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.
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.