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

by Karl Kemp  
8/16/2016 / Bible Studies


Here in Part 2I we will finish section 28 of this paper that discusses the viewpoint of Kevin Giles and then do section 29, which is the last section of this paper, that deals with another book by Giles.

Giles speaks quite a bit about Augustine's viewpoint in this book. I have dealt with Augustine's viewpoint earlier in this paper. I'll quote a sentence and a paragraph from Giles that deal with Augustine from page 15: "In his presentation of this doctrine he begins with the unity of the triune God: he is one substance. ... After Augustine's death, his conception of the Trinity was encapsulated in the so-called Athanasian Creed. [[On page 51 he mentions that that creed was written "about A.D. 500," and he mentions that "For Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Anglicans (such as myself [Giles]), it is a binding documental norm." And on page 52 Giles says that "Right at the heart of this Creed we have an explicit condemnation of those who say the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father in any way."]] This creed stresses the unity of the Trinity and the equality of the persons. ... [Giles quotes a small part of the creed:] 'In this Trinity none is before, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; ...the whole three Persons are...equal.' The Son is only 'inferior to the Father as touching his manhood.' A more explicit rejection of the eternal subordination of the Son in being, function or authority is hard to imagine." I agree that the Athanasian Creed does communicate that idea, but I don't believe it is accurate on this point, that it is in agreement with the Bible.

On pages 37-38 Giles mentions that Athanasius used John 10:30 ("The Father and I are one") and John 14:9 ("Whoever has seen me has seen the Father") to demonstrate "the unity of the one Godhead." I don't believe either one of these verses, or any other verses, support all that Athanasius meant by "unity of the one Godhead," including his idea that the Son cannot be eternally subordinate to the Father in His being, function, role or work, any more than they support oneness (modalism). (I discussed these verses and some similar verses in my paper "More on the Trinity," for one place.) "For Athanasius, without any caveats, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in being and action" (page 41).

On pages 41-43 Giles discussed the Cappadocians. They strongly emphasized the unity of God, but "They took as their starting point not the one being of God [with Athanasius and Augustine] but the three divine 'persons,' whom they called 'hypostases.' ..." (page 41). And I'll quote part of a paragraph from page 43: "The Cappadocian fathers explicitly wanted to exclude subordinationism, but because they were wedded in thinking that the Father was the 'monarche' (one source or origin) of the Son and the Spirit, they were not completely successful in doing this. [Giles has a footnote: "Athanasius 'De Synodis' 16."] In their doctrinal expressions of the Trinity there is a tension between their insistence that all three persons have the one divine 'ousia' [being, essence, substance] and their insistence that the 'hypostasis' [person] of the Father alone is God in the absolute sense - and as such is the sole cause or origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. ...." (I should mention that Matt Paulson in "Rejoinder to Kevin Giles" [http:www.tektonics.org/guest/psek02.html] seems to effectively show that Giles is wrong to deny that Athanasius believed in the monarchy of the Father. There was an earlier article by Matt Paulson, but he was using the name "Phantaz Sunlyk" at www.tektonics.org/guest/psekstasis.html) and a response by Kevin Giles to that earlier article at www.tektonics.org/gk/giles01.php. I read both of those articles.)

In a paragraph on page 44, for example, Giles demonstrates that he believes that the Nicene Creed rules out the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Giles attributed this viewpoint to "the bishops of Nicea." As we have discussed, it seems clear that Giles is wrong regarding the intent of the Nicene Creed as it was written and ratified by the bishops. As we have also discussed, it is clearly true that later many did begin to interpret the Nicene Creed that way. As we have discussed, this change took place to some significant extent (after Nicea) through the influence of Athanasius, the three Cappadocians, and Augustine.

On pages 46-49 Giles discusses Augustine. "The one text through which all else in Scripture about the Son should be understood is, for Augustine, Philippians 2:6." We discussed Phil. 2:6 in its context in section 2 of this paper. My understanding of this verse goes against what Augustine (and essentially all, if not all, of those who deny the eternal subordination of the Son) thinks it says. If I am right (and it's not just me), Augustine's number-one verse demonstrates the opposite of what he taught; it demonstrates the subordination of the Son at a time before He, in accordance with the Father's will, condescended to become the God-man. That great condescension, which included His suffering on the cross, resulted in our salvation and the ultimate total overthrow of Satan and all who follow him.

