Representation and Ordination: Of Sons and Wives

Part 1: Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women’s Leadership
Part 2: A Closer Examination of Junia, The Female Apostle

In my previous post, I explored the role of the female apostle, treating her as the female ‘shaliach’ of the lead male apostle. I related the role of Junia to that of Timothy, another example of an apostolic shaliach, and claimed that Junia would have sustained a similar relation to Andronicus as Timothy sustained to Paul.

Although I suggested that there were certain differences between the manners that the two characters would play their roles, and represent the lead apostle, the precise character of these differences was vague and somewhat confusing. In representing Paul, for instance, Timothy was able to embody his authority in a manner that empowered him to teach and exercise Paul’s apostolic authority over other men. Why wouldn’t the female apostle, acting in the authority of her husband be able to do the same? The approach that I took to this was to present an essentially and initially undifferentiated role of apostolic shaliach being restricted from certain forms of representation and focused upon others as it was conditioned as a second step by the gendered role of the woman. I moved, somewhat tentatively, towards the position that the female apostle would have represented the authority of her husband in the leading and teaching of other women.

A degree of analogy here is plain: as Genesis 2-3 reveals, the woman is the assistant of the man and participates in – indeed is essential to – his role and its dignity, similar to the way that the shaliach is the assistant to and representative of his master. However, despite a measure of overlap and several similarities, the manner in which the woman relates to the man as his deaconess seems to differ from the way that the deacon does, not merely in scope and focus, but also in its fundamental character. My dissatisfaction with my earlier expressed position has led me to revisit this question and to advance a different approach, one which I believe to be more rigorous in its attention to the biblical pattern.

Laying Hands on Women

One of the things that has a measure of bearing upon this question is the question of whether the ritual of the laying on of hands is ever performed on females in any context. This would help us to articulate just how formal or not the woman’s participation in the role of her husband is.

In discussing Genesis 2:18 in my previous post, I observed that, instead of employing the noun עזר to refer to the helper, the Targum Onkelos employs the noun סמך, which might create some sort of conceptual proximity between the helper and the laying on of hands rituals. It is probably unlikely, however, given the range of other uses of the term.

We also see hands laid on female animals in such places as Leviticus 4:27-29, 32-33, when a common person is making a sin offering. The female kid or lamb can only represent the person of the commoner: it cannot represent the priest, the ruler of the people, or the congregation as a whole, all of whom must be represented through male sacrifices. We should observe in passing that the fact that the gender of the sacrifices were stipulated in such cases, and that such of the sacrificed animals were to be female, suggests that their meaning cannot just be exhausted in a narrow understanding of Christ’s fulfilment of the sacrifices of Leviticus at Calvary. The sacrifices of Leviticus look forward to a fulfilment, not merely in Christ’s own person, but also in his body, the Church. Here we see that gender is firmly located within the logic of representation. I suspect that until we get Leviticus right on such matters, we will struggle to understand the role of women in relation to Church offices.

The Sons of Israel

Israel as a whole was represented by males, and more particularly, by sons. The story of the Exodus is in many respects a story about the priestly and representative character of sons. Israel’s sons are being cast into the river. Israel is thus being robbed of its priestly ministry, and being made subject to Pharaoh’s authority. Moses is the male child without defect. We should not miss this fact: whenever Moses’ birth is mentioned, the fact that he was a beautiful child is referred to (Exodus 2:2; Acts 7:20; Hebrews 11:23). The Bible is not wasting words cooing over Amram and Jochebed’s baby photos: as the child without blemish, and of uncommonly beautiful appearance, Moses is the eminent priestly son, the natural representative of the people. Note that Saul, David, and Solomon are all spoken of as having a remarkable and compelling appearance, which sets them apart from all others as physical specimens. These were men who would cause people to catch their breath: one glance at them was sufficient to reveal that they were no ordinary males.

As the representative of the people, the expression of their authority, and their avenger, Moses slays the Egyptian. When God appears to him in the burning bush, God declares that Israel is his firstborn son, his representative on earth (Exodus 4:22). Israel is God’s son who represents his authority on earth; the sons of Israel are the ones who represent the authority of the nation. God threatens Pharaoh’s son, the representation of his authority, if Pharaoh will not let God’s son go. The story that immediately follows in Exodus 4:24-26 is directly related to this theme, but explaining its logic would rather distract from the movement of this case (I refer you to Appendix F of James Jordan’s The Law of the Covenant for a detailed treatment).

Passover and the slaying of the firstborn sons powerfully underlines the representative role of sons. Every single firstborn male in Egypt is placed under threat (Exodus 11:4-5). Israel has to come under the covering of the blood of a male lamb without defect (12:5). In Exodus 13, YHWH claims all of the firstborn males for himself, both of man and beast. The firstborn of Israel are living sacrifices. They pass over to God, and their lives are redeemed by the offering of a ram.

We should not miss the connection to the sacrifice of Isaac here. In Genesis 22, God tests Abraham. While many believe that this episode is merely a proof of Abraham’s faith, and that having passed the test, Abraham is blessed and nothing essential changes, this reading misses crucial aspects of the picture. God claims Isaac for himself, and Abraham must sacrifice him. At the point of sacrifice God stays Abraham’s hand, and provides a ram, which is offered in Isaac’s stead. Much the same thing is taking place here as occurs in the Exodus. Isaac’s status is changed. Through the sacrifice of the ram, God claims Isaac for himself. Isaac was no longer merely Abraham’s son, but was God’s son. As such, Isaac no longer served merely as a representation of Abraham’s personal authority, but also of God’s authority. In returning Isaac to Abraham, God graciously binds the manifestation of his authority in the world to the manifestation of Abraham’s.

The firstborn sons of Israel were claimed by YHWH as his own in the Exodus (Numbers 3:13). In Numbers 3, however, the males of the Levites and their cattle are taken in the stead of the firstborn males of the rest of Israel. The Levites thus represent and minister the priestly authority of Israel as a nation. The Levites don’t have a priestly authority of their own, detached from the priestly authority that Israel possesses as a nation: they are Israel’s priestly authority. The Levites are the representation of Israel’s priestly authority, and of God’s authority among his people. They are the representation and ministers of an authority that is the shared possession of the nation as a whole, even though they are the only ones permitted to represent and minister it.

The role of sons in representation of the authority of the people is only further underlined by the requirement for male offerings, and such descriptions of them as ‘sons of the herd’ (Leviticus 1:5).

Image and Glory

In 1 Corinthians 11:7 we encounter a verse that many might find perplexing:

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

I believe that careful attention to the logic of this verse is absolutely crucial to unlocking the puzzle of the difference between the female helper apostle, and the male helper apostle.

If one were reading without paying too much attention, one might fall into the trap of reading ‘man … is the image and glory of God; but woman is the image and glory of man.’ However, the text does not say that the woman is the image of the man. The woman is the glory of the man, but not his image. We will return at a later point to the question of whether women are also the images of God.

