June 17, 2016

Making Sense of the Trinity (EFS) Debate

by Mike Riccardi

Here is my attempt at a very brief summary of the current debate or discussion surrounding the eternal functional subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father.

Number 1We all know the incarnate Son submits to the Father, but is His submission something that extends to His eternal role/relationship as Son? Is the Son subordinate to the Father from all eternity? Is there authority and submission within the inner life of the Trinity, even before creation and redemption?

2Proponents of EFS say yes. Opponents say no.


3Opponents say submission/subordination necessarily entails two wills. To have submission, you have to have one will submitting to another. But the Triune God has only one will. Now, the incarnate Christ submits to the Father because, as the God-man, He has two wills: divine and human. However, opponents of EFS maintain that having two wills in the Godhead would then require two natures (or essences, or beings) in the Godhead. And since God is one, He is one Being with one divine nature. Therefore, they say, two wills requires two natures or beings, which would separate the two Persons (Father and Son) into two gods, which is virtually Arianism. And of course, when you add the Holy Spirit to the discussion, who would then have His own will, you get a third God: tritheism.

4Proponents of EFS question whether their position requires two wills, and/or whether two wills requires two natures. Making their case on these issues is where I think EFS proponents can bring clarity and advance the discussion. If I can understand (a) how a functional or relational subordination of the Son to the Father doesn’t require two wills, or (b) be convinced that a will is a property of a person and not a nature, the EFS position would be strengthened.

5Both proponents and opponents reject the doctrine of ontological subordination, that is, that Son is somehow inferior in His being/essence to the Father. That is Arianism.

6However, opponents of EFS do keep arguing against proponents as if EFS necessarily implies ontological subordination. After all, they say, what would it mean for the Trinity to “function” in eternity, before they ever acted (i.e., began functioning) in creation or redemption? To speak of the Trinity in eternity is not to speak of the Trinity “functioning” or “operating” (commonly called the “economic Trinity, i.e., the Trinity working out in the economy of redemption; or the Trinity “ad extra”), but it is to speak of who God is “in Himself” (commonly called the “immanent Trinity,” or the Trinity “ad intra”). If you’re speaking of who God is in Himself, they say, you’re speaking of His ontology, His being.

7Proponents of EFS might reply: Whether or not “function” is the right word, there is an eternal distinction of Persons within the Trinity, and they relate to one another as Father, Son, and Spirit. Their argument is that part of what it means for Scripture to call the Father “Father” and the Son “Son” is that there is a relationship of authority and submission.

8Opponents of EFS would say: No, fatherhood and sonship relate only to the Father’s eternal generation of the Son. It is “begottenness,” not authority and submission, that Scripture means to teach us when it calls the Father “Father” and the Son “Son.”

9I imagine proponents of EFS would ask why it couldn’t be both, and opponents would ask why it should be. Proponents would respond that Scripture clearly pictures the Son as subordinate to the Father. Opponents would say that those texts refer to the Son’s subordination as the God-man, in the economy of redemption, and not His eternal relationship to the Father before the economy of redemption began.

Number 10I’m not sure where I land yet. There needs to be continued dialog between both sides, and both sides must be fastidious in responding both (a) to what is actually said and (b) to all of what is said. I’d like to hear the non-EFS guys explain more clearly why the Father’s sending of the Son (what some are calling the issue of the covenant of redemption) doesn’t entail some sort of pre-incarnate subordination. I’d like to hear the EFS guys explain how their position doesn’t entail multiple wills in the Godhead, or why they don’t see that as a problem.

11One thing is for sure, no matter which position you take: 1 Corinthians 11:3 teaches complementarianism. The complementarian argument isn’t (or at least it shouldn’t be) that since there is eternal subordination of roles within the Trinity, there ought to be subordination of roles between men and women. Rather, the argument is (or at least should be) simply this: the incarnate Son is equal in essence with the Father, yet occupies a functionally subordinate role with respect to the Father. Jesus’ submission does not necessarily imply inferiority of being. In the same way, a wife is equal in essence (though not identical in essence, as is the case with Jesus and the Father) with her husband, yet occupies a functionally subordinate role with respect to her husband. A wife’s submission does not necessarily imply inferiority of being.

Postscript

Good questions and follow-up comments to these thoughts can be found here. They provide some sharpening concerning what precisely is and is not being claimed in this discussion. I recommend wading through it, because so much of the confusion comes from failing to understand the terms of the discussion. Finally, if your only comment on this discussion is to complain about its tone or that it’s too narrow and not worth having, keep that to yourself, as it does nothing to advance the discussion.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Mark Olivero

    Good overview Mike. Being clear and concise in theology is a gift. You got it.

