Boundaries in our discussion surrounding Functional Subordination by Rudolph P. Boshoff

The Westminster Confession of Faith reads:

“In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, not proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.” (WCF II.3)

In recent discussions surrounding the interpretation of the Biblical text and more specifically the place of the Son within the Trinity, friends from an Islamic Unitarian perspective, accuse Christians of a very short-sighted reading of their own text. Scriptures like “The Son neither knows the day or the hour” (Matt.24:36), or “the father is greater than I” (Joh.10:30) and even references to “the man Jesus Christ” (1 Tim.2:5) seem to suggest that Jesus was in no way depicted as Divine in any ascended sense. Further, the conversation have moved from ágency’ to ‘subordination’, and they have ended up with a pure reductionist view of the Son. The accusation is not only that there are passages found within the New Testament text that could be problematic to the Orthodox view that suggests that the Son was inferior to the Father. What is also mentioned, is that the subordination of the Son which could be recognized as ‘eternal’ or ‘incarnational’ reveals a confusion that simply proofs the Trinity idea wrong and simply untenable. Jesus clearly takes a role of submission to the Father (Joh. 5:19,22,27,30; 8:28-29, 20:17, Eph.1:17, Rev.3:12, 1 Cor 11:3, Eph.1:22). There are basically three views concerning the ordering of functions or subordination amongst the persons of the Trinity.

table2Ontological Subordination: In this perspective, the Son is subordinate to the Father in both role and nature. All forms of heresy in Christianity seem to affirm this position even though it was clearly not the orthodox affirmation!

Egalitarianism: Even though Jesus appeared to be subject to His father, he was in agreement to the Father who fulfilled the role of ‘originator’. Jesus lays down his functional divine prerogatives as Deity in the incarnation for the purpose of becoming the perfect example to all humankind as well as for the transcendent to become palatable and immanent.   

 Complementarianism: The Son is eternally functionally subordinate to the Father in function at the incarnation, but also eternally subordinate to the Father in his role as Son for the purpose of distinction between these two persons.  

An important point is that the central discussion if Jesus was eternally functionally or just incarnationally subordinate in no way or form leaves both sides as ‘heretics’ or shows a confusion when describing the ‘communicatio idiomatum’[taxis between the human and divine will of Christ] as well as the interconnectedness and ‘circuminsession’ between the divine persons in the Trinity. Here is a synopsis given by Dr. Wayne Grudem as to the idea of Theologians on the Eternal Subordination of Christ.[1]

Revealing the nature of Subordination

I have already mentioned that the discussion surrounding functional subordination rightly requires consideration of two perspectives: 1) Eternal Functional Subordination; 2) Incarnational Subordination. I have clearly stated before that Biblically we can recognize different functions between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Brant Bosserman writes; “there is an order and economy between them [the Persons of the Trinity] (Matt.28:19; John 15:26; Eph.1:3-14).

  • First, in addition to creating the universe (Mark 13:19), and predestining believers unto salvation (1 Pet.1:2), the Father is responsible for directing the Son and the Spirit in their creative and redemptive work (Luke 11:13; John 3:16).
  • Second, the Son is the mediator between God and creation (John 17:23; 1 Tim.2:5) and especially between the Father and believers, as the vessel through whom the Holy Spirit is poured out (John 15:26; Luke 3:16).
  • Third, through whom the Son glorifies and completes the work of the Father and the Son by directing creation back unto God in praise and worship (John 14:26; Gal.4:6). In fact, the Spirit is the archetypal glory of God (1 Pet.4:14; Gen.1:2 with Exod.24:16-17) and the chief object of the Father and the Son’s affection (Isa.43:7, Matt.12:31-32). ”[2]