Who then is the image of the man? The image of the man is the priestly son. Eve was the glory of Adam, but it was Seth who was his image, the expression of his authority in the world: ‘And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth’ (Genesis 5:3).

The blessing of the father is given to the sons who bear his image in the world. The firstborn’s blessing generally involves the laying on of hands. As the father leans upon the head of his son, he impresses his image upon him. His son then represents him and his authority in the world. The chief blessing of the right hand naturally belongs to the firstborn son, who is the chief image of the father. In Genesis 48:12-22, for example, we see Isaac giving Joseph the firstborn’s double portion (v.22), through laying his hand on both of Joseph’s sons’ heads (but reversing their birth order), thereby giving Joseph two tribal portions in Ephraim and Manasseh in contrast to the single portions received by his brothers.

As N.T. Wright and others have observed, Scripture’s use of the concept of ‘image’ should be understood as the visible representation or expression of a person’s authority and rule. The conceptual connection between image and authority is a tight one, and sheds considerable light on our current questions.

The relationship between image and sonship is clear elsewhere in Scripture, especially in references to the person of Christ. For instance, in Colossians 1:15 we read of Christ: ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.’ It is the son who represents – who is the embodiment – of the authority of his father. The man’s possession of a son is his possession of authority, much as having a wife is having glory. Hebrews 1:2ff. reveals the same connection between the firstborn, image, and authority: as God’s image and firstborn Son, Christ is God’s strength and authority at work in the world.

All of this leads to an important conclusion: women cannot represent, or image, the authority of the man, as that is not the form of representation for which they were created.

The Shaliach as Image of his Master

In the previous post, I maintained that both female helper apostle and male helper apostle represented the authority of their masters. We should observe that without the helper apostle, the authority of the lead apostle would be considerably lessened: the helper apostle was the right hand of the apostle, who gave a considerably greater reach and scope to his authority. As such the helper apostle did not just point to an authority that lay elsewhere, but was a living embodiment of the authority he enacted.

Following Matt Colvin’s reading, I argued that Timothy was Paul’s helper apostle, the apostle of the Apostle Paul, his shaliach. However, the relationship that existed between Paul and Timothy needs closer attention. I observed the closeness of the relationship between them, but I did not sufficiently underline the significance of its unique form: Timothy is Paul’s son. This fact is mentioned at several points in Scripture (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2).

Of course, Timothy wasn’t Paul’s biological son, but the relationship that Timothy bore to Paul was one of a son to his father. As such Timothy was able to act as the representation and image of Paul’s authority, and be his right arm at work in the world. This sonship relationship is essentially the same as Joshua had with Moses (by renaming him – Numbers 13:16, and leaning upon him in the firstborn’s image blessing – Deuteronomy 34:9), and Elisha had with Elijah (2 Kings 2:12 – note also that Elisha requests the firstborn’s double portion of Elijah’s spirit in verse 9, which he later receives).

The Female Helper Apostle as the Glory of her Husband

As a woman, the female helper apostle cannot be the image of her husband, as she cannot take the place of the firstborn son. However, although women do not enjoy the shaliach role of firstborn sons, they still stand in a representative role in relation to their husbands, a role that is highlighted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:7, and which can easily be deduced from more general attention to biblical patterns. As God’s firstborn son, Israel represents God’s authority in the world. However, as God’s bride, Israel represents his glory.

Both the firstborn son and the wife are integral to the identity of the man whom they represent. Without the firstborn son, the man lacks authority in the world: without the wife, the man lacks glory. Regarding the apostle’s wife as the representation of the glory of her apostle husband gives us a far better model for understanding her role.

As the glory of her husband, the wife does things and represents things that the firstborn son can never do or represent. While the son’s role is frequently akin to that of a servant, the place of the wife is one of exalted honour. The man has no glory that he possesses in detachment from his wife, rather the wife is the embodiment of his glory.

All of this sheds light upon the question of ordination. Women are not ordained, because ordination (the laying on of hands) is for sons, who represent their fathers’ authority. The clergy should be exclusively male for this reason. The roles played by women are not roles of servant authority entered by ordination, but roles of glorious representation, recognized by the according of honour.

The apostle’s wife is the apostle’s glory and she enjoys a position of exalted honour for that reason. No hands are laid on her in ordination, but she enjoys an exalted place alongside her husband in the life of the Church. When she gives counsel, people shut up and listen to her. She is sought for her wisdom. She is eminent among the women, not as an ordained Church officer, but as one who represents the glory of the apostle. She is held up as a model and example for imitation. She teaches and spiritually guides other women as an esteemed sharer in the apostle’s ministry. This position of honour is not merely one of reflected glory from her husband, for she is an expression of her husband’s glory.

The apostle’s wife can lead the other women, under the apostle’s authority. This leadership is not the same as the apostle’s leadership, which involves clear rights of office over the members of the Church. The apostle’s wife possesses no such rights, nor can she exercise them on behalf of her husband, as she cannot image him. However, her leadership is effected through honour, as the members of the Church set her forth as a person to emulate and follow.

Such women should be prominent in the life of the Church. To the extent that the ordained clergy seek their own glory, rather than glorifying the wider congregation, and the women within it in particular, they are failing to discharge their duty. The fact that the role of the clergy is often seen to be the one of glory within the Church is a sign that something has gone seriously wrong. Of itself the priestly ministry is inglorious, its glory is ministered to it from outside, and is a glory chiefly manifested in the exalted and prominent place of honoured faithful women within the life of the Church. Conversely, the fact that many women seek to usurp the authority of ordained firstborn son images in the Church is a sign that they are not being glorious as they ought to be.

Do Women Image God?

So far we have argued that firstborn sons are the images and authority of the man and that the wife is the glory of the man. The first role is one of ordination, the second role is one of honour. As it stands, this picture seems to have the man in the centre, relativizing both the woman and the son. However, as I claimed in my previous post, in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, Paul proceeds to engage in an asymmetrical reversal of the poles. The picture must ultimately be one in which all poles can be seen to be essential and, from a particular perspective, central. I don’t believe that this is hard to demonstrate.

The key point that should shape our entire understanding of this is the fact that we all minister being to each other. The gifts, being, and status of one party is not held over against the others, but is ministered to them. We saw this pattern earlier when we observed that the Levites did not possess some exclusive authority private to their tribe held over against all of the other tribes. Rather, the Levites ministered a priestly authority that was the possession of Israel as a whole nation, for the sake of the whole nation.

The same pattern can be observed in the Church. The Church receives the single Gift of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit is the common possession of the Church. However, the being of the Church is ministered to the Church by means of differentiated ministries (1 Corinthians 12). The gifts of one party are not held over against other parties as private possessions, but are gifts to be given. The gifts given to one party are gifts given to the whole Church through that party. More particularly, the ministering of these gifts is a re-presentation of the single Gift that the Church has already been given. When the clergy exercise priestly authority, they are not exercising an authority that is their private possession, but are exercising the authority that belongs to all in the Church, acting on our behalf as ministers.

