Functional Subordination and Eternal Inequality

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In my last post, I argued that complementarians are not subordinationists in the sense of the heresy of subordinationism. There's one related charge that I wanted to save for its own post. One prominent egalitarian who makes this argument is Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. This gets us more into the human gender roles issue than the previous post, which focused mostly on the Trinitarian issues. [Update: I believe I linked to the wrong essay. I think it's this one. I'll leave the other one in, because it's a signficant discussion by her on the general issue, but this is the one I quote from below.]

Groothuis' argument concedes that there's a difference between being and function. She says that something can be functionally subordinate temporarily and not be subordinate in being. What she doesn't allow is that something can be functionally subordinate for its entire existence without thereby being subordinate in being. She thus distinguishes between functional subordination and female subordination, saying that functional subordination would be fine if that were really what complementarians held, but she thinks the complementarian view, which she calls female subordination, goes beyond functional subordination while claiming to be just functional subordination.

In female subordination, the criterion for who is subordinate to whom has nothing to do with expediency or the abilities of individuals to perform particular functions. Rather, it is determined entirely on the basis of an innate, unchangeable aspect of a woman's being, namely, her female sexuality. Her inferior status follows solely from her essential nature as a woman. Regardless of how traditionalists try to explain the situation, the idea that women are equal in their being, yet unequal by virtue of their being, simply makes no sense. If you cannot help but be what you are, and if inferiority in function follows necessarily and exclusively from what you are, then you are inferior in your essential being.

For now, I'll grant her the tendentious use of the term 'subordination'. I think she uses it to smuggle in the sense of inequality that she wants to argue complementarianism is committed to, when complementarians who use that term do not mean what she means by it. But for now I'll use her terminology, with that worry in mind. You can't build into the notion of subordination something complementarians don't mean by it, without arguing only against a position no one holds. I think I can make my point even using that term, but we must keep in mind that complementarianism isn't committed to superior or inferior roles, just difference of roles. In the same way that an elder of a congregation is not superior to any "ordinary" member, so too a husband is not superior to a wife. Even if you insist that these role differences involve different levels of authority, it does not amount to a greater or lesser role any more than serving a congregation by occupying a position of teaching and leading does not involve any superiority.

I know of three positions within complementarianism, and what each will say to her argument will be slightly different:

1. God has commanded gender role differences because of differences of capacity in men and women that God has built into creation. While these aren't absolute differences, they are general tendencies that ground male headship in marriage and the restriction of eldership to men. This is probably the most traditional position, but it's falling out of favor nowadays among complementarians, largely because general tendencies can't easily ground absolute commands. Some women are better Bible teachers than some men, for instance. How can a command that women not teach men be based in something that isn't absolute? So I wouldn't recommend this particular complementarian view, but I do know people who hold it.

2. Women are not inherently different as a group from men, but God has assigned women a position of functional subordination in marriage and in terms of who may occupy one particular office of church leadership (the elder). The purpose for God's choice is at least partly just for order (someone has to lead in marriage) and at least partly to illustrate the role distinctions of the equal persons of the Trinity. This assigning of gender roles has nothing to do with inherent differences between men and women but results from God's plan for an ordered society and God's desire to reflect the unity and diversity in the Trinity in how human beings relate to each other. On this view, it's almost arbitrary that men can have an authoritative role that women are not given. It's not entirely arbitrary, because it's based on men being created first, but those who hold this view do not speculate about why God chose men to be created first. (There's no assumption that there's no reason, but the idea is that the reason doesn't have to do with a superior or inferior nature of one or the other, and it also doesn't have to do with any particular abilities of one or the other.) D.A. Carson has defended this position, and I think it's become a fairly common view among complementarians today.

3. God instituted gender role distinctions because of the order principle and the Trinitarian issue in the previous post, and therefore not based on any intrinsic difference between men and women, but God has fashioned how he made male and female in some ways based on the roles he intended to assign to men and women. This view allows for differences in male and female gifting, but they do not explain the differences in gender roles. The order of explanation is the other way around. God's decision to institute role distinctions is the reason for the different giftings (or at least different tendencies among giftings). The first edition of Women in the Church, ed. Kostenberger and Schreiner, one of the strongest defenses of complementarian views on I Timothy 2, took this view, but the second edition of that book leaves that chapter out for some reason. (I'm not entirely sure why, but perhaps not all the contributors agreed with it. Several chapters were removed, so it may have been for other reasons.)