    With regard to the Father sending. My wife often sends me to the store. I do not feel in the least that I am eternally subordinate to her by doing so nor that my letting her send me to the store I am somehow “showing” my functional or relational subordination to her.

    Actually, I am serving her because in most cases she can’t go and so as a continuation and broadening of our relationship I go. The Father could not go but he could participate in the Incarnation by giving or sending the Son. The Son goes not as an act of eternal subordination, but as the seen presence of Yahweh. This is not evidence of his being eternally subordinate but evidence of mutual grace, love and mercy which originates within the very core of the triune persons extending outward. If I go to the store to buy the sugar my wife needs to bake that pie, then I get to eat the pie. Mmmmmm, good.

    Also “Grudem Rule” is that adult sons are always subordinate to fathers – always. Yet, he (and Ware) fails to take into account how many times in Scripture and in ancient Near East history and literature we see adult sons on an equal rank and position of authority with their fathers. We see co-regency in the OT. Someone has written a book about the discrepancies in the chronology of the OT line of kings offering an answer that basically shows periods of co-regency during a transition from a father’s reign to a son’s reign. We see co-regency in various rulers in the nations around Israel. In fact, Psalm 110, the most quoted OT passage in the NT, is a perfect example of co-regency.

    • Ted Bigelow

      Hi Mark,

      Nice response, thanks. Question, what is your reason for why “the Father could not go?”

      • Mark Olivero

        Hi Ted,
        Good question. I think your question makes me want to rephrase. I now recall hearing a theologian the other day “apologize” for saying that “God could NOT do something” but he went on to say so anyway. So I think I can better express that as the Father is unseen and the Son seen (the contrast between the working out of the transcendence of Yahweh with the immanence of Yahweh). Thus, it was fitting for the Son to come in the flesh that we might “see the Father.” This does not subordinate the Son to the Father anymore than it subordinates the Father to the Son. There is in this a distinction of divine works which meld into each other both for a visible display of trinitarian operations and also for the overall unified glory of the Godhead, Yahweh triune. Does that clarify?

        • Ted Bigelow

          um, no, but thanks.

        • Mike McGarry

          In the EFS position, if the Father was sent, then would he be the Son while the Son becomes the Father because he was not sent?

    • My wife often sends me to the store. I do not feel in the least that I am eternally subordinate to her by doing so nor that my letting her send me to the store I am somehow “showing” my functional or relational subordination to her.

      Yeah, it’s not as clear to me. It’s one thing if she asks you to go to the store: “Honey, could you please go to the store for me and pick up some sugar?” To me, a different connotation is implied by the word “sent.” Usually, the sender has authority over the sent one (think Christ and the Apostles; think churches/missions agencies and missionaries; think rulers and emissaries). At the very least, in many human relations we often think of a functional subordination of the sent to the sender. When you add Jesus’ statements of doing nothing on His own initiative, but only accomplishing the will of the One who sent Him, that seems to make a stronger case. But I guess the non-EFS guys might say, “That speaks only with respect to the economic Trinity, not the immanent Trinity.”

      I think Darren Sumner has served us by outlining the differences of what we mean by economic and immanent Trinity. I would have thought there were only two positions, but he introduces a third, and I think the source of confusion lies in some people talking about #2 while others think they’re talking about #3. Check it out: https://theologyoutofbounds.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/what-is-the-immanent-trinity-a-clarification-for-the-eternal-subordination-debate/

      This is not evidence of his being eternally subordinate but evidence of mutual grace, love and mercy which originates within the very core of the triune persons extending outward.

      That’s a helpful thought. The Son’s will is not bent or broken into coming, but He is just as active and initiatory in His coming as the Father is. Jones (http://newcitytimes.com/news/story/subordination-in-the-pactum-and-the-irony-of-ess) quotes Witsius to that effect:

      Nor is it any objection against this [i.e., that the Son is God and equal to the Father in essence], that the Son, from eternity, undertook for men, and thereby came under a certain peculiar relation to those that were to be saved. For, as that engagement was nothing but the most glorious act of the divine will of the Son, doing what none but God could do, it implies therefore no manner of subjection: it only imports, that there should be a time, when that divine person, on assuming flesh, would appear in the form of a servant.

      Witsius goes on to make a helpful point:

      And by undertaking to perform this obedience, in the human nature, in the proper time, the Son, as God, did no more subject himself to the Father, than the Father with respect to the Son, to the owing that reward of debt, which he promised him a right to claim. All these things are to be conceived of in a manner becoming of God.”