This is the pattern that the relationship between men and women, and firstborn sons takes (undoubtedly much could be said concerning the roles of younger sons and daughters, but this is not the time). The man is the image and glory of God, expressing God’s authority and his glory. However, man by himself has meagre authority and little glory. It is through the firstborn son that the man gains his strength (on the firstborn as the representation of strength, see Genesis 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17, Psalm 78:51) and authority. The son does more than picture an authority and strength that the father possesses as a detached individual: the son is his father’s strength and authority. Similar observations should be made of the wife: the wife is the glory of her husband, and without her the man is without glory. Both wife and son minister the being of the man to him.

However, the man does not merely have his being ministered to him, he is also the minister of being to others. The father filiates, and ‘ordains’ his son. Without the authorizing work of the father, the son cannot be his authority in the world. The son is the authority of the father, not an authority to or of himself. The man renders his wife glorious by exercising his authority on her behalf. He enables her to be a glory by taking her to himself. Without a husband, the woman can suffer reproach or dishonour (cf. Isaiah 4:1).

The relationship between the firstborn and the woman is also one of ministered being. It is in bringing forth the firstborn that the woman most powerfully ministers glory. Barrenness is regarded as a reproach (Genesis 30:23; 1 Samuel 1:6; Luke 1:25), a dishonour from which the firstborn delivers the woman. The firstborn also ministers the authority of the man on behalf of the woman. The woman, for her part, in addition to being the one through whom the firstborn comes, is the minister of the glory of the man to the firstborn.

We are all inglorious when detached from each other, yet in such asymmetric mutuality, we all enjoy great authority and glory. Hence, although they do not image God in the manner that men do, women possess the image of God, as men are God’s gift to women (or at least, so we flatter ourselves – cf. Genesis 4:1). Likewise, although men are not glorious of themselves, they nonetheless possess the glory of God, because God gave women, the glorious sex, to men.

What About the Exceptions?

What are we to say about childless men, unmarried men or women, barren women, and children without a father or a mother? From a human perspective such persons would seem to be without both authority and glory, and this is an assessment expressed and even enacted on various occasions in the Bible, most especially in the Old Testament.

In the Church our human relationships are taken up into a deeper and greater life, in which the relationships of glory and authority can be enjoyed even by those excluded from the human relationships that manifest these characteristics. In his relationship with the Church, Paul glorifies another, as a man glorifies a woman. For instance, the glory of the Ephesian church is Paul’s suffering on their behalf (Ephesians 3:13). Likewise, Paul’s glory is found in what Christ has accomplished through him in the Church: ‘For you are our glory and joy’ (1 Thessalonians 2:20). The faithful widow or women without a husband or children is granted an honoured place within the Church (1 Timothy 5). She glorifies the Church by her holy and faithful life, is rendered glorious, and is empowered as the Church ministers its authority on her behalf. The orphan is likewise adopted into the Church, and given the filial place as a son of God, who shares in the glory of his Mother the Church.

All of this makes more sense as we appreciate that being the image and glory of God as male and female must involve a participation in more fundamental relationships. The Church is the place where we are renewed in the image of God (Colossians 3:9-11). The Church is also the site where the glory of God is being manifest. As we participate in the life of the Church, we can manifest the true logic of human being and identity, where authoritative firstborn sonship (cf. Hebrews 12:23) and glorious wifehood (Ephesians 5:25-27) can be enjoyed.

The Church is only the site of the outworking of the true ontological mutuality and life of humanity by virtue of its participation in God’s own life. Within the Church we are being renewed in the image of God. The Image of God, however, is Christ (Colossians 1:15). It is through participation in Christ that this new life is enjoyed. Likewise the glorious character of the Church is nothing less than a participation in the Spirit, who is the glory of God. Once this all has been grasped, it becomes apparent that no person is held back from full realization of the ontological destiny of humanity.

The Life of the Trinity

This argument has progressed gradually, in large part to reveal the working that underlies the sort of arguments that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 11, where the differentiated roles of men and women in worship are related to the differentiated life of the Trinity. There is a path leading from the fundamental datum of physical sexual difference and differentiated roles in worship into the very heart of Trinitarian theology. This is why careful thinking in this area is so important, and the ordination of women such a grievous error, calling into question the very ecclesial being of the churches where it is practiced.

God created humanity to reveal his image and glory. Human life in communion is expressive of the very life of the Trinity. We have spoken of the relationship between fathers and firstborn sons in Scripture. In the only begotten Son of the Father, we find the prototype for all such relationships. The Son is the perfect expression of the authority of Father. He is the one by whom the world is made, governed, upheld, and saved. The Son is the right hand of the Father.

The Spirit is the glory of the Father, the glory that the Father gives to the Son (Mark 8:38). The Spirit is also the glory of the Son, the glory that the Son renders to the Father (Thomas Weinandy has some helpful observations on the role of the Spirit in The Father’s Spirit of Sonship). Each person is the ‘medium’ or ‘gift’ of the relationship between the other two persons. The Spirit is the glory passed between Father and Son. The Son is the authority passed between Father and Spirit. The Father is the authorizing name passed between Spirit and Son. Each of these relations in turn implies the others. Although one person may appear to be rendered a pure object in each of these relationships, as the relationships are mutually implicatory in a single sharing of divine life, no such objectification occurs.


One of the things that should be clear from the picture above is just how closely the role of women corresponds to the role of the Spirit. Women can represent God in a peculiar manner that no others can, thereby ministering being to all others, and receiving being in return. Women do not image God in the same way that men do (as men are particularly associated with the Son), but they represent God’s glory in a manner that men cannot. This connection between women and the role of the Spirit could be articulated in great detail using biblical typology.

Seeing the closeness of the relationship here underlines just how important the ministry of women is in the Church. If we are serious Trinitarians, I believe that we are led to the strong conclusion that the role of women possesses no less dignity than that of men. Indeed the role of women is probably the primary manifestation of the glory of the Church. All of this is of seismic import for the way that we treat and regard women within our churches. We have taken no more than the smallest of steps towards working out the far-reaching implications of this.

Returning to the question that started us off, this also reveals the distinct manner in which Junia participated in the apostleship of Andronicus. It unworks certain of the confusing perceptions that might have arisen from my previous post, while providing a clearer framework within which the distinct roles of sons and wives can be recognized.

This, I hope, will be my final treatment of the subject of women’s leadership. What I trust I have achieved is a revelation of how tightly male-only ordination is woven into the very fabric of the Christian faith, having implications for our understanding of our gendered identities as revealed in Genesis 2-3, but, far more importantly, following closely from the life of God himself.

Part 1: Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women’s Leadership
Part 2: A Closer Examination of Junia, The Female Apostle

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Exodus, NT, OT, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Representation and Ordination: Of Sons and Wives

  1. Pingback: Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women Leadership | Alastair's Adversaria

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  3. PuritanD71 says:


    In the 16 years of being a part of the gender debate, I have never read something even close to this in opposing the ordination of women like you have done here. This article gives a lot to think about. The breadth and depth of the Scriptural position is well done. It is extremely hard to divorce the OT from the NT and the egalitarian position does its hardest to do so.

