Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eternal subordination of the Son?

I don't usually get involved in complicated theological arguments.  But I was recently asked a question that I've done some thinking on, and here is my all too brief response.

Is the Son eternally Subordinate to the Father?

Firstly, I would suggest that ontological equality in role and authority with functional subordination (during the incarnation) is biblical and orthodox.  However, the eternal subordination in function & authority of the Son, is problematic.  It is when the Son takes on a human nature that he assumes a subordinate relationship to God the Father (Jn 5:18-19).  Phil. 2.5-11 makes clear, the pre-existent Son of God had the condition and status of being equal to God, but he chose not to take advantage of it, but rather humbled himself (involving a choice, not an inherent condition or state of the divine Son) and took on a human nature.   And then we have Matt 28:19 which notes that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to the Son in his resurrected state.  This suggests that the Father has handed over authority to the Son, which the Son will then return to the Father at the end of history (1 Cor 15:28).  Are we thus to suggest that the Father is functionally subordinated to the Son at this point? 

What is more, Paul the author of 1 Cor 15:28 elsewhere envisages the Son extending his rule and authority at the eschaton, not of it ending. When the end comes all will bow before Jesus Christ as Lord (Phil 2:10), all will stand before him as the judge (2 Cor 5:10), believers "will be glorified with him" (Rom 8:17), and "be with him forever" (1 Thess 4:17), and they will "reign with him" (Rom 5:17). Thus, there is no subordination after the ascension, since at least seven texts explicitly speak of the Son's rule and authority as continuing “forever” (2 Sam 7:2-4; Isa 9:7; Luke 1:33; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 7:10-12; 11:15; cf. Eph 1:20-21).  These texts are eschatologically christocentric, not theocentric. On the basis of this dominant teaching in Scripture on the eternal rule and authority of the Son, the Council of Constantinople in 381 added to what we call today the Nicene Creed the words, "and his [the Son's] kingdom will have no end," thereby rejecting the teaching of Marcellus, Bishop of Ancyra (d. 374), who appealed to 1 Cor 15:28 to deny the eternal rule and authority of the Son.

Finally, I question whether intra-Trinitarian relationships can be or should be applied to male-female relationships.  It is never done so in the New Testament writings, and doing so creates more problems than it solves.  As Michael Bird and Robert Shillaker have noted:
we should not assume that every aspect of intra-trinitarian relationships carries over into human existence and into male-female relationships. For a start, the Trinity has three persons in an eternal relationship whereas marriage has only two persons in a temporal relationship. The Trinity also has two male persons and human marriage has one male and one female. That means that unless you are immortal and involved in some bizarre love-triangle (with at least two males) that the application of Trinitarian relations to male-female relations is going to break down at some point. Thus we should be very careful about suggestions that what is true of Trinitarian relationships is also true of male-female relationships. Scripture gives us a better analogy to apply directly to male-female relations and that is the image of Christ and the church in Eph 5:21-33.[1]

I object to Bird’s use of masculinity in relationship to God here, as God is Spirit and transcends male/female gender distinctions.  But I think his main point still stands. 

Functional subordination cannot mean submission of the Son's will to the Father's will within the Godhead, as they have the same will. 

Thoughts?  Comments?  Critiques?  All welcome...  

[1] Michael F. Bird and Robert Shillaker, “Subordination in the Trinity and Gender Roles: A Response to Recent Discussion,” Trinity Journal 29/2 (2008): 267-83.

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