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Preeminent Role of God the Father in the Trinity: What about the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed? Part 2B
by Karl Kemp
8/05/2016 / Bible Studies
1. CHAPTER 10 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father," by Wayne Grudem (pages 223-261). I find this article to be especially helpful. For one thing, my number-one concern is "What Does the Bible Say on this Topic?" Grudem limits himself to deal with my number-one concern.
I'll quote part of a sentence that Grudem has near the beginning of this article: "...I will examine the meaning of the names Father and Son [in the Bible] as well as 31 passages of Scripture that give evidence that God the Father has eternally had a role of leadership, initiation, and primary authority among the members of the Trinity, and that the Son has eternally been subject to the Father's authority" (page 224). Later on the page Grudem mentions the originating and directing roles of the Father too and "that the Son and the Spirit always fully agreed with these directives and when the appropriate time came, willingly and joyfully carried them out."
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 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) ON THE 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. 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.
I don't object to words like the subordination of the Son or of His being subject to the Father's authority, but we must understand that there aren't any (none at all) negative connotations to these words when they apply to the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son totally loves the Father and understands that He is greatly and totally loved by the Father and that everything the Father wants is totally good and will work for good. Furthermore, the Son has no (zero) problem with being under the authority of the Father in the ways that He is, and, in fact, I'm sure that He totally loves being where He is. Everything is in divine (perfect) order in their relationship; the Son has zero rebellion and zero desire for (or a grasping for [cf. Phil. 2:6]; we will discuss Phil. 2:6 in the article that follows this one by Grudem) a higher place for Himself, a place where He is not subordinate to the Father.
The first seven passages of the thirty-one passages from the Bible that Grudem mentions that demonstrate the eternal preeminent role of God the Father in the Trinity are under the heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission Prior to Creation," which starts on page 232. He quotes and briefly discusses Eph. 1:3-5; Rom. 8:29; 2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:9-11; Eph. 3:9-11; 1 Pet. 1:19, 20; and Rev. 13:8. These passages serve to demonstrate the unique authority of the Father in planning, choosing the elect, predestinating, sending His Son to die for us as the Lamb of God to save us at the right time, etc.
I'll quote three of these passages from the NASB: EPHESIANS 1:3-5. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who [God the Father] has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, (4) just as He [God the Father] chose us in Him [in Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him [before the Father]. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His [the Father's] will."
2 TIMOTHY 1:9. "[God (God the Father)] who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity [Grudem included a bracket at the end of this verse, "literally 'before times eternal' "]."
EPHESIANS 3:9-11. "and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God [God the Father] who created all things; (10) so that the manifold wisdom of God [God the Father] might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. (11) This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He [God the Father] carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The next three passages (Grudem's numbers 8-10) of the thirty-one passages are discussed under the heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission in the Process of Creation" (pages 242-243). Grudem says (in part) "...in this activity [creation of everything that is created] the Father is also the one who initiates and leads, and the Son is the one who carries out the will of the Father." The three passages are John 1:1 (actually John 1:1-3); Heb. 1:1-2; and 1 Cor. 8:6. I'll quote JOHN 1:1-3 (and 1 Cor. 8:6) from the NASB here: "In the beginning was the Word [God the Son], and the Word was with God [God the Father], and the Word was God [in the sense that He was deity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit; He was and is God the Son]. (2) He was in the beginning with God [God the Father]. (3) All things came into being through Him [through the Word, God the Son], and apart from Him [God the Son] nothing came into being that has come into being."
1 CORINTHIANS 8:6. "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by [or through] whom are all things, and we exist through Him."
The next three passages (numbers 11-13) are listed under the heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission Prior to Christ's Earthly Ministry" (page 243-245). I'll quote part of what Grudem says here: "Another set of texts indicates the Father's authority and the Son's submission prior to the incarnation. These texts speak of the Father's sending the Son and the Son's coming to earth in obedience to the Father. For example: JOHN 3:16-17 [I'll quote these verses from the NASB: "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten [or, unique] Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (17) For God did not send the Son into the world to judge [condemn] the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."]
