Equal but different deteriorates to an unequal Trinity

Equal but different deteriorates to an unequal Trinity

The term “equal but different” has become a catch phrase in marriage and “women in ministry” issues as it has replaced the pre-1970’s common view of the inferiority of women. In complementarian circles the thought is that women are equal in person but different in role. In the same way the Trinity is defined as equality in essence and status but different in roles. We are told that “different” is not “unequal”, it is just different. For example see this definition of the Trinity (below) that assures us that the status of men and women are equal just as the status of the persons of the Trinity are equal:

In the Trinity we see a pattern of relationships that shows us how it’s possible for equality of being to co-exist with diversity of function. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are equal in status but each has a different function.

But has this new definition of “equal but different” found a way to downgrade Jesus to an unequal place in the Trinity? Apparently so and some are actually using the very passage that affirms the equality of Jesus to make him unequal with God. Let’s see what the bible actually says. In Philippians 2:6 it says about Jesus –

(ALT) who existing in the nature of God, did not consider being equal to God something to be held onto,

In the Amplified Bible, the full meaning is retained:

Philippians 2:6 (AMP) Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained,

So Jesus had complete equality with God right from the beginning but he did not think that this equality was a thing to be retained, or held onto, but instead he emptied himself of his rights (to an equal position) so that he could become human. Verse 7 and 8 goes on to explain why Jesus did not retain or hold onto his equality with God:

Philippians 2:7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2:8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In order for Jesus to be fully human and therefore able to die as a man, Jesus emptied himself of his equal position and the equal glory that he had with God so that he could become man. These verses have been used by apologists to prove to Jehovah’s Witnesses that Jesus did have full equality with God and it is only in his humanity that he is in a position of humility. Jesus voluntarily gave up his equal rights in order to live as a man in an unequal position. Yet these verses are now being used by those who claim to be evangelicals to prove that Jesus did not have equality with God to begin with.

In 2003 at the Evangelical Theological Society, Denny Burk gave a talk in which he set out to prove that in the Trinity, Jesus was not equal with God even though he was in the form of God.

Listen to these three audio files.

Denny Burk #1 Jesus did not want to become equal with God in every respect

Denny Burk #2 Jesus possessed the form of God but not equality with God

Denny Burk #3 In his pre-existent Trinitarian fellowship with the Father, Jesus decided not to go after equality but to go after incarnation

So Jesus did not have equality with the Father before the incarnation and he didn’t want to attain to an equality with the Father? This sounds to me like he is saying that Jesus is not equal but different with the Father, but unequal and different.

The complete audio file was downloaded a year ago from CBMW’s web site. CBMW’s web site has since taken off the 2003 ETS audio files, presumably because they don’t have any ETS audio files older than 2004. Denny Burk serves as the editor of CBMW’s The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

What we have is a full-blown demotion of the Word of God to a position of inequality in the Trinity.

32 thoughts on “Equal but different deteriorates to an unequal Trinity

  1. Okay, this was one of the most shocking things I read and I wonder if these opinions can be called Christian. Look at this quote from a book review Jim Hamilton wrote about a book by Denny Burk,

    N. T. Wright follows BDF in the opinion that the article with the infinitive in the final phrase of Philippians 2:6, “the being equal with God,” is an anaphoric article pointing back to the initial phrase of the verse, “the form of God.” On this understanding, “being equal with God” is equivalent to or synonymous with “the form of God.” But if, as Burk argues, the article is not anaphoric but appears as a grammatical necessity, marking the components of the double accusative construction, “equality with God” is not connected to “the form of God.” Rather, the articular infinitive designates “the being equal with God” as the object, whose complement is “a thing to be grasped” in the double accusative construction. Burk thus renders the sense of the verse as, “Although Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something he should go after also” (139). The payoff, then, of Burk’s careful grammatical investigation is that Philippians 2:6 affirms the ontological equality of Father and Son while maintaining the functional subordination of the Son, even in his pre-existent state (cf. 139–40 n. 46).

