In my last article, I discussed some of my concerns with a teaching called the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). ESS was developed as a response to feminists and egalitarian arguments regarding gender roles. Wayne Grudem, one of the proponents of ESS, wrote an article giving 12 biblical evidences for defining the relationship between the Father and the Son as one of eternal authority and submission.
While I can agree that the Son does certainly submit to the Father in some respects, I think ESS is a dangerous departure from orthodox formulations of the Trinity. The relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit is so much more than authority and submission. I believe that ESS is the result of isolating and emphasizing one aspect of trinitarian relationships to the neglect of others.
I intend to address each of Grudem’s 12 points and to respond by using John Calvin and Matthew Henry’s commentaries. The purpose in using Calvin and Henry is that they predate the gender roles debates by centuries. If eternal authority and submission is the predominate Scriptural theme as Grudem contends, then there should be evidence in the Protestant commentaries. If it’s not, then I believe Calvin and Henry’s commentaries will illustrate different emphases in those Scriptural passages.
Grudem’s article was written to respond directly to various egalitarian or feminist writers. My response is not meant to support their arguments necessarily but rather to demonstrate that some who hold to complementarian views of gender roles do not agree that ESS is biblically sound or consistent with orthodox formulations of the Trinity.
In preparing to write this, I read through Michael Horton’s chapter on the Trinity in his systematic theology, The Christian Faith. I recommend it as a good summary of the history and issues debated over various definitions of the Trinity. Horton gives a great quote from Gregory the Nazianzus that I believe should be the focus of all discussions of the Trinity:
‘No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One.’ (361, ebook)
This, I believe, is the failure of ESS. It draws our attention away from the majesty of the Triune God.
1. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission indicated by the names “Father” and “Son”
Grudem argues that the patriarchal audience of biblical times would have understood the terms “father” and “son” to mean an authority/submission relationship:
Therefore, what is everywhere true of a father-son relationship in the biblical world, and is not contradicted by any other passages of Scripture, surely should be applied to the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. The names “Father” and “Son” represent an eternal difference in the roles of the Father and the Son. The Father has a leadership and authority role that the Son does not have, and the Son submits to the Father’s leadership in a way that the Father does not submit to the Son. The eternal names “Father” and “Son” therefore give a significant indication of eternal authority and submission among the members of the Trinity.
The problem with using extra-biblical evidences to support an interpretation is that you have no guarantee which evidences are the ones believers are meant to use. The Reformers were very strong on using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Does the Bible teach that adult children are supposed to relate to their adult parents in terms of authority and submission? Not exactly. Genesis 2:24 says that a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Ephesians 6 tells children to submit to their parents.
Grudem acknowledges this Scriptural evidence in a footnote:
However, one word of caution is appropriate here. I am not saying that the Bible commands all adult sons to be subject to their own fathers for their entire lifetimes, for that is nowhere commanded in Scripture. Instead, the Bible commands, “Children obey your parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1), and the word “children” (Greek teknon, plural) would have been heard by the Christians in the church at Ephesus as applying only to children up to a certain age, and not to adults. At least by the time a man “shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife” (Genesis 2:24), when he establishes a new household, and probably in other circumstances as well, the responsibility of children to obey their parents no longer applies to those who have reached adulthood.
But let’s consider some biblical support that Grudem uses to make his argument. Grudem references passages from John: John 5:18-19, John 6:37-38, and John 8:37-38.
John 5:19: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
In the ESV Study Bible notes, which Wayne Grudem edited, it says:
Jesus’ claim that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, taken with vv. 17-18, affirms two themes: (1) Jesus is equal to God, i.e. he is fully divine; (2) the Father and the Son have different functions and roles, and the Son is subject to the Father in everything he does, yet this does not deny their fundamental equality. (6769, all pages from e-book version)
In contrast, Matthew Henry writes that this passage speaks to the Son having the same authority and power of the Father:
This was justly inferred from what he said, that he was the Son of God, and that God was his Father, patera idion —his own Father; his, so as he was no one’s else. He had said that he worked with his Father, by the same authority and power, and hereby he made himself equal with God. (emphasis mine)
John Calvin also sees equality as the point of the passage:
Arius inferred from it that the Son is inferior to the Father, because he can do nothing of himself. …
For the discourse does not relate to the simple Divinity of Christ, and those statements which we shall immediately see do not simply and of themselves relate to the eternal Word of God, but apply only to the Son of God, so far as he is manifested in the flesh. …
The whole discourse must be referred to this contrast, that they err egregiously who think that they have to do with a mortal man, when they accuse Christ of works which are truly divine. This is his reason for affirming so strongly that in this work, there is no difference between him and his Father. (emphasis mine)
John 6:37-38: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Matthew Henry focuses on the Son’s equality with the Father. Henry frames the Son’s submission as relating to His humanity.:
Here he tells that he came to do, not his own will, but the will of his Father; not that he had any will that stood in competition with the will of his Father, but those to whom he spoke suspected he might. … He therefore never consulted his own ease, safety, or quiet; but, when he was to lay down his life, though he had a human nature which startled at it, he set aside the consideration of that, and resolved his will as man into the will of God: Not as I will, but as thou wilt. (emphasis mine)
John 8:28-29: So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
First, That he did nothing of himself, not of himself as man, of himself alone, of himself without the Father, with whom he was one. He does not hereby derogate from his own inherent power, but only denies their charge against him as a false prophet;for of false prophets it is said that they prophesied out of their own hearts, and followed their own spirits.
In the whole of these proceedings, which you condemn, no part is my own, but I only execute what God has enjoined upon me; the words which you hear from my mouth are his words, and my calling, of which He is the Author, is directed by him alone. Let us remember, however, what I have sometimes mentioned already, that these words are accommodated to the capacity of the hearers. For, since they thought that Christ was only one of the ordinary rank of men, he asserts that whatever in him is Divine is not his own; meaning that it is not of man or by man; because the Father teaches us by him, and appoints him to be the only Teacher of the Church; and for this reason he affirms that he has been taught by the Father.
According to Henry and Calvin, this passage is not about an inherent authority/submission relationship between the Son and the Father, but rather about Jesus’s rightful authority to teach. He was not teaching on His own authority or power as a man or as a human prophet. He was teaching them by the power of God. He was also claiming equality with God, and this the Jewish audience understood clearly. This was why they accused Him of blasphemy.
In a related note on reading into what it means to be “father” and “son,” Michael Horton warns about the care we should take in using analogies:
In adopting an analogical approach to divine and human persons, we must also recall that creatures are analogical of God rather than vice versa. As Athanasius reminds us, God’s fatherhood is not an analogy of human relations, but vice versa. Therefore, we cannot begin with our concept of ideal human personhood or society. (The Christian Faith, 379)
2. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission prior to creation
Grudem is countering arguments that the Son’s submission to the Father is temporary and restricted to the incarnation:
The “temporary submission” view claims that the Son’s submission to the Father was only for the period of his Incarnation. By contrast, Scripture gives us indications of a unique leadership role for the Father long before the Son came to earth
There are several passages that Grudem uses to support this point. The ESV Study Bible commentary also makes similar claims in a couple of places.
John 3:35: The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.
In the commentary on John 3:35:
The Father … has given all things into his hand indicates supreme authority for the Father in the counsels of the Trinity, and a delegated authority over the whole created universe for the Son, as is indicated also in many other NT passages. Yet at the same time, the Father, Son and Spirit are fully God in the unity of a single divine being.(6754-6755, emphasis mine)
Ephesians 1:4: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
The commentary on Ephesians 1:4:
He chose us in him means that the Father chose Christians in the Son (Christ), and this took place in eternity past, before the foundation of the world. This indicates that for all eternity the Father has had the role of leading and directing among the persons of the Trinity, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in deity and attributes.(7579, emphasis mine)
Neither Calvin nor Henry make any particular comments on John 3:35 regarding authority or the eternal counsels of the Trinity. On Ephesians 1:4, Calvin writes that the passage is about salvation being not about our merit but Christ’s:
In Christ. This is the second proof that the election is free; for if we are chosen in Christ, it is not of ourselves. It is not from a perception of anything that we deserve, but because our heavenly Father has introduced us, through the privilege of adoption, into the body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their own; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ,it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.
Acts 1:7: He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.
