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

by Karl Kemp  
8/09/2016 / Bible Studies

We continue this discussion of Bruce Ware's teaching on the subordinate role of God the Son here in Part 2D of this paper.

Ware's sixth and last subheading here is "Historical Tradition Acknowledging Authority and Submission in the Trinity" (pages 29-36). I'll quote a small part of what he says on pages 35-36: "One recent theologian who has observed the beauty of the Son's submission to the Father is the eminently quotable P. T. Forsyth. ("God the Holy Father," 1897, page 42). He asserts that the Son's obedience to the Father demonstrates that 'subordination is not inferiority, and it is Godlike. The principle is embedded in the very cohesion of the eternal trinity and it is inseparable from the unity, fraternity and true equality of men. It is not a mark of inferiority to be subordinate, to have an authority, to obey. It is divine.' And in another place, Forsyth makes clear that the Son's obedience to the Father was indeed an eternal obedience, rendered by an eternal equal, constituting an eternal subordination of the Son to do the will of the Father. ... Forsyth writes, 'Father and Son co-exist, co-equal in the Spirit of holiness, i.e., of perfection. But Father and Son is a relation inconceivable except the Son be obedient to the Father. The perfection of the Son and the perfecting of his holy work lay, not in his suffering but in his obedience. And as he was eternal Son, it meant an eternal obedience.... But obedience is not conceivable without some form of subordination. Yet in his very obedience the Son was co-equal with the Father; the Son's yielding will was no less divine than the Father's exigent will. Therefore, in the very nature of God, subordination implies no inferiority' (Forsyth, "Marriage, Its Ethic and Religion," pages 70-71)."

Lastly, I'll quote part of what Ware says in his "Conclusion." "There is, then, an eternal and immutable equality of essence between the Father and the Son, while there is also an eternal and immutable authority-submission structure that marks the relationship of the Father and the Son. Ultimately the credibility of this thesis depends on the teaching of God's word. Because in his inspired word, God has made known his own triune life, we must with renewed commitment seek to study, believe, and embrace the truth of God as made known here. Where we have been misled by the history of this doctrine or contemporary voices, may Scripture lead to correction. [Amen!] But where contemporary revision departs from Scripture's clear teaching, may we have courage to stand with the truth and for the truth. [Amen!] For the sake of the glory of the only true and living God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may we pledge to him alone our fidelity, obedience, love, and devotion." Amen!

This Would Be a Good Place to Include Several Excerpts from Bruce Ware's book, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance" (Crossway Books, 2005, 173 pages). His Bible quotations were taken from the "English Standard Version," ESV.

"As noted above in Ephesians 1, we are to give praise first and foremost to the Father, since he 'chose us in him [in Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him' (Eph. 1:4)" (page 19).

"Here [in the Trinity] is a unity of differentiation, where love abounds and where neither jealousy or pride is known. Each divine Person accepts his role, each in proper relation to the others, and each works together with the others for one unified, common purpose. It is nothing short of astonishing to contemplate the fundamental and pervasive unity within the Trinity, given the eternal differentiation that exists in the three Persons" (page 20).

"The Father possesses the place of supreme authority.... ... ...even though it is also eternally true that each Person is fully equal to each other in their commonly possessed essence" (page 21).

"...Paul spoke of this day, when Christ will stand before every creature in heaven and earth as the exalted Lord, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess 'that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father' (Phil. 2:11). ...all proclaim that 'Jesus Christ is Lord' - nonetheless, all worship of the Son, in and of itself, is penultimate. That is, worship of the Son, while right and true and glorious, must also recognize the one whom the Son himself acknowledges as supreme over all, even over himself. The ultimate object of our honor, glory, praise, and worship is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, who himself alone is over all. Just as the Son himself will one day 'be subjected to him [to the Father] who put all things in subjection under him [with the exception of the Father Himself (I Cor. 15:27)], that God [the Father] may be all in all' (1 Cor. 15:28), so we must recognize even now that all worship to the always meant also to reverberate yet further to the glory and majesty of the Father" (pages 154-155).

