Eternal Subordination of the Son and Biblical Patriarchy

Continuing the series on ESS/EFS/ERAS in various books and articles, today I want to look at a different set of authors. Each of the authors quoted here has self-identified with the Biblical Patriarchy movement. Unfortunately, this is one of the overlaps between the Biblical Patriarchy movement and mainstream complementarianism.

Debi Pearl, and her husband, Michael, have been popular authors within homeschooling and patriarchal circles for some time. There have been many articles written responding to various aspects of their teaching.

In her book, Created to Be His Help Meet, Debi Pearl makes several troubling statements about the Trinity. She believes that there are three type of men and that this reflects the differences between the persons of the Godhead. According to her, each type of man is made in the Father’s image, the Son’s image, or the Spirit’s image:

I have become aware that there are basically three types of men. The different types are just as marked in one-year-olds as they are in adult men. It seems that God made each male to express one side of his triad nature. No single man completely expresses the well-rounded image of God.(p. 75, Kindle Edition)

A little later in the book, Debi Pearl explains that the pattern of women submitting to men reflects the “heavenly pattern” of the Son’s submission to the Father:

God is focusing our attention on the heavenly pattern. the emphasis is not on women submitting to men, but rather on women showing, here on earth, the heavenly pattern of the Son submitting to the Father. (p. 117, Kindle Edition)

As noted in the article on Eternal Subordination of the Son in books for youth, Jasmine Baucham wrote about ESS in her book for stay-at-home-daughters, Joyfully at Home. She gives Wayne Grudem’s explanation for 1 Cor. 11:3

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 (1 Corinthians 11:3). (24)

Jasmine Baucham’s father, Voddie Baucham, also wrote defending ESS in his book, What He Must Be: … If He Wants to Marry My Daughter:

One of the things that grieve Kunsman is the insistence by “Complementarians” that the Son is somehow subordinate to the Father in the Trinity. Kunsman says that this heterodox teaching “emerged in the 1970s in response to feminism, but only gained popularity recently through the publication of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in 1994.” And here I thought the apostle Paul taught this doctrine in 1 Corinthians 11! (p. 88, Kindle Edition)

In Voddie Baucham’s book, Family Shepherds, he wrote that the Bible is clear in teaching headship within the Trinity:

The Bible makes it clear that Christ is equal to the Father in every way (John 1:1; 5:18; 10:33; 2 Cor. 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15, 19; 2:9), and yet there is headship even in the Trinity—a point that Paul brings in as he also discusses the headship of husbands in the home (Kindle Locations 1570-1572)

Bill Gothard’s organization, Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), has many online resources to explain their teaching on different topics. One of them addresses “What are God-ordained authority structures“. IBLP’s answer explains the authority structure they see in the Trinity:

The orderliness we find in structures of authority reflects the order of God’s own nature. God is a Trinity: the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son into the world as Savior and Redeemer. (See I John 4:9.) Jesus was obedient to God the Father.

Each member of the Trinity works within the structure of authority and fulfills a specific role, perfectly complementing the others and demonstrating God’s glory. The members are not independent of one another, but God the Father is recognized as the authority Who directs and empowers the Son and Holy Spirit to carry out His will.

R.C. Sproul, Jr., who helped write Vision Forum’s Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy, wrote about the authority of the Father and the subordination of the Son in his book, Bound for Glory. According to Sproul, Jr, the Father gave the orders to the Son and Spirit and explained their roles to them:

We affirm that in His counsels before all time the Father spoke to the Son something like this: “This is the plan; this is what we’re going to do. I’m going to elect a people for you, a bride. Son, you’re going to take on flesh and you’re going to tabernacle among them. You will obey all of my revealed will, keeping my law. But, you will receive the wrath due to the sons of disobedience. I will curse you, forsake you, such that those whom I have chosen will have their sins covered. Your righteousness will be deemed their righteousness.” The Father then explained to the Spirit His role (Kindle Locations 720-721)

He also wrote that in this way, the Son is subordinate to the Father in the covenant of redemption:

Who is giving the orders here? In the covenant of redemption it is clearly God the Father. The Son is in a subordinate role to the Father. (Kindle Locations 721-725)

He explains that the subordination doesn’t mean the Son and Spirit are lesser:

In like manner, the Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son. Both the Father and the Son send forth the Spirit. Should we then conclude that somehow the second person of the Trinity is less than the Father in terms of dignity, power, and glory, or that God the Holy Spirit is somewhat lacking, at least in comparison to the Father and the Son, in holiness, in graciousness, or in sovereignty? Of course not. (Kindle Locations 728-729)

He believes the Father made the assignments in the covenant of redemption:

We need to understand that as the Father is making these assignments in the covenant of redemption, He is not doing so on the basis of particular strengths or weaknesses. … No, the roles are not assigned on the basis of differences among the members of the Trinity, simply because there aren’t any differences. (Kindle Locations 731-733)

Lastly, Sproul Jr, connects the authority and subordination in the Trinity with the husband/wife relationship:

Just as with the members of the Trinity, while there is an equality of value, and a distinction of authority, there is also a distinction in calling. While husbands and wives work together in the building of the kingdom, their work is not identical. (Kindle Locations 776-778)

David Bayly of the Bayly brothers’ blog wrote during the Trinity debate this summer to voice his support of ESS and patriarchy:

Two men I regard as friends recently came out against the subordination of Christ to the Father. Now, Doug Wilson and Liam Goligher say that they oppose only the eternal subordination of the Son, not the economic, yet this distinction presupposes a well-defined line between the economic and the ontological Trinity that doesn’t exist. No creed of the Church or passage in Scripture spells out the boundaries of this division, nor is there general agreement on where the ontological ends and the economic begins. In fact, the distinction is fraught with challenges. At what point did the covenant of redemption leave the realm of ontology and enter the realm of economy? No one has answered this question–and no one can when the Son was slain from the foundation of the world. Yet critics of Christ’s submission act as though it’s a settled issue.

Really? Fatherhood is not a social issue? Is not rooted in the Trinity? The inner life of Father and Son does not support patriarchy?

Interestingly, Doug Wilson is on record as both for and against ESS. In his first post, he seemed to deny it. That’s the post referenced by David Bayly above. In his later post, Wilson states his agreement with Grudem regarding authority and submission in the Godhead. He also explains that the Son’s “existence is obedience” and the Father’s “existence is authority”:

I agree that true and ultimate authority/submission must be grounded within the Godhead. I agree with Grudem there.

Now someone will point out that they don’t see how it is possible to have “authority and submission within the Godhead coupled with complete ontological equality” without that position logically entailing three wills, which would then be heterodox. I frankly confess that it would be heterodox, and that I don’t know how there can be anything resembling authority and submission with only one will. I get the problem. But I also don’t see, and on exactly the same grounds, how there can be anything like a Father and a Son with only one will. If I could do the math on this kind of thing, I would be a good deal richer than I am.

So Fatherhood is ultimate, and Fatherhood is ad intra. The Fatherhood of the Father did not come into existence after the decision to create the world. It is not in any way dependent upon the decision to create the world. And so there should be no more difficulty in saying that the Son is eternally obedient than there is in saying that He is eternally begotten. His existence is obedience — eternal obedience, obedience that could not be otherwise. The Father’s existence is authority.

One of my concerns about complementarianism is the overlap it has with the Biblical Patriarchy movement. The ESS/EFS/ERAS debate is an example of why such concern is valid. There are relatively few confessional Christians who have come out in support of ESS/EFS/ERAS. For those who have, many are part of the Biblical Patriarchy movement. Not all of the authors quoted here claim to be Reformed and Confessional but several do.

As with all of the articles in this series, it is my hope that this will be a resource for those who are interested in how widespread the ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching is.

21 thoughts on “Eternal Subordination of the Son and Biblical Patriarchy

  1. Doug says:

    Does ESS imply that Christ is not at present the Ultimate Authority? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” — Christ

    No doubt, One Corinthians 15:28 states Christ will ultimately “step down,” but what are the implications of this on marriage if we are to hold that marriage reflects the “authority structure” of the Father-Son?