The ESV Study Bible commentary on Acts 1:7:
the Father has fixed by his own authority. Ultimate authority in determining the events of history is consistently ascribed to God the Father among the persons of the Trinity.(7012)
Matthew Henry and John Calvin both write that this passage is meant to warn against seeking to know things that God has not revealed:
It is folly to covet to be wise above what is written, and wisdom to be content to be no wiser.
This is a general reprehension of the whole question. For it was too curious for them to desire to know that whereof their Master would have them ignorant; but this is the true means to become wise, namely, to go as far forward in learning as our Master Christ goeth in teaching, and willingly to be ignorant of those things which he doth conceal from us. But forasmuch as there is naturally engendered in us a certain foolish and vain curiosity, and also a certain rash kind of boldness, we must diligently observe this admonition of Christ, whereby he correcteth both these vices.
Grudem also appeals to Romans 8:29.
Romans 8:29: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Instead of seeing an eternal authority/submission structure, Matthew Henry, writes of Christ as the “image of his Father” and of Christ’s work as Mediator:
Christ is the express image of his Father, and the saints are conformed to the image of Christ. Thus it is by the mediation and interposal of Christ that we have God’s love restored to us and God’s likeness renewed upon us, in which two things consists the happiness of man
I will agree that there has always been an ordering in the economic Trinity, but I deny that this ordering means there is an authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity. Michael Horton summarizes it this way:
Rather, in every external work of the Godhead, the Father is always the source, the Son is always the mediator, and the Spirit is always the perfecting agent. (The Christian Faith, 381, emphasis mine)
3. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in the process of creation
Grudem argues that because the Father created through the Son that that indicates an authority/submission structure:
In the process of creating the universe, the role of initiating, of leading, belongs not to all three members of the Trinity equally, but to the Father. The Father created through the Son.
Grudem uses John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:1-2 as support.
John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Matthew Henry sees John 1:1 differently:
The evangelist here lays down the great truth he is to prove, that Jesus Christ is God, one with the Father.
God made the world by a word (Ps. 33:6 ) and Christ was the Word. By him, not as a subordinate instrument, but as a co-ordinate agent, God made the world (Heb. 1:2 ), not as the workman cuts by his axe, but as the body sees by the eye. (emphasis mine)
Hebrews 1:1-2: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Matthew Henry again affirms the equality of the Son with the Father in creation:
By him God made the worlds, both visible and invisible, the heavens and the earth; not as an instrumental cause, but as his essential word and wisdom. By him he made the old creation, by him he makes the new creature, and by him he rules and governs both.
John Calvin also speaks to the unity and diversity of the Trinity in creation:
According to the most usual mode of speaking in Scripture, the Father is called the Creator; and it is added in some places that the world was created by wisdom, by the word, by the Son, as though wisdom itself had been the creator, [or the word, or the Son.] But still we must observe that there is a difference of persons between the Father and the Son, not only with regard to men, but with regard to God himself. But the unity of essence requires that whatever is peculiar to Deity should belong to the Son as well as to the Father, and also that whatever is applied to God only should belong to both; and yet there is nothing in this to prevent each from his own peculiar properties.
As in the second point, there is an ordering in the economy of the Trinity in the work of creation. That ordering does not mean there is an authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity.
4. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission prior to Christ’s earthly ministry
Grudem’s next point is that the Father’s authority and the Son’s submission is evident in the sending of the Son:
The Father sending the Son into the world implies an authority that the Father had prior to the Son’s
humbling himself and becoming a man. This is because to have the authority to send someone
means to have a greater authority than the one who is sent. He was first “sent” as Son, and then he
obeyed and humbled himself and came. By that action he showed that he was subject to the
authority of the Father before he came to earth.
Grudem uses Galatians 4:4 and 1 John 4:9-10 in the article.
Galatians 4:4: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
Calvin sees Christ’s eternal equality with God in this verse:
God sent forth his Son. These few words contain much instruction. The Son, who was sent, must have existed before he was sent; and this proves his eternal Godhead. Christ therefore is the Son of God, sent from heaven.
1 John 4:9-10: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Calvin focuses here on why Christ was sent:
And sent his Son It was then from God’s goodness alone, as from a fountain, that Christ with all his blessings has come to us. And as it is necessary to know, that we have salvation in Christ, because our heavenly Father has freely loved us; so when a real and full certainty of divine love towards us is sought for, we must look nowhere else but to Christ.
Grudem’s argument also appears in his commentary on John 14:28.
John 14:28: You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
The ESV Study Bible commentary sees authority and submission in the sending of the Son:
In saying that the Father is greater than I, Jesus means that the Father as the one who sends and commands is “greater” (in authority or leadership) than the Son. However, this does not mean that Jesus is inferior in his being and essence to the Father. (6816-6817)
In contrast, Matthew Henry explains that the “Father is greater” means that Christ has humbled Himself in the incarnation and would be returning to His greater estate:
The reason of this is, because the Father is greater than he, which, if it be a proper proof of that for which it is alleged (as no doubt it is), must be understood thus, that his state with his Father would be much more excellent and glorious than his present state; his returning to his Father (so Dr. Hammond) would be the advancing of him to a much higher condition than that which he was now in.
John Calvin argues the same:
This passage has been tortured in various ways. The Aryans, in order to prove that Christ is some sort of inferior God, argued that he is less than the Father …
Christ does not here make a comparison between the Divinity of the Father and his own, nor between his own human nature and the Divine essence of the Father, but rather between his present state and the heavenly glory, to which he would soon afterwards be received
The Father is not “greater” because He sent the Son, but returning to the Father is much “greater” than the voluntary humiliation of the incarnation.
John Calvin makes this point clear in his Institutes:
Thus, when he says to the apostles, “It is expedient for you that I go away,” “My Father is greater than I,” he does not attribute to himself a secondary divinity merely, as if in regard to eternal essence he were inferior to the Father; but having obtained celestial glory, he gathers together the faithful to share it with him. He places the Father in the higher degree, inasmuch as the full perfection of brightness conspicuous in heaven, differs from that measure of glory which he himself displayed when clothed in flesh. … Accordingly, John, declaring that he is the true God, has no idea of placing him beneath the Father in a subordinate rank of divinity. (Institutes, I.13.26)
5. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission during Christ’s earthly ministry
Grudem makes the point that the Son submitted to the Father during Christ’s incarnation:
While on earth, Jesus often speaks of his submission to the authority of his Father.
He uses John 6:38, John 8:28-29, and John 15:9-10. We’ve already looked at the first two in the first point. But I will add John Calvin‘s commentary on John 6:39 here:
As to the distinction which Christ makes between his own will and the will of the Father, in this respect, he accommodates himself to his hearers, because, as the mind of man is prone to distrust, we are wont to contrive some diversity which produces hesitation. To cut off every pretense for those wicked imaginations, Christ declares, that he has been manifested to the world, in order that he may actually ratify what the Father hath decreed concerning our salvation.
John 15:9-10: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
Where Grudem sees eternal authority and submission, Henry and Calvin describe Christ’s work as mediator and His human nature. Grudem’s views are evident in three excerpts from Grudem’s ESV Study Bible commentary.
Matthew 11:27: All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
ESV Study Bible:
All things have been handed over to me by the Father. This reveals the profound divine self-consciousness of Jesus, as well as the supreme authority of the Father within the Trinity, by which he has delegated authority over “all things” to the Son. “All things” probably refers to everything needed with respect to the carrying out of Christ’s ministry of redemption, including the revelation of salvation to those to whom he chooses to reveal the Father.(6026)
All things are delivered unto me of my Father. Christ, as God, is equal in power and glory with the Father; but as Mediator he receives his power and glory from the Father; has all judgment committed to him.
We now see that he connects faith with the eternal predestination of God, — two things which men foolishly and wickedly hold to be inconsistent with each other. Though our salvation was always hidden with God, yet Christ is the channel through which it flows to us, and we receive it by faith, that it may be secure and ratified in our hearts.
