Monday, March 27, 2006

Eternal Subordination of the Son

Spotted on radar via Siris and Ben Witherington .

This idea that the Trinity must be three persons in some kind of fungible equality is so strong, so entrenched . Oh yes we do refer to one of the persons as ‘Father’ and the other as ‘Son’ but we won’t let that bother us for now.

The Apostle Paul is that apostle everyone loves to hate, especially the feminists. But others of more orthodox persuasion damn him in other ways : “he doesn’t really mean what he says” .

Or epistles like 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians are immediately discounted, aren’t they, because they don’t give us that kind of meaty doctrine we love to put into our creeds and confessions :

"Don’t bother me about all that this primitive man is saying concerning structure in the family and in the church. What does he know? He probably came up with that stuff after a nice long session in the bath and thought it might be good for Timothy to be getting busy over, to keep him out of trouble . It’s not really God’s own truth, is it ? After all, we know better than Paul how to organise and run our churches. We’ve had more practice and success than him."

“Eternal subordination of the Son to the Father” ? Bite your tongue, you Arian heretic !

We are so accustomed to our fallen universe of lust for tyranny and love of rebellion that we shrink with horror to allow any place at all to concepts such as ‘submission’ any place within Triune Deity.

We have to qualify it : the Son only obeys the Father in his human nature . Yeah, right.

After all, the boss who calls the shots is so obviously a more superior and cleverer being than the chap who submits and obeys the will and purpose of another. It’s so obvious, isn’t it ?


Brandon said...

Of course the apostle Paul means what he says; he simply never says anything that requires eternal subordination -- at least, I have never seen a eternal-subordinationist reading of Paul on the Son that wasn't obviously a stretch or an eisegesis. And historically, claims that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father have usually been associated with paganizing influences (reformulating the Trinity in ways that were more anthropomorphic and polytheistic), so it's really not unreasonable for people to be highly suspicious of newer subordinationist claims, even on the assumption that some such claims are defensible.

I think entangling the doctrine of Trinity in a theory of the roles of men and women is a very unfortunate move. Complementarians don't make much use of the subordinationist reading of the Trinity -- the one, and only, use they actually make of it is as an analogy. (The complementarian view neither requires nor follows from claims of eternal subordination.) The doctrine of the Trinity itself contributes nothing substantive to either side of the argument. (The doctrine of the Incarnation, on the other hand, obviously does, since Paul occasionally appeals to it. But if we are going to use the doctrine of Incarnation to understand the Trinity the question of what the Son owes the Father insofar as He has become man can't be shunted aside, but has to be faced squarely. For the Word became flesh, He is not intrinsically human. So any passage that can be understood as Christ's submission as perfect Man can't provide us with any serious reason to believe in eternal subordination.)

Celal Birader said...

I think entangling the doctrine of Trinity in a theory of the roles of men and women is a very unfortunate move.

Read 1 Corinthians 11:3

Celal Birader said...

"claims that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father have usually been associated with paganizing influences (reformulating the Trinity in ways that were more anthropomorphic and polytheistic)"

"Usually?" Really ?

Brandon ...You make a lot of unsupported assertions.

Submit your mind rather to Scripture (John 17:17).


Brandon said...


It's fairly easy to point out that claims of the eternal subordination have usually been associated with paganizing influences; it's a common point made against the Arians and Eunomians by Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, etc. The pattern recurs again in the early modern period in Newton, Clarke, etc. That a comment-box is not a convenient place for going through all the relevant details of a two thousand year history is not evidence that the assertion is wrong. Any serious acquaintance with the history of subordinationism shows it largely to have been paganizing. If modern subordinationism is not, that's great; but as I pointed out, the history of subordinationism is still a good reason for people to demand a high standard of proof.

On 1 Cor. 11:3, as I already said, Paul appeals to the doctrine of the Incarnation; and the issue I noted in my first comment (the issue of Christ as man) needs to be examined. One of the things that is frustrating about subordinationist arguments from Scripture: there's a lot of show appeal to Scripture, but often no investigation of context or careful argumentation as to how Scripture is to be interpreted; Scripture just gets thrown in as an authority that backs up the subordinationist rather than as an authoritative source of the actual theology (through investigation of context, careful consideration of the analogy of Scripture, the posing of serious questions [like whether a given passage discusses Christ as perfect man or Christ as God or both], etc.). So, instead of a serious use of Scripture to govern one's theology, people appeal to Scripture piecemeal, without investigation of context or anything else that is required for serious argument from Scripture. One of the nice things about Grudem is that he makes considerable effort to remedy this; but we still get gaps and odd arguments and unexamined assumptions.

Celal Birader said...

Dear Brandon,

Justin Martyr and Origen were subordinationist and the consensus is they would have subscribed to the Nicene Creed had they lived later.

I recommend this book:

Closer to our time there is the systematic theologian Louis Berkhof and of course Grudem; and, they are both quite orthodox trinitarians.

I also have not yet come across any anti-subordinationist who deals with 1 Corinthians 15:28 in anything approaching a clear and coherent manner insofar as their position is concerned.

Belief in the Trinity itself is more problematic than belief in an ordering of the divine persons. As i mention in the post on my blog, the anti-subordiantionist position is more influenced by our fallen experience, otherwise there is no reason to object to structure in the Trinity.

We say love as seen in our human relationships must be a divine attribute so why can't we say the same about structure in society and structure in the family ? The creation reveals the Creator and so does man as created in the image of God.

I think we'll leave it there. We are not going to agree but feel free to have the last word if you like.

And remember to submit your mind to Scripture and not vice versa.

Till we meet again on some other philosophical or theological item.

Take care.