Dear Complementarian:
If you hold to the theological position that God the Son is eternally (read “permanently”) subordinate to God the Father and then ground your belief that submission of the wife to the husband is permanently true because of this theological position, then what does this text mean?

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

(Mt 22:30)

Presumably the text suggests that in eternity human relationships will not include marriage (the question about human reproduction and human sexual relationships is equally suspect). The uses of γαμέω and γαμίζω (words for a man/woman marrying) make it clear that marriage is not part of the eternal state “at the resurrection life” (Note “in the resurrection life” is better τῇ ἀναστάσει; not all who have been raised from the dead experience the resurrection life as with Jairus’ daughter, for example). Thus, in some manner angels are a pattern of the human heavenly state and depict a likeness of the roles between male and female in their heavenly state. Of course, Jesus does not say humans will be angels; only humans will be like angels (Note: “ὡς” ἄγγελοι).

It follows, therefore, that since the husband and wife are no longer married “in the resurrection life,” then submission of the wife to the husband can no longer be required, since their roles are changed in eternity. It is merely temporally true, given your complementarian view, that the husband has authority over the wife and this cannot be eternally true, by virtue of this changed state/role.

The influence of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is considerably large in evangelical camps. It’s sold well over 300,000 copies. Grudem argues that God the Son is eternally subordinate to God the Father and that this is the orthodox pattern held in Scripture and throughout the history of the Church (pp. 249-252. This is seriously brought into question. See Millard J. Erickson’s Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? where he fairly and charitably lays out the views of Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware and calls into question their understanding of the biblical and historical data and “exposes flaws in familial implications derived from the Trinity.”).

In his Systematic Theology Grudem applies this theological position to the husband and wife roles stating that marriage is “a picture of the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Trinity” (p. 257). Elsewhere, Grudem goes so far as to say that what distinguishes the persons within the Trinity is the notion of authority, stating “If we did not have such differences in authority in the relationships among the members of the Trinity, then we would not know of any differences at all” (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, p. 433). Interestingly, in his theology tome no where does Grudem address Mt. 22:30. Even within the chapter on angels, he does not broach this text (p. 397ff). Yet, Jesus draws a clear parallel between angels and humans specifically as it relates to their eternal state.

I find it very confusing, therefore, that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is used as a model to support hierarchical relationships of husband over wife, and the application to marriage is said to be eternally true! If Grudem’s logic is right, then we would not know the differences between male and female in heaven, since what distinguishes them in eternity is the same as what distinguishes the Father and the Son in eternity. Yet Jesus says otherwise. Can you enlighten me please?

You see, I believe Mt 22:30 is not a passage on the Trinity and far be it from me or anyone to jump in bed with Sabellius (or that of Nestorius on the opposite side of things). Yet, when some use the Trinity as a basis for and model of defining roles and relationships between husband and wife, then passages such as Mt 22:30 makes that basis suspect.

Moreover, the question at hand is not whether the Son has always been the Son, but whether or not submission/subordination is fundamentally an ontological property that distinguishes the Son from the Father. To make his case, Grudem argues that this has been historically the case to which I argue this is historically irresponsible. Of course, Scripture makes use of (dare I say condescends to?) human language with familial terminology when referring to the three divine Persons of the Trinity. But when we derive our understanding of husband/wife relationships from an assumed model of authority/submission within the Trinity, this becomes equally suspect, just as Millard Erickson has warned in his Who’s Tampering with the Trinity?. Put differently, I’m less sure how much, if at all, we can ground our understanding about husband and wife roles (note roles here do NOT define the person, but their temporal function) from the Trinity. This is not to say we cannot know something of the intra-personal nature of the Triune being of God, but there are clearly some things we cannot know and perhaps even less we could apply.

I know of no biblically faithful egalitarian who does not also believe the Son willingly submitted himself to the Father during his incarnate state (a prima facie reading of Philippians 2:5-8, e.g.). Thus, the Son is temporally submissive but not eternally so.

Finally, I see no reason why one could not maintain a complementarian position showing that, given Mt 22:30, the wife is temporally submissive to the husband just as the Son was temporally submissive to the Father during the incarnation, the result being that the conflict with Mt 22:30 is removed. But then again, this would be to take Mt 22:30 and apply it to roles within a marriage that Jesus did not intend. He was speaking of the afterlife; not this life.

A disciple of Jesus

See Ian Paul’s excellent essay What will it mean for us to ‘be like the angels’ in Luke 20?

Spread the word (please & thank you) 


  1. Yes Alan. They would have to for consistency. But one can be consistently in error.

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