The begotten Son and the subordinate woman

I’m still working on the Trinity and gender question, and I have to say, it still mystifies me that theologians on both sides of the debate will argue that relations between the persons of the Godhead are determinative for relations between man and woman. Egalitarians think that there is no subordination in the Godhead, so there should be no subordination between men and women. Complementarians think that there is an economic or relational or functional or voluntary subordination in the Godhead, so women should economically or relationally or functionally or voluntarily submit themselves to men.

What’s the basis for the argument? I haven’t come across it yet. Certainly not 1 Corinthians 11:3, if that’s what you’re thinking, which has to do with behaviour, not ontology. Peter Schemm even admits that “there is still much work to be done in developing a constructive model for exactly how male-female relations might reflect relations within the Trinity”. Quite.

Part of the theological argument for order or hierarchy in the Godhead is that the Father is the source or origin of the Son. That only works one way. We can’t also say that the Son is the source or origin of the Father. It’s an asymmetrical relationship. We believe, as the Nicene Creed has it, “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things came into being.” Schemm quotes Athanasius, who states with his usual lucidity:

…if He is called the eternal offspring of the Father, He is rightly so called. For never was the essence of the Father imperfect, that what is proper to it should be added afterwards; nor, as man from man, has the Son been begotten, so as to be later than His Father’s existence, but He is God’s offspring, and as being proper Son of God, who is ever, He exists eternally. (Orationes contra Arianos 1.14)

So the argument is that Jesus has always been the Son, therefore is “eternally begotten”, which on the face of it is nonsensical—and as we shall see, non-biblical—and always subordinate, though not in a heretical “subordinationist” sense. Therefore women should be subordinate to men. Geddit?

A couple of things…

First, in his defence of the argument that “the Son has an eternal and uncreated relationship with the Father” Athanasius relies heavily on the opening of John’s Gospel.

And since Christ is God from God, and God’s Word, Wisdom, Son, and Power, therefore but One God is declared in the divine Scriptures. For the Word, being Son of the One God, is referred to Him of whom also He is; so that Father and Son are two, yet the Monad of the Godhead is indivisible and inseparable. (Orationes contra Arianos 4.1)

But there is a reason why John says “In the beginning was the Word…” rather than “In the beginning was the Son…”. There is a difference between “the Word became flesh…” and “the Son became flesh”. It is only once the Word or Wisdom of God has become flesh that it makes sense to say “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:14)—not least because that glory is revealed through obedience and suffering. It is at his baptism that Jesus is affirmed as “the Son of God” (Jn. 1:34).

Secondly, when the New Testament speaks of Jesus as a Son who has been “begotten”, it means something quite different to what the Nicene Creed means by it.

The thought is found explicitly in three passages and alluded to in a fourth:

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” (Acts 13:32-33)

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? (Heb. 1:5)

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”… (Heb. 5:5)

…concerning his Son, who was… declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:3–4)

As Paul indicated in his synagogue sermon in Antioch in Pisidia, the statement is a quotation from Psalm 2: YHWH establishes Israel’s king, he declares him to be his “son”, that he has “begotten” him today (not “eternally”) because he will possess the nations as his inheritance and will rule them with a rod of iron. Augustine gets it badly wrong:

By this phrase, “today have I begotten you,” the most true and catholic faith proclaims the eternal generation of the Power and Wisdom of God, who is the only-begotten Son. (Expositions of the Psalms 2.6)

When the idea is applied to Jesus, it is not his origin but his resurrection and exaltation to the “right hand of the Majesty on high” that are in view. It is this moment which constitutes the “day” on which he was appointed “Son of God in power”, when he inherited a name superior even to that of the angels (Heb. 1:3-4; cf. Phil. 2:9-11), when he was made a heavenly high priest.

