What Does The Trinity Teach Us (If Anything) About Gender Relationships?

Alastair has raised a number of questions about the use of trinitarian theology in discussions regarding gender. In a longer post, he laid out some critiques offered by leading trinitarian theologians about social trinitarianism, arguments that rely on the “use of the inner life of the Trinity as a basis for its social vision.”

Reading these posts left me spinning. Even though I have a theology degree and have read more than the average number of articles on men and women relating “biblically” to each other, this was a perspective I have never heard before, and yet on reading the critique I realized that YES! I have been confused by the fact that both complementation and egalitarian theologies rely on arguments positing a certain view of the way the Father, Son and the Spirit relate to each other to support their views (Complementarians: “just as the son submits to the Father, so women should submit to men! Together, men and women reflect the beauty of the Godhead!”… Egalitarians: “Just as the Father, Son and Spirit relate in mutual, affirming, mutually submissive ways, so too we are imago dei and there is no one-upmanship between men and women.”) The shifting and varying theological arguments here do suggest to me that rationalization, rather than honest and principled theological reasoning, is taking place.

I, for one, am in favor of taking a distinct step back from social Trinitarianism. The danger that we will project our social and hermeneutical biases onto Scripture is ever-present, and greatly heightened when the doctrine in question is the unknowable God himself.

However, I am not sure then what to make of the statements as in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “but I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”, particularly as it relates to the meaning of “head” and “submission”. These are relationship-words which Scripture itself uses to describe aspects of the Father/Son’s relationship, men and women’s relationship, and the relationship between us and God. Clearly, we are to learn something from the patterning of relationships, but it seems that we are in grave danger of error when trying to pin down exactly what it is we’re learning.

I do not understand “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3 to refer to ontological ordering (head doesn’t mean “source”, after all), but if it does refer to some functional way of relating, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to apply it. I had understood “head” to mean “authority”, and the verb “submit” to mean “appoint yourself under the authority of…”, recognizing that Jesus himself submitted to authority (the Fathers’, the rulers of his day etc), and that even the demons themselves submit (recognizing authority) in certain situations is significant because it signals to me that, whatever we say about mutuality in God’s economy, that we are not always at the same levels as others, and may need to accord proper respect and deference as is appropriate to that situation. Jesus is the King of Kings, but there was a time when he bowed to kings.

Even if I am persuaded (and I think I am) that there is no “eternal subordination of the son to the Father”, the scripture still speaks of Jesus’ submission, and in some way calls us to model that submission in appropriate relationships. As such: the questions of what that means for me as a woman relating to my husband specifically, the men in my church, and men in general still remain. It would be, however, something of a relief to not have the Trinity being used as a theological club to make points in that conversation.

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