The Eternal Subordination of the Son Controversy: 9. Indivisible Divine Authority in Mutually Defining Relations

1. The Debate So Far
2. Survey of Some Relevant Material
3. Subordination
4. The Need for Trinitarian Clarity (Part 1)
5. The Need for Trinitarian Clarity (Part 2)
6. The Tension Between Bible and Doctrine
7. Reconciling Scripture and Dogma
8. κεφαλή in 1 Corinthians 11:3

The ninth part of my treatment of the eternal subordination of the Son debate has just been published over on Reformation21:

This does not mean no economic differentiation between the persons can be spoken of here. As John Webster writes:

“Indivisibility does not disqualify personal differentiation or restrict it simply to the opera internae. It indicates that economic differentiation is modal, not real, and reinforces the importance of prepositional rather than substantive differentiation (‘from’ the Father, ‘through’ the Son, ‘in’ the Spirit). Modal differentiation does not deny personal agency, however; it simply specifies how the divine persons act. ‘[T]he several persons’, Owen notes, ‘are undivided in their operations, acting all by the same will, the same wisdom, the same power. Every person, therefore, is the author of every work of God, because each person is God, and the divine nature is the same undivided principle of all divine operations; and this ariseth from the unity of the person in the same essence.'”

Relating this to divine authority, we could speak of the Father as the source of authority and the authorizing One–authority comes from him. The Son is the entirely authorized One and the One through whom God’s authority is exhaustively effected. The Spirit is the One in whom authority is given, enjoyed, and perfected. Authority thus understood is singular, eminently assigned to the Father, yet the inseparable possession and work of the undivided Godhead.

This in turn can serve to clarify our understanding of the incarnate Christ’s mission. Rather than understanding the Son’s relation to the Father in terms of a framework of authority and submission, this suggests that we should think in terms of different modes of a single, undivided divine authority. It is through the divine Son that the one authority of God is effected.

The manner in which the Son brings about the authority of God in history is through the path of human obedience. As a man with a human nature and will Christ submits to and is obedient to the will of God. However, this obedience can only truly be perceived for what it is when it is seen against the background of the fact that he is the authoritative divine Son. He is the one who can forgive sins. He is the one who can command the elements, cast out demons, and heal the sick, exercising the authority of God as his own. He is the one who receives the Spirit without measure and the radiant and glorious theophanic revelation of God on the Mount of Transfiguration. We are left in no doubt of the divine authority of Christ. The obedience and humiliation of Christ is the (paradoxically) authoritative work by which he overcomes human rebellion, reconciles humanity to God, and defeats Satan.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in 1 Corinthians, Bible, Christology, Doctrine of God, Guest Post, NT, NT Theology, The Triune God, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Eternal Subordination of the Son Controversy: 9. Indivisible Divine Authority in Mutually Defining Relations

  1. Physiocrat1 says:

    It seems to me that this debate can only be settled by answering these three questions:

    1. What properties of God are philosophically necessary? Is divine simplicity, for example, required.

    2. Is analogical speaking strictly valid? If so what is its scope and what are the principles of using it vis a vis univocal speaking?

    3. What principles can be deduced for distinguishing biblical speakings of God as those referencing God in himself and those in the act of redemption etc?

    If there is agreement on these three questions I don’t think there’d be much debate on ESS. For instance it would be interesting to note where the disputants sit on divine simplicity- I suspect we’d find a very clear dividing line in each camp ESS.

    A three part debate on the above issues would I think be very illuminating on this issue.

  2. Aaron Siver says:

    I’m waiting to see if you’ll be denouncing anyone as a heretic in the finale. :-p

  3. Aaron Siver says:

    In part eight, you showed that κεφαλή isn’t quite what many have taken it to be. And here in part nine, you note that caveat and then proceed for the sake of argument with the premise that κεφαλή is just straightforwardly an authority claim. Briefly (or not), what (more) would you say on the subject in part nine if you did not grant the κεφαλή authority claim? What additional insight would your analysis in part eight bring to your analysis in part nine?


    • That isn’t quite what I’m doing. Rather, I’m trying to show that it is possible for us to recognize the connotations of authority and κεφαλή in key respects, without employing the framework of ‘authority over’ or thinking of the Trinity in terms of an authority-submission model. κεφαλή can be seen as relating to a particular mode of authority, not authority simpliciter.

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