Schemm argues that the eternality of the Son is indicated in Galatians 4:4 and Ephesians 1:3-4. But it is by no means certain that “God sent forth his Son” speaks of the incarnation of a pre-existent Son. Longenecker leans towards Dunn’s view that “When considered part of a pre-Pauline confession, all that need be seen is a functional stress on God’s commissioning of Christ to bring about the redemption of humanity.”1 God sends his Son into the world in the same way that the owner of the vineyard sends first his servants and then his Son into the vineyard (Mk. 12:1-11). I made the point in the previous piece that in Ephesians 1 Paul says only that “the God who would be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ chose Paul and other Jews before the foundation of the world to be adopted as sons”.

So again I stress: the Father-Son language belongs to the central apocalyptic narrative of Jesus’ vocation, obedience, suffering, death, resurrection, exaltation and rule as YHWH’s appointed king over the nations. It should not be carelessly conflated with a Wisdom theology that makes Jesus the one through whom all things were made. It does not translate easily—if at all—into classic Trinitarian categories, though I’m happy to allow that it was a good, if perhaps not an inevitable, rationalization of the biblical narrative for European and modern Christendom.

And it gives no warrant whatsoever for eternally subordinating the woman to the man. As David Congdon says, summarizing a complex discussion of the complementarian argument from analogy, “There simply is no analogue to human gender to be found in God.”

  • 1. R.N. Longenecker, Galatians (1990), 170.
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Submitted by Billy North on  Tue, 02/25/2014 - 16:41

Andrew thank you for your post as always.

You say: So again I stress: the Father-Son language belongs to the central apocalyptic narrative of Jesus’ vocation, obedience, suffering, death, resurrection, exaltation and rule as YHWH’s appointed king over the nations. It should not be carelessly conflated with a Wisdom theology that makes Jesus the one through whom all things were made.

Could you provide your interpretation of Colossians 1:15-16 in the context of this statement?


Possibly. It seems to me that this is perhaps the biggest challenge of New Testament chrisotology. Why and how did the early church (and not just John) move from an apocalyptic account of Jesus’ death and exaltation, etc., to the inclusion of him, as an agent, in the process of creation via a Wisdom theology? If anyone knows the answer, I’d love to hear it.

I suppose for a beginning we could take the default or liberal scholarly position that Colossians and Ephesians are not authentically Pauline. Which may be the case. However, that does not answer the question how a high Christology developed outside the canonical Synoptics. Since it is generally accepted that the earliest Christian documents are the Pauline epistles I would want to start there. I'm sure that NT Wright would have much to offer here as you would be aware. Are there any explicit texts in the genuine Pauline epistles that speak to Christ as creator? I will need to spend a little more time on that question.

Are there any explicit texts in the genuine Pauline epistles that speak to Christ as creator?

Not as creator but as the one by, through and for whom all things were created (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15-16; Heb. 1:2).

It seems to me that in Paul we have two types of “high christology”: an apocalyptic or “lordship” christology and a Wisdom or creational christology. What puzzles me is the link between the two.

I'm going to stay away from Colossians and Hebrews for the moment. I spent some time this morning studying 1st Corinthians 8:6. It's quite an interesting passage. "All things" and "we exist" are both applied to the Father and Jesus. However there are two different prepositions used for each. The preposition for the Father is ek (from) and eis (for). This is consistent with all translations. Now what is interesting is that the preposition used for Jesus is dia (through). According to my Greek lexicon a second reading of this preposition would have the meaning: The ground or reason by which something is or is not done; by reason of; on account of; because of. I am not a Greek scholar so I'm not sure if the preposition can be applied in this way. None of the translations do. However if it's reasonable or possible that changes the entire thrust of the passage and is much more consistent with your Christology. All things are "from" and we exist "for" the Father; all things are "on account of" and we exist "on account of" Jesus. Maybe someone with more Greek background could comment.



Submitted by Doane on  Tue, 02/25/2014 - 16:45


“There simply is no analogue to human gender to be found in God.”