None of the three complementarian views allows for what Groothuis calls female subordination, which she then argues is different from mere functional subordination. On views 1 and 3, there are different abilities (as general tendencies, anyway), but these are not the ground of functional subordination for view 3 (and thus her claim that this is based in an inferior nature cannot follow from view 3). They are not lesser or greater abilities on any of these views, just different abilities. So the notion of inferiority that she's building into the term 'functional subordination' does seem to me to misrepresent any complementarian view. What's even worse is that on view 2 there isn't even a difference in abilities, just a difference of functional roles. That certainly doesn't involve an inequality of nature, since there's no difference in nature to ground such an inequality. So how can she think that there's some inequality of nature here? She admits that complementarians sometimes don't acknowledge an inequality of nature, but she thinks they say enough to commit them to inequality of nature anyway:

There are other ways in which female subordination differs significantly from functional subordination. Functional subordination is limited in scope to the specific function that is at issue, or it is limited in duration to the time it takes for the function to be accomplished or for the subordinated person to "outgrow" his limitations. Often, it is limited in both scope and duration. For example, a committee member is subordinate to the committee chair only with respect to the task of the committee and only until the committee has completed its task. The music student is subordinate to her teacher only when it comes to playing the piano and only as long as her piano playing skills are inferior to those of her teacher. By contrast, the subordination of a woman to her husband’s authority covers all her activities, and endures throughout all her life. She never outgrows it, and it never ends.

First, she again assumes that this subordination is bad. Why is it bad if this subordination never ends? It must be bad to begin with if it's bad that it never ends. On a committee, no one thinks the difference in roles has anything to do with difference in nature, and that's not just because the role relation is temporary. It's because the roles aren't about differences in nature. It's simply a structure, an ordering of relationship. There's a sense in which it's hierarchical, but it's not subordination in the sense of one person being lesser than the other. It's simply a difference of authority, which need have nothing to do with differences of nature.

If I think of my not being an elder in my congregation as somehow being inferior, I might someday want to grow out of my inferior position and become an elder in my congregation. But that assumes something false. The elder role is for those God has set apart to exercise a particular kind of leadership in a local congregation, and there's no assumption in any biblical text that elders are somehow better in their very nature than anyone else. There's no assumption that the apostles were better in their nature than anyone else in their time, and yet they had a role that no one else will ever have, the role of leading the church in its foundational stages and completing the canon of scripture. That role is not temporary. Paul and Peter are still apostles, and I am not an apostle in that sense (though I have been an apostle in the missionary sense, which is a temporary role).

I don't think anyone has a right to expect ever to hold the position of elder. I think it may even be immoral to expect such a thing. So why is my current role as a "mere" member somehow inferior? It's not assigning an inferior role to women by limiting the eldership to men. To think that it is would be to assume that eldership is somehow a better position, as if those who end up as elders somehow have a better essential nature than other people. It's because of a false view of what leadership is that egalitarians can even get going on the claim that difference of role means inequality of nature. Difference of role doesn't mean inequality of role, at least in the sense that one role is inferior and the other superior.

I would say the same about authority in marriage. That doesn't have the same structural relations, since it's only two people and not a few men over a mixed group of many, but it does have the most crucial element. In marriage, submission to authority is purely voluntary, with no possibility of anything like excommunication. So it's less strong even than authority in the church, at least in that respect. Husbands are never told to make their wives submit. It's simply something wives are told to do. Elders might have to take matters into their hands if someone in the congregation is grossly sinning, causing division, etc. There's no brute use of power in male authority in marriage in any biblical text I know of.

Furthermore, not every adult man or woman is married. So it's wrong to think of this as some absolute, eternal condition that applies the same to all women regardless of their condition and all men regardless of their condition. Male authority applies to men who are elders and men who are husbands. Female submission applies to women who are married and to every member of a congregation, including the elders who ought to submit to the other elders in many cases (and perhaps even to the congregation as a whole in certain instances, e.g. when the elders in my congregation serve on setup teams under the authority of setup team leaders, who themselves are under the deacons' authority; the congregation may also play a role in removing an elder who has violated the trust of such a position of authority). This complexity makes Groothuis' presentation of gender roles as eternally applicable in exactly the same ways for all time for every person sound incredibly oversimplified.

Second, Groothuis makes a major philosophical blunder. Her husband, Douglas Groothuis, makes the same mistake in his Amazon review of a complementarian book that on (scroll down to Februay 17, 2004).] It amazes me that a Ph.D.-trained philosopher doesn't recognize the problem with this argument, which makes the following inference: If something has a property eternally, then it must have it essentially.