I'll quote a small part of what Giles says under the heading "Derivative Subordination" (pages 64-69). The first quotation will show what he means by that terminology. "The Arminians in the seventeenth century also held that the Son and the Spirit were subordinate because they were derived from the Father" (page 65), and he went on to quote from "the leading Arminian, Episcopius".... (Still quoting from Giles) "In seventeenth century England derivative subordinationism flourished. Bishop George Bull, in his famous and widely read 'Defensio Fidei Nicaenae,' taught that the Son, 'in respect of his divinity, is a degree subordinate to the Father, insomuch as he is from him. [I'll skip the next three footnotes.] Likewise John Pearson in his widely read book 'The Exposition of the Creed,' says, 'in respect of his nature, the Father is greater (than the Son) in reference to the communication of the Godhead.' On the basis of the exegesis of 1,251 biblical passages, Samuel Clarke concluded in his book 'Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity' (1712) that the Athanasian Creed was wrong. [I agree that it is wrong in that it doesn't leave any room for the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in His role.] ..." (pages 65-66). (On page 56 of "Jesus and the Father," a later book by Giles that we will discuss next, he points out that the Eastern Orthodox Churches do not endorse the Athanasian Creed. Many Protestants don't endorse it either.) I'll stop quoting from this book by Kevin Giles here, but he obviously has a lot more to say in this book.


29. I'll Include Some Excerpts from a Later Book by Kevin Giles on this Same Topic: "Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Trinity" (Zondervan, 2006, 320 pages).

On page 52 Giles says, "Does not the New Testament twice speak of the Father and the Son as 'equal' (John 5:18; Phil. 2:6)?" There are ways in which the Father and the Son are equal. For one thing, although the Bible typically uses the word "God" for the Father, it is used of the Son several places. It is no little thing to be called God. Furthermore, there is zero competition between the Father and the Son. There is an infinite love relationship, and both Persons are totally motivated to see the other Person glorified to the max. However, significantly, I don't believe either one of these verses that Giles mentioned, in their contexts, argue at all against the eternal subordinate role of the Son to the Father. We discussed Phil. 2:6 earlier in this paper (in section 2); I believe this verse demonstrates the subordinate role of the Son before He became a man (the God-man); and Jesus doesn't really claim to be equal with the Father in John 5:18. Craig Keener discusses this verse, in its context, in some detail in his article "Subordination within the Trinity John 5:18 and 1 Cor. 15:28," which is chapter 3 of "The New Evangelical Subordinationism?" that was discussed earlier in this paper, but we did not discuss John 5:18 there. Keener discusses John 5:18, in its context, on pages 40-45 under the two headings "Subordination in John 5:18" and "Does Jesus Claim 'Equality'? (5:18)." Keener argues for the eternal subordinate role of the Son.

On pages 53-54 (also see his pages 60-61), Giles states that the insertion of 'homoousios" in the Nicene Creed "unambiguously" demonstrated that "the divine three [are] one in being, work, and authority." For one significant thing, as we have discussed, most of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed in AD 325 didn't have that understanding of homoousios. A primary point that I am trying to make throughout this paper is that I believe the New Testament, which was given to us through the apostles under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, demonstrates that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in His role, which was also the viewpoint of the pre-Nicene Fathers, so I cannot agree with what Giles says here.

I don't claim to fully understand all the details regarding the Trinity - and I don't believe we are supposed to - but I cannot agree with Giles viewpoint, which includes the idea that the Son is not, and cannot be, eternally subordinate to the Father in His role. Also, I cannot agree with what Giles says on page 81: he says that he believes in "one center of consciousness and one will." (We also often hear of one mind.) I agree, of course, that the will of the Son is always in alignment with the Father, but I don't believe that this happens automatically because the three Persons are "one in being, work, and authority." The perfection of the Son and the super-intense love relationship that exists between the Father and the Son is sufficient to explain that the will of the Son is always submitted to the will of the Father, not to mention that the Son knows that the will of the Father is ALWAYS right. It seems clear to me (and many others; several of them are mentioned in this paper) that the Bible demonstrates three centers of consciousness, with three wills and three minds. I want to emphasize the point though that I don't believe we can begin to fully understand the Trinity, and especially not before we are glorified.

