Eternal Subordination of the Son and the ESV Translation

One of the questions I was asked in my interview with the Theology Gals was about the connection between the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) and the ESV Bible translation. My response was that I had not seen any evidence ESS in the translation itself, although there are several instances of it in the ESV Study Bible notes. I also noted that I have other concerns about the ESV translation, like the influence of Susan Foh’s work on the meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3:16, but that I had not seen any influence of ESS in the text itself.

The day after the Theology Gals’ podcast aired I came across another podcast from the guys at Gentle Reformation that gives examples from the ESV translation that demonstrate the influence of ESS. I so wish I’d seen that before my interview as I think it’s an extremely important concern. ESS does indeed appear to have influenced the translation of the ESV.

Here are the two texts that the 3GT podcast mentioned as evidence of ESS in the ESV:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. John 14:10 ESV (italics mine)

And:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:13 ESV (italics mine)

As the guys on the 3GT podcast explain, the issue is the translation of the word “heautou” or “emautoú” as “on his/my own authority.” The Greek words used, heautou/emautoú, means “himself, herself, itself.” It does not mean “authority.” Most other translations use either  “of himself, herself, ourselves, myself” etc. or “initiative.” For example, John 14:10 from the NASB:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. John 14:10 NASB (italics mine)

Or John 16:13 from the KJV:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 16:13 KJV (italics mine)

The ESV consistently translates heautou/emautoú as “on his/my own authority” in every passage referring to Jesus or to the Spirit. Examples include John 7:17, John 8:28, John 10:18, and John 12:49. They do not translate it “on his/my own authority” in the 300+ other occurrences of heautou/emautoú

In all of the other occurrences, heautou/emautoú is translated as “himself, herself, itself” etc. For example in Luke 14:27:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 ESV (italics mine)

The ESV is not the only translation of the Bible that uses “authority” in this way, but the use of “authority” in these passages is a minority position. And with good reason. While it is not uncommon to speak of the incarnate Son as submitting to His Father’s authority, it is necessary to qualify what is meant by authority and submission.

Proponents of ESS teach that there is an eternal relationship of authority and submission between God the Father and God the Son. They teach that authority and submission are in the very nature of God. This is contrary to classic, orthodox teaching on the Trinity which does not allow for any difference of authority within the nature of the Trinity. As the God-man, Jesus did, of course, submit His human will to the authority of the Father. But that does not mean that the Father and the Son are eternally defined in their nature or being by authority and submission.

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou/emautoú as “authority” is apparent in the John 16:13 passage. That passage is speaking of the Spirit. While the Son, after the incarnation, has a human will and a divine will, the Spirit does not. The Spirit’s authority is always the one divine authority. If the Spirit is not speaking on His “own authority,” whose authority is He speaking on?

I’m very grateful to the guys at 3GT for bringing this to my attention. I hope you will all check out their podcast and share this development with others. I continue to be amazed at the reach and influence ESS has had and is still having in the Reformed world.

 

Eternal Subordination of the Son- Podcast with Theology Gals

Last week, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Coleen and Ashley at Theology Gals for their podcast. We talked about the Eternal Subordination of the Son controversy. If you’re curious about what ESS is, why it matters, what impact it has practically in our churches, etc, you can listen to the interview here. My hope is that more people become aware of the continuing danger that ESS is for men, women, families, churches, and communities.

Link for podcast: http://biblethumpingwingnut.com/2017/07/17/eternal-subordination-of-the-son-with-rachel-miller-theology-gals/

Does it matter what women are taught?

Since I first began writing, one of my main concerns has been the effect false teaching has on the church, and particularly on women. It is a topic dear to my heart. Because of this, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. Aimee also has a heart for the women in the church and what they’re being taught.

In No Little Women, Aimee addresses the need for women to be taught both solid doctrine and how to be discerning. The book is geared towards two audiences: pastors/elders and Christian women, although anyone would benefit from reading it.  Aimee wants pastors/elders to take an active role in teaching, equipping, and protecting women in the church. She asks, “[W]hat is your expectation for the women in your church? (271)” She also wants women to be competent allies and not “little women.”

The title comes from Paul’s warnings in 2 Timothy 3:6-7,

For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (NASB)

Aimee notes that “weak” women could be translated “little” or “small” women (23). This description does not mean that women are by nature “weak” and gullible, but it is a useful warning that godly women should heed. If we’re not going to be weak and easily led astray, we will need to be well grounded in the Scripture. We need to know what we believe.

Aimee warns that today the greatest danger for women is likely coming from books and materials marketed for women by Christian publishers and authors.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? … Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives? (22)

For this reason, pastors/elders need to know what’s being taught in women’s books and studies, and women need to learn discernment. Aimee’s book seeks to encourage both. First, Aimee explains why it matters.

All Christians, both men and women, are theologians. We all have beliefs about God. In order to be good theologians, we must be taught good doctrine. Here Aimee emphasizes the importance of the ministry of Word and sacraments done by our ordained leaders. This cannot be replaced by study on our own or in small groups or by parachurch organizations. We need to hear the Word preached and have the sacraments administered in the church by our pastors and elders.

Because men and women together make up the body of Christ, the church, Aimee explains that we must work together. Aimee uses the imagery of the church as the household of God. “In a household that is set up properly, women should thrive alongside the men as they serve according to their giftedness and the needs of the church (87).” Only qualified men should be ordained leaders in the church, but we all have gifts that should be used in the work of the church:

While we do have male leadership in the ministerial office, we don’t want to promote a male culture in the church. Women are not only necessary allies to their husbands within their personal households but are also necessary allies to the men in carrying out the mission of the household of God. And in this way, women have distinct and diverse contributions to make alongside their brothers in Christ. Christ’s own ministry involved women as necessary allies. (106)

In order for women to be competent and to fulfill their roles as necessary allies, women must be taught sound doctrine.

Next Aimee explains why women’s ministry is so often a “back door for bad doctrine.” Many times the pastors/elders are unaware of what’s being taught:

Far too many motivated women are dealing with shallow women’s studies – or, worse, just plain false teaching – in their church. One of the biggest laments is that the elders are unaware of the harm that these studies are inflicting on the women in their congregation. And the message from silence is that the women don’t really matter. (31)

Even when pastors/elders are made aware of the dangerous teachings, many times nothing much is done:

It is often difficult to have an edifying, civil conversation with those who insist on teaching material that is being questioned by a discerning and concerned church member or pastor. The pastor often looks like the bad guy if he comes in, after a study has already been established, to gently correct the teaching and offer something to replace it. Families begin to take sides, and some even leave the church. Women have approached their pastors or elders because their group is studying a book with false teaching, only to be ignored as if it doesn’t matter because it’s just the women’s group. (51)

Two of the main reasons bad teaching in women’s ministry gets a pass is that the teachers are so friendly and likable:

Many Christians do not distinguish between a likable personality and the content of that person’s teaching. … [M]any of the women who teach troubling doctrines are very likable. Their books are well packaged, their talks are endearing, and they are exceptionally good at honing in on the common struggles that women are dealing with. They approach these topic with humor, self-disclosure, and warmth. And their lingo sounds pretty Christian. … [W]e think we can let our guard down. (48)

And many people are hesitant to critique women teachers:

So often, the theology of women such as these is not critiqued because we don’t want to hurt feelings. Somehow it comes off as not nice to critique a woman’s teaching. Well, that isn’t taking women seriously, either. It is not insulting to point out error. What is unloving is giving a teacher license to teach falsely because you like her personality, because you want to believe that it’s true, or worse, because you don’t want to engage critically with a woman. (149)

As Aimee says, it should not be this way. Because women matter, because women are necessary allies, because women need to be competent, we must hold all of the teaching, no matter who it’s geared to, to the same high standard. To do this, we need practical skills to learn how to discern whether a book or study is theologically healthy or not.

In the last third of the book, Aimee sets out to teach us how to do be discerning. She gives a great illustration of the nature of the problem, equating false teaching in women’s books to an autoimmune disease in the church:

While there is a lot of heresy being sold by the Christian book industry, books marketed for and popular with Christian women could often be diagnosed as having autoimmune diseases. Without a thorough inspection, they seem to have some good points and experiences that women can relate to. But the authors tend not to have a sound theological immune system. … Inevitably what happens is that they being attacking healthy teaching in a subversive kind of way, causing all kinds of inflammation and various chronic conditions that weaken the church. For some reason, they do not react well to attempts to correct them, and they want to continue overactively spreading their messages. (234)

It’s crucial that we learn to assess the theological health of a book. To this end, Aimee lists four essential questions to ask about the theology of a book.

  1. What does the author say about God’s Word? (223)
  2. What does the author say about who man is? (224)
  3. What does the author say about God? (226)
  4. What does the author say about what God has done and is doing? (228)

Aimee also explains that not all theological “illnesses” in a book are equally dangerous. She describes the process of determining how dangerous it is as theological triage. She divides the theological differences into three categories: first-order, second-order, and third-order:

[T]he essentials, such as the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, and justification by faith, are what Mohler calls “first-order” doctrines that are necessary for a Christian to believe. Any teaching that contradict first-order doctrines are heretical. (231)

Examples of second-order doctrines would be mode of baptism and church government. These are important, but not essential for faith. Third-order doctrines would be something like eschatology. On these we can often agree to disagree.

Aimee then uses several examples from popular Christian books to demonstrate how to go about implementing these discernment skills. The examples are very helpful. I thought for my purposes here, I would use a quote from a new book as a practical demonstration of the essential questions and triage that Aimee recommends.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is a popular author and speaker. She and Mary Kassian have written many books as part of the True Woman movement. I’ve written before about my concerns with the doctrine in True Woman 101. One of my main concerns was that Kassian and DeMoss taught the Eternal Subordination of the Son. After this summer’s Trinity debate, I wondered if the new books coming out would continue to teach ESS.

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel was released this week and is the first book written since Nancy DeMoss married and became Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. What follows is a quote from Adorned:

But Paul himself, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, specifically sets forth the divine order of headship and submission as being timeless and transcultural – the husband-wife relationship patterned after the God-Son relationship and the Christ-man relationship.