Mark 10:40: but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
ESV Study Bible:
is not mine to grant Though Jesus is fully God, yet there are differences of authority within the Trinity and the Son throughout Scripture is always subject to the authority and direction of the Father, who will ultimately determine who exactly receives such positions of honor. Jesus both defers authority to his heavenly Father and implies that he will himself be exalted. (6259-6260)
By this reply Christ surrenders nothing, but only states that the Father had not assigned to him this office of appointing to each person his own peculiar place in the kingdom of heaven. He came, indeed, in order to bring all his people to eternal life; but we ought to reckon it enough that the inheritance obtained by his blood awaits us. As to the degree in which some men rise above others, it is not our business to inquire, and God did not intend that it should be revealed to us by Christ, but that it should be reserved till the latest revelation. We have now ascertained Christ’s meaning; for he does not here reason as to his power, but only desires us to consider for what purpose he was sent by the Father, and what corresponds to his calling, and therefore distinguishes between the secret purpose of God and the nature of that teaching which had been enjoined on him. It is a useful warning, that we may learn to be wise with sobriety, and may not attempt to force our way into the hidden mysteries of God, and more especially, that we may not indulge excessive curiosity in our inquiries about the future state.
John 12:49: For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
ESV Study Bible:
Not … on my own authority indicates again that supreme authority in the Trinity belongs to the Father, and delegated authority to the Son, though they are equal in deity.(6809)
Christ, as Son of man, did not speak that which was of human contrivance or composure; as Son of God, he did not act separately, or by himself alone, but what he said was the result of the counsels of peace; as Mediator, his coming into the world was voluntary, and with his full consent, but not arbitrary, and of his own head.
For I do not speak from myself. That the outward appearance of man may not lessen the majesty of God, Christ frequently sends us to the Father. This is the reason why he so often mentions the Father; and, indeed, since it would be unlawful to transfer to another a single spark of the Divine glory, the word, to which judgment is ascribed, must have proceeded from God. Now Christ here distinguishes himself from the Father, not simply as to his Divine Person, but rather as to his flesh; lest the doctrine should be judged after the manner of men, and, therefore, should have less weight.
There is no doubt that the Son submitted to the Father during his incarnation. His role as Mediator and His human nature are both referenced throughout the New Testament regarding His submission. This does not mean, however, that there is therefore eternal authority and submission in the immanent Trinity.
6. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s ministry as Great High Priest
Grudem writes that Christ’s intercession for believers is proof of the Son’s eternal submission to the Father:
To “intercede” (entygchanō) for someone means to bring requests and appeals on behalf of that person to a higher authority, such as a governor king, or emperor (cf. Acts 25:24 which uses the same verb to say that the Jews “petitioned” the Roman ruler Festus). Thus Jesus continually, even today, is our great high priest who brings requests to the Father who is greater in authority. Jesus’ high priestly ministry indicates an ongoing submission to the authority of the Father.
Grudem uses Romans 8:34 to support this point.
Romans 8:34: Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Calvin, on the other hand, writes of Christ’s role as Mediator in His intercession for believers:
Who intercedes, etc. It was necessary expressly to add this, lest the Divine majesty of Christ should terrify us. Though, then, from his elevated throne he holds all things in subjection under his feet, yet Paul represents him as a Mediator; whose presence it would be strange for us to dread, since he not only kindly invites us to himself, but also appears an intercessor for us before the Father. But we must not measure this intercession by our carnal judgment; for we must not suppose that he humbly supplicates the Father with bended knees and expanded hands; but as he appears continually, as one who died and rose again, and as his death and resurrection stand in the place of eternal intercession, and have the efficacy of a powerful prayer for reconciling and rendering the Father propitious to us, he is justly said to intercede for us.(emphasis mine)
Far from seeing a difference of authority and submission, Calvin shows Christ as highly exalted and as having reconciled us to the Father.
7. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
Grudem writes that Christ needed the Father’s authority to send the Holy Spirit:
After his ascension to heaven, after his earthly ministry was over, after God highly exalted him, he still did not have the authority on his own to pour forth the Holy Spirit in new power on the church. He waited until he received that authority from the Father, and then he sent forth the Holy
Spirit in his new, more powerful work
Grudem uses Acts 2:33 to support this point.
Acts 2:33: Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
In the ESV Study Bible commentary, it explains:
The interactive and differentiated relationship among the persons of the Trinity is clearly evident in this verse. Thus God the Father first gave the promise that the Holy Spirit would come in a greater, more powerful way to accomplish his work in people’s lives (as indicated in Peter’s quote from Joel 2 in Acts 2:17-19). Then, when Christ’s work on earth was accomplished, Christ was exalted to the second highest position of authority in the universe, namely, at the right hand of God, with ruling power delegated to him by God the Father. Then Christ received authority from the Father to send out the Holy Spirit in this new fullness. (7020-7021, emphasis mine)
Instead of an inherent authority and submission in the immanent Trinity, Calvin explains that receiving or obtaining from the Father speaks to Christ as Mediator:
Furthermore, whereas it is said that he obtained it of the Father, it is to be applied to the person of the Mediator. For both these are truly said, that Christ sent the Spirit from himself and from the Father. He sent him from himself, because he is eternal God; from the Father, because in as much as he is man, he receiveth that of the Father which he giveth us.
This is consistent with the Nicene Creed’s filioque clause: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Spirit proceeds from both God the Father and God the Son.
Acts 2:33 does speak to the work of the Trinity, but I do not believe that it proves a authority/submission structure within the immanent Trinity.
8. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s receiving revelation from the Father and giving it to the church
Grudem believes that the Father’s authority is evident in Jesus receiving the revelation that is revealed to John:
Jesus did not initiate the book of Revelation on his own, but he was given this revelation by the Father and authorized by the Father to deliver it to the church.
Grudem refers to Revelation 1:1.
Revelation 1:1: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John
Calvin, of course, did not write a commentary on Revelation, but Matthew Henry did. Henry explains that Jesus received the revelation in His office as Mediator:
It is a revelation which God gave unto Christ. Though Christ is himself God, and as such has light and life in himself, yet, as he sustains the office of Mediator between God and man, he receives his instructions from the Father. The human nature of Christ, though endowed with the greatest sagacity, judgment, and penetration, could not, in a way of reason, discover these great events, which not being produced by natural causes, but wholly depending upon the will of God, could be the object only of divine prescience, and must come to a created mind only by revelation. Our Lord Jesus is the great trustee of divine revelation; it is to him that we owe the knowledge we have of what we are to expect from God and what he expects from us.
Again, this passage is further evidence of Christ’s work as Mediator, and it is not evidence of the eternal authority of the Father and submission of the Son.
9. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s sitting at God’s right hand – a position of authority second to that of the Father himself
Grudem writes that Christ being at the right hand of the Father indicates a position of secondary authority:
To sit at the LORD’s right hand is not a position of equal authority, for “the LORD” (Yahweh) is still the one commanding, still the one subduing enemies. But it is a position of authority second only to the LORD, the king and ruler of the entire universe.
Grudem uses several passages to support this point. Some (Acts 2:33) have been considered in other points. Grudem particularly uses Psalm 110:1 to prove that the right hand is a secondary authority. However, Calvin, Henry, and Charles Spurgeon see the right hand of the Father to be an indication of great honor and power.
Psalm 110:1: The LORD says to my Lord:“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Calvin explains that the Father is ruling through Christ:
The simile is borrowed from what is customary among earthly kings, that the person who is seated at his right hand is said to be next to him, and hence the Son, by whom the Father governs the world, is by this session represented as metaphorically invested with supreme dominion.
My favorite explanation of this passage comes from Charles Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David:
How condescending of Jehovah’s part to permit a mortal ear to hear, and a human pen to record his secret converse with his co-equal Son!
Ephesians 1:20: that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places
Calvin defines “the right hand” as being the place of highest royal power:
And set him at his own right hand. This passage shews plainly, if any one does, what is meant by the right hand of God. It does not mean any particular place, but the power which the Father has bestowed on Christ, that he may administer in his name the government of heaven and earth. It is idle, therefore, to inquire why Stephen saw him standing, (Acts 7:55,) while Paul describes him as sitting at God’s right hand. The expression does not refer to any bodily posture, but denotes the highest royal power with which Christ has been invested. This is intimated by what immediately follows, far above all principality and power: for the whole of this description is added for the purpose of explaining what is meant by the right hand.