Lastly, I'll quote part of a paragraph from the "Conclusion." "Whether submitting, serving, and obeying, or whether leading, sending, and commanding ["commanding" is a rather strong word to use], each divine Person accepts his respective roles and responsibilities with complete and unabashed delight. The eternal authority and submission structure of the Trinity does not permit deviation, so that authority and submission are themselves eternal realities. While the Father embraces and revels in his position of being supreme in the Trinity, so too do the Son and Spirit embrace and revel in their positions as second and third, respectively. No competition, no jealousy, no bitterness, and no dispute exist among these Persons. Here in the Trinity, rather, we see hierarchy without hubris, authority with no oppression, submission that is not servile, AND LOVE THAT PERVADES EVERY ASPECT OF DIVINE LIFE [[my emphasis; the super-powerful love of God suffices to remove anything that could be considered negative and turn it into something very positive; everything is in perfect divine order in the Trinity, and everything that is part of His heavenly kingdom will come into divine order before He is finished]]. Unity and diversity, identity and distinction, sameness and difference, melody and harmony - these are qualities that mark the rich texture of the life of the one God who is three" (page 157).

It is obvious that pride is wrong, and certainly there is no pride in any Person of the Trinity, but I'm sure that each Person of the Trinity thinks in line with reality. It isn't pride for Christians to think of themselves in line with what God has called and anointed them to be and to do, but we must stay away from all pride and make sure that God receives all the glory forever.

5. CHAPTER 3 of "The New Evangelical Subordination?" (pages 39-58): "Subordination within the Trinity: John 5:18 and 1 Cor. 15:28" by Craig S. Keener (he is "Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary"). I'll quote part of what he says when discussing 1 Cor. 15:28. I'll quote 1 CORINTHIANS 15:28 from the NASB: "When all things are subjected to Him [to the Son], then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him [[The Father subjected all things to Him by giving Him the commission and the authority to overthrow all opposition, but we must understand that the Father Himself is quite active in the overthrow and judgment of His enemies. Consider, for example, the great-white-throne judgment of Rev. 20:11-15, where God the Father is the One sitting on the throne.]], so that God [God the Father] may be all in all." "This does sound like the Son will continue to submit to the Father in the future. As Ambrosiaster [written by an unknown author between AD366-384, according to Wikipedia] comments in his 'Commentary on Paul's Epistles,' the Father and Son share the same deity but the Father comes first in authority" (page 50). " the end Christ himself will be plainly subordinated to the Father (1 Cor. 15:28) in a more complete way than he is before that day (15:27), though he sits already at the Father's right hand (cf. Acts 2:34-35). At that point, God [God the Father] will be 'all in all' (1 Cor. 15:28). This refers to his unchallenged authority over all else, in this context presumably including the Son. ... ...this passage appears to affirm the Son's willing subordination to the Father in the future era. For Paul, then, Jesus' deity (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:6) is presumably not incompatible with his recognition of the Father's higher position, even in the eternal future. Paul's wording does not indicate the sense in which the Son submits to the Father...[but Keener goes on to show that the Son will be on the throne with God the Father in the eternal state, referring to Rev. 22:3]. But it does suggest that the Father and Son embrace some characteristic activities that remain distinct in some respects even in eternity" (pages 51-52). I believe we can safely say that the Father will have the preeminent role in the Trinity in the eternal state, as He always has, even during the reign of the Lord Jesus when He [the Lord Jesus] is subduing all opposition (1 Cor. 15:25-26).

"If the Son's submission [earlier in this paragraph Keener mentioned "voluntary submission"] to the Father teaches us nothing else, we should learn from it to value the Father's honor and submit to His will. Again, if the Son's unity with the Father teaches us nothing else, we [referring to all true Christians] should learn from it how our unity with one another is essential to honoring him (John 17:21-23)" (page 54).

"I believe this passage [1 Cor. 15:28] fairly clearly favors Jesus' continuing submission to the Father, although I would certainly not make the interpretation of this verse a matter of heresy. Kevin [referring to Kevin Giles, who has an article in this book and who is a leading spokesman for the view that the only time the Son was subordinate to the Father was during the few years that He lived on the earth], by contrast, argues for Jesus' current non-subordination especially from the creeds, a difference that reflects our different disciplines as well as our different beliefs and in some sense our different ecclesiastical traditions. I acknowledge Kevin's noteworthy competence in the creeds, but I believe that Scripture is ultimately more authoritative than creeds [I totally agree with this super-important point.] and need not be conformed to the creeds (which like Scripture, may be subject to interpretation). ..." (page 55).

