Is Christ Eternally Subordinate to the Father?

Is the Son eternally subordinate to the Father, while remaining fully equal in power, honor and glory? Or, is Jesus' subordination a role unique to the incarnation?

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Professor Ware explicitly rejects the Nicene notion of eternal generation while asserting that of eternal functional submission.  That is in fact a very radical move to make, though not uncommon today.  Yet its popularity does not make it consistent with a Nicene position.

Well put. The rest is worth reading as well.

AndyE's picture

To be honest, I don't understand the significance of what appears to me to be a redirect to Ware's position regarding eternal generation from the question of eternal functional submission. Is there a theological connection between the two? If Ware does not take a strict Nicene position because he denies eternal generation, does that invalidate his position on eternal functional submission? 

alex o.'s picture

Personally, I have long held the eternal generation of the Son as a pivotal doctrine relating to the Godhead. I see the need to expand my thinking a bit by the weak response by Trueman and Mark Jones.

Ware seems quite right while Trueman can only offer: "not Nicea" which is hardly engaging.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have always personally held to Ware's view. I have his little book Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and have found it very helpful. I am a bit taken aback at the fervency with which this little kerfluffle is being duked out! 

I have always sought to emphasize the different roles of each Person as a way to demonstrate the reality of the Trinity when preaching. Perhaps this is why the eternal subordination position has always made sense to me. Of course, as Ware was quick to point out in his little article, subordination of roles is quite different than actual, intrinsic subordination of power, glory, honor or majesty. I'm only talking about role, not status. 

Once I unpack from my move, I'll be cracking open my systematic theology texts again to study up on this matter. I thought Ware's little article was excellent. I personally find the "not Nicea" argument to be more than a bit weak. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

To pile onto my earlier comments, I need to read up on eternal generation. I spent a great deal of time trying to understand this concept a few years back, and all I got was (1) a headache, and (2) a gnawing feeling that this whole issue was basically going beyond what Scripture said. Perhaps it was because I was reading W.G.T. Shedd? I moved onto other things shortly after. 

I've felt burdened to re-visit that issue lately, and this controversy has hastened my own shame. I'll be taking a close look at this in the next few weeks. If nothing else, I am grateful that the discussion has spurred me to deeper study.  

How controversial is this issue? I wonder, if anybody has an hour or so to look, what most of the "big" systematic theology texts say about eternal subordination? Reymond, Erickson, Strong, McCune, Grudum, Chafer, et al - how big of a divide is there among the "big" ST texts on this matter? 

Berkhof, for instance, wrote:

The Father is neither begotten by, nor proceeds from any other person; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son from all eternity. Generation and procession take place within the Divine Being, and imply a certain subordination as to the manner of personal subsistence, but no subordination as far as the possession of the divine essence is concerned.

L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 89.

I agree with this completely. There is a distinction between the economic and ontological Trinity. Why is this "controversial?" Ware agrees with Berkhof! Are people talking past each other? 

From my seminary class notes (Dr. Larry Oats):

Without ontological inferiority, Christ has a derivative role. “Generation” means that there is a divine sonship prior to the incarnation, that there is a distinction of persons within the Godhead, and that between these persons there is priority and subordination.

This point is debated. Some argue that the subordination of the Son to the Father took place only during the incarnation; others argue that the subordination of the Son (not ontologically, but functionally) is an eternal fact.

I think the opponents of eternal subordination have presented their case with an unwarranted amount of hubris . . . I doubt we'll solve this one here, folks. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

alex o.'s picture

TylerR wrote:

To pile onto my earlier comments, I need to read up on eternal generation. I spent a great deal of time trying to understand this concept a few years back, and all I got was (1) a headache, and (2) a gnawing feeling that this whole issue was basically going beyond what Scripture said. Perhaps it was because I was reading W.G.T. Shedd? I moved onto other things shortly after. 

