Trinity Sunday was celebrated throughout the Global Church this past weekend, and I can’t help but think about the implications of my Trinitarian theology on my life as a woman. I have read and heard pastors, scholars, and teachers try to justify subordinate biblical womanhood on the foundation that Christ submitted himself to the Father. Agreed, Jesus did submit to the Father. The argument for the subordination of women, however, concludes that Jesus is eternally subordinate to God. Interestingly, this view (at the time referred to as Arianism) was marked as heresy in the early Church. Our creed (the Nicene creed) speaks to the equity and equality amongst the persons of the Trinity in response to this heresy:
“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance from the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth…
But as for those who say, there was when he was not, and, before being born he was not, and he came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the son of God is a different hypostasis or substance, or is subject to change or alteration–these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.“
The eternal subordination of Christ is also not what I find in the Bible. The Father gives all authority to Jesus (Matthew 28:18, Matthew 11:27, Philippians 2:9-10, Colossians 2:10, John 3:35, Colossians 1:15-18). The Father exalts Jesus. Jesus exalts the Father. The Spirit exalts Jesus. This is the beauty of the Trinity- lovingly lifting up the other, not one person of the Trinity claiming authority or dominion over another.
So what does God think of human power and authority over others? Well, in the end, when God makes all things new and right, God will abolish all authority. God will level the playing field completely. “Then comes the end, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). This is our eschatology, God’s end goal. God’s ultimate aim is not one gender (or any other qualifier or label we put on people) dominating over another. God’s design is “all eyes on God,” every knee bowed in one direction- towards God.
What does Jesus us teach us? How does his life speak to patriarchy or the subordinate status of women? Jesus is our “anthropological north star” (Malestrom, Carolyn Custis James, 176). He is our model for perfect humanity. Jesus is the foot-washer, cross-bearer, last-over-first preferrer, and the friend of the outsider. Would this God condone and/or ordain the dominance of someone over someone else? Jesus, as God in the flesh, does not even take up his right to dominate (Philippians 2:6). If anyone could claim the right to domination, Jesus could. “But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (my emphasis added, Matthew 20:25-28).
It will not be so among you.
Jesus came as a man, not because men are better than women, or God was somehow sanctioning men over women. God in the flesh came to show a patriarchal society the new creation, one in which men would be servants, side by side with women, no one lording power over the other. Perhaps Jesus came as a man, because men needed a new vision of what life could be without all the power games. I have heard people say that God chose men to lead because Jesus was a male and all his 12 apostles were male. That argument comes from the premise that Jesus came to acclaim our righteousness, instead of acknowledging that Jesus came to save sinners. Jesus didn’t come to condone the righteousness of men, but to expose and save us from the darkness within the human heart. Our callings are not based on our adequacy, but on our need for a savior. Our callings are not a gold star; our callings are our path to healing and wholeness.
So what do we do with all the patriarchy in the Bible? All the verses that seem to condone the subjugation of women (1 Timothy 2:11, 1 Peter 3:1, Ephesians 5:22, 1 Corinthians 14:34, Colossians 3:18)? I would like to suggest, in light of Jesus’ model, Jesus’ commissioning of us, and in light of the reality that we are icons of an egalitarian Trinity, that God is not okay with patriarchy. God is not okay with any person set up over another person.
Just because we see patriarchy in the Biblical narrative, that does not mean that God condones it. When we approach the New Testament from the vantage point of God turning over the tables of patriarchy, we see a God who is speaking into a Greco-Roman world in which women, slaves, and children were property. Men had complete control over them; the government sanctioned the murder of any woman, child, or slave that got out of line. What if these texts were survival manuals for oppressed people? What if “men love your wives as Christ loved the Church” is way more revolutionary than we understand? What if these texts are contextual not eternally and all-consumingly prescriptive?
Regardless, we can look through the Old Testament narrative and see God’s work in overcoming patriarchy, as God chooses woman after woman to rise up and confront it.
Shiphrah and Puah: two biblical women who resisted the horrors of racism and infanticide with defiance to male authority (Exodus 1: 15-17)
Tamar: a biblical woman who put her body on the line to combat patriarchal greed and oppression (Genesis 38)
Rahab: a biblical woman, wounded by sexual exploitation, who used her voice to save her family in the face of conquest (Joshua 2:12-14)
Ruth: a biblical woman who did not wait around for the men to solve the problem, but asserted herself into the male-dominant system by proposing to Boaz, a risk that could have cost her her safety or her life (Ruth 3:7-9)
Deborah: a biblical woman, a warrior for and judge of her people, a woman of wisdom and skill, moving in her call regardless of patriarchal standards (Judges 4-5)
Huldah: a biblical woman who told the truth even when it wasn’t popular at great risk to her own safety; prophets were often killed for saying things the king did not like (2 Chronicles 34:22-28)
When someone starts talking about biblical womanhood, these are the women I think of. So yes, I am all for biblical womanhood, but please do not hone in on 5 verses in the New Testament and miss God’s overarching call and design for women throughout the whole Bible. Look at the beginning in Genesis where God made women and men in the Trinity’s image of equality and unity. Look at the narrative, the subversive and overt means in which God called women to combat a patriarchal system of dominance, greed, and control that was the result of sin. Look at the end, when all will be made one. And please look at Jesus, who dignified women by calling them to preach the gospel, by calling them to sit at his feet and learn, Jesus who was about serving and sharing, not making himself the decision maker or the ruler.
As I celebrate Trinity Sunday, I celebrate women’s image-bearing, our dignity and our call to live out love as equal partners. I step into my own call to follow Christ and share love with anyone and by any means that God puts before me. I show up fully to life in the image of the Trinity- love in union, love in equality.
Some texts (in no particular order) that I have found to be helpful regarding gender equality in the Church: Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James/ Unmasking the Male Soul by Wilmer Villacorta/ The Headship of Men and the Abuse of Women by Kevin Giles/ The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr/ Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez/ The Promise of the Father by Phoebe Palmer (1859)/ Women Speaking Justified by Margaret Fell (1666)/ Ordaining Women by B.T. Roberts (1891)/ The Womanist Midrash by Wilda C. Gafney/ Women Rising by Meghan Tschanz
Or further reading can be found at CBE International’s bookstore https://cbeinternational.christianbook.com/