But the Father had to be Father before he sent his Son, or he could not have sent him as Son. The Father sending the Son into the world implies an authority that the Father had prior to the Son's humbling himself and becoming a man. ... He was first sent as Son, and then He obeyed and humbled himself and came. By that action he showed that he was subject to the authority of the Father [that's one way to say it; He with great humility and manifesting an incomprehensible love for the Father did what the Father wanted Him to do] before He came to earth.
Other verses also speak of the Father sending the Son into the world." Grudem quoted Gal. 4:4 and 1 John 4:9-10 (his numbers 12-13); then he listed many similar verses, which he didn't count toward the thirty-one passages.
Grudem listed the next two passages (numbers 14 and 15) under the heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission in Christ's Ministry as Great High Priest" (pages 246-247). Grudem says, "The submission of the Son to the Father did not end with his return to heaven. It continued then and it continues still today in his ongoing ministry as Great High Priest." He quoted Heb. 7:23-26 (his number 14) and Rom. 8:34 (his number 15).
His passage number 16 is under the heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission in Christ's Pouring Out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost" (page 247). Grudem quoted Acts 2:32-33. This passage demonstrates that Christ's receiving and pouring out the gift of the Holy Spirit was part of the Father's promised plan of salvation.
His passage number 17 is under the heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission in Christ's Receiving Revelation from the Father and Giving it to the Church" (page 247). Grudem says, "Jesus did not initiate the book of Revelation, but he was given this revelation by the Father to deliver to the church." He quoted Rev. 1:1. I'll quote REVELATION 1:1 from the NASB: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God [God the Father] gave Him [the resurrected, glorified Son of God] to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He [the Lord Jesus] sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John."
Grudem's numbers 18-28 are under his heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission in Christ's Sitting at God's Right Hand - A Position of Authority Second to that of the Father Himself" (pages 248-251). After quoting Acts 2:32-35; Eph. 1:20; and Heb. 1:3 (numbers 18-20), Grudem asks, "But does sitting at a ruler's right hand indicate a position of secondary authority? Yes, as several passages indicate. The background to this concept is seen in Psalm 110: 'The LORD [Yahweh in Hebrew] says to my Lord [the Messiah (the God-man)]: "Sit at my right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet." ' " Grudem then says, "To sit at the LORD's right hand is not a position of equal authority, for 'the LORD' (Yahweh) is still the one commanding ["commanding" is rather strong language that gives the wrong impression], still the one subduing enemies. [Actually, the Son Himself will subdue the enemies of God the Father and His enemies and the enemies of His people when He is sent by the Father. I agree with Grudem that we see the Father's authority here.] But it is a position of authority second only to the LORD [Yahweh in the Hebrew, referring to God the Father here].... ...
Several other New Testament verses show Jesus at God's [God the Father's] right hand, in this place of second authority over the universe," and he quotes eight verses (numbers #21-28 of this thirty-one passages that show the eternal authority of God the Father and eternal submission of the Son): Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 8:1; Heb. 10:12; Heb. 12:2; and 1 Pet. 3:22. Then he says (on page 251): "This is a standard New Testament way of speaking of Jesus' heavenly situation, and it indicates ongoing authority for the Father, and then secondary authority [in that, even though He is fully deity with the Father, He is under the authority of the Father; He has an eternal role subordinate to the role of the Father], but authority over the entire universe, for the Son at his right hand."
I'll quote three of these verses from the NASB: ROMANS 8:34. "who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised [by God the Father (Acts 2:24, 32; Rom. 8:11; and many other verses show that the Father raised Him from the dead; the Father raised Him by the Holy Spirit [e.g., Rom. 1:4])], who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." HEBREWS 8:1. "Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in the heavens." And HEBREWS 10:12. "but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD."