      So his point is: the pactum salutis (call it whatever you want: “covenant” of redemption, eternal Trinitarian plan of salvation) not only “obligates” the Son to the Father in carrying out His will to become Mediator for the elect, but it also “obligates” the Father to the Son in supplying the reward for the Son’s obedience (e.g., Ps 2:8; Isa 53:12). Yet we wouldn’t want to say that that makes the Father subordinate — even functionally — to the Son!

      • Mark Olivero

        Wow. Great thots. I am on lunch break and want to come back to ponder this more and check out the links you note. Yeah, fully agree with the value of the in this issue. For me it is a clear example of not subordination by one Person permanently to another, but a deference of Persons in all directions. This deference then looks quite beautiful as the very foundation of grace which eventually flows out to mankind.

  • Mike McGarry

    Does self-denial necessitate two wills? As of now I’m leaning towards the EFS side of the debate, but can be persuaded otherwise. I’m just not sure that the Son’s submission to the Father requires two wills.

    My question for non-EFS folk would be this, “What was the relationship between Persons of the Trinity would be if there is zero submission prior to the incarnation?” Was the Son always the Son? Was the Father always Father? etc. If not, then doesn’t that change in relationship (becoming “Father” and “Son” at the incarnation) bring bigger complications than the EFS question?!

    Living in eternal-relationship as Father and Son and Spirit would require some measure of submission because of their distinct roles. I don’t think that means there are two wills, but one unified will that embraces the fullness of Persons and roles within the Tri-Unity of the Godhead.

    Lastly, to some degree, isn’t this debate a bit like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a needle? The Trinity is a glorious mystery. Let’s love the Lord with all our mind, but not allow such a wonderful mystery to bring division. Instead, let’s consider who God is and embrace how much we rely on his revelation. This debate only grows my sense of worship for who God is and how he has made himself known through the Word.

    • Does self-denial necessitate two wills? As of now I’m leaning towards the EFS side of the debate, but can be persuaded otherwise. I’m just not sure that the Son’s submission to the Father requires two wills.

      I think that’s a very necessary question to ask and have answered from the EFS side. I would love to know how Ware or Grudem would answer this. For my part, it’s difficult for me to conceive of submission without positing a distinction in will, because in the normal way we talk about submission, it means “the subjection or acquiescence of one will to another.” Or, if you prefer the actual dictionary: “the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” It doesn’t mean that those two wills are originally at odds with one another; they may will the very same thing. But it does seem to me that submission requires two wills.

      “What [would] the relationship between Persons of the Trinity […] be if there is zero submission prior to the incarnation?” Was the Son always the Son? Was the Father always Father? etc. .. . . Living in eternal-relationship as Father and Son and Spirit would require some measure of submission because of their distinct roles.

      Here you’re rehashing points 7 and 8 in the original post. So, yes, non-EFS guys affirm the eternality of the Persons of the Trinity. But they say that reading authority and submission into the roles of “Father” and “Son” is to take an analogy of being from the natural world and wrongfully read it into Scripture. In other words, you’d be saying, “Scripture calls the Father and Son, ‘the Father’ and ‘the Son,’ and authority and submission mark the relations between human fathers and sons, so therefore, Scripture must communicate the concepts of authority and submission by naming the Persons of the Trinity in this way.” Non-EFS guys say that’s the wrong way to operate in this discussion. I tend to agree with them on that point.

      Rather than authority and submission, the non-EFS guys say that what Scripture means to predicate of the Persons by calling them ‘Father,’ and ‘Son,’ is “begottenness.” I think they’re right on that, because when you add the Spirit into the mix, the paradigm of authority and submission isn’t as natural as it seems to be with Father and Son. I think, “Father: Authority; Son: Submission; but Spirit: More Submission? What’s the analogy of being from human relationships between a father, a son, and one’s spirit?” Rather, the Spirit is called ‘the Spirit’ because of His eternal procession from the Father and the Son. The distinction in the personal subsistences of the Trinity mean to describe unbegottenness (Father), generation (Son), and spiration (Holy Spirit).

      I found this article helpful on that: https://theologyoutofbounds.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/some-observations-on-the-eternal-functional-subordination-debate/

      I don’t think that means there are two wills, but one unified will that embraces the fullness of Persons and roles within the Tri-Unity of the Godhead.

      Yes, and again, I’d like to see Ware or Grudem hammer that out consistently within the framework of their view. Mark Jones posted today (http://newcitytimes.com/news/story/subordination-in-the-pactum-and-the-irony-of-ess) with some insight from Owen and Goodwin on how the one will – three Persons thing works itself out:

      [Owen:] “The will of God as to the peculiar Actings of the Father in this matter, is the Will of the Father; And the Will of God, with regard unto the peculiar Actings of the Son, is the Will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry Wills, but by the distinct Application of the same Will unto its distinct Acts, in the Persons of the Father and the Son.”