    The idea of the first born son and the wife is one that I am going to have to ponder for a fairly long time. Will be sharing this with other pastors and those who seem to be fence sitting on the position of ordaining women.

    This is a job well done. Thanks for the great provocation of thought and moving the debate forward. By the way, egalitarians are pushing for a redefinition of the Trinity arguing that complimentarians are promoting Arianism.


    • PuritanD71,

      Thank you!

      My hope is to encourage people on all sides of this debate to move beyond an exceedingly narrow focus on the fine details of particular texts, to engagement with the bigger narrative and theological picture within which these texts occur. I am convinced that particular texts will simply become more problematic the more that we press up our noses against them. Sometimes it is only when you step back that things begin to make sense and take clearer shape. I am convinced that this is one such occasion.

      I also believe that there really are very serious problems with many complementarians’ approach to the Trinity, as they can lean in the direction of subordinationism. My contention is that there is nothing about complementarian convictions that necessitates such a movement, but that a biblically attentive complementarianism can be informed by the richest forms of Trinitarianism out there.

      • PuritanD71 says:


        I concur that the bigger picture has greatly helped see the melodic line of the complementarian position. I am a bit curious regarding the Trinity and the problems with the approaches spelled out by complementarians. I do not see any difficulty of Jesus’ submitting to the Father’s will while here on earth. Does the concern lie within the efforts to juxtapose the submission of Christ here on earth to what He did prior to His kenosis?

    • I believe that the teaching of Christ’s submitting to the Father is perfectly biblical. I also believe that this submission reveals the life of the Trinity. My concern is that this isn’t the whole picture and making it so can lead to an unorthodox subordinationism.

      My argument is one for mutual, differentiated ‘submission’, in which each person of the Trinity submits to the others in varying ways. The Son is ‘authorized’ or sent by the Father, through the Spirit. The Son always acts in the name of the Father who sent him, and thus always submits to him. However, the Son is the authority of the Father, so that the Father could not be the authoritative Father without the Son as his authority. Without the Father the Son has no authorization or commission: without the Son the Father has no manifested authority. Similar things can be said about the Spirit. Without the Spirit, the Father and the Son lack glory. Without the Father, the Spirit is not commissioned and sent. Without the Son, the Spirit is not authoritative.

      As such, each person of the Trinity depends upon each of the others, in a manner than means that no hierarchical order in the life of the Trinity can ever be countenanced. Each person of the Trinity acts for the sake of the others. So what I am arguing for is submission without subordination. It is important to stress that this is differentiated submission: the Father does not submit to the Son in the way that the Son submits to him, but in manner appropriate to his personhood.

      The same can be said of marriage. The wife submits to the headship and authority of her husband. However, the husband is to submit to the interests and needs of his wife: rather than seeking his own ends, he seeks to glorify her, and to empower her through the exercise of his authority.

      • Ali says:

        I would agree with the substance of what you are saying about both the Trinity and marriage, but I wouldn’t call the Father’s relationship with the Son submission, and nor would I call the servant leadership the husband exercises toward his wife submission. In fact the following explanation you gave of the relationship between the Father and Son does not show the Father submitting to the Son at all.

        The Son is ‘authorized’ or sent by the Father, through the Spirit. The Son always acts in the name of the Father who sent him, and thus always submits to him. However, the Son is the authority of the Father, so that the Father could not be the authoritative Father without the Son as his authority. Without the Father the Son has no authorization or commission: without the Son the Father has no manifested authority.

        You could say the first two sentences are from an inter-Trinitarian perspective as they refer to the relationship between the Father and the Son, whereas the last two sentences are from a perspective outside the Trinity as they refer to the relationship between the Godhead and everything else. Or not. Regardless, the above explanation does not preclude hierarchy. This can be better seen if we change Father and Son with King and Ambassador.

        The Ambassador is ‘authorized’ or sent by the King, [through the Spirit]. The Ambassador always acts in the name of the King who sent him, and thus always submits to him. However, the Ambassador is the authority of the King [in a foreign country], so that the King could not be the authoritative King [in a foreign country] without the Ambassador as his authority. Without the King the Ambassador has no authorization or commission [in a foreign country]: without the Ambassador the King has no manifested authority [in a foreign country].

        Now of course King/Ambassador is a far from perfect analogy for the Father and the Son, but the above does show that your explanation does not preclude hierarchy in the Trinity because the same explanation can be applied to an hierarchical relationship. What you are describing, in my view, is accurate, but it is not submission.

        I’m happy to be shown where I’m wrong.

      • Ali,

        Thanks for your comment.

        Your king-ambassador analogy is limited because the ambassador is merely one of numerous agencies of the king’s authorizing role. In such a case, therefore, there is a clear hierarchical relationship.

        In the Trinity, I have argued that the Son is the Father’s authority and that without the Son, the Father has no authority in which to invest his authorizing power. This leads to a situation of non-hierarchical submission.

        As for my use of the term ‘submission’, it is informed by Ephesians 5:21, which establishes mutual submission as the fundamental basis for the differentiated forms of submission that are practised by different persons in varying contexts. In such mutual submission, I believe that we are reflecting God’s own character. The form of ‘submission’ of the Father to the Son is radically different to the submission of the Son to the Father, but both are a form of submission. We must retain both the diversity and differentiation but also the asymmetrical reversability of Trinitarian bonds.

      • PuritanD71 says:


        How does one support a theory of the Son being the Father’s authority? I do not find such support in Scripture. We do not have a solid understanding of how the Trinity works prior to the incarnation. We do see though had Jesus did submit himself to the Father after the incarnation. The idea that the Father cannot give authority to someone unless that someone is His authority almost sounds like the old adage, “which came first the chicken or the egg?”

        I am surprised by your desire to use Eph 5:21 as your main verse in understanding submission (a contentious one at that) while you put together article after article of the inclusiveness of the whole corpus of the Bible. Does not your other arguments not look towards one verse, one text to espouse a particular view?

        I understand that you are not a “Greek guy.” The term in Greek, “to submit” does not carry with it an understanding of “mutuality.” The term always implies a relationship of submission to an authority. Look up the following references: Luke 10:17; Romans 13:1, 5; Eph 1:22; Col. 3:18; Tit, 2:5; 1 Pet 3:5; James 4:7; none of these (and this is not exhaustive) does not have a sense of “mutuality.” Even outside of the Bible, the term finds its use of soldiers submitting and obeying their superiors. Essentially, in layman’s terms, the ides of “to submit” is always a one-way street.

        The other issue as I understand it is then what would I do with the term, “one another”? Granted the term does mean “everyone to everyone.” However, this meaning is not the only way that “one another” is defined and used in the NT. One person put it that where it does not mean “everyone to everyone,” that it also can be defined as “some to others.” Here are some references: 1 Cor. 11:33; Luke 2:15; Matt. 24:10; Luke 12:1; Rev. 6:4.

