Tag Archives | subordination

Warfield on Eternal Subordination in the Trinity

Those who reject the notion of hierarchy in the imminent Trinity often point to B. B. Warfield as a supporter of their position. In his article in ISBE on the Trinity,1 Warfield discusses at length his reservations about reading what we see in the economic Trinity back into the immanent Trinity.

19. The Implications of “Son” and “Spirit”

. . . To the fact of the Trinity—to the fact, that is, that in the unity of the Godhead there subsist three Persons, each of whom has his particular part in the working out of salvation—the New Testament testimony is clear, consistent, pervasive and conclusive. There is included in this testimony constant and decisive witness to the complete and undiminished Deity of each of these Persons; no language is too exalted to apply to each of them in turn in the effort to give expression to the writer’s sense of His Deity: the name that is given to each is fully understood to be “the name that is above every name.” When we attempt to press the inquiry behind the broad fact, however, with a view to ascertaining exactly how the New Testament writers conceive the three Persons to be related, the one to the other, we meet with great difficulties. Nothing could seem more natural, for example, than to assume that the mutual relations of the Persons of the Trinity are revealed in the designations, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” which are given them by Our Lord in the solemn formula of Mt. 28:19. Our confidence in this assumption is somewhat shaken, however, when we observe, as we have just observed, that these designations are not carefully preserved in their allusions to the Trinity by the writers of the New Testament at large, but are characteristic only of Our Lord’s allusions and those of John, whose modes of speech in general very closely resemble those of Our Lord. Our confidence is still further shaken when we observe that the implications with respect to the mutual relations of the Trinitarian Persons, which are ordinarily derived from these designations, do not so certainly lie in them as is commonly supposed.

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  1. Trinity,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by James Orr (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 5:3,012–22.

Gunton on Taxis in the Trinity

I know I’ve been doing a lot of quoting recently, but my blogging time is limited and quoting is easier than writing—not to mention that you’d probably rather read Gunton’s perspective on the Trinity than mine anyway.

I stumbled across this relevant bit from Colin Gunton in his The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, which I have as part of the Colin E. Gunton Theology Collection. (I sure do love having a digital library!)

It is often said that when the New Testament writers use the word ‘God’ simpliciter, they are referring to God the Father, so that Irenaeus is true to Scripture in speaking of Son and Spirit as the two hands of God, the two agencies by which the work of God the Father is done in the world. Indeed, Paul’s account of the progress of the risen and conquering Christ in 1 Corinthians 15 ends with the confession that when he hands the Kingdom over to the Father, God will be all in all (v. 28). Here, however, the priority of the Father is not ontological but economic. Such talk of the divine economy has indeed implications for what we may say about the being of God eternally, and would seem to suggest a subordination of taxis—of ordering within the divine life—but not one of deity or regard. It is as truly divine to be the obedient self-giving Son as it is to be the Father who sends and the Spirit who renews and perfects. Only by virtue of the particularity and relatedness of all three is God God.

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Moulton on 1 Corinthians 15:28

Moulton-Howard-Turner Greek Grammar CollectionI just installed the new Moulton-Howard-Turner Greek Grammar Collection from Logos.

It comes with the four volumes of A Grammar of New Testament Greek:

  • Vol. 1: Prolegomena by James H. Moulton
  • Vol. 2: Accidence and Word-Formation by James H. Moulton and Wilbert F. Howard
  • Vol. 3: Syntax by Nigel Turner
  • Vol. 4: Style by Nigel Turner

It also includes Turner’s volume Grammatical Insights into the New Testament.

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Hierarchy Does Not Necessitate Opposition

I’m baffled when I read egalitarians who think that functional hierarchy presupposes disunity or the prospect of it.

Take, for example, this statement by Gilbert Bilezikian:

One of the weirdest heresies that has been generated in the last century pertains to the postulation of a hierarchical order within the members of the Trinity—as if there ever could exist a threat of discord or of misconduct that would require the exercise of authority within the oneness of the Godhead.1

Kevin Giles is guilty of this fallacious reasoning as well:

What seems to have happened is that contemporary conservative evangelicals who are opposed to women’s liberation in the church and the home have read back into the Trinity their understanding of the subordination of women: God the Father has become the eternal “head” of Christ, and the differences among the divine persons have been redefined in terms of differing roles or functions. Rather than working as one, the divine persons have been set in opposition—with the Father commanding and the Son obeying.2

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  1. Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1, emphasis mine.
  2. The Trinity and Subordinationism (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), 16, emphasis mine.

