In continuing to look at the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS/EFS/ERAS) teaching and the unexpected places it shows up, I want to consider some books that are geared towards young readers (children through teens). In these books, the relationships of authority and submission that ESS proponents teach as fundamental in the Trinity are used to ground authority and submission in relationships between men and women.
In Jasmine Baucham’s book, Joyfully at Home: A Book for Young Ladies on Vision and Hope, she quotes from Wayne Grudem’s book and his teaching on ESS:
In one section of his book, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, Dr. Wayne Grudem gives ten arguments that prove male headship in a marriage before the fall: … The parallel with the Trinity: The equality, differences, and unity between men and women reflect the equality, difference, and unity in the Trinity (1Corinthians 11:3). (24, emphasis added)
In Mary Kassian’s book, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, she writes of the “divine intimacy” the Father and Son share that is reflected in married sex:
The discussion about the creation of man in His own image – male and female He created them. The discussion about creation of male and female took place between members of the Godhead. It may have been between all three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But at the very least, it involved the Father and the Son, as Scripture draws parallels between that relationship and the relationship of a husband and wife. When God created man and woman, He had the dynamic of His own relationship in mind. God created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within the Godhead. He used His own relationship structure as the pattern. Paul confirms, in 1 Corinthians 11:3, that the relationship between a husband and wife is patterned after the relationship between God the Father and His Son. … God purposefully created marriage to reflect the headship structure that exists within the Godhead. But He also created marriage and sex to reflect some other truths about the Trinity. … the Father and Son experience a divine intimacy. Their relationship is one of closest communion. Communion in marriage bears witness to the spiritual, divine intimacy between the members of the Trinity. (139-140, emphasis added)
In Bruce Ware’s book for children, Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God, he writes about authority and submission in the definition of who God is, how God works, and how that applies to men and women.
First, defining who God the Father is (the One with the highest authority):
The Father is the One who planned our salvation and chose to send his Son into the world to save us from our sin (John. 3:16-17). … So we learn here that the Father is the wise and gracious Giver of all the blessings that God give us. … Another passage that helps us see that the Father is the One who rightly receives the final praise and honor for all the work of our salvation is Philippians 2:8-11: “[Christ] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God [the Father] has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” … The day will come when every single person who has ever lived will bow his or her knee before Christ and say with his or her own lips, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” But when all human beings do this, they then will also give final praise beyond the Son “to the glory of God the Father.” (46, emphasis added)
Seeing the Father as the One highest in charge and having authority over all is important for many reasons. One way it helps is in how we think of prayer. … Why would Jesus instruct us to pray to the Father? Simply because the Father is the One who has the highest authority of all. Even the Son right now, who is over everything created, sits at the “right hand’ of the Father (Ephesians 1:20), indicating that the Father is highest of all. So, prayers in the New Testament most often are made to the Father. (46, emphasis added)
So, praise be to the Father, who through his Son’s death and resurrection and by the work of the Spirit makes the way for us to be brought into right relationship with him. What a privilege to pray to and to praise the One who has highest authority over all. (47, emphasis added)
Then, explaining how the Father, Son, and Spirit work (incorporating authority and submission), the Father is the One in charge, the Son and Spirit do His will:
As we saw earlier, the Father stands atop this work as the One who designs and plans what the work shall be. Because of this, the Father is also the one who is praised most highly in the end. … So the Father contributes both the goal and plan of the work that should take place, and he designs just how the Son and Spirit should join him in carrying out this work. After all, the Father has highest authority, and so he chooses the ways in which the Son and Spirit contribute so that the Father’s perfect will and work is done just right. (54, emphasis added)
The Son was, is, and shall be always under the authority of the Father:
The Son, for his part, is completely committed to doing the will of the Father. … Jesus says that he does nothing on his own authority, that he speaks just as the Father has taught him, and that he always does what is pleasing to his Father. (54-55, emphasis added)