NB!! The Orthodox affirmation is that the difference in function does not mean an inferiority in divine nature! Now it is important when we frame our discussion to show that Biblically it is quite emphatic that the Son becomes a Servant (Phil.2:2-13) by the Father and His own volition consenting to the purpose of Salvation. Son and Father are in perfect harmony [Pactum Salutis] and have decreed before the foundations of the World as to their eternal plan for Salvation (Matt.25:34; Acts 2:23; Eph.1:4; 1 Pet.1:20). There is therefore a clear ordering of what would happen and how this grand narrative will play out. Millard J. Erickson sums up the current discussion about the Trinity in the following way. “if we must talk of Subordination it is only a functional or economic subordination that pertains exclusively to Christ’s role in relation to human history…Here are two quiet diametrically opposing positions on one basic issue: the eternal authority relationship of the Father and the Son (and for that matter the Holy Spirit as well). The former position maintains that eternally the Trinity is characterized by a hierarchical authority structure: the Father is supreme, possessing supreme authority, and the Son and the Holy Spirit obey His commands, or submit themselves to them. The latter position contends that eternally the Trinity is characterised by an equal authority structure in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit possess equal authority with one another and the submission or obedience of the Son and the Spirit to the Father is a temporal functional submission, for the purpose of executing a specific mission of the Triune God. In some other ways, these two views are mirror images of one another”.[3]images

Now here is the objection to Ware’s statement. If the Son is eternally ‘subordinately inferior’ to the Father, it clearly shows in the ordering of God the Son is not only subordinate in function, but clearly inferior in nature! This is obviously denied by orthodoxy, as the orthodox position always maintained that difference in function is not inferiority in nature! Bruce Ware writes, “The Christian faith affirms that there is One and only One God, eternally existing and fully expressed in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is equally God, each is eternally God, and each is fully God – not three gods but three persons of the one Godhead. Each person is equal in essence as each possesses fully and simultaneously the identically same, eternal divine nature, yet each is also an eternal and distinct personal expression of that one and undivided divine nature”.[4] There should therefore not be an insistence that proponents of E.F.S. leave Christ less than what He is, because the subordination of Christ is in no way seen as a negation of essence, but rather, an actualization of economy. Ware comments; “since by nature or essence the Father, Son, and Spirit are identically the same, what distinguishes the Father from the Son and each of them from the Spirit cannot be their one and undivided divine essence. At the level of divine essence, each is equal as each possesses the identical same divine nature. Rather, what distinguishes the Father from the Son and each of them from the Spirit is instead the particular roles each has within the Trinity – both immanent and economic- and the respective relationship that each has with the other divine Persons”.[5]This again is affirmed by medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas who writes: “As the divine nature, although common to the three Persons, still belongs to them in a kind of order, inasmuch as the Son receives the divine nature from the Father, and the Holy Ghost from them both: so also likewise the power of creation, whilst common to the three Persons, belongs to them in a kind of order. For the Son receives it from the Father and the Holy Ghost from them both.”[6]

There is therefore clearly an order of procession between the Father, Son and Spirit, but not a discharging of Divine possession as to the very central Being of God. Let me just be clear, I deny an ‘ontological’ subordination (Arianism/Socinianism) but affirm an ‘economic’ subordination (functional). I would say in the One Being of God there are “different roles of necessity” between the three distinctly Divine persons, yet, not inferiority of ontology. As for the question of when, I would surmise that the full extent of subordination were made more apparent in the incarnation yet not only as a result of the incarnation. As referenced earlier we see a clear subordination already evident at creation before the incarnation to recognize distinctiveness in role [taxis] in the precision of our recognition in God’s self-revelation. Let me repeat, when it comes to the relation of the relationship between Father and Son, there is an economy of procession and not an inferior economy of possession of Divine attributes! This is exactly what early Unitarian heresies had wrong, they confused procession with possession! Thomas C. Oden describes the heresy of subordinationism as the “false teaching that argues that the Son is eternally and by nature unequal to the Father”.[7] I cannot be more clear than John Frame when he writes; “There is no subordination within the ‘divine nature’ that is shared amongst the persons: the Three are equally God. However, there is a subordination of role amongst the persons, which constitutes part of the distinctiveness of each. Because of that subordination of role, the persons subordinate themselves to one another in their economic relationship with creation”.[8] Oden makes a very good point when he writes “Any Subordinationism that fails to recognize Christ’s return to equality with the Father has not been ecumenically received. Instead, the temporal subordination freely chosen by the Son demonstrated missional accountability by one divine person to another, not of one divine nature to another, for there is only one divine nature”.[9]Dr. Wayne Grudem teaches that: “If we do not have ontological equality, not all the persons are fully God. But if we do not have economic subordination, then there is no inherent difference in the way the three persons relate to one another, and consequently we do not have the three distinct persons existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity. For example, if the Son is not eternally subordinate to the Father in role, then the Father is not eternally “Father” and the Son is not eternally “Son.” This would mean that the Trinity has not eternally existed. This is why the idea of eternal equality in being but subordination in role has been essential to the church’s doctrine of the Trinity since it was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed, which said that the Son was “begotten of the Father before all ages” and that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Surprisingly, some recent evangelical writings have denied an eternal subordination in role among the members of the Trinity, but it has clearly been part of the church’s doctrine of the Trinity (in Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox expressions), a least since Nicea (A.D 325)”.[10]