        It is well argued that “to submit” being one-directional would make the term, “one another” have the sense of “some to others” and not “everyone to everyone.” Even the context of Eph. 5 & 6 would seem to suggest that with the examples of wife to husband, church to Christ, children to parents, and slaves to masters, that it would be “some to others” and not “everyone to everyone”.

        I may have misunderstand exactly how you are using “submission” in your argument in the Trinity. Yet, I find it difficult in seeing “mutuality” in Eph. 5: when all the evidence is weighed.


      • Ali says:

        Yes, I’d agree with you PuritanD71. There is also the problem that if we accept the “mutual submission” interpretation we would then need to accept that Christ submits to the church (if the verses Ephesians 5:21 are anything to go by). I don’t see Scripture teaching that. Christ submitted to the cross for the church, but didn’t submit to the church…did he?

        The only way I could see that as a possibility is if we redefine the word “submission”.

        I’m going to write another comment a little later on with some more questions for you Alastair, because I really want to know if I’ve got this wrong.

      • PuritanD71 and Ali,

        Thank you for your questions. They are definitely both natural and important ones to ask.

        1. ‘How does one support a theory of the Son being the Father’s authority?’

        At the outset, I should reiterate the distinction in terms of which I have been working. The Father is the one who sends, commissions, and names. He is the author, the origin, and the source. He is the authorizer. The Son is the enacted authority of the Father. As the authority of the Father, the Son does not exercise an authority of his own, but is that of the Father. This is why the Father must give the authority to his Son. The confusing thing here may be the way in which I distinguish between ‘authorizing’ and ‘authority’, with the Father as the authorizer, but the Son as the authority. I am not thereby seeking to alienate the Father from his authority, but to show that the Father’s power is thoroughly invested in the Son: Christ is the power of God.

        Biblical evidence for this? I would start by reflecting on Christ’s identity as the Word of the Father. There is a close relationship between authorizing and authority revealed in the spoken word. The authority of the word depends entirely upon the author of the word. If the same word were authored by another, it would carry no weight. However, without words, the author lacks authority, for it is through words that rule is effected. The king who cannot convey a word cannot rule: the king’s authority is his word. The Father and the Son bear the same relation. As the Word of the Father, the Son is authorized – begotten – by the Father, and is the Father’s rule over the world.

        We see this more clearly when we start to look at God’s work in the universe. All things were made by the Word, and without him nothing was made. It is by the Word that all things are upheld, and by him that all things consist. Apart from the Word the Father’s sovereign will would not be put into effect. This is what I mean by saying that the Son is the Father’s authority.

        2. The working of the Trinity prior to the incarnation. A few points here. First, I am not sure that it is appropriate to speak of ‘the Trinity before the incarnation’, as this suggests that the Trinity is immanent within time, when the relationship between the Trinity and time is considerably more complex than this. It also suggests that the incarnation effects some sort of change within the Trinity, a position that doesn’t seem to be in line with orthodoxy.

        3. Ephesians 5:21 and submission. First of all, Ephesians 5:21 is not the basis for my view of the Trinity. Rather I was using the verse to justify a broadening of our use of the term ‘submission’ to refer to a number of differentiated forms of posture towards others that in some manner humbly value them and their interests over ourselves. My belief that the Trinity is characterized by a deep mutuality of interdependence has far broader biblical bases than this.

        I am familiar with regular uses of the verb ‘to submit’ in Greek: English often isn’t a whole lot different. My concern is that we don’t shrink back from the most natural reading of the language purely on account of its shock value. I am sure that the idea that a master could be a servant was a far more shocking concept in the first century. Jesus clearly doesn’t speak of himself as a servant in a way that negates the fact that he is a master, yet he wants us to take his identification as a servant to us with great weight. As our servant, he values us and our needs over himself.

        Besides, the Bible explicitly teaches that the wife does have a form of authority in relation to her husband, and so I think that it is perfectly appropriate to say that her husband should submit to her in this area, in the stronger sense of the word (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). I think that this verse is proof enough that submission need not be unidirectional.

        The submission of the husband to the wife takes a different form than the wife’s submission to her husband, but we must stress that it is no less real. The husband must value his wife and her interests over his own, and be a dutiful servant to her, while not ceasing to be the authorizing head in the relationship. His must be an authority exercised in service of others, which complicates any notion of unidirectionality.

        I believe that the same humble service of others can be seen in the Trinity. The Son serves the Father by being obedient to him in all and fulfilling his will. The Father serves the Son by ordering all of his work for the sake of the Son, seeking to display his glory, and delivering all judgment into his hands.

        In response to Ali’s point: yes, I believe that our understanding of the term ‘submission’ has to shift a bit, especially if we speak of Christ submitting in some sense to the Church, or being the servant of the Church. However, we should not abandon it, or rob it of its element of shock: it seems to me that the shock value was probably partly why it was chosen.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    in the great missionary movement of the 1800’s, twice as many women as men went as missionaries. The men who went were married, but half the women were single. The women were able to function as single women, without husbands, but typically the men did not attempt to function without wives.

    Does this mean that the male (as priest) needs an assistant, but the assistant ( the female) is an independent entity and doesn’t need a priest?

    • No, it doesn’t. As I argued in my post, our living out of gendered vocations is mediated by the life of the Church, and isn’t circumscribed by the realm of marriage. Men and women need each other, but that need is not met only in marriage.

      The men who went as missionaries in the 1800s were definitely not all married. I can think of a number of examples off the top of my head of those who first went onto the mission field as single men, or did most of their missionary work away from their wives. The work of men and women on the mission field typically differed as well. Most of the women missionaries would focus on education, teaching and evangelizing ladies, the establishment of and work in orphanages, hospitals, and other Christian institutions, campaigning for the rights of the oppressed, or supporting their husbands in their work of planting and leading churches. All of these areas of work are areas in which the helping role can be powerfully manifested. These women were not acting independently, but were participating in and powerfully filling out the broader work of missions in the regions in which they worked.

      Growing up on a mission field situation where we had several women missionaries working alongside us, and having a number of women who have been missionaries at some point in my family (my grandmother went as a single missionary to Nigeria, where she later met my grandfather), I can assure you that non-egalitarian forms of missions work incredibly well. In fact, it seems to me that some of the most convinced complementarians of all can be found among women missionaries.

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        I missed this earlier. British Columbia was largely evangelized by an all female mission who worked in pairs on horseback and by jeep. They fulfilled all the roles of leaderhip.

        Egalitarian mission work is just as effective as complementarian mission work so why restrict women? I really don’t understand your insistance on giving men authority, which we understand very well, and then giving women glory, which is of no use to anybody. This is just depressing. I don’t want to be a single women in a complementarian church and feeling that I am in some kind of quasi sexual relationship with other men. Ick.