I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3)

For a wife, submission means accepting God’s good order for her life, just as a husband submits himself to God in accepting God’s order for his life. And it gives her the privilege of representing the mystery and the beauty of the Son’s submission to the Father. For even within the Trinity, we see this paradoxical arrangement — seamless unity with separate roles and different identities, perfect equality with pure submission.

The Father and the Son, we know, are both equally God. And yet the Son chooses to submit Himself to the will of the Father:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will by the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

The submission of Christian wives to their husbands is a powerful and beautiful picture of the Son’s submission to His Father and of the church’s submission to Christ. These wives, together with husbands who love them selflessly and sacrificially, put the gospel story on vivid and compelling display. (264-265)

Using Aimee’s criteria, we can assess the theological health of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book, Adorned. What I first noticed in reading the quote is that it teaches the Eternal Subordination of the Son. This answers question 3 above, “what does the author say about God?”

Teaching ESS, in turn, indicates a misuse of Scripture for both the passages quotes, which answers question 1, “what does the author say about God’s Word?” Both 1 Corinthians 11:3 and John 6:38 are speaking about Christ as the God-man. When Christ submits to God, it is His humanity that is submitting, not His divinity. The submission is not within the Trinity.

By applying this wrong view of the Trinity to the relationship of husband and wife, the quote illustrates a faulty anthropology. That answers question 2, “what does the author say about  who man is?”

In answer to question 4, “what does the author say about what God has done and is doing?”,  the quote equates the gospel with the relationship of a husband and wife which presents a severely truncated version of the gospel. Husbands and wives do reflect one aspect of the gospel in illustrating part of the relationship between Christ and the church.

However, there is no way for husbands and wives to tell the full story of the gospel, that Christ was incarnate and made man, that He lived a sinless life fulfilling the law for us, that He died a sacrificial death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that He was raised on the third day overcoming death and hell, that His righteousness has been applied to us, and that He will come again in glory and we will be with Him forever. That is the full gospel and no marriage, as godly as is might be, could possibly demonstrate all of it. And we shouldn’t settle for less than the full story.

As far as triage goes, the Trinity is a first-order doctrine. By teaching Eternal Subordination of the Son, Adorned is teaching a false view of the Trinity. That is a serious problem. As Aimee says in No Little Women,

If an author is not in line with what God says about himself, then you should have serious doubts about what she is teaching you. (227)

Because of this, I would not recommend Adorned to others without seriously cautioning them.

I am very thankful for Aimee’s work in No Little Women. I hope everyone will read it. With Aimee, I hope that pastors and elders are encouraged to get involved with the women of their church in order to teach, equip, protect, and utilize them in the work of the church. I also hope women especially will be spurred to greater faithfulness and discernment. Our churches need us to be competent women in our roles as necessary allies. May we be “little women” no longer.

 

 

Saying Farewell to the ESV

When I first was introduced to the ESV, I was very impressed by it. I had grown up using the NASB and hadn’t ever been very fond of the NIV. So, I was pleased by a new “word-for-word” translation option. The translation was smooth and fairly easy to read. It also appeared to be the preferred translation for many books, websites, churches, etc.

My husband and I eagerly purchased Reformation Study Bibles, downloaded the ESV Study Bible on our Nooks, and started using the ESV as our default translation on the YouVersion Bible app. When our oldest two boys joined the church as communing members, we presented them with their own ESV Reformation Study Bibles with their names engraved on the covers.

When I was researching Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), I discovered that the ESV Study Bible’s notes strongly advocate for ESS. This shouldn’t have been too surprising since Dr. Wayne Grudem was the editor for the Study Bible and is one of the leading proponents of ESS. After discovering that Dr. Grudem was on the oversight committee for the ESV translation, I was uncertain, but I knew he was just one man among many on the committee. I hadn’t noticed any real problems in the translation itself.

Last September, however, Crossway announced that they had made new changes to the text and that those changes would be the last ones made. The ESV text would be permanent as of 2016. While it might be a poor decision to determine that you’ll never need to update a translation, I really didn’t have any objection to that part of Crossway’s statement. What was much, much more concerning to me was a couple of the new changes that were now going to be permanently set in stone:

Permanent Text (2016) ESV Text (2011)
Genesis 3:16
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
Genesis 4:7
Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

In making these changes, the ESV had decided to change the translation of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 to reflect a particular interpretation of the passages. I plan to write more soon on the origin and history of this interpretation, but for now I’ll just summarize my concerns using an excerpt from an article by Wendy Alsup and Hannah Anderson:

In the height of the battle against feminism in the 1970s, Susan Fohproposedthat the similarity between 3:16 and 4:7 was that a woman’s desire toward a man was similar to sin’s desire to destroy Cain. It was, dare we say, contrary to him. This connection is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that the language of Genesis 4:7 is unclear and may actually refer to Abel’s good desire toward Cain.**

Worse, from an interpretive standpoint, Foh used the confusing and obscure text of Genesis 4 to project something backonto the clearer Hebrew in Genesis 3. In contrast, a straightforward chronological reading of Genesis 1-4 actually affirms the lexical definition of the preposition ‘el as “for” or “toward.”  In terms of the fall, the woman’s desire for children, her desire for her husband, and the man’s efforts at cultivating the ground are all good things to be pursued in fulfillment of the Creation Mandate; but post-Fall, these good desires are thwarted with painful consequences. Just as the man’s desire to produce fruit from the ground is rewarded with sweat and pain, a woman’s desire to produce children from her own body is rewarded with sweat and pain. Just as the man turns to his attention to the earth looking for fruitful relationship, a woman turns toward (not away from) a man seeking fruitful relationship. (We will explore this more in Part 3.)

The only way translators can justify rendering ‘el as “contrary” is to assume something negative about the womans desire based on the use of desire in Genesis 4:7-8. But such a novel change relies solely on commentary, not on accepted definitions to the Hebrew ‘el. (emphasis original)

They go on to explain why this translation has bad implications:

Our first concern about the latest rendering of Genesis 3:16 is that it does not fit the larger rhetorical frame of the passage. It implies a sinful motivation for the woman’s desire rather than describing the broken context in which she finds herself. It also disrupts the parallelism of the text. God speaks to the woman about how the Fall affects her. He then speaks to the man about how the Fall affects him. Rendering 3:16 as “your desire shall be contrary to your husband” injects a statement about the woman’s nature when there is no corresponding statement about the man’s nature in terms of his work. We believe there is no parallel statement because Genesis 3:16 should not be read as an indictment of the woman’s desire.

As we discussed in Part 2, you can only arrive at a negative reading of the woman’s desire if you read negativity back into the passage from Genesis 4:7-8. But such a reading is highly prejudicial because it implies that the woman’s desires by their very existence are contrary to her husband. Because the rest of the passage is read as a statement of fact about this post-Fall world, the sentence “your desires shall be contrary to your husband” will also be read as a statement of fact. The rhetorical affect is to create suspicion around every desire that a woman has.

After a flurry of articles and blog posts, Crossway announced that the 2016 ESV text would not be permanent. While many were relieved to read this, some of us noted that nothing was said about the controversial change to Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. Would that be changed? To date, nothing has been said regarding changing these passages back. I know that published text takes time to be changed. As such, I expected that the ESV Bibles published last year would reflect the “contrary to” translation. And they do. This includes the big six-volume ESV Reader’s Bible.

I had hoped that maybe the online versions could be and would be changed. But so far, they haven’t. The current edition of the ESV on the ESV.org website gives this translation for Genesis 3:16:

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)

The same is true for the major online Bible websites that offer multiple translations. The 2016 edition of the ESV with “contrary to” is the one in use.

I found this very discouraging. But it wasn’t the only reason I had for changing translations. In the Trinity debate this summer and the aftermath this fall, one of the discussions was over the interpretation of “monogenes.” Is it “only begotten” as the older English translations have it? Should it be “only,” “one and only,” “unique” as most of the recent translations, including the ESV, have it?

Lee Irons wrote to argue for “only begotten” as the preferred translation and many seem to be in agreement now. I’m glad for that. How many of us have memorized John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son …”? Somehow it doesn’t sound quite right “For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son …”. Granted that’s mostly personal preference, but there is a strong theological truth missing when we leave out the “only begotten.”

Between the “contrary to” in Genesis 3 and 4 and the missing “only begotten” in the New Testament passages, my husband and I decided that the ESV wasn’t the translation we wanted to use as a family. To be clear, we’re not dogmatic about it. Our church and many of our friends still use the ESV, we aren’t complaining about it or demanding change. But for our own devotions individually and as a family, we’ve decided to switch to the New American Standard (NASB). We have four main reasons for doing so.

  1. The NASB translates monogenes as “only begotten.” Given the Trinity debate this summer, I see the benefit in reinforcing this fundamental truth that Jesus is the only begotten of the Father.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NASB)

2. The NASB does not translate Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 to say “contrary to.” In fact, I really like the way the NASB translates the passage. Especially the “yet”:

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 NASB)

3. As you can see in the NASB and ESV verses quoted here, the NASB capitalizes the divine pronouns whereas the ESV does not. While it isn’t necessary, it is something I prefer. I find it helps keep track in a passage on who is talking.

4. In all translations, it’s necessary to add words at times. This is true in any translation from one language to another. What I appreciate about the NASB is that it tells you when words have been added by italicizing them. This allows the reader to consider how the translators have added things for clarity. It also is very transparent. The reader knows what words aren’t actually there in the original language.

A good example can be found in Ephesians 5:21-22:

and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:21-22 NASB)

I thought it was interesting to note that in verse 22, “be subject” has been added so that the sentence makes sense. Considering that there is much discussion about what connection there should be between verses 21 and 22, I think it worth noting that verse 22 follows on referring to verse 21 in the original Greek. The literal translation is: “Wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Without verse 21, verse 22 just wouldn’t make sense. Knowing which words have been added can enhance Bible study.

So for these various reasons my husband and I have switched from the ESV to the NASB. I know that the NASB, or any other translation, is not without problems. But for now, we are content with our decision. Now, to find someone to put a new binding on my old NASB. More than twenty years of backpacks, college retreats, and Bible study has left it being held together with tape. Maybe for my birthday …

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Top 10 Posts for 2016

2016 was a very interesting year. As I compiled the following list of my top posts for the year, I reflected on the hot topics. Doug Wilson and plagiarism was again in the top 10, although a different set of books from 2015. Not surprisingly, several Trinity debate posts also made it to the top 10. I’m so thankful for all those who spoke up to defend Trinitarian orthodoxy. There is still much work to be done.