Grudem's numbers 29 and 30 are under the heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission in Giving the Son Authority to Rule over the Nations" (page 271). He quoted Rev. 2:26-27 and Dan. 7:13-14 (numbers 29 and 30). I'll quote REVELATION 2:26-27 (NASB): "He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds [or, works] until the end, TO HIM I [the Lord Jesus] WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; (27) AND HE [the overcomers(s)] SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I [Jesus] have received authority from My Father." Note the words "as I have received authority from My Father." These verses, which borrow from Psalm 2, deal with God's end-time judgment of the world through the Lord Jesus, who will be accompanied by the raptured, glorified saints from the time of the (mid-week) glorification and rapture.
Grudem's number 31 is under the heading "The Father's Authority and the Son's Submission after the Final Judgment and then for All Eternity" (pages 251-254). He quotes 1 CORINTHIANS 15-24-28 (his number 31), which I'll quote from the NASB: "then comes the end, when He [the Lord Jesus, God the Son] hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and authority and power. (25) For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. (26) The last enemy that will be abolished is death [cf. Rev. 20:14 (at the time of the great-white-throne judgment)]. (27) For HE [God the Father] HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS [the Son's] FEET [See Psalm 8:6.]. But when He [or, it] says, 'All things are put in subjection,' it is evident that He [God the Father] is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him [to the Lord Jesus]. (28) When all things are subjected to Him [to the Lord Jesus], then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God [God the Father] may be all in all."
These verses clearly demonstrate the "ultimate authority" (words used by Grudem) of God the Father who "put all things in subjection to [the Lord Jesus]." And it is totally significant that Paul made it clear that God the Father did not put Himself under subjection to the Lord Jesus. I don't believe He could have done that even if He wanted to: God the Father has the preeminent role in the Trinity. That's the way it is! That's reality!
The idea isn't that God the Son will no longer continue to function in His all-important role as the Son of God. This is confirmed by Rev. 22:1, for example, where the Lord Jesus is on the throne with God the Father in the eternal state that follows the millennial kingdom, after all judgment has been completed with the great-white-throne judgment of Rev. 20:11-15. It is significant that God the Father, who is seated on the great-white throne, will be quite involved in the end-time judgments. When God the Son judges at the end of this age, He will be sent by and represent God the Father. Clearly the Son of God will play a major role in the end-time judgments (see 1 Cor. 15:23-25) that will be initiated by His coming in the middle of Daniel's 70th week, at which time the glorification and rapture of the saints will take place.
A primary point that the apostle Paul was making in 1 Cor. 15:28 is that once the Lord Jesus has accomplished the things He has been given authority to do in His end-time judgment of the world, He will no longer need that special authority. It seems clear to me that the apostle Paul didn't know some of the end-time details that were revealed in the book of Revelation some thirty years after Paul was martyred for Christ Jesus, including the role of God the Father in the great-white-throne judgment. Even though God the Father has given the Lord Jesus very important assignments in relation to the end-time judgment of the world, God the Father will not be passive while those judgments are taking place, and especially at the great-white-throne judgment.
Grudem has the heading "Are All the Actions of any One Person of the Trinity Actually the Actions of All Three Persons?" on pages 254-258. He is discussing and rejecting something that Millard Erickson said against his teaching on the preeminent role of God the Father. I'll quote the excerpt that Grudem included from Erickson's "Who's Tampering with the Trinity?" (Kregel, 2009), pages 137, 138: "Although one person of the Trinity may occupy a more prominent part in a given divine action, the action is actually that of the entire Godhead, and the one person is acting on behalf of the three. This means that those passages that speak of the Father predestinating, sending, commanding, and so on should not be taken as applying to the Father alone but to all members of the Trinity. Thus they do not count as evidence in support of an eternal supremacy of the Father and an eternal subordination of the Son." ((What Erickson said seems to be a good example of overstating the same-substance unity of the Trinity (and/or putting too much emphasis on that unity and missing the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity) with Athanasius and many others, including Kevin Giles. We will further discuss the overstating of the same-substance unity (and/or putting too much emphasis on that unity and missing the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity) of Athanasius (and many others) as we continue.))
