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Preeminent Role of God the Father in the Trinity; What about the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed?" Part 2C

by Karl Kemp  
8/06/2016 / Bible Studies


We continue to discuss Phil. 2:5-11 here in Part 2C of this paper, beginning with the discussion of Phil. 2:6, which is a very important verse for this study.

Excerpts from, and Comments Regarding, "Christ's Functional Subordination in Philippians 2:6: A Grammatical Note with Trinitarian Implications" by Denny Burk. (This article is chapter 5 in "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?") I'll quote his first footnote: "This chapter is a revised version of an article I wrote several years ago: 'On the Articular Infinitive in Philippians 2:6.' My full treatment of the articular infinitive appears in my book: 'Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament.' " An articular infinitive is an infinitive ("to be," for example, is an infinitive; "to be" is used in Phil. 2:6) preceded by a definite article, which is similar to our "the" in English. It is obvious that Burk is an expert on this topic. I am not going to get into the extensive details of the Greek that are packed into this article (For at least most of my readers it would be very difficult [or impossible] to follow), but I'll give what he considers to be the correct viewpoint. I believe he is right.

I'll give one brief detail regarding the Greek: "[The definite article] marks the infinitive as object. [In Phil. 2:6 the infinitive clause is "to be equal with God."] In a similar way, that is what is happening in Phil. 2:6. But in [Phil. 2:6] the article marks the direct object and thereby distinguishes it from its accusative complement [which (the accusative complement) Burk translates "a thing to be grasped for" or "as something he should go after also"]" (page 102).

Burk gives a translation of Phil. 2:6 on page 83: "Although he existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God ["the to be equal with God" (the "articular infinitive" that is the direct object of the verbal clause "he did not regard"] a thing to be grasped for [which is the "accusative complement" that Burk mentioned]." Under the heading "Theological Implications" on page 103 he offers the similar translation, "Although Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something he should go after also." And he continues: "In other words, although Jesus actually possessed an identical characteristic of His Father with respect to his deity (i.e., 'he existed in the form of God'), he did not want to grasp after another role that was not his - namely equality with God. So what is this 'equality with God' if it is not something that he already possessed?"

I'll quote part of Burk's answer to his question: "Paul argues here that in his pre-incarnate state, Christ existed as [God (God the Son)]. Yet in this pre-incarnate existence, Christ Jesus did not seek to be like [God (God the Father)] in every respect. Paul pictures Christ Jesus as identified with God in one respect, but distinguished from Him in another respect. Christ, before all time, preexisted in the form of God, but he did not forsake his unique role in order to be like God the Father in every way. The pre-incarnate Christ shared the Father's deity, but he did not try to usurp the Father's role. The Father would send the Son, and the Son would submit to being sent. In eternity past, the Son submitted to this plan" (page 104). The Son of God, who is fully deity with God the Father, submitted to the plan of God the Father, who has always had, and always will have, the preeminent role in the Trinity. (This double bracket started back in Part 2B of this paper.)]], (7) but emptied Himself [I'll quote part of what the BAGD Greek Lexicon gives for the meaning here: "he emptied himself, divested himself of his prestige or privileges."], taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. [[He didn't cease being deity, God the Son, but He temporarily exchanged an infinitely high place for a place of little reputation (that included becoming a man, the GOD-man). His incarnation, perfect life, atoning death, and resurrection were important on an infinite scale and would bring forth results of infinite proportion.]] (8) Being found in appearance as a man [after His incarnation], He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [[Having become the God-man, He humbled Himself much further by voluntarily submitting to the all-important crucifixion and all that it involved (cf. John 10:17, 18), doing the Father's will (cf. Matt. 26:38-44; Mark 14:34-39). The physical suffering was a small part of what He submitted to. The Scriptures make it quite clear that this was an extremely difficult assignment: "And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44). "Then He said to them, 'My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.' And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not My will, but as You will' " (Matt. 26:38, 39). "About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?' [written in Aramaic, which was the primary language used in Israel at that time] that is, 'MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?' " (Matt. 27:46). He was totally committed to always do the Father's will, and He knew that He was earning the right to save us and to judge and remove the devil and all those who follow him. Talk about two super-important accomplishments!]] (9) For this purpose also [or, "Therefore" with the NIV.], God [God the Father, who has the preeminent role in the Trinity] highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name [[Before God the Son humbled Himself (as pictured in verses 7, 8), He had a name above every name, excluding the name of God the Father. But now He had earned the right to save us with a very full salvation; we are even united with Him (with God the Son, and through Him with God the Father) through His incarnation, atoning death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God the Father, and we are destined to be glorified with Him and to reign with Him forever. (I am emphasizing God the Father and God the Son, but none of this would work without the all-important Holy Spirit, who dwells in every born-again Christian, for one thing). And now He has totally defeated the devil (see, for example, John 12:31; 16:11; and Heb. 2:14 [see Heb. 2:15-18 on His saving us]). This defeat will be fully manifested at the end of this age (cf., e.g., Rev. 12:7-9; 20:1-3, 10).]], (10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." God's people bow willingly; His enemies (including Satan and his followers) will be subdued and forced to bow and acknowledge that God has defeated them through His beloved Son and that Jesus Christ is Lord, ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER, who always had, and always will have, the preeminent role in the Trinity. God the Father did not give His Son a name above His name, nor could He have.


