Being Careful on the Trinity

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If you travel the same web byways that I do, over the last week or so you may have noticed that a ruckus over the Trinity erupted. The occasion was the fact that some complementarians have wanted to ground the submission of a wife to her husband in the “eternal subordination” of the Son to the Father.Trinity

As the critics have pointed out, this does in fact play old harry with the divine simplicity, and the unity of the divine will, and eventually monotheism, and so in that respect my sympathies are entirely with the critics.

But, as dearly beloved children, there should be more than one way to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1) In short, I believe the critics are right about the threat to classic trinitarian theology that a certain line of complementarian reasoning presents. At the same time, I would urge the critics not to overstate their case, which might happen if they said that the marriage design has nothing whatever to do with how God is.

In some sense, the fact that we are created male and female reflects or images God (Gen. 1:27). Our sexuality is not simply a brute fact of nature, like having redheads and brunettes. God the Father is a Father ad intra, and all fatherhood on earth somehow derives its reality from that fact (Eph. 3:14-15). Something is going on, though I am delighted to agree that it is not eternal subordination of the Son.

Might it be the eternal generation of the Son? Fred Sanders says maybe, and I commend his cautions which you can find if you go back and click on maybe.

Postscript: On 1 Cor. 11:3, keep in mind that Christ is an incarnational title. Substitute the Messiah, which means that we also have some ad extra things to imitate.

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"A" dad
"A" dad
5 years ago

Or, all sides could read and take to heart, Philippians 2:3-11, and be that much more obedient in the unity that God requires of all Christians.

Right?????????????

Daniel Meyer
5 years ago

Dear Doug,

I thought the eternal submission of the Son to the Father was taught by 1 Corinthians 15:21-28. What else could that passage mean?

Love,

(Edit: These verses don’t address eternity past, which I now realize is part of the discussion.)

Brandon Klassen
Brandon Klassen
5 years ago
Reply to  Daniel Meyer

Regarding your (Edit:…).

Isn’t the Son always the Son? Paul doesn’t refer to Jesus or the Christ, but the Son. Seems significant. At least to this layperson…

katecho
katecho
5 years ago
Reply to  Daniel Meyer

I don’t believe that Wilson is disputing or questioning the eternal submission of the Son to the Father. He is being cautious about harnessing or mapping the submission of the wife, and the headship of her husband, as an approved picture of that particular eternal submission of the Son to the Father.

If the wife is required to model each of these relationships at once, she would find herself simultaneously in the role of both Church and Christ in her marriage, and would end up modeling submission to herself.

Jacob Schroeder
Jacob Schroeder
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho

It seems to me that Doug (and others) are taking issue with more than just the “mapping.” As he said (1st paragraph), the complementarian application of their trinitarian theology is merely the occasion of this debate. The real debate is over whether or not their theology violates the divine simplicity by subordinating the Son to the Father. On this point Doug agrees with the critics: “something is going on, though I am delighted to agree that it is not eternal subordination of the Son.” Unless we are distinguishing somehow between the words “submission” and “subordination,” it seems that Wilson does… Read more »

geoffrobinson
geoffrobinson
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho

I think the conclusion we can draw is that submission within the Trinity shows us that submission does not mean inequality or inferiority.

Is that at least a good conclusion?

Brandon Klassen
Brandon Klassen
5 years ago
Reply to  geoffrobinson

That’s where I’ve taken it.

David R
David R
5 years ago

“Something is going on, though I am delighted to agree that it is not eternal subordination of the Son.” Now I agree that the economy within the Trinity should not be used to defend Complementarianism, since it is the relationship between Christ and His Church that is the model for male headship. But the Son is subordinate to the Father. It is clearly evident in the their relationship as Father and Son. A son is always subordinate to his father. My father will always be my authority. 1 Cor 15 shows the Son being eternally subordinate to the Father. Christ… Read more »

Rob Steele
Rob Steele
5 years ago
Reply to  David R

A son is always subordinate to his father.

“How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [Christ] Lord” (Matt. 22)

David R
David R
5 years ago
Reply to  Rob Steele

We are not talking about David’s relationship to Christ. We are talking about the relationship within the Godhead and how God has communicated that relationship. In Matthew 22, Christ is revealing that the Messiah is more than just the Son of David. David, as King, was calling Christ Lord and that King David was subordinate in authority to the Messiah. It was an issue of Lordship and not familial relations. In the Godhead, the relationship used is always one of Father and Son. 1 Cor 15:28 – “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago
Reply to  Rob Steele

But that’s the exact point. A father is “lord” over his son, not the other way around, though untainted by sin both father and son are of one mind and purpose.

