Since the false teaching known as Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) was promulgated by Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology, it has been used to wrongly subjugate women and keep them enslaved. “Equal in being, but subordinate in role.” You can say it over and over, and you can enforce it with threats and intimidation but it still does not make it orthodox or true.
False doctrine always leads to bondage. It is the truth that sets one free. So we need a primer on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
There is one eternal being, which we call God. There is only one. He is eternal, simple, infinite in power and majesty. He is everywhere present, beyond all space and time. He is sovereign and does all his good pleasure. He has attributes that belong to him alone. Immutable, infinite, incomprehensible, simple, independent. There is only one being with those attributes. He is not divided, he is not composed of parts, he is not physical, but spiritual.
When we are describing the nature of God, we use the term “essence” or “being”. There is only one being, only one essence, only one will, only one power, only one authority – it is the authority of God. Scripture nowhere speaks of the wills of God. It is only the will of God. Scripture does not speak of the authorities of God, but the authority and power of God. There are not three almighty beings. There is only one.
Hear, O Israel. The Lord, our God, the Lord is One.
And from the very beginning, this one, true eternal God has revealed himself in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. There are not three gods, or three parts of God. But three “subsistences” if you will. Three separate, distinct persons. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. And yet there are not three gods; but one God.
When it comes to defining exactly what a person is, we come away a bit stumped, since there really is nothing in creation quite like it. We say “persons” so we are not silent. We know that there is an “I” a “you” and a “he” in the Holy Trinity. We know that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit. They are distinct and in a relationship of love with one another, for God is love.
It is quite beyond our comprehension.
But it is God’s will to reveal himself to mankind. So the second person of the trinity, of the same essence as the Father, took upon himself the very nature of man in the womb of the virgin Mary. There are not two Christs, but one. Jesus of Nazareth. He remains true and eternal God, even while in the womb of Mary, and even in the sepulchre in Jerusalem. How the living and true God shed his blood is contained in the mystery of the incarnation. He who is life was truly dead for three days.
In the one person of Jesus Christ, there are two distinct natures: true man and true God. Everything you can say about man, you can say about Jesus, except for sin. He was weak, hungry, thirsty, poor, ignorant, liable to death and suffering, submissive, obedient. And at the same time, he was also true and eternal God. Everything you can say about God you can say about Jesus of Nazareth: Eternal, sovereign, omnipotent, creator and sustainer of the universe, simple, uncreated, everywhere present.
And these two natures exist in one person, without confusion, without division, without separation, without change.
This is a great mystery that is more fit to be wondered at than explained any further. The all-wise, all knowing God had to learn his alphabet. The God who is life died and shed his blood. He who knew no sin became sin for us. It staggers the mind.
The person, Jesus of Nazareth, was submissive to the Father with all obedience. He kept the covenant of works perfectly in our place. He obeyed perfectly. Our salvation depends upon it.
The problem with ESS is that it takes that submission, that belongs to the incarnate Christ, and moves it into his divine nature, into eternity, apart from the incarnation. This makes the divine nature submissive. That is, not divine at all.
The orthodox speak of a covenant of Redemption in the eternal counsels of the Trinity, but we must understand that without doing injustice to the sovereignty of the Person of Christ. The covenant of Redemption is this. The Father, representing the Triune God, enters into covenant with the Son, representing his people. The Son will take upon himself human nature and suffer and die for the sins of his people. The Father will exalt him and give him a name which is above every name.
This also is a great mystery, and cannot be pried into any more that what is revealed. We know a little about the divine counsels, when the curtain is drawn back at creation and we hear, “Let us make man in our image.”
There was no authority and submission, no melding of diverse wills, no submitting personalities. A simple statement of divine intention.
Any submission in Jesus Christ is attributed to his office as our mediator, the god/man by virtue of the holy conception and birth of Christ in the womb of Mary the virgin.
For further information, please contact me. The creeds of the church are very helpful and clear.
4 responses to “God in three persons”
Good post. I teach a class on Christology in the fall and will cover some of this. Of interest, I recently came across a strange incorrect teaching: Incarnational Sonship. As presented, Jesus existed before the Incarnation, but did not become Son until that point. I think the person arguing this was in part reactionary to ESS teaching.
Yes I’ve heard that one. I think it’s MacArthurs view.
Thanks Sam and Laura. I didn’t know that John MacArthur believes in ‘incarnational sonship’.
I knew MacArthur had some other whacko doctrines and many misogynistic practices, and if prideful, controlling and resistant to admonishment, but this means he is an out and out heretic!
It’s a good thing I lost all respect for MacArthur years ago.
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