Two Views among Evangelicals
Ted Peters says that, if anything, contemporary mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic trinitarian thinking is “antisubordinationist.” (God as Trinity (Louisville: Westminster, 1993), p. 45.)
“Paradoxically … many evangelical theologians have been moving in the opposite direction. Since the 1980s, evangelicals wishing to uphold the idea male headship … have been arguing that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father.”
“Conservative evangelicals who speak of the eternal subordination of the Son quote in support Paul’s assertion that God the Father is the “head of Christ” just as “man is the head of woman” (1 Cor 11:3), and the texts that speak of the Son being “sent” by the Father (John 4:34, 5:30, etc.), and obeying the Father (Rom 5:18-19; Heb 5:8).
Giles, however, also claims that the Bible writers present the Son as equal with the Father:
“They frequently associated the Father, Son, and Spirit together, implying their equality (cf. Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:13; Eph 4:4-6; etc.), and on occasions spoke of Jesus as Theos (John 1:1, 20:28; Rom 9:5; Heb 1:8), calling him “the Lord” (the title for Yahweh used in the Greek OT) some two hundred times.”
Can the Bible answer this question?
Giles implies that this debate, whether the Son is subordinate to the Father or not, cannot be resolved from the Bible alone and that we must rely on “tradition:”
“If there were no way to settle this debate over the interpretation of the Bible we would have a stalemate. Each side could simply go on quoting their proof texts and no resolution would be possible. But this is not the case. Evangelicals … are in complete agreement that “tradition”—understood as how the scriptures have been understood by the best of theologians across the centuries—is a good guide to the proper interpretation of scripture: it is a secondary authority.”
Gotquestions, another conservative protestant site, claims that the Bible is able to provide the answer. Using language that is reminiscent of the Athanasian Creed, it states:
The Bible teaches that the Father is God, |
that Jesus is God,
and that the Holy Spirit is God.
The Bible also teaches that there is only one God.
If this question may be clearly answered from the Bible alone, we need to find the main texts and principles in the New Testament for and against both the views:
- That the Son is equal with the Father and
- That the Son is subordinate to the Father.
“All accept that the Son was for a limited period subordinated in the incarnation. What is in dispute is whether or not the Son is subordinated in the eternal or immanent Trinity in his being/nature/person and/or work/operation/function.”
So, I am particularly interested in indications that the Son was equal or subordinate to the Father before He “became flesh” and after His ascension.
Role vs being Subordination
Giles distinguishes between:
- “Eternal subordination in role/function” and
- “Subordination in person or being.”
However, he also states that, if the Son, in “eternity” is subordinate in His “role/function,” then He is also subordinate in His “being:”
“Most speak only of an eternal subordination in role/function for the Son. However some evangelicals honestly admit that eternal role subordination by necessity implies subordination in person or being.”
In note 4 of his article, Giles states that this distinction ”is entirely novel. It has no historical antecedents. Previously the argument has been eternal subordination in being/nature/essence and work/operation/function are two sides of one coin.”
Furthermore, since this question is about the Bible alone, and since the Bible does not explain the relationship between the Father and Son in terms of substance or being, I do not expect an answer that will rely on the distinction between role and being.
I assume this is not a question that will interest Catholic Christians, since they rely on tradition to a great extent. But I hope that Protestant Christians will be more interested to provide an answer.
This is a copy of a question I placed on Stackexchange. That site is regulated by individuals with high standing in the academic world, but most are traditionalists and are irritated by me questioning long-standing views. Whether they will accept my question remains to be seen. I do intend to answer the question myself, but that would require some substantial research and I will now be able to do that right away.
- 1An article in The Academic Journal of CBE International,