The Heresy of Subordinationism — Was Jesus Eternally Subject To Yahweh?

Nass argues that as Jesus, ontologically equal in nature to the Father, is nonetheless subject to him in the Trinity, so are women, ontologically equal to men, in Biblical church, family, and society.

But this is a wrong conclusion based on an errant understanding of the nature of the Trinity. It is the ancient heresy of subordinationism, and is contrary to both Scripture and the creeds built from it. Here’s my response to him on this very serious matter:

“No, no, no!!!!

You are committing what has traditionally been referred to as the doctrinal heresy of intra-Trinitarian subordinationism. This is what Athanasius attempted to correct in the creed that bears his name. The Church has always taught that there is no hierarchy in the eternal Trinity and that Christ was only subjected to the Father in the Incarnation.

The Trinity is a bond of co-equal Persons in mutually loving relationship; the hierarchy implied by “Father and Son” stems from an unfortunate literalness of what is clearly metaphor — again, Jesus wasn’t the kid who was fathered by the Eternal One, appearing in the Trinity from a begottenness expressed in time. The pre-existent One who is the second person of the Trinity is described, imperfectly and humanly, as Son because he was “begotten” of Yahweh while existing eternally alongside him. It’s not “father and son” as we think it; our God graciously describes the incomprehensible through metaphor, and I’m dismayed that you think of the Trinity in terms of what is described as a human “father-son” relationship. In the eternal, non-Incarnation Trinity, there is no hierarchy — something the Church has taught, and fought against, for two millennia. This can be confirmed by a survey of the creeds, the councils, and church history, and I hope you explore it.

I recommend to you Anglican Vicar Kevin Giles’ Book, The Trinity And Subordinationism. Complementarians of late have nabbed subordinationism from the mangled jaws of aberrant doctrine to present it as a lovely model for male-female, God-Christ relations, but any male-female construct based on a false idea of hierarchy between Father, Son, and Sprit is as dead wrong as the heresy behind it. You can argue for complementarianism, but you cannot rightly argue for it from a theologically heretical basis, such as subordinationism in the Trinity. The conclusion then is just as wrong, and just as damaging, as its seed.”

8 Responses to “The Heresy of Subordinationism — Was Jesus Eternally Subject To Yahweh?”

  1. Dontbia Nass says:

    This post comes as no surprise. It is exactly the sort of error one would expect from a feminist.

    The 1646 WCF says the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and that the Spirit eternally proceeds from Father and Son. The Athanasian Creed says “the Son is of the Father alone. . . begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; proceeding.” The Nicene Creed says essentially the same.

    Ascribing the subordinationist heresy to me reflects a failure to recognize that role differences do not mean a difference in nature. Husbands and wives have different roles but that does not imply a difference in nature. A boy is subordinate to his parent but their nature is the same. Father, Son, and Spirit have different roles, but are all equal in nature and attributes. If the different roles are not acknowledged, the Trinity disappears. Jesus is subject to the Father. (1 Cor. 15:27-28). That proof text is extremely important in this context — the Greek word huputasso and its derivatives are important both for understanding the Trinity and for confronting feminist errors. Cf. http://tinyurl.com/r7b5co

    1 Cor. 15:28 points to a future event where Jesus will be subjected to the Father. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown say of this, “Son . . . himself . . . subject — not as the creatures are, but as a Son voluntarily subordinate to, though co-equal with, the Father. In the mediatorial kingdom, the Son had been, in a manner, distinct from the Father. Now, His kingdom shall merge in the Father’s, with whom He is one; not that there is thus any derogation from His honor; for the Father Himself wills ‘that all should honor the Son, as they honor the Father’ (Jn 5:22, 23; Heb 1:6). God . . . all in all — as Christ is all in all (Col 3:11; compare Zec 14:9). Then, and not till then, ‘all things,’ without the least infringement of the divine prerogative, shall be subject to the Son, and the Son subordinate to the Father, while co-equally sharing His glory.”

    Kevin Giles misreads the Bible, Church Fathers, and Reformers. It is no surprise that a feminist finds comfort in his writings. I’ll take the scholarship of men like Robert Letham and Wayne Grudem (who uphold the traditional orthodox view over and against Giles) any time. I suggest you read this scholarly article by committed egalitarian and IVP-published professor Craig Keener who concludes that it is NOT a heresy to call the Son subordinate to the Father. http://tinyurl.com/ol99wn

    The Son is in no way less divine than the Father, but He is nevertheless ruled by Him. Father rules Son only for the Son, seeking the Son’s blessing and glory. Son and Spirit submit to the Father’s rule out of love. Likewise, rule and authority among men was designed to be service for the blessing of all.