Also, I cannot agree with what Giles says on page 53 (also see page 174): "The New Testament teaches that after His resurrection the Son of God reigns as equal God, not subordinated God." The Son clearly is subordinated to the Father's plans and timetable after His resurrection and glorification. The book of Revelation, by itself, suffices to demonstrate this point. See section 7 of this paper, which is titled "Subordination of the Son to the Father in the Book of Revelation."

Giles makes an interesting comment regarding "homoousios" and the Nicene Creed on page 69: "To make clear that what they believed was implied in Scripture they [at the Council of Nicea] decided to include in the creed of Nicea the Greek word 'homoousios,' meaning one in being [meaning "of the same substance"], to define the Father-Son relationship. In doing this they went beyond what was explicitly stated in Scripture. [[I believe the Bible makes it clear that the Son is of the substance of the Father AND that He is eternally subordinate to the Father. (Tertullian [AD160-230], for example believed both of these things.) He clearly was not begotten out of nothing; Arius contended that He had been created out of nothing. However, IF it were true that the insertion of "homoousios" necessarily includes ideas like the Son cannot be eternally subordinated to the Father in His role because they are "one in being" (as Giles believes, but I don't agree), then I have to say that in error "they went beyond what was explicitly stated in Scripture." I believe it is clear that most of the Christians at Nicea did not believe that the insertion of "homoousios" included ideas like the Son cannot be eternally subordinated to the Father in His role. They believed in the eternal subordinate role of the Son, in agreement with the pre-Nicene Fathers, and much more importantly in agreement with what the Bible teaches.]] They made an objective advance in theological definition." I'm thankful that Giles admits here that his understanding of what they said went beyond what is explicitly stated in Scripture, even though he thinks that this is "implied in Scripture."

"[Athanasius] was the first to give the 'model' of an eternal 'coequal' Trinity where the three distinct persons are differentiated yet profoundly one, and the Son and the Spirit are not subordinated to the Father in being, function, or authority [I'll skip his footnote]" (page 134, 135). I believe his new "model" was wrong on these points. Giles mentions that John 1:1-18, especially verses 1 and 14, was important to Athanasius' understanding of the Trinity. I don't believe these verses offer any substantial support for his "model." These verses clearly show the deity of the Son (the Word), who became the God-man to save us, along with the obvious deity of God the Father, but I don't see any emphasis on their being "profoundly one," or any denial of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. For one thing, the Father is distinguished from the Son in John 1:1 by speaking of the Son's being with God the Father, who is referred to here with the Greek "ton theon" (which is the Greek word for God with the definite article, similar to our word "the" in English) in that the Father is the one typically referred to as God in the Bible. Also the Father created through the Son (John 1:2-3), which fits the preeminent role of the Father.

"Athanasius will not allow any disjunction between the Father and the Son. The two affirmations of Jesus he quotes the most are 'I and the Father are one' (John 10:30) and 'He who has seen me has seen the Father' (John 14:9). [I don't believe these verses demonstrate all that Athanasius thought they demonstrate, any more than they demonstrate the oneness (modalistic) viewpoint; the modalists use these verses too. These verses and some similar verses are discussed in my paper "More on the Trinity."] ... Professor Lewis Ayres says that Athanasius was the first to recognize that the unity of being of the Father and the Son implied a unity of will and work. [I believe Athanasius overstated the case, which resulted in rather significant error. And the fact that he was the first to recognize these things fit the idea that he was wrong.] He thus can be seen as the originator of one of the most basic Pro-Nicene theological principles, namely that the Father and the Son work inseparably [He has a footnote: "Ayres, 'Nicea,' pages 113-15]" (page 141).