      [Jones:] That is to say, the personal distinction in the one will of God occurs at the level of “distinct acts,” not “distinct wills.”

      We can speak of distinct acts within the one will because the will is proper to the nature of God, not his personhood. There is essence-appropriate language and persons-appropriate language. The language of will belongs to “essence-appropriate” language.

      The will of God has three subsistences, but there remains (and only can remain) one will in God.

      Lastly, to some degree, isn’t this debate a bit like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a needle?

      I don’t think so. I think it’s really about disciplining ourselves to understand what God has and has not revealed of Himself in Scripture. So far as they’ have been stated up till this point, there is a substantive difference between the two positions. We ought to give ourselves to graciously working out what that difference is and whether one position should be abandoned for another.

      Plus, if you conclude that this is just angels on the head of a pin, I’m not sure how you wouldn’t conclude that of just about all the early ecumenical councils, which hammered out these issues (and even finer distinctions) over hundreds of years. Absolutely, it should move us to worship; we shouldn’t let it be arcane academia. But we also need to be patient and not throw up our hands too quickly. It’s a privilege to consider these things — a blessing that God even allows us to do so. Let’s not throw away our blessing because it’s difficult.

      • Mike McGarry

        Thanks, Mike, for such a thoughtful response.

        Regarding the point about submission requiring two wills:
        You wrote “But they say that reading authority and submission into the roles of “Father” and “Son” is to take an analogy of being from the natural world and wrongfully read it into Scripture. …Non-EFS guys say that’s the wrong way to operate in this discussion. I tend to agree with them on that point.”

        If the the non-EFS group can provide a right way and a wrong way to operate the discussion, why can’t the EFS group? I hope this doesn’t sound too postmodern or whatever, but who’s granting the authority to deny a self-defeating framework for one group but not the other?

        If there are three distinct, united, and equal Persons in the Trinity, who’s to dictate the terms of their union? What if the decree/submission of divine action are merely two sides of the same united will? Is this not where the inseparable operations of the Trinity comes into play? Where there is agreement between two people, is there one will or two wills? At this point, I would say there is one will (even if one person take the lead and the other plays a support role). There would be two wills if there were different desires, but I don’t believe that is a factor in the EFS debate.

        My comments above weren’t to disparage the validity of the debate (which I now appreciate as more valuable than when I wrote the comment this morning), but to merely acknowledge that while there are positions that may be considered unorthodox (denying ontological subordination), there are other points of disagreement that remain in the family of orthodoxy. I hope I’m not encouraging sloppy theology, simply attempting to recognizing that areas of this stretch into unclear waters about the mysteries of the Trinity.

        As a pastor (probably the only youth pastor commenting on these blogs?), one of the reasons parishioners struggle with theology is because theologians so often verbally affirm God’s mysteriousness even while they argue with each other about what lurks within that mystery. Yes, we need to explore and do the hard work of theology, but we also need to embrace the reality that there are some attributes where we will need to joyfully and worshipfully profess, “I don’t know.”

        I stretch beyond this I’ll probably be going beyond my competency…

  • Robert Widdowson

    You wrote:

    ‘Both proponents and opponents reject the doctrine of ontological subordination, that is, that Son is somehow inferior in His being/essence to the Father. That is Arianism.’

    I don’t believe everyone on the EFS would agree with this summary point. Some EFSers do advocate an ontological subordination of the Son to the Father. And, if they do, therein lies the problem.

    • I haven’t seen anyone affirming EFS who also affirms ontological subordination. In fact, I’ve only seen them explicitly deny it. For example, Bruce Ware, one of the major players on the EFS side, says:

      We stand fully with the early ecumenical councils in embracing all that they say about the eternal deity of the Son and the full unity and co-eternality of the one God who is three. And we reject all forms of ontological subordinationism in affirming the full, unqualified, co-eternal deity of the Son, with the Father and the Spirit.

      Could you provide a quote from someone affirming ontological subordination?

      • Robert Widdowson

        Yes, I’m in the process of doing just that. I hope to have a quote by early next week. (It’s at work and I’m on a long-weekend).

      • Mike,
        Thanks for your work on this!

        I was taught that Edwards and Berkhoff affirmed ontological subordination… not that they did ;).

        Edwards in his unpublished essay on the Trinity, when he states that the Son: “…is the eternal, necessary, perfect, substantial and personal idea which God hath of Himself”.