I've felt burdened to re-visit that issue lately, and this controversy has hastened my own shame. I'll be taking a close look at this in the next few weeks. If nothing else, I am grateful that the discussion has spurred me to deeper study.  

How controversial is this issue? I wonder, if anybody has an hour or so to look, what most of the "big" systematic theology texts say about eternal subordination? Reymond, Erickson, Strong, McCune, Grudum, Chafer, et al - how big of a divide is there among the "big" ST texts on this matter? 

Berkhof, for instance, wrote:

The Father is neither begotten by, nor proceeds from any other person; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son from all eternity. Generation and procession take place within the Divine Being, and imply a certain subordination as to the manner of personal subsistence, but no subordination as far as the possession of the divine essence is concerned.

L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 89.

I agree with this completely. There is a distinction between the economic and ontological Trinity. Why is this "controversial?" Ware agrees with Berkhof! Are people talking past each other? 

From my seminary class notes (Dr. Larry Oats):

Without ontological inferiority, Christ has a derivative role. “Generation” means that there is a divine sonship prior to the incarnation, that there is a distinction of persons within the Godhead, and that between these persons there is priority and subordination.

This point is debated. Some argue that the subordination of the Son to the Father took place only during the incarnation; others argue that the subordination of the Son (not ontologically, but functionally) is an eternal fact.

I think the opponents of eternal subordination have presented their case with an unwarranted amount of hubris . . . I doubt we'll solve this one here, folks. 

 

Here is a paper by Lee Irons which helped me with this concept a couple of years ago. I think he explains it well: http://upper-register.typepad.com/blog/eternal-generation-of-son/

Try here: http://www.upper-register.com/papers/monogenes.html

 

 

Barnes and Ayers' response to Ware on Mortification of Spin isn't very compelling in my view.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There's no question that some of these concepts become like the proverbial nailing-jello-to-wall once you find all the qualifications that are being attached in the "explanation." So it kind of goes: assertion + all the reasons why my assertion is not what it sounds like = nothing left of the assertion (except that this is the way I prefer to say things)?

But I share Trueman's desire to avoid departure form Nicaea. If we're dealing with ideas that fall through the mental fingers like sand anyway, we might as well stick with the old incomprehensible formulation rather than trying to concoct a newer incomprehensible formulation.

James K's picture

If we're dealing with ideas that fall through the mental fingers like sand anyway, we might as well stick with the old incomprehensible formulation rather than trying to concoct a newer incomprehensible formulation.

 

This statement is pure gold, especially when handling the Scripture.

Please remember that Trueman is about historical theology.  Those Presbyterians love their manmade statements to dictate reality.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I just re-read the Nicene Creed (actually, the Constantinople revision of 381), and see nothing amiss. Here is the relevant excerpt:

    And in one Lord JESUS CHRIST,
    the only-begotten Son of God,
    Begotten of the Father before all worlds;
    [God of God],
    Light of Light,
    Very God of very God,
    Begotten, not made,
    Being of one substance with the Father;
    By whom all things were made;

Christ proceeded from the Father, and this indicates some level of economic subordinationism. Yet, He is fully and completely God and one with the Father. What is the problem? 

I also re-read the original post, and am frankly at a loss. This is what the author charges:

Surely it has been the basic stuff of Christian preaching that Christ gave up status and place to take on our humanity and become obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Where is the glory in Christ's humiliation and obedience that have been the theme of our songs through the ages? Let there be no doubt at this point; departure from the faith starts with incremental adjustments to received doctrine, those adjustments eventually lead people away from the faith altogether. So, we urgently need to see how far these men are moving. 

These are fighting words, and I cannot help but wonder what on earth compelled the author to suddenly burst forth with these silly allegations now. Few orthodox theologians would deny the miracle of the incarnation and the amazing condescension of Christ's active and passive obedience. How does emphasizing both the ontological and economic Trinity "depart from the faith?"

