The Bible overthrows the hierarchical worldview

Molly Aley at the Complegalitarian blog offers a robust (and award-winning) criticism of CBMW’s claims about the doctrine of eternal subordinationism in the Trinity. In her own comment there she describes how at Bible college she was taught a strongly hierarchical worldview, which she has now rejected, which linked subordinationism within the Trinity with a strong concept of non-mutual authority in church and home.

Nick Norelli may reject this kind of link, but it was clearly made at Molly’s patriarchal Bible college, as well as by the moderate complementarians of CBMW and the egalitarian Kevin Giles. Molly shows that the link goes beyond 1 Corinthians 11:3 on which I disagreed with Nick, to encompass fundamental issues of one’s worldview, in which there is a clear division between hierarchical and egalitarian presuppositions.

My contention is that the Bible deliberately rejects the dominant hierarchical worldview of the ancient world and teaches a fundamentally egalitarian viewpoint. This criticism of hierarchy undermines the basis of both patriarchy and complementarianism in gender relations as well as of the eternal subordinationism in the Trinity.

Before I go into further details on this last issue, here are some extracts from Molly’s comment:

Via the doctrine of a subordinated Trinitarian heirarchy, we learned that while we humans are technically all equals, we’re also technically NOT.

That is to say, every time two humans are together, ONE of them is in authority and the other is in subordination. Why? Because authority is what God is.

And because humans are made in God’s image, and God is a subordinated heirarchy, therefore so are humans. And obedience to the heirarchal structure God has set up is obedience to God. …

When I then began researching this stuff for MYSELF, with the intent to see if the egalitarians MIGHT be right (but fully expecting to find that they were wrong, especially in regards to the Trinity), I was SO shocked—-particularly at the amount of misinformation I’d been fed in regards to the concept of eternal subordination within the Trinity. …

The implications of permanent eternal subordination within the Trinity are far-reaching in effect. This is not pie-in-the-sky theological musing. This stuff matters.

Indeed this stuff matters. For me it is fundamental to the whole Christian life that Jesus came to overturn the world’s conception of authority. He was not entirely novel in doing so, for it is implicit in the Old Testament criticism of worldly kingship:

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

1 Samuel 8:10-20 (TNIV)

But it was above all Jesus who took up this theme of criticism of foreign ideas of kingship and made them his own:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:42-45 (TNIV)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

…    12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. …”

John 13:3-5,12-16 (TNIV)

It is true that Jesus did not overthrow the whole concept of hierarchical authority. He knew and did not renounce the authority which he had, as is made clear in John 13:3. But what was revolutionary in his own example and in his teaching for his disciples was the way in which this authority was to be exercised, not by ordering others about and expecting them to wait on him, but by serving others even in menial ways like washing others’ feet, and in the horrific way of dying for them. By this example the hierarchical worldview was undermined and replaced by one of mutual submission leading to equality.

I know I have only touched briefly on a complex subject here. But this has already been a long post and it is late. So I will leave this issue here, perhaps incomplete. I won’t promise a follow-up post, but one may well come, especially if provoked by some searching comments.

0 thoughts on “The Bible overthrows the hierarchical worldview

  1. Thanks, Peter, for the furthered thoughts. I am right on the same page. The kind of *authority* that Jesus had and used was SOOOOOO different from anything practiced at my Bible College (which wasn’t so much patriarchal, btw, as it was more of a Charismatic “Shepherding Movement” type of thing—-the patriarchy movement we fell into later, right after leaving the shepherding movement—sad smile).

    Jesus has authority: YES.

    Some humans have authority: YES.

    What is being debated here is not the concept of authority itself, but the KIND of authority Jesus taught vs. the heirarchal view of authority as practiced by humanity ever since the Fall.

    The authority Jesus wielded was very bold and brash and forceful—healings on Sabbaths, open rebukes to religous leaders, etc.

    So I’m not advocating a wimpy milk-toast sort of authority either.

    But we simply DO NOT understand true authority until we see the One Who Flung the Stars remove his garments, get on His knees, and wash the dust-filled cracks and toe creases of a group of unbathed sweaty men who are all jostling for position and prestigue.

    The kind of authority Jesus had was the kind that could get on its knees without losing an ounce of authority. It did not need to be proved with titles and special favors. It did not need to be lorded over others, to be used to remind others of their place.

    It was a very secure kind of authority—so secure that he could serve in debasing ways without losing an ounce of position. In fact, it would seem that in God’s economy, kneeling to bathe another’s filth is indicative of a higher position (if we even should measure positions in that sort of way at all, that is) than the one being bathed.

    If anything, this kind of authority seems to spit on the hierarchal way of viewing authority. It seems to be another thing altogether.


  2. Thanks, Molly. Yes, we are indeed on the same page. Sometimes I struggle with humans having any kind of authority, but I realise that the Bible does not overthrow this completely, just thoroughly reinterprets it.

    Bob, I’m sorry, I don’t understand your point. Are you saying that the kingdom is in fact taken by violence? If so, by who, if God is not violent? Should we be violent even if he isn’t? Perhaps we need to define “violent” more carefully, and take more care with our exegesis of the unclear verse you allude to.

  3. My subtle knife obviously slipped – those who have power by hierarchy take the kingdom by violence – not God who has ultimate power – God does not take the kingdom by violence. Nor should we if it is a ‘should’ you are looking for – but we do. It is part of the essence of sin. The very energy we have – even our desire to be right – must conform to his not violent way of living – i.e. through his death. He is the only hierach – as priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

  4. I’m with you on this one Peter. I don’t have time to write much now, but one of the issues coming out of my study of the Trinity and Bible translation is a frustration with the way that ‘power relationships’ are so much a part of the missionary scene. With expats having rights and privileges that ‘nationals’ don’t have and very few people seeing this as a problem.

  5. Thanks, Eddie and Bob.

    Bob, I see what you mean now. Yes, indeed we should not lay hold of the kingdom by abuse of authority, but only in ways which “conform to his not violent way of living”. That is quite a challenge.

    Eddie, I know what you mean. I remember when I tried to hand over my authority in the project to highly capable nationals only to have the expat directorship impose another expat on them – fortunately one who like me very much avoids exercising authority over them.

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