The puzzle for the Jews is “It makes no sense for the ancestor call his descendent ‘Lord'”. And it does not, unless the son was before his ancestor (cf John 1:15, John 8:57-58). Jesus reminds the Jews of this precisely to make the point that they haven’t really understood who the Messiah will be.

katecho
katecho
5 years ago
Reply to  David R

I don’t see Wilson questioning the eternal submission of the Son to the Father. He is being cautious about the mapping of sex/gender roles as a model of that particular Triune relationship.

David R
David R
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho

Then how do you interpret this statement:

“Something is going on, though I am delighted to agree that it is not eternal subordination of the Son.”

katecho
katecho
5 years ago
Reply to  David R

Here is some more context for Wilson’s remark: In some sense, the fact that we are created male and female reflects or images God (Gen. 1:27). Our sexuality is not simply a brute fact of nature, like having redheads and brunettes. God the Father is a Father ad intra, and all fatherhood on earth somehow derives its reality from that fact (Eph. 3:14-15). Something is going on, though I am delighted to agree that it is not eternal subordination of the Son. Here is my expanded interpretation of Wilson’s statement (these are my words, not Wilson’s): Something is going on,… Read more »

David R
David R
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho

OK, I can see that as a valid interpretation. Maybe Wilson can clarify in a future post.

Jacob Schroeder
Jacob Schroeder
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho

I still think that’s backwards from what Doug said. I don’t see any hint here that Doug is sympathetic to eternal subordinationism. He clearly rejects it (as most do). His sympathies are with the critics, not the [certain brand of] complementarians. And why? Because these complementarians’ theology (eternal subordinationism) “plays old harry” with the unity of the divine will.

His problem with the complementarians is their eternal subordinationism. His problem with the critics is their failure to offer a better complementarian theology.

katecho
katecho
5 years ago

I’m fairly certain that Wilson has affirmed eternal subordination in the past, but I’m not able to find a useful quote. Hopefully Wilson can clarify.

Jacob Schroeder
Jacob Schroeder
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho

That could be. In any case, thanks for putting up with my pestering here. It would be great to hear more from Doug about it. Cheers.

Jacob Schroeder
Jacob Schroeder
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho
Rob Steele
Rob Steele
5 years ago

Handy index. I expect a lot of this owes to people thinking time is somehow God’s native habitat rather than his idea. The expression “eternity past” points to fuzzy thinking on this subject.

Daniel Meyer
5 years ago
Reply to  Rob Steele

Thanks Rob,
A quote from Andrew Wilson’s post that you linked:

“The Bible indicates that the Son submits to the Father while he is incarnate (John 5:19 and so on), and that he continues to into the future (1 Corinthians 15:27-28). But does it also teach that he has done so from eternity past?”

I didn’t realize the question was about Jesus’ relationship to His Father before incarnation. Helpful, thanks.

Matt Massingill
Matt Massingill
5 years ago
Reply to  Rob Steele

I am not staking out a position on the issue at hand – b/c I am unsure. But I don’t think it depends on that distinction between time as God’s habitat vs. God’s idea. I grant that the distinction is TRUE, but I think your phrasing holds the key to answering that particular objection. You used the phrase “native” habitat. Exactly! It may not be Yahweh’s “native” habitat, but that does not necessarily the divine cannot inhabit it. Indeed the incarnation was the divine injecting itself and subjecting itself into the Godhead’s idea of time, even though it wasn’t the… Read more »

Rob Steele
Rob Steele
5 years ago

I think it is useful to note as you do that God does inhabit time despite its being part of creation. He fills it much as he fills space. The important bit is that it has its being in him, not vice versa.

Matt Massingill
Matt Massingill
5 years ago
Reply to  Rob Steele

Well, which part is the important part depends on what we are discussing. If someone is pushing open theism, then yes, creation’s subordination to God would be the more pertinent point. But if we are discussing the nature of Jesus relationship to the Father, and this issue of whether “eternity past” has any relevance, then the other point becomes just as pertinent. I don’t think the phrase “eternity past” in this context implies in any way that God is bound by time, I think it’s simply the only sensible phrase we can use to describe to the ultimate, fundamental nature… Read more »

Rob Steele
Rob Steele
5 years ago

How about we say “in God”? That locates whatever we’re talking about outside creation and outside our ability to understand. It signals that we tread on holy ground and ought to be mindful of our creaturely limitations.

