Read “Part One” here.
Paul, Institutions, and Individuals
How then ought individuals to learn to function in societies? More pertinent to the current subject, how ought people to be educated to function in societies? Should they shun their unique identities, uniformly integrating into greater institutions, forsaking their wholeness and becoming mere fractions of other whole units? Should they be taught to forsake the impositions of societal institutions and pursue Rousseau’s natural image, one that is self-complete and fully independent in its sovereignty? In his teachings on marriage and the church, the apostle Paul provides his readers with an apt picture of the uniqueness and commonality necessary to remedy this seeming dichotomy: the Trinity.
In 1Corinthians 11, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth and admonishing them to restore proper order in the church. In specifically addressing the issue of submission and headship among men and their wives, Paul draws on some rather gripping imagery. Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (vs. 3). Paul’s word choice immediately draws the reader’s mind to a parallel between the complementary roles within the Trinity and the complementary roles God has instituted to exist within marriage.
Within the Godhead, there is a positional hierarchy, though the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same in essence. The Baptist Catechism (1693) describes the Trinity as such: “There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.” The Second London Baptist Confession further expounds on one aspect of the unique roles within the Trinity: “The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son.” So it is that Baptist churches have historically affirmed both that the Persons of the Godhead are equal in essence and glory while there is a definite subordination of roles.
This equality of nature and subordination of roles is what lies at the foundation of the biblical, complementarian view of marriage. The head of Jesus is God. Paul is not suggesting that Jesus is of a lesser nature than God; He is of the same essence and nature in totality. Rather, Christ submits Himself to the Father in His incarnation and becomes fully obedient to Him, even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). In like manner, women are called to submit to their husbands, not as a sign that they are not equal in essence or nature with their husbands, but as a sign that they are being transformed more and more into the image of Christ (1Pet. 2:21-3:2).
Men and women do not arrive at the institution of marriage as two natural, complete wholes, as Rousseau might suggest, both insisting that the integrity of their individual natures be given superiority over the union. Rather, they are united in essence and in goal. Similarly, men and women are not to see one another, as the egalitarians suggest, as having uniformity in function. They both offer unique and glorious contributions to the relationship. In their unique roles, they image forth the glory of the subordinate nature of the Godhead. As Gordon Clark writes:
“The hierarchy here is God, Christ, man, and woman. God and the Messiah are equally divine, but there is a subordination of function; so too, man and woman are spiritually equal, but one ranks above another in function.”
The foundation of the principle of headship in marriage is the principle of headship within the Trinity. Paul states this emphatically so that in drawing agreement from his readers on the issue of divine headship, they would be forced likewise to agree with him on the issue of marital headship. Furthermore, in making his case, Paul demonstrates that the principle of marital headship is first and foremost a creation ordinance, not merely an ordinance for the church (1Cor. 11:7-9, 12). As descendants of Adam and Eve, those who violate the principle of marital headship are guilty before God, regardless of their relationship to the church. They are guilty of marring the image of the triune God, which God Himself has placed within them (Gen. 1:26-27).
Churches also are to have within them certain structures that are put in place to image forth the Trinitarian nature of their loving God. Such structures are fitting inasmuch as the churches have been redeemed and assembled through the cooperative work of each Person of the Trinity. “The Lord Jesus calls out of the world unto Himself, through the ministry of His Word, by His Spirit, those that are given unto Him by His Father.” Based upon this understanding of the redemptive work of their triune God, the apostle Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to image forth Trinitarian uniqueness and unity.
After having shown each Person of the Trinity at work in each of the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul opens the second half of Ephesians by making mention of them as well. He reminds the church at Ephesus that the godly character and Christian unity to which they have been called (vv. 1-3) are rooted in the identity they enjoy as worshippers of one Spirit (vs. 4), one Lord (vs. 5), and one God and Father of all “who is over all and through all and in all” (vs. 6). In vv. 7-16, Paul commences to paint a word picture of a body (vv. 4, 12-16) in which each member is uniquely gifted (vs. 7) and plays a unique role (vs. 16). Yet, each member is part of the same body which is being built up into one mature man (vv. 11-14) the head of whom is Christ Himself (vs. 15).
In stark contrast to Rousseau’s egoism, William Hendriksen insists, “It is exactly unity that is promoted when all become busily engaged in the affairs of the church and when each member eagerly renders service for which the Lord has equipped him.” This process in no way diminishes the unique and valuable identity of the persons involved. Rather, they each find their true value and identity as they use their unique gifts in contribution to the overall work of the body of Christ. “Christ, the head, unifies the body and causes it to grow, in which process every member has some part.”
In Ephesians 1:1-4:16, Paul provides the church with some of the most vivid imagery of the Trinity by merely holding up a mirror. He demonstrates how, when every person in a local church is functioning properly, they will image forth the triune God who has called them into this glorious communion. Charles Hodge explains: “There are many passages to which the doctrine of the Trinity gives a sacred rhythm, though the doctrine itself is not directly asserted. It is so here. There is one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father. The unity of the church is founded on this doctrine.”
This exposition can be taken a bit further, though. The doctrine of the Trinity not only provides churches with a foundation for their unity, but it also provides individuals within those churches with a foundation for their dignity. It is with the foundational understanding that each Person in the Trinity supplies a unique contribution to the work of the Godhead that Christians also come to understand that the whole body of Christ is “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” (vs. 16a). “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1Cor. 12:17).
All citations of Scripture are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) except where otherwise noted.
William Collins, “The Baptist Catechism,” in The Baptist Confession & the Baptist Catechism, ed. James Renihan (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2010), 94.
Nehemiah Coxe and William Collins, “The Baptist Confession,” ed. James Renihan (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2010), 7.
Paige Patterson, The Troubled, Triumphant Church : An Exposition of First Corinthians (Dallas: Criswell Publications, 1983), 178.
Gordon Clark, First Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1975), 169.
Charles Hodge, First & Second Corinthians (Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 206.
Clark, First Corinthians, 169.
Coxe and Collins, Baptist Confession, 56.
William Hendriksen, Ephesians, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995), 199.
Gordon Clark, Ephesians (Jefferson, MD.: Trinity Foundation, 1985), 144.
Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (New York: R. Carter, 1856), 209.