The Trinity and Complementarianism


trinityIf you’re the type of person who reads this and other theological blogs, you no doubt have become acutely aware there is a debate raging about the trinity, in particular the economic relationship among the persons of the trinity. This I think is a good thing, many who have never given any thought to the trinity in any meaningful way are thinking about this important doctrine for the first time. Now I would say the tone of the discussion, especially on the secondary market, has been less than ideal (here is a great, academic read that gets to the root of the problem), that as Andy Snider pointed out this is a debate about speculative theology and that the blogosphere, to me, is not the best place to have the initial stages of this type of discussion (and I am happy to report that Dr. Wayne Grudem will be presenting a paper on this topic at ETS), but it is good that people are thinking about the trinity.  But I think much of the orientation of the current debate, how the economic relationships within the trinity impact gender roles, is not helpful.  I think we need to take a step back and have a serious conversation about the Trinity and complementarianism.

According to theopedia, and I think this is a good and fair basic definition:

Complementarianism is the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.

The theopedia article on the subject provides a helpful nuance to the present trinity-gender roles discussion when it adds, “It (complementarianism) is rooted in more literal interpretations of the Creation account and the roles of men and women presented in Scripture.”  That is the thing we need to remember, despite all that is being said by both sides, speculative theology about the economic relationships within the trinity is tangential, at best, to the case for biblical complementarianism.

And that case begins with the uniqueness of the man and the woman. malea_female They were specifically created as male and female, as Genesis 1:27 (cf Gen 5:1-2) says.  We are designed to be different.  Yet they were designed for one another, as Genesis 2:18 says, Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” And the Hebrew phrase translated “helper fit” is ezer cinigdo has the sense of a helper-completer.  Man in a sense is incomplete without his complimentary image bearer, woman. (Hence the label complementarianism.)

God treats men and women uniquely, this is seen immediately when God pronounces the curse after the fall.

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:16-19

This however in no way means there is any ontological difference or difference in worth and value between men and women, after all, both are created in the image of God. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, there is no male or female in Christ (Gal 3:28).

How these equal in worth image bearers are to relate to one another in marriage and in the church is made explicit in the New Testament.  In marriage, the husband is to lead, love, serve, and sanctify his wife (Eph 5:25-28). Additionally, he is to live with his wife in an understanding way and with gentleness (1 Peter 3:7).  The wife is to submit to her husband (Eph 5:22) and to adorn herself with a quiet and gentle spirit and respectful and pure conduct (1 Peter 3:1-6).  All of this is to result in a marriage that is a living illustration of the Gospel (Eph 5:31-32).

In the church, teaching (mixed audiences) and exercising authority is to be the province of men (1 Tim 2:12).  The office of elder is reserved for men (1 Tim 3:2 cf Titus 1:6). The elder must never be domineering over the people of the church, male or female (1 Peter 5:1-3).

Of course, this is really just a thumbnail sketch, but I think it is enough to illustrate my point. I cannot imagine using speculative theology about the trinity as a primary argument for (or against for that matter) complementarianism.  Here on the front lines of ministry, if the issue comes up, I am going to open my Bible and reason directly from Scripture.  The revealed Word of God contains all we need to know pertaining to life and godliness and all we need to be fully equipped for every good work (2 Peter 1:3 / 2 Tim 3:16-17). That includes how men and women are to relate in marriage and in the body of Christ.

So if you are following the ongoing trinity debate, and see people throwing around complementarian, patriarchy, biblical manhood/womanhood, or anything else that pertains to the issue of men and women relating in marriage or the church, remember that we stand on Scripture, not speculative theology, and keep your feet firmly planted on the rock of Christ and His word.


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About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.