Reflections on Eternal Subordination and Unity

Suzanne had said in Reflections on September in reference to her team teaching with another teacher: We both lead, we both follow. We are doubly productive.

May I change this a little?

Doubly would mean that each person brings their part and the result is the sum. That’s not actually true in reality. There’s something between. This thing between also is productive. It’s that thing in reality that generates what we call synergy. We both lead, we both follow. We are more than doubly productive.

I was somewhat taken off guard by Suzanne’s posting on team-teaching. Her statements are so very applicable to the eternal subordination discussion. The problem with the whole subordination discussion is the presumption of sole authority and sole submission (more commonly called subordination). That presumption is false. There are multiple areas of authority and submission. And it’s the seamless ebb and flow between the two, over time, that is characteristic of what we call unity. There’s got to be a mutuality in order for their to be unity.

I’m not sufficient to propose passages from the Word of God to support or effectively contradict this. It seems to me that eternal subordination (when coupled with sole authority and sole submission) introduces a temporariety into the Godhead such that the Father was eternally authoritative, and the eternal Son had, at one point in time, no authority whatsoever. The effect is that the Father delegated authority to the Son over time. What does this mean? Does it mean that the eternal Son was at one time an eternal infant and grew into accepting more and more authority? That’s strange, to say the least–dare I say incoherent.

I think the key lies in John 17 with its use of ἐξουσία (authority/power [I prefer to understand this as authoritative responsibility]), ἀποστέλλω (sent [I prefer to understand as, delegated commissioning]), the use of δόξα (glory, [I prefer the visible display of a person’s inherent characteristics which thereby shows excellent virtue]), λόγος (word [message]) and ῥῆμα (word [content of message]) and the topic of unity. There’s a coherency here in John 17 that tightly ties these words together. The warp and woof of these words forms a weave, a textile–a text. The warp and woof of a text speaks far more clearly than an “exposition” of an article modifying an infinitive.

The persons in the Godhead must be different, or unity evaporates. However, rather than try to find the explanation in their differences by saying one is the authority and the others are subordinate, I find it much more likely that there is a mutuality in the Godhead where there are occurrences of an ebb and flow of the authority–and inextricably linked responsibility– between the persons in the Godhead. There is a teamness or choir-like quality within the Godhead. I think John 17 shows this. The Godhead, itself, is coherent.

Also, this is not to say that all the areas of authority flow back and forth. It’s simply to say that there is no area of authority that is the chief authority over all the other kinds of authority (for a lack of a better way of saying it).

There is a mutuality to the submission. And to the authority. It is this mutuality we call unity.

Why’s this important to Better Bibles?

Because there is a direct connection between accuracy in Bible translation and the unity of believers. And there is a direct connection between the unity of believers and the unity of the Godhead (see John 17). When believers have unity (in the Biblical sense, not in a least-common-denominator sense), then they have a far greater capacity within themselves to accurately understand the Word of God. This unity is the “natural” effect of being filled with the Spirit. I think John 17 speaks clearly to this, though one would have to exposit most of the text to bring out the cohesive connections between unity and understanding. I strongly suspect that the referent of glory, that glory inherent in the Godhead, is the same referent when that glory is transferred to the believing church. It’s the unity of the Godhead. It’s the χαρά (joy) of Christ (John 17:13). It’s what binds the church together in such a way that she shows the word who the Christ is.

The key is to grasp the connection between unity and the capacity to understand the message.

If our theology propels us down the pathway of disunifying the Godhead, then our translations will become more and more inaccurate as a result of the fanned flame of disunity among believers. Nowhere is disunity more evident than in the fight over who is boss.

Eternal subordination theology will result in disunity among those who hold to it. That disunity will result in either ambiguous translation so that the theology can be supported, or in inaccurate translation since the understanding is darkened. The way to battle such decay is through a careful, communal, linguistic oriented, exegesis of the text, an activity which shows the characteristics of 2 Tim. 2:24-25 and shows the coherent language of the message God has delivered to us (see 1 Cor. 14:9-12). Also, we will all need to be patient to see the effects of the inaccurate theology (see 1 Cor. 3:1-23). Though patience doesn’t imply sitting on the bench, we must struggle for the faith (Jude 1). The good news is that God will not let his temple (the church) be harmed. (Note: I understand ἡμέρα δηλώσει (“the day will show it” to be quite similar to our expression, time will tell)).

If you want to see accurate translation, look for the unity that it produces. Since, the unity had to be there to begin with in order to produce the accurate translation.

5 thoughts on “Reflections on Eternal Subordination and Unity

  1. Bob MacDonald says:

    What a lovely thought – and how accurate to bring John 17 into this discussion. This resolves some of the perspective that is missing in the understanding of the Church – both our subjective understanding which tends to separate issues that must not be separated and our self-understanding as object, church.

  2. J. K. Gayle says:

    There is a mutuality to the submission. And to the authority.

    Jesus in tri-unity show this. Well put, and great post, Mike.

    Suzanne, in your Reflections on September, you commented in reply back to Peter that “I definitely think this is cultural,” and you show how cultural our readings of hierarchy can be in Council for Biblical Hierarchy.

    (Dr. Carolyn Osiek, here at TCU’s Brite Divinity School, has noted how women slaves were not at all explicitly addressed and were taken advantage of by the NT silence). my questions: When Paul and Peter write to churches, they address wives and husbands, children and fathers, and slaves and masters. Why not mothers? Why not female slaves as distinct from male slaves? Are these merely interpretation questions? Or does mutuality make these also questions for Bible translation?

  3. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I would suppose that slaves were addressed as a class. Men and women are slaves, there is no gendered position for them. Men and women can be monarchs, no gendered position for them. In 19th century England it is quite obvious that upper class women were leaders in respect to working class men. It is only very recently and in the North American Christian community, that hierarchy and power are understood to be gendered positions.

    About mothers, I am not sure.

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