3. CHAPTER 7 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?" (pages 133-181): "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, who is one of the two editors of the book. He is "Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Culture at Faith Evangelical College & Seminary, Tacoma, Washington."

House makes it clear that he is against any subordination of the nature of the Son of God, "which is shared undivided with the Father and the Holy Spirit" (page 134). (It seems clear that House would agree with the identical, same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity that cannot be divided of the three Persons of the Trinity, but he also believes in the eternal subordinate role of the Son to the Father.) "What is at issue is whether the Son and the Father are equal in regards to authority within the Godhead ad intra [within the Trinity] and not whether the Son, as God has authority toward the creation ad extra. That the Son possesses equal power (omnipotence) with the Father and the Spirit is not in question, since this relates to the nature that all three distinct persons share in common. However, is authority an attribute of Triune God ad intra, in which an unequal relationship exists between the persons? Is authority, if it is not an essential attribute of the essence of God, a relational matter in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit associate with each other from all eternity that distinguishes their persons from each other, even as they share in common the essence of Deity? Thus the Father is always Father, and over the Son and the Spirit, and the Son is always the Son, begotten from the Father and in subjection to Him" (page 136).

House has a major heading, "The Current Debate Regarding the Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father" (pages 136-153). In a first subsection he laments the fact that some Christian scholars (he mentions Gilbert Bilezikian and Kevin Giles) are calling "those who believe in the eternal relational subordination of the Son [like Wayne Grudem and many of those I quote in this paper]...heretics."

[[(This double bracket goes on for three paragraphs.) Kevin Giles, who is mentioned and quoted quite often in this paper, is a major critic of the idea that Christians can believe that the three Persons of the Trinity share an identical, one, same substance, essence, nature, being that cannot be divided and also believe in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, and that there are three centers of consciousness with three wills and three minds in the Trinity. We discuss this issue in some detail in this paper, but as I mentioned, I am not going to try to directly or fully answer this question. For one thing, although the Bible has a lot to say about the three Persons and their words, actions, relations, etc., it has very little to say about the same- substance unity of the three Persons. It's easy to talk about the triune God, to speculate, to philosophize, but there is a lot we don't know about the Trinity, perhaps including some things that we think we know. ((Later in this paper I'll briefly discuss the fact that a little over a hundred years ago scientists thought they understood the physical universe pretty well (not that they thought that they understood every detail), but the theories of Einstein, which have proven to be true, upended quite a few things that they thought they knew. How much more might this be true when it comes to the three Persons of the Trinity and their non-physical dimension.)) I do feel comfortable (I am confident), however, saying the following:

I believe it is totally necessary for us to believe that the Son of God is God (deity) in the FULL sense of that word. I also believe the Bible makes it clear that God the Son always has been and always will be subordinate to God the Father in His role. The subordination is not limited to the time that the God-man lived on the earth, like so many, including Kevin Giles, say. The fact that the pre-Nicene Christian fathers agreed with the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (this is obvious; Kevin Giles agrees) serves as a strong confirmation of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. (The pre-Nicene Christians learned of the eternal subordination of the Son from the apostles and their writings contained in the New Testament.) Furthermore, as we discuss in some detail in this paper, at least most of the bishops gathered for the Council of Nicea in AD 325, who came up with the Nicene Creed, agreed with the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. This rather obvious and quite important fact is very often overlooked (not mentioned) by large numbers of Christians, including Kevin Giles.

