Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Son - equal in power but not in authority?

I have for quite some time, been following an argument in recent complementarian circles regarding the authority of the Son. Bruce Ware, in his book, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (page 152) wrote,

The Father, then, as supreme authority over even his own Son and the Spirit, is the one to whom we gladly, but humbly, address our prayers.

However, the Evangelical Theological Society, of which Ware is president, has a doctrinal basis statement which declares,

God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.

Denny Burk blogged about this recently, and I asked a series of questions, which went unanswered there. However, I am grateful that John Starke has taken the issue up under Suzanne McCarthy and the Son’s Submission to the Father.

John writes,

So, to express that there is a difference in authority but not in power between the Son and the Father is not unthinkable. McCarthy argues the opposite. She wonders how the Son can be “equal in power and glory, but unequal in authority, and how is this derived from the Scripture?”

It is true, I did ask that question. But the focus of my interest is on the English translations that were prevalent at the time that the doctrinal basis of ETS was formulated, I am guessing in 1949. If we take John 17:2 as one example, previous translations of the Bible do not differentiate between the "power" of the Son, and the "authority" of the Son.

What if those who formulated the doctrinal statement of the ETS actually intended to say that Christ was equal to God in exousia, since exousia, the Greek word most often translated as "authority" is also often translated as "power" in the KJV and RSV.

καθὼς ἔδωκας αὐτῷ ἐξουσίαν πάσης σαρκός ἵνα πᾶν ὃ δέδωκας αὐτῷ δώσῃ αὐτοῖς ζωὴν αἰώνιον

As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. (KJV)

since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. (RSV)

We can see the same thing in Latin, German or French translations of the Bible. One must face the reality that theologians like Augustine, Luther and Calvin did not argue for a clear difference between "power" and "authority."

selon que tu lui as donné pouvoir sur toute chair, afin qu'il accorde la vie éternelle à tous ceux que tu lui as donnés. (Louis Segond)

Gleichwie du ihm Macht hast gegeben über alles Fleisch, auf daß er das ewige Leben gebe allen, die du ihm gegeben hast. (Luther)

sicut dedisti ei potestatem omnis carnis ut omne quod dedisti ei det eis vitam aeternam" (Vulgate)
However, we can see that since the NIV, 1973, - a translation supposedly of dynamic equivalence - "power" and "authority" have diverged in English in accordance with the underlying Greek.
For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (NIV)

since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” (ESV)

It seems clear to me that any statement that Christ is less than God in authority, while equal to him in power, can only have taken on common acceptance subsequent to 1973. But the Evangelical Theological Society has been around since 1949. I would be very interested in knowing if their doctrinal basis has shifted since 1949, and if most members realize that Christ is now not equal in authority to God, but only in power.

I always like to know what Bible translation a theological statement is based on. Curiously, many people cite theologians without referencing the Bible version or translation on which they are basing their theology.

I hope John Starke will take on this puzzle and perhaps find a clear article delineating when exactly Christ became less than God in authority, while retaining equality in power.

7 comments:

Janice said...

Denny Burk (whose choice of images with which to decorate the banner of his blog always amuses me) wrote that Philippians 2:6, "affirms that in his pre-incarnate state Christ did not try to obtain (or 'grasp for') another kind of equality which he did not have in his pre-existent state."

The whole passage (vv 5-8) states:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
RSV

Where in that passage is anything being said about the pre-incarnate Son? Burk has assumed what is to be proved. It is the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ whose humility and obedience is being discussed here.

I've read the comments on the article at Burk's blog and John Starke's article and one thing that strikes me is that those in favour of the eternal subordination of the Son are not here interpreting Scripture by Scripture. They're looking at this one passage and trying to find a way to make the words mean what they want them to mean even if that requires them to give the words meanings or distinctions that they've never had before. How else can anyone say that persons can be equal in power but not in authority? It reminds me of Humpty Dumpty who said that when he uses a word it means precisely what he wants it to mean, neither more nor less.

And I think they know it too, somewhere deep down. Otherwise they wouldn't so studiously avoid answering your very straightforward question. That reminds me of the story in Mark 11:28-33.

Lin said...

Good points, Janice. Also, this verse tells us something:

8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. RSV

How could He 'humble Himself' if He were unequal in authority?

Jay and Milka said...

I am shocked by the complementarians' perverse attempt to challenge the orthodox doctrine of the trinity in order to eternally oppress women. Thank you for your defense of clear Biblical truth.

Don said...

I use the Humpty Dumpty school of interpretation as an example of what NOT to do, altho any might do it.

CD-Host said...

Just a notification I did a write up of our conversation on New Leaven and quoted your post here.

yhwhmlk said...

Robert Letham deals with this in his The Holy Trinity.

CD-Host said...

yhwhmlk --

Could you tell us how he deals with it?