      • Doug says:

        These theological innovations spring from a pathological desire in man to force his wife to conform to himself; to substitute uniformity for unity; to justify a domineering impulse. Sadly, it runs deep in reformed teaching. Even Calvin was not immune and due to his stature in reformed circles, continues to influence expositors: “…the subjection of the woman is the punishment of her transgression, and yet that it was imposed on her from the creation; for thence it will follow, that she was doomed to servitude before she sinned.” (Calvin on 1 Timothy 2:14)

        In contrast to this, husbands are commanded to love their wives like Christ loved the church, not rule their wives like “the Father rules the Son.” It is man’s imagination that finds an emphasis in Holy Writ on authority regarding a husband. Man is described as the head on a body composed of him and his wife, and there is no hierarchy in a body, only distinction in function. This is the only way marriage is like the Father-Son: they are one Body.

        You do well in calling out these innovations.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. NJ says:

    I still have my copy of CTBHH, complete with many critical notes written in the margins. I’m convinced Debi made that personality thing up. It’s nowhere in Scripture, nowhere in secular personality theory, and nowhere does she posit just three personality types for women.

    Sproul Jr. is a piece of work:

    We affirm that in His counsels before all time the Father spoke to the Son something like this: “This is the plan; this is what we’re going to do. I’m going to elect a people for you, a bride. Son, you’re going to take on flesh and you’re going to tabernacle among them. You will obey all of my revealed will, keeping my law. But, you will receive the wrath due to the sons of disobedience. I will curse you, forsake you, such that those whom I have chosen will have their sins covered. Your righteousness will be deemed their righteousness.” The Father then explained to the Spirit His role (Kindle Locations 720-721)

    And where is that found, the book of Collisions? Has 0 Corinthians been discovered?

    “–and no one can when the Son was slain from the foundation of the world.”

    Say what, David Bayly? Maybe there is some orthodox theologian somewhere who has made this argument, and I just haven’t seen it. But even if it’s true in a cosmic, metaphysical sense, that still doesn’t prove what you want it to.

    “His existence is obedience — eternal obedience, obedience that could not be otherwise. The Father’s existence is authority.”

    Huge assumption on Doug’s part. It seems like these people just make stuff up as needed to bolster their arguments. What really gets me shaking my head is how David and Doug will admit that nobody has this all completely figured out, and there is ongoing disagreement, yet they are so sure that their interpretations ought to be the accepted ones. Where the ancient, undivided Church has spoken, it was to make clear that things like subordinationism, tritheism, etc. are heretical. By now, there is plenty of evidence online that the primary teachers of Complementarianism (TM) are veering dangerously close to these errors. Other more peripheral teachers are borrowing from them, plus utilizing the doctrines of men. All of this runs the risk of bringing the way of truth into disrepute.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ileana J Forment says:

    Rachel, thank you! I became aware about the ESS/EFS/ERAS controversy from your blog and have continued reading and researching. It is a matter of extreme importance to get right, not only for the sake of orthodoxy, but for biblical praxis. I have never really followed women theologians before, because their insistence on “creative writing” drove me crazy. Not that men dont also do it, lol.
    I was “raised” in a church who strongly practiced Biblical Patriarchy, although they didn’t label it as such. Bill Gothard was a big influence. I resisted this teaching of submissive, subordinate, godly women sitting at the feet of their all knowing, paternalistic spouses pretty strongly for all the wrong reasons at first, and I was at odds with many of the church women as a result. Once I learned from the Lord the beauty of love-fueled voluntary, biblical submission and began practicing it, then I realized it was still at odds with the way the majority saw it and practiced it even in my Calvinistic circles. I believe it as is a beautiful partnership between Redeemed of equal worth, both working together and contributing in different but complementary ways, for the Glory of the Lord through marriage.

    I appreciate the clear writing and true biblical perspective of your blog!!


  4. NJ says:

    This morning I saw that Todd Pruitt felt compelled to take down his original post critiquing Denny Burk’s JBMW article from 2011 effectively promoting ESS. Apparently he was getting unbelievable blowback in his email inbox from other prominent reformed men, and it got to be too much, I guess. What can they actually do to him, I wonder? I’m having trouble leaving a comment on his facebook page or finding his email address; maybe I should look for Aimee’s. Rachel, I hope you and/or others point and call out this silencing tactic. There is no excuse for purveying theologically confusing stuff to the laity everywhere, and then insisting one’s detractors are misunderstanding while the attack dogs get busy. Reminds me of the Federal Vision controversy–we’re just ALWAYS misunderstanding what they’re really saying.