    Not all human relationships are hierarchical. Equal relationships among men reflect the essential equality of the Persons of the Trinity. But there is no need to pit the sense in which that is true against the sense in which the Son is ruled by the Father. Sadly, the modern world tends to rebel against any sense of submission that is not mutual and symmetrical. In contrast, the Bible shows us the Son submitting to the Father and always doing His will. Spirit submits to Father and Son. Submission and hierarchy are essential to a proper view of both God and man. A sort of mutuality does exist insofar as leaders must be servants: submission is not enslavement and hierarchy does not mean subjugation. Husbands should sacrifice themselves Christ-like for their wives, and parents for the children. The biblical leader is always the one who must make the greater sacrifice.

  2. Dontbia Nass says:

    Keener is proof that not all egalitarians consider the Son’s subordination to the Father heretical, but I strongly doubt there are people who would join Giles in describing my orthodox views as a “subordinationist heresy” who are NOT egalitarians. Egalitarian scholarship in this area is definitely being pushed by ideology — their colored glasses color their hermeneutic. In any case, if the church had always held to the position espoused by Giles, ordaining of women would not now be controversial.

  3. Dontbia Nass says:

    One more thing: Keely does not need to worry about the inadequacies of language. The Trinity is indeed difficult for us to approach because we are severely limited in manifold ways that God is not, and we cannot ever hope to fully comprehend God. We will spend eternity constantly growing in our understanding of God, yet we will never begin to come close to fully comprehending God. However, as James Jordan has pointed out, God does not have to lisp to us. He designed and created us precisely to be receptors of His truth. Indeed, as His images, we cannot help but know Him. There is absolutely no epistemological gap between God and man. Moreover, what lies behind “anthropomorphic” references is the fact that man, in his totality, was created a “theomorph”! It is God’s nostrils, arms, ears, etc. which are the original; ours are the fleshly copies. Thus, we should maintain that description of the Second Person of the Trinity as Son because he was “begotten” of the Father is not an imperfect condescension by God to babes who constitutionally “can’t handle the truth,” so to speak. There would be no sons if the original Son had not existed first. Keely claims “it’s not ‘father and son’ as we think it”; while I can’t speak for how Keely thinks, it definitely is Father and Son as the Bible describes it. Keely says “our God graciously describes the incomprehensible through metaphor,” but she seems to forget that He created us as His images and so as to be able to know Him and communicate with Him. She is “dismayed” that I “think of the Trinity in terms of what is described as a human ‘father-son’ relationship,” but she has my thinking exactly backwards. I see human father-son relations through the lens of the Trinity, and that is the proper epistemological order for the Bible-believing Christian. (Cf. Ephesians 5:32.)

    If God is so vastly different from us that He can’t even describe Himself to us comphrehensibly, how are we going to spend all eternity in face-to-face fellowship with Him? Are we just going to be “tripping” in His presence for all eternity, going “Oh wow, man, like, wow, man. WOW!”?

  4. How many times, DN, must I write to remind you that the argument about subordinationism focuses on whether or not Christ Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father in the eternal Trinity. I may disagree vehemently with the doctrine of subordinationism, but its wrong and dangerous application as an aberrant doctrine to the common practice of Christian defense of male hierarchy in church, home, and society is the issue at hand.

    You know that. Play fair.

    While I admire Craig Keener, and agree with him that it isn’t considered heretical in the context of this age to believe Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father — when violence done to the Trinity is different in the ways church fathers had to deal with — please be aware of a multitude of scholars who disagree. The issue at hand is indeed subordinationism, but especially subordinationism when used to buttress gender inequality, which is what I object to. Keener, if a subordinationist, is most assuredly not a gender hiearchialist. He is an evangelical feminist.

    And, by the way, most theologians agree that Athanasias was responding to the subordinationist error in composing the creed that bears his name. You ought to be honest and realize that I am not arguing that there are no different roles in the Trinity. I’m arguing against a wrong assumption of hierarchy therein, and applying that to male-female relationships. Please stay on point, and perhaps you could cease criticizing a fine man like Kevin Giles, whom I’ve met, until after you study his work. Then you and Confederate can call him a pagan, feminist wimp.

    Keely

  5. Dontbia Nass says:

    I have never met Kevin Giles, but I have studied his two books on the Trinity and so I guess I satisfy your requirements for being able to level criticism at him. (You know him better than I do, so I’ll take it on your authority that he’s a pagan and a wimp).

    the argument about subordinationism focuses on whether or not Christ Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father in the eternal Trinity.

