JESUS CHRIST – A MODEL OF SUBMISSION

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

Jesus Christ, who is one with God the Father, sanctifies submission.

A. THE ESSENTIAL UNITY AND EQUALITY OF THE FATHER AND THE SON

The Bible affirms the full deity of Jesus Christ. This is true of prophetic anticipations of Christ in the Old Testament and of New Testament references to Christ.

In the Old Testament:

Jesus is the exalted holy being seen by Isaiah in his vision [Isaiah 6:1-5; John 12:41].
Christ is called ‘Mighty God, Everlasting Father’ [Isaiah 9:6].
He is similarly referred to as ‘your God’ and ‘the Sovereign LORD’ [Isaiah 40:9,10].
He is ‘the LORD, our Righteous Saviour’ [Jeremiah 23:6].

In the New Testament:

Jesus is identified as God [John 1:1,18; Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:8; 1John 5:20].

Qualities that the Old Testament ascribes to God, Jesus claims for himself, for example - John 8:12 (light); John 14:6 (truth and life); John 8:58 (eternality).

Such is the unity, shared divine identity, and equality of the Son and the Father, that to see one, to know one, to receive one, is to see, know and receive the other [John 6:45; 12:44,45; 14:7-9].

Similarly, to reject, to fail to recognize one, is to reject and fail to recognize the other [John 5:23, 37,38].

Jesus stated ‘I and the Father are one’ [John 10:30].

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son [John 14:23,26; 16:7; 1Peter 1:11].

 

B. THE SON'S SUBMISSION TO THE FATHER

Although the Son is thus both one with the Father and equal to the Father, the Father’s position of authority and the Son’s submission to the Father are very evident. Of the Son we read:

He came to do the Father’s will [John 6:38; Hebrews 10:7].
He did nothing by himself; he did only what he saw the Father doing, indeed that is all he could do [John 5:19,30].
His works were those the Father gave him to finish [5:36].
He was sent by the Father [John 5:37].
He came in the Father’s name [John 5:43].
His teaching was not his own, but came from the Father [John 7:18].
He was not on earth on his own authority [John 7:28].
He did not judge alone; he stood with the Father who sent him [John 8:16].
He spoke just what the Father taught him [John 8:26,28,38; 12:49,50].
He always did what pleased the Father [John 8:29].
He did not come on his own, God sent him [John 8:42].
He sought not his own glory, but the Father’s [John 8:49,50; 17:4].
His works were done in his Father’s name and were from the Father [John 10:25,32].
He submitted to the Father’s will, even when it hurt [Matthew 26:36-46; Philippians 2:8].
The time will come when Christ will hand over ‘the kingdom’ to the Father [1Corinthians 15:24-28].

The submission to authority so evident above does not and cannot infer either division or inequality of essence. Rather this submission to the Father’s authority derives from Christ’s acute awareness of his essential unity and equality with the Father. In the perfection of his will any renegade, non-submissive, action is unthinkable.

 

C. THE FATHER'S DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY TO THE SON

The role distinctives that clearly exist between the Father and the Son include the Father’s delegation of authority to the Son. Roles and responsibilities that are the role and responsibility of God, are handed over to the Son:

God is the only Saviour [Isaiah 43:11] but he sent Jesus into the world to save the world. Hence Jesus is called ‘our Saviour’ [Titus 1:4] and ‘our great God and Saviour’ [Titus 2:13].

God is the Redeemer [Isaiah 41:14] but he sent his Son to redeem us [Galatians 4:4,5; Romans 3:24,25].

God is the Judge of all the earth [Genesis 18:25] but he entrusted all judgement to the Son [John 5:22,27].

God is the source and giver of life [Genesis 1; Amos 5:4] but he granted the Son to have life in himself [John 5:21,26].

God is the Sovereign Almighty Lord, but he has placed ‘everything’ in the Son’s hands [John 3:35].

God is the one who sits on the throne, but he has also placed Christ the Son on his throne, with all powers and authorities subject to him [Ephesians 1:19-33; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:18; 2:10].

This delegation of such highly significant and powerful roles and responsibilities is potentially quite instructive for gender roles in the church.

The fact that these roles and responsibilities are delegated by the Father to the Son assumes the complete unity and equality of the Father and the Son. The Son can fulfil these roles and responsibilities precisely because he is of the same nature as the Father. The Father is God. The Son is equally God. The Son fulfils these roles and responsibilities not less competently nor less effectively than the Father, but just as the Father would have fulfilled them.