Humility as  sign of Divinity!

web-hand-farmer-soil-humility-soo-hee-kimshutterstockAnother point of consideration is the very quality of humility in the expressed nature of the Trinity. Biblical authors affirm the humility of Christ in his assumption of the incarnation (Phil.2:7-8, Heb.1:9, 2:7&9, Acts.3:13). The current debate seems to look more to the extent of humility expressed in the ordering before and after Christ’s ascension. Some theologians maintain that Christ needs to be eternally subordinate for the distinct purpose of identity distinguishing between Father and Son. Other Theologians maintain that the Son cannot be eternally ‘inferior’ as this would automatically portray an inferior ordering of the Triune persons within the One Godhead. Before we get to the difference between the son and father temporal or eternal states, we need to discuss the nature of humility. P.T. Forsyth writes, “the beauty of the Son’s simultaneous equality with and obedience to the Father expressed the willing service God intends his people to render”. Christ, therefore, takes an example of humility to be the perfect example of true humanity but also reveals to us that the very act of humility is an essential part of the revelation of one of the core tenets of the Being of God. In essence, Christianity claims a ‘servant’ God. Forsyth asserts, “subordination is not inferiority, and it is Godlike”… “It is not a mark of inferiority to be subordinate, to have an authority, to obey. It is divine”. Forsyth makes it clear that the Son’s obedience to the Father was indeed an eternal obedience, rendered by an eternal equal, constituting an eternal subordination of the Son to do the will of the Father. He writes: “Father and Son co-exist, co-equal in the Spirit of holiness, i.e., of perfection. Father and Son is a relation inconceivable except the Son be obedient to the Father. The perfection of the Son and the perfecting of His holy work lay, not in His suffering, but in His obedience. And, as He was Eternal Son, it meant an eternal obedience; for the supreme work of Christ, so completely identified with His person, could not be done by anything which was not as eternal as His person. But obedience is not conceivable without some form of subordination. Yet in His very obedience the Son was co-equal with the Father; the Son’s yielding will was no less divine than the Father’s exigent will. Therefore, in the very nature of God, subordination implies no inferiority. It is as divine as rule, for it is self-subordination on an infinite scale.[11]

Submission versus subversion

The full reality of Scripture shows each of the “attributes” of God defines the others without dominating the others (perichoresis). God in himself is complete and, in the incarnation, Christ displayed both eternal/temporal attributes he always had which are ‘vindicated’ and ‘restored’ to Him at His resurrection (Joh.2:19-21,10:17-18, 17:5, Acts 5:30-32, Rom. 8:11). In His pursuit to do the will of the Father, he accomplished this as the perfect man by “proportioning” to Himself the full nature of a man (yet, without sin). The full spectrum of Scripture affirms that he retained all the infinite and eternal ‘attributes’, and he allows Himself the restrictions of being “true man” for the purpose of the divine assignment [Note: the action of emptying constituted in Christ own expressed will nl. Phil.2:8, Mat.26:39, Joh.10:18]. The vindication in His resurrection is therefore also an affirmation of His Divinity and the assurance of His completed task revealing His previous state of complexity. As for Ps.37:28 the whole point is that Jesus would not be forsaken in death (Ps.16:10 + Acts 2:27 = the fact) and the cross was an Act of love (Joh.3:16, Eph.2:4, Rom.5:8) and he death Jesus experienced was not mere “window dressing” (Ps.116). It was the single greatest act of humility ever revealed by any idea of God. By attributes, I mean the characteristics “qualities of God that constitute what he is, the very characteristics of his nature”.[12]