Hebrews 1:3: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
Matthew Henry also describes “the right hand” as a place of highest honor:
From the glory of his sufferings we are at length led to consider the glory of his exaltation: When by himself he had purged away our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, at his Father’s right hand. As Mediator and Redeemer, he is invested with the highest honour, authority, and activity, for the good of his people; the Father now does all things by him, and receives all the services of his people from him. Having assumed our nature, and suffered in it on earth, he has taken it up with him to heaven, and there it has the high honour to be next to God, and this was the reward of his humiliation.Now it was by no less a person than this that God in these last days spoke to men; and, since the dignity of the messenger gives authority and excellency to the message, the dispensations of the gospel must therefore exceed, very far exceed, the dispensation of the law.
Calvin, on the same passage, says Christ is governing in the place of the Father:
The right hand is by a similitude applied to God, though he is not confined to any place, and has not a right side nor left. The session then of Christ means nothing else but the kingdom given to him by the Father, and that authority which Paul mentions, when he says that in his name every knee should bow. (Philippians 2:10) Hence to sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted. And the word majesty is added, and also on high, and for this purpose, to intimate that Christ is seated on the supreme throne whence the majesty of God shines forth. As, then, he ought to be loved on account of his redemption, so he ought to be adored on account of his royal magnificence
Hebrews 8:1: Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven
Matthew Henry describes the authority of Mediator at the right hand of the Father:
Where he now resides: He sits on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high, that is, of the glorious God of heaven. There the Mediator is placed, and he is possessed of all authority and power both in heaven and upon earth. This is the reward of his humiliation. This authority he exercises for the glory of his Father, for his own honour, and for the happiness of all who belong to him; and he will by his almighty power bring every one of them in their own order to the right hand of God in heaven, as members of his mystical body, that where he is they may be also.
Hebrews 10:12: But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God
Matthew Henry sees this passage as describing the exaltation of Christ as man and Mediator:
To what honour Christ, as man and Mediator, is exalted-to the right hand of God, the seat of power, interest, and activity: the giving hand; all the favours that God bestows on his people are handed to them by Christ: the receiving hand; all the duties that God accepts from men are presented by Christ: the working hand; all that pertains to the kingdoms of providence and grace is administered by Christ; and therefore this is the highest post of honour.
1 Peter 3:22: who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
John Calvin explains that sitting at the “right hand” is a mark of the supreme power that Christ wields:
Who is on the right hand of God. He recommends to us the ascension of Christ unto heaven, lest our eyes should seek him in the world; and this belongs especially to faith. He commends to our notice his session on the Father’s right hand, lest we should doubt his power to save us. And what his sitting at the right hand of the Father means, we have elsewhere explained, that is, that Christ exercises supreme power everywhere as God’s representative. And an explanation of this is what follows, angels being made subject to him; and he adds powers and authorities only for the sake of amplification, for angels are usually designated by such words. It was then Peter’s object to set forth by these high titles the sovereignty of Christ.
Far from teaching that the right hand of the Father is a place of secondary authority, Matthew Henry and John Calvin use the phrase to describe the exaltation of Christ as man and Mediator to the place of highest honor and power. In his commentary on Philippians 2:9-10, Calvin explains:
For what need, I ask, had he, who was the equal of the Father, of a new exaltation? … The meaning therefore is, that supreme power was given to Christ, and that he was placed in the highest rank of honor, so that there is no dignity found either in heaven or in earth that is equal to his.
10. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in giving the Son authority to rule over the nations
Grudem sees the Father’s authority in His giving the Son authority over the nations:
The Father’s authority over the Son is seen in how he delegates to the Son authority over the nations
Grudem uses Daniel 7:13-14 to support this point.
Daniel 7:13-14: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Calvin, in his commentary on this passage, explains that Christ became subject to the Father in His role as mediator:
For if we hold this principle that Christ is described to us, not as either the word of God, or the seed of Abraham, but as Mediator, that is, eternal God who was willing to become man, to become subject to God the Father, to be made like us, and to be our advocate, then no difficulty will remain.
Behold, therefore, a certain explanation. We will not say it was bestowed with relation to his being, and being called God. It was given to him as Mediator, as God manifest in flesh, and with respect to his human nature.
Matthew 28:18: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
In the ESV Study Bible’s commentary on Matthew 28:18, it explains that because Jesus was given authority by the Father, then the Son remains subject to the Father:
All authority. In his risen state, Jesus exercises absolute authority throughout heaven and earth, which shows his deity. His authority has been given by the Father, which indicates that he remains subject to the Father. (6113)
Matthew Henry, on the other hand, writes of Christ’s equality with God and His role as mediator:
As God, equal with the Father, all power was originally and essentially his; but as Mediator, as God-man, all power was given him; partly in recompense of his work (because he humbled himself, therefore God thus exalted him ), and partly in pursuance of his design; he had this power given him over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as were given him (Jn. 17:2 ), for the more effectual carrying on and completing our salvation.
Calvin also points to Christ’s role as Mediator in this passage:
Yet let us remember that what Christ possessed in his own right was given to him by the Father in our flesh, or—to express it more clearly—in the person of the Mediator; for he does not lay claim to the eternal power with which he was endued before the creation of the world, but to that which he has now received, by being appointed to be Judge of the world. Nay, more, it ought to be remarked, that this authority was not fully known until he rose from the dead; for then only did he come forth adorned with the emblems of supreme King.
So for Henry and Calvin, Christ has a delegated authority in His role as Mediator. This is not the same as an eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father.
11. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission after the final judgment and then for all eternity
Grudem believes that the authority of the Father and the submission of the Son will continue for all eternity:
Here is an indication of what will happen after the final judgment, when all enemies are destroyed and we enter into the eternal state. Just to be sure that there is no misunderstanding, Paul specifies that it was always the Father who always had ultimate authority, for it was the Father who“put all things in subjection” to the Son – all things, that is, but of course not the Father! Paul explicitly says, “He is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.” The Father has never been subject to the Son. “He is excepted.”
And then Paul specifies that once every enemy has been conquered and even death has been destroyed, the submission of the Son to the Father will not cease even at that time, for even then,“the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (v. 28). The Son has been subject to the authority of the Father since before the
foundation of the world, and here Paul specifies that the Son will continue to be subject to the authority of the Father forever.
Grudem uses 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 as support for this point.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28: Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
In the ESV Study Bible commentary on this passage, it says:
the Son … will also be subjected. Jesus is one with God the Father and equal to the Father in deity yet functionally subordinate to him, and this verse shows that his subjection to the Father will continue for all eternity. God will be all in all, not in the sense that God will be everything and everything will be God, as some Eastern religions imagine, but in the sense that God’s supreme authority over everything will be eternally established, never to be threatened again.(7385-7386, emphasis mine)
Matthew Henry explains in his commentary on this passage that Christ has a delegated authority in his role as Mediator:
As man, all his authority must be delegated. And, though his mediation supposes his divine nature, yet as Mediator he does not so explicitly sustain the character of God, but a middle person between God and man, partaking of both natures, human and divine, as he was to reconcile both parties, God and man, and receiving commission and authority from God the Father to act in this office. The Father appears, in this whole dispensation, in the majesty and with the authority of God: the Son, made man, appears as the minister of the Father, though he is God as well as the Father. Nor is this passage to be understood of the eternal dominion over all his creatures which belongs to him as God, but of a kingdom committed to him as Mediator and God-man, and that chiefly after his resurrection, when, having overcome, he sat down with his Father on his throne, Rev. 3:21 .
This is separate from His unlimited power as God:
This is not a power appertaining to Godhead as such; it is not original and unlimited power, but power given and limited to special purposes. And though he who has it is God, yet, inasmuch as he is somewhat else besides God, and in this whole dispensation acts not as God, but as Mediator, not as the offended Majesty, but as one interposing in favour of his offending creatures, and this by virtue of his consent and commission who acts and appears always in that character, he may properly be said to have this power given him; he may reign as God, with power unlimited, and yet may reign as Mediator, with a power delegated, and limited to these particular purposes.
He also writes that Christ, as Mediator, will deliver up the kingdom to the Father in completion of His work of redemption:
That this delegated royalty must at length be delivered up to the Father, from whom it was received (v. 24); for it is a power received for particular ends and purposes, a power to govern and protect his church till all the members of it be gathered in, and the enemies of it for ever subdued and destroyed (v. 25, v. 26), and when these ends shall be obtained the power and authority will not need to be continued.
