Subordinationism and One Eternal BEING.
The recent discussion between XXXX and XXXX prompts me to pose for thought and consideration some questions and notions I have about this difficult subject. I'm still puzzling over these matters, and expect to for the rest of my life. I think certainty in these matters is impossible, and the imagination of certainty to be hubris. Still, it is natural for us to want to know and understand as much about God as we can.
Let me begin with the notion of "subordinationism." In most writings, subordinationism is considered a heresy -- at least a step toward Arianism or Unitarianism, Modalism, or some other kind of "ism" out of step with historic orthodox Christianity. Yet I cannot shake the notion that there is a kind of subordinationism revealed in scripture. And I do not mean the kind that I think XXXX had in mind, e.g. a subordinationism that accompanies the Incarnation. I mean an eternal subordinationism that is inherent in the nature and relationship of the persons that comprise what we call the Trinity. I can hardly put it better than this, a quotation lifted from something I found on the web:
-------- The Nicene fathers ascribed to the Son and Spirit an equality of being or essence, but a subordination of order, with both deriving their existence from the Father as primal source. Athanasius insisted upon the coequality of the status of the three Persons of the Trinity, and Augustine that these Persons are coequal and coeternal. Ancient and modern theologians have argued for a subordination in the role of Son and Spirit to the Father and cite in support such passages as Matt. 11:27; John 5:26 - 27; 6:38; 8:28; 14:28. Some apply a doctrine of subordination of woman to man on the basis of a similar relationship within the Trinity (1 Cor. 11:3). ---------
Before I knew what ancient and modern theologians thought about the matter, I had concluded for myself based on these very same verses (and more, below) for some kind of subordinationism in the relationship between God and Christ, between the Father and the Son. At the same time, I think I have avoided any Arian tendencies by insisting on seeing these relationships within the context of a God who is One Eternal BEING. I put "BEING" in caps for emphasis because I cannot help but think that many of us view the Trinity (or God-head) as THREE "beings." And that, I think, is fundamentally unbiblical. The moment we reduce God to three BEINGS we are no longer monotheists. Thus I am always saddened when I see a brother write something like:
"Finite minds can not possibly fathom the inter-relations and positions of three divine beings, all of whom, possess the attributes of deity."
Whatever else we can say, or not say, about this difficult subject, we must begin and end with the notion that God is One Eternal BEING. Not Three Beings. One Being. Anything else is polytheism.
It is the combination of subordinationism -- which in SOME sense is taught in scripture -- and the division of deity into multiple beings, which starts us down the road to Arianism and its modern variants (JW's, LDS's, Jesus Only, Unitarians, et al.). Surely the truth is somewhere in between.
I think, though, that it somewhat evades the larger issues to limit the notion of subordination to one of "role." While there are certainly distinct roles between the persons ("persons" in the plural is acceptable; "beings" in the plural is not) who make up what we call the Trinity, the subordination of the Son to the Father is not merely one of roles. It is in some sense intrinsic to their nature, i.e. "natural." Jesus did not become the Son in the Incarnation. He has always been the Son. Here I wish to call attention to something I have never, ever, seen acknowledged or discussed: the unique way in which Paul always speaks of "God, the Father."
The best single verse to bring this out is 1Cor 8.6: "yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things..." Not "one God the Father, another God the Son, and a third God the Holy Spirit." And not "one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Simply "one God, the Father." And Paul uses this expression repeatedly: in every opening salutation to his letters, as well as in other significant texts such as Eph 4.6. Why does Paul speak like this? Does he not believe that Jesus is God also? Sure he does. Col 1.15-19, 2.9, not to mention Phil 2.6, bear witness to Paul's affirmation of the deity of Jesus. Yet he always (with the possible exception of one or two ambiguous texts) limits his use of the term "God" to "the Father." Why is that?
Here is the best answer this finite mind has to offer. Paul's preference for associating the term "God" with "the Father" is because he understands "the Father" to be the source of the One Being that is God, and that the Son and the Holy Spirit "derive" their "being" from the Father. If all this is too "ontological," I apolgize. But I do not believe that we can do justice to this difficult subject without getting "ontological." I believe the Son to be coeternal and coexistent with the Father (Jn 1.1), but to have nevertheless derived his "being" from the Father. I think that is why Jesus says what he says in Jn 5, 6, 8, and 14: all that he "is" is derived from the Father. This does not make him any less than the Father, as to BEING, because as to his being he is the complete and exact image of the Father, Col 1.15, Heb 1.3.
However, it does make the Father "prior" to the Son (and the Spirit) in the sense of being the source or the origin of his (their) BEING. Not chronologically prior: ontologically prior. Therein lies the subordination of the Son to the Father: all that he is is from the Father. (Read the preceding sentence slowly. The two "is's" are intentional.) If this were not so, God would not truly be "One." All other explanations of the "Trinity" that I can think of ultimately degenerate into some kind of polytheism. The only one that is faithful to the monotheism of the Bible is one in which God is One Eternal BEING. The Son derives his BEING from the Father and is one with the Father in BEING. While not appealing to them as any kind of authority, I think the following words from the Nicene Creed do a good job of trying to balance the Biblical testimony as to the relationship between the Father and the Son:
"I believe in One God the Father...and in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God...Begotten, not made, being of One Substance with the Father..."
A key phrase here, in terms of the question that XXXX posed, is "begotten of His Father before all worlds." In *whatever* sense the Son is subordinate to the Father, it is a subordination that reflects his eternal nature, not one that comes about from the Incarnation. It comes about because he derives his being from the Father. This insures his deity, "being of One Substance with the Father," yet implies subordination because his being is derived from the Father, and is not his own. Which is exactly what Jesus himself said in Jn 5.26. or your consideration,
By Basil (Skip) Copeland taken from a post to a discussion list I am on cws.
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