So, I believe the evidence is overwhelming that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in His role, whether this violates the understanding of many Christians regarding the three Persons sharing the identical, one, same-substance, essence, nature, being that cannot be divided, or not. As I have mentioned, I have to reject any view of the same-substance unity of the three Persons, or ontological equality, that doesn't leave room for the eternal subordinate role of God the Son, or requires us to accept that there is one center of consciousness with one will and one mind in the Trinity. It could be very significant, as I have mentioned and as we will discuss in this paper, that the pre-Nicene Christians and most of those gathered to Nicea did not believe in the identical, same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity that cannot be divided of the three Persons of the Trinity. We always need to be open to modify our viewpoints, always aiming to be aligned with the Bible. It is a privilege to learn where we are wrong, so we can make the necessary corrections. Better now than when we stand before God at the end.]]

House's second subsection here is titled "Orthodox Theologians of Former Days and the Present." I'll quote his first two sentences: "Those who consider evangelicals as heretics if they embrace relational subordinationism equally indict a number of church fathers in the early centuries as well as several theologians of the past and many since the reformation. Let us examine a few." That subsection continues from page 138 to 150.

House's next major heading is "The Use of the Term 'Subordination' by the Fathers" (pages 154-168). The first subheading here is "Definition of the Term 'Subordination' " (pages 154-160). The primary point that House makes here is that though it would be wrong to speak of the subordination of the essence, being, nature of the Son or of the Spirit, it is proper and "was embraced by the fathers of the patristic period" (page 155) to speak of a relational subordination of the Son and the Spirit to the Father. Much more important (and I know that House would agree) is that the Bible, which must be our foundational source for God's revealed truth, quite often speaks of this relational subordination.

House's second subheading here is "Is the Subordination of Roles within the Trinity Condemned at Nicea?" (pages 160-164). I'll quote the first two sentences that House has here: "The debate at Nicea was not about role relationship between the Father and the Son but whether the Son was subordinate in His divine essence, a lesser divine being to that of the Father. [[The primary purpose of the Council of Nicea, which they accomplished, was to reject the teaching of Arius (and those who agreed with him) that the Son was a created being, who was created out of nothing, who was not of the substance of the Father, which effectively denied His deity. His viewpoint was more like the Jehovah Witnesses' viewpoint of our day.]] There is consistency in the pre-Nicene church regarding this truth, even though the use of language by some fathers of the church sometimes obscured this reality" [House went on to mention that Origen, for example, unfortunately spoke of the Son being a second God along with all the good things that Origen said on this topic. I'll skip House's footnotes here.] ... Consequently, the Father, Son and Spirit...are one essence distinguishable in modes of existence from each other. The Father begets the Son as a person distinct from Himself, but sharing eternally the same essence. He, thus, does not beget an inferior person qualitatively, but does beget a Son who relates to Him as Father, and who, by personal subsistence ([Greek] 'hypostasis') in which they are different, and not the divine essence ([Greek] 'ousia') in which they are the same, submits to the Father's will" (pages 160-161).

I'll quote a sentence from page 163 and then part of a sentence from House's excerpt from Charles Hodge ("Systematic Theology," 3 vols. 1871-73; 1:460). "How they relate as Father and Son says nothing regarding an inequality of their one divine nature." And (quoting from Hodge) "The subordination intended is only that which concerns the mode of subsistence and operation, implied in the Scriptural facts that the Son is of the Father...and that the Father operates though the Son..." (pages 163-164).