Lastly, I'll quote Keener's last two sentences in this article from page 56: "Where the present debate matters most on a practical level is that Jesus' submission to the Father offers a model for us to lay aside our self-centeredness and independence. If the Son himself would submit to the Father, how much more ought we (Phil. 2:5-8; John 15:10; 1 John 3:16)?" AMEN!

6. CHAPTER 15 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?" (pages 339-374): "Complementarian Trinitarianism: Divine Revelation Is Finally True to the Eternal Personal Relations" by J. Scott Horrell ("Professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary"). (This completes the six excerpts from "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?")

I'll quote part of what Horrell says under the subheading "Father-Son Language as a Path into the Eternal Trinity." "Although not by any means the only terms for deity in the New Testament, the designations Father, Son, and Spirit carry us into the very heart of God's eternal relations. Jesus repeatedly spoke about God as his Father and his relationship with the Father that preceded his coming into the world. ... ...the words 'Father' and 'Son' have been understood in nearly all church history as those which best describe the deepest personal ontology [dealing with the being, nature, essence, substance] of God" (page 345).

I'll quote part of what Horrell says under the subheading "Historic Tensions between Divine Hierarchy and Functional Equality" (pages 348-351). First he makes it clear that he cannot agree with Kevin Giles (previously mentioned in this paper) and Millard Erickson (he wrote "Who's Tampering with the Trinity?") that "to ascribe the idea of a Trinitarian functional hierarchy to an evangelical invention is unjustified." (And he says in a footnote: "For a response to Giles, see Bird and Shillaker, 'Subordination in the Trinity'...." That article is chapter 12 in "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?") But Horrell went on to say, "Nevertheless, Giles and Erickson are correct in arguing that historical post-Constantinopolitan theology [[The Council of Nicea took place in AD 325. The First Council of Constantinople took place in AD 381. They came up with the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed there, which roughly was the equivalent to the Nicene Creed of AD 325 with some additions.]] does not generally embrace a hierarchy of authority. [[In other words, "historical post-Constantinopolitan theology" did not generally agree that the Son was eternally subordinate to the Father in His role. However, as we will discuss further in this paper, the pre-Nicene Christian writings did include the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in their roles and the majority of those gathered to Nicea held that viewpoint too, along with believing in the full deity of the Son of God. We discuss this important point in some detail in this paper.]] On the other hand, biblical theology as emphasized by Grudem and Ware [We have discussed the articles by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, who believe that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in His role along with believing in the full equality of the three Persons of the Trinity, earlier in this paper.] - as well as early patristic historical theology - does seem to favor eternal functional hierarchy, if not eternal subordination of the Son. Various contemporary biblical scholars align, at least somewhat, with Ware and Grudem's Trinitarian arguments.

The tension between ontological equality [[(This double bracket goes on for two paragraphs.) As I have mentioned, IF the same-substance unity (or ontological equality) is understood in a way that doesn't leave room for the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, which is the understanding of many, then I cannot agree with that view. The Bible teaches the eternal subordination of the Son and this was the viewpoint of the Christians before Nicea and the dominant viewpoint of the Christians at Nicea (AD 325), but, as Horrell says, "historical post-Constantinopolitan theology does not generally embrace a hierarchy of authority." Anyway, the Son is fully deity with God the Father: He wasn't created, and He certainly wasn't created out of nothing, as Arius said; one way, or another, the Son is of the substance, essence of God the Father. For one thing, the Nicene Creed included the Greek word "homoousios," which means "of the same substance, essence."

