Let me state upfront that I don’t believe that the Trinity should be used as a model for marriage. The Bible does not state that the Trinity is a model for marriage, and when we try and make the case that the Godhead is such a model we risk the danger of tampering with sound Trinitarian theology. I have written about this previously, and I continue here with the following musings.
Today I read a passage from John chapter 5:18-30 where Jesus speaks about his relationship with the Father. In this passage Jesus says that he does nothing in his earthly ministry without seeing what the Father does (John 5:19-20), and hearing what the Father says (John 5:30). (These ideas are repeated elsewhere in John’s gospel.)
So, even though Jesus is the redemptive Saviour and the end-time Judge, he doesn’t do these things on his own. He does these things together with the Father.
From this passage in John, and other New Testament passages, we see that Jesus and the Father – and the Holy Spirit – do not have distinct, separate spheres of activity or ministry. The Trinity works together.
Some Christians who believe that the Trinity is a model for marriage believe that God has designed men and women to have different spheres of activity and ministry. They believe that the man’s main sphere is public and outside of the home, while the woman’s main sphere is domestic, and they segregate the responsibilities of family life and church life into gendered categories of “men’s work” and “women’s work”.
There is no biblical evidence of a precise or fixed differentiation in roles within the Trinity, or that the members of the Trinity operate in separate spheres. Similarly, the idea that men and women are limited, or restricted, to separate spheres has no real biblical basis.
Inferior and Subordinate
When Jesus came to earth as a human being, he voluntarily laid aside his divine privileges (Phil. 2:6-8) and became completely dependent on the Father’s and the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power. Jesus submitted to, and obeyed, the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Some Christians believe that wives are to display this level of dependency, submission, and obedience towards their husbands. However Jesus, in taking human form, had become ontologically inferior to the Father and the Spirit . . . “a little lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9a). Jesus had temporarily lowered and limited himself by taking human form for a very particular purpose and a vitally important reason – to save the world!
Wives, however, are not ontologically inferior to their husbands; that is, women are not lesser creatures than men. So it is unhealthy for wives to emulate the same degree of dependence and submission towards their husbands that Jesus had towards the Father and Spirit while he was on earth.
Furthermore, it is downright harmful for women (as a group) to be generally submissive to men (as a group), or for women to “affirm, receive and nurture” the strength and supposed leadership of “all worthy men” as is taught by John Piper (e.g. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1991, pp. 21, 29, 37, 39-41). This degree of one-sided submission from women has no biblical basis whatsoever, and it breeds male pride and female passivity in marriage and in the church.
I do not see clear evidence in the Scriptures that Jesus remained ontologically subordinate to the Father and Holy Spirit once his redemptive mission was successfully completed. Rather, after his resurrection, Jesus was glorified and returned to his place of honour (Heb. 2.9b; Phil. 2:9-11).
We need to be cautious that we do not regard Jesus the Messiah as either ontologically or eternally subordinate to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, especially as he is to be honoured equally with the Father (John 5:23).
“. . . that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” John 5:23 NIV
Unity and Mutuality
From John chapter five, and other scriptures, we see that Salvation is a work of the Trinity, and that Judgement is a work of the Trinity. Even if, during his earthly ministry as Saviour and Judge, Jesus was, and will be, the “front man” as far as humanity is concerned.
This unity and cooperation of the Trinity is a basic Christian doctrine, one shared by both Calvinists and Arminians.
Here is what one Calvinist has written on this:
One of the most important insights of Reformed theology is the unity of the works of the Trinity. Calvinists believe that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are united in the work of redeeming lost mankind. We do not believe that they act against one another or even on one another, but with one another in our salvation. For instance, Jesus did not die to convince the Father to change His attitude toward us from enmity to love. Rather, Jesus died on the cross because of the Father’s love for us, as John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The Father and Son are united in their work for the salvation of those who believe: the Father electing and sending His Son; the Son atoning for the sins of those chosen and given to Him by the Father (John 6:37–40). The same harmony exists between the Son and the Spirit. . . .
From “What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace?” by Richard Phillips. (Lake Mary, FL.: Reformed Trust Publishing, 2008) pp.69-70
Creation, Jesus’ Incarnation and Resurrection, and the giving of ministry gifts, services and activities are also shown in Scripture as being the shared work of the Trinity. Moreover, in the Church Age, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’s replacement (John 14:26); so presently, the Holy Spirit is effectively the “front man” of the Trinity from the perspective of humanity.
I do not see evidence in Scripture for a clear delineation of permanent, fixed roles in the Trinity, rather there is a sharing and overlap in roles and ministries.
Jesus’ speech in John 5 gives us some insight into the Trinity, as do many other Scriptures; however there is still much we do not know about the Triune Godhead and how each member relates with the other members. I imagine that the divine relationships within the Trinity cannot be labelled with terms such as “hierarchy”, “subordination”, or “equality”, etc. For these reasons the Trinity should not be used as a model for either hierarchical or egalitarian marriages.
Image Credit: Celtic Trinity Knot (Source: openclipart.org)
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