    The payoff, why is it a payoff to have a subordinate Christ. Don’t we want Christ however he is. But the payoff is subordinate women!

  2. Well, I heard it in audio and now I see it in print and now I am double shocked. What an absolute shame! I guess that since Burk has “carefully” taken away Christ’s equality with the Father, we can now go back to the inferiority of women and the “equal yet different” will no longer be necessary. After all if Christ is no longer equal with the Father then women certainly will fall prey to the same logic. Was that Denny Burk’s newest book to be written on the theme of “unequal and oh so different”? Maybe the rumor is true that woman was not created from the side of man but from another piece of dirt that just looked like a rib.

    The biggest shame is that these men in their deep desire to downgrade women’s equality with men have sided with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and made Jesus out to be “a god” and not truly equal with the Father at all.

  3. Cheryl,

    When will your series on the Trinity be available and how much of it will deal with the the use of the Doctrine of Subordinationism to support these gender arguments?

    I can’t wait for this.

  4. This “lesser deity” is the exact heresy of Arius which Athanasius argued against and won. When such heresy can be swallowed whole by the bulk of leadership in the churches, the “church” is dead on its feet.

  5. Under Much Grace,
    The DVD should be out by the fall of 2008. It may be out a lot sooner than that, but it all depends on how long the researching and writing process will take. It will probably be two solid months of editing plus the shooting on top of that, then there is the marketing work (cover, etc) and mass duplicating. So around September, possibly sooner.

    I have been in dialog with Bruce Ware for my research and the issue of subordinationism will be a good part of the DVD – possibly as much as half of it. We will be dealing with the subordination in the Trinity as it is and not referencing the women’s issue although one will be able to see the connection quick easily. After all as I discussed with Mr. Ware – that if women are subordinated to men this doesn’t mean that Jesus is eternally subordinated to the Father. In other words, Jesus can be completely equal with the Father in every way and this doesn’t mean that women cannot also be subordinated to men. Each issue should be dealt with separately and it is such a shame that subordinationists cannot seem to leave the two as separate. I am also dialoging with a complementarian who has challenged me to prove to him from the scriptures alone that Jesus is not subordinated to the Father. I have sent him my research so far and he has not been able to refute it so I think we have another winner! I will let everyone here know when the DVD is completed and I believe that it will be an important apologetic response to the subordinationists in our midst.

  6. What surprised me is how widespread this belief has become in the complementarian camp that the Son in the Trinity (not the incarnation) is not equal with the Father. I sent these same audio files to a staunch complementarian couple because I thought they would be as appalled as I was to hear this downgrading of Jesus. To my utter amazement, they said that they didn’t hear anything wrong in what Burk said, yet I know that the husband himself had always used Philippians 2 to prove the Deity of Jesus with Jehovah’s Witnesses. But through the years somewhere they had picked up the thought that Jesus was not equal with the Father. It is time that this nonsense is stopped and Jesus again has his rightful place alongside the Father.

  7. [quote]What surprised me is how widespread this belief has become in the complementarian camp that the Son in the Trinity (not the incarnation) is not equal with the Father. I sent these same audio files to a staunch complementarian couple because I thought they would be as appalled as I was to hear this downgrading of Jesus. To my utter amazement, they said that they didn’t hear anything wrong in what Burk said, yet I know that the husband himself had always used Philippians 2 to prove the Deity of Jesus with Jehovah’s Witnesses. But through the years somewhere they had picked up the thought that Jesus was not equal with the Father. It is time that this nonsense is stopped and Jesus again has his rightful place alongside the Father.[/quote]

    AMEN!