For a long time now large numbers of Christians have understood "homoousios" and the same-substance unity of the Father and the Son of the Nicene Creed in a way that excludes any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. As I have mentioned, and we will discuss this further in this paper, the influential ministries of Athanasius, the three Cappadocians, and Augustine strongly contributed to this change in viewpoint. Based on what I have read, those who deny the eternal subordination of the Son in his role deny it based on their overstatement of the same-substance unity of the three Persons and/or on their overemphasis on that unity. ((His being of the same substance ("homoousios") of the Father can be understood in a way that doesn't leave any room for the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, but most of the signers of the Nicene Creed did not understand it that way, which is very important information. Furthermore, it is super-significant that the Bible speaks of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in His role, and the pre-Nicene Fathers believed in the eternal subordination of the Son.)) Keith E. Johnson discussed Augustine's viewpoint in chapter 6 of "The New Evangelical Subordination."]] and functional subordination is part of the mystery of the Trinity that the church has sought to hold together. [I believe that essentially all Christians understand that there is some "mystery" regarding our understanding of the Trinity. We will understand more in the future, but even then we probably won't fully understand the Trinity.] On the one side, biblical theology depicts an order within the Godhead of creation ex nihilo [out of nothing] which initiates with the Father's will, the Son as the means, and the Spirit as the enlivening power. As to salvation, the ordo salutis [Latin for "order of salvation"] begins with the Father's decree, the Son's incarnation and death on the Cross, and the Spirit's conviction and regeneration. [Horrell leaves room here for the functional subordination of the Son as He carries out His role(s) ordained by the Father.] On the other side [of the tension between ontological equality and functional subordination], no act of God reflects a single divine person to the exclusion of the others. The three persons act as one God. Each member of the Trinity is present in every act of God. [[This viewpoint comes because they overstate the same-substance unity of the three Persons and/or put too much emphasis on that unity and don't leave room for what the Bible teaches about the three Persons of the Trinity and their roles. They conclude that there is only one center of consciousness and one will and one mind in the one God, and that there cannot be any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Like I said, I don't believe these ideas fit what the Bible says. We will speak more of these things as we continue.]] Yet, as the fourth and fifth-century fathers increasingly stressed the equality of the Father, Son, and Spirit [based on their conception of, and their emphasis on, the identical, same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that cannot be divided], they struggled to [and, based on what I have read, failed to] form a synthesis that simultaneously captured the rich personal Trinitarian relations."

As Horrell continues he speaks of many Christians in our day who want to balance out the overemphasis on the oneness of God (the same-substance unity) which doesn't leave much room for the three Persons and their roles. The New Testament puts all the emphasis on the three Persons with their different roles, not on the oneness of God, and certainly not on an overstated oneness of God. It is totally necessary to see that the Bible doesn't teach three Gods, but we don't want to overstate the oneness of God. The Bible doesn't do that. It is important to see that verses like Deut. 6:4 that mention that there is only one God were intended for one purpose: They boldly proclaimed that, although the nations around Israel had many gods, there is only one God, the God of the Bible, the God of creation, the God of Noah and Abraham and Israel. Those verses were designed to refute the polytheism that permeated the ancient world. They were not given (not at all) to deny the full revelation yet to come of the three Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united in love relationships that we don't fully understand. We cannot know any more about the Trinity than what has been revealed, but it is clear that we don't have three Gods. It is equally clear that we are related to, and totally dependent on, the three distinct Persons of the Trinity. We relate to and worship the three Persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but God the Father has the preeminent role in the Trinity and we should worship Him first and foremost.

I'll quote a sentence from what Horrell says here (page 350): "More recently from a different angle, social Trinitarian Colin Gunton decried the overbearing dominance in Western theology of the Augustinian emphasis on the single nature ('homoousios') of God" (referring to Gunton's book, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (T&T Clark, 2003, 240 pages). I obtained a copy of this book. I'll include a few excerpts from Gunton before I continue with Horrell:

I'll quote part of what Gunton says on pages 43, 44, under the heading "Being and Person." "It is often said, oversimplification that it is, that in the East discussion of the Trinity moves from the three to the one [which clearly seems to be much more in line with the Bible], whereas in the West the reverse is the case. The real difference, however, tends not to be in the starting point but in the way in which the oneness and threeness of God are weighted in relation to one another, AND WHETHER, AS OFTEN HAPPENS IN THE WEST, THE ONENESS OUTWEIGHS THE THREENESS AND MAKES THE PERSONS FUNCTIONALLY INDISTINGUISHABLE TO ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES [my emphasis]. ...." The more you put the emphasis on the oneness, the more you don't leave room for the three Persons and differences between them.

And I'll quote part of what Gunton says on page 47: "Without a distinction between persons - as the ones who are each particularly what they are by virtue of their one another - and the relations between them, the danger is that their particularity will be lost, as has been the case notoriously in the West with its excessive stress on the principle that the acts of God ad extra [Latin for "to the outside," referring to the acts of God external to the Trinity] are undivided." There is a strong emphasis on the acts of God external to the Trinity being undivided because of the overstatement of the same-substance unity of the three Persons and/or an overemphasis on that unity.