After discussing the details for a few pages, Grudem says (in part): "And so we must conclude that Erickson is incorrect in saying that an action of any member of the Trinity, such as predestinating, sending, or commanding, 'should not be taken as applying to the Father alone but to all members of the Trinity.' To say this is actually to come very close to obliterating the distinctions among the members of the Trinity. ... Such a position, therefore, does not nullify the significant force of over 30 passages of Scripture, which show the authority of the Father and the submission of the Son throughout the entire range of the history of redemption in Scripture, from before the creation of the world until after the judgment."
Lastly, I'll quote the last paragraph of Grudem's "Conclusion" (pages 260-261): "Therefore, the consistent testimony of Scripture is that the Father, by virtue of being Father, eternally has authority to plan, initiate, command, and send, authority that the Son and the Holy Spirit do not have. The Son, by virtue of being Son, eternally submits, joyfully, and with great delight, to the authority of his Father. It is only in a sinful world deeply marred by hostility toward authority, and overly focused on status and power, that we would fail to see that submission to the authority of the Father is one aspect of the great glory of the Son. Both authority and submission to authority are wonderful parts of the great glory of the Father and the Son, and this will be their glory for all eternity."
2. PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11, Especially Phil. 2:6, and Another Article, CHAPTER 5 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?": "Christ's Functional Subordination in Philippians 2:6" by Denny Burk, who is "Associate Professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary" (pages 82-107). For a start, I'll quote what I said on these verses in my last paper, "Harlot of Babylon According to Irvin Baxter; Trinity and Oneness." (I won't quote the extensive excerpts that I have there that deal with refuting the oneness [modalism] viewpoint.) Under Phil. 2:6 I'll comment on what Denny Burk says in this article. What he says about the details of the Greek of Phil. 2:6 strongly supports my interpretation (and it's not just me) of this very important verse.
PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus [[The apostle Paul was speaking of the attitude of humility, as the preceding and following verses show. If God the Son could humble Himself to become a man (the God-man) and die for us as the Lamb of God, certainly we Christians can, and we must, humble ourselves before God and before one another. Humility is the opposite of pride, which, with unbelief, is the root of sin.]], (6) who although He existed in the form of God [[In verse 6, as the context shows, we are seeing God the Son, a Person who always existed with God the Father (and God the Holy Spirit) at a time before He humbled Himself to become the God-man. The Greek noun translated "form" could also be translated "nature." The NIV, for example, translates, "Who being in very nature God." He was deity, God the Son. He existed in the form of God, being God the Son, who was there with God the Father before anything was ever created, and through whom all things were created (see John 1:1-3, Col. 1:16, 17; and Heb. 1:1-3, 8-13).]], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [[Even though the Son of God always was fully deity with God the Father, He always recognized (and loved) the fact that He had an eternally subordinate role to God the Father in the Trinity. I didn't say He was inferior to the Father. God the Father created through Him; God the Father sent Him into the world; He was the unique Son of the Father; and many verses throughout the Bible show that God the Father has the eternal preeminent role. (See my papers "Who Do We Pray To?"; "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son"; and "More on the Trinity" for many examples, and many examples are included in this paper, very much including in the last article we discussed by Wayne Grudem, and in Part 1 of this paper.)
Rather than grasp for more (which would include trying to get rid of His subordinate role in the Trinity), He (as the next verses show) humbled Himself to temporarily leave the glory behind and become a man (the God-man), which was a gigantic condescension, and then to die a shameful death on the cross, all in loving submission to the Father's will. He also understood that He would be saving all believers and overthrowing all rebels (starting with the devil) through His incarnation, sinless life, and all-important atoning death.
We will continue with section 2 of this paper in Part 2C.
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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