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Preeminent Role of God the Father in the Trinity: What about the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed? - Part 2A

by Karl Kemp  
8/04/2016 / Bible Studies


All quotations were taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Sometimes I make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious. I am using straight quotation marks ("), hyphens (-) instead of dashes, and a few other things like this because some of the internet sites where I post these articles require it. Also they don't allow footnotes. Cf., e.g., means "compare, for example."

CONTENTS FOR PART 2 OF THIS PAPER:

INTRODUCTION AND CONCLUSION (included in Part 1 and Part 2 of this paper).... 4

EXTENSIVE EXCERPTS FROM "THE NEW EVANGELICAL SUBORDINATIONISM?: PERSPECTIVES ON THE EQUALITY OF GOD THE FATHER AND GOD THE SON" (These excerpts and my comments cover the first six sections of the twenty-nine sections included in this paper.):

1. CHAPTER 10 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father," by Wayne Grudem.... 11

2. PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11, Especially 2:6 and Another Article, CHAPTER 5, from "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "Christ's Functional Subordination in Philippians 2:6" by Denny Burk.... 19

3. CHAPTER 7 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "The Eternal Relational Subordination of the Son to the Father in Patristic [Referring to the Fathers of the Early Christian Church] Thought" by H. Wayne House.... 22

4. CHAPTER 2 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead" by Bruce A. Ware. I also include some excerpts here from "Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles and Relevance," a book by Bruce A. Ware.... 26

5. CHAPTER 3 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "Subordination within the Trinity: John 5:18 and 1 Cor. 15:28" by Craig S. Keener.... 31

6. CHAPTER 15 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "Complementarian Trinitarianism: Divine Revelation Is Finally True to the Eternal Personal Relations" by J. Scott Horrell (This completes the excerpts from "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?").... 32

7. Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father in the Book of Revelation.... 36

MOST OF THE EXCERPTS AND COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW TO THE END OF THIS PAPER ARE RELEVANT TO THE MEANING OF "HOMOOUSIOS" IN THE NICENE CREED OF AD 325. I believe this is very important! Large numbers of Christians believe the Nicene Creed proves that God the Son cannot be eternally subordinate to God the Father in His role, but it seems clear that at least most of those who signed the Nicene Creed, in agreement with the pre-Nicene Christian Fathers (and, much more important, in agreement with the Bible), believed that God the Son is eternally subordinate to God the Father in His role, but not in a way that denies the full deity of the Son.

8. Several Excerpts from Early Christian Fathers on the Trinity Taken from "A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs" by David W. Bercot, Editor. Some of these excerpts speak of the eternally preeminent role of God the Father/the eternally subordinate role of the Son of God.... 41

9. Text of the Nicene Creed of AD 325.... 42

10. Some Excerpts from "Early Christian Doctrines" by J. N. D. Kelly that Deal with the Meaning of "Homoousios" at Nicea.... 43

11. Some Excerpts from "Retrieving Nicaea: the Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine" by Khaled Anatolios.... 44

12. Confirming Excerpt from "The Holy Trinity" by Robert Letham.... 45

13. An Excerpt from Robert Letham in "the Holy Trinity" that Shows that There Were Quite a Few Versions of Arianism in the Decades Following Nicea.... 46

14. Some Excerpts from "Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church" that deal with the Council of Nicea by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley.... 47

15. A Few Excerpts from the article on "Homoousios" by Fredrick W. Norris from "Encyclopedia of Early Christianity.".... 49

16. Some Excerpts from J. N. D. Kelly under the heading "The Contribution of Augustine" (pages 271-279) in the chapter "The Doctrine of the Trinity" in the book "Early Christian Doctrines.".... 49

17. Further Discussion Regarding Augustine and His Viewpoint. Robert Letham has a chapter on Augustine in his book, "The Holy Trinity." Will We See God the Father in Heaven?.... 51

18. Augustine Wasn't Always Right, Far from It in My Opinion.... 52

19. I'll Quote Part of what John M. Frame Says under the Heading "Subordination" in "The Doctrine of God," which is Vol. 2 of the "The Theology of Lordship.".... 53

20. Some Excerpts from the Paper "A Defense of the Doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son" by Stephen D. Kovach and Peter R. Schemm.... 55

