Eternal Subordination of the Son and Books for Women

Continuing to look at the influence of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS/EFS/ERAS) doctrine in evangelical publications, today the focus is on books and articles geared towards women. These books are mainly practical theology for women. These are not academic or theoretical books. These are examples of how ESS is used to teach a particular view of authority and submission in male/female relationships.

This is a good reminder that doctrine has a profound effect on daily life. What we believe about the Trinity matters. As my RUF campus minister used to say, “You are what you believe about God.”

In some of these quotes, the authors are quoting directly from Wayne Grudem. For example, Carolyn Mahaney in her book, Feminine Appeal, quotes Grudem on the origin of headship and submission:

The idea of headship and submission never began! It has always existed in the eternal nature of God Himself. And in this most basic of all authority relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability, it is just there… [The relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] is one of leadership and authority on the one hand and voluntary, willing, joyful submission to that authority on the other hand. We can learn from this that submission to a rightful authority is a noble virtue. It is a privilege. It is something good and desirable. It is the virtue that has been demonstrated by the eternal Son of God forever. It is His glory, the glory of the Son as He relates to His Father. (138, emphasis added)

The website, Revive Our Hearts, is a web and radio ministry by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. The following is a quote from a message Wayne Grudem gave that was published Revive Our Hearts (emphasis added):

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: As we pick up with today’s segment of Dr. Grudem’s message, he is going to help us understand that this thing of headship and submission in the marriage relationship is not a negative concept. This is not a concept that changes with the culture. This is something that is rooted in the very nature of God. It’s rooted in the Trinity, and the relationship that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have with each other. If we dislike or reject the concept of authority and submission, we are actually rejecting something very precious that’s a reflection of God Himself.

Dr. Wayne Grudem: The idea of headship and submission began before creation in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity.

The Father has a leadership role and authority to initiate and direct that the Son does not have.

That means the Father was Father and the Son was Son before the world was created. When did the idea of headship and submission begin? The idea of headship and submission never began. The idea of headship and submission never began. It has existed eternally in the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. It exists in the eternal nature of God himself.

And in this most basic of all relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in all attributes and perfections, but authority is just there. Authority belongs to the Father, not because He is wiser or a more skillful leader, but just because He is Father. Authority and submission is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity.

Leslie Basham: That’s Dr. Wayne Grudem, helping us understand that biblical marriages are important. When you accept your role in marriage, you are reflecting the nature of the Trinity.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth also wrote about the eternal submission of the Son in her book, Brokenness, Surrender, Holiness: A Revive Our Hearts Trilogy:

From eternity past, through all of time, and through all of eternity future, Jesus’ life was, is, and always will be, one of absolute surrender. Before there was time, the Lord Jesus, though co-equal with the Father, willingly placed Himself under the authority of the Father. At the creation and throughout the unfolding of the Old Testament era, He was by the Father’s side, delighting to join the Father in His work. He existed in perfect oneness with His Father, never willing anything contrary to the Father’s will. (219, emphasis added)

In eternity past, He had surrendered Himself to the will of God – to become the Sin-bearer for all mankind. (222)

When all is said and done, the conquering King will turn over to His Father all the kingdoms He has overcome – all the spoils of war. And then, once again, as time gives way to eternity, the Son of God, the Almighty, sovereign Creator and Redeemer, the Lord of heaven and earth, will bow His head in a final, magnificent act of surrender. (226, emphasis added)

Some of the places where I’ve found ESS have truly been surprising to me. This quote is one of those. In Elisabeth Elliot’s book, Let Me Be a Woman, she quotes a definition of masculinity and femininity by Kathy Kristy as a good example. Notice the description of the Holy Spirit:

We know that this order of rule and submission is descended from the nature of God Himself. Within the Godhead there is both the just and legitimate authority of the Father and the willing and joyful submission of the Son. From the union of the Father and the Son proceeds a third personality, the Holy Spirit. He proceeds from them not as a child proceeds from the union of a man and a woman, but rather as the personality of a marriage proceeds from the one flesh which is established from the union of two separate personalities. Here, in the reflection of the nature of the Trinity in the institution of marriage is the key to the definition of masculinity and femininity. The image of God could not be fully reflected without the elements of rule, submission, and union. (51, emphasis added)

Mary Kassian has several books that mention ESS. The last article quoted from Girls Gone Wise. These quotes come from The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture. 

The feminist practice of inclusive Trinitarian language obscures the intra-Trinitarian relation between the Son and the Father. The Son was obedient to the Father though He is equal to the Father. The Father, in love, sacrificed the Son. The Son, who had the right to refuse, submitted to the Father. Denial of the Trinitarian relationship denies the concept of equality and hierarchy that is evident in the Godhead and throughout Scripture. (171, emphasis added)

Male-female relationships also teach us something of the inter-Trinitarian relationship within the Godhead itself: Christ submits to and yet is equal to the Father. A wife submits to and yet is equal to her husband. When the male-female relationship functions according to God’s design, it illustrates inherent truths about God. Remember the creation account in Genesis? In the beginning God said, “Let us …” Note the plural “us” – this is a conversation between members of the Godhead: “Let us make man in our image. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27, emphasis added.) Ultimately, therefore, who God created us to be as male and female has very little to do with who we are – and very much to do with who God is. That’s why it’s so important that we honor His design. (298, emphasis added)

Mary Kassian and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth have co-written two popular books for women, True Woman 101 and True Woman 201. Both of these books rely on ESS to ground their teaching on men and women. From True Woman 101: Divine Design:

The discussion about creating man and woman took place among members of the Godhead. It may have been among all three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But at the very least, it involved the Father and His Son, as Scripture draws parallels between that relationship and the relationship of the man and the woman (see 1 Cor. 11:13). We’ll talk more about that later, but for now, just think about this: When God created male and female, He had the dynamic of His own relationship in mind. The Lord created the two sexes to reflect something about God. He patterned the male-female relationship (“them”) after the “us/our” relationship that exists within God. (24-25, emphasis added)

Kassian and Wolgemuth teach that humanity was created in order to reflect the intra-Trinitarian relationships:

Mankind was created as male and female – in relationship – to display something about the divine relationship that exists within the triune God. Our relationships were created to tell the incredible story of God. (26, emphasis added)

Drawing a parallel between the Father/Son relationship in the Trinity and the husband/wife relationship:

God is the head of Christ. Christ is the head of the church, and the husband is the head of the wife. There’s a clear and corresponding pattern evident in all three relationships. (27, emphasis added)

This demonstrates continued confusion about the Trinity. The Trinity is not three beings in a “collective whole”:

The first relationship mirrored the image of God. In the Trinity, individual and distinct beings are joined in an inseparable unity. The individual members (Father, Son, and Spirit) are joined as part of the collective whole (God). (93, emphasis added)

It also produces some very odd statements, with Christ as the “wife” in the Father/Son relationship:

Because Christ is definitely the serving, submitting, helping type! And He doesn’t consider this to be a demeaning role (Phil. 2:6-8). You could even argue that Christ is also the cooking, cleaning, baby type. It was His submissive obedience to the Father that cooks up the ingredients of redemption, cleans us up, and produces spiritual babies for the family of God. (168, emphasis added)

True Woman 201: Interior Design – Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood makes many of the same points, connecting the Father/Son relationship to the husband/wife relationship:

God is the head of Christ. Christ is the head of the church, and the husband is the head of his wife (1 Cor. 11:3). The husband-wife relationship is a physical, earthly symbol that helps us grasp the nature of Jesus’ spiritual and eternal relationships. (71, emphasis added)


The willing submission of a wife to her husband’s loving authority mirrors the willing submission of Jesus Christ to the authority of God the Father. (232, emphasis added)

Kassian and Wolgemuth explain that, in their view, authority and submission are rooted in the Trinity. They teach that without an authority/submission relationship between God the Father and God the Son, authority and submission are meaningless:

Submission is a concept that goes hand in hand with authority. Like two sides of a coin, the two are inseparable. Both find their origin and meaning in the Godhead – in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The concepts cannot be properly understood apart from each other, nor apart from the context of this divine relationship. (227, emphasis added)

As I said in my last article about ESS and books for youth, it is very important to consider what is being taught in our churches. My hope is that the current debate over the Trinity would encourage us to consider carefully all of the books we use, whether for men, women, or children.

Thanks to Persis Lorenti for finding the Carolyn Mahaney quote. 

17 thoughts on “Eternal Subordination of the Son and Books for Women

  1. Jeff Crippen says:

    Thank you Rachel. I notice how frequently these people are using the phrase “male and female” relationship. This would indicate they teach that women are to be in submission to men. At most Scripture limits the head/submit dictrine to husband and wife. These people really believe men are superior to women no matter how much they deny the charge.


    • Rachel Miller says:

      It comes from a segment answering a young woman who says she isn’t the “serving, submitting, cooking, cleaning, baby, helping type.” The full quote begins “Sadly, what this girl is really acknowledging is that she doesn’t value what God values. The things that are precious to Him are disdainful to her. Because …”


      • C says:

        The theology of those statements are so staggeringly bad I don’t know where to begin. To tie the father/son relationship of the Godhead to authority/submission in marriage by imputing stereotypical “housewife” characteristics onto Jesus Christ himself is…stunning.
        Leaving behind the argument that marriage and womanhood is about so much more than domestic chores (and hasn’t always been the case across varying households, incomes and cultures), why must a fraught paper thin analogy be applied to Jesus to convey that you can serve your family by raising children and keeping house? More bothersome is that it’s not just Jesus’ actions (he served others, you should serve others) but his very place in the hierarchy that necessitates a parallel for these authors. What does that make men? Higher gods?
        Couldn’t you also say that fathers should be cooking, cleaning and raising babies because God the father “cooked up” creation, “cleaned” us through forgiveness and “birthed” the immaculate conception by sending his son into the world? These extreme complimentarian and patriarchal statements used to prove points and promote their ideology are so absurd they border on parody. At the very least it’s disrespectful to the Godhead to look for imagery to support a narrow, shallow view of domestic womanhood, at the very worst its blasphemous and heretical.


  2. Scott Roper says:

    In the recent debates I keep reading from ESS proponents that they locate authority and submission in the roles of the persons of the Father and Son, not their nature, but several quotes abote explicitly say authority and submission is in the nature of the godhead.


  3. Terri Rice says:

    The Bible speaks of submission without regard to sex:
    “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21). This includes men.

    Mistaking “subjection” for “obedience” would be figured out in quick time if Ephesians 5:21 were always read in conjunction with the cherry picked verse 22. Submission is a command to men as well as women.

    “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.” I Pet 5:5

    Subjection to one another is not a hierarchical paradigm but rather a give and take by both parties for a more beautiful union.

    “Two men cannot be long in partnership in business unless willing to be in “subjection” to each other. They must, at times, yield preference, harmonize their views one to the other, or they will soon split. The business will not be better because one assumes the right to command. This is not ‘subjection’ but ‘servility.’” (Katherine C. Bushnell. God’s Word to Women.)

    Submission is not servile obedience, submission is far more beautiful, it is a willingness to regard and honor another.

    Unfortunately too many Christians who write about women and submission forget about the man’s responsibility to also submit; the ugly result is a derailment towards abuse.


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