Eternal Relational Subordination and the History of the Church (Pt. 2)

57KRVGK2H9In the first part of this article I argued that evangelicalism is engaged in a civil war on the theological battlefield of Trinitarianism in regard to the heated and divisive issue of the eternal relational subordination of the Son. For an elaboration of this statement, see Part 1.  One common argument against the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) is that it is a modern invention created in the 20th century by those who were looking for added theological support for discussions of gender and church roles. Opponents of ESS claim that using the eternal subordination of the Son  as a way to support gender distinctions within the church and marital relationships is heretical because it goes against the orthodox teaching of the church.

Is this accusation valid? In the previous article we saw that among church fathers of the patristic period there was no harmonious agreement either rejecting or accepting the eternal relational subordination of the Son from 1 Corinthians 15:27-28. But what about during the medieval, Reformation, and post-Reformation periods? The following is an examination of 1 Cor. 15:27-28 in post-patristic church history. At the close of this article I will offer some concluding thoughts and the implications of this study on the current Trinitarian debate. Continue reading

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Eternal Relational Subordination and the History of the Church (Pt. 1)

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Evangelicalism is engaged in a civil war on the theological battlefield of Trinitarianism in regard to the heated and divisive issue of the eternal relational subordination of the Son. In short, there are those who assert God the Father and Jesus the Son are fully equal in every way within the immanent Trinity (God as he exists in eternity, apart from creation), and only in his humanity does the Son willingly subject himself to the Father (the economic Trinity, God in his interactions in this created world).[1] Others say that the Son’s submission to his Father in his humanity is an accurate reflection of their eternal relationship: the Son is eternally “subordinate” to the Father in terms of their roles.[2] Advocates of this second position make clear that the Father and Son are equally God ontologically in eternity, but in their relationship with one another there is an ordering where the Son always voluntarily submits to the Father. Since we are talking about the inner workings of God, tempers quickly flare and discussions quickly turn to arguments in this debate.

One common argument against the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) is that it is a modern invention created in the 20th century by those who were looking for added theological support for discussions of gender and church roles. Opponents of ESS have sought to show that in the history of Trinitarian development within the early church, the church fathers do not speak about the Son as subordinate or submissive to the Father eternally but only in relation to redemptive history.[3] They claim that using the eternal subordination of the Son  as a way to support gender distinctions within the church and marital relationships is heretical because it goes against the orthodox teaching of the church.

So who is right? Did the early church fathers accept or reject the idea of the eternal subordination of the Son as it relates to his relationship with the Father? What about during the Reformation and post-Reformation periods? Contrary to what many are saying the in evangelical community today, there was no general consensus on the topic of the eternal relational submission of the Son to the Father in the history of the church. While some voices seem to oppose ESS, others appear to embrace it. Here are just a few brief examples from one relevant passage: 1 Corinthians 15:27-28. Continue reading