21. Some Excerpts from, and Interaction with, the book "Decoding Nicea" by Paul F. Pavao.... 56

22. Some Excerpts from Norman L. Geisler's "Systematic Theology".... 62

23. Some Excerpts from "God in Patristic Thought" by G. L. Prestige.... 63

24. Some Excerpts from "Athanasius: A Theological Introduction" by Thomas G. Weinandy.... 65

25. Philip Schaff Discusses the Fact that the Nicene Fathers, like their Predecessors (the Pre-Nicene fathers), Teach the Subordination of the Son to the Father (Volume 3, "Nicene and Post-Nicene, Christianity").... 68

26. Some Excerpts from Chapter VI, "The Trinity," of Vol. 1 of "Systematic Theology" by Charles Hodge.... 68

27. A Little Information Regarding the Cappadocians and the Greek Noun "Homoiousios [Note the "oi," not "oo" in the middle of this word.].".... 70

28. Some Excerpts from "The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God & the Contemporary Gender Debate" by Kevin Giles.... 72

29. Some Excerpts from a Later Book by Kevin Giles on this Same Topic: "Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Trinity.".... 76


INTRODUCTION AND CONCLUSION. I believe it is quite important for us to know that the Bible teaches the preeminent role of God the Father in the Trinity. It is an important doctrine and quite relevant to many aspects of our Christian lives, very much including prayer and worship. For one thing, we should typically pray to the Father (see my paper "Who Do We Pray To?" on my internet site [Google to Karl Kemp Teaching]), and we should worship Him first and foremost (see my paper "Who Do We Worship?"). What the New Testament has to say about the respective roles of God the Father and God the Son before the incarnation confirms the preeminent role of God the Father. And everything that the Old Testament says about the preincarnate Son of God (the Angel/Messenger of Yahweh and the man dressed in linen of Ezek. 9:2, 3, 11; 10:2, 6 and Dan. 10:5; 12:7) fits perfectly with the preeminent role of God the Father and the subordinate role of God the Son. All agree that the Son was subordinate to the Father during the brief time He lived on the earth as a man, the God-man. What the Bible has to say about the respective roles of God the Father and God the Son during this present age, and on into the eternal state that follows the millennial kingdom, also confirms the preeminent role of God the Father. The Son boasts in the preeminent role of the Father. Probably more than anything else the Son wants to see, He wants to see the Father's will fully accomplished and the Father glorified to the max. For one thing, it is probably beyond our ability to comprehend the level of love and respect that the Son has for the Father, and the Father for the Son.

I appreciate the fact that those who deny any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father are concerned that we don't deny the full deity of the Son. His deity has been repeatedly attacked by the devil and those who listen to him. However, I am totally convinced that we are not denying the full deity of the Son by speaking of the eternal preeminent role of God the Father (the eternal subordinate role of God the Son). We need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.

Since I became a born-again Christian in 1964, I have always believed in the FULL deity of the Son of God and (as far as I can remember) that He has a role eternally subordinate to the Father in the Trinity. I was taught the deity of the Son, and I believe it is clearly taught in the Bible. I don't know that I was taught that the Son has a role eternally subordinate to the Father. I believe I learned that mostly through my study of the Bible. I have discussed many of the relevant passages of the Bible in earlier papers that deal with the Trinity. See Part 1 of this present paper.

Section 1 of the 29 sections that are included here in Part 2 of this paper (see the Contents of Part 2 of this paper), which is the article by Wayne Grudem, lists many of the Biblical passages that speak of the eternally subordinate role of the Son to the Father. I'll include a six-paragraph excerpt from section 1 of this paper: "On page 226 Grudem makes it clear that he is speaking of a ' "relational subordination" that accompanies equality in being or essence ["ontological equality"],' " and that he is speaking of a 'submission that is not oppressive but is pure and holy.' Based on what I have read, I believe that Grudem, based on his understanding of the 'ontological equality' of the three Persons, would agree with Athanasius (AD296-373) and Kevin Giles (we'll speak quite a bit about both of them in this paper) that the Son shares an identical, same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity with the Father that cannot be divided. It is significant, however, that Grudem makes it clear that he doesn't agree with Athanasius and Giles (and many others) that (because of this identical, same-substance [oneness, but not modalism] unity that cannot be divided) the Son cannot be, and is not, eternally subordinate to the Father in His role. And Grudem doesn't agree that there is only one center of consciousness in the Trinity, with one will and one mind.