The author continued in his second blog post:

To confuse Christ in His state of humiliation with the eternal Son as He was ‘with God in the beginning’ is to move beyond Scripture and Christian orthodoxy as historically understood. 

The author put a great deal of stock in an alleged Covenant of Works (which, and pardon me for being theologically impolite, is a fictional covenant) to support his view. The bottom line is that he thinks Christ's econoimic subordinationism was temporary. More than that, he charges advocates of eternal subordinationism with idolatry:

God has revealed Himself as Trinity. To speculate, suggest, or say that there is a real primacy of the Father or subordination of the Son within the eternal Trinity is to have moved out of Christian orthodoxy and to have moved or be moving towards idolatry. 

This is quite irresponsible. Perhaps I'm just not nuanced enough to "get it," but no responsible person on the ES side of the fence denies the ontological Trinity. The very title "Son of God," for example, describes complete equality with God. It's a title of deity. Christ is equal to the Father in every possible way. Got it. 

The author continued his dire warnings:

Idolatry is to believe or say of God something which is not true of Him. Scripture is our authority in the matter; and the church’s confessed faith is a safety check on our understanding of it. This gospel clarity is imperative for the pastor/preacher. With the souls of men and women at stake, confusion or unwarranted speculation (in the interests of novelty or academic advancement) at this point is fatal.

So, the Gospel has been compromised because ES folks teach both an ontological and economic Trinity? This is idolatry!? No, this is madness. I believe there is no Covenant of Works in the Bible - perhaps I should pen an article accusing Liam Goligher of believing idolatry . . . ! 

He left it with this parting shot:

What we face in evangelicalism today is at best shoddy thinking and at worst ungodly thinking about the first principle of our religion – “Who is God?” The teaching is so wrong at so many levels that we must sound a blast against this insinuation of error into the body of Christ's church. Before we jettison the classical, catholic, orthodox and reformed understanding of God as He is we need to carefully weigh what is at stake – our own and our hearers’ eternal destiny. 

Rather than hysterical, shrill prophesies of gloom and doom, I'd appreciate an explanation about why this is such a watershed issue? Let me remind you all of the common ground:

  • There is an ontological Trinity
  • There is an economic Trinity

This is the dividing line - was the economic Trinity temporary, or a permanent arrangement? 

Why does this matter so much? Why shouldn't I just believe that Liam Goligher needs a good cup of coffee, a punching bag with Bruce Ware's face screen-printed on it, and some time alone? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

The Mortification of Spin folks are appaently doing their best to pile on against the eternal subordination position. They posted yet another article, this one by a newly minted PhD. And Aimee Byrd just mused aloud, on Twitter, the following:

Is it important for a Christian parachurch organization to align with our faith’s historic, orthodox confessions on the Trinity?

She's asking whether parachurch organizations should tweak their doctrinal statements to exclude ES folks from membership. How quaint. 

What has been nagging me from the Reformed folks about this whole issue is that they seem to be quite perturbed because they fear ES is against their creeds. Byrd even closed her new article with the plea, "Let's not make light of our confessions." 

Now, I'm not one of those folks who will hold a KJV 1611 facsimile edition aloft and scream, "Forget creeds! Gimmie the Bible!" I'm actually reading Carl Trueman's The Creedal Imperative right now, and have been challenged by a great deal of it. But at the same time, I can't help but suspect that these folks are more worried about some alleged deviation from creeds (I say alleged because I don't believe ES actually does deviate at all) than anything else. I had the same kind of suspicion when I read Reymond's ST, and saw that he began his discussion of every doctrine (including bibliology) by quoting the WCoF at me . . .