The Father’s position as ultimate authority in the Trinity is neither threatened nor diminished by entrusting these roles and responsibilities to the Son. Indeed, because the Son fulfils these roles, the Father is honoured and glorified by the Son and the Father’s will is accomplished by the Son.

There is a total absence of conflict and competition. The Son is not competing for the Father’s authority. The Father’s position is not abdicated during the Son’s effective filling of these roles. The Son is not diminished by filling these roles under the authority of the Father.

D. APPLICATION

Applying the Christological model of ‘submission’ in the divine role structure to church governance questions related to the role of women:

1Corinthians 11:3 teaches a correlation between the Father/Son role structure and the man/woman role structure. This correlation cannot be dismissed by reference to the essential unity and equality of the Father and the Son because man and woman are also essentially one and essentially equal. That is clear in Genesis 1 and 2 where both male and female are created in the image of God, both are equally blessed, both are equally responsible to rule and care for the created world. Indeed the man’s first words about the woman were ‘this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’. Nor can the concept of role distinctives be dismissed by an assumption that ‘head’ is merely a reference to ‘source’, without any inference of authority. The willing and deliberate submission of the Son to the will and authority of the Father is too clearly stated to validate such an escape route from the concept of authority and hierarchy. [See also the sections relating to Christ as ‘head’ and ‘source’ below.]

Assuming then that the correlation between the Father/Son role structure and man/woman role structure is indeed taught by the Bible, what can the Church learn from the Father/Son hierarchy in attempting to come to a biblical definition of the respective roles and responsibilities of man and woman in the Church?

I would suggest the following lessons can be derived from the Father/Son analogy:

[1] That the concepts of ‘gender hierarchy’ or ‘authority/submission’ are about a divinely prescribed order of role and responsibility that does not relate to or interfere with the essential or ontological being or significance of man and woman. Indeed, the Father/Son analogy firmly establishes essential/ontological unity and equality. There is no place, therefore, in the church, for any perception of male headship that diminishes the woman either in practice or by inference.

In 1Corinthians 14:34 and 1Timothy 2:11 Paul actually puts the onus on the woman to ‘be in submission’. [The verbs ‘to subject/submit’ or ‘be in subjection/submission’ are in the Middle Voice – indicating submission of oneself. The word ‘hupotasso’ literally means to arrange under – hupo – ‘under’, tasso – ‘arrange’.] Just as the Son willingly and deliberately did the Father’s will, so the woman of her own volition deliberately puts herself under the authority of the male leadership of the Church – not because he/they are men, but because this is the divinely appointed role structure. It is not the submission of a lesser to a greater. It is the willing personal alignment with and involvement in the purpose of the one with the responsibility of headship. It is the recognition, not of male superiority, nor of ontologically derived female subordination, but of a divinely appointed order or arrangement. The submission of the female is not primarily to the male, but to the divinely appointed order. [Note that neither of these two passages specify submission to the male, they simply require ‘submission’.]

[2] That the role/position/responsibility of authority or headship is not about the ‘head’ personally doing everything that the ‘head’ has to accomplish. The Father delegated the accomplishment and fulfilment of his roles and responsibilities to the Son. So intense is the unity and equality between Father and Son, that the Son possessed the innate ability to accomplish all that the Father could accomplish. Delegation does not assume inferiority or lesser ability; rather it assumes and requires equal ability. Neither does delegation diminish the ‘head’. The Father is not diminished by the Son’s equality and accomplishments. Rather the Father is honoured by them.

In the Church, this Christological analogy infers that the male ‘head’ or ‘heads’ will have both the personal freedom and the trust/confidence to delegate to appropriate (suitably gifted and trustworthy) women responsibilities that are understood to be the responsibility of the ‘head’ to accomplish. So great is the equality and unity, and so deliberate is the woman’s alignment with the purpose/will of the ‘head’ that the ‘head’ is able to do this with total confidence.

[3] That just as the Father is always the ‘head’ of the Son, so the man is always the ‘head’ of the woman in the Church. This is the divinely appointed order. Neither the unity and equality of the Father and the Son, nor the delegation of ‘everything’ into the hands of the Son, annuls this divine order. Similarly, neither the unity and equality of the man and the woman, nor the delegation of immense authority to the woman, can override or annul the divinely appointed order of role distinctives in the Church.