        Berkhoff when he states that in the Father begetting the Son, the Father was the “grounds” for the Son’s existence. That is, some understand Berkhoff to be saying that the Son’s existence depended or depends upon the Father. He defines the eternal generation of the Son as: “It is that eternal and necessary act of the first person in the Trinity, whereby He, within the divine Being, is the ground of a second personal subsistence like His own, and puts this second person in possession of the whole divine essence, without any division, alienation, or change.”

        • Yeah, I don’t understand this as well as I should, but the reason I think that’s not “ontological subordination” is because ontology describes essence or being (ousia), whereas eternal generation describes “personal subsistence,” as Berkhof said (hupostasis). Ontological subordination would be that the Son derives His ousia from the Father (and that would be a species of Arianism), whereas eternal generation (which is what I think Berkhof is saying, not sure about Edwards without more context) speaks of the ground of the Son’s hupostasis.

          • Totally agree. I just threw it out there because, as you point out, clear definitions are often lacking in these discussions, and some people get labeled as heretics, not because they are, but because they are using a term in a different way we are.

            In addition, we can talk about eternal generation all we want, and we ought to be as clear as possible. But at the end of the day, there is mystery in the Trinity that fuels our worship, and cannot be understood. As Spurgeon said of eternal generation: it “does not convey to us any great meaning; it simply covers up our ignorance.” :).

            By the way, here is the link to Edwards’ essay. It’s an interesting read, and I think there’s a reason it was unpublished :).
            http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/trinity/files/trinity.html

      • Robert Widdowson

        Still trying to locate the direct quote from the EFSer. Meanwhile, here’s some food for thought. Ware was engaged in the 2008 Trinity Debates (October 9, 2008), where he defended his views on ESS (Eternal Son Subordination) alongside his colleague, Wayne Grudem.

        He was ably challenged by Keith Yandell, and his colleague.

        The Debate may be found on YouTube under the weirdly long title, ‘Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem: Relations of Authority and Submission among the Persons of the Godhead.’ The ghost of some 18th century publisher is lurking in that title.

        At 59:52, Yandell points out one of the problems with ESS. Here’s the link to Yandell’s point: https://youtu.be/ySFrG3mOp5o?t=59m52s

        Ware uses Bauckham’s (sp?) idea of the identity of God. Yandell says:

        ‘What Bauckham means by the identity of God are action descriptions that are true of God, that God called Abraham, gave a law to Moses, that God sent the prophets. No doubt these actions manifest the nature of God, but they do not constitute the nature of God, since God would still be God had God not truly and graciously done these things. The identity of God in Bauckham’s sense has to do with our correctly identifying God; it does not have to do with the metaphysical identity conditions of God with what it is in virtue of which God is God, which is our concern tonight.’

        (You may wish to double-check my transcription; it was done on the fly.)

  • Zachary

    Functional subordination seems to imply a division in function that would only be possible in relation to separate physical beings. The Father is not a man(Numbers 23:19) and thus Jesus being His express image(Hebrews 1:3) is co-eternal and functionally one or equal with the Father( Deuteronomy 6:4, Mark 12:29, John 13:9-11).

    • The Son expresses functional subordination in His incarnation clearly in statements like John 4:34, 6:38, and especially 14:28. All agree that there is functional subordination post-incarnation. The question is whether that functional subordination is expressed in any way in eternity past, before Christ adds to Himself a human nature.

      It might help to read at least some of the articles linked to in the first sentence so as to better familiarize yourself with the discussion. This one by Ware would help you better understand the position you’re arguing against in your comment: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2016/06/god-the-sonat-once-eternally-g.php

      • Zachary

        John 14:28 is explicitly true in regard to Jesus finite nature as a man post incarnation, whereas the Father remained infinite or “greater” if you will. Subordination is another thing entirely. In scripture when our Lord proclaims “not my will” Luke22:42, He speaks to our innate human will/nature of survival and avoidance of suffering. It should not be assumed by the stated verses that Jesus willed for something other than the Father’s declaration of salvation for us, His beloved. Eternal Functional Subordination, however well prefaced is back door Aryianism. 1 John 5:7 “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Let us return to simplicity, worshippers of the Father, in the truth of the Holy Spirit, by the power of the propitionary death, and eternal resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ. The One who we will gaze upon in amazement abounding in light and joy forever! Revelation 21:3-6

        • Eternal Functional Subordination, however well prefaced is back door Aryianism.

          This kind of willful dismissiveness and assertion without argument is a tacit refusal to engage in the present discussion. Please have the courtesy of hearing what people have said before you give an answer (Prov 18:13).