Man and woman, male and female is reflective of the image of God is it not?

Man and woman become "one". This is reflective of the image of God.

Jesus clearly submits to the Father. He says they are one. I think this shows us that when people are in relationship, covenant, there is submission. However, this would only make the case for those types of relationships. Meaning that man does not have authority over a single woman, women in general or someone else's wife(this authority would default to the father) If the bible is the word of God then we can't just pick and choose what ideas and concepts we like. Men clearly have authority over women in the bible. Thats even clear from a Historical narrative approach. It would seem to me that you would need to abandon your historical narrative approach regarding gender because it would make you uncomfortable and then you would move into modern 20th century liberal philosophy. I know you are always game for a good challenge so here is mine for you: You make a bold statement that the bible does not teach that Jesus is God. So clearly you're not afraid of historical trinitarian orthodox powers at be. So, does the bible teach that homosexuality is sin, immoral and not reflective of the created order from the beginning of the story to the end?


Submitted by Andrew on  Tue, 02/25/2014 - 17:23

In reply to by Doane

Man and woman become “one”. This is reflective of the image of God.

You should read Congdon’s article. He has something to say about the “image of God” idea, but it is mainly about the structure of Trinitarian thought.

But Genesis does not say that in becoming “one” man and woman reflect the image of God. I agree here with Ian Paul that the idea behind “image of God” appears to be “that humanity, (adam) male and female (zaqar and neqevah), reproduce, populate the earth, and govern it as the offspring of the creator, ruling as his vice-regents and with his delegated authority”.

To say that the man and woman have been given equal responsibility to operate in this image, does not mean that such equality reflects or derives from some relation internal to the Godhead—particularly since it is highly doubtful, historically speaking, that Trinitarianism can be read back into Genesis 1.

If the bible is the word of God then we can’t just pick and choose what ideas and concepts we like. Men clearly have authority over women in the bible.

I agree that we cannot pick and choose, which is why I hold to the view that the sort of patriarchy that we see widely evidenced in scripture is an outcome of the Fall and that the church as new creation is under a missional obligation to demonstrate to the world, as far as is socially and culturally possible, its freedom from such hurtful consequences. In the same way, I would argue that women in Christ no longer need to deal with gender difference by resorting to the sort of hostile stratagem that “sin” employs with respect to Cain (Gen. 4:7).

But equally, I would not want to disregard, out of deference to “modern 20th century liberal philosophy”, Paul’s clear concern not to flout deeply ingrained social conventions, etc., if that would bring dishonour on Christ, which is what I think is going on in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

You make a bold statement that the bible does not teach that Jesus is God.

Whoa! Not so. I have certainly argued that texts which are often taken as references to the divinity of Jesus actually are saying something quite different. And I would also say that those texts which most nearly approach an identification of Jesus with God probably should not be understood according to conceptuality of later orthodoxy. But I don’t think I have said outright that “the bible does not teach that Jesus is God”. “Through whom all things were made” has to mean something.

So, does the bible teach that homosexuality is sin, immoral and not reflective of the created order from the beginning of the story to the end?

I think the Bible very clearly states that homosexuality is a sin, etc. What we do with that, I’m not sure.

..the state or the action...? ("a sin, etc")

plus... wheeling God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit around the centuries for the convenience of argument might seem to lean in the direction of an anthropocentric theology....? ...before all things were I AM...

however, being what we are, maybe an anthropocentric theology is the best we can hope for... and rather to be preferred to PCocentric...

Submitted by peter wilkinson on  Tue, 02/25/2014 - 17:35

The father-son relationship is much more interesting than the man-woman subordination discussion. I've always found "today I have begotten you" puzzling. Your interpretation makes sense (of a NT royal enthronement through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus).

There are still variant ways of viewing the apocalyptic category into which you fit this though, and the foundational 2 Samuel 7 passage contains little if any hint of a limited apocalyptic interpretation. Then there still remains the overarching question which you tiptoe around: who was Jesus really?

