Eternal Functional Subordination: The Case Against image

Eternal Functional Subordination: The Case Against

One of the many, many issues we looked at during the THINK conference, which took place over the last couple of weeks, concerned the relationship between the Son and the Father in 1 Corinthians. For most of us, 1 Corinthians 11:3 and 15:28 (and perhaps 3:23) indicated some sort of submission of the Son to the Father that extends beyond Christ's earthly ministry, even if many would be cautious about saying this was true from eternity past. In light of that, I thought it would be interesting to sketch a very recent, and very robust, critique of the Grudem/Ware view which broadly predominated, often referred to as Eternal Functional Subordinationism. It comes from Glenn Butner Jr in the latest edition of JETS, and when laid out in syllogistic form, the argument is basically as follows:

1. Orthodox Trinitarianism includes the belief that the Father and the Son are of the same substance.
2. Orthodox Christology includes the belief that Christ, in his incarnation, possessed both a human will (as part of his human nature) and a divine will (as part of his divine nature), yet remained one person.
3. Orthodox Trinitarianism includes the belief that will is a property of nature/substance, rather than of person/hypostasis.
4. Therefore there is only one divine will (from #1, #3).
5. It is commonly accepted, both exegetically and philosophically, that submission requires the yielding of one will to another. This follows from the meaning of hypotasso, and is generally conceded by complementarian theologians and advocates of Eternal Functional Subordinationism (e.g. Grudem, Smail, Letham, etc.)
6. Therefore for the Son to submit eternally to the Father would require two wills (from #5).
7. Therefore the Son does not submit eternally to the Father (from #4, #6).
8. Therefore any text which speaks of the submission of Christ to the Father must be referring to his humanity, rather than his divinity (from #2, #7).

That’s the argument, in a nutshell, and Butner then goes on to explain why he believes that careful exegesis of 1 Cor 15:20-28 will confirm this conclusion. There are no doubt all sorts of responses that could be made, but given that we spent so much time discussing it - and my friend Andrew Ryland took a number of hits for being a minority voice in support of Butner’s view - I thought it was worth posting a summary.

Next year’s THINK conference, by the way, is likely to tackle an Old Testament book (Genesis and Isaiah are the two front-runners), and to be held on the same week in July as it was this year (5-7 July). Save the dates!

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