Consistorian
5 years ago

Some say submission only shows itself when there is a disagreement. Although the Son has always been under the Father’s authority, there was never any occasion for a clear demonstration of the Son’s willingness to obey, even if it were to come at a price, until the creation of the world. This is how I think of Hebrews 5:8, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” In other words, I see this as Jesus learning how to obey, even when it would involve such suffering, which he could never have encountered before the creation of… Read more »

Brandon Klassen
Brandon Klassen
5 years ago

Am I missing something in this verse that would show that Paul ISN’T drawing on the Son-Father relationship to support the Wife-Husband relationship?

[+] But 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 Corinthians 11:3 ESV)

Jacob Schroeder
Jacob Schroeder
5 years ago

I suppose this verse itself doesn’t necessarily refute such a reading, but it certainly doesn’t require it either. The concern seems to be that the rest of the Scriptures (and historical, orthodox trinitarian theology) would not allow such a reading. The key is that 1 Cor. 11:3 talks about the Christ-God relationship, not the Son-Father relationship. So does Paul’s analogy point us toward an inherrent, eternal aspect of the relationship between the Son and the Father, or is he pointing us toward the obedience of Jesus the God-man? The verse clearly has implications for the wife-husband relationship, and it is… Read more »

Brandon Klassen
Brandon Klassen
5 years ago

What portions in Scripture would prevent/argue against such a reading?

I can think of several that would bolster such a reading.

Jacob Schroeder
Jacob Schroeder
5 years ago

Agreed, 1 Cor. 15:28 (for example) would seem to be a real challenge to the non-subordinationists. I haven’t seen them address this verse yet, and I have no ideas yet how they might do so. On the other side though, Philippians 2:5-8 comes to mind. This contrasts being in the form of God (as the pre-incarnate Son was) with being in the form of an obedient servant—something Paul describes as being the likeness of man (not God). Becoming obedient seems to have been a part of the Son’s humiliation, not a reflection of his divine nature. Also, Hebrews 5:8 tells… Read more »

katecho
katecho
5 years ago

Let’s also remember John 3:16, and John 8:28-29. The Father sent the Son. The Son did not come of His own initiative, but He always lives to do the Father’s will. Obedience to the Father’s initiative is inherent in His Sonship. So while the incarnation of the Son is described in Philippians 2 in terms of humility, emptying of glory, and bond-service (indebtedness), these are understood to be new with the incarnation itself. However, obedience cannot be considered to have begun with the incarnation, because obedience to the Father must have preceded the incarnation in the first place. So we… Read more »

Brandon Klassen
Brandon Klassen
5 years ago

Regarding Phil. 2, it would appear that by coming in the flesh the Son was already obedient and submitting to the Father. It wasn’t like He suddenly found Himself in the form of a servant and thought “Oh, I guess I’ll be obedient now…” I’m not sure where to take the Heb. 5 portion right now, but I think it reasonably follows in the same vein as Phil. 2. It would seem that if we are to generally apply the maxim of using the “more clear” portions to interpret the “less clear” portions, 1 Cor. 15:28 is a clear winner… Read more »

ME
ME
5 years ago

And the men believing themselves to be gods, demanded of the women eternal subordination to their little fleshly selves?

Uh yeah, I won’t be going there. The marriage design has everything whatever to do with how God is. The problem being, far too many men create God in their own image, rather than allowing themselves to be molded into His.

ME
ME
5 years ago

“If you travel the same web byways that I do, over the last week or so you may have noticed that a ruckus over the Trinity erupted.” Well,obviously I am cranky today, but those “web byways” will do that to you! Here’s the problem that always comes up, those who create idols out of women’s submission, will also willingly sacrifice the entire concept of the trinity itself, indeed, they’ll sacrifice Christ Himself if necessary. I’ve read it, I’ve watched it happen, over and over again. Soon we have them preaching how women’s very salvation is dependent on their submission to… Read more »

mkt
mkt
5 years ago
Reply to  ME

“Subordination” and how it relates to complementarians isn’t the real issue. Roman Catholics and E. Orthodox have Trinitarian views that can be considered “subordinate” in some sense. The real issue is that no one needs to mess with a doctrine that was battle-tested then settled (other than very small nuances) centuries ago by the early church.