  • Riaan

    Thanks again, Mike. Could you please elaborate on this point you made:

    “Rather than authority and submission, the non-EFS guys say that what Scripture means to predicate of the Persons by calling them ‘Father,’ and ‘Son,’ is “begottenness.”

    I also read in the Sumner article something similar when he writes:

    “The Son is begotten by the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (and the Son). The Father is unbegotten, having life in Himself and proceeding from none other. These are the relations of generation and procession; these alone distinguish the persons from one another in the inner life of God, and these are what the orthodox tradition mean when it refers to “ordering” in the Trinity. The Son is from the Father.

    Thomas Aquinas says that there is an “order” in God, and this is an “order according to origin, without priority” (Summa Theologica I q.42 a.3). That leads me to my next point.” – (from Dr. Sumner’s article)

    I think where I’m having trouble is with the concept of what ‘begotten’ and ‘unbegotten’ means and especially that Aquinas quote (order in God…order to origin). As I initially thought about the concept of Father and Son within in the Trinity it made sense to me that there would exists authority and submission as implied by “FATHER’ and “SON” (but it could be me reading back into the Trinity an earthly understanding). So if not authority and submission what other purpose does it serve to have God as “FATHER” and “SON”. Dr. Sumner offers the explanation of “relations of generation and procession” along with the Aquinas quote. And I need some help with that please.

    • I’m not sure I have the time/ability to give an adequate explanation of that, brother. It’s a big subject. Look for resources on “the eternal generation of the Son,” “the eternal procession of the Spirit,” “generation and spiration,” “the order of the personal subsistences,” phrases like that.

      • Riaan

        Thanks Mike

    • Archepoimen follower

      Some of the confusion as it relates to generation, begotten or unbegotton, especially in Aquinas can be attributed to how we read him. I would argue that for Aquinas and me, GOD, is the one what that the three who ( persons) where eternally generated by. This allows an order of generation without a distinction in beings, tri-theism, or subordination in essence, Arianism. God in linguistic terms is the hypernymy and Father, Son , and Spirit are hyponymy. What makes this issue more confusing is that scripture also uses God as a hyponymy under the hypernymy of God, like southern Americans do with coke, it is a hypernymy that describes all carbonated drinks but also one of those drinks!

      Tim

      • I would argue that for Aquinas and me, GOD, is the one what that the three who ( persons) where eternally generated by.

        But the Father is unbegotten whereas the Son is begotten. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of “the eternal generation of the Father.” That seems fraught with problems, not the least of which is then distinguishing the Person of the Father from the Person of the Son. Plus, consider the names. “Father” speaks of generating (though not in the sense of human generation), and “Son” speaks of generateness (though again not in the sense of human generation). To put all three Persons on a level with respect to generation is to remove any taxis from the Trinity. That’s a step that none of the major players in the present discussion want to take.

        • Archepoimen follower

          Mike,
          You seem to confuse being with persons. God the being is not generated. If the Father is not eternally generated then He is the Godhead itself and not one of the persons. While I agree that generation language of the Father is not normal how else do we explain the oneness of God and maintain the plurality of persons.

          • We simply say that the one God (one being) exists eternally in three co-equal, co-eternal, and consubstantial persons.

            Are you self-consciously deviating from Trinitarian orthodoxy by claiming the eternal generation of the Father? Is there anyone else that you know of in church history who has articulated things this way?

        • Archepoimen follower

          Additionally, the Father-Son language analogy has to do with their roles in redemption not generation, which is highlighted by the lack of correspondence between procession and Spirit.

          Tim

          • That claim is precisely what’s in dispute. Historic Trinitarian orthodoxy has maintained that the Father-Son-Spirit language is precisely describing generation and procession. Again, are you aware that what you’re saying is at odds with historic Trinitarian orthodoxy?

            Also, to say that “the Father-Son language analogy has to do with their roles in redemption” is to relegate the three Persons to the economic Trinity alone. But God is not only functionally Triune; who He is in Himself (ad intra) is Triune. The Persons exist eternally, not merely with respect to redemption.

          • Archepoimen follower

            Actually, you continue to describe God as not a distinct being but as if He is a plurality of beings conjoined. He is indeed Triune, and has always been so. His being is one, this is historic monotheism. A description of God as three beings is polytheistic. God in eternity past did indeed collectively as individual persons choose to collaborate in the Covenant of redemption. This was not as three wills but one will because God is only one What. The roles of Father and Son are a result of this and while these titles are redemptive in nature they have existed from the beginning. This is why as opposed to Ariaus we can say “there was not a time that the Son did not exist” just because I said the roles are redemptive does not deny God has been eternally triune. In fact, this type of mischaracterization is one reason the current debate rages on.