  8. Sam C,
    This is a wonderful, great question. In fact this is a very important part of the DVD that I am working on in the research/writing/scripting stage right now. The DVD is entirely on the Trinity and a huge focus will be refuting the theologians in the church who say that Jesus is not equal in authority with the Father as they say that Jesus is eternally under the Father’s authority and under the Father’s his will. I will be completely unpacking the 1 Cor. 15 passage in the DVD. I will try to summarize the position tomorrow when I have the time to work on summarizing the meat of the passage in a hundred words or less. For more than that you will have to get the DVD scheduled to be released by the fall of 2008 🙂

  9. Thank you, Sam, I will have a look at them. I have Giles book. I do tend to think outside the box more than most do. I guess it is all those years of counseling Jehovah’s Witnesses and bringing them to Christ. You really had to work to turn every doctrine over and look at the doctrines they had problems with from upside down, at any angle and from this way and that to find a way to present the truth in a way that they did not have a canned answer to because they had never heard it presented that way before. It was really neat to see the lights go on and the “ah ha” moments. I still think this way in my head, turning everything upside down and inside out to catch every possible angle.

  10. 1 Cor. 15:20-28 is one of those cases where we have to pay careful attention to the difference between God (theos) and Father (pater). God means all of God; I can’t find any way to restrict “theos” to only part of the Trinity. So let’s see what it says in a literal reading starting with vs. 24, where we start seeing “theos” and “pater”:

    24 Then the end, when he shall have given up the kingdom to him who [is] God and Father… 28 … then also himself the Son will be put in subjection to him who put in subjection to him all things, that may be God all in all.

    But the real problem is in the many pronouns, the “hims”. If we look closely, the only thing that is clearly given to the Father alone is “the kingdom”. From there, the “hims” refer to Jesus, or vs. 27’s disclaimer wouldn’t be needed.

    So my view is that Jesus hands the Father the kingdom, and everything else is subject to Jesus, except the Father. What it doesn’t mean is that Jesus Himself is subjected to the Father.

  11. Sam,

    My work on 1 Cor 15 is focused on the refutation of the complementarian position that Jesus is less in authority than the Father (the Father is considered as the supreme authority a position highlighted by Bruce Ware in his book “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”) and the position that 1 Cor. 15 means that Jesus is giving over his authority and rule to the Father and taking a subordinate position for all of eternity.

    I am not going to go into the full refutation especially since I am still working on my DVD on the Trinity, but since the question about 1 Cor 15 was brought up, it is good to state some foundational points from scripture.

    1. We know that 1 Cor 15:24-28 cannot be interpreted to mean that Jesus gives up his rule, since scripture tells us that his reign will never end.

    2. We also know that 1 Cor. 15:24-28 cannot be interpreted to mean that the Father has authority that Jesus does not have because Jesus said that he himself has all authority (Matt 28:18) and there is nothing at all in 1 Cor. 15 that says that Jesus is giving up this authority. Since turning over the kingdom to the Father cannot mean that Jesus stops reigning as King, then Jesus’ submission also cannot mean that Jesus is giving up his full authority over all things.

    All three in the Trinity have one will and all three have one authority because they are all united as the one God. When Jesus said that all authority had been given to him (Matt 28:18), that didn’t leave his Father without authority. Turning over the kingdom to his Father also does not leave Jesus without authority and it does not leave him without a kingdom or take away his throne or his Kingship.

    In verse 24 of 1 Cor. 15 we see Jesus as the triumphant Son turning over the spoils, the kingdom, to his Father. In verse 25 we see that God the Father has put all enemies underneath the feet of Jesus so that Jesus is supreme, the ruler of all.

    The Father for a time has stepped back from judging and from ruling as he has given the priority to the Son during the 1,000 year reign. Just as the Father has served the Son by making his enemies as a footstool for the Son, the Son now serves the kingdom back to the Father so that it is not just the Son who has the priority but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    So the human Son who has been given the priority, subjects himself voluntarily and the subjection is not “under” the authority of the Father but in “unity” with the Father so that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are “all” in “all”, in complete unity as they were before creation. (The Greek is very important to pay attention to in verse 27 & 28)

    The Son does not “give up” the kingdom nor does he “give up” authority or rule. The purpose of the Son’s subjection is for God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to be all in all and there will be no division of authority or rule but complete unity.

    There is much more to this passage but this should suffice for now until my DVD comes out.