Thank you all for your support and encouragement. May God bless you all this year.

10. A Reflection and Some Lingering Concerns after the RTS Trinity Conference

This continued insistence on ESS/EFS/ERAS by Grudem and Ware worries me for both complementarianism in general and CBMW in particular. And for these reasons I was not as reassured by Ligon Duncan’s talk as I would have liked to have been. I am extremely glad to hear that both Dr. Duncan and RTS are Pro-Nicene, but that really wasn’t in doubt, was it?

9. “Rules for Thee and Not for Me”

These are merely six examples, one from each volume. Each of these examples is mostly word for word. None of these are from open sources like Wikipedia. The only difference between the Omnibus examples and the Driscoll ones is that there are more of them from the Omnibus. I’m honestly not sure why the “rules” that applied to the Driscoll plagiarism don’t apply to the Omnibus.

8. The Grand Design: A Review

In The Grand Design, Strachan and Peacock ground their understanding of the complementarity of men and women on a relationship of authority and submission in the nature of the Trinity. The result does damage to the doctrine of the Trinity, distorts the gospel, and damages the understanding of men and women and how they should interact.

7. Tim Keller, Redeemer City to City, and the Rise Campaign

Why do Keller and Redeemer want to plant churches and train leaders? To see New York City flourish:

We’re doing this for our city. Our longing is to see New York—and everyone in it—flourish. We believe the best way to serve the city is to embody the gospel in every neighborhood. The gospel doesn’t just change individual lives; it advances the common good. The increase in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope that occurs when more and more people live out the gospel is good for all of society, not just the body of Christ.

6. Wilson’s Influence on “Classical Christian Education”

Doug Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, sex, etc. are present in materials that many CCE schools, programs, and homeschools use. In doing my research, I focused on the six-volume Omnibus produced by Veritas Press. Veritas Press is owned by Marlin and Laurie Detweiler who were members of Wilson’s CREC denomination.

5. CBMW’s Blog Series on the Eternal Subordination of the Son

In my previous article on CBMW and the Eternal Subordination of the Son, I gave many examples of why it’s not accurate to say that CBMW is neutral in the current debate. But it is also not accurate to say that CBMW only has the one post on the Trinity. A quick search on CBMW’s website for “eternal subordination” will return a number of hits. There are several posts responding to or reviewing books by egalitarians who have written against ESS/EFS/ERAS. There is also an interesting series of posts specifically on the Eternal Subordination of the Son.

4. Wilson Responds

Let me take these one by one. First, of the almost 70 original sources cited in my post, fewer than 20 of them are from Wikipedia or other “open source” sites. When I cited Wikipedia as the source, I was careful to use the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine to verify that the Wikipedia information existed before the publication of each Omnibus volume. You can click on any of the Wikipedia links to take you to the archived page from a particular date that is older than the Omnibus publication date. So, unless time travel is an option, the Wikipedia sources predate the Omnibus volumes.

3. A Justice Primer: The Investigation

Before I published my article on the plagiarism, I presented my findings to 5 seminary and university professors. I wanted to know what they thought of the significance of what I’d found. All of them said it was plagiarism. They said that if they had done it, they would have been in trouble with their university/seminary/academic community. They also said that if one of their students had done the same the student would face disciplinary action including expulsion. Plagiarism is serious business.

2. Eternal Subordination of the Son and the ESV Study Bible

Given the recent debate over ESS/EFS/ERAS, I thought it would be worthwhile to demonstrate the influence this teaching has had in possibly unexpected places. The following are quotes from the ESV Study Bible study notes on various Bible passages. The page numbers are from the ebook version. The Scripture passages are all from the ESV translation.

  1. Plagiarism, Wilson, and the Omnibus

As these example show, the plagiarism in the Omnibus volumes is extensive and pervasive. These are only a small portion of the more than 100 instances I found.

Grudem and Ware Double Down on the Eternal Subordination of the Son

Last month at the annual ETS meeting, the topic of the conference was the Trinity. Given the debate this summer over ESS/EFS/ERAS, it was an excellent topic and very timely. One of the highlights of the meeting was a panel discussion, “Submission and Subordination in the Trinity” featuring Dr. Kevin Giles, Dr. Bruce Ware, Dr. Millard Erickson, and Dr. Wayne Grudem. You can purchase the audio for these sessions here.

After listening to the sessions, I wanted to give a short summary for those who might be interested and also a few of my own reflections. There was not a lot of new material covered, but some points are worth highlighting. Of particular note is that Drs. Ware and Grudem stated that they now hold to the Nicene language of Eternal Generation of the Son.  After the summaries, I’ll explain why I’m still concerned about their commitment to Nicene orthodoxy.

Dr. Kevin Giles spoke first. His topic was “What is the Trinity Debate All About? A Reformed Confessional Perspective.” The full paper is available here. Dr. Giles is an ordained Anglican minister and has written many books on the Trinity. In his talk, Dr. Giles focused on the Nicene and Reformed doctrine of the Trinity.

He noted that the division that was made clear in this summer’s debate is between creedal/confessional evangelicals and non-creedal/confessional evangelicals. It was not between egalitarians and complementarians. He stated his belief that the doctrine of the Trinity is not about the relationship between the sexes. He went on to say that Drs. Ware and Grudem are not historically orthodox as defined by the Nicene creed.

Dr. Giles gave seven ways in which Drs. Ware and Grudem are outside the Nicene formulations in their teachings on the Trinity:

1. In the Nicene creed, the Son is called “Lord.” This is equating Him with YHWH. If the Son is Lord, then He is supreme and co-ruler. There is no difference in authority between the Son and the Father. Drs. Grudem and Ware contradict the Nicene creed in stating that the Father and Son are eternally different in authority.

2. The Nicene creed uses the term “begotten” to describe the Son. This is from the word monogenes. The creed uses the term in order to combat the Arian heresy that taught that the Son was subordinate to the Father because human sons are subordinate to their fathers. Jesus’ sonship is not like human sonship. The Father and Son are not defined by human experience. In Scriptures, the title Son of God is speaking about His kingly status, not subordination. Drs. Ware and Grudem contradict the Nicene creed by arguing that Jesus is a son like human sons therefore subordinate to the Father. Dr. Giles quotes Dr. Robert Letham:

“The Arian argument that human sons are subordinate to their fathers led to their contention that the Son is subordinate to the Father. The church rejected the conclusion as heretical and opposed the premise as mistaken. Rather, [it taught], the Son is equal with the Father in status, power and glory”. (“Eternal Generation”, in, One God, 122.)

3. In the Nicene creed, eternal generation is essential. The only difference between the Father and the Son is begetting. Drs. Ware and Grudem contradicted the Nicene creed in their denial of eternal generation. [Note: Dr. Giles spoke first in the panel discussion and so was not aware that Drs. Ware and Grudem would go on to affirm eternal generation in their talks.]

4. The Nicene formulation for the Son, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God,” explain that the Son is everything that the Father is, but He’s not the Father. Being “from the Father” does not make the Son inferior or subordinate to the Father in any way. Drs. Ware and Grudem use the doctrine of eternal begetting to teach the Eternal Subordination of the Son. However, Dr. Giles explained that eternal generation, instead of supporting ESS, “Son teaches the eternal co-equality of God the Father and God the Son.”

5. In the Nicene creed, the word “homoousius” is used to signify that the Son is one in being with the Father. There is only one divine will, not three wills. God is undivided, and all three persons share the same authority and glory. Drs. Grudem and Ware affirm homoousius, but divide God into the Father who rules and the Son who obeys which leads to multiple wills.

6. The Nicene creed explains that the Son is through whom all was created. The fundamental division is between the Creator and the created. The Son is co-creator with the Father. Drs. Grudem and Ware teach that the Son creates under the authority of the Father or at the direction of the Father. This is contrary to the Nicene formulation which teaches an order or taxis that differentiates but does not subordinate. There is order but not hierarchy in the Trinity.

7. The Nicene creed speaks of the incarnation of the Son. Dr. Giles referenced Phil. 2:4-11 to explain that the incarnation of the Son is “the willing and self-chosen subordination and subjection of the Son for our salvation.” The subordination and obedience of Jesus, the God-man, should not be read back into the eternal life of God. This is precisely what the writers of the Nicene creed were protecting against.

Dr. Giles concluded that ESS is not the historic teaching of the church. All of the Reformed and Post-Reformation confessions of faith exclude ESS. God is three persons equal in being and power. Dr. Giles mentioned a quote from the Second Heveltic Confession from 1566 which specifically denies any subordination:

We also condemn all heresies and heretics who teach that the Son and Holy Spirit are God in name only, and also that there is something created and subservient, or subordinate to another in the Trinity, and that there is something unequal in it, a greater or a less, something corporeal or corporeally conceived, something different with respect to character or will, something mixed or solitary, as if the Son and Holy Spirit were the affections and properties of one God the Father, as the Monarchians, Novatians, Praxeas, Patripassians, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Aetius, Macedonius, Anthropomorphites, Arius, and such like, have thought.

Dr. Giles also noted that the divine terms “power” and “authority” are synonyms in New Testament usage. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in power and glory. This is contrary to Dr. Ware who states that the Father has the ultimate supremacy and highest glory.

Dr. Bruce Ware spoke next. His talk was on “The Nature of the Priority of the Father within the Trinity: Biblical Basis and Importance.” Dr. Ware is Professor of Christian Theology at SBTS. He has also authored a number of books including ones on the Trinity. In his talk, he focused on the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission (ERAS).

Dr. Ware began his talk by explaining that he now affirms the eternal generation of the Son and begottenness. He said that he gave it much thought after the debate this summer and now understands that the only way the Father is eternally Father and the Son is eternally Son is if the Father begets the Son. He said that the affirms the Nicene creed, “as I believe it was intended by the authors.” He then gave a fully Nicene definition of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in terms of begottenness and procession.

Dr. Ware went on to explain that these eternal relations of origin are what ground the functional relations within the Godhead. The names Father and Son are not true just of the economic Trinity. They are eternally functional relationships that necessarily follow from the ontological reality.

