Monday, June 15, 2009

Dialogue with John Starke on authority 1 & 2

(Note: There is a nice little tie-in to the word as wisdom in this post.)

My dialogue with John Starke began last December when he picked up a comment I made on Denny Burk's blog and ran with it. (I am excerpting here a very small part of the interaction, but John may refer back to other points that he raised),

On Denny's blog, I had written.
    Since, in Greek “power” and “authority” are one and the same word, how can Christ be equal to God in power, but not in authority. If the Son is eternally in submission, he is not equal in power and glory.
John responded,
    This is sort of a perplexing argument since the Greek word for power is usually “dunamis” and authority is “exousia”. The common way of expressing the power of Christ or God the Father is using the word “dunamis” , not “exousia”.
At the time I was not sure of the reason why "power" in English means the same thing as "authority" in Biblical texts. However, I did finally realize that the creeds come to us through Latin, and in Latin the Greek word exousia was translated as potestas, and this word was then translated into English as "power."

Therefore, in any creed which descends from an original Latin creed, or through Latin from the Greek, the word "power" is a translation of exousia, which we now would translate as "authority." In the Latin Vulgate, exousia was always translated as potestas, and dunamis was almost always translated as virtus.

In Theodore Beza's Latin translation of the NT exousia was translated as auctoritas. In the KJV then, we can see that exousia was translated into English as both "power" and "authority." There was no apparent attempt to differentiate the two. Here is an example,

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matt. 7: 28-29). KJV

Compare this with the parallel text in Luke, again from the KJV:

And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power. (Luke 4:32)

In Greek, both of these passages have the Greek word exousia. And this is why I claim that "power" and "authority" are the same word in Greek - exousia. Perhaps I could have phrased it better. I would say that in the KJV both "power" and "authority" translate the Greek word exousia. I also claim that since the creeds are descendent of Latin documents, "power" has the meaning that it had in the underlying Latin. And that would be potestas - exousia.

Last fall I expressed surprise and some incredulity that many of those who sign the doctrinal statement of the ETS, which says "equal in power and glory," do not believe that Christ is equal to the Father in authority.

Part 2

A further part of our discussion relates to Bruce Ware's claim, in Father, Son and Holy Spirit page 80, that Augustine affirms the subordination of the Son with the trinity. Ware writes,
    Augustine affirmed, the distinction of Persons is constituted precisely by the differing relations among them, in part manifested by the inherent authority of the Father and inherent submission of the Son.
I claim just the opposite, that Augustine, De Trinitate iv:20, affirms that the Son is equal in authority to the Father,
    because He was not sent in respect to any inequality of power*, or substance, or anything that in Him was not equal to the Father; but in respect to this, that the Son is from the Father, not the Father from the Son; for the Son is the Word of the Father, which is also called His wisdom.
*Since the underlying Latin for "power" is potestas, I understand it to mean "authority."

In conclusion, I understand the dialogue between John Starke and myself in this way. I suggest that the early church fathers and the doctrinal statement of the ETS affirm that the son is equal to the father in authority within the trinity. John does not.

From my point of view, this limits the discussion enough that we don't have to wrangle over every exegetical point, or make extravagant truth claims about the trinity; but simply discover whether there is any support in the early church fathers for the relationship of authority and submission existing eternally within the Godhead.

John commented recently on this post,
    I am convinced that when the early fathers spoke of eternal generation, this would be equivalent to our understanding of authority in function.
John has also suggested that I read Peter Schemm on this topic, and I intend to do that, as possible.


John Starke said...

Interestingly, Millard Erickson brings up this same argument. Though he is on your side of the debate, he doesn't see much merit to the "power" and "authority" problem you and Giles have.

I would actually like to modify my quote:
"I am convinced that when the early fathers spoke of eternal generation, this would be equivalent to our understanding of authority in function."

I'm not sure if I am as convinced on that point as was earlier. It maybe that the earlier fathers assumed a submission understanding of the Son, but I don't know if it would be equivalent to it. It is worth some thought I think. Erickson critiques that view and I think he may have some merit - at least he thinks it needs some clarifying. Fair enough.


Paul Pavao said...

I'm not sure how to interpret the quotes of Augustine, but it seems obvious how to interpret the quotes of earlier fathers.

I give seven quotes from pre-Nicene writers espousing the subordination of the Son at the bottom of this page: One of those quotes is even from Alexander, who excommunicated Arius in Alexandria.

Irenaeus, for example, says that the reason that the Son didn't know the day and hour was simple: the Father is greater than the Son (A.H. II:28:8).

Tertullian adds, "The Father is distinct frm the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as he who begets is one, and he who is begotten is another" (Against Praxeas 9).

Subordinationism is the stance across the board, I'd say, in the pre-Nicene fathers.

One more point. Tertullian tells us (ibid. 13) that Christians only call Jesus God when they're referring to him alone. When they refer to the Father and Son together, then immediately they withdraw the name of God from the Son and call him Lord.

This practice is not only Scriptural, but it is always done from NT times until Nicea, where the creed says, "We believe in one God, the Father ... and in one Lord, Jesus Christ."

The only exception I've found is a couple passages in Ignatius, where Jesus is called God even while the Father is being referenced.

You'll never find that in Scripture, though, and you don't find it at Nicea, either.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Does Erickson discuss Augustine in Latin? It is interesting to note that without mentioning Latin Scot McKnight, in a comment on Denny's blog, made the same argument that I do.

The discussion should not revolve around what Erickson thought but I would appreciate if you could quote him on this, I don't have his book.

I'll respond to the rest later.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks, this is interesting. I see it two ways. Christ is subordinate as a human. For those theologians which emphasize the human Christ, Christ as not fully God, then he might be unequal in authority, and the relationship would not be a mirror for marriage, the joining of two adult humans, two beings of the same substance.

The argument is whether the relationship of two beings of the same substance is properly one of authority and submission, total authority and submission, or one of reciprocity and organic unity.

Some people can only conceive of unity as authority over, one person leading or controlling the other. But isn't this a small view of God, that God is confined to hierarchy in inner relations because unity cannot be achieved otherwise.

Of course, achieving unity for humans is very difficulty, but instead of hierarchy, one over the other, some people think of the relationship as a play of mutuality and power-sharing, and they build enduring and affectionate relationships on this basis.

John Starke said...

The questionable syllogism is this:

"Eternal generation is equivalent and/or implies eternal subordination/submission of the Son

The Fathers argued for eternal generation

Therefore the fathers argued for eternal subordination/submission"

I'm not saying that this syllogism is wrong, but that its incomplete. There needs to be some work on the first point.

I think the Peter Schemm article I suggested has some of those same syllogistic arguments in there - though I think he gives quotes from Augustine, Cap. Fathers, and Hilary that are pretty convincing. But there is certainly more work to be done.

John Starke said...

I will try to get you that Erickson quote soon. Its long, so I need to be in the mood for typing. Sorry to be a bum.

J. K. Gayle said...

Please take this as a perhaps tangential comment. Doesn't Paul, in the opener of his first letter to Corinthians, string together some genitive phrases - which constructs Christ's cross and his word and wisdom as the dunamis of God?

οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ λόγου
ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ χριστοῦ
τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν
ὁ λόγος τοῦ σταυροῦ
δύναμις θεοῦ
ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

(Paul's own authority is as ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ - perhaps a hierarchy which is less clear then with ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ)

Suzanne McCarthy said...

thanks for this. It made me reread 1 Cor. 1 and 2. I also have to catch up on my index.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I'll get back to Schemm soon.