“An authority-submission structure MARKS THE VERY NATURE of the eternal Being of the one who is three. In this authority-submission structure, the three Persons understand the rightful place each has. The Father possesses the place of supreme authority, and the Son is the eternal Son of the eternal Father. As such, the Son submits to the Father just as the Father, as eternal Father of the eternal Son, exercises authority over the Son. And the Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son. This hierarchical structure of authority exists in the eternal Godhead even though it is also eternally true that each Person is fully equal to each other in their commonly possessed essence. The implications are both manifold and wondrous as we ponder this authority-submission structure which not only is accepted but is honored, cherished, and upheld within the Godhead” (Bruce Ware, “Beholding the Wonder of Our Triune God: Importance of This Doctrine,” from “Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005, page 21).
The “Trinity” series will continue with a quote from Bruce Ware’s book (as given above). I capitalized a phrase at the beginning, “marks the very nature.” The reason why I did this is because it contradicts the subordinationist stance. Notice that Ware is quick to say, “each Person is fully equal to each other in their commonly possessed essence.” However, what does Ware mean by a “commonly-possessed essence”? Isn’t there ONLY ONE essence that the members of the Trinity share? One easily discovers that Ware’s language demonstrates that there is a “common essence,” but also an “uncommon essence.”
Millard Erickson, author of “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordinate Debate,” shows us the “uncommon essence”:
“It is important to notice that this differentiation in which the Father is eternally supreme and the Son and the Spirit eternally submit to the Father is described as a structure that ‘marks the very nature’ of God. IT IS THEREFORE INTRINSIC TO THAT DIVINE NATURE. Things could not have been otherwise. This means that each of the three persons has roles that are unique
to him and that THESE ROLES ARE ETERNAL” (Millard Erickson, “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, page 37).
If something is intrinsic to one’s nature, then it must be “of the essence,” essential to the Person of the Trinity. In this case, if subordination is part of the very nature of the Trinity, then we end up with a “less-Deity” Jesus and “less-Deity” Holy Spirit.
Since the subordinationists like to use human analogies to make their case regarding the Trinity, let’s oblige them for a moment. At the current moment, I’m a student. My function in this society is a student (although I pay bills). But is being a student INTRINSIC to my nature? Was it NECESSARY for me to be a student to be human? NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! I could have decided to be an astronaut or a basketball player. I could have become a full-time member of an international music group. I could have become the owner of a restaurant chain, etc. My function in society is not “essential” to my existence (although I don’t think I would enjoy life half as much if I had done anything else except go to school!!).
Now, as a student, I’m not “eternally subordinate” to my professors. Although my professors are my academic and ecclesiastical superiors, one day I will graduate with my PhD and they will have to stand and acknowledge my achievement as I walk across the stage to receive my degree. One day, I will be their academic equals (and theological equals as well). Everyone knows that their students do not always stay “subordinate” to them. Their students may even surpass them in their educational pursuits...if this is true, then it is also true that the function of Christ as “eternally subordinate” goes against that idea. Christ as Savior offered Himself for mankind “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). How could He do this “once” but be “eternally subordinate”? if the function, coming to die for mankind, occurred “one time” for all of history, then why would Christ be PERMANENTLY held in this position?
The Scriptures testify to the difference between “temporary” and “eternal”:
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they OFFER CONTINUALLY YEAR BY YEAR, make those who approach perfect. For then WOULD THEY NOT HAVE CEASED TO BE OFFERED? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices THERE IS A REMINDER OF SINS EVERY YEAR. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4, NKJV).
The law was a “shadow” and “not the very image” of what was to come. Because it was “impossible” for the temple sacrifices to do away with sin, there was a need for something “superior” to temple sacrifice. Notice that the sacrifices are offered “continually year by year.” The temple sacrifices are eternally subordinate in their effect.
But Christ is the ULTIMATE sacrifice:
“And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, WHICH CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:11-12, NKJV).
The Lord Jesus gave His life for the world ONCE, and His sacrifice is still saving those who come to Him by faith. He is not “eternally subordinate,” but “eternally superior.”
If His function on earth was to “save” through His blood, and His blood has already been shed, then what need is there for Him to retain this function eternally?
The writer of Hebrews realized Christ was God, and he contrasts the Father’s treatment of the angels versus that of Christ Himself:
“But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ And of the angels He says:
‘Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.’
But to the Son He says:
‘Your throne, O God, IS FOREVER AND EVER; a scepter of righteousness is THE SCEPTER OF YOUR KINGDOM” (Heb. 1:6-8, NKJV).
Notice that in verse 8, the Father calls His Son “God,” and tells His Son that “your throne...is forever and ever.” In addition, the Father tells the Son that He rules the Kingdom: “the scepter of Your kingdom.” The Son’s rule is ETERNALLY. One who “rules” cannot be “subordinate.” Since the Son rules eternally, He cannot be ETERNALLY subordinate.
If all three members of the Trinity agreed with one undivided will to create the world, and agreed to make man in “our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26-28), then what makes us think any one member is “eternally” subordinate?
I’ll continue with more of our series in my next post.