            I also do not believe my actual position is outside historic Christianity, but again this is the language of the current debate, to claim others are heretical based on history as you see it. The real test is biblical orthodoxy for those of us who are Protestant. Yes we recite and believe the creeds but only as they conform to scripture. The same is true with the church fathers.

            In Him whose Grace is sufficient for all.

            Tim

          • Actually, you continue to describe God as not a distinct being but as if He is a plurality of beings conjoined.

            I don’t believe I have done that. It would help, if you’re going to make this kind of accusation, to quote me specifically and explain precisely how you think I’m advocating three beings. I contend I’ve done no such thing.

            God in eternity past did indeed collectively as individual persons choose to collaborate in the Covenant of redemption. They did this not as three wills but one will because God is only one What. The roles of Father and Son are a result of this and while these titles are redemptive in nature they have existed from the beginning.

            If the roles of the Father and the Son are a “result” of the covenant of redemption, were the Persons of the Triune God not “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” before the covenant of redemption? (I understand “before” is not precise when speaking of eternity past, but then neither is “result.” So hopefully the question makes sense to you.)

            Just because I said the roles are redemptive does not deny God has been eternally triune.

            So, Jones and Barrett quote Owen talking about the covenant of redemption bringing “a new habitude of will in the Father and Son towards each other that is not in them essentially. I call it new, as being in God freely, not naturally.” There, Owen says what’s new is not the Persons’ roles as Father and Son, but that they who have always been Father and Son experience a “new” way of willing something. Would you acknowledge that your position is different from Owen’s? If so, does that concern you at all?

            I also do not believe my actual position is outside historic Christianity, but again this is the language of the current debate, to claim others are heretical based on history as you see it.

            I should say that that wasn’t my intent. I was genuinely asking if you thought your position was consistent with historic orthodoxy or if you were self-consciously departing. So I wasn’t calling you heretical.

            However, can you produce a quote from any Christian in church history who claims that the Father is begotten by the divine essence? It’s just such a surprising suggestion to me, because I don’t recognize it at all. I suppose that could be my fault. Maybe you’re somehow distinguishing between “begetting” and “generating”? If so, I think that’s the wrong way to go, as “begotten” translates the Greek word gennetos (from which we get “generate”).

            So if those two concepts are speaking of the same reality, I can’t see how you’d not be at odds with the Athanasian Creed, which says:

            The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

            Yes we recite and believe the creeds but only as they conform to scripture.

            That’s fine. You can disbelieve the creeds if you find them to be at odds with Scripture, but if you do, you should at least say you’re doing this. And I think you’re going to have a bear of a time proving from Scripture (a) that the Father didn’t beget the Son, and (b) that the Father Himself is begotten.

          • Archepoimen follower

            Mike,
            I do indeed deny what Owen’s claims if he was quoted accurately. I do believe that the Covenant of redemption was in eternity past and therefore is essential to God’s nature. In using eternity past, I intend that this covenant is essential to the being of God. Not sure that is expressed properly but I would deny any prior existence in the Godhead that did not include the covenant of redemption and therefore cannot be a ‘new way’ of willing.

            Finally, what passages in scripture speak of the Father begetting the Son? The Spirit proceeding from the Son? Of course, these would necessarily only be applicable if they reference God’s essence.

            Tim

          • I do believe that the Covenant of redemption was in eternity past and therefore is essential to God’s nature.

            So you think that God’s decision to save was a necessary, and not a free decision? I think you’re digging yourself deeper as you go, friend.

            I think you’re genuinely confused about the doctrines of eternal generation and procession, Tim. Even your last sentence about verses on begetting being applicable only if they reference to God’s essence — that’s assuming your own position, that it’s the undifferentiated essence of God that somehow begets/generates the Father, Son, and Spirit.

            Because of that, I think going down that road with you will be unfruitful. You already said you disagree with Owen, you left out any comment on the Athanasian Creed. Do you disavow that as well? If not, you believe that the Father is not begotten/generated. If you do disavow the Athanasian Creed, I think the discussion is over. Please let me know.

  • In addition to the other new articles linked throughout the comment thread, see these sharpening thoughts from Matthew Barrett: http://www.credomag.com/2016/06/16/better-late-than-never-the-covenant-of-redemption-and-the-trinity-debates-matthew-barrett/. Barrett seems to be coming from an EFS perspective but clarifies more of what that subordination would look like, and what it would not mean. He affirms one will in the Godhead, diothelitism, etc., but also sees the pactum salutis requiring some form of obedience in eternity.

