If we claim that the Son eternally submits to the Father, thereby making will a property of person/hypostasis, the classical answers no longer work. If there is only a divine person Christ, then there is only a divine will. No human person means no human will if will is proper to person. It is not clear that Jesus would count as fully human if he lacked a human will. If acts like willing are proper to the person, and Jesus lacks a human person but only has a human nature, it is not clear how Jesus can do human acts like enduring tempted.
In part one, I summarized portions of my recent book, The Son Who Learned Obedience: A Theological Case Against the Eternal Submission of the Son, by introducing several methodological concerns regarding recent evangelical debates over the eternal submission of the Son. Many have argued that the Son submits to the Father in eternity, and that this submission is an important component of distinguishing the Father and the Son. Others protest adamantly. I argued that this debate cannot be resolved by appeal to simple biblical or patristic proof texts. This is because no passage in the Bible openly addresses this question at a literal and grammatical/historical level.
We can nevertheless draw conclusions about the eternal submission of the Son by seeking coherent and logical answers to questions that naturally arise from the Bible, ensuring that these answers conform with what is explicitly revealed in the Bible. This is what theologians across the tradition were after, which is why we must pay attention to their larger ideas rather than isolated quotes. This prompts us to turn to systematic theology.
In this essay, I intend to explain how systematic theology provides good reasons for abandoning any claim that the Son eternally submits to the Father. I will illustrate this claim by appeal to one doctrine I discuss in my book, the doctrine of Christology. I will also discuss the practical implications of this debate. But first, I must provide a comment on the divine will.
Preliminary Assumption: Will is a Property of Nature
I was recently reading a book on the theology of the important church father Basil of Caesarea when I came across this quote by Basil: “will… is thought to be concurrent with substance, and… is not only similar and equal, but also identical in the Father and the Son.” Basil is famous for popularizing and clarifying the distinction between substance/nature/being (the terms are more or less interchangeable for present purposes) as terms that speak of the unity of the Trinity and hypostasis as a term that speaks of diversity in the Trinity.
This distinction was central to Basil’s theology, and it became central to a wide range of pro-Nicene theologians to the point that it was part of the theology affirmed by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 A. D. In other words, Basil’s most important contribution to systematic theology is the grammar that allows us to say that God is one being and three hypostases. If you explore Basil’s work to understand how he defines being/substance/nature, you will find that it includes will. Since there is one identical substance between Father, Son, and Spirit, there is one identical will. From the time of Basil onward (and in places this view is even earlier), will is treated as a property of nature.