Perhaps one of the more sobering truths about the egalitarian-complementarian debate is the reality that more is at stake than just the interpretation of a few words or a few verses. Rather, our whole vision of God is altered by how we view the nature of authority relationships. This is so because authority relationships plainly exist within both the immanent Trinity and the economic functioning of the Trinity.
As it has been noted, the husband is given authority over the wife in 1 Cor. 11:3 because “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Since the word kephalē has never been acknowledged as meaning anything other than “one in authority over another,” we must plainly see that this verse is teaching not only that men are to submit to Christ and that wives are to submit to husbands, but that the example for these requirements to submit is the relationship of Christ submitting to his Father. This example is important because it clearly shows that there can at the same time exist 1) equality in a relationship, and 2) an authority structure within a relationship.
Within the Trinitarian relationship, the Father “gave” his Son (Jn. 3:16) and “sent” the Son (Jn. 3:17, 34; 4:34; 8:42; Gal. 4:4; etc.). The Father predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29; cf. 1 Pet. 1:2) and “chose us in the Son” before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). The Son is obedient to the commands of the Father (Jn. 12:49; Phil. 2:5-10) and confessed that he had come to “do the will” of the Father who “sent him” (Jn. 4:34; 6:38). God the Father created the world “through” his Son (Jn. 1:3; Heb. 1:2; 1 Cor. 8:6). These relationships are never reversed. The Son never initiates of his own will, never directs the Father, never creates through the Father, never sends the Father. The Father never speaks the words that the Son gives him to speak. The Son sits at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 1:3, 13; 1 Pet. 3:22; etc.). The Father never sits at the right hand of the Son.
These relationships are proven to be eternal (ie. they exist in the immanent Trinity and are not limited to the economic functioning of the Trinity while Christ was on earth) for several reasons. It is easily seen that the Father created the world through the Son (see above). Even before the creation of the world, however, the Father chose his elect in Christ to be reconciled to him through Christ (Eph. 1:4-5). Furthermore, passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 make it plain that it was the predetermined and definite plan of God the Father that Christ would come and suffer for the sins of his people (interpretation affirmed by NT preaching; Acts 2:23). Moreover, it is plainly visible in John 17, at the end of Christ’s earthly ministry that he viewed both his words and his own followers as those which God the Father had given him. After the defeat of death, at the consummation of all things, Christ remains under the authority of God the Father who has always held all authority (1 Cor. 15:26-28).
God is one and all parts of the Trinity remain equal in holiness, worth, beauty, etc., yet there is clearly presented within the Trinity an authority structure relationship. All this has yet said nothing about the Holy Spirit who is portrayed as being under the authority of both Father and Son, yet is himself in authority over neither of the others. We must allow this picture to form our understanding of value and authority in a culture that views being in authority as great and being under authority as horrible. The picture of submission within Scripture itself shows that submission to a rightful authority is a beautiful, noble, even wonderful task because it models the Trinity itself. Thus the husband is seen as a picture of Christ (because he is an authority over his wife, as Christ is authority over man) and the woman is seen as a picture of Christ (because Christ is under the authority of the Father and gladly submits to his will). Both positions in the relationship are godly and God-glorifying.