But 2 Samuel 7 only says that David’s house and kingdom or throne will be established forever. “House” is a limiting factor. And David asks:

And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? (2 Sam. 7:23)

Doesn’t that set in motion a limited narrative about a particular people that finds its fulfilment in New Testament eschatology?

It all depends how it actually played out. "House" brings together various meanings, including temple, so it is not a limiting factor. 2 Samuel 7:23 plays to a limited narrative, but the need to prepare for a variant in the narrative is suggested in 2 Samuel 7:24 - "You have established your people Israel as your own forever". That could be misleading if taken literally. At the very least, you would need to ask what is meant by "established" and what is meant by "Israel".

Submitted by Andrew on  Thu, 02/27/2014 - 15:09

In reply to by peter wilkinson

At the very least, you would need to ask what is meant by “established” and what is meant by “Israel”.

Surely, what is meant by “established” is that, as it says in the preceding verse, he went to redeem this particular nation alone among all the nations of the earth:

And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? (2 Sam. 7:23)

What is meant by “your people Israel” in verse 24 is this nation which was brought out of Egypt. This particular, limited nation was established to be God’s people for ever. Why shouldn’t it be taken literally? As far as the passage goes, the meaning—and the historical limitation—is quite clear. David moreover believes that God has now established a royal dynasty that will rule over this particular, limited people for ever. Literally.

To be honest, Peter, I don’t really see what you’re getting at.

Could this be the start of another ding-dong? God didn't literally establish His people Israel forever. He disbanded them through the creation of a reconstituted people consisting of all nations. This is a variant in the literal, limited narrative which you are proposing. The church today is not Israel.

No need to ding-dong. I’m merely stating the obvious, which is that the passage is not about the church. It’s about Israel. There is not the slightest hint that David foresaw a situation where the people which had been brought out of slavery in Egypt would be displaced by a Gentile church.

Apart from Hebrews 1:5, which highlights continuity between what God said to “our fathers” and what he is saying to Jewish Christians in the present, it is difficult to find a clear allusion to this passage in the New Testament. What there is also stresses continuity rather than discontinuity:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Lk. 1:32–33)

Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. (Acts 13:23)

The passage (2 Samuel 7 etc) is about the house and kingdom of the coming Davidic king which would last forever. If you can find a fulfilment of this prophecy outside the church, please let me know what and where it is. The details of the prophecy are fulfilled in Jesus, his house and his kingdom, and nowhere else. However, Jesus did not provide continuity for Israel, but brought about a new phenomenon, the people of God consisting of Jews and Gentiles. Israel, the theocratic nation, shuddered to a halt between AD 70 and AD 135. The working out of a new relationship between two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, who now constituted the people of God, and the problems this caused, is a major theme of the NT. The new people was not Israel, nor was it solely a Gentile church.

On the other hand, if there is a fulfilment of Nathan's prophecy for everlasting continuity of Israel outside of this new people of God, please let me know where it is. Also, let Paul and the author of Hebrews know. Israel was part of a dispensation, according to them, which was passing away. It needed to, as it never could provide the fulfilment of God's covenant purposes given now to the people of God reconstituted around Jesus. This people was not Israel, and nowhere in the NT is it described as such. This is not even the meaning of the one possible exception in the NT: Galatians 6:16, which if it were an exception (and it isn't) would serve only to prove the rule. Ding-dong.

But that is all a matter of reading much later history back into the Old Testament text. You haven’t addressed the question either of the obvious meaning of the Old Testament passage or of its (very limited) use in the New Testament. I agree with you that the story of God’s people took a dramatic change of course following AD 70. But that does not permit us, in my view, to re-interpret either 2 Samuel 7 or, for that matter, the Gospels. Neither David nor Jesus had anything to say about a Jewish-Gentile people of God.

