“The head of Christ is God”: ESS, Complementarianism, and the History of Interpretation

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In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (v. 3). In this verse, the word “head” refers to one who is in a position of authority over the other, as this Greek word (kephale) uniformly does whenever it is used in ancient literature to say that one person is “head of” another person or group. So Paul is here referring to a relationship of authority between God the Father and God the Son, and he is making a parallel between that relationship in the Trinity and the relationship between the husband and wife in marriage. This is an important parallel because it shows that there can be equality and differences between persons at the same time. […]

Just as the Father and Son are equal in deity and are equal in all their attributes, but different in role, so husband and wife are equal in personhood and value, but are different in the roles that God has given them. Just as God the Son is eternally subject to the authority of God the Father, so God has planned that wives would be subject to the authority of their own husbands. (Wayne Grudem, Biblical Foundations of Manhood and Womanhood, pp. 48-49)

1 Corinthians 11:3 is a/the linchpin passage in the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS)-meets-Complementarianism argument. Denny Burk, the current President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, has said as much himself (see, e.g., HERE).  Three premises are required for the ESS/Complementarian argument to succeed.

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John Calvin’s “Calvinism” vs. John Gill’s “Calvinism”, via Some Key Texts

GIll Commentaries

Can both Johns announce indiscriminately to all sinners, “God loves you and sent His Son to die for you”? Or, Calvin’s Calvinism vs. Gill’s Calvinism, as demonstrated by their respective commentaries on a few key texts.

Let’s take look. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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A Short on Perseverance & Assurance in the Canons of Dort

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I had argued in an earlier post, “Some Quick Reminders of what TULIP is NOT,” the following:

The perseverance of a believer is not due to a subjective state of heart and mind that, once achieved, guarantees future glorification, come what may. The perseverance of a believer is the preserving power and faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This section of the article (covering the “P”) seems to have met with the most resistance, largely because it (1) appeared to imply that “true faith” can be lost—that one who is once a true believer can thereafter “fall away,” and (2) appeared to some to imply that there is therefore no basis for true assurance since something more like the subjective “once truly believed, always will believe” model is a better basis of assurance.

But I am nevertheless completely certain that what I had offered was indeed the actual teaching of the Reformers and specifically the Canons of Dort, the very document that has given us the so called “TULIP” to begin with.  First, let’s take a look at the Fourth/Fifth Head of Doctrine of the Canons, Article 3:

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Union With Christ in the Heidelberg Catechism

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Are all men, then, saved by Christ as they have perished in Adam?

No; only such as by true faith are engrafted into Him, and receive all His benefits. (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 20)

There has been much debate in Reformed Christendom over the last few decades over the nature of our Union with Christ, especially as it relates to the ordo and historia salutis. I have no intention here to rehearse the debate, nor even to definitively pick a side, especially given the overlap and fuzziness of the multiple positions. It would appear, in brief, that the most exercised combatants in this debate are either those who style themselves defenders of Justification by Faith alone contra those who would have vital, mystical, or existential Union with Christ as the source of faith, justification, and regeneration (the supposed error of Norman Shepherd), and those on the other hand who see themselves as defending the central role of Union with Christ against those who would reduce Christianity to a religion of Justification by Faith, with multiple Christ Unions accounting for the various benefits of salvation, each following upon the other in tidy Reformed ordo fashion (the supposed “Lutheran” position).

In this post and the next, it is rather my intention to simply see where my Confessions stand on the topic of Union with Christ, especially the Heidelberg Catechism, which has the most to say about it. In particular, Q/A 20 (above) speaks to the issue in a straightforward manner. So, in this present post, I intend to break down each phrase of the answer, fleshing out the intended meaning by looking to the rest of the Catechism and consulting the writing of its author(s), Zacharias Ursinus and (possibly) Caspar Olevianus. Most attention will be payed to Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (CHC), an invaluable window into the mind of the Catechism’s primary author.

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