The meaning of this I take to be that then the man Christ Jesus, who hath appeared in so much majesty during the whole administration of his kingdom, shall appear upon giving it up to be a subject of the Father. Things are in scripture many times said to be when they are manifested and made to appear; and this delivering up of the kingdom will make it manifest that he who appeared in the majesty of the sovereign king was, during this administration, a subject of God. The glorified humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all the dignity and power conferred on it, was no more than a glorious creature. This will appear when the kingdom shall be delivered up; and it will appear to the divine glory, that God may be all in all, that the accomplishment of our salvation may appear altogether divine, and God alone may have the honour of it.
Calvin also interprets this passage to be referring to Christ’s role as Mediator:
In the first place, it must be observed, that all power was delivered over to Christ, inasmuch as he was manifested in the flesh. It is true that such distinguished majesty would not correspond with a mere man, but, notwithstanding, the Father has exalted him in the same nature in which he was abased, and has given, him a name, before which every knee must bow, etc.
He also explains that Christ will deliver up the kingdom of believers to God in completion of His role as Mediator:
We acknowledge, it is true, God as the ruler, but it is in the face of the man Christ. But Christ will then restore the kingdom which he has received, that we may cleave wholly to God. Nor will he in this way resign the kingdom, but will transfer it in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity, because a way of approach will then be opened up, from which our infirmity now keeps us back. Thus then Christ will be subjected to the Father, because the vail being then removed, we shall openly behold God reigning in his majesty, and Christ’s humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God.
As is true in other passages discussed previously, where Grudem sees support for his belief in the eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father, Calvin and Henry interpret the passages in terms of Christ’s role as Mediator and His human nature.
12. Are all the actions of any one person of the Trinity actually the actions of all three
Grudem’s last point is specifically a response to certain arguments that seem to make no differentiation between the persons of the Trinity in the work that each does:
And so we must conclude that Erickson is incorrect in saying that an action of any member of the Trinity, such as predestining, sending, or commanding, “should not be taken as applying to the Father alone but to all members of the Trinity.” To say this is actually to come very close to
obliterating the distinctions among the members of the Trinity. It is coming very close to the ancient heresy of modalism, which said that there was only one person in God who manifested himself in different ways or “modes” of action. And it is certainly not a position which is consistent with hundreds of texts which show unique activities being carried out by one person of the Trinity with respect to another person of the Trinity.
I completely agree that there is both unity and diversity in the Trinity. There are distinctions made in Scripture regarding the roles each person plays in the various works of God. I think John Calvin explained this well in his commentary on Hebrews 1:2 explaining how both the Father and the Son can be said to be “Creator”:
According to the most usual mode of speaking in Scripture, the Father is called the Creator; and it is added in some places that the world was created by wisdom, by the word, by the Son, as though wisdom itself had been the creator, [or the word, or the Son.] But still we must observe that there is a difference of persons between the Father and the Son, not only with regard to men, but with regard to God himself. But the unity of essence requires that whatever is peculiar to Deity should belong to the Son as well as to the Father, and also that whatever is applied to God only should belong to both; and yet there is nothing in this to prevent each from his own peculiar properties.
However, believing that there are distinctions and differences in the persons of the Trinity and especially in the eternal work of God is not the same as believing that there is an inherent authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity.
In conclusion, I don’t believe that Grudem has proven his case for an eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father. Matthew Henry and John Calvin repeatedly interpret the above passages as being about Christ’s role as Mediator and not about authority and submission. There is a distinction in the persons of the Trinity, but there is not a hierarchy of authority and submission in the immanent Trinity. This is consistent with what Calvin writes:
It were unbecoming, however, to say nothing of a distinction which we observe that the Scriptures have pointed out. This distinction is, that to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action, while the energy and efficacy of action is assigned to the Spirit. … though in eternity there can be no room for first or last, still the distinction of order is not unmeaning or superfluous, the Father being considered first, next the Son from him, and then the Spirit from both. (Institutes, 1.13.18)
The Westminster Confession of Faith explains it this way:
In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (WCF 2.3)
There is unity and diversity in the Trinity, but any discussion of the Trinity should be done with caution as our finite minds are not particularly capable in comprehending such a mystery. All of our consideration of the Trinity should cause us to worship and glorify God. If it doesn’t, we should be concerned.
I’ll close with a quote from Calvin that sums up the caution we should have:
Therefore, let us beware of imagining such a Trinity of persons as will distract our thoughts, instead of bringing them instantly back to the unity. The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, certainly indicate a real distinction, not allowing us to suppose that they are merely epithets by which God is variously designated from his works. Still they indicate distinction only, not division. (Institutes I.13.17)
May God be glorified even if we never fully understand how He can be One and Three at the same time.
27 thoughts on “Does the Son Eternally Submit to the Authority of the Father?”
The terms “subordination” and “subordinationism” are used frequently in the context of trinitarian discussion, and have a clearly defined usage. Theologians of the past have spoken in some sense of the subordination of the Son and the Spirit within the boundaries of orthodoxy. Subordinationism, however, describes a heretical formulation of the doctrine of God, usually referred to as ontological subordinationism. Ontological subordinationism is recognized as heresy because it says the Son and Spirit do not share directly in the very being or essence of God the Father. The term subordinationism, then, is not used functionally (eternal or temporal) but rather ontologically (regarding being and essence only). This usage is well attested
Yes, I understand the difference between a “subordination” or “submission” in the economic Trinity and “subordinationism” the heresy. I made that point in both articles here. When you move past the economic Trinity and teach (as they are doing in the new book mentioned in the other article) a subordination in the immanent or ontological Trinity, that is a form of “subordinationism.” I know that they deny that it is. It is also well attested that every heretic in the history of the church has denied that they are heretics.
To say that the Son submits to the Father by “nature” of His being the Son and that the Father has authority by “nature” of being the Father is an ontological argument and it is not consistent with the orthodox formulations of the Trinity.
I have enjoyed your post and appreciate your critical analysis. : – )
I suspect the doctrine of the Trinity is due for some clarification by theologians and laymen such as yourself.
One reason the time is ripe is because some conceptual tools useful for probing the Trinity have been developed by other branches of learning in the last centuries or two.
One conceptual tool is the concepts of necessity and contingency which have been greatly clarified by contemporary philosophers, among whom is Alvin Plantinga.
Does the ontological versus economical Trinity coincides with what is necessary for God and what is contingent for God?
What is ontologically necessary is unchangeable or immutable.
But not all that exist are ontologically necessary.
Christian theologians have been affirming that God freely created the created universe.
Another conceptual tool is the concept of an ordering relation (such as a total and partial order) that is developed by mathematicians.
Understanding “order” is very useful for probing Divine causation and the Eternal-temporal relation.
Change implies contingency and order.
Human beings order changes by the causative relation “cause-effect” and the temporal relation “before-after”.
What is the cause can only be temporally before the effect.
Many cannot think of changes but in terms of before-after.
As one who follows Augustine and Calvin in affirming that God is an atemporal being and not in time, I suspect all that is necessary to conceptualize Divine change is the cause-effect relation and that the changes can be ordered using the cause-effect relation in some ways.
My main problem with Wayne Grudem’s “Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father” (2012) is his unguarded used of the term “eternal”.
The issue is not with grammatical exegeses but with what kind of theological or philosophical assumptions brought to the exegeses.
There are two main views of eternity: the temporal view and the atemporal view.
Following Augustine and Calvin, I subscribe to the atemporal view that God is not in time.
Wayne Grudem also subscribes to the atemporal view of eternity.
My guess is that the temporal view of eternity is the commonsense view.
In the temporal view, eternity is taken as everlasting time and is pictured by a timeline that is extended indefinitely to the left and right.
A problem with this picture is that it cannot accommodate the difference between necessity and contingency in eternity.
Using this picture of eternity, it is very easy to confuse what is eternal with what is necessary.
What is eternal corresponds to an eternal truth which is taken as true at every point on the timeline.
What is necessary also corresponds to a necessary truth which is also taken as true at every point on the timeline.
This makes what is eternal and what is necessary co-extensive on the timeline.
The uncritical inferences are that what is eternal is necessary and what is necessary is eternal.
I suspect the claim that what is necessary is eternal is true, but the converse claim that what is eternal is necessary is false.