  5. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    i continue to have difficulty with how you are using the word “helper.” Perhaps this excerpt from the Septuagint will help

    “O my Lord, you only are our King;
    Κύριέ μου, ὁ βασιλεὺς ἡμῶν, σὺ εἶ μόνος·

    help me, who am alone
    βοήθησόν μοι τῇ μόνῃ

    and have no helper but you,
    καὶ μὴ ἐχούσῃ βοηθὸν εἰ μὴ σέ,

    Counter points are:

    1) helper is one to whom one addresses supplication

    2) Moses needed Aaron to speak for him. Moses was the leader, but Aaron was the priest. King (leader) and priest are separate roles. Which is the assistant to whom?

    3) Paul had physical limitations

    4) In Isaiah 53 we read that the servant of the Lord had not beauty

    • Suzanne,

      You continue to fail to engage with the meaning of the term in its original context, merely looking for hopeful parallels in other contexts. Genesis 2-3 really give us a lot of detail about the character of Eve’s place relative to Adam as his helper. The fact that you need to explore the use of a term with a broad range of possible referents in a very different context suggests to me that you just can’t make your case from the context of Genesis 2-3.

      In response to your points:

      1. Only in some contexts. By itself the term is not so determinate in meaning, so we need to pay more attention to the contexts of its occurrence, which you continue to fail to do with Genesis 2-3.

      2. Moses is as God to Aaron (Exodus 4:16). Both Moses and Aaron are called priests (Psalm 99:6). One could Moses is the uber-priest. It is Moses who sets up the entire priestly system. Moses does the priestly work of consecrating the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 29:1) and also consecrates the tabernacle (Numbers 7:1). Moses is the priest on whom the whole system is founded, and Aaron is the top priest within the system. The relationship here is akin to that between father and son.

      King and priest are different roles. The differences are various. The priest is the foundational role and is concerned with the realm of the Sanctuary and the Law. The king is concerned with the realm of the Land and is associated with wisdom. The priest is a man under complete authority; the king is a vicegerent of God, with greater scope for wise discretion. The king’s role is akin to that of a priest in certain regards. He is also called to guard boundaries. It is different in others: the king does not exercise authority in the realm of the sanctuary, although the king can sponsor the life of the sanctuary, and fill out the realm of worship in other respects (as David filled the worship of Israel with song). The king and the priest have different symbolic values. Neither are generic roles of leadership.

      3. Undoubtedly. The sort of leadership that Paul was called to exercise involved a great capacity to suffer, and the ability to exercise firm and agonistic authority and leadership. One can accomplish this with physical limitations. However, in a mixed context men are generally far more naturally equipped for the exerting of leadership that must frequently be confrontational. The most naturally authoritative figures in any large mixed community will almost invariably be men. While women can lead by virtue of the honour accorded to them, agonistic leadership (which is what you will often need from a community guardian) is far more natural to males. If God wants community guardians as priests, we should not be surprised if the priesthood is seen as a masculine institution.

      4. Physical beauty was always only a symbolic representation of the deeper sense of being without defect. Jesus is a spotless lamb, a male without defect, because he is without sin or blame. The mention of physical beauty is a textual clue to the role that a person is going to play, but it is not a quality essential to the fulfilment of that role.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    1) “You continue to fail to engage with the meaning of the term in its original context, merely looking for hopeful parallels in other contexts. Genesis 2-3 really give us a lot of detail about the character of Eve’s place relative to Adam as his helper. The fact that you need to explore the use of a term with a broad range of possible referents in a very different context suggests to me that you just can’t make your case from the context of Genesis 2-3.”

    Let me assure you that ALL scholars depend on understanding the meaning of the word from its use in other contexts. One does not start with what one thinks the word says in its original context. You always have to find out how the word was normatly used in the language as a whole. This is the normal practice. We must both abide by it. You have not provided any evidence that ezer/boethos was used as other than the one to whom one addresses a supplication. I have provided my evidence, and could provide many more examples. I await your examples.

    2) I believe in the priesthood of all believers.

    3) “However, in a mixed context men are generally far more naturally equipped for the exerting of leadership that must frequently be confrontational.”

    That is an opinion, and in the sense that it is true, unfortunately makes men more vulnerable to committing violent crime.

    4) I am not sure how beauty comes into this. As Ps. 53 says, there was not beauty in him.


    Your commentary on the Bible comes across as highly interpretative and full of wishful thinking. We live in the world of Maggie Thatcher, and female leadership in all areas. Depriving women of the right to authority is sinful. 1 Tim. 2;12 does not even contain the word “authority” but said that women should not “dominate” or “take what is not rightfully theirs.” The word authority has been inserted into the English translation, in this century this has become more popular, but it was not understood as its original meaning.

    Women are missionaries, and were not created in any way by God with a deficiency in function. But men have dominated women in any context were there might be established leadership over other Christians. This is cultural. The ability of women is proven over and over. That is because God created women with this capacity. Did he make a mistake? Why put men in charge of exegesis if women have the same if not better capacity with languages?

    • Suzanne,

      The verb עזר can clearly be employed in a variety of different contexts. It can be used to refer to God helping his people, or it can be used to refer to the help of other higher powers, confederates, auxiliaries, subordinates, tributaries, and subjects (in 1 Kings 20:16, for instance, Ben-Hadad is clearly the top dog, and the thirty-two kings who ‘help’ are probably a mixture of lesser kings allied with him, tributaries and vassals, or subjects). Within the same context, the verb can be used of groups of people that stand in a very different sort of relation with a person, such as in 1 Chronicles 12:18, where it is used of both lesser supporters, and of God himself. Frankly, your definition of ‘the one to whom one addresses a supplication’ is a rather forced and unnatural interpretation in several contexts where the verb or related noun is found. The same things can be said about the Greek term.

      However, none of these examples are really necessary. The only example that we need is Genesis 2. The translation ‘the one to whom one addresses a supplication’ would be a rather bizarre rendering of the term in the context, and so arguing that this is the meaning of the word won’t fly. The meaning is clearly broader, and less specific than that. The shoe is biting at the heel, so stop trying to force it on: we need a different size.

      Obviously we gain insight into a meaning of a word from exploring how it functions more generally in the language. However, we do not know how a word functions more generally in a language without first studying how the word functions in particular contexts. Words can have a wide range of uses, and regular forms of expression are not always strictly adhered to and so general usage can never be completely determinative for any particular context. As Matt pointed out, for instance, ‘If Junia is an apostle, then we will take “among the apostles” in a partitive sense. If she is not, then we will not.’ You put entirely too much weight upon extremely precise, strict, and law-like regularities in usage. Sometimes words just act out of character, and grammar is not abided by. When it comes to language, most rules of usage tend to have exceptions. Consequently, context should often weigh very heavily in our understanding of the meaning of a particular phrase or word.

