Saturday, August 08, 2009

I have just read Graham Cole's paper Women teaching men the Bible: what's the problem? (HT Sam C.) I found that it contained several arguments that I had not heard before. While this paper may not be exhaustive, it certainly makes a significant contribution to the egalitarian position.

I found his argument #2 interesting. He writes,
    Second, I am not persuaded that a woman preaching to a mixed congregation somehow overturns our view of the essential Trinity and with it good church order.2 On the matter of the Trinity, the key text used by some is 1 Corinthians 11:3, where Paul writes: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (ESV). The argument runs that this text is a window into the essential Trinity and that congregational life, family life and married life ought to reflect this order.3 For example, Carrie Sandom argues: “It is this pattern of relationships that is to be modeled in family life and in church life as God arranges His creation to reflect the ordering of relationships within the Godhead (1Corinthians 11:3).”4

    What is so seldom observed on this view is that Paul does not write that the head of the Son is the Father, but that the head of Christ is God. The context is messianic not the Trinity ad intra. In fact, 1 Corinthians 11:3 is one of three “subordinationist” texts in 1 Corinthians which are best seen together as referring to the economy of salvation or the Trinity ad extra, presupposing the incarnation and messianic vocation of Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 11:3; 15:24-28). Therefore, when the argument is run, that for women to preach to men is to fly in the face of the very nature of God as the essential Trinity, a category mistake has been made. A messianic reference has been mistaken for a Trinitarian one. Technically put, the text is not about the essential Trinity (“modes of subsistence”) but about the Trinity operating economically (“modes of operation”) as the great Presbyterian theologian, B. B. Warfield rightly argued and others more recently have too (e.g. Millard J. Erickson).5


Sam C said...

Yep, that was a new one for me too, quite an interesting point.

Anonymous said...

A large part of the problem is not just that people seem unable to distinguish between talk about the Trinity at the immanent and economic levels (what you designate as 'ad intra' and 'ad extra'), but that they get confused by their own use of archaic terms.

In my experience, the term 'Godhead' immediately leads people astray, which is why I advise all my students to avoid it. It means 'divine nature'. As such, it is simply nonsense to speak of an ordering of persons 'within the Godhead'. Orthodox trinitarian theology holds that the divine nature subsists in each of the three divine Persons--it's not the Persons who somehow 'inhabit' divine nature. Divine nature isn't to be found any'where' else but in each of the Three. There is no divine nature somehow existing outside the Three such that they can be 'within' it.

Once you're clear on that point, it's equally clear that there can be no hierarchy: if all three Persons have the same divine nature subsisting wholly 'within', none can be more or less God than the other.

And that's the third vital point here: subordinationism, in traditional trinitarian theology, does not designate the obedience of the incarnate Christ to his Father; it designates degrees of divinity. If you want to insist Christ is subordinate, you're saying the second Person is less divine than the First. That counts as heresy, by orthodox standards.

This confusion between obedience and subordination is crucial: a child who obeys her mother by brushing her teeth when she's asked to (for example) does not thereby become less human. When Jesus of Nazareth obeys the Father, he does not thereby become either less human or less divine.

What seems to be going on with these trinitarian arguments in favour of subordinationism is that people are trying to justify treating women as lesser human beings by some analogy to the Trinity, and in so doing, they end up articulating a trinitarian theology that's heretical. It's far from clear that the Trinity should in fact provide a model of human relations, but if it does, the model it provides is of absolute equality--unless you WANT a heretical doctrine of the Trinity.