An essential property is something that you had to have. You wouldn't be you if you didn't have it. You wouldn't exist if nothing had it. An eternal property is simply something that is always true of you actually, but that doesn't mean it had to be true of you. It may just happen to be true of you. Suppose Adam had a beard when he was created, and he never shaved it before he died. When he gets resurrected, he'll have a beard. Suppose he never shaves it for all eternity. Does that mean he has a beard as an essential property? Of course not. He could have shaved it at any time. He just didn't.

Happening to have a property everlastingly does not amount to having it essentially. She's confusing something's being essential with something's being true for eternity. Something's being actually true, even forever, does not amount to its being essential to whatever it's true of. Her argument relies on a principle that confuses those two things. [To return briefly to the Trinitarian issue, I think it's worth pointing out that the complementarian view that says Jesus eternally submits to the Father holds that Jesus's submission is of his own free choice and not because of any difference in nature. I'm currently in discussion with Brandon over whether an orthodox Trinitarian can admit to this sort of thing (he says no, because of reasons entirely unrelated to subordinationism), but I don't think that affects this question.]

Now this doesn't mean gender roles are anything like Adam's having a beard. It's not as if complementarians think I can just forsake my God-given obligation to lead my family. I have the obligation, whether I recognize it or not. I can shave my beard whenever I want. Gender roles are more tied to us than beards. But that doesn't mean they're part of our essence. Views 2 and 3 hold that gender roles' basis isn't in our nature to begin with, so how can their remaining in place everlastingly mean they're in our nature? That would be nonsense. Even on view 1, it's not clear if we should count them as essential properties. It's part of what happens to be true of men and women, and this is grounded in nature in some sense, but is it grounded in my nature as me? I'm not sure. But even if it is (and I reiterate that this could only be true in view 1, which I've disrecommended), if these role differences aren't bad then I'm not sure why it would be bad to have them as part of our natures anyway. If there's no inferiority to it, then it doesn't amount to inferiority of essence even if it's part of men's and women's natures. So either way there's no necessary connection with an inferior nature.

So I think her argument just relies on several moves that just don't follow from the complementarian view, and it seems to me that complementarianism isn't intentionally or unintentionally smuggling in some commitment to inequality of nature. It isn't committed to that at all.


Good deal. I will be back again to finish reading this.

- Raj

Hi Jeremy,

I'm a complimentarian and I tent to agree with view 2.

I have not read Rebecca’s full argument so I can’t really comment on it. But I will say that, while she may not have captured accurately the complimentarian view(s) or even conveyed effectively her own objections, I think there’s some merit in what she’s trying to say (from what I can gather from your excerpts).

Even as a complimentarian, I’ve been trying to pin down this seeming “notrightness��? (my made-up word) about the whole issue. Equal essence, different roles. Maybe the terminology is inadequate. Who would dispute equality of essence? And, among those of us who accept what the Bible teaches, who would dispute God’s established order for men and women.

But here are a few things to consider:

(1) You call it a philosophical blunder to say that, “[i]f something has a property eternally, then it must have it essentially.��? I agree that essence speaks of necessity. But I think the argument is that if something has a certain property or attribute eternally (that it is true in all possible worlds under all possible circumstances), then it is the functional equivalent of having that property essentially. While one may not necessarily result in the other, I think the point is that there is no meaningful difference. If women are subordinate to men eternally, then regardless of their true essence, they are the functional equivalent of being the subordinate sex. Maybe that’s not what they’re saying, but I think it is worth thinking about in these terms. (We often interpret the arguments of those who do not share our views in the worst possible light, but then we fail to appreciate the thoughts and ideas that the opponent brings to the table which may or may not be meritorious. If we consider them with greater equanimity, we may learn something in the process.)

(2) As I said earlier, maybe the terminology is inadequate. Maybe we need a third category—something like “state��? or “status.��? For instance (and I have not thought this through), women are equal in essence, but, in this fallen world, we willingly submit to God’s established order which affords a certain status and allows for certain roles. We maintain equality of essence, but we willingly and obediently make no claim to it in our humbled state. This humbled state may be the functional equivalent of being unequal in essence.

(3) I feel like I’m being corrected everywhere (and maybe rightly so), but I still feel that the roles themselves seem to be lesser or lower or unequal in some way. Saying otherwise seems contrary to reason and experience. I think hierarchy implies some sort of inequality (not necessarily of essence). Women teaching over women and men teaching over men—there’s no inherent inequality there. Men serving as elders and pastors and women being precluded from serving as elders and pastors—there is obviously a difference in treatment here (I have no aspirations of being an elder or a pastor). Different treatment generally means inequality. But we are reluctant to say something is unequal—because the Bible clearly teaches equality of essence. That is why maybe we need another category. I think we can say “inequality��? in some way (perhaps “status��?) without offending biblical teaching.