I admit I don't know enough to fully understand or define the Trinity, but the Full deity of the Son is clear to me, along with His eternal subordination to the Father in His role, and I cannot agree that there is only one center of consciousness with one will and one mind in the Trinity. IF it were true, as Athanasius and Giles have taught/teach, that the Son's sharing the identical, same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity that cannot be divided rules out any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, and requires us to believe that there is only one center of consciousness in the Trinity, with one will and one mind, then I would have to say that the Son does not share that unity (that unity as understood by Athanasius and Giles).

I believe it is possible that Giles is right to say that Grudem cannot legitimately believe in the identical, same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity of the Son with the Father that cannot be divided and also believe that the Son is subordinate to the Father in His role, or believe in three centers of consciousness in the Trinity with three wills and three minds. I'm not going to try to directly or fully answer this question in this paper (but I'll deal with this topic quite a bit, including in the next paragraph); it's over my head; but I am satisfied to be able to say that I believe the Bible clearly teaches the eternal preeminent role of God the Father (and eternal subordinate role of God the Son), and that the Bible does not teach that there is one center of consciousness with one will and one mind in the Trinity. Furthermore, as we discuss quite a bit in this paper, it is significant that the pre-Nicene Christians and most of the Christians gathered to Nicea in AD 325 DID NOT AGREE WITH ATHANASIUS (OR GILES) THAT THERE IS AN IDENTICAL, SAME-SUBSTANCE (ONENESS, BUT NOT MODALISM) UNITY OF THE THREE PERSONS THAT CANNOT BE DIVIDED, OR ON THE ONE CENTER OF CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE THREE PERSONS, WITH ONE WILL AND ONE MIND, AND THEY CLEARLY BELIEVED IN THE ETERNAL SUBORDINATE ROLE OF GOD THE SON.

As we discuss in this paper, we don't want to overstate or put too much emphasis on the oneness/unity of the being, substance, essence of the Trinity (it seems that this has happened a lot), which is a topic that we learn very little about from the Bible (which leaves a lot of room for philosophic speculation); we don't really have a need to know much about those details. The Bible speaks mostly regarding the words, actions, and relationships of the three Persons as they interact with one another and with the world they created (especially with the people of God). The Bible puts all the emphasis on the three Persons, but guards against the idea of three Gods.

I need to point out that Athanasius and Giles (and it's not just them) are speaking of the three Persons SHARING the identical, one, same substance, essence, nature, being that cannot be divided. (They are not speaking of three Persons each having the same divine substance, essence, nature that goes with each of them being deity/God, but of them SHARING that ONE substance, essence, nature, being that cannot be divided.) Significantly, based on what I have read, this was a new viewpoint that wasn't promoted until after the Council of Nicea. As we will discuss, it wasn't promoted at the Council of Nicea. Athanasius could have been the first Christian to promote this new viewpoint; if not, he was one of the first. And it is significant that this new viewpoint wasn't needed to refute the heretical teaching of Arius. The Council of Nicea was convened for the most part to deal with the controversy regarding Arius and those who followed his teaching.

If you push the new viewpoint a little, as Athanasius and Giles did/do, it is rather easy to come up with new ideas like there is no way that one of the three Persons who share the identical, one, same-substance, essence, nature, being that cannot be divided can have authority over the other Persons, and that there can only be one center of consciousness with one will and one mind in the Trinity. I clearly have to reject the ideas that the Son is not subordinate to the Father in His role and that there is one center of consciousness with one will and one mind in the Trinity, ideas that are held by many Christians. Anyway, it is totally clear that one way, or another, the Son is of the substance of the Father (He was not created out of nothing as Arius said) and He is deity with the Father in a totally full sense." (This is the end of the six-paragraph excerpt.)

Section 2 of this paper, which discusses Phil. 2:5-11, is quite important. In Phil. 2:1-11 the apostle Paul was exhorting his readers with the need to be humble: If the Lord Jesus, God the Son, could GREATLY humble Himself to do the Father's will, which involved great condescension and suffering, we certainly need to humble ourselves before God and one another. Of key importance for the topic of this paper, I believe Phil. 2:6 speaks of the fact that the Son did not grasp after equality with God (an equality that He did not have) at a time before He became a man, the God-man. I quote from a Greek scholar who confirms this interpretation of Phil. 2:6 and gets into the details of the Greek to show why we should understand Phil. 2:6 this way. This scholar, Denny Burk, wrote "Christ's Functional Subordination in Philippians 2:6," which is chapter 2 in "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?" and he has written a book that deals with the specific details of Greek grammar that apply here, "Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament."