Man as expression of the Imago Deiimago-dei-trefoil

Man as the prefect expression of God’s image, ultimately express a perfect life of humility in and through the lives, they live. God will not approach the proud, but He will give perfect grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34, Jam. 4:6,1 Pet. 5:5). This means that God’s communicable attributes are essential to Him but evident in His human creatures where his incommunicable attributes are those attributes where no counterpart can be found at all. On Ware’s quote; he simply explains that Christ embodies two radical perspectives; one of transcendent infinitude & one of immanent finitude as Christian Orthodoxy has always maintained. We hold therefore that the Incarnation was more an addition of human attributes to Christ than a loss of His Divine attributes. Jesus did not cease to be in nature what the Father was but became functionally subordinate to the Father for the period of His Incarnation. We recognize therefore Biblically his actions were always those of divinity and humanity. Erickson cautions us that “we assume that divine nature simply cannot be assimilated with human nature, but that assumption is based on the Greek conception of the impassibility of deity rather than upon the Bible”.[13] It is important to note that the God of the Bible is both “transcendent” and “immanent” and Allah of the quran wholly “transcendent”. Jesus visibly displays to us that He has two natures (100% God/Man) unified in the person of Christ (hypostasis). There is no violation of the “perfect being” of Jesus as God because as the perfect God He is also the perfect man. When Ware use the word “restored” it assumes a previously held position as affirmed by Christ (Joh.17:5, 8:58, Prov.8:23). Gilbert Bilezikian sums up my point in the following way: “The task of the incarnate Son of God required him to be subject to the Father from the time of His birth until the end of all things. The last task the son will accomplish as Redeemer is delivering the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor.15:24). Even in so doing, Christ will be acting as servant to the very end. As he subjects all things to God, Christ will also subject himself to God one last time in order to achieve the goal of redemption for God to be all in all and thus give ultimate oneness to his redeemed creation (1 Cor.15:28). In summary, therefore, Christ was servant to both God and humans without being subordinate to either God or humans. He was servant to God, but equal with Him; He was servant to humans, but Lord over them”.[14]

Summary of eternal functional Subordination?

downloadBruce Ware makes an interesting comment as to the property of subordination when he writes; “the property of “eternal functional subordination” for advocates of Hard EFS—is a property of the person of the Son, not a property of the essence or nature which the Son shares fully with the Father and the Spirit.”[15]“The property of “eternal functional subordination” that the Son possesses and the Father does not possess is indeed a personal property. That is, this is a property of the person of the Son, and it is a property that only could exist in relation to another person. The Son could not possess this property were he a monad or a Unitarian deity. But as the person of the Son, he is under the authority of the Father, and as such his property of “eternal functional subordination” is a property of his personhood or a “personal property.”[16] “[W]hile the Son has properties of his personhood that the Father in his personhood does not and cannot have, yet each and every property of the Son’s divine essence is a property possessed also fully and eternally by the Father in his divine essence. The Son, then, is rightly distinguished in his personhood from the Father, but the Son cannot rightly be distinguished in his essence from the Father, since then the Father would be in essence different from the essence of the Son (and Spirit).”[17]“what marks the Father as the Father, or the Son as the Son, or the Spirit as the Spirit?  Clearly, the distinction of the persons requires that there are distinguishing properties of each person, such that these properties of their unique personhood are essential to that personhood as opposed to being merely contingent or accidental. In short, it does not follow that because the Son has a distinguishing property, a property that he possesses in every possible world, one that he possesses with a de re necessity, and one that he possesses essentially—it does not follow from this that he therefore has a different essence from the Father, so long as that distinguishing property is one of his person and not a property of the common essence he possesses eternally and fully along with the Father and the Spirit”[18].“Faithfulness to Scripture requires affirming both the full equality of essence of the Father, Son, and Spirit, along with affirming the eternal authority- submission role distinctions among those persons. Equality and distinction both must be upheld…”[19]“Eternal generation….is the phrase used to denote the inter-Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son as is taught by the Bible. “Generation” makes it plain that there is a divine sonship prior to the incarnation (cf. John 1:18; 1 John 4:9), that there is thus a distinction of persons within the one Godhead (John 5:26), and that between these persons there is a superiority and subordination of order (cf. John 5:19; 8:28). “Eternal” reinforces the fact that the generation is not merely economic (i.e. for the purpose of human salvation as in the incarnation, cf. Luke 1:35), but essential, and that as such it cannot be construed in the categories of natural or human generation. Thus it does not imply a time when the Son was not, as Arianism argued ….Nor does his subordination imply inferiority….the phrase….corresponds to what God has shown us of himself in his own eternal being….It finds creedal expression in the phrases ‘begotten of his Father before all worlds'” (Nicene) and “begotten before the worlds” (Athanasian).