"There is no uncertainty or ambiguity. In Athanasius we find the most thorough repudiation of the idea that the Son is in any way eternally subordinated to the Father. For him, without any caveats, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in being, work/function, and authority. In answer to the Arians Athanasius completely rejects the idea that the Trinity is to be understood as a hierarchy in any form. He could not allow any diminution in the Son's divinity, majesty, or authority, neither in who he is or in what he does. ... By arguing that the Son is different in being, works, and authority from the Father, they [the Arians] impugned the full divinity of Christ, the veracity of the revelation of God in Christ, and the possibility of salvation through Christ [[He has a footnote: "So Athanasius argues. See 'Discourses,' in NPNF ["Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers"] 4:1-10 pages...."]]" (page 144). I don't have all of the answers regarding the Trinity, but it seems clear to me that Athanasius overstated the same-substance (oneness, but not modalism) unity of God that cannot be divided when he taught there is one center of consciousness and one will and one mind and denied any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Arius and the Arians needed to be refuted, but it is easy to go too far and miss the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. This very often happens during conflicts, and I believe Athanasius did that here in a rather serious way. We desperately need the balanced truth of what God's Word teaches.

On pages 150-152 Giles speaks of the Nicene Creed of AD 325, with its inclusion of the word 'homoousios' (and the closely related words used earlier in the creed "of the being/substance/essence/nature ["ousios"] of the Father") not leaving any room for any subordination of the Son, which would have been a gigantic change from the viewpoint that had been held up until that time. Giles speaks from the point of view that that was the intention of the signers of the Nicene Creed. (Giles isn't the only one speaking from that viewpoint. It is a widely accepted viewpoint.) However, I have shown in this paper that it isn't reasonable to assume that many of those gathered to Nicea would have agreed with the idea that the Son was not eternally subordinated to the Father in His role, for one thing.

I believe I have enough information in this paper to demonstrate that Giles is not interpreting the Nicene Creed of AD 325 the way intended by the Council of Nicea. It seems clear to me that he is wrong. However, we must recognize the fact that later (to some significant extent through Athanasius, the three Cappadocians, and Augustine), the Nicene Creed has very often been interpreted in a way that excludes any subordination of the Son to the Father. This includes the later version of the Nicene Creed of AD 381 that is sometimes called the "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed."

Anyway, to repeat myself - it is important to get this right! - I believe that any interpretation of the Nicene Creed that says there is no room for any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in His role is wrong. I believe it goes against what the Bible teaches and it goes against what the pre-Nicene Christians believed and most (it could be essentially all) of those gathered to Nicea believed. Of course we must dogmatically insist on the Full deity of the Son of God. Being eternally subordinate to God the Father in His role does not negate the FULL deity of the Son. Who really knows enough about the triune God to say that there is no room for the subordination of the Son to the Father in His role. (Many think they do.) God has to reveal to us the details of His being. He certainly hasn't fully revealed Himself to us, and I'm sure that there is a limit to how much He could fully reveal Himself to us, and especially before we are glorified, but based on what He has revealed, the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in His role, and the Son boasts in the eternally preeminent role of the Father He loves with a very great love.

I appreciate this next excerpt from Giles; it seems to be an important step in the right direction, but he still maintains his total objection to any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. "One of the important contributions to trinitarian theology made by theologians in the last thirty years has been the recognition that this emphasis on the divine unity and how it is conceptualized in the so-called Western tradition is deficient. [I certainly agree with this. It is an important recognition.] In its place a 'communal' or 'social' model of the Trinity has been advocated and widely endorsed. In this approach the unity of God is not found in 'one divine substance,' a very abstract and unitary idea, but in the most profound community of love and self-giving imaginable that characterizes the inner life of the divine persons. ..." [I certainly agree with this.] (pages 240-241). This viewpoint, which is Biblical, lends itself to seeing some eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, but there are no ideas of superiority or inferiority, or commanding and being compelled to obey, etc.

"What divides evangelicals today on the economic-immanent Trinity [where the word "economic" refers to the dealings of the Trinity with the created world and the word "immanent" refers to the inner life of God] is whether the subordination of the Son seen in the incarnation is to be read back into the immanent Trinity" (page 263). Most of what Wayne Grudem, for example (see his article "Biblical Evidence for the Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father" earlier in this paper, section 1) believes about the subordination of the Son to the Father is based on passages of the Bible that speak of the subordination of the Son to the Father before the incarnation or after the resurrection and glorification of the Son. His view (and mine) is not based on his reading back into the immanent Trinity what we learn about the subordination of the Son in His incarnation.

May the will of God be fully accomplished through this paper and His people (very much including Kevin Giles) be edified!

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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