Because the Father is eternally Father he acts in a manner fitting the Father: always paternal- planning, designing, commanding, sending, purposing, willing, etc. The Son acts in was fitting as the Son: obeying, going, doing, accomplishing, working all that the Father gives Him to do. The Spirit as an agent of the Son fulfills work assigned by the Father: assisting, empowering, enlivening, acting all that the Father and Son have directed Him to do. He quoted Calvin on the distinctions of the Trinity:

“It is not fitting to suppress the distinction that we observe to be expressed in Scripture. It is this: to the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity….The observance of an order is not meaningless or superfluous, when the Father is thought of first, then from him the Son, and finally from both the Spirit.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1:13.18, ed. John T. McNeill, 2 vols., trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1:142-43.)

Dr. Ware said that what we see in the economy activity of the Trinity is rooted in their ontological identities. This is carried out in the framework of authority and submission. The Father as Father expresses authority in planning, initiating, sending. The Son as Son expresses submission in embracing, responding, going. The Spirit as Spirit expresses further submissive support in empowering, assisting, completing.

Dr. Ware explained that when the early church spoke of taxis or order some saw a structure of authority and submission. Is this relationship of authority and submission merely economic and not eternal? Dr. Ware answered that it is either eternal or it is not at all. The evidence is of the Father planning, designing, sending, etc. in eternity past. What we know of the economic Trinity must reflect the ontological Trinity.

According to Dr. Ware, the Father possesses the personal property of paternal authority as expressed in the economy because in the order of subsistence He’s the Father. The Son possesses the personal property of filial submission as expressed in the economy because in the order of subsistence He’s the Son. The relationship of authority and submission is eternal because if what we see in the economy isn’t true of the immanent Trinity, then it questions the self-revelation of God.

Dr. Ware is concerned that God not be strikingly different than revealed. What God has shown us in the economy is Himself. Therefore the economy is truly immanent. Dr. Ware appealed to the divine names, Father and Son, as supporting the eternality of authority and submission. He said that the relationship of Father and Son in the Trinity is more than authority and submission, but that “at the heart of what it means for the Father to be Father and the Son to be Son is a full and joyous obedience of the Son to the Father.”

Dr. Ware concluded with an affirmation of the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission (ERAS). He repeated that the economic is rooted in and expressive of the eternal relationship of origin.

Dr. Millard Erickson was the third to speak. His talk was on ” Language, Logic, and Trinity: An Analysis of Recent Subordination Arguments.” Dr. Erickson is Professor of Theology at Western Seminary. He has written numerous books, several on the Trinity. His talk focused on the logical errors of the ESS arguments.

Dr. Erickson began with metaphysical issues. He asked the question: is EFS/ESS functional or ontological? He answered that if the Son is eternally and necessarily subordinate, then that is an ontological statement. Drs. Ware and Grudem have made a division between God’s attributes and the personal properties of the three persons. They would say the Son is functionally subordinate but has the full divine essence.

Dr. Erickson observed that if an attribute is necessary, it is essential and therefore inseparable from nature. Drs. Ware and Grudem teach that authority and submission are inherent in the Father and Son. According to proponents of ESS, the Father has an essential attribute (authority) that the Son doesn’t have, and the Son has an essential attribute (submission) that the Father doesn’t have.

Even the use of the term “fundamental” instead of “essence” or “essential” doesn’t change the ontological nature of the argument. If authority and submission are fundamental, then the Father and the Son are fundamentally different. Calling the differences of authority and submission “relational” confuses relationship with properties. Dr. Erickson explained that if logically ESS/EFS/ERAS implies subordination of essence and one rejects subordination of essence, then one has either to reject ESS/EFS/ERAS or prove that it isn’t bad logic. And that hasn’t been proven yet.

Next, Dr. Erickson pointed out that Drs. Grudem and Ware have made statements that EFS is essential to the differences between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that without authority and submission there is no Father, Son, and Spirit. To say that the different roles of authority and submission are essential has a hidden premise. If different roles mean there must be differences of authority and submission, then that must be argued for or the conclusion doesn’t follow logically. It may be true, but it hasn’t been established.

After describing various logical fallacies that Drs. Ware and Grudem have used in the arguments for ESS/EFS/ERAS, Dr. Erickson moved on to exegetical examples. Drs. Ware and Grudem explain that Phil. 2:6-8 describes a new kind of obedience that the Son learned in the incarnation. But this is an insertion of meaning into the text.

Dr. Grudem explains that the word “intercede” in Heb. 7:25 and Rom. 8:24 always means to bring requests “to a higher authority.” However, other Greek lexicons don’t add the meaning of “to a higher authority.” Drs. Ware and Grudem also use passages that describe Jesus’ earthly ministry as proof of an eternal relationship of authority and submission between the Father and the Son. This assumes rather than argues the point.

Dr. Erickson explained that there is great danger in conflating the economic and immanent Trinity. There have to be differences between Jesus as incarnate God-man and the Son prior to the incarnation. For example, was Jesus capable of being tempted before the incarnation?

Dr. Erickson concluded with discussing the nature of the interpretive principle. If our interpretation is valid, it must be applicable to similar cases. For example, Dr. Grudem in arguing for ERAS says that Jesus uses the term “Father” for God, therefore, authority and submission is intended. In a parallel passage in John 20:17, Jesus states “my Father and your Father” and “my God and your God.” If calling God His Father here means an eternal relationship of authority and submission, what about “my God and your God?” Is the 1st person of the Trinity eternally the 2nd person’s God?

The last speaker for the panel was Dr. Wayne Grudem. His talk was on “Why a Denial of the Son’s Eternal Submission Threatens both the Trinity and the Bible.” The notes from his talk are available here. If you listen to the audio, there is a question and answer time with all four speakers included after Dr. Grudem’s talk. Dr. Grudem is Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona and co-founder of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He has written many books including a best-selling systematic theology. His talk focused on why denying ESS/EFS/ERAS does damage both to our understanding of the Trinity and of the Bible.

The bulk of Dr. Grudem’s talk was a restating of his article, “Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father.” I have dealt more fully with that article in my post, “Does the Son Eternally Submit to the Authority of the Father?” But I will summarize the main points here.

Dr. Grudem believes that the Son is eternally in submission to the Father. He gave the following evidence. The Son submitted to the Father before the incarnation because the names Father and Son mean that there is a relationship of authority and submission. In the ancient world, fathers had authority, even over their grown sons, for all their lives. Since the original audience for Scriptures would have understood the names Father and Son to mean a relationship of authority and submission, then there must be an eternal relationship of authority and submission between God the Father and God the Son.

Dr. Grudem explained that contrary to his previous writings he now affirms the Nicene creed formulation of eternal generation or eternal begottenness. This is because, according to Dr. Grudem, eternal generation “provides the ontological basis for the eternal submission of the Son to the Father.”

Dr. Grudem also sees authority and submission prior to the incarnation in the planning, directing, initiating, choosing, and leading of the Father prior to and in the work of creation. The Father created through the Son, chose us in the Son, and sent the Son.

Dr. Grudem said that the Son continues to be in submission to the Father after the ascension. The Son intercedes for us, and as noted earlier, the extrabiblical evidence indicates that this is always from an inferior to a superior. The Son received authority from the Father to send the Spirit at Pentecost and to give the revelation to John in Revelation 1:1. The Son is seated at the right hand of the Father which is “never a position of equal authority, always secondary authority” in the ancient world. The Father delegates authority for the Son to judge the world after which, the Son will deliver the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:24-28). The Father is the ultimate authority.

Dr. Grudem summarized his points, “The Son is always subject to the authority of the Father.” That is never reversed. “Does this consistent pattern of Scripture mean nothing for our theology?” Dr. Grudem said that those who object to ESS threaten to obliterate the difference between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Next, Dr. Grudem quoted J.I. Packer, John Frame, Louis Berkhof, Carl F. Henry, and Jonathan Edwards as examples of theologians who taught the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. All of these quotes are available in Dr. Grudem’s article, “Another Thirteen Evangelical Theologians Who Affirm the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father” published at Reformation 21 this summer. In the talk at ETS, Dr. Grudem went on to say, “No theologian prior to modern evangelical feminism ever said eternal subordiation of the Son to the Father is unorthodox. No creed says that the Son is not eternally subject to the Father (to my knowledge.)”

Dr. Grudem then gave three clarifications. First, he explained that divine authority is not an attribute, but a property of relationship: “authority (as we understand it here) is a property of relationship, not an attribute of one’s being (an ontological attribute) (omnipotence is an attribute).” Second, there is only one divine will, but three distinct expressions of that will. Third, it’s not enough to say that the submission is eternal but not necessary. “Shall we say that God in himself is different from everything that Scripture tells us about how he acts in the world? Better to say that the economic Trinity reveals the ontological Trinity. And I think we must insist that Father and Son have eternally been Father and Son — and that those names consistently in Scripture assume a relationship in which authority belongs to the Father with respect to the Son.”

Dr. Grudem explained that opponents of ESS “undermine the doctrine of the Trinity by ‘confounding the persons’ in the Trinity.” This, he said, is contrary to the Athanasian creed. He specifically rejected the claim that every act of one person is an act of all three.

Dr. Grudem then concluded by saying that opponents of ESS undermine the authority of Scripture. They do this by failing to offer explanations for verses that seem to contradict their position and by making untruthful claims about the Scripture.

As I said at the beginning, there was not much new information covered in these talks. It was helpful and instructive to listen to them all. I will be writing more soon on some of what I learned and on the rest of my thoughts regarding what was said. But for today, I want simply to conclude with the following points that I think are most important.

First, I am glad to hear that Drs. Ware and Grudem now affirm eternal generation and eternal procession. However, by affirming it on one hand and then affirming ESS/EFS/ERAS on the other, they call into question their commitment to Nicene orthodoxy. As Dr. Giles’ talk addressed, there is more to the Nicene formulations than eternal generation. Eternal generation is not simply another way to say that God is eternally Father and Son and therefore eternally in a relationship of authority and submission.

Second, despite claims made after this summer, the terms ESS, EFS, and ERAS were used interchangeably. It does not seem that Drs. Ware and Grudem have changed fundamentally in their argument for an eternal submission of the Son to the Father.