    Actually, it does not. Part of Giles’ problem is that he makes sloppy use of important terms. “Subordination” and “subordinationism” find frequent use in discourse on the Trinity, and have clearly defined meanings. Theologians have traditionally spoken in some sense of the subordination of Son and Spirit, and the orthodox have always recognized this as being within the boundaries of orthodoxy. Subordinationism, however, refers to the heresy of ontological subordinationism. Ontological subordinationism claims Son and Spirit do not share directly in the very being or essence of God the Father. The term subordinationism, then, is not used with regard to roles (whether eternal or temporal) but rather with regard to ontology only. Giles ignores the distinction between these terms throughout T&S. He claims subordination of the Son was “deemed a heresy in the early church,” ignoring the crucial distinction that it was subordinationism that was deemed a heresy. Without offering an objective assessment of the possibility of the Son’s eternal subordination, Giles repeatedly ignores the important distinction between subordination and subordinationism. The third chapter of T&S, “Subordinating Tradition,” is rife with evidence of how Giles’s dismissal of these standard distinctions has negatively affected his reading of modern evangelicals’ writing on the subject. Grudem and Letham both affirm the ontological equality of the Son with the Father and in so doing reject the heresy of ontological subordinationism. So do I. (Giles unfairly represents most of the theologians cited in that chapter.)

    I may disagree vehemently with the doctrine of subordinationism

    So do I. See the important distinction explained above.

    Christian defense of male hierarchy in church, home, and society is the issue at hand.

    What is “male hierarchy,” Keely? Alpha male, totem pole, that sort of thing? And how do women fit into “male hierarchy”? If I kill the boss, I get to rape all the females?

    The real issue that I’m focusing on is whether God’s design for the hierarchy of the institutions that He established includes a gender aspect, and whether that is related to Trinity. I think we are both agreed that it is related to the Trinity. Your rejection of Trinitarian orthodoxy proclaimed by the church for millennia is related to your rebellion against the hierarchical structures that God, out of His love for us, established so that human society might be more perfectly governed in conformity with His eternal essence.

    most theologians agree that Athanasias [sic] was responding to the subordinationist error in composing the creed that bears his name.

    Uh, no, not most — all theologians recognize that the Athanasian Creed was a reponse to Arianism — a heresy that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the contrived “heresy” that Giles tries to pin on orthodox Trinitarianism.

    I am not arguing that there are no different roles in the Trinity. I’m arguing against a wrong assumption of hierarchy therein, and applying that to male-female relationships.

    Well, if “none dare call it hierarchy,” I’m perfectly happy to agree with you about the roles of “ruler” and “ruled,” “gerund” and “vice-gerund,” “person who gives the orders” and “person who cheerfully obeys,” etc. We can agree to call it Yahweharchy: government in accord with the hierarchical structures that God, out of His love for us, established in conformity with His eternal essence.

  6. Dontbia Nass says:

    By the way, another expression that I certainly won’t insist on everyone using is “the doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father,” because it can be extremely confusing, with possible meanings ranging from the inocuous to the pernicious. I only used the term subordination because of the accusation that I was espousing the heresy of subordinationism.

    If one is talking about offices or authority within the Trinity, the word subordination can be inocuously used. If one uses the word to suggest that the Son is in any way ontologically inferior to the Father, that’s a serious problem.

    By the way, Keely, I’d appreciate it if you would take up 1 Cor. 15:28. Of this verse, Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 315–386) says in Chatechitecal Lecture 15 point #30,

    For He shall be subjected, not because He shall then begin to do the Father’s will (for from eternity He “doth” always “those things that please him” but because, then as before, He obeys the Father, yielding, not a forced obedience, but a self-chosen accordance; for He is not a servant, that He should be subjected by force, but a Son, that He should comply of His free choice and natural love.

    Of course, Cyril of Jerusalem is just one out of many Church Fathers, and they are not all in unanimous agreement. Confusion was not uncommon, and charity demands that confusion needs to be distinguished from charges of heresy, especially when we are talking about the early church.

    Nevertheless, if, as is claimed by Keely, Giles, and a few others (Christians for Biblical Equality), it is orthodox to deny an order among Father, Son and Spirit, and this has been the overwhelming view of the church fathers, or of the historical church, I would like to see that clearly elucidated from the writings of prominent historical authorities. Where in the historical church has this view been long accepted and taught? As far as I can tell, the historical orthodoxy of “feminist-friendly Trinitarianism” seems to be a recent original discovery by feminists. Letham was prescient with his 1990 “Theological Comment” that closed with the warning, “One fails to see how evangelical feminism as such can consistently or for long preserve the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity.” But I’m always willing to be shown how I’m wrong . . .

  7. You know what, DN? We disagree. Your recent erudition notwithstanding, exhaustive exchanges with you aren’t what this blog is about.

    Keely

  8. Dontbia Nass says:

    No problem; I can well imagine that dealing with scripture might leave you feeling exhausted. But if you ever have a desire to sanctify the Lord God in your heart, and be ready to give an answer to every man who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear, please know that 1 Corinthians 15:28, 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 are waiting for you.

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