There is no doubt that the future of this discussion is far from over. Personally, I think there will still need to be a lot more to be read and written on this topic of discussion. As for the Church, I think there is no concern as to the Divine nature of the Son, and neither does E.F.S. threaten this resolve. On points of agreement, all agree the Son is biblically portrayed as of the same ‘substance’ as the Father. The central point of discussion is, if the Son was RBeternally or rather, incarnational subordinate.


Rudolph P. Boshoff.


[1] “Nicaea clearly affirmed that the distinction between the Father and the Son is not ontological or substantial, inasmuch as both are God. It did not clearly specify wherein that distinctiveness does lie. Inasmuch as it is not ontological, it must be relational, as the language of the Bible continues to assert even when we have stripped “begetting” of its ontological implications. At this point, in order to distinguish the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from one another, the language was allowed to carry its economic implications; that is to say, the Persons of the Trinity were seen to differ in the relationship of commissioner and commissioned, the one sending and the one sent (John 3:16, 14:16). Here, finally, the distinction was allowed to rest; the Son, under (sub) the orders of the Father is clearly subordinate in the relationship, although not by nature; the same holds true for the Holy Spirit.”

Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies: the Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984), 133.

Historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893), author of the eight-volume History of the Christian Church (1910), editor of the standard reference work Creeds of Christendom (3 vols., 1931), and also editor of the 23-volume series Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. wrote this about the Nicene fathers:

“The Nicene fathers still teach, like their predecessors, a certain subordinationism, which seems to conflict with the doctrine of consubstantiality. But we must distinguish between a subordinationism of essence (ousia) and a subordinationism of hypostasis, of order and dignity. The former was denied, the latter affirmed.”

(History of the Christian Church, 3:680).

Charles Hodge (1871-1873). (the great Princeton theologian whose Systematic Theology, 100 years after its publication, was still the required text for at least one of my theology classes as a student at Westminster Seminary):

“The Nicene doctrine includes…the principle of the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Father and the Son. But this subordination does not imply inferiority….The subordination intended is only that which concerns the mode of subsistence and operation ….The creeds are nothing more than a well-ordered arrangement of the facts of Scripture which concern the doctrine of the Trinity. They assert the distinct personality of the Father, Son, and Spirit…and their consequent perfect equality; and the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Father and the Son, as to the mode of subsistence and operation. These are scriptural facts, to which the creeds in question add nothing; and it is in this sense they have been accepted by the Church universal.” (Systematic Theology, 460-462).

[Additional statement on 1 Cor. 15:28:] “We know that the verbally inconsistent propositions, the Son is subject to the Father, and, the Son is equal with the Father, are both true. In one sense he is subject, in another sense he is equal. The son of a king may be the equal of his father in every attribute of his nature, though officially inferior. So the eternal Son of God may be coequal with the Father, though officially subordinate. What difficulty is there in this? What shade does it cast over the full Godhead of our adorable Redeemer? . . . . The subjection itself is official and therefore perfectly consistent with equality of nature”

Hodge, 1 and 2 Corinthians (Wilmington, Del.: Sovereign Grace, 1972 reprint of 1857 edition), 185- 186.–

  1. H. Strong (1907). (President of Rochester Theological Seminary; his Systematic Theology was for many decades perhaps the most widely-used text for evangelical Baptists):

“…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while equal in essence and dignity, stand to each other in an order of personality, office, and operation…The subordination of the person of the Son to the person of the Father to be officially first, the Son second, and the Spirit third, is perfectly consistent with equality. Priority is not necessarily superiority. The possibility of an order, which yet involves no inequality, may be illustrated by the relation between man and woman. In office man is first and woman is second, but woman’s soul is worth as much as man’s; see 1 Cor 11:3.”