  12. While I am deeply concerned with some of the things that have been said about the trinity. I believe it is difficult to resolve the issue.

    On the other hand, I am not aware that historically, before the last 30 years, there has been any association of hierarchy in the trinity with hierarchy between male and female. Please correct me if I am wrong. but I have never seen evidence of this.

    In the early church, sexuality was problematic, and some held that there was no sex in the garden of Eden, and others that there was sex but no lust. Gender relations were understood to have been altered not only in the degree of hierarchy, in that it was harsh, but in that there was no hierarchy before the fall, because Adam and Eve were only friends in the garden and not subject to desire/lust.

    The way to regain this proper state, in the early church, was to be a virgin or martyr. If a woman was a virgin or martyr she escaped her femininity and returned to the true state of the soul, which was neither male nor female.

    Therefore, the true state that we are all seeking in Christianity is to be once again free from our sexual constraints. In this framework, it would be very difficult to see male and female as projecting relations within the trinity. Rather, we as souls, although we do happen to be male and female, are in the image of God.

    I haven’t any quotes at the moment, but if you find something that would support this, I think it would clarify the fact that subordination in the trinity, whether it exists are not, has not historically been used to reinforce gender hierarchy. See also Craig Keener’s paper, which is available on the internet, by googling his name along with trinity and subordination.

  13. My problem with the idea of Adam and Eve only being friends in the garden before the fall, is that they were told to “be fruitful and multiply”. We simply aren’t told whether they tried or not, only that their first child came after the fall.

  14. Sue,
    The difficulties have been hard to navigate over because of some foundational faulty teaching that we have been subjected to for years. It is time to deal with the faulty teaching head on.

    The issue in the garden between man and woman is burred by the faulty teaching that God only gave the prohibition to the man, that women’s conception was the same in the garden as it is now and that God gave man a special rule that included the rule over his wife. These are made-made traditions that can be properly refuted using the inspired words and the inspired grammar from the book of Genesis. More to come in future posts.

    The issue of the temporary subordination of the Son is also blurred by a faulty interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:28 that takes away the full authority and rulership of the Son of God in the future. This must be dealt with and dealt with decisively so that we can once again recognize Jesus as Lord and God without giving in to those who downgrade his “role” and his authority.

    Yes, it has been difficult, but it is doable. The time is now and the tools are in our hands to present a viable, in-context and compelling exegesis to these hard passages.

  15. I hope you understand that I was not trying to say anything about how relations were in the garden of Eden, but only about the enormous variety that is found in historic interpretation.

  16. Hello Sue (re #17)

    i sure agree with your statement that we ‘are’ male and female rather than it being a definitive aspect of us being made in the image of God…after all, the animals and plants have gender, right?! i just think that Gen 1:27 is scripture (God) telling us that male and female are equal before God. How wonderful to get that ‘established’ at the beginning of time!

    For some (complementarians) it ‘all’ seems to link together into one big ‘connected’ (circular!) argument :
    God ‘is’ male (or at least ‘more male’ than female’?! because he is called ‘Father’ and ‘Son’), therefore males have some kind of ‘generic’ authority/responsibility/ability ‘over’ females… therefore women must be restricted to be ‘under’ this authority in the home / in ministry – regardless of their actual personal ability/character/position in Christ….
    recently (since the late 70’s) the whole thing about the subordination of the Son to the Father has been used by some to support the other doctrines above…

    If God is ‘male’ and our gender is ‘eternal’ – based on the claim that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father …. and therefore women are generically to be subordinate to men…. what do we make of the fact that all believers (male and female) are going to be ‘married’ to the Son in heaven… ?
    (Jesus said there is to be no marriage in heaven b/w humans mt 22:30 …because we are to be married to ‘him’ Rev 19:7-9)
    If gender is going to continue in heaven, it sounds very much against the concept in scripture that marriage is between ‘a man’ and ‘a woman’…

    It just doesn’t hold together for me… for me it seems that gender cannot be an essentially ‘spiritual’ thing – rather it’s just how we are here on earth…necessary for mulitplication (fulfilling our mandate Gen 1:28!) and earthly marriage is a forshadow of what God intended for us with Christ in heaven as his Bride… (As Paul says in Eph 5 – the marriage b/w Christ and his Church is a profound mystery – illustrated in some humble way through human marriage). There is no male and female (in a spiritual sense) in Christ (Gal 3:28).

