Eternal Subordination of the Son and the ESV Translation

ESS does indeed appear to have influenced the translation of the ESV.

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou/emautoú as “authority” is apparent in the John 16:13 passage. That passage is speaking of the Spirit. While the Son, after the incarnation, has a human will and a divine will, the Spirit does not. The Spirit’s authority is always the one divine authority. If the Spirit is not speaking on His “own authority,” whose authority is He speaking on?

 

One of the questions I was asked in my interview with the Theology Gals was about the connection between the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) and the ESV Bible translation. My response was that I had not seen any evidence ESS in the translation itself, although there are several instances of it in the ESV Study Bible notes. I also noted that I have other concerns about the ESV translation, like the influence of Susan Foh’s work on the meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3:16, but that I had not seen any influence of ESS in the text itself.

The day after the Theology Gals’ podcast aired I came across another podcast from the guys at Gentle Reformation that gives examples from the ESV translation that demonstrate the influence of ESS. I so wish I’d seen that before my interview as I think it’s an extremely important concern. ESS does indeed appear to have influenced the translation of the ESV.

Here are the two texts that the 3GT podcast mentioned as evidence of ESS in the ESV:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. John 14:10 ESV (italics mine)

And:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:13 ESV (italics mine)

As the guys on the 3GT podcast explain, the issue is the translation of the word “heautou” or “emautoú” as “on his/my own authority.” The Greek words used, heautou/emautoú, means “himself, herself, itself.” It does not mean “authority.” Most other translations use either  “of himself, herself, ourselves, myself” etc. or “initiative.” For example, John 14:10 from the NASB:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. John 14:10 NASB (italics mine)

Or John 16:13 from the KJV:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. John 16:13 KJV (italics mine)

The ESV consistently translates heautou/emautoú as “on his/my own authority” in every passage referring to Jesus or to the Spirit. Examples include John 7:17, John 8:28, John 10:18, and John 12:49. They do not translate it “on his/my own authority” in the 300+ other occurrences of heautou/emautoú

In all of the other occurrences, heautou/emautoú is translated as “himself, herself, itself” etc. For example in Luke 14:27:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 ESV (italics mine)

The ESV is not the only translation of the Bible that uses “authority” in this way, but the use of “authority” in these passages is a minority position. And with good reason. While it is not uncommon to speak of the incarnate Son as submitting to His Father’s authority, it is necessary to qualify what is meant by authority and submission.

Proponents of ESS teach that there is an eternal relationship of authority and submission between God the Father and God the Son. They teach that authority and submission are in the very nature of God. This is contrary to classic, orthodox teaching on the Trinity which does not allow for any difference of authority within the nature of the Trinity. As the God-man, Jesus did, of course, submit His human will to the authority of the Father. But that does not mean that the Father and the Son are eternally defined in their nature or being by authority and submission.

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou/emautoú as “authority” is apparent in the John 16:13 passage. That passage is speaking of the Spirit. While the Son, after the incarnation, has a human will and a divine will, the Spirit does not. The Spirit’s authority is always the one divine authority. If the Spirit is not speaking on His “own authority,” whose authority is He speaking on?

I’m very grateful to the guys at 3GT for bringing this to my attention. I hope you will all check out their podcast and share this development with others. I continue to be amazed at the reach and influence ESS has had and is still having in the Reformed world.

Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She is also a homeschooling mother of 3 boys and a member of a PCA church. This article first appeared on her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation, and is used with permission.