Third, although Drs. Ware and Grudem insist that they believe that the Father and Son are equal in being, they continue to make ontological statements about the authority and submission of Father and Son. The Father “as Father” and the Son “as Son” are ontological statements. When Father means authority and Son means submission, that is making the Father and Son unequal in being.

Lastly, it is very troubling to hear Drs. Grudem and Ware attempt to separate God’s authority from His being. To make a distinction between God’s power and His authority is to separate something that no orthodox church father would have separated. God’s power, His omnipotence, includes His sovereignty, His almighty power, and His rule. 

This is expressed in Scripture in the name Almighty, which is used for both Father and Son. In the New Testament, the use of Lord as a title for Jesus expresses the same sovereignty. To deny equal authority for all three persons is to deny God’s sovereignty and omnipotence. To deny equal authority is to make the Son and the Spirit less than God or to deny that all of God is sovereign. And that is a very, very dangerous thing to deny.

So while there was some new information and it’s encouraging that Drs. Ware and Grudem have changed their minds on eternal generation, the talks indicated no fundamental change on ESS/EFS/ERAS. In fact, Drs. Ware and Grudem doubled down in their insistence on ESS/EFS/ERAS and continued to accuse those who deny ESS/EFS/ERAS of being wrong on both the Trinity and the Bible.

A Reflection and Some Lingering Concerns after the RTS Trinity Conference

After writing up my summary yesterday of the four talks at the recent Trinity conference at RTS Houston, I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts on the conference. On the whole, I found the talks extremely helpful. They were scholarly but still accessible for the average person in the pew. I was pleased to see many women and children in attendance. It makes me glad to see others interested in theology.

I came away from the conference with a stronger appreciation for those who have gone before us and fought for orthodoxy. I gained a greater understanding of the history and Trinitarian language used this summer in the debate. That was a great help. I also came away with a better understanding of why it matters. The Trinity is not a minor issue. This debate isn’t quibbling over silly things. What we believe about God will have an impact on all of our theology and life. I appreciated the speakers addressing the practical and pastoral aspects of the debate.

As far as the history goes, the talks at the conference gave me some insight on how to apply the lessons of the past to today’s debate. Here are some of my insights.

The tone police who have complained about the recent discussions would be horrified by how rough the 4th Century debates were. Having read letters from other church conflicts, I can add that this is true throughout history. We have very little sense of history when it comes to debate. Some issues are very serious, and sometimes it takes pointed words.

It’s not enough to claim that we’re following Scripture. It was pointed out a couple of times this weekend that Arius and the other heretics were claiming Scriptural support for their arguments. Scott Swain said that the short path to heresy isn’t denying Scripture, it’s affirming only part of what the Bible teaches. I believe that this is true of the debates today as well.

Dr. Haykin spoke of the Arian heresy as an overcorrection in response to modalism. Just as the Arians were so concerned about modalism that they went into heresy in a different way, I believe the current ESS/EFS/ERAS proponents have overreacted to concerns over feminism and egalitarianism. While there may be valid concerns, the answer is not in undermining the doctrine of the Trinity.

It was interesting to note that Athanasius, the Westminster Standards, and even the CBMW Statement of Faith affirm that each of persons of the Godhead possess all of the divine attributes. The question that came to mind when I realized this was whether or not the ESS/EFS/ERAS proponents would agree that God’s authority is a divine attribute.

In the 4th Century, there was much debate over the role and deity of the Holy Spirit. I think this is key today too. In much of today’s evangelical culture the Holy Spirit is treated as an “also ran” or afterthought. In the ESS/EFS/ERAS debate, the Holy Spirit has been described as the child of the union of the Father and the Son. Some evangelicals treat the Spirit as an impersonal force. Many seem to think His work is unnecessary in this “everything is grace, there are no rules for behavior”culture. We need to recover an understanding of the full deity and work of the Spirit.

I was amused by some of the historical accounts of orthodox church fathers who were deemed suspicious because of their allies. Modalists were also against Arianism, and some orthodox fathers were called modalists because of their friendships and their work against Arianism. Today, many of those on the Pro-Nicene side of the Trinity debate have been accused of being egalitarians or feminists. It’s true that there are egalitarians and feminists who have opposed ESS/EFS/ERAS. I am appreciative of their work in this regard. But, the fact that we agree on our opposition to ESS/EFS/ERAS doesn’t mean we agree about everything.

In the recent debate, proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS balked at being equated with Arians. As many of us pointed out, Arianism was just one of many forms of subordinationism. But, it is worth noting that many of the same passages of Scripture are being used now as then to support their ideas. For example, Grudem uses John 14:28, “the Father is greater than I” as one of many verses in support of ESS/EFS/ERAS. The Arians used it too. The orthodox answer then, and now, is the same. Dr. Haykin pointed out that the orthodox understanding of the verses that speak this way is that they are speaking of Christ’s humanity. This is one of many examples of how a good understanding and appreciation of church history can be of great help.

It was noted a couple of times at the conference that scholarly debate and face to face meetings are to be preferred over online articles and discussions. While it’s certainly true that the church fathers got together to discuss at councils and other meetings. They also wrote many letters, tracts, papers, and books addressing specific heresies and those who promoted them by name. The names of these works are often “Against  so-and-so.” I’m thankful that these were written and that the discussions were recorded for posterity sake. It is a very good thing that these are available to us today.

Several times at the conference, the speakers emphasized the importance and Scriptural veracity of the Nicene formulations. For a very long time, the Nicene Creed has been considered a baseline for orthodox faith. However, affirming it means more than just agreeing to the words. We must also agree with the Pro-Nicene fathers as to what the words mean.

The annual ETS meeting is going on right now in San Antonio. Drs. Ware and Grudem spoke yesterday. Both now say that they affirm the language of the Nicene Creed regarding eternal generation. They also continue to affirm the necessity of believing ESS/EFS/ERAS. I was wondering how they could hold to both the Nicene and ESS/EFS/ERAS, but I found an answer in something Grudem wrote in the debates this summer:

I am happy to affirm both the full deity of the Son and that the Son is eternally “begotten of the Father before all worlds,” provided that “begotten of the Father” is understood to refer to an eternal Father-Son relationship in the Trinity that includes no superiority or inferiority of being or essence. Up to that point, I think all sides agree. But what kind of eternal Father-Son relationship is this? That is the point of difference. Bruce Ware and Owen Strachan and I have understood it in terms of the eternal authority of the Father and the eternal submission of the Son within their relationship.

So, they agree with eternal generation as long as it fits their definition of the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission in the Trinity. We’re clearly not saying the same things then. There are two fundamental differences.

First, we differ in our understanding of what is meant by the divine naming. Historically, the orthodox explanation has been that the names Father and Son mean that God the Father and God the Son have the same nature. Everything the Father has, the Son has, except being the Father. The distinction between the persons of the Trinity is limited to begetting, proceeding, and being begotten, not authority and submission.

In contrast, Grudem and Ware insist that the names Father and Son mean that there exists an inherent authority in being the Father and inherent submission in being the Son. This makes passages like, John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” make little sense.

Second, as noted earlier all persons of the Godhead have all the attributes of God and this list usually includes power and glory. But this seems to be another difference between orthodoxy and ESS/EFS/ERAS. Is God’s authority (power) an attribute or not? Orthodox teaching says yes. Grudem and Ware say no. At ETS yesterday, Grudem said that authority is not a divine attribute, it’s a relationship. In Ware’s book, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he claims that the Father has supreme glory as well as authority:

God the Father receives the ultimate and supreme glory, for the Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption in his humiliation, and the Father exalted the Son over all creation; in all these things, the Father stands supreme over all – including supreme over his very Son. … It is the Father, then, who is supreme in the Godhead – in the triune relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and supreme over all the very creation over which the Son rules as its Lord. (quoted in Who’s Tampering with the Trinity, Millard Erickson, pg. 233)

These are serious differences indeed. Until Ware and Grudem affirm the substance of the Nicene formulations, including full equality of power and glory, then they will continue to be outside the Nicene orthodoxy.

This continued insistence on ESS/EFS/ERAS by Grudem and Ware worries me for both complementarianism in general and CBMW in particular. And for these reasons I was not as reassured by Ligon Duncan’s talk as I would have liked to have been. I am extremely glad to hear that both Dr. Duncan and RTS are Pro-Nicene, but that really wasn’t in doubt, was it?

Grudem and Ware made clear yesterday at ETS that they are not backing down and they are continuing to say that to deny ESS/EFS/ERAS is to threaten the Trinity. These are strong words. I believe that equally strong words are needed in response. Clarity is also needed, which brings me to my concerns about Ligon Duncan’s talk.

Despite what Dr. Duncan said in his first point, the proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS are indeed teaching ontological submission. If the Father is in authority by nature of being the Father, and the Son is in submission by nature of being the Son, that is an ontological argument. The Son submits because He’s the Son. There’s no way around this.

In his first point, Dr. Duncan gave several questions that were raised by the summer’s debate, but he did not answer the questions. They are important ones, and I would have liked to hear what he believes to be the answer to them. He did give a partial answer regarding whether or not ESS/EFS/ERAS is heresy. He quoted Liam Goligher as having called for proponents to quit or be deposed. While many accused Liam of having said this, it’s not what he said. Here’s what he actually said:

To speculate, suggest, or say, as some do, that there are three minds, three wills, and three powers with the Godhead is to move beyond orthodoxy (into neo-tritheism) and to verge on idolatry (since it posits a different God). It should certainly exclude such people from holding office in the church of God

Dr. Duncan said that the Trinity debate began with Liam’s two posts on Mortification of Spin in June and that the debate has been within the complementarian camp. While it’s true that Liam’s posts kicked off a particularly intense debate, many people have been challenging ESS/EFS/ERAS for years. There are both Pro-Nicene and ESS/EFS/ERAS complementarians in the current debate, but there were also many egalitarians involved as well. The Trinity is not just a complementarian issue.