    Anyone disagree? Agree?

    it seems to me that each of these comp ‘arguments’ above are built upon each other and round and round they go…it’s a bit like a bowl of spaghetti all mixed together into one big supposedly ‘convincing’ dish – but if they are individually assessed scripturally on their own merits they fall way short of being convincing (in my humble opinion!)
    i guess when it’s all said in a rush ‘together’ the argument seems stronger and more comprehensive, but when ‘dismantled’ and studied at each level it seems to me to fall apart.
    as someone who currently finds myself to be sitting in the egalitarian side of the fence , I am trying to learn how to discuss the egal-comp stuff with those who are on the ‘other side’ in a helpful way… so much emotion seems to come into play… my approach at the moment is to try and ‘break’ the argument down in to these (supposedly interrelated) individual claims and assess them for their ‘own’ merits… i am praying it will help!

    (I sure can ramble on – sorry! Just processing my own thoughts again I guess!)

    (-: kerryn

  17. This is somewhat off-topic, but there is a question comps need to be asked:

    A common charge against egalitarianism is that it would “emasculate the church”. Since the church is the Bride of Christ, then how can it be “emasculated”? How do you emasculate a bride?

    Yes, Kerryn, comp. theology is circular. It draws meandering lines around gifting and tears the body of Christ in half. As someone else stated (can’t remember which blog), comps use a “pink hermeneutic” that says “A man can do anything not expressly forbidden in scripture, but a woman can’t do anything not expressly allowed for her in scripture.”

  18. Thanks Paula. you are right about ‘pink he5meneutics i think…
    incosistency in the approach to scripture seems to be a constant challenge…

    some claim that 1 tim 3:2 ‘excludes’ women from eldership because it ‘only’ says husband of one wife…. yet if the same logic is applied to Ex 20:17… ONLY men are not to covet their neighbour’s spouse…
    (let alone the whole issue of ‘having to be married and have children that follow the Lord etc from 1 Tim 2)

    k

  19. This is just shocking to read.

    “Pay off”???? What?

    Also, why would Jesus have to go after something he already possessed?

    “Burk thus renders the sense of the verse as, “Although Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something he should go after also” (139). The payoff, then, of Burk’s careful grammatical investigation is that Philippians 2:6 affirms the ontological equality of Father and Son while maintaining the functional subordination of the Son, even in his pre-existent state (cf. 139–40 n. 46).”

    If you already have something you do not have to go after it! That is just a silly statement to make and I am appalled that noted theologians have not taken him to task for such a statement.

    He IS equal with God, therefore Burk’s statement about Jesus viewing the reality that He IS God and therefore EQUAL to God since He IS God “something he should go after also” makes no sense.

    Why would the Creator of the Universe have to “go after” something when all things are His? This is a frightful example of bad theology.

    Jesus being God, came to the earth and set aside what was already His [equality with God] until His work on this earth was accomplished. Because equality with God was already His, He laid it aside. Laying something aside [temporarily] is hugely different than not going after something.

    “After all as I discussed with Mr. Ware – that if women are subordinated to men this doesn’t mean that Jesus is eternally subordinated to the Father. In other words, Jesus can be completely equal with the Father in every way and this doesn’t mean that women cannot also be subordinated to men. Each issue should be dealt with separately and it is such a shame that subordinationists cannot seem to leave the two as separate.”

    Exactly, Cheryl! I do not see how the two are connected and I totally see that Jesus being completely equal with the Father in no way affects the comp argument that a WIFE is subject to her husband. All I see is fear coming from the complementarian camp when it comes to making their arguments. When we have to stoop to make God subordinate because He is self-described as “ezer” instead of admitting that the word “ezer” does not imply subordination, we have surely lost.