When Jesus humbled himself and took the form of a servant. We can say He relinquished equality temporarily (He was equal, but made no claim to it) and accepted the lower status of man, even the servant of all. Man is lower than God and a servant is lower than his master. I think it does not offend Scripture to say that Jesus accepted inequality temporarily—and, in fact, I think it only adds to the magnitude of His sacrifice.

As I have said elsewhere, I don’t think that different treatment is wrong, I think it’s biblically mandated. The reason why I think this point is worth thinking through is not to demand equal treatment, but to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a man and woman in ministry and truly live out biblical complimentarianism. When we say that the roles are different, but equal—because we are equal in essence, I think we are speaking incoherently. I think it would be more reasonable to say that our roles are different because we have assumed an unequal status temporarily in obedience to God’s established order despite our equality of essence (or something to that effect).

These are some of my tentative thoughts on the subject. What are your thoughts?

And, among those of us who accept what the Bible teaches, who would dispute God’s established order for men and women.

Egalitarians do, actually. They don't describe it as disputing God's established order for men and women, but if complementarianism is correct then that's exactly what they're doing.

From 1: if something has a certain property or attribute eternally (that it is true in all possible worlds under all possible circumstances), then it is the functional equivalent of having that property essentially.

According to your definitions, that would follow. It wouldn't just be the functional equivalent. It would be the most fundamental way to have a property essentially. The only problem is that you defined 'eternal' with the definition of 'essential', and they're not synonyms. Having an attribute eternally is not the same as having an attribute in all possible worlds. Having it eternally means that there's no moment in time in the actual world when it's not true of the thing. It says nothing about whether it had to be true in any other world.

2: The complementarian view recognizes the biblical ground of these things in the creation order and not in the fall. That comes up in both I Cor 11 and I Tim 2, I believe.

3: There's obviously a difference in treatment. What I'm disputing is that's better or worse to be in either role. See Jollyblogger's latest post on this. Any assumption that serving someone is inferior is simply pagan and not tolerable according to the teaching of the apostles. Serving is the model of leadership. Submission is the model Christ gave for us. Any negative connotation of either role as inferior is simply giving in to worldly values. The egalitarian argument does exactly that.

As for Jesus, I Cor 15 makes it clear that when all things are put under his feet it will not include the Father. He will still be under the Father even in his fully glorified state. That's not temporary submission. See the previous post.


I’ve been thinking about 1 Corinthians 15 for a while. I agree that the passage clearly excludes the Father and that the Son ultimately will subject Himself to the Father. But I wonder if the last phrase “so that God may be all in all��? refers to the complete Godhead? It does not specify that “God��? refers only to God the Father. It seems reasonable to interpret this as the complete Godhead because the passage is speaking of God being all in all—a sense of wholeness and completion.

You said: “Any assumption that serving someone is inferior is simply pagan and not tolerable according to the teaching of the apostles. Serving is the model of leadership. Submission is the model Christ gave for us. Any negative connotation of either role as inferior is simply giving in to worldly values.��?

Even in being mindful of kingdom ethics (i.e., the greatest is the servant of all), I think there’s a sense of inequality. I’ll think this through and try to post something more comprehensive. One further consideration, though, is whether practical considerations (how men really perceive women and how women really are treated in solid evangelical churches) should factor into the equation. Also, if Jesus "humbled" himself and took the form of a servant--the idea of descending to take this role suggests that the role remains inherently inferior in the grand scheme of things.

But I wonder if the last phrase “so that God may be all in all��? refers to the complete Godhead? It does not specify that “God��? refers only to God the Father. It seems reasonable to interpret this as the complete Godhead because the passage is speaking of God being all in all—a sense of wholeness and completion.

That sounds plausible. But one way of taking that that seems most plausible to me is that the unity and diversity of role distinctions with perfect equality will be demonstrated in all its glory.

Also, if Jesus "humbled" himself and took the form of a servant--the idea of descending to take this role suggests that the role remains inherently inferior in the grand scheme of things.

Not necessarily. It might mean that Jesus descended in terms of the standards of the world, not necessarily a descending in more absolute terms. There's a forsaking of glory in a way that appears inferior, but I don't see how that would make Jesus inferior to what he is by his nature.


