Is the Son of God Eternally Subordinate to the Father?

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AndyE's picture

I appreciate Banner of Truth, and I understand the hesitancy here,  but I find Ware’s and Ovey’s position much more persuasive. 

In the article, Duncan Boyd writes, “In eternity there was an agreement between the three members of the Trinity to redeem fallen mankind. This was an expression of the one divine will, but the functions of the different persons of the Trinity differ in this covenant. The Father wills to send. But the Son wills to be sent. This is not an example of the divine Son’s submission of will to the Father. Rather it is an example of the Son’s assumption of a role necessitated by the divine agreement.”

The problem for me, though, are passages like Eph 1:3-14, which highlights the Fathers role as the one willing the whole plan of salvation.  Both the arraignment of Father/Son and Sender/Sent one indicates the functional, although not ontological, subordination of the Son to the Father.

The real key passage for me, though, is 1 Cor 15:27-28.  In the eternal state – not just during the incarnation as Boyd suggests, “the Son himself will also be subjected to him [the Father] who put all things in subjection under him [Jesus].”  And Paul specifically says here that the Father is excepted with it says “all things.”  That’s because, the Son will be subjected still to the Father.

Submission within the godhead is not incompatible with  full and complete deity of each of the members.

Mark_Smith's picture

Sharper Iron has specialized in pointing out the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of fundamentalist Baptist thinking and practice over the years. This article points out one of the problems with Reformed theology, and I for one welcome it. Reformed theology has a knack for going one step beyond what the Scripture teaches. A classic example is this eternal submission doctrine. As the Banner of Truth authors points out, the testimony of Scripture about Jesus features the Son who has become a man, and is now fully God and fully man. The reader must be careful to not extend what Jesus is saying about mankind, the creation, or the church, and extending it to God himself, which includes Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:27-28 is an example of this. Verse 26 speaks of death being defeated. 27 says that everything is put under Christ's feet, including death. That does not include God, however. 28 clarifies that once everything is completely operating under Christ, then the Son (Christ) will submit everything to God so that the complete Godhead, not just the Father here, is in control of all. The purpose of this exchange is not to teach the eternal submission of the Son, it is to show that the creation submits to the Son, and that the Son is part of the Godhead. God as all three persons is in ultimate control of everything and is "all in all." I see that coequal, not submission.

TylerR's picture

Editor

AndyE, you wrote:

Both the arraignment of Father/Son and Sender/Sent one indicates the functional, although not ontological, subordination of the Son to the Father

That has always been an issue for me, since this entire kerfluffle burst on the scene a few years ago. There certainly is a functional subordination in the Godhead. Don't we see this with the doctrines of eternal generation of the Son, and the procession of the Spirit (for the latter, this won't count if you reject the filioque clause)?

In some sense, the Father is logically prior to the Son, and the Son to the Spirit. I dare you to read any responsible discussion of eternal generation and the procession of the Spirit, and watch the theologians grapple with this concept, while striving to avoid any hint of ontological subordination.

The great trap, of course, is that ESS seems to suggest a division within the Godhead. It trends towards emphasizing the distinction at the expense of the unity. Do Father, Son and Spirit really act independently? Can they act independently? If the Father acts, is the Son not involved (and vice versa)? 

One strand of thought (I am indebted to Cark Beckwith for this, a Lutheran who teaches at Beeson) is that all Persons act in unison, but Scripture simply "plays up" the involvement of one person to highlight the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, Genesis tells us that God (in the triune sense) created the heavens and the earth, but Colossians tells us Christ actually did it. This doesn't suggest a contradiction; rather, it means God moved Paul to emphasize Christ's role in order to showcase God's triunity - for those who have eyes to see it. The distinctions between Divine Persons, in the way they seemingly act independently, is just a device to highlight the triunity of God. In reality, they each act in unison in everything.

How's that for deep waters!? ESS undercuts this idea, and that is the great danger.

This discussion goes very, very deep. There are some folks in the Reformed camp (e.g. Liam Goligher at Tenth Presbyterian) who have become well nigh hysterical about ESS. Some of these men seem ready to call a church council, sharpen the executioner's ax, and hurl anathemas. There has been a great deal of talking past one another. I suspect, on the Reformed side, this has been more about the exegesis and interpretation of creeds than actual Scripture.