Wayne Grudem in his articles did not guard against the fallacious inference that what is eternal must be necessary and I suspect this is one of the things you are reacting against in your post.
I do not object to the claim that the Father-Son relation between the First and Second Person s of the Trinity is eternal, but I suspect that this relation is not necessary.
If what is eternal must be necessary, then Father-Son relation and the consequent Authority-Submission relation must also be necessary and an ontological property of the Trinity.
To repeat, I suspect this is one of the things you are reacting against.
And rightly so.
This all stems from reading eternity as everlasting time and is pictured by a timeline that is extended indefinitely to the left and right.
Wayne Grudem, being an atemporalist that he is, should have guarded against this fallacious inference.
Assuming that the Father-Son relation is eternal, two questions I like to pose to ESS theorists are:
Do you believe that the Father-Son relation is a necessary (ontological) property of the Trinity?
Do you believe that the Authority-Submission relation is a necessary (ontological) property of the Trinity?
(There are two possible answers: (a) eternal and necessary, and (b) eternal but contingent.)
(Similar questions can be posed with respects to the Holy Spirit.)
Rachel – This is tremendous. Thank you for investing so much time and effort and careful study into this topic. It’s so needed, especially at a time when the church seems more open and receptive to unearthing the toxic roots of situations such as the recent Duggar and TVC tragedies.
I think answering the two questions in my previous comment is a good way to continue the discussions.
Answering the questions will help establish presumptions and allocate the burden of proof for the participants of the discussion:
(a) Those who affirm that the Father-Son relation (and the Authority=Submission relation) is a necessary (ontological) property of the Trinity is presume to affirm subordinationism, a form of doctrinal heresy.
The burden of proof is on them to show why their position is not heretical.
(b) Those who affirm that the Father-Son relation (and the Authority-Submission relation) is a contingent property of the Trinity is presume to affirm subordination without subordinationism and therefore not heretical.
The burden of proof is on their critics to show why they are heretical.
How the two views (i.e. eternal and necessary, and eternal but contingent) bear on the egalitarian-complementarian debate has to be reevaluated.
the very easy answer to a) is that the son in His incarnation was obedient to the will of the Father without any violation to the Son’s deity, therefore eternal submission holding to the same principle would not violate the Son’s deity. However this removes a negative argument, but does not prove anything positive to support eternal submission.
However in the question a) above you have collapsed two different questions into one. The Father-Son relationship question is affirmed by probably all, that the Father-Son relation is defined by the eternal generation of the Son, and is without doubt one of THE necessary properties of the Trinity.
The second collapsed question in a) is the authority-submission relationship, here we have to be so cautious in the use of terms both historically in the church, and currently in society. It is preferable that the terms authority-submission be not used, the better historic term is order or taxis. A cursory glance at the filioque dispute demonstrates that the discussion of the taxis is not a modern phenomenon, and involves the church both east and west in investigating the aspects of progression, of being, of distinctions in the persons, of simplicity, of essence and so on. So to try to categorize the nature of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity in the philosophical categories of necessary or contingent is useful to a point, but it also comes with a huge health warning – Only the Spirit fully understand the mystery of the Godhead, we only can examine what has been revealed and it is clear that there is a taxis in the Persons and this has been accepted in every major ecumenical creed, what this taxis actually entails is a different matter!
“Authority=Submission relation” should be “Authority-Submission relation”.
I take your “huge health warning” to heart. : – )
The following comments are meant to be suggestive only.
1. Ryan: “So to try to categorize the nature of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity in the philosophical categories of necessary or contingent is useful to a point …”
I fully agree that the properties of necessity / contingency is only useful in categorizing certain aspects of God / Trinity.
An example of a necessary property of the God is omniscience.
God could not have been God without being omniscience.
An example of a contingent property of God is creation.
God could have been God without creating the created universe.
So God does have both necessary and contingent properties.
2. Ryan: “However in the question a) above you have collapsed two different questions into one.”
I consider whether the Father-Son relation and the Authority-Submission relation are eternally necessary to the Trinity as two separate questions.
I pose the two as separate questions in the original comment.
I use “Father-Son relation (and the Authority-Submission relation)” in (a) for economy of expression.
The source for confusion is me and I apologize.
One reason why they are two separate questions is because although the Father-Son relation implies an Authority-Submission relation, it is possible the Trinity possesses an Authority-Submission relation without the Father-Son relation.
3. Ryan: “The Father-Son relationship question is affirmed by probably all, that the Father-Son relation is defined by the eternal generation of the Son, and is without doubt one of THE necessary properties of the Trinity.”
I agree that the Father-Son relationship is affirmed by probably all.
I take your health warning to heart and reiterate that the following comments are suggestive only.
Is the Father-Son relation an eternally necessary property of the Trinity?
Arguing from the perspective that the Father-Son relation is not eternally necessary but eternally contingent:
Is anything ontologically lost if we say:
The First Person of the Trinity eternally generates the Second Person of the Trinity
The Father eternally generates the Son?
Under this suggestion, what is necessary to the Trinity and characterizes the Trinity ontologically are the two relations Eternal Generation and Eternal Procession.
(a) Eternal Generation is a two terms relation:
Eternal Generation (Person A, Person B)
and is read as Person A eternally generates Person B.
(b) Eternal Procession is a three terms relation:
Eternal Procession (Person A, Person B, Person C)
and is read as Person C eternally processes from Person A and Person B.
Under this suggestion, the Father-Son relation is eternally contingent while what is eternally necessary are the Eternal Generation and Eternal Procession relations.
Using the two relations Eternal Generation and Eternal Procession, the three Persons of the Trinity can be uniquely identified without confusion:
The First Person is the one who eternally generates another Person.
The Second Person is the one who is eternally generated by another Person and who does not eternally generates another Person.
The Third Person is the one:
(a) who is eternally processes from two other Persons, and
(b) who neither eternally generates nor is eternally generated by any other Persons.
4. Ryan: “The second collapsed question in a) is the authority-submission relationship, here we have to be so cautious in the use of terms both historically in the church, and currently in society. It is preferable that the terms authority-submission be not used, the better historic term is order or taxis.”
Again, I do not mean to collapse the two questions.
I think I disagree with your “It is preferable that the terms authority-submission be not used, the better historic term is order or taxis.”
The Greek term “taxis” means order or arrangement.
Although authority-submission implies order or arrangement, the converse implication does not hold.
There can be order or arrangement without authority-submission.
The term “authority-submission” is unavoidable in the current discussions.
Rachel Miller’s post is a response to ESS theorists who attempt to ground Complementarism in the authority-submission structure of the Father-Son relation of the Trinity in the Complementarian-Egalitarian debate.
One of the questions at issue is whether that is appropriate.
Rachel, thank you for thoroughly addressing the heresy of ESS that Grudem arrives at through his culturally-induced eisegesis. I fear he will never consider your points, though, since his ESS is a crutch to his insistence that women can’t instruct men on spiritual matters.
You’ve done a bang-up job here.
Thank you for all your hard work, Rachel! Bookmarking this for future reference.
This is a perfect example of why we need to be good Bereans. It isn’t wise to assume someone is correct because of who that someone is. (I’ve been guilty in the past of thinking that fallible men like Grudem and Piper couldn’t be wrong.)
I am also concerned with the heavy-handed approach to this issue in that a parachurch organization assumes they have the right to speak for and dictate to other Christians what they ought to believe. And if you don’t, you are labeled and written off as a “feminist.”
It’s also fair to scrutinize the application of this teaching and see what it has produced. Thanks to Barbara’s links in your previous post, the track record of ESS proponents in how they speak of and deal with domestic abuse is rather telling.
Splendid analysis and thanks for doing the digging of the quotes on this subject. It is great to see and hear learned women not afraid to enter the arena of debate in matters related to theology. This issue in particular is not just an academic one. It has practical implications for how men treat the women around them. I have seen first hand how an authoritarian sub-culture bolstered by this sort of ESS theology can be damaging on many sides.
As for the arguments put forth by ESS theology a major concern I have is that it moves Christ, the Son of God, out of his full place of honor and absolute sovereignty which the NT and even the OT indicate belongs to him (as much as the Spirit and Father). The exaltation of the God-man is one of the major story lines in the NT. This I have found has opened up to me the reading of the Apocalypse (rather than reading it as a book loaded with end time predictions). Christ is as the Athanasian Creed asserts, the Almighty “for there are not three almighties.” There is no such thing as a three tiered Trinity…
…else there would be no trinity of God, but three divinities, unequal.