Essential Equality and Functional Subordination: A Complementarian Novelty?

Did complementarians invent the notion that beings can be equal in essence and yet one be subordinate to the other in terms of function or role? That’s what many egalitarians claim.

Here’s an interesting selection from Ambrosiaster:

The subjection of Christ to the Father means that every creature will learn that he is subject to Christ, who in turn is subject to the Father, and will thus confess that there is only one God. But Christ’s subjection to the Father is not the same thing as our subjection to the Son, because our subjection is one of dependence and not the union of equals.1

“Christ’s subjection to the Father is . . . one of . . . the union of equals.” The notion that a being can be equal in one sense yet subject in another sense is quite apparently not novel.


  1. Commentary on Paul’s Epistles, 81.3:173–74. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. Vienna, 1866–. Quote in Gerald Lewis Bray, “1 Corinthians 15:28,” 1–2 Corinthians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: NT 7 (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999), 163.

The Failed Strategy of “Trinity & Subordinationism”

trinity-and-subordinationism.jpgKevin Giles’s The Trinity & Subordinationism is easily one of the worst books I have ever read.1 I say that not because I disagree with the position he defends (i.e., the Son is not in any sense eternally subordinate to the Father); I’m still in the process of evaluating the evidence. Rather, I make that statement based primarily2 on what the book itself sets out to do.

Giles’s goal in T&S is to move beyond the exegetical impasse regarding eternal subordination in the Trinity by appealing to tradition.

Quoting biblical texts and giving one’s interpretation of them cannot resolve complex theological disputes. . . . I believe this approach [to “doing theology”] should . . . be abandoned today because it always leads to a “text-jam.” . . . What we have today is a bitter stalemate (3).

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  1. I should clarify that I have read and am referring to only his section on the Trinity, which is its own distinct unit.
  2. I’ll probably follow up this post with the book’s other problems, such as (1) misunderstanding and misrepresenting complementarians, (2) selective reading of history, (3) eisegesis of historical texts, (4) category confusion, etc., etc. Here’s one example of misrepresentation to give you an idea of the way Giles interacts with complemenatarian Trinitarianism throughout the book: “Rather than working as one, the divine persons have been set in opposition—with the Father commanding and the Son obeying.” I wrote this in the margin, “Opposition?!!! What a massive misrepresentation!” I challenge Giles to show one complementarian who considers the Father and the Son to be in a relationship of opposition!

The Father = The Trinity

trinity-and-subordinationism.jpgThis is the assertion of Kevin Giles in The Trinity and Subordinationism (IVP, 2002):

Here it is to be recalled that in the Bible and in the early church, the title “Father” is used in two cognate ways: in reference to the Godhead and to the person of the Father. Torrance argues that the Cappadocians’ error was to completely conflate these two meanings of the title “Father.” In the former sense, the Father (i.e., the Godhead) may be thought of as the source or font of all being. In the second sense, the Father (i.e., the Father of the Son) is he who is coequal and coeternal with the person of the Son and the person of the Holy Spirit (43).

In support for his claim that the Bible and the early church use Father to refer to the entire Trinity, he points to Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, 137, 181; Trinitarian Faith, 241; and LaCugna, God for Us, 71.

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Economic Trinitarian Relations

Pastor Timothy Mills recently submitted a review of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology to our PastorBookshelf Reviews website. His comments were generally positive, but not as positive as I would have hoped for such a fine introduction to biblical doctrine.

One area where he disagreed with Grudem was in his handling of the Trinity.

His choice, however, of the model of the Trinity as a hierarchy setting the pattern for the marriage relationship (454) is problematic. The Trinity is a tri-unity, while a marriage is merely dual-mutual. Yes, the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church (Eph. 5:23), but that is a relationship between the husband and wife, as between Christ and the church; but not as between the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. No where does the New Testament make that comparison.

I suggested to Pastor Mills that that is precisely the connection Paul makes in 1 Cor 11:3: “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.” Just as a husband is the head of his wife, so the Father is the head of the Son.

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