      Eve obviously provides some sort of aid or assistance to Adam in Genesis 2, and is created for the purpose. The exact relation in which Eve stands to Adam as his helper is unclear from the word alone, and must be determined from context. The word is too general in its meaning to help us here. I have argued from many details in the context that Eve’s role relative to Adam is akin to that of a deacon (the assistant of the elder). Clearly, this isn’t the only role that Eve plays, but it is the role that is most prominent and, as the Garden is the prototypical sanctuary, it explains why Paul would appeal to the fact that Adam was created first as an argument for differentiated roles for men and women in worship. You obviously don’t like this interpretation, but you have consistently failed to engage with it.

      I believe in the priesthood of the baptized too. As Christians we all participate in the priesthood, kingship, and prophethood of Christ. We are prophets, priests, and kings in him. However, the priesthood that is the common property of the Church is ministered to us in a differentiated fashion (just as Israel was a kingdom of priests, and all enjoyed this status, while only a few were actually permitted to exercise the office). We participate in such things as they are ministered by others on our behalf. The fact that we are priests in Christ does not mean that we are permitted to exercise the Church office of priestly ministry. I believe that a baptized infant is no less a priest than any of the rest of us. However, that doesn’t mean that they can be a priest.

      Societies are always faced with enemies and discontents. Forceful leadership and even exercise of violence is necessary to overcome such opposition and keep society secure and peaceful. As I pointed out in my first post, God consistently chose leaders who were capable of and prepared to engage in violence and who were dominant and forceful personalities as his priests and as the moral leaders of his people. Such men are more vulnerable to committing violent crime, but for the same reasons they are also more effective as the people who keep the peace.

      Beauty comes into it because beauty is a textual pointer to a person’s status and role (just as physical blindness can occasionally be a textual pointer to a person’s loss of clear judgment).

      You continue to talk about female leadership in a manner that makes fairly clear that you really are not grasping my position. I have no problem with women in ‘leadership’ positions per se. I have no problem working for a female boss, living in a country with a female monarch or prime minister, or under the supervision of a female scholar. What I have done is articulate different forms that leadership can take, and have argued that women cannot exercise the particular form of leadership that is involved in the priesthood. I am not going to explain my position again here, because it seems clear to me that you have little interest in engaging attentively with any opposing opinion on this matter. I don’t think that you are understanding at all how the concept of ‘authority’ or ‘authorization’ function in my position, for instance, and seem to take my statements to mean that women are somehow less than men, or that they should not be empowered members and leaders within society.

      The exact Greek of 1 Timothy 2:12 is relatively unimportant to my case, because it is founded upon a far bigger biblical picture and not just upon a few detached texts. In articulating your position you have consistently shied away from any engagement with larger biblical contexts, but have stubbornly focused on treating verses in a sort of piecemeal fashion. As a side note, you comment about men dominating over women in practically every social context, and yet when we do have a verse attacking such ‘dominating’ in 1 Timothy 2:12 it is directed against women. Why is it that God sits easy to supposed male domination, but speaks out as soon as women start to dominate men?

      The fact that you suggest that my position is that women were created with a deficiency in function, that they are mere auxiliaries to men, or that male priesthood is about putting men in charge of exegesis all demonstrate that you really haven’t been listening carefully. You clearly have your own position on these matters, which you believe passionately, largely on the basis of your impression of women’s rightful place in the modern world. However, when asked to engage with the biblical teaching on the matter, you consistently focused on detached texts, and ever tighter rules of grammar and meaning in order to escape engagement with immediate contexts, and with the larger context of the biblical text. It is apparent to me that no amount of debate about Scripture will change your mind, as Scripture was never what persuaded you of your position in the first place, and you will shift your arguments as much as is necessary to achieve your desired conclusions and ‘prove’ your case.

      As you have not seriously engaged with my overall case, or presented an alternative big picture, it seems clear to me that you are not seriously trying to persuade me of anything here. Nor does anyone else here seem to find your arguments persuasive. This leaves with the strong impression that this is more about persuading yourself. This is obviously an emotive issue for you, and you don’t want to admit any biblical ground in your mind to what you perceive to be an oppressive position. As the person that you want to persuade of the complete falsity of complementarianism is not me (or else you would be carefully and attentively engaging with my arguments) but yourself, I am just serving as a convenient screen onto which you can project. This is why we have had to discuss things such as Wallace and Burer, even though I never raised them in my argument, and don’t support their position. If this is ultimately your aim, I have no desire to resist you in your concerted effort to persuade yourself that complementarians are 100% wrong – knock yourself out! – but, while thanking you once again for your comments, I would strongly suggest that it might be more profitable for both of us if you did so elsewhere.

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        “Such men are more vulnerable to committing violent crime, but for the same reasons they are also more effective as the people who keep the peace.”

        Deborah kept the peace for 40 years. Queen Eizabeth I of England and Queen Vicotoria also manaaged to do so. Within a frameword which enables women, they can do it.

        All priesthood now is a priesthood of believers, so women are not exluded.

        Regarding ezer, my objection is that you refer to Junia as a “helper” apostle, as if the word ezer or boethos had the meaning of “subordinate,” It doesn’t. You are only thinking that Eve must have been subordinate because a man can’t have babies on his own. This is only a man’s way of reading the text. Women don’t read subordination into their ability to have babies. They simply understand the need for attachment. But men, because of the fall, can only accept attachment with domination. That’s the fall. We have to get over that. God intended male and female to rule the earth as partners not as man and subordinate helper. That part is interpretation.

        For those of us who are not of the child-bearing age, all of this is irrelevant and the authority/glory complementatianism that you proposed earler is meaningless. Just suggesting that you don’t try to make any of this fly with women over 50 who have supported themselves from their own work. A lot of women do go along with this in order to be attached, but for some of us the price was inappropriate.

        I really do appreciate all the effort and thinking that you have put into this, and i do see so much thoughtfulness, so I really want to encourage you in this direction. All I want is to be actually treated as a full authority-bearing adult and to never ever experience a whiff of female subordination again in my life. Its a cruelty.

  7. Ali says:

    For some reason I can’t reply under your last comment, so here I am right down at the bottom :).

    When I read what you have written about the Trinity in the above comments, I come to the conclusion that we agree about everything except the idea that the New Testament stretched the meaning of “submission” in the way you suggest. A small matter, I guess, but I do wish to address it one last time.

    When you redefine submission as “a number of differentiated forms of posture towards others that in some manner humbly value them and their interests over ourselves” you are describing what has been called servant leadership, i.e. authority that is exercised by serving the needs and interests of others. This is a well-defined concept throughout the New Testament, and, yes, a redefinition of how authority was to be exercised. It did not redefine the meaning of servant, however, nor did it redefine the meaning of authority. It was, and is, possible to serve someone and not submit to them, because submission is the act of defering to another’s authority. For example, God served us by sending Jesus, but it was at his initiative, not ours. He did not submit to us by doing so and remains in authority. Nor is a Father submitting to their child when they ask what flavour ice cream they’d like and then buys that flavour for them.