One reason this is so important is that many, including Augustine, use Phil. 2:6 as a, or the, key verse to try to show that the Son had equality with the Father before His incarnation. It is true, of course, that God the Son was always equal with God the Father in the sense that He was God/deity with God the Father, but He has also had a role subordinate to that of the Father. In Phil. 2:6 the apostle Paul was denying that the Son was grasping for a status where He would be equal with the Father and no longer be subordinate to Him. The Son did the exact opposite of that: He humbled Himself to do the Father's will. First He humbled Himself to become a man, the God-man. I don't believe we are able to begin to comprehend what a drastic change that meant for Him. Then He humbled Himself further, in submission to the Father's will, to become the Lamb of God. Again, I don't believe we are able to begin to comprehend how very difficult that assignment was.

(As we continue, I'll mention several things that were discussed in the six-paragraph excerpt that I included above, but these things are important enough to bear some repetition. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.) All twenty-nine sections of Part 2 of this paper are quite relevant to the topic of this paper, but some are more important than others. I believe the evidence is overwhelming that the Son of God is eternally subordinate to God the Father. The primary evidence is what the Bible has to say on this topic, but it is quite significant that the pre-Nicene Christians (before the Council of Nicea in AD 325) agreed with this viewpoint, and it is quite significant that most of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed also agreed with this viewpoint. I discuss this last point a lot in this paper because this information (this important information) is rather new to me, and I believe it will be new to many of my readers. Based on what I have read recently, many Christians, probably the majority, wrongly believe that the Council of Nicea gave us a creed that rules out any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father.

I was surprised a few years ago (and in doing the research to write this paper) when I began to see how many Christians, including quite a few evangelicals, don't believe that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in His role. Kevin Giles is a key leader motivated to argue against the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. He has an article in the book, "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?" I'll quote a little from that article as we continue in this "Introduction and Conclusion," but I don't have a separate section to deal with that article in this paper; however, in sections 28 and 29 I interact with two of his books that deal with this topic. Giles calls himself an evangelical (see page 265 of his article); he might even consider himself a conservative evangelical theologian (but I doubt it); however I am sure that he doesn't consider himself to be as conservative as the "conservative evangelical theologians" that he strongly criticizes in his article and in his books.

Kevin has done his homework, and he makes some important points. It seems clear, for example, that he can rightly claim that he is saying what key Christian leaders like Athanasius (AD296-373) and Augustine (AD354-430) have said on this topic, and what the Athanasian Creed says. However, I have to strongly disagree when he says that Christians who believe in the eternal subordination of the Son are holding a heretical viewpoint. He uses some strong language.

I'll quote what Giles says (on page 278 of his article in "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?") about the Bible and the idea of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father: "To quote to me...John 14:28, 1 Cor. 11:3 and 15:28, texts my debating opponents think eternally subordinate the Son to the Father, causes me little concern. Along with Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Augustine, and Calvin I see my challenge as explaining how these seemingly exceptional scriptural comments, and possibly a few others [It is a lot more than a "possibly a few others," as this paper shows.], can be reconciled and harmonized with what is primary in Scripture, namely the full divinity and omnipotence of the Son." I believe his "debating opponents" believe in "the full divinity and omnipotence of the Son." The fact that there is some eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in His role does not lessen the fact that the Son is deity with the Father in a totally full sense. THE SON IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THE FATHER, OR A BROTHER OF THE FATHER, OR AN IDENTICAL DUPLICATE (A CLONE) OF THE FATHER: HE IS GOD THE SON! AND THAT PERFECTLY! On page 282 Giles says, "...the Scriptures do not teach the eternal subordination in being or authority of the Son to the Father. The Son is co-equal without any caveats."

It is significant that Giles agrees that the pre-Nicene Fathers believed in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (see section 28 in this paper). It is clear, however, that he is sure they were wrong. I am confident that they were right, while admitting that there are places where they overstated the eternal subordination of the Son. Where did they get what they believed for the most part? From the Bible and the apostles, who were sent by God to lay the foundation for Christianity, which included giving us the all-important New Testament.