ME
ME
5 years ago

Here, have some humor from the Babylon Bee

http://babylonbee.com/news/joel-osteen-googles-trinity/

andrewlohr
andrewlohr
5 years ago

Best tape I’ve heard on the mutual love, doing things for each other (so to speak) of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, was by Jeff Meyers from a Biblical Horizons conference sometime in the mid-’90s. He presented it as a response to a skeptic who might wonder if God selfishly seeks His own glory–no, the three Persons give glory to one another, and so should we–but it struck me as not just apologetical but very constructive. Isn’t the Holy Ghost SOMEwhat more feminine, or at least less clearly masculine, than the Son? (I think J. I. Packer in “Keep in… Read more »

Gabe Wetmore
Gabe Wetmore
5 years ago

Some of these terms need some defining for the sake of clarity. Like ‘unity’ in the phrase “the unity of the divine will.” It’s part of the problem in this discussion (and I’m not advocating for any particular application of trinitarian doctrine to marriage, etc., but talking about trinitarian dogma itself). An explanation of the “unity of the divine will” that excludes any personal distinction of will, ultimately tends towards a rejection of the trinity itself (and thankfully people don’t usually follow these things out to their logical conclusions). There is both oneness and threeness in the divine will, the… Read more »

katecho
katecho
5 years ago
Reply to  Gabe Wetmore

Gabe Westmore wrote: Because the divine will exists in three different persons, there will of necessity be a personal distinction in the way that will is expressed, and thus there is also, in this sense, a threeness in the divine will. Any insistence that there is only one divine will, such that there are no personal distinctions in that will, is an attack on the threeness of God. … Because the divine will is being expressed by a person, the particular expression of that will is going to be personalized by the person expressing it. If the Son always does… Read more »

Gabe Wetmore
Gabe Wetmore
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho

Katecho (Sorry, I don’t know your real name), I think you’re missing my main point. You might want to reread what I wrote. My point was more fundamental. It was that if every personal distinction is obliterated in the will of God, then personal distinction itself is obliterated. If the Godhead consists of three distinct persons, then the Son must be distinct from the Father and the Spirit, and so on and so on. That means that at minimum, when one of the persons wills something about the other person, that will will be expressed differently amongst the three persons.… Read more »

Gabe Wetmore
Gabe Wetmore
5 years ago
Reply to  Gabe Wetmore

To follow up on this, one of the things the critics have said is that it is wrong to propose that there is any separate consciousness or knowledge sets amongst the persons of the Trinity. One is left wondering how any orthodox view of the Trinity is possible under these conditions. This type of insistance on the oneness of the Godhead goes too far, and is made at the expense of the threeness. Does the Father have a self consciousness as Father? Does the Son have knowledge that he is in fact the Son and not the Father or the… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan
5 years ago

I don’t understand this. Surely the point is that the trinity shows us that different persons can have equal dignity and different roles (including subordination)?

I think I must be missing something, can someone please educate me?

Also why does it matter if 1 Cor 11:3 is complex or that Christ is an incarnational title?
Doesn’t it still make the same point?!

geoffrobinson
geoffrobinson
5 years ago
Reply to  Ryan

To me that is the main point as well. When I submit to my boss or to the police or to my church elders, I’m not saying they have more worth than me.

Consistorian
5 years ago
Reply to  Ryan

Just starting to look into all this, but it appears that ‘subordinate’ is not to be interchanged with ‘submit’. Subordinate appears to be thought of as related to essence. I can chose to submit to someone I am essentially equal to, but I cannot be on the same level with someone of whom I am actually in a subordinate.

Scared to admit this, but I’m often amazed at how we are far more careful with our words about God and he was about himself in his own autobiography.

katecho
katecho
5 years ago
Reply to  gerv

Very interesting. My understanding of Scripture aligns more with Ovey and less with Dr. Liam Goligher. 3. Any subordination of the Son is by virtue of the incarnation. Regardless of any potentially misguided application to male/female gender roles, the weight of evidence for eternal submission is significant. “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” – 1Cor 15:28 Verse 27 is clear that the subjection of all things to the Son does not include the One… Read more »

Brandon Klassen
Brandon Klassen
5 years ago
Reply to  katecho

That last paragraph. So good. And pivotal, IMO.

katecho
katecho
5 years ago

I found this helpful regarding subordination: “There is no subordination within the divine nature that is shared among the persons: the three are equally God. However, there is a subordination of role among the persons, which constitutes part of the distinctiveness of each. But how can one person be subordinate to another in his eternal role while being equal to the other in his divine nature? Or, to put it differently, how can subordination of role be compatible with divinity? Does not the very idea of divinity exclude this sort of subordination? The biblical answer, I think, is no.” (John… Read more »

Doug Wright
Doug Wright
5 years ago

JW’s be damned with Arius, but I’ll take comfort in Christ’s submission. And wife to me and child to we….. We don’t have authority today; we have the potus making an apologia for his will because slups like we need a critical theory to be on top of even the smallest mound. Doesn’t the Bible say(read) somewhere “the son differs nothing from the father’? In the meanwhile Potus speaks ex constitutio and arms himself to no doubt I rule status.