House's next subheading is "Subordination in Relationship to the Father, but not Subordinate in Nature to the Father" (pages 164-168). I'll quote the first sentence that House has here: "One of the reasons for confusion in the discussion of subordination of the Son in the history of the Church relates to how the term 'subordination' is defined." "...the main point of this paper [the paper of House] is that the eternal Logos [the Word of John 1:1], who was 'homoousios' with the Father (sharing the same divine nature) and equal in every divine attribute to the Father, was nonetheless subordinate to Him in regards to authority and order within the Trinity" (page 166).

The next major heading in House's article (the fourth) is "Early Patristic Exegesis [which refers to their understanding of what the Bible teaches] Regarding the Subordination of the Son to the Father" (pages 168-178). I'll quote most of House's first paragraph here: "It is my contention that the fathers of the patristic era (2-8th century AD)...believed in the eternal Sonship that flows from the Father, begotten from unbegotten, and in the subordination of the Son to the Father within the divine Trinity. Building on the earlier teaching of apologists and theologians such as Justin, Origen, and Irenaeus, though taking advantage of the theological development of the third and fourth centuries, with their more precise terminology, they believed that the person of the Son came eternally from God the Father, sharing equally with Him the entirety of the divine nature indivisibly from all eternity, yet that He was distinguished in the manner in which He related to the Spirit and the Father. Though He shares the common Godhead of attributes, in His personal relationship with the Father He is second in order and under the Father, a property unique to Him. (He has a footnote here: "If each of the Persons of the Trinity is God, then each necessarily possesses the attributes of deity, such as eternity, immutability, and infinity. In what sense, then, can the Persons be said to be distinct from one another, if the attributes they possess are identical? To explain this, theologians coined the term 'property,' derived from the Latin 'proprius ('proper,' i.e. 'pertaining to the person or individual'). In theology, a property pertains to one Person alone' (Harold O. Brown, 'Heresies,' 1984, page 131)."

House overstates the case when he says that "the fathers of the patristic era (2-8th century AD) believed...in the subordination of the Son to the Father within the divine Trinity." I believe it is true that most of the Christians before Nicea and at Nicea (AD 325) and many Christians after Nicea would agree with what House says here; however, many of the Christians in the years following Nicea, very much including Athanasius (AD296-373) and Augustine (AD354-430), who were very influential, didn't leave any room for the eternal subordination of the Son. (I document this point as we continue with this paper.) For one thing, the more you put the emphasis on the one divine being, nature, essence, substance, including ideas like there is only one center of consciousness, one will, and one mind, which Athanasius and Augustine, who were very influential did, the more you don't leave room for distinctions between the three Persons, including the Father having authority over the Son. We will discuss these things (including the viewpoints of Athanasius and Augustine) as we continue with this paper. We will also discuss what the majority of the Christian leaders at Nicea meant by the Greek word "homoousios" ("of the same substance").


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 (pages 13-37). Ware is "Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky." I also include some excerpts here from "Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles and Relevance," a book by Ware.

"I will defend the thesis...that the Father and Son are fully equal in their deity as each possesses fully the identically same divine nature, yet the eternal and inner-trinitarian Father-Son relationship is marked, among other things, by an authority and submission structure in which the Father is eternally in authority over the Son and the Son eternally in submission to the Father" (page 14).

On page 15 Ware has a major heading, "The Case for an Eternal Functional Authority-Submission Structure in the Trinity." The first subheading is "Names of the 'Father' and the 'Son' " (pages 15-17). "If the Father sends his Son into the world (John 3:17) and if the Father creates and reveals and redeems through his Son (Heb. 1:1-3), then these names refer not to some ad hoc [for this specific purpose] arrangement for the incarnation but to an eternal relationship in which the Father is the eternal Father of the Son, and the Son is the eternal Son of the Father" (page 15). "Without question, a central part of the notion of 'Father' is that of fatherly authority" (page 16).

The second subheading here is "The Rightful Authority Specifically of the Father over All Things" (pages 17-19). I'll quote the first two sentences of what Ware says here: "The Father is the grand architect, the wise designer of all that has occurred in the created order, and he, not the Son or the Spirit, is specifically said to have supreme authority over all. In his position and authority, the Father is supreme among the Persons of the Godhead as he is supreme over the whole created order."