On page 354 Horrell includes the idea that there are "three distinct centers of consciousness" in "the one divine Being." Many want to speak of one center of consciousness with one mind and one will, and which doesn't leave room for any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. On page 367 he makes the important point that "Philosophic arguments that a true equality of the divine nature necessitates equality of roles are neither rationally required nor harmonious with God's self-revelation [in the Bible]." On page 354, for example, Horrell speaks of "three distinct centers of consciousness, wholly equal in nature...."

7. Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father in the Book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is a very special book. For one thing, the content came almost entirely by direct revelation from God. The book of Revelation strongly emphasizes the full deity of the Lord Jesus, but I won't deal with that super-important point in this section. (I deal with that topic in my verse-by-verse teaching on the book of Revelation on my internet site: See under Rev. 21:6 and 22:6, 9 in my paper on Revelation Chapters 20-22.)

REVELATION 1:1. "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God [God the Father] gave Him to show to His bond-servants [It seems that "His" refers to the Lord Jesus in this context; we are His bond-servants (cf., e.g., Phil. 1:1; Rev. 1:1 at the end of this verse; and Rev. 2:20). It is also true, however, that we are bond-servants of God the Father (cf., e.g., Acts 4:29; Rev. 19:2, 5; and 22:3).], the things which must soon take place; and He [the Lord Jesus] sent and communicated it by His angel [see Rev. 22:6, 16] to His bond-servant John [the apostle John]." The fact that God the Father gave this revelation to His resurrected, glorified Son demonstrates the preeminent role of God the Father at that time, after the Son had been glorified and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The Father is the One who planned the salvation and judgments that are spoken of throughout the book of Revelation.

REVELATION 1:4-8. "John to the seven churches that are in Asia [[See Rev. 1:11. Seven churches in seven cities of the Roman province of Asia are addressed in chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation. The most prominent theme that permeated most of those messages was the powerful call to repent, where repentance was required, or else forfeit their salvation. It seems clear that the messages to those seven churches are directly applicable to all churches/Christians of all generations that are in the same situations. For one thing, the number seven, which is used repeatedly throughout the book of Revelation, is a symbolic number for completeness/perfection. Also, it's very clear that the prophetic content of the book of Revelation wasn't designed just for those seven ancient churches. Since so much of the prophecy deals with the end of this age, the book of Revelation undoubtedly has the greatest application for the churches/Christians of the last days. They're (we're) the ones who most need this detailed information.]]: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come [[(This double bracket continues for two paragraphs.) In this context, with the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ being mentioned next, it seems clear that God the Father is being spoken of here. This same title/name is also used of Him in Rev. 1:8 and 4:8. Also, in Rev. 11:17; 16:5 the same title/name is used of Him, but the last words, "and who is to come" are dropped, because He comes (especially in that He sends His Son at that time) at the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet in the middle of Daniel's 70th week. The sounding of this trumpet is mentioned in Rev. 11:15, just before 11:17. God the Father will be directly involved in those events, and He will be seated on the throne at the great-white throne judgment at the end of the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:11-15). He will come to His people in the full and final sense at the time of the new heaven and new earth, after the great-white-throne judgment [Rev. 21:1-22:5].

This title/name, "Him who is and who was and who is to come," could also be used for the Lord Jesus Christ, even as the name "Yahweh" and the word "God" are also appropriate for Him, since He is deity with the Father and the Spirit. However, here it refers to God the Father. (It would be very confusing if these words, "Yahweh" and "God," were used of the Son very often.) There is widespread agreement that the words "from Him who is and who was" build on the Hebrew name Yahweh, which is used some 6,800 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It was typically used of God the Father in the Old Testament, but it was used several times of the Angel/Messenger of Yahweh, who was the preincarnate Son of God in the Old Testament, which serves as a very strong confirmation of His full deity. On the name Yahweh, see my paper "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son" on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching).]], and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne [This is a symbolic way to refer to the Holy Spirit, with the number seven symbolizing perfection/completeness. See Rev. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6; and Zech. 4:10.], (5)

We will continue this verse-by-verse discussion of Rev. 1:4-8 with verse 5 in Part 2E of this paper.

Copyright by Karl Kemp 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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