Giles consistently makes it clear that he believes the Nicene Creed totally supports his viewpoint. Before doing this study I hadn't thought much about or studied the Nicene Creed. When I started getting into the details of the Council of Nicea, I could see that the evidence strongly supports the idea that the original intent of the Nicene Creed doesn't offer any support for Giles viewpoint. The primary intent of the creed was to refute the teaching of Arius that the Son was created out of nothing; that He did not always exist; that He was not deity with the Father. It is true though that later, through the influence of Athanasius, the Cappadocians, and Augustine, many began to interpret (actually reinterpret) the Nicene Creed to include ideas like the Son cannot be eternally subordinate to the Father because of their overstated and/or overly strong emphasis on the same-substance unity of the three Persons of the Trinity.

The evidence strongly supports the viewpoint that an identical, same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity of the three Persons that cannot be divided was not included in the Nicene Creed. Several scholars I quote in this paper point out that that much fuller meaning was something new to the history of Christianity. Many, including Giles, believe that "something new" represents the truth. I believe it has led to some substantial errors in understanding the Trinity. I admit, however, that we do need to emphasize the unity of the three Persons of the Trinity (we don't believe in three Gods), but in a way where we do not overstate and/or overemphasize that unity to come up with new ideas that don't line up with the Bible. Giles and many others say that the Bible argues against the eternal subordination of the Son. I don't see how! Full deity of the Son, Yes! Eternally subordinate to the Father in His role, Yes!

Many of the sections of this paper deal with the intent of the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed (especially see sections 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 21, 23, 24, 25, and 26). Keep in mind that the pre-Nicene fathers believed in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (Giles agrees). How is he so sure that most of the bishops at Nicea would be ready to accept a new teaching that included a denial of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. I haven't seen any evidence that anyone was promoting that new teaching until quite a few years after the Council of Nicea, even if some (including Athanasius) may have believed that controversial new teaching at the time of the Council of Nicea. Furthermore, and significantly, that new teaching wasn't needed to refute Arius and his followers at Nicea. By the way, the fact that some scholars make the point that this was a new teaching in the history of the church doesn't mean that they all think the new teaching was/is wrong. I, in agreement with many in our day, especially large numbers of evangelicals, believe it was wrong to deny the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, for one thing.

This is the end of the Introduction and Conclusion of this paper. I believe that if you read this entire paper you will have enough information to come to a solid, rather balanced understanding of the subordination of the Son to the Father. But again, we don't have the information or ability to fully understand the triune God, and especially not before we are glorified. It's easy to speak of all the details about the Trinity, and it's easy to be wrong too. We need to stay humble before God and one another. I'll try to heed this important advice in this paper. Anyway, I believe it is clear that the Son of God is subordinate to God the Father in His role as Son, and I believe it is quite important for us to know this. It is very relevant information (important doctrine) that will significantly affect our lives as Christians, very much including our prayer and worship.


EXTENSIVE EXCERPTS FROM "THE NEW EVANGELICAL SUBORDINATIONISM?: PERSPECTIVES ON THE EQUALITY OF GOD THE FATHER AND GOD THE SON" (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012, 440 pages. These excerpts and my comments cover the first six sections of the twenty-nine sections included in this paper.):

I received permission from Wipf and Stock Publishers to quote extensively from this book. The majority of the articles agree that the Father has an eternal preeminent role in the Trinity, but some of them would refrain from using words like subordinate. I certainly don't insist on using that word, but it seems reasonable to me and I'll use it in this paper. It must be understood that there are no negative or demeaning ideas associated with the Son being eternally subordinate to the Father He loves and respects with an intensity that we cannot comprehend, and knowing that the Father, who is perfect and good in every way (the Son knows that the Father knows what He is doing), loves Him and respects Him with an intensity that we cannot comprehend. On this topic we need to hold, to the fullest extent possible, the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. I put most of the priority on what the Bible teaches, but we will also discuss the views of some pre-Nicene Christians and the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed. They are quite important to the topic of this paper too.

Several articles in this book deny that the Lord Jesus is subordinate to the Father. I won't be quoting much from those authors. The scope of this paper is limited. I consider what those authors say, and you can learn from them, but I am convinced that they are wrong in their denial of the eternal subordinate role of the Son and quite often in other details regarding the Trinity that they came up with through their ideas regarding, and their strong emphasis on, the identical, same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity of God that cannot be divided. For one thing, I believe they read too much into the Greek word "homoousios," far more than what was intended by the Council of Nicea.

We will continue this study in Part 2B of this paper with a discussion of chapter 10 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father," by Wayne Grudem.

Copyright by Karl Kemp

http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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