(Systematic Theology, 342). –

Louis Berkhof (1938). (Professor at Calvin Seminary 1906-1944; his Systematic Theology was perhaps the most widely-used text for Reformed theology through much of the 20th century):

“The only subordination of which we can speak, is a subordination in respect to order and relationship….Generation and procession take place within the Divine Being, and imply a certain subordination as to the manner of personal subsistence, but not subordination as far as the possession of the divine essence is concerned. This ontological Trinity and its inherent order is the metaphysical basis of the economical Trinity.”  (Systematic Theology, 88-89). –

Malcolm B. Yarnell III (2016). (Yarnell is professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.)

“John [in Revelation] has splendidly portrayed Christological monotheism in its eternal and historical dimensions…He has brought together the titles, the functioning, and the worship that indicate Jesus’s equality with, yet subordination to, the Father in the one place where we can view them simultaneously, the eternal throne of God…

“There is an eternal subordination in John’s portrayal of the three. God receives upon his throne the victorious Lamb through whom he sent to be a sacrifice. And the Spirit is sent from the throne into all of creation through the Lamb in order to reveal God and the Lamb. There is no hint here that the subordination of the Lamb and the Spirit is merely historical or merely functional. This is an eternal setting….There is eternal equality in John’s portrayal of the three, too.”

God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 211, 217. –

Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest (1987). (Lewis and Demarest taught theology for many years at Denver Seminary.)

“Alongside the essential equality of persons there exists an economic ordering or functional subordination. Paul implies that, within the administration of the Godhead, the Father has the primacy over the Son…and over the Spirit…And the Son has priority over the Spirit….the ordering relation is eternal and not limited to Christ’s state of humiliation.”

Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), vol. 2, pp. 266-267 –

  1. I. Packer, Knowing God (1973). (Packer is probably the best-known living evangelical theologian, and is sometimes called “the gate-keeper of evangelicalism.”)

“Part of the revealed mystery of the Godhead is that the three persons stand in a fixed relation to each other….It is the nature of the second person of the Trinity to acknowledge the authority and submit to the good pleasure of the first. That is why He declares Himself to be the Son, and the first person to be His Father. Though co-equal with the Father in eternity, power, and glory, it is natural to Him to play the Son’s part, and find all His joy in doing His Father’s will, just as it is natural to the first person of the Trinity to plan and initiate the works of the Godhead and natural to the third person to proceed from the Father and the Son to do their joint bidding. Thus the obedience of the God-man to the Father while He was on earth was not a new relationship occasioned by the incarnation, but the continuation in time of the eternal relationship between the Son and the Father in heaven.” Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 54-55.

Carl F. H. Henry (1982). (Henry taught at numerous evangelical seminaries and was often referred to as “the dean of evangelical theologians” in the last half of the 20th century.)

“The creeds speak of the subordination, distinction and union of the three persons without implying an inferiority of any; since all three persons have a common divine essence they affirm the Son’s subordination to the Father, and the Spirit’s subordination to the Father and the Son. This subordination pertains to mode of subsistence and to mode of operations” (God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, Texas: Word, 1982), vol. 5, p. 205.)

“Christians must . . . avoid claiming supernatural authority for one or another interpretation that seems to resolve the problem of persons and essence in the Trinity” (p. 210).

Jonathan Edwards (1740). (Edwards (1703-1758) is commonly recognized as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, theologian in the history of America.)

 That there is a subordination of the persons of the Trinity, in their actings with respect to the creature; that one acts from another, and under another, and with a dependence on another, in their actings, and particularly in what they act in the affair of man’s redemption. So that the Father in that affair acts as Head of the Trinity, and Son under him, and the Holy Spirit under them both.

 ‘Tis very manifest that the persons of the Trinity are not inferior one to another in glory and excellency of nature… Though a subordination of the persons of the Trinity in their actings be not from any proper natural subjection one to another, and so must be conceived of as in some respect established by mutual free agreement…yet this agreement establishing this economy is not to be looked upon as merely arbitrary…But there is a natural decency or fitness in that order and economy that is established. ‘Tis fit that the order of the acting of the persons of the Trinity should be agreeable to the order of their subsisting: that as the Father is first in the order of subsisting, so he should be first in the order of acting…therefore the persons of the Trinity all consent to this order, and establish it by agreement, as they all naturally delight in what is in itself fit, suitable and beautiful. Therefore, This order [or] economy of the persons of the Trinity with respect to their actions ad extra2 is to be conceived of as prior to the covenant of redemption…

That the economy of the persons of the Trinity, establishing that order of their acting that is agreeable to the order of their subsisting, is entirely diverse from the covenant of redemption, and prior to it, not only appears from the nature of things, but appears evidently from the Scripture…”

  1. “Economy of the Trinity and Covenant of Redemption,” from Jonathan Edwards [1740], The “Miscellanies,” 833-1152 (WJE Online Vol. 20), Ed. Amy Plantinga Pauw.

