This is a follow-up to my recent post on the doctrine of eternal subordination within the Trinity and the related discussion at the Complegalitarian blog. This doctrine has recently become popular among complementarians, many of whom also call themselves Calvinists and so presumably value the teaching of John Calvin. Recently at the CBMW Gender “Blog” (in fact not a real blog because there is no opportunity for discussion) Calvin was listed among ten theologians who, it was claimed, held to this doctrine. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology (as quoted by Molly), takes this further, claiming that
the idea of eternal equality in being but subordination in role has been essential to the church’s doctrine of the Trinity since it was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed, … it has clearly been part of the church’s doctrine of the Trinity (in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox expressions), at least since Nicea (A.D. 325).
But can this claim be substantiated? I will not attempt to discuss all the ten theologians’ views. But in a comment on Complegalitarian Suzanne (apparently not Suzanne McCarthy) found a quote from Calvin which clearly shows that he did NOT believe in the eternal subordination of the Son. I have verified the quote from my own copy of Calvin’s Institutes, 2.14.3 (vol. 1 p. 486 in my copy, in the translation by Battles), and here I quote part of what Suzanne quoted with some additional text to introduce it, with my own emphasis:
That is, to [Christ] was lordship committed by the Father, until such time as we should see his divine majesty face to face. Then he returns the lordship to his Father so that – far from diminishing his own majesty – it may shine all the more brightly. Then, also, God shall cease to be the Head of Christ, for Christ’s own deity will shine of itself, although as yet it is covered in a veil.
In other words (and this is confirmed by reading the context), it is clear that to Calvin the distinction in honour between Christ and God the Father is only a temporary one which will cease when Christ has “discharged the office of Mediator”, that is, completed his saving work by bring his people to glory. Thus Calvin clearly shows that he believes in the temporary rather than eternal subordination of the Son.
If, as Calvin teaches, God shall cease to be the Head of Christ, that means that 1 Corinthians 11:3 is only a temporary teaching. So, if this verse is given the weight that many complementarians put on it, the “headship” of a husband over his wife (whatever that might mean) is also only temporary and will no longer be applicable in the eternal kingdom of God.