I just posted on the subject. In my post, I addressed your earlier comment regarding the complimentarian view being grounded on the creation order. I wrote:

Maybe a more fundamental question has to be asked first, namely, is God’s established order of church governance a continuation or reflection of God’s created order or is it the result of the fall?

I would argue it is the result of the fall. Although, as stated in my earlier post, the Apostle Paul grounds these rules for church governance on certain fundamental truths (see, e.g., 1 Tim. 2:11-13), this alone does not establish that the church governance rules reflect God’s order prior to the introduction of sin in the world. God simply provided external structure consistent with His prior revelation concerning men and women—namely, that men were created first and then women.

But the fall makes the rules necessary in the first instance. I do not believe that the church governance rules reflect God’s perfect order. They are simply necessary because human beings are self-interested and, if left to their own devices, would seek only their own gain.

Before sin entered the world, our will was aligned properly and inclined toward God. But, as a result of sin, our will is hopelessly set against God. In our sin nature, we neither do what is good nor seek after God. But now, because of Christ, we are again aligned toward God and we aim to seek the things that have eternal value. God counts us as righteous--and yet we still sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us��? (1 John 1:8).

Therefore, even within the church, God has to supply external structure to maintain peace within and to accomplish His purposes in the world. The rules of church governance supply this external structure. As I stated in my earlier post, “some hierarchy of leadership is necessary for the proper functioning of any social unit, including the family and the church. Without designating a leader, there is potential for disorder and disunity. We know that God is a God of order and His desire is that we would be united in love and, particularly within the church, united in purpose to accomplish kingdom objectives.��? The rules of church governance, therefore, are based on God’s created order, but are necessary because of the fall.

From this perspective, there is a legitimate basis for recognizing that, in this fallen world, despite our equality of essence, women are asked to assume a lower status, i.e., the one who submits to male authority.

I would add that creation order alone does not suggest that women should submit to male authority. Before the fall, no one has to say love one another, submit to one another, and consider the interests of others above your own. Church governance order is like God's rule permitting divorce--it becomes necessary only because of sin. As we discussed earlier, if everyone was of the same mind and will, there is no need for God to impose some external structure--we would glorify God naturally.

By the way, I'm still thinking through what it meant for Jesus to humble himself to take the form of a servant. A couple of things I'm trying to keep in mind is (1) how meaningful or realistic is it to separate ourselves entirely from how the world works when we must still live in it. We insist on the ideal when the ideal often has no application in reality. I tend to be Platonic in my thinking, usually focusing too much on abstract ideals, and yet I recognize that the these ideals don't work in the real world. And by thinking this way, we may be providing an unworkable model--one that is not true to life and experience. I honestly think that Jesus, though never compromising and always upholding the standard of perfection, still taught in a way that showed that he, as he said, knew what was in man.

Also, (2) regardless of how we "ought" to think about the different roles, that does not change the fundamental character of that role. We should treat the servant just as well as his master, and yet that does not change the fact that the servant remains a servant. Jesus said that He came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. The position, being what it is, meant that that Jesus had to be humbled and abased--profoundly. He certainly is not saying that he came to take the position of that we ought to ascribe the greatest honor. He is speaking of sacrifice, of emptying self. So, I still think that the role (in essnece) remains inherently inferior. As I said, I'm still thinking this one through.


I'm not sure exactly what you're proposing, but there's a clear sense of Adam having over Eve before the fall. He names her, as he named the animals, which to the ancient near eastern mind is clearly a signal of authority. The whole fall narrative is structured to represent a fall from the hierarchy of authority God had ordained. The divinely instituted order is God, Adam, Eve. The tempter's order is Satan, Eve, Adam. There are several chiasms of disordering and at times reordering in the early chapters of Genesis, and at least one or two of them have to do with Adam's authority at a position before Eve.

Now maybe all you mean is that the principle is true but the rule doesn't have to be instituted before the fall, because rules weren't needed before the fall. I'll grant you that. But I don't think that amounts to much of a differnece from the standard complementarian view, and it's drastically removed from the standard egalitarian view. The standard egalitarian says that there is no difference of roles until the fall in any sense, and then the punishment for Eve sinning first is that women are to submit to men in a way that is demeaning, but that gets fixed in the new covenant when Jesus restores women to full equality with men and full sameness of roles.

