:3 is the perfect proof-text for biblical evidence that gender relations are grounded in the Trinity.

course correction The only way that ESS Complementarians can concluded that I Cor 11:3 is conclusive proof of gender relations tied to the Trinity is through the use of exegetical slippage or possibly through eisegetical magic. Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, among others, are current spokespersons for the ESS Complementarian view that gender relations on earth are a reflection of such in the Being of God. Does I Cor 11:3 really say this? A plain reading of the text does not.


Let’s take a look at what the ESS Complementarians say I Cor 11:3 says and compare it with what the text actually says.

ESS Complementarians see a set of pairs in I Cor 11:3 which are parallel to each other. The first pair is the Father and the Son which they see in the phrase “the head of Christ is God.” The second pair is the man (or husband) and the woman (or the wife) in the phrase “the man is the head of the woman.” They see both of these pairs as authority structures – the Father being over the Son and the husband being over the wife.

ESS graphic

In I Cor 11:3 they see the husband as parallel to the Father and the wife as parallel to the Son. The husband, they say, has authority over the wife just like the Father has authority over the Son. In their view, the husband’s role parallels the Father’s role and the wife’s role parallels the Son’s role.

ESS graphic 2

Clear enough? After all the text authoritatively says, “But I want you to realize that…the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor 11:3 LEB).

There are couple of problems. The most obvious is that ESS Complementarians have the Son in the feminine role, the Son as “the weaker vessel” of the Trinity. The next problem is that ESS Complementarians have the husband in the parental role, the Father role, over the wife which Scripture does not really teach. I have not found that anywhere in Scripture, esp. in the New Covenant. Should the husband have a parental role of authority over the wife? Is the husband ‘in loco parentis’ above his dear bride? Is the Son the “feminine face” of God?

ESS graphic 3We Vanilla Complementarians don’t see pink threads in the trinitarian kilt.

Then, there is an even bigger problem. It is what a moment ago I called exegetical slippage. I won’t go so far as to call the error of the ESS Commplementarians eisgetical magic (slight of hand)…not yet any way. Do you see what the ESS Complementarians have left out of their interpretation of I Cor 11:3? They read that verse like this:

But I want you to realize that [ooooooooooooooooooo] the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor 11:3 LEB).

This all important clause slips out of their interpretation.

“…Christ is the head of every man…”

Putting that clause back in we see that I Cor 11:3 is not giving us 2 pairs that are parallel to each other, but a linear progression. We cannot leave Messiah being the head over every man out of this Apostolic pronouncement. If the meaning of Scripture we change, we will not change in accord with Scripture. Its applications matter.

ESS graphic 5Complementarians and Egalitarians of many kilt setts can legitimately debate what the arrows (“head”) mean – source or authority or whatever.

However, when we read I Cor 11:3 in its plain sense we can’t legitimately argue for 2 pairs where the Father = the husband and the Son = the wife. We read in other places of Scripture that BOTH the husband AND the wife should model their roles after Christ. Christ is the head and source of our our role, whatever it be, not a Subordinationists view of God.

Our motivation, whether women or men, is not to hold up our given end of an artificially constructed trinitarian/authority/submission paradigm. Where is the grace in that?

Instead we, men and women, live in Christ, our Messiah. He is our model, not the idea of guarding our half of an authority-submission structure. The thought of Him propels us forward to live for others, men and women.

BTW, I stumbled on something interesting from Mormon theology. They too ground gender relations, not in Creation, but farther back into eternity past. They say this in many places in their writings. One example is when Mormons write that “Gender [male and female] is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”* They don’t ground gender relations in the Trinity, of course, but in their view gender relations find their origin in God’s being. Either way this idea is odd whether it’s coming from Salt Lake City or not.

*“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Liahona, Oct. 1998, 24; Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.

ESS graphic 4


2 thoughts on “Are there gender relations in the Trinity?

  1. I came here by way of your comments on Denny Burk’s recent post about Trinity and gender relations. Really appreciate your clear explanation here of the issue and how I Cor 11 does and doesn’t play into the discussion. Also, your point about Mormon theology is especially prescient. I’m currently reading through a book about Mormonism and I couldn’t help but think that ESS is so much closer to Mormon theology than it is orthodox Trinitarian theology. A Mormon friend and I were discussing the differences between our doctrines and offhand she said, “Oh, so the biggest difference would be the Trinity…” I don’t think she understood precisely how big a difference that is. Nor, it seems, does this new breed of “genderists.”

    Also I noticed you’re in Greenville, SC. My husband and I attended college there and lived there for several years after.

    Again, thanks for this.

    • Hannah,

      Thanks for stopping by. Some Christians may hear chatter about the back-n-forth between Subordinationists and historic Trinitarians and think it is a minor issue among friends. Sounds like you aren’t one of those. I think the issue of subordination in the Trinity is a dangerous one. It may not be flat out heresy at this point, but as we have seen in the past serious errors by church leaders cause movements and bodies of believers to go astray in other areas. There is bound to be fall out.

      Keep your mind and voice in this wider conversation. We need articulate and kind reiterations of the truth wherever it can be said (or written).

      ..and if you think this post might be a help to others pass it on.

      rich in Christ

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s