  20. Corrie,
    You said:

    “If you already have something you do not have to go after it! That is just a silly statement to make and I am appalled that noted theologians have not taken him to task for such a statement.”

    I agree with you completely! I was so shocked to hear and read the statements that makes Jesus to be not equal in some way with God and yet know that theologians and Pastors aren’t jumping up to take these men to task for what they are doing to Jesus. Men like this would only find themselves agreeing with groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and it totally blows my mind that we let these men get away with saying these things. Is it because we value degrees and book learning so much that we cannot call someone to task if he is highly educated? Have we become mindless robots who nod our heads and let these guys put down the Son of God to a inferior place in the Trinity? I just question when we will wake up and see what has happened to the church. Will we see the wolf skin when they question the resurrection? What really is next?

  21. I’ve just GOT to say that this whole idea of comps that men and women are “equal but different” actually sort of reminds me a little bit of the phrase “separate but equal,” which was nothing more than a bunch of garbage from a bunch of racial bigots that simply wanted to keep their white children from going to the same school with black children. The government TRIED to present this idea of “separate but equal” but there was nothing at all EQUAL about it. The white kids had it TONS better than the black kids did and everybody knew it. Now we have a bunch of sad, sorry, chauvinistic bigots against women who are trying to present the same idea of recycled hogwash, that women are “separate but equal” to men in terms of roles, both in marriage and ministry. *Vomit!* Now true, the “roles,” so to speak, of man and woman, of husband and wife, of father and mother, do differ, but it all basically boils down to the fact that we’re all to serve each other out of love, regardless of what role, be it a role of leadership or anything these, is played by whom. Just like in the racially prejudiced “separate but equal” days, all this really comes down to is a bunch of male chauvinist pigs wanting to turn women into second class citizens just as white people wanted to do to blacks decades ago, to feed their pathetic male egos. *Rolleyes*

  22. I just experienced my first real encounter of the “separate but equal” theory as I found my church would be partnering with a Christian university/seminary to offer courses to our church members. The courses are aimed at : 1. Becoming a Pastor, 2. Theological premesis for becoming a church Leader. There are courses in both the graduate and undergraduate. The courses are significantly well priced, and as I inquired about taking some of these courses, our associate pastor got back to me. My heart sank. He stated, “The degrees are focused on ministry; so their scope is limited. For those seeking degrees they would be primarily in the area of local church ministry, especially church planting and pastoring. However, it sounds like women in ministry will also find this material very beneficial, both professionally and in their spiritual growth.” HOWEVER??? Personal spiritual growth is fine and dandy, but don’t even think about becoming a pastor… you can do anything BUT…. You know, when you get right down to the heart of it, it’s all about PRIDE. Authority…. WHAT DID CHRIST DO? He laid down HIS life & all authority HE had under heaven to serve the church —- not on a platform behind a pulpit but ON THE CROSS. Tell me who’s in violation of scripture. I just don’t get how so many “top” educated people can be so deceived and indoctrinated with lies and not see it. Oye!

  23. I suppose I really had two encounters in this area. I forgot the other one was when I was spending time with my father who came to visit. He stated that he agreed women had a place in ministry, in Sunday school, teaching, in the kitchen, teaching other women, etc… Then I asked him if I could be a pastor, he just shook his head , and said, “eh, um , sorry.”. Thanks Dad.

  24. I suppose I really had two encounters in this area. I forgot the other one was when I was spending time with my father who came to visit. He stated that he agreed women had a place in ministry, in Sunday school, teaching, in the kitchen, teaching other women, etc… Then I asked him if (in his understanding of the scripture, as having his MDiv and having pastored many churches) I could be a pastor, he just shook his head , and said, “eh, um , sorry.”. Thanks Dad.

  25. sorry about that LRC. Such issues of discrimination are likely to be around for a while. No sense in staying in a church where one is forbidden to grow, or strongly discouraged.

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