Dr. Duncan also said that CBMW was mostly unaware of ESS/EFS/ERAS at least at an official level. It may well be true that he was personally unaware, but from what I’ve demonstrated before, ESS/EFS/ERAS has been taught from the beginning of CBMW. In fact, it seems to be foundational to CBMW’s version of complementarianism. And while I appreciate the theological diversity within CBMW, the Trinity is not something we can agree to disagree over. It’s much more than mode of baptism or even the 5 points of Calvinism. Should a statement of faith be more inclusive than the Nicene Creed? In the Nicene formulation too narrow? These are important questions that have not really been answered.

I was surprised by Dr. Duncan’s assertion that the Westminster Confession of Faith is minimalist regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s true that the Confession doesn’t say everything that could be said, but it is a theologically rich statement. Here are some excerpts:

On God:

There is but one only,[1] living, and true God,[2] who is infinite in being and perfection,[3] a most pure spirit,[4] invisible,[5] without body, parts,[6] or passions;[7] immutable,[8] immense,[9] eternal,[10] incomprehensible,[11] almighty,[12] most wise,[13] most holy,[14] most free,[15] most absolute;[16] working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,[17] for His own glory;[18] most loving,[19] gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;[20] the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him;[21] and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments,[22] hating all sin,[23] and who will by no means clear the guilty.[24] (WCF 2.1)

On creation:

It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,[1] for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness,[2] in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.[3] (WCF, 4.1)

On Christ:

The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature,[10] with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin;[11] being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance.[12] So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.[13] Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.[14] (WCF 8.2)

Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself;[37] yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.[38] (WCF 8.7)

That last paragraph would help to answer the question of how Christ is said to submit to the Father. This is just a small portion of the Confession. There is a wealth of information there.

Dr. Duncan said that discussions like this one on the Trinity are best addressed in serious venues such as conferences and journals. I appreciate so much that RTS Houston held the Trinity conference this weekend and that I was able to attend. There certainly needs to be much work done at the academic level to combat the very widespread teaching of ESS/EFS/ERAS. I am thankful for those scholars and theologians who are doing this work.

But because ESS/EFS/ERAS is so widespread and particularly because it is so prevalent in popular level books and Bible studies, it must be addressed more broadly. The orthodox response needs to have the same reach as the heterodox teaching. This teaching is not merely academic or esoteric. This teaching has very real and very practical implications on the men, women, and children in our churches.

Even the PCA’s women’s leadership training material has contained ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching. I am very grateful to hear that  this is being addressed. For many people, conferences and journal articles are not accessible. If the average person hasn’t been taught about why ESS/EFS/ERAS is wrong, they will continue to be influenced by it. As long as the proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS continue to teach it, we must continue to respond to it.

Again I am very thankful for Dr. Duncan’s reassurance regarding RTS and himself. I never doubted that they are Pro-Nicene. I have no doubts as to their orthodoxy or to their commitment to orthodoxy. I simply think there are questions that need to be answered regarding the connection between CBMW, complementarianism, and ESS/EFS/ERAS. I had hoped those questions would be answered, but I was disappointed.

A reader left a comment on my last article. He/she took issue with saying that complementarianism is not compromised by being Pro-Nicene. He/she said:

Wrong question. Has the complementarian movement been thoroughly compromised by ESS/EFS?

I think that is a very valid question, and one worth addressing. After the conference, I was left with one main question:

What’s more essential, being complementarian or being inside Nicene orthodoxy?

Confessing the Triune God: Retrieving Nicene Faith for Today’s Church- RTS Houston

This weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending RTS Houston’s conference on the Trinity: Confessing the Triune God: Retrieving Nicene Faith for Today’s ChurchHere’s a brief description of the conference:

The recent “Trinity debate” reveals much confusion surrounding what is undoubtedly the most important and the most glorious of Christian doctrines. It also signals the need to retrieve the doctrine of the triune God as confessed by Fathers of the church on the basis of Holy Scripture in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381. Join Drs. Ligon Duncan, Michael Haykin, Blair Smith, and Scott Swain as they seek to mine the riches of the Nicene Faith for the renewal of today’s church. Speakers and topics include:

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin | Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates

Rev. D. Blair Smith | Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

Dr. Scott R. Swain | “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III | The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions

We were told that the sessions were recorded and would be available soon on RTS’s website. I haven’t seen a link yet, but when I do, I’ll update it here. The talks are also being published as papers in the RTS Journal in the March 2017 edition. I highly recommend watching or reading these when they are available. The talks were very informative. For today, I thought I’d give a short summary of the talks. In the next post, I’ll give a brief reflection on the conference.

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin | Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates

The first talk, by Dr. Michael Haykin, was on Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates. Dr. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While focused primarily on the fight to affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit, his talk was a helpful summary of the various 4th-Century councils and the extended debates that resulted from them. Dr. Haykin did hand out a copy of his paper, so I will be using some quotes with page numbers.

Dr. Haykin began by explaining that the doctrine of the Trinity is a gift for us from the early church fathers. We owe them a debt of gratitude. The doctrine of the Trinity is thoroughly Biblical, and it’s extremely important for us today. Dr. Haykin pointed out that our understanding of the Trinity is going to be crucial in interacting with Islam.

By the time of the Council of Nicea, the early church had dealt with and was still dealing with a number of heresies. One was modalism or the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three masks that the one God uses in His interactions with humanity. Tertullian responded to this heresy by explaining that Genesis 1:26 is an example of God the Father speaking with God the Son and God the Spirit. According to Tertullian, God must be one substance, one being, but also three persons. From Tertullian, we get this language of the Trinity.

Another heresy that the early church faced was Arianism or subordinationism. This heresy taught that the Son was both created and ontologically (by nature) subordinate to the Father. Arius used verses like John 14:28, “my Father is greater than I,” to argue that the Son “did not share all of the attributes of the Father” (Haykin, pg 5). Interestingly, Arius and his followers were attempting to address the heresy of modalism, but they went too far. Dr. Haykin noted that in theological controversy it’s best to avoid knee-jerk reactions.

Dr. Haykin went on to give a very helpful, detailed explanation of the long battle against Arianism. The next Trinitarian debate was over the deity of the Holy Spirit. Basil of Caesarea was instrumental in this. For Basil, Matthew 28:19 was key. Dr. Haykin pointed out that we are baptized in the (singular) name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This “implies faith in the three persons of the Godhead and also determines doxological ultimacy – the Father along with the Son and the Holy Spirit are to receive equal honour and worship” (Haykin, pg. 12).

Ultimately, the Council of Constantinople in 381 added the statement on the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and worthy of worship and glory with the Father and the Son. Dr. Haykin concluded by that the Nicene Creed, post 381, “must be viewed as a norma normata (‘a rule that is ruled’) it is a rule that faithfully reflects the biblical view of God and, as such, it stands as one of the great landmarks of Christian theology” (Haykin, pg. 16). As Dr. Haykin explained, the creed is not infallible, but we tamper with it to our detriment.

Rev. D. Blair Smith | Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

The second talk was Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century by Rev. D. Blair Smith. Rev. Smith is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS-Charlotte. Building on Dr. Haykin’s talk on the history of 4th-Century Trinitarian debates, Rev. Smith discussed three specific developments in understanding the Trinity: the correlativity of names, eternal generation, and a fully Trinitarian vision.

Athanasius developed the concept of correlativity of the names Father and Son. For the Father to be eternally Father, there must also be an eternal Son. The names carry the meanings with them. The Son can’t be created, because that would mean there was a time before the Father became a father. Athanasius also looked at the divine titles: Word, Wisdom, Power, and Image. Each of these was used to describe the Son. These divine titles indicate a shared nature or ontology between the Father and the Son. Everything that is said about the Father, except being Father, is said about the Son.

Hilary of Poitiers helped developed the teaching of the eternal generation of the Son. Hilary wrote of the Father as the giver in an eternal “birth” or nativitas and of the Son as the receiver. The Father gives all that He is in His nature and there is nothing lacking in what the Son receives. In this giving and receiving, there is an order or taxis that speaks of a priority of the Father as the giver or source. This priority does not place the Father in a higher position, though, because the order is balanced by divine unity and inseparable operations.

Rev. Smith’s last point continued on from Dr. Haykin’s discussion on Basil of Caesarea and his development of a fully Trinitarian vision. Basil helped to expand the debate on the Trinity to include the Holy Spirit. Basil explained that the Spirit is uniquely named in Scripture and has a kinship with the Father and the Son. Therefore, it is right to worship the Spirit.

Basil defined the Spirit as proceeding from the Father, as “breath from His mouth.” This proceeding mirrors the begetting of the Son, both ineffable and yet true. Rev. Smith spoke about the logic of the kinship in the Trinity. There is a communion where each person of the Trinity receives glory. This glory travels along the lines of order from the Father to the Son to the Spirit, but also back from the Spirit to the Son to the Father. In this way, it is not a unilateral dependence, but a rhythmic reciprocity in the Trinity.  This balance is a mystery that is hard to understand and explain, but Rev. Smith concluded by saying that the Nicene honors what Scripture teaches about the nature and acts of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Dr. Scott R. Swain | “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation

The third talk was by Dr. Scott Swain on “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation. Dr. Swain is Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at RTS- Orlando. Dr. Swain answered four questions regarding eternal generation.

The first question was “What is Eternal Generation?” Dr. Swain answered that eternal generation describes the Son’s “eternal relationship of origin from the Father.” The Son is from God the Father but in a way that is different from everything else that we say is “from God.” The Son is without beginning or end.

The second question was “What happened?” Why has interest in the doctrine of eternal generation waned in recent years? Dr. Swain noted that much of the lost of interest comes from attempts to give a simple explanation of the Trinity. He traced the root of this to an early 1900s article written by B.B. Warfield. In his article on the Trinity for the International Standard BIble Encyclopedia, Warfield summarized the Trinity with three points: there is one God, Father/Son/Holy Spirit are each God, and Father/Son/and Holy Spirit are each distinct persons. Warfield then said that this was a complete doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr. Swain noted that in contrast to Warfield’s article, the Westminster Standards explain how the three persons are distinct using the language of begotten and proceeding. Warfield’s definition left out both eternal generation and eternal procession. Unfortunately, systematic theologies of the late 20th-Century summarize the Trinity using Warfield’s limited three points. This includes Grudem’s best selling systematic theology, which Dr. Swain did not mention by name.