Submitted by Daniel on  Tue, 02/25/2014 - 17:44

Admittedly, I haven't carefully read through these last few posts on the topic, but I have noticed you keep talking about the complementarian view of "women" being subordinate to "men". In the interest of fairness and accuracy, I would like to point out that no complementarian holds that position. Complementarians hold that wives are to submit to their husbands. Not men in general. No woman is subordinate to all men. Either to her father, or her husband, and that's all.

Submitted by Andrew on  Tue, 02/25/2014 - 17:52

In reply to by Daniel

OK. I take your point, though I think that’s what I meant. Women are subordinate to men is just another way of saying each woman to the respective man—only ambiguous.

But isn’t the subordination of women in church also an issue? Would complementarians allow an unmarried woman whose father is dead to have authority over—or have equal authority with—men in a church? Doesn’t she have to submit herself to “men” in general?

I think a complementarian would say that eldership is restricted to men, but in that case the women in the church are not subordinate to "men" anymore than the whole lay church body - men included - are subordinate to the elders.

I don’t know if you take a complementarian view yourself, but that argument doesn’t make sense to me. It puts women in a subordinate or inferior position to men. They are excluded from leadership, and it’s not just about the husband-wife relationship. There’s no two ways about it.

I just think to say that "women are subordinate to men" is misleading, because it gives the impression that every woman is subject to every man, and that is never the case. Having a *particular* (father or husband or elders) authority is precisely freedom from subjection to "males" generically considered.

I do consider myself complementarian, because my understanding biblically is that at least in the spheres of the family and the church, the husband is head, and the office of elder is only open to men, but this is not a generic subjection of women to men. I don't think putting it that way is fair to biblical vision or the complementarian position.

Understood, though I still don’t see how excluding women from eldership doesn’t entail the general subordination of “women” to “men”.

What did you think of Thiselton’s argument about the metaphorical meaning of kephalē (“head”), which I quoted in the previous post? The fact is that it would not have been understood as a statement about the authority of the man over the woman, which removes a central plank from the complementarian argument.

This proposal has the merit of most clearly drawing interactively on the metaphorical conjunction between physiological head (which is far and away the most frequent, “normal” meaning) and the notion of prominence, i.e., the most conspicuous or top-most manifestation of that for which the term also functions as synecdoche for the whole. The public face is linked with responsibility and representation in the public domain, since head is both the part of the person which is most conspicuous and that by which they are most readily distinguished or recognized.

That may be. I'll have to look at Thiselton's argument more. But for me, the central text in any case is 1 Timothy 2-3.

'The fact is that it would not have been understood as a statement about the authority of the man over the woman'. Nonsense. There is no evidence for that whatever.

When Aristotle talks about man's authority over his wife, he does not use the term 'head.' When the LXX translates the Hebrew 'rosh' (head) for leader, it almost never uses the Greek equivalent.

Grudem's 2,000 examples of this are just a fiction. See Philip Payne.

See here

Ian, I’m confused. My argument is that kephalē does not connote “authority over”. Aren’t we in agreement on this? I went to great lengths in Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul to show that the natural sense would have been “prominence” or “pre-eminence”, which Thiselton for one has backed.

It makes me crazy when i read that modern people use ancient Bible passages as models for relationships today. To argue that men should have authority over women -- even if that is limited to husband having authority over wife, or not allowing women to be leaders in churches -- is unfortunate.

The Bible exists in a world wholly different from ours, one in which (among other things) slavery was common, women were the property of their fathers and husbands and people could be tortured and killed by the government and nobody would blink an eye.

We need to understand it for what it is. Women are subordinate in the Bible not because of some Trinitarian model but because that was the custom of the entire ancient world. It was wrong then and we shouldn't pine for it now.

This isn't true either! William Webb has demonstrated really clearly that the Bible was counter-culturally liberating of women, and counter-culturally reforming of slavery.

There is a lot of good stuff out there which looks really carefully at these issues.