    You seem to be suggesting that submission in the New Testamemt is redefined to include all servanthood. But I don’t agree. The way PuritanD71 explained Eph 5:21 is the most natural reading when the verses following are considered. If you want to use a redefinition of submission for shock value today, that is fine, but I don’t agree that it is a biblical move. If you do continue to use your redefinition, though, be careful. The effect, though not the intent, may well be read as duplicitous. For example, an egalitarian asks if submission is only the wife’s responsibility, and you say, “No, the bible teaches mutual submission.” As you go on to define the husband’s submission, they may recognise what you say as “servant leadership”, which it is and which is the position most complementarians argue for, and the egalitarian may accuse you of merely switching labels. And I think if you played theological taboo with this one, you’d find that you are.

    Lastly, 1 Cor 7:3-4 is an example of a situation where a non-redefined mutual submission would work itself out. But note that it is not a redefined submission. It is talking about a specific area of married life and it does not undermine the broader concept of godly submission and godly authority in Ephesians 5:21 and 6. However, it would be interesting to think through how the two parties to a covenant have rights/authority over each other in the areas the covenant guarantees benefits to them such as in the case of conjugal rights in the marriage covenant in 1 Cor 7 3-4. Which areas would that include in the New Covenant? Would that somehow extend to the Trinity? (Off-hand I don’t think so). Perhaps a mutual submission could be extended in those cases.

    Look, as I have said, I agree with everything except your redefinition of submission. I have yet to be convinced. And at this stage I guess that’s okay.

    • Ali,

      Thank you for your comment. The comments system seems to be designed to prevent comments from being indented more than a couple of times and becoming too narrow.

      I agree: our differences are not substantial ones. The precise semantic range of the term ‘submission’ isn’t something that I think has that much riding upon it. I also don’t want to include all servanthood under the category of submission, but believe that the relationship between the two is closer than sometimes recognized.

      In defending my use of the term ‘submission’, I would at the outset distinguish between submission as it relates to our relationship with God, and submission as it relates to our relationships with each other. I do not believe that God submits to us. The analogy between Christ’s relationship with the Church and the husband’s relationship with the wife is not a perfect parallel. While the form that our mutual submission takes involves being formed like Christ’s servant leadership, there are further dimensions of the picture that need to be taken into account here.

      Most importantly, if my position is correct, the authority of the husband is not his private possession as an individual, much as the gifts of the Spirit in the Church are not our private possessions, but ministered ‘re-presentations’ of what was given to the body as a whole at Pentecost. For this reason, pastors in the Church are not exercising an authority of their own, but ministering the authority that belongs to all of us as the body for our sake, as they have been so gifted. In this respect, the Church reflects God’s own life, where the authority of the Son is never his private possession but is God’s own Triune authority.

      I believe that the same pattern holds in the context of marriage. The authorizing power of the husband is not some private authorizing power that belongs to men, but is something that the husband must minister for both of their sakes. As a steward and minister of something that isn’t his private possession, he needs to ‘submit’ himself to the rights of his wife in the matter, rather than thinking purely in terms of his personal prerogative. However, as the authorizing prerogative and authority of his wife are not ministered by her, his submission will necessarily take a different form.

      The use of the word ‘submission’ and other similar terms in relation to these different relationships will vary. I believe that the Bible implicitly speaks of the husband submitting to his wife. However, the Bible is more explicit about the wife’s submission to her husband. As the husband is the minister of the couple’s authorizing prerogative, this is a natural way to employ the language.

      While the egalitarian might think me duplicitous, this doesn’t concern me too much. My concern is primarily that of providing a positive declaration of the biblical teaching on the subject, rather than recognizing the colonization of certain biblical terms by one party or another in the egalitarian/complementarian debates. If the Bible truly implies that, in some sense of the word, husbands are to submit to their wives, then we need to take that term seriously and not just cede ownership of it to those who disagree with us. In using this term, I believe that I am pushed to go further than most complementarians in articulating the duties of the husband to his wife. I would rather risk charges of duplicity than forfeit biblical language and the way that it wrestles with us on such issues.

      I think that the idea of parties having authority over another in a covenant relationship needs to be given more weight than we tend to give it. A covenant is not the same as a contract, and rights function differently in each. I would be very wary of speaking of ‘rights’ or ‘authority over’ in the case of the Trinity, although my reasons might take a while to articulate, but I don’t have a problem with language of mutual submission, provided that we are clear about its very differentiated character.

    • PuritanD71 says:

      Thanks for your comments Ali, I am thinking along the same lines here with you. Will try to respond, myself, with Alastair when have some time.

  8. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Hi Alastair,

    I really like your thinking here but caution you again. You write, “The authorizing power of the husband is not some private authorizing power that belongs to men, but is something that the husband must minister for both of their sakes.”

    It seems that half of the named women in the NT were single or widows. And that fits my demographic. In that case, we entirely carry out the function of administering authorizing power. Therefore, authority is just as much a part of the created female design as it is that of men. Why should men and single women be allowed and encouraged to live according to the way God has designed human beings, but married women are not to?

    • Suzanne,

      I think that you are continuing to misunderstand my position, which is that all of us are involved in such relationships in society and more particularly in the Church. Even those of us who are not married, don’t have children, or are widowed, divorced, or separated, still find ourselves in communities and a larger society with this underlying logic. The single and childless man, for instance, may lack glory and authority, but these things can be ministered to him by others within society, and especially within the life of the Church.

      The key difference here is that your approach seems to be one geared towards individual independence and the equality of detached persons, who live lives in which the opposite sex, or different generations have limited parts. My approach, by contrast, is geared towards the fullness of mutuality, where we are all members of one another in one body, and no man or woman can be an island. In such a vision, the glory/authority/authorizing prerogative of one party is always something that must be rendered to all.

      This means that my approach issues two key challenges. To egalitarians it stresses the fact of differentiation. God has created us differently, and given us different ministries to exercise. The Scriptures are fairly clear that an all-male priesthood is one way in which this is expressed.

      To complementarians it attacks any form of subordinationism, which would treat women as somehow less than men. Differences of ministry exist, but what we minister is not something that is the peculiar possession of one sex, but something that belongs to everyone; we are merely the channels by which God gives to others. This is according to the pattern of 1 Corinthians 12:6-7: And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:.

      While the egalitarian must wrestle with the asymmetry and differentiation of the way that the Scripture envisages this working out, the complementarian must wrestle with the reversibility of this, and with the fact that, in representing authorizing prerogative/authority/glory, we must always be doing so for the sake of others, in a way that exalts their interests over our own. The reversibility principle is that, if women are dependent upon, and must ‘submit’ to men, there must be no less real a sense in which men are dependent upon women, and must ‘submit’ to them. There isn’t symmetry here, as there is differentiation. However, nor is there subordination.

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        To assign more authority to one person in a marriage than to the other disrespects equality entirely.

        And I actually had to stop shaking hands with most men in my congregation before I left as I felt the contamination of sexuality in each interaction. I just welcomed the more egalitarian atmosphere of the secular education system where I can engage with men as human beings.

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  10. Findo says:

    Just want to say that I really appreciate the scope of these three posts – I think you’re approach is a very helpful and balanced one..Thanks!

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