Dr. Swain explained that the vacuum caused by leaving out eternal generation and eternal procession was filled with the language of authority and submission. This gave us Eternal Subordination of the Son, Eternal Functional Subordination, and Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission. Dr. Swain noted that the irony was that Warfield was trying to avoid suggesting authority and submission in the Godhead.

The third question was “Why believe eternal generation?” Dr. Swain explained that eternal generation is rooted in “Biblical patterns of divine naming.” This has two parts. First, the New Testament attributes God’s names and works to Christ, therefore the Son is the one true God. Second, there is a relational pattern of divine naming in Scripture. The Son is called begotten.

Dr. Swain pointed out that even if one doesn’t want to translate “monogenes” as “only begotten,” there are many Scriptural proofs for eternal generation. Hebrews 1:5, Proverbs 8:22-24, Micah 5:2, Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15, and John 1:1 all speak of the Son as existing from eternity with God, equal with the Father. The emphasis in these passages is the relational origin of the Son in the Father. Christ is the radiance of the Father, the image of the Father, the Word from the Father.

Even if one doesn’t like the language of eternal generation, Dr. Swain said, one has to affirm the concepts as Scriptural. The Nicene formulation is simply repeating Scriptural concepts.

The fourth question was “Why does eternal generation matter?” The answer is both practical and pastoral. Eternal generation establishes the distinction between the Father and the Son and preserves equality within the Godhead. The Son (and Spirit) are equal in power and glory with the Father (WLC Ques. 9).

This equality of power and glory is lost when eternal generation is replaced by an eternal relationship of authority and submission. Proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS can affirm that the Father and the Son have the same substance, but they can’t confirm that they are equal in power and glory. Dr. Swain quoted from one ESS proponent who claims that the Father has supreme glory in the Trinity.

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III | The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions

The last talk was by Dr. Ligon Duncan on “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions.” Dr. Duncan is Chancellor of RTS and Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology. He is also a senior fellow and board member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He gave nine points related to the recent Trinitarian debate.

Dr. Duncan first gave a background to the recent debate regarding complementarianism and the Trinity. He referenced Liam Goligher’s posts on Mortification of Spin as the start of the debate. He emphasized that the debate is primarily between complementarians. He gave the meaning of the various ESS/EFS/ERAS acronyms and explained that while some might consider it debatable, EFS is not arguing for ontological subordination.

Dr. Duncan then listed several questions that were brought up in the debate. He did not attempt to answer them at this point. The questions included: Is EFS/ERAS taught in Scripture? Is it heretical? (He did give a side note here to say that Liam Goligher called for proponents to quit or to be deposed in his 2nd article.) Does EFS/ERAS entail multiple wills? Does it deny eternal generation?

Dr. Duncan’s second point was that complementarianism relies on Scripture and does not require a “reformulation of the Trinity” as in EFS. His third point was whether or not there is a coming war between Pro-Nicene and EFS complementarians. He explained that CBMW met and voted unanimously that to be a complementarian you need only affirm the Danvers’ Statement. He appealed to the wide theological diversity present in CBMW since it’s foundation.

The next point was a discussion of CBMW’s statement of faith. Dr. Duncan said that the statement of faith is orthodox and minimal regarding what it says about the Trinity. The statement does not mention EFS:  “We believe there is one true God, eternally existing in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom possesses all of the attributes of deity and divine personality.” This he said is close to the Westminster Larger Catechism’s wording.

Dr. Duncan’s fifth point was that classical protestant confessions don’t affirm EFS, but are minimalist about what they affirm on the doctrine of the Trinity. He said that  WCF 2.3 is the “only statement on the Trinity in the WCF.” He went on to say that all protestant confessions are equally minimalist regarding the Trinity.

Next, Dr. Duncan explained that this creedal minimalism left room for 20th-Century evangelicalism/biblicism to question Trinitarian language such as: simplicity, impassibility, foreknowledge, eternal generation, and eternality. He said that the Westminster divines assumed an inheritance from the church fathers and reformers and weren’t writing at a time when these issues were being addressed. They didn’t anticipate this current debate.

Dr. Duncan went on to say that the debate was part of a greater tradition of biblicism vs. retrieval. He said there has been an emphasis on non-speculation in modern times and that younger theologians are more interested in theological retrieval and drawing on church history. They have a different attitude towards historical theological formulations.

The eighth point was that the tone of the debate has been lacking. He said he’s thankful for the discussion, but that it’s better addressed in serious venues like conferences and journals.

The last point was a reassurance that RTS and Dr. Duncan are both complementarian and Pro-Nicene. He concluded by saying that complementarianism is not compromised by being Pro-Nicene.

 

Again, I am very grateful to have been able to attend and thankful for my sweet husband for coming along with me. I learned a good deal. In my next post, I plan to give my thoughts on the conference.

Eternal Subordination of the Son and Biblical Patriarchy

Continuing the series on ESS/EFS/ERAS in various books and articles, today I want to look at a different set of authors. Each of the authors quoted here has self-identified with the Biblical Patriarchy movement. Unfortunately, this is one of the overlaps between the Biblical Patriarchy movement and mainstream complementarianism.

Debi Pearl, and her husband, Michael, have been popular authors within homeschooling and patriarchal circles for some time. There have been many articles written responding to various aspects of their teaching.

In her book, Created to Be His Help Meet, Debi Pearl makes several troubling statements about the Trinity. She believes that there are three type of men and that this reflects the differences between the persons of the Godhead. According to her, each type of man is made in the Father’s image, the Son’s image, or the Spirit’s image:

I have become aware that there are basically three types of men. The different types are just as marked in one-year-olds as they are in adult men. It seems that God made each male to express one side of his triad nature. No single man completely expresses the well-rounded image of God.(p. 75, Kindle Edition)

A little later in the book, Debi Pearl explains that the pattern of women submitting to men reflects the “heavenly pattern” of the Son’s submission to the Father:

God is focusing our attention on the heavenly pattern. the emphasis is not on women submitting to men, but rather on women showing, here on earth, the heavenly pattern of the Son submitting to the Father. (p. 117, Kindle Edition)

As noted in the article on Eternal Subordination of the Son in books for youth, Jasmine Baucham wrote about ESS in her book for stay-at-home-daughters, Joyfully at Home. She gives Wayne Grudem’s explanation for 1 Cor. 11:3

In one section of his book, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, Dr. Wayne Grudem gives ten arguments that prove male headship in a marriage before the fall: … The parallel with the Trinity: The equality, differences, and unity between men and women reflect the equality, difference, and unity in the Trinity (1 Corinthians 11:3). (24)

Jasmine Baucham’s father, Voddie Baucham, also wrote defending ESS in his book, What He Must Be: … If He Wants to Marry My Daughter:

One of the things that grieve Kunsman is the insistence by “Complementarians” that the Son is somehow subordinate to the Father in the Trinity. Kunsman says that this heterodox teaching “emerged in the 1970s in response to feminism, but only gained popularity recently through the publication of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in 1994.” And here I thought the apostle Paul taught this doctrine in 1 Corinthians 11! (p. 88, Kindle Edition)

In Voddie Baucham’s book, Family Shepherds, he wrote that the Bible is clear in teaching headship within the Trinity:

The Bible makes it clear that Christ is equal to the Father in every way (John 1:1; 5:18; 10:33; 2 Cor. 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15, 19; 2:9), and yet there is headship even in the Trinity—a point that Paul brings in as he also discusses the headship of husbands in the home (Kindle Locations 1570-1572)

Bill Gothard’s organization, Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), has many online resources to explain their teaching on different topics. One of them addresses “What are God-ordained authority structures“. IBLP’s answer explains the authority structure they see in the Trinity:

The orderliness we find in structures of authority reflects the order of God’s own nature. God is a Trinity: the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son into the world as Savior and Redeemer. (See I John 4:9.) Jesus was obedient to God the Father.

Each member of the Trinity works within the structure of authority and fulfills a specific role, perfectly complementing the others and demonstrating God’s glory. The members are not independent of one another, but God the Father is recognized as the authority Who directs and empowers the Son and Holy Spirit to carry out His will.

R.C. Sproul, Jr., who helped write Vision Forum’s Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy, wrote about the authority of the Father and the subordination of the Son in his book, Bound for Glory. According to Sproul, Jr, the Father gave the orders to the Son and Spirit and explained their roles to them:

We affirm that in His counsels before all time the Father spoke to the Son something like this: “This is the plan; this is what we’re going to do. I’m going to elect a people for you, a bride. Son, you’re going to take on flesh and you’re going to tabernacle among them. You will obey all of my revealed will, keeping my law. But, you will receive the wrath due to the sons of disobedience. I will curse you, forsake you, such that those whom I have chosen will have their sins covered. Your righteousness will be deemed their righteousness.” The Father then explained to the Spirit His role (Kindle Locations 720-721)

He also wrote that in this way, the Son is subordinate to the Father in the covenant of redemption:

Who is giving the orders here? In the covenant of redemption it is clearly God the Father. The Son is in a subordinate role to the Father. (Kindle Locations 721-725)

He explains that the subordination doesn’t mean the Son and Spirit are lesser:

In like manner, the Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son. Both the Father and the Son send forth the Spirit. Should we then conclude that somehow the second person of the Trinity is less than the Father in terms of dignity, power, and glory, or that God the Holy Spirit is somewhat lacking, at least in comparison to the Father and the Son, in holiness, in graciousness, or in sovereignty? Of course not. (Kindle Locations 728-729)

He believes the Father made the assignments in the covenant of redemption:

We need to understand that as the Father is making these assignments in the covenant of redemption, He is not doing so on the basis of particular strengths or weaknesses. … No, the roles are not assigned on the basis of differences among the members of the Trinity, simply because there aren’t any differences. (Kindle Locations 731-733)

Lastly, Sproul Jr, connects the authority and subordination in the Trinity with the husband/wife relationship:

Just as with the members of the Trinity, while there is an equality of value, and a distinction of authority, there is also a distinction in calling. While husbands and wives work together in the building of the kingdom, their work is not identical. (Kindle Locations 776-778)

David Bayly of the Bayly brothers’ blog wrote during the Trinity debate this summer to voice his support of ESS and patriarchy:

Two men I regard as friends recently came out against the subordination of Christ to the Father. Now, Doug Wilson and Liam Goligher say that they oppose only the eternal subordination of the Son, not the economic, yet this distinction presupposes a well-defined line between the economic and the ontological Trinity that doesn’t exist. No creed of the Church or passage in Scripture spells out the boundaries of this division, nor is there general agreement on where the ontological ends and the economic begins. In fact, the distinction is fraught with challenges. At what point did the covenant of redemption leave the realm of ontology and enter the realm of economy? No one has answered this question–and no one can when the Son was slain from the foundation of the world. Yet critics of Christ’s submission act as though it’s a settled issue.

