Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bruce Ware and historic Christianity

I have been concerned that some might believe that Bruce Ware had said that Christ was not equal to God. However, he strongly affirms that the Son is equal to the Father in essence. Yet he clearly states that the Son has a distinct role.

To confirm some of what Dr. Ware has said, I looked at Father, Son and Holy Spirit where he wrote,
    Yet notice one more detail. Paul begins his prayer bowing his knees neither to the Son nor to the Spirit but to the Father, "from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named." The Father then is the Sovereign Ruler over heaven and earth, controlling even the very names that every creature is given. From this position of sovereign supremacy, it is the Father who has the authority to grant this prayer's fulfillment, and so ultimately all glory and thanksgiving must go to him.

    Because of this, Paul prays to the Father that the Spirit will enlarge the likeness and experience of Christ in those who believe. As Paul's prayer so clearly indicates, then, the Spirit works in our sanctification to bring honour and glory to the Son, to the ultimate glory of the Father.
From this it appears to me that Ware affirms:

1 The Father has sovereign supremacy above Christ.
2 The Father is supreme in authority over Christ.
3 The Father uniquely has authority to grant answers to prayer.
4. All thanks and glory go to the Father.

I note that the doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society is this.

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

    But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

    Sed Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, aequalis gloria, coeterna maiestas.
Augustine writes,

    For he was not sent in virtue of some disparity of power or substance or anything in him that was not equal to the Father, but in virtue of the Son being from the Father, not the Father being from the Son.”*

    non secundum imparem potestatem uel substantiam uel aliquid quod in eo patri non sit aequale missus est, sed secundum id quod filius a patre est, non pater a filio.
Here are extracts from the Lewis and Short Latin dictionary.


  • greatness, grandeur, dignity, majesty

  • sovereign power

  • the paternal authority


  • Political power, dominion, rule, empire, sovereignty

  • Magisterial power, authority, office, magistracy
  • have lawful authority and jurisdiction

In addition to this the Latin word potestas uniquely translates the Greek word exousia in the Vulgate and must be presumed to mean "authority. " I do not see how it can be shown that Augustine did not say that the Son was not unequal to the Father in "authority."

I suggest that majesty and power are synonyms of sovereignty and authority. A study of Latin will demonstrate that potestas did indeed mean authority, and maiestas meant sovereignty. Christ is equal to the Father in authority and sovereignty according to historic Christianity.

I believe that historic Christianity taught that Christ was equal to his Father in authority, power, sovereignty, dominion and rule.


Peter Kirk said...

See the rather similar point I made about J.I. Packer. Packer also claims that the Father has "authority" over the Son. In doing so he has also departed from historic Trinitarian Christianity.

Peter Kirk said...

The phrase "equal in power and glory" interested me. I discovered that the ETS took it from The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 9, according to which the three Persons are "the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties." (The first part of this also appears in the Shorter Catechism.) In answer to the following question "What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?", there is no mention of differences in authority, but only that "It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father ...". It would be interesting to consider what the Westminster divines meant by "power", which in that pre-industrial age might have been more like what we now mean by "authority".

See also this paper by Kevin Giles, given at ETS 2006, which discusses the phrase - if you haven't seen it before.

Lin said...

Thanks Sue. I always enjoy and learn from your writing.

Bill Heroman said...

Hey, Sue. My math-teacher-ness won't let me read this without having fits about the word "equal". So I wrestled it out. See what you think...

Regardless of that, I greatly appreciate how your historic approach hilights the religious attempt to justify old practices for a new generation.

My karma runs over their dogma pretty well on it's own, but you have my sincere gratitude for the extra academic support. Three cheers for Augustine and historic christianity. (And for Suzanne McCarthy!) Hip-hip...