Thursday, June 16, 2016

Father, Son, man and woman

I'd like to comment on a subset of complementarians who ground their position in the eternal subordination of the Son, which, in turn, is grounded in eternal generation. For discussion purposes, let's stipulate eternal generation.

i) The direct way to underwrite complementarianism is to say that while men and women are alike in many ways, and can do the same things in areas where they are alike, men and women are naturally dissimilar in certain significant ways, and social structures ought to reflect and respect those differences. Men and women have certain physical and psychological differences which, at least in part, undergird complementarianism. 

ii) The question, then, is whether these natural differences are sufficient or insufficient to justify complementarianism. If sufficient, then the eternal subordination of the Son is superfluous to complementarianism. The natural differences between men and women are adequate to warrant different treatment. Treat like things alike, and unlike things unalike. That's a stand-alone justification for the position. It requires nothing else.

iii) But suppose the natural differences are deemed to be insufficient. In that event, appeal to the eternal subordination of the Son functions as a makeweight. If, however, the natural differences are insufficient to justify complementarianism, then it's hard to see how invoking the eternal subordination of the Son will shore up that deficiency. 

On this view, what accounts for the eternal subordination of the Son lies in the intrinsic difference between Father's mode of subsistence and the Son's. The Father is ingenerate while the Son is generated. The Father is inordinate while the Father originates the Son.

But even if that's true, how does that contribute to the argument for complementarianism? How is the relationship between men and women analogous to eternal generation? Take this classic formulation:

The role of a father is “to beget,” just as the meaning of sonship is “to be begotten.” The Father, therefore, is unbegotten, but is origin and progenitor of the Son, who himself does not beget, for there is no “Son” in the Godhead other than himself. That is to say, the whole reality of the Father is to beget, to generate, to give all that he has, namely, his whole divine nature, to the Son. And the whole reality of the Son is to be begotten, to be generated, to receive all that he has, namely, his whole divine nature, from the Father...The life of the Father is an eternal giving of himself whole and entire to the Son. The life of the Son is an eternal receiving of the Father whole and entire.

That strikes me as a lucid definition or exposition of eternal generation. But surely the relationship between men and women isn't comparable to that. 

Even if the subordination of the Son is intrinsic to the Godhead, that would be extrinsic to men and women unless it has a parallel in human nature. How can something extrinsic to men and women undergird complementarianism? How can something about the Father and the Son help to underwrite complementarianism unless it has a parallel in human nature? 

iv) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that it does have a parallel in human nature. If so, then that's what undergirds complementarianism–not something about the Father and the Son, but the analogue in human nature. Yet in that event, the eternal subordination of the Son is superfluous to the case for complementarianism. That principle does no work. It's something about the essential constitution of men and women that's the differential factor, and not something about the essential constitution of the Godhead. 


  1. Dear Steve,

    Scripture teaches that God created man in His own image. Not only that, but the NT reveals God as Our Father, not Our Mother. Jesus is the Son, not the Daughter. How God chooses to reveal Himself (not Herself) is not a matter of indifference. (I'm not claiming you, Steve, are saying this.) God is wholly other, but He is also "He." As C.S. Lewis noted, a child taught to pray to Our Mother in heaven would no longer be a Christian child.

    That God reveals Himself as masculine, as Father, is meant to teach us that authority is vested uniquely in man, not woman. That God rules the Universe as Father is meant to teach us that to be a father is to be in authority, to be responsible. This is true in the home, true in the church and true in society at large. Fatherhood is undeniably sex-specific.

    That fatherhood is sex-specific does not mean that men are ontologically superior to women. It would be as absurd as claiming that a father is essentially more valuable as a human being than his son. Fathers have rights to life, liberty and property, but not their sons under age 18. That would be a pagan notion, not a Christian one.

    With the Fatherhood of God included in the mix, it becomes impossible to claim that Triune economic relations are "superfluous" to male-female natural relations and characteristics. If the Father is the Father, what does that mean? If the Son is the Son, what does that mean? Why is this revelation in the Bible? Why is God condescending to us, defining Himself in these terms?

    It's plain that we are to learn and apply truths about God to the relations between the sexes. God has taught us how to refer to, worship and pray to Him. The more we know Him, the better we know ourselves.

    Kind regards,

    1. i) To begin with, the question at issue wasn't the economic Triune relations but immanent Triune relations.

      ii) In addition, you're ignoring the scope of the theological metaphors. That must be determined, not assumed. I've written a great deal on that subject, which you don't begin to engage.

      iii) Most of what you say seems to be a defense of complementarianism, but my post wasn't critical of complementarianism.

    2. At the risk of stating the obvious, a father/son relationship is very different than a husband/wife relationship, or even how grown men and women generally relate.

    3. Dear Steve,

      The metaphors I identified are pretty plain. The scope of them is also plain. God is Father. His Fatherhood is the template for other forms of fatherhood.

      Eph. 3:14-15. The Greek word often translated as "families" or "family" is "patria" derived from the Greek root for "father" which also forms the word "patriarchy" or "father-rule." Thus, another, better, way to render the verse would be something like, "The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom fatherhood in heaven and on Earth gets its name."

      Even discounting that verse, the whole of Scripture teaches us about fatherhood, motherhood, authority, and God's nature and attributes. The notion that God's Fatherhood is a template for earthly fatherhood is fairly easy to prove implicitly.

      If God's Fatherhood shows us how to be fathers, a link is introduced between God's nature and human sexuality (by sex I mean, male and female). You don't have to invent it. It's already there. It is not "superfluous," an extra we could do without. It is, actually, quite essential. The question is how we choose to deal with it. This is my primary point.

      I'm sorry it appeared to you I was questioning your comp. bona fides. That was not my intention. My intent was to explain my position.

      Besides, I myself don't identify as a complementarian. Like Russell Moore, I think the word "patriarchy" better captures what the argument is really about, and what Scripture really teaches.

    4. The "plain scope" of metaphors. Take the metaphor of a son as the father's heir. Primogeniture, royal succession, and all that good stuff.

      That's a theological metaphor. The Son is heir to the Father's kingdom.The rightful heir.

      The cultural background for that is aging kings who pass the scepter to sons. The crown prince becomes the new king due to senescence and mortality.

      But the scope of that metaphor needs to be qualified to take into account the difference between God and man.

      I'd also note that you haven't begun to directly address the arguments in my post. You haven't shown how eternal generation is germane to the relationship between husbands and wives.

      My arguments are very specific. You're changing the topic to a discussion of to something much more general.

      BTW, I don't need you to instruct me on Greek. I'm a Classics major, and I own commentaries on the Greek text of Ephesians, such as Hoehner's massive commentary.

    5. This particular complementarian argument involves a paired comparison:

      a) the Father is to the Son


      b) the husband is to the wife

      Each relation must operate at its own metaphysical level. You can't take half of the divine pairing (the Father) and apply that directly to half of the human pairing (wives or women), cutting out the other two halves.

      Rather, the argument posits a relationship between Father and Son that has an analogue in the relationship between husbands and wives (or men and women).

    6. Hey Steve,

      Just to posit a different idea, what would you think about this comparison instead:

      A. The Father is to the Holy Spirit


      B. A husband is to a wife

      Might that be an analogy that fits?

  2. Isn't the "begotten" language in the creeds based on an understanding of the Greek "monogenes" (or something similar) that Greek scholars now believe to mean "one and only" or "unique"?

    In other words, advances in our understanding of the Greek may mean the creedal language needs to be revised somewhat as well?

    1. Then basing anything on "begotten" if that's what "eternal generation" is based on would be problematic.