    “So to summarize thus far: pushed to their extremes, both roads have problems. If we say the economic and ad extra says nothing about the immanent and ad intra, then we risk dividing the works of the Trinity from the identity of the Trinity, succumbing to some form of agnosticism. On the other hand, if we press the economic and ad extra into the immanent and ad intra too far then we risk equating the two, making the Son’s redemption inherently necessary rather than voluntary, potentially creating three wills in God.”

    “So we must say there is obedience in eternity, and this obedience is inseparably related to the love between the persons. The only question is whether this obedience is restricted to the economic (read covenant of redemption) or whether it reflects on the identity of each person ad intra. That is a hard question. But to be extra clear: either way you answer that question, you have at the very minimum conceded that there is obedience in eternity (that is, via the pactum salutis). It’s now just a matter of whether you want to restrict this obedience to the covenant of redemption or whether that obedience actually does reflect, in some way, the inherit relations between the persons ad intra.

    “To be perfectly honest, I am still chewing on the answer to that final statement. . . . Yet, I think there are good reasons for answering a very nuanced ‘yes.’ I fear if we don’t then we run the risk of saying the economic does not reflect the immanent whatsoever. . . . These are not two trinities, as if one exists ad extra and the other ad intra. So while it helps to distinguish between ad intra and ad extra, and while we should be on guard against equating the two, nevertheless, it is hard to see how the covenant of redemption in eternity does not in some way reflect the internal life (ad intra) of the Trinity (also in eternity). That said, it is key to stress that such obedience via the pactum salutis is a matter of God’s free decision (which terminates outside of God), in order to highlight the contingency of the incarnation as well as the full equality of the Son.”

  • 4Commencefiring4

    I never knew this was even a thing. EFS, non-EFS…I gotta sit down.

  • Adam

    I’m not so sure about the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in eternity past. The Scriptures do not comment on this so anything beyond what is written is speculation from both sides. John 1:1-2 somewhat implies that there was no subordination, especially when cross-referenced with Philippians 2:6. What the Scriptures do give us without question is that subordination came at the Incarnation when the Eternal Word was made flesh; thus, in this context subordination came with a specific purpose as Philippians 2:7-8 shows. Before this, the Scriptures do not reveal any purpose for the necessity of the Son’s submission to the Father. Bear in mind, that when the plan of redemption was made within the Godhead in eternity past, it was an agreement between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and this does not require submission; at least not at that point in time. There can be agreement within the Godhead without requiring a submissive role until the appropriate time in which it is called for. In other words, the submission is only necessary when the plan is carried out. Only when the Eternal Word becomes the Son of Man do the Scriptures indicate the necessity of submission. This submission, while agreed upon in eternity past, existed only in principle and was not actualized until due time when the Eternal Word became Jesus of Nazareth. From what I see in Scripture, the principle of submission always in context carries with it a definite purpose. The Scriptures simply do not reveal any purpose in eternity past requiring subordinate roles within the Godhead. To argue that the Son was eternally submissive to the Father is to depart from how the Scriptures apply the principle itself; namely, that submission is necessary only when, for example, there is a master-slave / king-servant role involved. And this simply did not exist in eternity past within the Godhead – at least the Scriptures do not reveal it. The Scriptures tell us this “Master-Servant” role between Father and Son only materialized at the Incarnation, not before.

    • Adam, I think if you read some of the articles that are linked in the post (see the links in the first sentence) and in the comment thread, you’ll see that the issue isn’t as straightforward as you present here.

      For example, when you write, “When the plan of redemption was made within the Godhead in eternity past, it was an agreement between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and this does not require submission; at least not at that point in time,” that’s one of the very issues being debated. And so it would be helpful for you not to simply make that assertion, but to have read what other guys have said on both sides of that issue and explain why their arguments do or do not succeed.

      • Adam

        Thanks Mike. I will. But I feel as though I did make my point and didn’t just make an assertion. I argued from the perspective of how the Scripture itself applies the principle of subordination and submission and then applied that to the Godhead. This is sound reasoning. I think anything beyond that is unwarranted and opens the door for much speculation. (which isn’t necessarily bad) without any Scripture references to support the claims. Contrary to what some may say, I believe it is pretty straightforward My two primary contentions are:
        (1) The Bible simply does not require nor does it ever present submission and subordination when there is no purpose behind it and when there is no action coupled to the purpose. If this is wrong, I would kindly ask for an example.
        (2) There was no action in eternity past that necessitated subordinate roles within the Godhead. At least I don’t see where there is. Once again, if I am wrong I kindly ask for an example, not merely speculation about what someone thinks.
        The two fundamental laws of interpretation – cross referencing and context – both support the dual “assertions” I have given.