I am aware some have accused Ware (et al) of denying the eternal generation of the Son. I haven't taken the time to examine this for myself. I just suggest folks be careful when they approach this subject. Few people (including me) can speak intelligently about eternal generation of the Son, the procession of the Spirit, and the eternal ontological vs. functional relationship within the Godhead - and I read more than most people! Deep waters, indeed!

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?

Paul Henebury's picture

There cannot be an ontological submission within the Godhead without the Godhead NOT actually being the Godhead.  Of the three, the Father would be God Supreme, whereas the other two would be lesser 'beings'.  The essence of God must be equally spread through the three Persons or else they cannot be one essence.

1 Cor. 15:27-28 is in the context of the economy of God regarding redemption and perhaps creation.  It is hard for us to conceive of this without thinking ontically because our existence is bound to the created order.  But God's being (e.g. His Aseity) is not bound to creation, therefore we ought not to push passages like this as if they were referring to God's actual being.    

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

AndyE's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:27-28 is an example of this. Verse 26 speaks of death being defeated. 27 says that everything is put under Christ's feet, including death. That does not include God, however. 28 clarifies that once everything is completely operating under Christ, then the Son (Christ) will submit everything to God so that the complete Godhead, not just the Father here, is in control of all. The purpose of this exchange is not to teach the eternal submission of the Son, it is to show that the creation submits to the Son, and that the Son is part of the Godhead. God as all three persons is in ultimate control of everything and is "all in all." I see that coequal, not submission.

Mark, I'm trying to follow your reasoning here but there is something I don't understand. How do you take this phrase in verse 28, "then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him" ?

AndyE's picture

TylerR wrote:

That has always been an issue for me, since this entire kerfluffle burst on the scene a few years ago. There certainly is a functional subordination in the Godhead. Don't we see this with the doctrines of eternal generation of the Son, and the procession of the Spirit (for the latter, this won't count if you reject the filioque clause)?

In some sense, the Father is logically prior to the Son, and the Son to the Spirit. I dare you to read any responsible discussion of eternal generation and the procession of the Spirit, and watch the theologians grapple with this concept, while striving to avoid any hint of ontological subordination.

That little filioque clause...the West generally emphasizes the unity of the godhead and we tend towards modalism. The East generally emphasizes the three persons and tends towards tri-theism.  Because we are so predisposed to the unity of the godhead, we tend to not appreciate the different roles of the godhead and tend to be very generic when we thing about God.

Quote:
The great trap, of course, is that ESS seems to suggest a division within the Godhead. It trends towards emphasizing the distinction at the expense of the unity. Do Father, Son and Spirit really act independently? Can they act independently? If the Father acts, is the Son not involved (and vice versa)? 

Yes, that is the trap but just because there is a trap, doesn't mean we have to fall into it. I don't think the members of the Godhead act independently. I would say harmoniously. When one acts, they all act; although their roles in creation or redemption will be different.

Quote:
One strand of thought (I am indebted to Cark Beckwith for this, a Lutheran who teaches at Beeson) is that all Persons act in unison, but Scripture simply "plays up" the involvement of one person to highlight the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, Genesis tells us that God (in the triune sense) created the heavens and the earth, but Colossians tells us Christ actually did it. This doesn't suggest a contradiction; rather, it means God moved Paul to emphasize Christ's role in order to showcase God's triunity - for those who have eyes to see it. The distinctions between Divine Persons, in the way they seemingly act independently, is just a device to highlight the triunity of God. In reality, they each act in unison in everything.
  So, the OT emphasizes the unity of God and the NT reveals more clearly the distinct persons of the godhead. No contradiction. Just further understanding.

Quote:
How's that for deep waters!? ESS undercuts this idea, and that is the great danger.

 

I am aware some have accused Ware (et al) of denying the eternal generation of the Son. I haven't taken the time to examine this for myself. I just suggest folks be careful when they approach this subject. Few people (including me) can speak intelligently about eternal generation of the Son, the procession of the Spirit, and the eternal ontological vs. functional relationship within the Godhead - and I read more than most people! Deep waters, indeed!

  Yes very deep!  It's hard for me to keep everything straight.  It took me a while to even understand the difference between ontological and functional. I think I understand what theologians mean when they use those terms now, finally.  I'm not sure about Ware's position regarding the eternal generation of the Son. I think he may have denied it at one time. Don't know if he has changed his mind or what.  I certainly believe in the eternal generation of the Son and also with EFS.