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.

Eternal Subordination of the Son and Books for Youth

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.