On a lighter note, I was watching the new Cohn Bro's movie Hail, Ceaser! the other night (on VidAngel - so all the naughty bits, if there were any, were expunged). The main character, Eddie Lomax (Josh Brolin), was involved in a conversation with a Eastern Orthodox priest, a Protestant, a Rabbi and a Catholic priest about how a particular film depicted Jesus Christ. The religious figures actually quoted Chalcedon at Lomax. I was amazed the Cohn's actually researched enough to put that in the screenplay. It blew me away. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

Eternal generation of the Son is not and does not necessarily imply "eternal subordination" (the definition of which explicates being lower in rank and/or authority). See Dr. Glenn Butner's conclusions below:

Of course, if the metaphysics of the ecumenical councils cannot be salvaged, and if they do not agree with the Bible, they must be abandoned. This is what evangelicals have rightly done with the seventh ecumenical council, Nicea II (787 AD), which upheld the veneration of icons. However, I simply don't see the scriptural warrant for such a move in the case of eternal submission. Biblical language about the sending of the Son, eternal election in the Son, or the Father as the head of the Son can be interpreted along medieval lines, where the mission of the Son is rooted in the eternal procession of the Son from the Father through generation. The only passage that explicitly speaks of the Son submitting before the incarnation or after the resurrection is 1 Cor. 15:28. Given the context of 15:21 calling Christ the man who brought resurrection, and 1 Cor. 15's use of the Second Adam motif, I believe that Christ's humanity is in view here. Therefore, I consider eternal submission Scripturally unwarranted and deeply problematic. Of course this blog post is woefully underdeveloped. Full treatment of historical context and of the systematic implication of eternal submission will require a much lengthier work. However, apart from such treatment, we lack an adequate basis for analyzing the issue of eternal submission of the Son, and we are left with a series of all-too-brief blog posts that are heavy on accusations of heresy and debates about precedent, but light on analysis of the systematic ramifications of one's view of the Trinity. And make no mistake: one's view of the Trinity affects every dimension of systematic theology. This is why it is so important to stop an inconsistency today, before it becomes heresy tomorrow. (emphasis mine)
- See more at: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2016/06/eternal-submission-and-the-sto...

Btw, if there's not Covenant of Works, what do you do with this verse? 

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;

there they dealt faithlessly with me. -Hosea 6:7

TylerR's picture

Editor

First, I read Butner's article. Your excerpt basically shows him as stating his position, then admitting, "it's complicated." I knew that.

Your quotation of Hos 6:7 doesn't prove your point. Translations are divided over whether the reference to "Adam" is to the infamous first man, or to a place. Compare the different English versions and you'll see. Note especially the reference to "there," which seems to indicate a place, not the man. Even in the LXX, the reference is to "a man" (ἄνθρωπος), not to Adam specifically. It's a tangled mess to interpret. See the volume from the NAC for a good discussion. 

In any event, if the best you have is Hos 6:7, which speaks about the northern kingdom's covenant treachery, not a mythical CoW, then I'll sleep well tonight!

Let's discuss the Trinity from here on out. The alleged CoW can have it's day . . . some other day.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

TylerR wrote:

First, I read Butner's article. Your excerpt basically shows him as stating his position, then admitting, "it's complicated." I knew that.

Your quotation of Hos 6:7 doesn't prove your point. Translations are divided over whether the reference to "Adam" is to the infamous first man, or to a place. Compare the different English versions and you'll see. Note especially the reference to "there," which seems to indicate a place, not the man. Even in the LXX, the reference is to "a man" (ἄνθρωπος), not to Adam specifically. It's a tangled mess to interpret. See the volume from the NAC for a good discussion. 

In any event, if the best you have is Hos 6:7, which speaks about the northern kingdom's covenant treachery, not a mythical CoW, then I'll sleep well tonight!

Let's discuss the Trinity from here on out. The alleged CoW can have it's day . . . some other day.  

He's not (just) saying "it's complicated"; he's saying "the stakes are huge." In other words, the Doctrine of God is not something to be treated lightly, as some here are doing, in that it can have massive and unexpected repercussions downstream. 