Submitted by Ian Paul on  Wed, 02/26/2014 - 19:16

Thanks for the mention! I think the key problem with identifying the dynamics of the Trinity with the dynamics of gender relations is that God should have made three genders. This does seem so obvious it is odd that people miss this.

It seems to me that what you are saying is that the second person of the trinity was eternally generate of the first person, but that in eternity they were not Father and Son--but Word and (something else), only becoming Father and Son in the resurrection…and incarnation and/or baptism too surely…?

Ian, Augustine understood the Spirit to be the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity. There is the Father, the Son, and their shared Glory/Love/Spirit...everything they share, which is a person himself. It's You, Me, and Us, so to speak. The correspondence to marriage is that marriage consists of Man, Wife, and the Relationship itself, the Marriage. You don't need a third gender if you have a relationship between the first two in order to mirror the Trinity. This is foreign to moderns to view a relationship as a person itself, but that's how the Trinity has historically been understood.

Great…. except that a relationship is not a person. If there are only two persons in a marriage, by this definition there are only two persons in the Trinity.

I think this shows the emasculation in Trinitarian thinking of the Spirit, following the rejection of Montanism and other early 'charismatic' movements.

A marriage is not the Trinity, but it reflects the Trinity. So not every detail will be exactly the same, but Trinitarian aspects can be seen in marriage. So the relationship between man and woman in marriage is not itself a person like it is in the Trinity. However, it creates a person. When the two become one flesh, the result is literally a third person. Their relationship is now manifested as a person, a child.

The notion of a relationship being personal is at the heart of the mystery of the Trinity. The "many and the one" at the same time is beyond comprehension. I agree with you about the emasculating of the Spirit, turning Him into something we can control or manage.

But if this were right, then all through Scripture we would find 'Love one another as the Father loves the Son.' Instead, we almost always find 'Love one another as I have loved you.'

In Genesis 2, the basis of the relationship between man and woman is NOT anything to do with the nature of God, but the creation of the two from one flesh.

God's love for us comes from his love for himself (for lack of a better way to say it). Love didn't start when God made the world. God was a loving/glorious community long before he had any creation to love (John 17:5).

Jesus prays that we would be one as He and His Father are one (John 17:11). But the disciples had not seen the Father, but they had seen Jesus, which he says is the same thing (John 14:9). If he'd said "Love each other like my Father loves me" they wouldn't know what that looks like. He came so he could show us what that kind of love is. It is only after reflection on the Bible that we realize he loved us with the same kind of love which God loves him, and we know what kind of love that was because he showed us.

Everything a man and woman does has something to do with the nature of God because we are made in His image. It would make sense that the most important things man and woman do (love each other) would be the most reflective of what God is like.

'If he'd said "Love each other like my Father loves me" they wouldn't know what that looks like. He came so he could show us what that kind of love is.'

So once he had shown them, why didn't that become the central ethical mantra of the early Christians? Paul consistently makes God's love for *us*, not for himself, the model for us to follow.

'It would make sense that…' Possibly. But this is just not the logic of the Scriptural witness. So I guess it depends whether Scripture, or reflective theology, is authoritative.

It's the same thing. God's love for us is his love for himself because we are in Christ. That's the whole project of redemption--humanity is invited in to participate in the love of God.

All theology is reflective and involves at least some degree of dot connecting, though we may disagree with how all the dots connect.

Yes, baptism too. But if we say “only becoming Father and Son” with Jesus’ baptism, someone will complain that this is some sort of binary modalism, or whatever. In other words, it recategories the biblical language as metaphysics. It just seems to me to be pretty consistent that the Father-Son language is reserved for the story of calling, obedience, suffering, death, resurrection, vindication, lordship, ending when the kingdom is given back to the Father so that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). It is significant, surely, that the suffering early church was assimilated into a good part of that story, being conformed through their experience into the image of the Son who cried “Abba, Father”.