One worry I have about your emphasis on rules is that I don't think this is supposed to be about rules. There are principles that guide the selection of elders, and one of them is that the eldership is ideally restricted to men (though there would have to be exceptions for contexts when all the men of leadership ability are arrested in persecutions). But the clear sense of Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and I Peter 2 is not that there's some rule for wives to follow to submit to their husbands. The husbands aren't told to make their wives do anything. The wives are told to submit to their husbands voluntarily and primarily out of their love for Christ. Reducing that to a rule really misrepresents it.

As I've said several times in this discussion, I think it's misleading to describe the complementarian view as women submitting to male authority. That sounds as if all the women submit to all the men. Everyone in the church submits to the elders' authority. This includes most of the men submitting to the elders. It restricts the role of elder to men, but it's not women submitted to men. It's congregation submitted to elders.

I think I would still want to say that a servant role is better in the sense that someone who serves is better off, has a better life, because of that servant role. It's better to be like that, and I think it's a way that we display more of the character of God when we put others' interests first.

If you like Plato, I would expect you to be inclined this way anyway. His conception of justice is that is best to be just, no matter what else is true of you even if it's a life of suffering. The internal state of being a good person is the good life, and a life is better for it. I think he goes too far by not counting good things in God's creation as good, something Augustine wants to counterbalance despite his own Platonic sensibilities. But there's still something in Plato that I think comports well with the New Testament conception of the good life (and not just NT -- it's clearly there in Proverbs and other OT places).


Thanks for your responses.

I think you're right about women submitting specifically to those in authority over them.

And I think you're right to differentiate between "rules" and "principles." I generally use the terms interchangeably--I think of the law and rules as grounded in principles. When I speak, I have the principles in mind. I am bound by rules, but I am compelled by principle. To me, it's all about principles (this may be why I have a greater appreciation for the Old Testament).

I still tend to disagree with the description of "full sameness of roles"--but I think I may be simply bickering over semantics. I'm complimentarian through and through--I entirely agree with the biblical teaching on our different roles.

As for being Platonic--I was referring to his dualism. The spirit gives life, the flesh profits nothing. If only for this life we live, we ought to be pitied above all men... Maybe I place too much emphasis on the spiritual/eternal, and not enough on the present life. I know, Jesus was speaking of our sin nature, not our physical life. And I agree that Plato goes too far by not appreciating the good things in the present life.

Still, how I long for heaven. My soul longs, even faints, for the courts of the living God.


What is wrong with subordination in the case of women to men is that there is no ontological or logical basis for it if men and women are equal in being. Your committee example fails because it is not analogous to the hierarchialist notion of women being subordinated in all areas of life to men simply because they are women (something they will always be in in their being).

On view 2, there's no ontological or logical basis of it within humanity, but that doesn't mean there's no ontological or logical basis for it. The basis for it is in the Trinity.

On view 3, the same is true except that there is a reflection of it within humanity that isn't present on view 2.

On view 1, there is an ontological basis for it, but it's not one of inequality. It's one of role.

Your last point commits the same fallacy I spent most of the post explaining. I'm not going to repeat all that simply because you've reasserted the point. It's the beard example that's relevant, not the committee one. An eternal committee that has roles selected but not based on ontological inequality is a more apt analogy to the standard complementarian position, and that's exactly what complementarians say is true of the Trinity. The committee example is Rebecca's, by the way, not mine.

Hello Jeremy,

What kind of a property is the property of "living in the Universe" ? Essential or accidental?

trapped in ugh... North Carolina

If it's impossible for us to live outside the universe, then it's technically essential, but if the universe is just the physical universe, and we are not merely physical beings but can exist apart from the physical universe, then it's accidental.

Phil Gons has an excellent reply to this argument as offered by Keith Yandell and Tom McCall. He points out that the same argument, if valid, shows that the Father and Son can't be distinctively the Father and Son without being each necessarily the Father and Son and thus being each essentially the Father and Son, which in turn means they have different essences. So if orthodox Trinitarianism is to be maintained, then they better not endorse this argument as valid. I've shown how it's not valid in the post above, but the kind of criticism Gons offers is a lot more effective rhetorically even if it doesn't deliver the finishing blow of showing where the argument goes wrong.

Correction: The Yandell/McCall argument is actually a different argument. The way Gons had presented it, it seemed as if it made the same mistake, but it turns out he'd forgotten a crucial "in all possible worlds" in the first premise. So the problem has to be located elsewhere, but there must be a problem in the argument if orthodox Trinitarianism is correct. I think he's right that there must be two different senses of essential property at work, one according to how the creeds use that kind of language and the other according to how we must be driven to speak by distinguishing between the Father and Son to begin with.

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