[4] A difficulty arises with the implementation of this Christological model: that whereas both the Father’s headship and the Son’s submission are perfect, this is not the case in the Church, where neither the male leadership nor any female in the Church is perfect. The perfect trust that existed between the Father and the Son does not, and indeed cannot, exist between man and woman. However, in Christ, and as we learn to apply the grace of Christ to ourselves and to others, there can and should be increasing trust between man and woman, and a correlating increased willingness of the man to delegate responsibility to the woman, and of the woman to work under the leadership of the man.

NOTES:

Note #1: Proverbs 31:10-31 provides a description of the Christological model of headship/submission worked out in the life of a ‘wife of noble character’:

[1] Verses 11 & 12 state ‘Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.’ This very closely parallels the relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Father. It is surely an example of what biblical ‘submission’ looks like.

[2] So great is her husband’s confidence in her that she goes about her life in the home and the community with an extreme liberty, engaging in actions and operations that are traditionally male tasks. [Which parallels the Father’s entrusting the Son with divine prerogatives.]

[3] This woman’s life brings honour to both herself and her husband [verses 23,32]. Again, this parallels the impact of the submissive life of Christ [John 17:4]. It also provides a basis for understanding Paul’s comment that ‘woman is the glory of man’ in 1Corinthians 11:7.

Here we see a woman so totally trusted by the man, and so totally committed to the man’s well-being, that she lives and acts with an incredibly broad liberty that could easily be mistaken for usurping authority! This woman, not a weak, subjugated, dominated woman, brings honour not only to herself but to the man.

Note #2: In 1Corinthians 11:10 Paul, in a context of wearing a head covering, states that a woman ought to have ‘power on her head’ when praying or prophesying – the Greek is exousian ... epi tes kephales – power/authority on the head. The clear meaning of the words is not submission to the authority of another but the possession of authority. Exousia is everywhere else a reference to the right or power of authority, including delegated authority; never to submission. The head covering endowed the female wearer with the liberty and authority to pray and prophesy in church meetings, because, in the context of the early church, it identified her as doing so within the divinely appointed role structure.

Leon Morris comments: ‘Paul’s meaning then, is that by covering her head the woman secures her own place of dignity and authority. At the same time she recognizes her subordination.’ (p154, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians).

FF Bruce states: ‘Paul, on the other hand, expects Christian women to play a responsible part in church meetings, and if, out of concern for public order, he asks then to veil their heads when they pray or prophesy, the veil is the sign of their authority to exercise their Christian liberty in this way, not the sign of someone else’s authority over them.’ (Women in the Church: A Biblical Survey published in Christian Brethren Review, Vol. 33, 1982.)

Note #3: When we consider the complete submission of the Son to the Father that difficult word in 1Timothy 2:12 (authentein – 2011 NIV: ‘assume authority over’) is perhaps more readily understood. [Authenteinauto (a reference to self), hentes (obsolete word meaning worker or working). This verse is the only biblical use of this word.]

Whatever authentein is, it is something the Son of God never did to God the Father. And what is it that he never did? He never took the authority into his own hands. He never changed the agenda to suit himself. He never assumed he knew better than the Father and acted independently of the Father’s words and the Father’s will. All of this is something that the devil tried to get the Son to do. From this Christological model Paul’s prohibition becomes clearer: that Paul is not prohibiting women from engaging in the same activity as men [in this instance ‘teaching’] but from doing so independently of and in conflict with the male leadership’s authority and agenda.

Note #4: Similarly, and closely connected with the above discussion of authentein (Note #3), the Christological model throws some light on 1Timothy 2:14. Here Paul states that ‘Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.’

Looking at this from the perspective of the Christological model: Whereas Jesus, the incarnate Son, was not deceived by the devil into disobedience – into assuming authority over the Father by rejecting his command, his agenda and his authority – Eve was. Deceived by Satan, she discarded the word of God, which Adam had obviously passed onto her, assuming the right, (taking it upon herself), to reinterpret that word, doubt that word and disobey that word. She put herself over the word. She put herself over Adam, who had given her that word. (She did not consult with Adam, but acted independently on her own initiative. In this she ignored the unity in duality embedded in Creation.) And she put herself over God, whose word it was. This is the attitude that Paul is outlawing in these verses.

[While Paul seems here to almost exonerate Adam he does not do so elsewhere. In fact, because of God’s role structure, it is Adam, not Eve, who is held responsible for bringing sin and death into the world through his sin – Romans 5:12ff; 1Corinthians 15:22. Although it is not precisely stated, these verses make it highly probable that if Adam, the responsible head, had not also taken the fruit the entry of sin and death would have been thwarted right there.]