For the rest, not getting into the COW discussion here, though I'd be interested in hearing your definition of "covenant," given that the Edenic promise of life/death, blessings/cursings has all the earmarks of a covenant. However, I'll spare you so that you may sleep well tonight. Wouldn't want that on my conscience. ;) 

Finally, you still haven't addressed my primary concern: in what way does "eternal generation" necessitate or imply "eternal subordination"?

TylerR's picture

Editor

If the Son proceeded forth from the Father and was "begotten" of Him, then in some form or fashion, we seem to have functional (not actual) subordinationism from eternity past. The Nicene-Constantinople Creed reads, "begotten of the Father before all worlds."

Even Berkhof wrote:

Generation and procession take place within the Divine Being, and imply a certain subordination as to the manner of personal subsistence, but no subordination as far as the possession of the divine essence is concerned.

L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 89.

Hodge observed:

In the Holy Trinity there is a subordination of the Persons as to the mode of subsistence and operation

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 445.

All I am saying is that I believe Scriptures teaches a distinction of roles within the Trinity. When you examine the various roles each Person takes, there is a subordination. John Frame summarized these "distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption" (1833 NHCF, Art. 2 - see, I can do creeds too!) by explaining that the Father plans, the Son executes and the Spirit applies (The Doctrine of God [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002], 694).

My confusion on this point is this - why does this matter? 

  • We all agree that Father, Son and Spirit are eternally and completely equal in power, honor, majesty and glory
  • We all agree that Father, Son and Spirit have eternally been distinct Persons within the One Being that is God
  • We all agree that Father, Son and Spirit have eternally been one
  • We all (hopefully) understand the necessary distinction between the economic and ontological Trinity

We disagree over the manner of functional (not actual) subordinationism. Why is this such a big deal? Why is this the gateway to apostasy and error? Why the hysteria? 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

AndyE's picture

Andrew K wrote:
In other words, the Doctrine of God is not something to be treated lightly, as some here are doing, in that it can have massive and unexpected repercussions downstream. 

<snip/>

Finally, you still haven't addressed my primary concern: in what way does "eternal generation" necessitate or imply "eternal subordination"?

I don't think anyone here is treating the Doctrine of God lightly.  We are discussing it because it is important.  To your question, I suspect that "eternal generation" and "eternal subordination" can be held independently and that one neither implies or negates the other -- although my initial post was wondering about that very thing.  Does Ware deny eternal generation because he believes in eternal subordination?  It wouldn't be hard to convince me that eternal generation implies eternal subordination but I'm not dogmatic about that currently. I guess I'm also interested in what the connections are between the two concepts.  For my part, I embrace both eternal generation and eternal subordination.

Andrew K's picture

Fair enough. Sorry, I superficially read some posts here as implying, "Does it really even matter?" I see now I was mistaken.

James K's picture

Trueman can be summed up in two words grunted out: not nicea.  How very helpful Carl.

Goligher can be summed up as follows: not nicea, you can't teach.  How very statist of you Liam.

Both of these guys just infant baptism, covenantism, and many other reformed errors of polity, and soteriology, but can't see Christ's submission to the Father.  Their allegiance is to their creeds.  You better not deviate from creeds.  Those creeds are inspirednotinspired.

These people are all arguing history and philosophy.  This is what is wrong with this entire debate.  How many of them are actually breaking out the hebrew and greek and interpretation of texts?  They would rather call on Augustine and Acquinas, two CATHOLICS for assistance (see Mark Jones).

One of my more enjoyable things to watch is calvinist on calvinist crime.  If Grudem and Ware were noncalvinists, then the Truemanites would somehow tie this to a deviation that is rooted in the gospel itself.  Sadly for him and his ilk, Grudem and Ware are card carrying calvinists.  What to do, what to do?  Liam tries the no true Scotsman approach.  They are all the skinniest kid at fat camp though.  It is entertaining.

1 Corinthians 11:3 - But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.

God is PRESENTLY the head of the risen and exalted Christ.  Only during the incarnation?  Take it up with Paul.

Drops the mic

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.