Three preliminary lines of reasoning for the eternal contingency of the Father-Son relation and the eternal contingency of the authority-submission structure in the Trinity.
The suggestion is that God as Trinity is eternally necessary, but the Father-Son relation in the Trinity is eternally contingent.
The Father-Son relation is a part of the economic Trinity and not a part of the ontological Trinity.
“Holy Spirit” is put in brackets because the focus of discussions is on the Father-Son relation.
1. The three Persons of the Trinity are ontologically equal.
An ontological authority-submission structure in the Trinity implies the three Persons of the Trinity are not ontologically equal.
Therefore, there is no ontological authority-submission structure in the Trinity.
An ontological Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation in the Trinity implies an ontological authority-submission structure in the Trinity.
Therefore, there is no ontological Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation in the Trinity.
Therefore, the Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation in the Trinity is contingent.
2. All the Bible verses that refer to the Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation in the Trinity refer to it in the context for the creation of the created universe.
The creation of the created universe is contingent.
Therefore, the Biblical evidences only justify an eternally contingent Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation in the Trinity.
3. The Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation in the Trinity implies an authority-submission structure in the Trinity.
There is no Bible verse that refers to an authority-submission structure in the Trinity other than in the context of the Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation.
Therefore, there are only Biblical evidences for an authority-submission structure in the Trinity as implied by the Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation.
The Biblical evidences only justify an eternally contingent Father-Son (and Holy Spirit) relation in the Trinity.
Therefore, the Biblical evidences only justify an eternally contingent authority-submission structure in the Trinity.
On the issue of Gen 2:24 Calvin writes:
And he amplifies this by a superadded comparison, that the husband ought to prefer his wife to his father. But the father is said to be left not because marriage severs sons from their fathers, or dispenses with other ties of nature, for in this way God would be acting contrary to himself. While, however, the piety of the son towards his father is to be most assiduously cultivated and ought in itself to be deemed inviolable and sacred, yet Moses so speaks of marriage as to show that it is less lawful to desert a wife than parents. Therefore, they who, for slight causes, rashly allow of divorces, violate, in one single particular, all the laws of nature, and reduce them to nothing. If we should make it a point of conscience not to separate a father from his son, it is a still greater wickedness to dissolve the bond which God has preferred to all others.
I’m not sure I follow the point in your comment
See John Calvin on Ephesians 6:1
1.Children, obey. Why does the apostle use the word obey instead of honor, (167) which has a greater extent of meaning? It is because Obedience is the evidence of that honor which children owe to their parents, and is therefore more earnestly enforced. It is likewise more difficult; for the human mind recoils from the idea of subjection, and with difficulty allows itself to be placed under the control of another. Experience shews how rare this virtue is; for do we find one among a thousand that is obedient to his parents? By a figure of speech, a part is here put for the whole, but it is the most important part, and is necessarily accompanied by all the others.
In the Lord. Besides the law of nature, which is acknowledged by all nations, the obedience of children is enforced by the authority of God. Hence it follows, that parents are to be obeyed, so far only as is consistent with piety to God, which comes first in order. If the command of God is the rule by which the submission of children is to be regulated, it would be foolish to suppose that the performance of this duty could lead away from God himself.
For this is right. This is added in order to restrain the fierceness which, we have already said, appears to be natural to almost all men. He proves it to be right, because God has commanded it; for we are not at liberty to dispute, or call in question, the appointment of him whose will is the unerring rule of goodness and righteousness. That honor should be represented as including obedience is not surprising; for mere ceremony is of no value in the sight of God. The precept, honor thy father and mother, comprehends all the duties by which the sincere affection and respect of children to their parents can be expressed.
and John Gill:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord,…. The persons whose duty this is, “children”, are such of every sex, male and female, and of every age, and of every state and condition; and though the true, legitimate, and immediate offspring of men may be chiefly respected, yet not exclusive of spurious children, and adopted ones, and of children-in-law; and the persons to whom obedience from them is due, are not only real and immediate parents, both father and mother, but such who are in the room of parents, as step-fathers, step-mothers, guardians, nurses, &c. and all who are in the ascending line, as grandfathers, grandmothers, &c. to these, children should be subject and obedient in all things lawful, just, and good; in everything that is not sinful and unlawful, by the word of God; and in things indifferent, as much as in them lies, and even in things which are difficult to perform: and this obedience should be hearty and sincere, and not merely verbal, and in show and appearance, nor mercenary; and should be joined with gratitude and thankfulness for past favours: and it should be “in the Lord”; which may be considered either as a limitation of the obedience, that it should be in things that are agreeable to the mind and will of the Lord; or as an argument to it, because it is the command of the Lord, and is wellpleasing in his sight, and makes for his glory, and therefore should be done for his sake:
for this is right; it appears to be right by the light of nature, by which the very Heathens have taught it; and it is equitable from reason that so it should be; and it is just by the law of God, which commands nothing but what is holy, just, and good.
Is your point to suggest that the Son obeys and submits to the Father because He’s the Son?
I was responding to Mr. Gruden’s ideas on the obedience of children to their fathers and pointing out that John Calvin, John Gill, and Matthew Henry seem to have very different views from his:
Mr. Gruden seems to miss the grammar of Ephesians 6:1-2, which is that of two verbal commands: obey and honor. The noun, or subject, of both commands is the same, directly expressed in the first command and expressed by implication in the second command, thus the commands read: children:obey (children):honor. The Greek word used is ‘teknon’, here translated ‘children’.
A similar sentence form would be, “John, Go play in your room. Don’t make any noise, Grandma is trying to sleep.” Hopefully everyone will recognize that ‘John’ is the subject, or person being commanded, in both commands ‘Go play’ and ‘Don’t make any noise’.
He also makes a fundamental logic mistake. Even if the word ‘teknon’ only applied to the word ‘obey’, it would not, therefore, being implying that other, non-little-children, were not to obey their parents. Timothy, in Scripture, is told to ‘preach sound doctrine’. This hardly implies that Titus or Philemon were to preach unsound doctrine.
Mr. Gruden also seems to believe that the Greek word ‘teknon’ means something on the order of ‘little person that will grow up and come out from under authority’. A simple experiment can easily show that this is not the way the word is used in the New Testament. Just substitute his proposed phrase for the word ‘teknon’ in the following verses:
1Pe 3:6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose [little persons that will grow up and come out from under authority] ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
Gal 4:28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the [little persons that will grow up and come out from under authority] of promise.
Eph 2:3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the [little persons that will grow up and come out from under authority] of wrath, even as others.
