A Response To Grudem’s Appeal To Hodge On Eternal Subordination

The issue is not so cut and dry, however, because Hodge makes various distinctions in the way he uses the terminology of subordination throughout his chapter on the Trinity.

We see here that Hodge may grant a principle of subordination to the Son, but that subordination cannot be one of His nature or the person holding that view is what he calls a Semi-Arian. Grudem would obviously reject some of the other items listed among subordination, but the point stands that Hodge states a subordination of the Son’s nature among Semi-Arian characteristics. Whatever type of subordination Hodge may accept, it is qualified and is not in the Son’s nature. This would amount to saying that the Son cannot be subordinated in the ontological Trinity.

 

Recent debates regarding the relationship between Father and Son in the Trinity have brought many issues into play regarding the roles of exegesis, theological method, and appropriation of history. This last issue is the topic of this piece and the main reason to focus on how some have appropriated history is because when we engage historical texts, we are doing exegesis. If we exegete historical documents poorly, then there is reason to think we are susceptible to the same error when we exegete Scripture.

Two recent blog posts have tried to heap up historical claims for the position called “Eternal Subordination of the Son” (ESS) or “Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission” (ERAS). The post I address is that by Wayne Grudem.

The first issue at stake is the fact the vast majority of his historical quotes come roughly from within the last one hundred years. That can hardly be considered part of the tradition that defines orthodoxy. In fact, some of these quotes come from within the group whose views are under question. Such is not an historical argument at all. Saying, “My contemporaries who helped develop this view agree with me,” does not constitute historical evidence in any sense.

The next and primary issue has to do with contextualizing the quotations. I focus on the example of his citation of Charles Hodge:

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. (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 460–62) (emphasis is Grudem’s)

The issue is not so cut and dry, however, because Hodge makes various distinctions in the way he uses the terminology of subordination throughout his chapter on the Trinity. For example, Hodge actually describes one tenet of Semi-Arianism thus:

(3) The Son was, therefore, subordinate to the Father, not merely in rank or mode of subsistence, but in nature. He belonged to a different order of beings. He was not αὐτόθεος, ὁ Θεός, or, ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεός; but simply θεός, a term which, according to Origen could be properly applied to the higher orders of intelligent creatures. (Systematic Theology, I:456)

We see here that Hodge may grant a principle of subordination to the Son, but that subordination cannot be one of His nature or the person holding that view is what he calls a Semi-Arian. Grudem would obviously reject some of the other items listed among subordination, but the point stands that Hodge states a subordination of the Son’s nature among Semi-Arian characteristics. Whatever type of subordination Hodge may accept, it is qualified and is not in the Son’s nature. This would amount to saying that the Son cannot be subordinated in the ontological Trinity.

Hodge goes on to say in his discussion of the Arians that the in Arian view, “this subordination was not simply as to the mode of subsistence and operation, but as to nature.” (Systematic Theology, I:452–53)

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