Subordinationist Patriarchy and Twisted Trinitarianism
Posted on November 18, 2013
I’ll respond briefly to my old friend Bill Einwechter’s rejoinder to my article “The ‘Patriarchy’ Problem.” I have long thought that Bill is the most theologically astute, consistently practicing, and personally winsome of the patriarchalists, and they are wise to enlist him to champion their cause. This present post responding to him presupposes that the reader is acquainted with the previous posts, so please read them if you haven’t done so.
First, Bill argues that since the fact that a private in the Army must obey both his captain and colonel does not negate the senior authority of the colonel over the private, so the fact that children must obey both Dad and Mom does not negate the senior authority of the Dad over the children. The problem is that the family is not the Army. It is, in fact, injurious to import human “chain-of-command” authority structures back into the family (or the church, for that matter). The U. S. Army is not our paradigm; the Bible is.
Yes, Duties Can be Divided
Second, we can, in fact, separate the wife’s duties from the mother’s duties. If we couldn’t, it would hard to show how a childless wife could fulfill her entire duties. It’s hard to believe that Bill opposes the idea that “parenting [is] something distinct from the marriage and not an integral part of it.” When I pronounce a man husband and wife, I’m not publicly authenticating half a family. A husband and a wife are a family, even without children. Children are a great blessing ([Ps. 127:3]; well, not all children, only godly children [Pr. 17:25]), but children are not essential to a family, and a marriage is not essential to children (it should be, but fathers and mothers do sometimes die, and children are [unfortunately] born out of wedlock). If we can separate spousal from paternal and maternal obligation before children come along (and after they are reared), why can’t be do it while they are being reared? In short, paternal and maternal obligation can be and often are separated from spousal obligation.
Everything Without Qualification?
Bill argues that when Ephesians 5:24 states that wives must submit to their husbands in everything, it means just that — apparently without qualification. But we all know this cannot be true. If a husband demands a wife sin (for instance, submit to an abortion or spouse-swapping), she must disobey him and obey God. Likewise, if a husband demands that his children attend a public school while his wife believes they must be home schooled, he may not steamroll her God-given authority on the ground of texts like Ephesians 5:24, whose meaning is “Wives, obey your husbands in everything in which it is appropriate,” not in everything without qualification whatsoever.
Eight Unpersuasive Theses
Bill posits eight theses that allegedly support his contention not just that the wife should submit to the husband (valid) but that the mother should submit to the father (invalid), yet these sets of verses either are not pertinent to the special case he’s trying to make or do not prove what he’s trying to prove. For example, in arguing for (a) “male positional priority (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:8-24; I Cor. 11:7-12; 1 Tim. 2:13),” (b) that “man is the head of the woman and that she is to submit to him (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6),” and (c) that “elder and deacon qualifications … state that men are to govern their own children and households well (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12),” Bill posits theses that do not refute the fact that father and mother have equal authority in the lives of their children. Bill seems convinced that these texts support his view because he has already assumed its validity. But you cannot assume what you need to prove.
Moreover, he makes a great deal about the fact that “father’s house” occurs 62 times in the Bible, while “mother’s house” appears only 4 times. But this is to commit a quantification fallacy. The virgin birth is taught explicitly only once in the Bible (Is. 7:14; cf. Mt. 1:23) while universal human depravity is taught ubiquitously. Should we allow the texts on universal human depravity to govern our views of the virgin birth merely on the strength of their quantity? Of course not.
Similarly, Bill notes that in most Biblical texts, the father is named before the mother, and Bill insinuates that this chronological priority of the father necessitates greater authority. Yet this fallacy is easily confuted. In 1 Peter 1:2 the sequence of the Trinitarian designation is Father, Holy Sprit, Son (see also 2 Cor. 13:14 and Jude 20–21). Does this mean that the Son is submissive to the Holy Spirit? That view would be heresy. Chronological priority in Biblical texts does not imply greater authority.
Bill notes that “biblical law … gives a man authority to overturn the vows of his wife and daughters (Num. 30:3-16).” Quite true, but in defending his view, that is an argument from silence. He needs to prove the authority the mother does not have, not the authority the father does have, and he hasn’t done this.
The Blessings of Confusion
Bill contends that spousal hierarchy coupled with parental parity (the view I hold) is “confusion.” But confusion is in the mind of the beholder. Let’s use a Biblical example (and not an example from the Army) to address this argument.
The Bible and Christian orthodoxy teach that in their eternal relations, the three members of the Trinity are equally authoritative, just as they share a single nature. It also teaches that in the outworking of redemption, the Son submits to the will of the Father and the Spirit does the will of the Father and the Son (at least the Western church teaches this). That is to say, the Biblical Trinity is both egalitarian and hierarchical, depending on the perspective from which it is viewed. This is the orthodox Christian position: ontological egalitarianism and economic hierarchy. Confusing? You bet. But the fact that it is confusing does not give us warrant to deny its truth. Eternal economic subordinationism is heretical, just as the more frequently espoused eternal ontological subordinationism is, despite the tragic fact that some patriarchalists (like Bruce Ware, not Bill) now espouse the former. The easy and un-confusing tack is to say, “In the family, what the father says goes at all times.” The easy way, and the wrong way. The Biblical and “confusing” way is, “The wife must submit to her husband, and children must submit to their parents (equally). The wife submits to her husband’s authority, but the mother does not submit to the father’s authority. Fatherhood and motherhood by their nature are not essentially spousal positions.” After all, we have plenty of single parents, but no “single” marriages, a contradiction of terms.
A Pastoral Exhortation to Mothers
Godly mothers are reading these lines, and I cannot avoid a teaching moment.
Mothers, you are to work lovingly and graciously and deferentially with your children’s father in rearing your children, just as is he is to work lovingly and graciously and deferentially with you. But you may not abandon your God-given authority in rearing your children. If your husband demands a choice with respect to their rearing that you cannot in good conscience support, you are not required by God to support it. The Bible commands wives to submit to husbands; it never commands mothers to submit to fathers. And you betray your God-given authority when you allow your husband the final and ultimate say in your children’s rearing. Just as the Son and Spirit do not submit to the authority of the Father in their eternal being (there being loving, equally authority in the Godhead), so there should — and must — be loving and equal authority in the rearing of children.