(Other passages include: Matthew 1:1,20,21,23,25; 2:15; 3:17; 4:3,6; 5:9,45; 7:9; 8:12,20,29; 9:6,15,27; 10:23,37; 11:19,27; 12:8,23,27,32,40; 13:37,38,41,55; 14:33; 15:22; 16:13,16,27,28; 17:5,9,12,15,22,25,26; 18:11; 19:28; 20:18,20,21,28,30,31; 21:5,9,15,37,38; 22:2,42,45; 23:15,31,35; 24:27,30,37,39,44; 25:13,31; 26:2,24,37,45,63,64; 27:9,40,43,54,56; 28:19; Mark 1:1,11; 2:10,19,28; 3:11,17,28; 5:7; 6:3; 8:31,38; 9:7,9,12,17,31; 10:33,35,45,46,47,48; 12:6,35,37; 13:26,32; 14:21,41,61,62; 15:39; Luke 1:13,16,31,32,35,36,57; 2:7; 3:2,22,23; 4:3,9,22,41; 5:10,24,34; 6:5,22,35; 7:12,34; 8:28; 9:22,26,35,38,41,44,56,58; 10:6,22; 11:11,19,30; 12:8,10,40,53; 15:11,13,19,21,24,25,30; 16:8; 17:22,24,26,30; 18:8,31,38,39; 19:9,10; 20:13,34,36,41,44; 21:27,36; 22:22,48,69,70; 24:7; John 1:18,34,42,45,49,51; 3:13,14,16,17,18,35,36; 4:5,12,46,47,50,53; 5:19,20,21,22,23,25,26,27; 6:27,40,42,53,62,69; 8:28,35,36; 9:19,20,35; 10:36; 11:4,27; 12:23,34,36; 13:31; 14:13; 17:1,12; 19:7,26; 20:31; Acts 2:17; 3:25; 4:36; 5:21; 7:16,21,23,29,37,56; 8:37; 9:15,20; 10:36; 13:10,21,26,33; 16:1; 19:14; 23:6,16; Romans 1:3,4,9; 5:10; 8:3,14,19,29,32; 9:9,26,27; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 15:28; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 3:7,13; 6:18; Galatians 1:16; 2:20; 3:7,26; 4:4,6,7,22,30; Ephesians 2:2; 3:5; 4:13; 5:6; Colossians 1:13; 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Hebrews 1:2,5,8; 2:6,10; 3:6; 4:14; 5:5,8; 6:6; 7:3,5,28; 10:29; 11:21,22,24; 12:5,6,7,8; James 2:21; 1 Peter 5:13; 2 Peter 1:17; 1 John 1:3,7; 2:22,23,24; 3:8,23; 4:9,10,14,15; 5:5,9,10,11,12,13,20; 2 John 1:3,9; Revelation 1:13; 2:14,18; 7:4; 12:5; 14:14; 21:7,12;
Or look at the list of some of the people who were addressed as ‘Teknon’ by Jesus, Paul, and others:
Jesus and John: Matt 11:19, Luke 7:35
The Jews: Matt 15:26, Luke 3:8
The apostles: Acts 13:33
The man sick of palsy: Mt 9:2
The dead rich man: Luke 16:25
The Sons of God: John 1:12, I John 3:1-2
The Corinthians: I Cor 4:14
The Phillipians Phillipians 2:15
Timothy: I Cor 4:17, 2:22, I Tim 2:15, II Tim 1:2
Onesiphus Philemon 10
Titus: Tit 1:4
The old commentators present the OT command to ‘honor one’s father and mother’ as having three components: respect, care, and obedience:
From Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion:
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the lord thy god giveth thee.
(Institutes:35). The end of this commandment is, that since the Lord takes pleasure in the preservation of his own ordinance, the degrees of dignity appointed by him must be held inviolable. The sum of the commandment, therefore, will be, that we are to look up to those whom the Lord has set over us, yielding them honour, gratitude, and obedience. Hence it follows, that every thing in the way of contempt, ingratitude, or disobedience, is forbidden. For the term honour has this extent of meaning in Scripture
Institutes:36). Wherefore, we ought to have no doubt that the Lord here lays down this universal rule—viz. that knowing how every individual is set over us by his appointment, we should pay him reverence, gratitude, obedience, and every duty in our power. And it makes no difference whether those on whom the honour is conferred are deserving or not. Be they what they may, the Almighty, by conferring their station upon them, shows that he would have them honoured. The commandment specifies the reverence due to those to whom we owe our being. This Nature herself should in some measure teach us. For they are monsters, and not men, who petulantly and contumeliously violate the paternal authority. Hence, the Lord orders all who rebel against their parents to be put to death, they being, as it where, unworthy of the light in paying no deference to those to whom they are indebted for beholding it. And it is evident, from the various appendices to the Law, that we were correct in stating, that the honour here referred to consists of three parts, reverence, obedience, and gratitude. The first of these the Lord enforces, when he commands that whose curseth his father or his mother shall be put to death. In this way he avenges insult and contempt. The second he enforces, when he denounces the punishment of death on disobedient and rebellious children. To the third belongs our Saviour’s declaration, that God requires us to do good to our parents (Mt. 15). And whenever Paul mentions this commandment, he interprets it as enjoining obedience.213213 Exod. 21:17; Lev. 20:9; Prov. 20:20; Deut. 21:18; Mt. 25:4; Eph. 6:1; Colloss. 3:20.
From John Calvin’s Commentary: Exodus 20:12
…It will be now well to ascertain what is the force of the word “honor,” not as to its grammatical meaning, (for כבד, cabad, is nothing else but to pay due honor to God, and to men who are in authority,) but as to its essential signification. Surely, since God would not have His servants comply with external ceremonies only, it cannot be doubted but that all the duties of piety towards parents are here comprised, to which children are laid under obligation by natural reason itself; and these may be reduced to three heads, i e. , that they should regard them with reverence; that they should obediently comply with their commands, and allow themselves to be governed by them; and that they should endeavor to repay what they owe to them, and thus heartily devote to them themselves and their services. Since, therefore, the name of Father is a sacred one, and is transferred to men by the peculiar goodness of God, the dishonoring of parents redounds to the dishonor of God Himself, nor can any one despise his father without being guilty of an offense against God, ( sacrilegium.) If any should object that there are many ungodly and wicked fathers whom their children cannot regard with honor without destroying the distinction between good and evil, the reply is easy, that the perpetual law of nature is not subverted by the sins of men; and therefore, however unworthy of honor a father may be, that he still retains, inasmuch as he is a father, his right over his children, provided it does not in anywise derogate from the judgment of God; for it is too absurd to think of absolving under any pretext the sins which are condemned by His Law; nay, it would be a base profanation to misuse the name of father for the covering of sins. In condemning, therefore, the vices of a father, a truly pious son will subscribe to God’s Law; and still, whatsoever he may be, will acknowledge that he is to be honored, as being the father given him by God.
…“Now it was a comfortable thing for ante man to behold how two great rooms of Westminster-hall were taken up, one with the son, the other with the father, which hath as yet never been heard of before or since, the son to be Lord Chancellor, and the father, Sir John More, to be one of the ancientest Judges of the King’s Bench, if not the eldest of all; for now he was near 90 year old. Yea, what a grateful spectacle was it, to see the son ask the father’s blessing every day upon his knees, before he sat in his own seat, a thing expressing rare humility, exemplar obedience, and submissive piety.”
Honor thy father and thy mother – There is a degree of affectionate respect which is owing to parents, that no person else can properly claim. For a considerable time parents stand as it were in the place of God to their children, and therefore rebellion against their lawful commands has been considered as rebellion against God. This precept therefore prohibits, not only all injurious acts, irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect, and obedience.
The fifth commandment is concerning the duties we owe to our relations; that of children to their parents is only instanced in, honour thy father and thy mother, which includes, an inward esteem of them, outwardly expressed upon all occasions in our carriage towards them; fear them, Leviticus 19:3, give them reverence, Hebrews 12:9 .The contrary to this is mocking at them or despising them, Obedience to their lawful commands; so it is expounded, Ephesians 6:1 – 3.Children obey your parents; come when they call you, go where they send you, do what they bid you, do not what they forbid you; and this chearfully, and from a principle of love. Though you have said you will not, yet afterwards repent and obey.
Submission to their rebukes, instructions and corrections, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.
Q. 123. Which is the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment is, Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.
Q. 125. Why are superiors styled father and mother?
A. Superiors are styled father and mother, both to teach them in all duties toward their inferiors, like natural parents, to express love and tenderness to them, according to their several relations; and to work inferiors to a greater willingness and cheerfulness in performing their duties to their superiors, as to their parents.
Q. 126. What is the general scope of the fifth commandment?
A. The general scope of the fifth commandment is, the performance of those duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, or equals.
Q. 127. What is the honour that inferiors owe to their superiors?
A. The honour which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word,  and behaviour; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defence, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honour to them and to their government.
Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their personsand places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonour to them and their government.
Q. 129. What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?
A. It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honour to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God hath put upon them.
Q. 130. What are the sins of superiors?
A. The sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them, and inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure;commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; counseling, encouraging, or favouring them in that which is evil; dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing them in that which is good; correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonouring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behaviour.
Q. 131. What are the duties of equals?
A. The duties of equals are, to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honour to go one before another; and to rejoice in each others’ gifts and advancement, as their own.
Q. 132. What are the sins of equals?
A. The sins of equals are, besides the neglect of the duties required, the undervaluing of the worth, envying the gifts, grieving at the advancement of prosperity one of another; and usurping pre-eminence one over another.
Q. 133. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment, the more to enforce it?
A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, in these words, That thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, is an express promise of long life and prosperity, as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good, to all such as keep this commandment.