Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bruce Ware and the Westminister Confession

Thanks to Peter's comments on the preceding post, I have found that the ETS doctrinal statement is based on an answer to a question in the Westminster catechism. This, in turn, is based on the Westminister Confession.

    In the unity of the Godhead head there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God Son, and God the Holy Ghost.1

    In Deitatis unitate personæ tres sunt unius ejusdemque essentiæ, potential ac æternitatis; Deus Pater, Deus Filius, ac Deus Spiritus Sanctus.


Potentia is the liturgical Latin equivalent for potestas, meaning authority. The meaning of potentia in Lewis and Short includes the following -
  • might, force, power.
  • ability, faculty, capacity
  • political power, authority, sway, influence
  • the rule of an individual, monarchical power,
  • supreme dominion, sovereignty,
I do not believe that the Son can be equal to the Father in power and under him in authority. This is consistent with what we know about the word kephale. It has no meaning of "authority over" in the Liddell Scott lexicon. There is not one occurrence prior to the New Testament of kephale meaning to have "authority over" one's own people. That is why it is not in the lexicon.

I was not aware that for many years, in sitting under the leadership of Dave Short and Jim Packer, that I was being taught by those who would nuance the fundamental creeds of historic Christianity. I am very disappointed at my own naivete.

My difficulty with Kevin Giles is that he attempts to demonstrate that power and authority mean the same thing in English. Whether they do or not is completely irrelevant. The fact is that "power" or potestas in the Vulgate and the creeds represents exousia in Greek, and this is now translated into English as "authority." In English it is possible for "power" and "authority" to have distinctive meanings. In classical and liturgical Latin it is not. (Potestas translates exousia and is translated into English as "power.") And this is what the creeds were written in.

When I left David Short's church, he pressed me to read Grudem's kephale study. I was unimpressed. I was unaware of exactly how divergent the Christianity of that church had become.

In my opinion few members of the congregation are aware of this controversy. However, last spring Bruce Ware spoke at a local pastors' conference with Dave Short. A younger pastor preached the doctrine best formulated by Ware in our church last summer. I do know that a couple of people walked out publicly. I have no first hand knowledge of further reaction, but I would not be surprised if some resistance emerges.


Jane said...

Thanks so much for this Suzanne. Your exemplary knowledge of the Latin is a lesson to all of us, it also shows very well how wrong translations influence theology.

Rev R Marszalek said...

Thank you for this Suzanne - it helps inform my ongoing interest in this.