Really? Fatherhood is not a social issue? Is not rooted in the Trinity? The inner life of Father and Son does not support patriarchy?

Interestingly, Doug Wilson is on record as both for and against ESS. In his first post, he seemed to deny it. That’s the post referenced by David Bayly above. In his later post, Wilson states his agreement with Grudem regarding authority and submission in the Godhead. He also explains that the Son’s “existence is obedience” and the Father’s “existence is authority”:

I agree that true and ultimate authority/submission must be grounded within the Godhead. I agree with Grudem there.

Now someone will point out that they don’t see how it is possible to have “authority and submission within the Godhead coupled with complete ontological equality” without that position logically entailing three wills, which would then be heterodox. I frankly confess that it would be heterodox, and that I don’t know how there can be anything resembling authority and submission with only one will. I get the problem. But I also don’t see, and on exactly the same grounds, how there can be anything like a Father and a Son with only one will. If I could do the math on this kind of thing, I would be a good deal richer than I am.

So Fatherhood is ultimate, and Fatherhood is ad intra. The Fatherhood of the Father did not come into existence after the decision to create the world. It is not in any way dependent upon the decision to create the world. And so there should be no more difficulty in saying that the Son is eternally obedient than there is in saying that He is eternally begotten. His existence is obedience — eternal obedience, obedience that could not be otherwise. The Father’s existence is authority.

One of my concerns about complementarianism is the overlap it has with the Biblical Patriarchy movement. The ESS/EFS/ERAS debate is an example of why such concern is valid. There are relatively few confessional Christians who have come out in support of ESS/EFS/ERAS. For those who have, many are part of the Biblical Patriarchy movement. Not all of the authors quoted here claim to be Reformed and Confessional but several do.

As with all of the articles in this series, it is my hope that this will be a resource for those who are interested in how widespread the ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching is.

CBMW’s Blog Series on the Eternal Subordination of the Son

In an article this week, Christianity Today addressed the recent Trinity debate. The point of the article was to consider the practical concerns that many of us have had with the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS/EFS/ERAS) doctrine and the implications for women in particular. It’s not a bad piece, although it’s a little disjointed. I was thankful that our concerns were represented fairly. However, there is a disturbing aspect of the article.

Those who spoke for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), such as new president Denny Burk, continue to deny any formal connection between CBMW and the ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching:

CBMW maintains a neutral position in the Trinitarian debate. Its core beliefs—outlined in the 1987 Danvers Statement—do not delineate a position on this particular issue, said Denny Burk, who replaced Owen Strachan as the organization’s president in July.

CBMW’s only blog post on the Trinity comes from its founder, Grudem, in defense of the Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission (ERAS) position. Other prominent complementarians, such as Al Mohler, argue that ERAS is not heretical but also not essential.

“It’s good and right for brothers and sisters to be talking about this issue,” said Burk. “There’s room for people on all sides of the question” under the Danvers Statement, which he says will be his focus as president. (emphasis added)

In my previous article on CBMW and the Eternal Subordination of the Son, I gave many examples of why it’s not accurate to say that CBMW is neutral in the current debate. But it is also not accurate to say that CBMW only has the one post on the Trinity. A quick search on CBMW’s website for “eternal subordination” will return a number of hits. There are several posts responding to or reviewing books by egalitarians who have written against ESS/EFS/ERAS.

There is also an interesting series of posts specifically on the Eternal Subordination of the Son. Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part I, II, III, and IV and Eternal Subordination of the Son: Pastoral Implications, Part V were originally posted back in 2008. Unfortunately, something happened to the text of the posts. As others have noted, the text of these five posts is identical and unrelated to the topic. It seems to have come from a different post on headship written by Mary Kassian back in 2008.

I discovered the messed up posts when I was researching for my last post on CBMW and ESS, and I was very disappointed not to be able to read the originals. But thanks to the miracle of the internet, I can share with you the original content! The posts were originally run between February 18-February 22, 2008. The author of parts I-IV is Jeff Robinson, who was editor of the Gender Blog on CBMW where the posts first appeared. Jeff Robinson’s bio on The Gospel Coalition says:

Jeff Robinson (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition. He also pastors a church plant in Louisville, Kentucky, and serves as senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and adjunct professor of church history at Southern Seminary.

Part V of the series was written by David Kotter, who was the executive director for CBMW in 2008. David Kotter is currently the Dean of the School of Theology at Colorado Christian University and also Visiting Scholar and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.

The following are excerpts from the original posts. From Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part I

What is the doctrine of the “Eternal Subordination of the Son” and why is it important for the gender debate?

This week, Gender Blog will examine the basic assertions of this doctrine from biblical/theological, historical and pastoral angles. Today, I want to briefly state the doctrine itself and argue that it is a crucial biblical teaching that must neither be shunted aside as “too cloaked in mystery to deserve consideration” nor rejected as heretical.

This series will make use of several sources, with the centerpiece being a paper on the topic delivered by former CBMW President Bruce A. Ware at the 2006 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society national meeting in Washington, D.C.

To quote Ware in summary, “There is, then, an eternal and immutable equality of essence between the Father and the Son, while there is also an eternal and immutable authority-submission structure that marks the relationship of the Father and the Son.”

As Ware points out in his 2005 book Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles & Relevance (Crossway), this doctrine is crucial because it tells us much about the nature of God, which, in turn, demonstrates how God intends that His triune nature be expressed in our human relationships. There is both unity and diversity, authority and equality in the Godhead; these transfer to our relationships within both the home and church and paint a beautiful picture of Christ’s redeeming love for His church (Eph 5). (emphasis added)

From Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part II

Today, in Part II of our series on the eternal subordination of the Son, we begin making a biblical case for the eternal functional authority/submission structure within the Godhead. Again, this summary draws heavily on former CBMW President Bruce A. Ware’s 2006 address at the Evangelical Theological Society national meeting, “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles.” The biblical case begins with three points from Ware.

The Father, then, is understood as supreme over all, and in particular, He is supreme within the Godhead as the highest in authority and the One deserving ultimate praise.

For further study:

  • Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles & Relevance (Crossway).
  • Bruce A. Ware, “Tampering With the Trinity,” audio address; print version. (emphasis added)

From Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part III

In our continuing examination of the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, we conclude the biblical/theological case today with a look at two key issues: the submission of the Son in eternity past and His submission in eternity future. Once again, this synopsis draws heavily on Bruce A. Ware’s 2006 ETS paper as referenced in the first two parts (Part I, Part II) of this series.

The Son will submit to the Father in eternity future. At least 15 New Testament references speak of Christ as sitting on the Father’s right hand. As Wayne Grudem points out in his excellent book Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth (Multnomah, 2005), these have their background in Psalm 110:1 and show that the risen and exalted Son, while being fully God and equal in essence to the Father, sits in a position that represents his own acknowledgement of the Father’s greater authority.

For further study:

  • Christopher Cowan, “The Father and the Son in the Fourth Gospel: Johannine Subordination Revisited,” in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2006. Available here.
  • Peter R. Schemm, Jr., and Stephen D. Kovach, “A Defense of the Doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son,” in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Sept. 1999. Available here. (emphasis added)

From Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Basics, Part IV

Likewise, we are not the first Christians to see an intra-trinitarian authority/submission structure in Scripture.

The doctrine under consideration in this series, however, must not be confused with the heresy of Arius and others. The orthodox view of subordination has been affirmed by many in the mainstream of orthodoxy throughout church history, including: 

  • Athanasius (c. 296-373) argued against Arianism at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and saw his view emerge victorious. Yet, in his Orationes contra Arionos (Orations against Arius), he articulates the eternality of the Son and expresses a clear order within the Godhead.
  • John Calvin (1509-1564), a father of the Reformation and author of the first systematic theology, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin adopted Augustine’s view of the Trinity.

For further study:

From Eternal Subordination of the Son: Pastoral Implications, Part V

At the conclusion of this series, we must ask about the pastoral implications of the eternal subordination of the Son.  What does this doctrine show us about the character of God and what effect should this truth have on our hearts and relationships today?

Nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 11:3 leads us to understand that there is a direct connection between the Trinity and our roles in marriage.  In this verse, Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of the wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”  Hierarchy has always existed in the Trinity itself, because the head of Christ is God.  The goodness of hierarchy is built into the very fabric of creation. 

How this is expressed in marriage is especially beautiful. If headship and submission can exist between the equal persons in the Godhead itself, then we can understand how the same type of relationship can exist between equal persons in marriage.

What difference does the doctrine of the eternal submission of the Son make in our hearts? It reassures a wife that her role in marriage is not ignoble or demeaning.  If this imitates the role that Jesus Christ assumes in the very Godhead, then a wife’s role is fundamentally noble and good.

There are few things more counter-cultural and gospel-displaying than a wife joyfully imitating Jesus Christ in his submission to the Father.  Though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself.  (emphasis added)

As you can see from these excerpts, and I encourage you to read the full posts, the doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son has been fully embraced and clearly taught by CBMW. These articles were written by a CBMW editor and an executive director. They ran on CBMW’s own website as representative of the doctrinal position of the organization. The posts appealed to Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem as authorities on ESS (notice they use ESS and ERAS interchangeably).

The articles teach that ESS is not a take it or leave it doctrine. Despite what Denny Burk wants to say today, ESS has been taught as the only biblical position. In part I, Robinson says that we “are bound to joyfully affirm all that the Bible affirms. That factor alone is reason enough to classify this doctrine as important for further study.”

It is also clear that from the beginning the doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son was linked to the version of complementarity taught by CBMW. As I’ve said before, ESS/EFS/ERAS has been a part of CBMW from the earliest days. It is foundational to all they teach and cannot be separated out.