His third subheading here is "The Submission of the Son to the Father in the Incarnate Mission of the Son" (pages 19-21). Essentially everybody agrees on this point. His fourth subheading here is "The Pre-Incarnate Submission of the Son to the Father in Eternity Past." This is important! Ware spends some five pages (pages 21-26) discussing this point. I'll mention a few of the points he makes here: He refers to 1 Cor. 11:3 and devotes a paragraph to discuss this verse (page 22). I'll quote 1 CORINTHIANS 11:3 from the NASB: "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ." Ware says this verse speaks of "the relationship between the Father and Son that reflects an eternal verity." In a footnote he says: "For helpful discussion of the interpretation of 'kephale' [which is the Greek noun translated "head"] and its bearing on this text, see Grudem, 'Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth,' pages 568-94."

Ware discusses the fact that the New Testament speaks of the Father sending His Son into the world "prior to the incarnation itself" (page 22). For example, "In John 6:38, Jesus says, 'For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.' These words could not express more clearly that the obedience to the will of the Father took place in eternity past as the pre-incarnate Son came from heaven at the will of the Father" (page 23). Ware also quoted John 8:42 and 10:36 to demonstrate the same point.

The New Testament speaks of the Son's role in creating all things that have been created, but "he creates under the authority of the Father" and "the Father creates by or through the agency of the Son" (page 25). Ware quotes 1 Cor. 8:6 and refers to John 1:3 and other verses here too.

And I'll quote part of Ware's last paragraph in this subsection: "Consider also Paul's teaching that the Father, before the foundation of the world, has chosen us in Christ (Eph. 1:4) and predestined us to adoption through Christ (Eph. 1:5). ... Surely this shows both the Father's supreme position of authority over all, but it also shows that the Son's work fulfills what the Father has willed. ... It is his will that the Son accomplishes, and his will to which the Son submits. ... Indeed, the Father is praised for redeeming us through his Son (cf. Isa 53:10; John 1:29; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:32), and for this reason, the Father is deserving of all praise for the lavish display of his glorious grace (Eph. 1:6-8, 12, 14). Both creation and redemption, works accomplished by the Son, are ultimately and rightly seen, then, as works of the Father that are done through the agency of his eternal Son according to the design and will of the Father" (pages 25, 26). Of course we must not minimize the work that the Son has accomplished and will yet accomplish. I know Ware will agree. I am totally sure that the Son very much wants to see God the Father glorified to the max! Ware goes on to mention that he has not given "the full evidence of the authority of the Father over the Son in eternity past but [that what he has mentioned here] is sufficient to demonstrate this clear teaching from Scripture" (page 27).

Ware's fifth subsection is "The Submission of the Son to the Father in Eternity Future," which covers pages 26-28. I'll mention some of the things Ware says here. The Lord Jesus at the right hand of the Father intercedes for the saints (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). "...the Son acts on behalf of his own and brings their requests to the Father, the highest authority over all" (page 26). I'll quote part of what he says when commenting on 1 Cor. 15:24-28: "... The Son...shows himself as the supreme victor and conqueror of all, including the conqueror of death itself, only because the Father has given him this highest of all callings and roles. In full acknowledgment of the Father's supremacy, the Son displays his submission to the Father by delivering up the now-conquered kingdom to the Father, and then, remarkably, by subjecting himself also to the Father. Though all of creation is subject to the Son, the Son himself is subject to his Father. There is no question, then, that this passage indicates the eternal future submission of the Son to the Father, in keeping with his submission to the Father both in the incarnation and in eternity past" (page 27). He also points out (referring to Phil. 2:10-11) that when every knee will bow before the Lord Jesus and confess that He is Lord, it will redound "to the glory of God the Father," in that these things will have all come to pass in accordance with the ultimate authority and plan of God the Father. "Authority and submission reside eternally in this Father-Son relationship, as taught clearly in Scripture" (page 28).

We will continue these excerpts and comments from Bruce Ware in Part 2D of this paper, "The Preeminent Role of God the Father in the Trinity: What about the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed?"

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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