One more thing this means is this: As the Son of the Father, Jesus lives always under the authority of his Father– in all times past and now and in all times future. … [I]t is clear that Jesus, as the Son of the Father, was always under his Father’s authority, and he will always be under his Father’s authority. Think, for example, how often we read about God “sending” his Son into the world and of the Son coming to do the “will” of his Father. If the Father sends the Son (John 3:17), and if the Son comes into the world to do the Father’s will (John 6:38), then it follows that the Father had authority over the Son before he came into the world to become also a man. And does this relationship continue in the future? Yes, for according to 1 Corinthians 15:25-28, when all things are put under the authority of the Son, the Son will put himself under the Father’s authority along with all of creation, in order for God the Father to be shown as supreme. So the Son always stands under his Father and does the will of the Father. And in this, Jesus takes great joy in doing exactly what the Father wants him to do. The Son is not upset about this: he doesn’t wish to be the one in charge instead. (55, emphasis added)
Jesus loves being under the authority of his Father, and the Father loves to lift up his Son to show how great and glorious his Son truly is. (56, emphasis added)
The Holy Spirit is in 3rd place and submits both to the authority of the Father and the Son:
For his part, the Holy Spirit truly is third among the Persons of the Trinity. As the Son is under the authority of the Father, the Spirit is under the authority of the Father and of the Son. … Just as the Son did not speak his own words but taught what the Father told him, so the Spirit does not speak what he thinks but speaks what he hears from Jesus. And just as the Son glorified the Father by doing the Father’s will, so the Spirit glorifies the Son by taking from the Son what he then passes on to others. The Spirit delights, then, in showing Jesus off, in shining the spotlight on Jesus, and in helping people see just how wonderful Jesus is. (56, emphasis added)
Altogether the authority/submission that Ware sees in the Trinity is summarized and used as a guideline for authority/submission structures in human relationships:
The relation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then, is one of glorious harmony. Each has his work to contribute, and each does this in recognition of the authority and submission order that is true among these Persons. The Father is highest in authority, the Son is under the Father, and the Spirit is under the Father and the Son. But there is not the slightest hint of discontent in this order. Rather, there is joy and fulfillment both in each being fully God and in each working in the proper lines of authority that exist forever in God. A lesson we can learn from this is that lines of authority and submission are true in our human relationships because they are a reflection of what is true in God (see 1 Corinthians 11:3). The Father, Son, and Spirit are fully equal as God, yet they live gladly within lines of authority. So, too, we humans should live both as equals of each other, yet gladly in God-given lines of authority. (56, emphasis added)
Lastly, Ware explains how the authority/submission of the Trinity applies to the authority/submission of men and women:
Notice that God created the woman after the man (Genesis 2:7, 21-23) in order for the woman to be a helper to the man (Genesis 2:18). This means that while the man and the woman are completely equal in value before God (Genesis 1:27), the woman is under the man’s leadership and authority since she was created after him, to be of help to him. (90-91, emphasis added)
To be faithful to the Bible’s teaching, then, means accepting two very important ideas: 1) men and women are completely equal in their common human natures, both being made in the image of God, but 2) God gives men and women different roles in the home and in the church. The woman should accept the God-given authority of the man in these settings, and the man should use his authority in God-honoring ways. We are equal and different at the same time, and in this we reflect something of how the Persons of the Trinity relate. The Father, Son, and Spirit are equally God, yet they have different roles to play marked by lines of authority and submission in their relationships. So God created men and women in his image fully equal in their human nature, but different in certain roles in which they also have differences in authority and submission. This is part of the beauty of male-female relationships as God has designed them. What a privilege to reflect God’s own ways of relating in our human relationships. (91, emphasis added
It is concerning to me to see how widespread the ESS teaching has become. I am becoming much more vigilant in what I buy for my children to read. As the next generation of the church, it really matters what they are taught.
If you have further examples or books you’d like me to check out, please let me know. The examples from Ware’s book were brought to my attention by a reader. Thank you, Elizabeth Hankins.