  5. NJ says:

    Carl also said this:

    “Tragically, it has become clear that some of the most influential evangelical theologians today do not describe God correctly. It has also become clear that they have no intention of correcting their errors. As a by-product, some of these errors have been used to enable domestic abuse. This does not bode well for the future. What is tolerated in one era might very easily become the orthodoxy of the next – and there is much evidence to suggest we might be there already.”

    Could be. My take on it would have been something like:

    What is tolerated in one era might very easily become the reason that many within subsequent generations reject orthodox Christianity altogether–and there is much evidence to suggest we might be there already.


  6. Mr. C says:

    Has anybody made a running list in one place of those individuals and organizations that promote ESS? Just was wondering so I can avoid their resources and warn fellow believers.


  7. Greg says:

    I continue to lament that RC Sproul gave Jr. a platform from which to teach. From Junior’s book , Almighty Over All:

    “I am not accusing God of sinning; I am suggesting that he created sin.”

    Regarding the PCA, Sean Lucas wrote in his recent book that it has always seen itself as a mainline denomination. He also opined that “…many in the Machen cohort…sought to maintain a confessional Presbyterianism for its own sake….”

    We already knew that the PCA “mainline” tent was big enough for those who approve of and/or teach theonomy/reconstructionism, FV, paedocommunion, intinction, anything-goes-worship, and the benefits of ecclesiastical political machinery (e.g., National Partnership). So now why can’t the PCA make a little more room in its elastic tent for patriarchy and ESS? So what teachings are out-of-bounds in the PCA? Or is it just the confessional Presbyterian in me that makes me ask?

    (Thank you for your diligence, Rachel!)


    • Thomas says:

      It always amazed me how RC Jr has gotten away all these years with accusing God of creating sin. But it gets even far worse than that. RC Jr claims that God didn’t just create sin but that he gave Adam and Eve and even Lucifer an overwhelming compulsion to sin. Why? Because God’s most significant character attribute is wrath. God created the world perfect. But He couldn’t very well pour out His wrath on perfect creatures. So God created sin and then forced them all to sin so he could pour out His wrath on them. Almighty Over All is the most blasphemous book I’ve ever read. Why haven’t Reformed leaders ever called Junior to repentance?


  8. Doug says:

    Have you considered what part the doctrine of Federalism might also play in promoting patriarchy and authoritarianism in marriage? Federalism is predicated on the view that the “guilt” of Adam is transferred to all men and women, as distinguished from simply the propagation of a sinful nature. Therefore, the Federalist has no problem with seeing the actions of God toward the first couple in Genesis 3 as judicial punishments for their actual sin, and these judicial punishments likewise being imposed on all couples into the future. This may partially explain why many patriarchalists have no problem with authoritarianism in marriage, since they see themselves as carrying out “punishment” on woman. Federalism was condemned by Calvin, who posited the actions of God in Genesis 3 as the work of a Physician:

    “For God does not consider, in chastising the faithful, what they deserve; but what will be useful to them in the future; and fulfils the office of a physician rather than of a judge.”


    • Paul says:

      Doug, I appreciate the intelligent comments you have posted here. I also think there are people in the patriarchy movement who are in error.

      You mentioned in an earlier comment that you believed that the concept of the authority of the husband within marriage is due to the imaginations of men. How can you support this statement in the light of the following scriptures?

      Eph. 5.22: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

      Eph. 5.24: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

      Col. 3.18: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

      1 Pet. 3.1: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,…”

      Calvin may be wrong about authority as punishment and the ESS peoples may be wrong about eternal submission and its implications. But I cannot see, given the above Scripture, that God has not instituted an authority structure within the marriage relationship.

      In addition, my hope is that the whole ESS debate will not only clarify the nature of relationship between persons of the Godhead, but also the Biblical nature of the relationship of man and wife.


      • Doug says:

        Good questions, Paul. Notice in the verses you listed that they are exclusively addressed to wives, not to husbands. It was the same with the Lord’s instructions to Eve. It is one thing for a wife to willingly accept the leadership of her husband. It is quite another for a husband to emphasize his “authority” and try to impose it on his wife. That said, I believe a better way of saying it is husbands have been given responsibility to cherish and care for their wives, not authority to rule her. Recall, it was the tendency of the male disciples to argue about who was the greatest. This revealed an obsession with authority. Christ, however, diverted them away from this. Husbands are likewise to be diverted.


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