 Geerhardus Vos (1896). (Vos was professor of biblical theology at Princeton from 1892-1932, and his Biblical Theology was required reading in my classes at Westminster Seminary.)

“Although these three persons possess one and the same divine substance, Scripture nevertheless teaches that, concerning their personal existence, the Father is the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Spirit the third . . . . There is, therefore, subordination as to personal manner of existence and manner of working, but no subordination regarding possession of the one divine substance.” Reformed Dogmatics, translated and edited by Richard B Gaffin, Jr. (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2012-2014, from hand-written lectures in 1896), vol. 1, p. 43.

Robert L. Reymond (1998). (Former professor of theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis Missouri.)

“We know also that his Sonship implies an order of relational (not essential) subordination to the Father which is doubtless what dictated the divisions of labor in the eternal Covenant of Redemption in that it is unthinkable that the Son would have sent the Father to do his will.” A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 336.

Robert Letham (2004). (Letham is professor of theology at Union School of Theology, Oxford, UK (formerly Wales Evangelical School of Theology) and adjunct professor at Westminster Theological Seminary.)

“The Son’s submission to the Father is compatible with his full and unabbreviated deity. Therefore, we may rightly say that the Son submits in eternity to the Father, without in any way breaking his indissoluble oneness with the Father or the Holy Spirit, and without in any way jeopardizing his equality. Being God, he serves the Father. Being God, the Father loves the Son and shares his glory with him (John 17:1-4, 22-24). The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 402.

Bruce Ware (2005). (Ware is professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Though he is a participant in the current discussion, I did not quote him in my earlier brief list, so I include him here.)

“…the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father, and hence, the Son stands in a relationship of eternal submission under the authority of his Father” Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Crossway 2005), p. 71.

Norman Geisler (2003). (Geisler is a well-known professor of theology and apologetics who has taught at several evangelical seminaries and now teaches at Southern Evangelical Seminary.)

“One final word about the nature and duration of this functional subordination in the Godhead. It is not just temporal and economical; it is essential and eternal. For example, the Son is an eternal Son (see Prov. 30:4; Heb. 1:3). He did not become God’s Son; He always was related to God the Father as a Son and always will be. His submission to the Father was not just for time but will be for all eternity.” Systematic Theology vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2003), 291.

  1. Charles Ryrie (1986). (Ryrie was for many years professor of theology at Dallas Seminary.)

“The phrase ‘eternal generation’ is simply an attempt to describe the Father-Son relationship in the Trinity and, by using the word ‘eternal,’ protect it from any idea of inequality or temporality…Priority without inferiority as seen in the Trinity is the basis for proper relationships between men and women (1 Cor. 11:3).” Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986), 54, 59.

– See more at:

[2] The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox: An Interpretation and Refinement of the Theological Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til.  B. A. Bosserman. Pg. 182-183.

[3] Who’s Tampering with the Trinity?: An Assessment of the Subordination Debate

By Millard J. Erickson. Pg.19.

[4] The New Evangelical Subordinationism?: Perspectives on the Equality of God. Pg.13

edited by Dennis W. Jowers, H. Wayne House

[5] Ibid. Pg. 14.

[6] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, Q. 45, a. 6, ad. 2 in St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica, vol. 1

(trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province; repr., Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1981).

[7] The Word of Life. Thomas C. Oden Pg.82.

[8] The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship. Pg. 720.

[9] The Word of Life. Thomas C. Oden Pg.82.

[10]  “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine” Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, 1994. HT: Persis Lorenti. Pg. 251.


[12] Millard Erickson – Christian Theology. Pg.291-293.

[13] Ibid: Pg.753.

[14] “Christianity 101”. Pg. 67.



[17] (p.17 of Grudem-Ware Opening Statement for the Affirmative, on the question, “Do Relations of Authority and Submission Exist Eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?” Debate with Tom McCall and Keith Yandell, held in the chapel of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, October 9, 2008.)



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