The Eternal Subordination of the Son: The Need for Trinitarian Clarity (Part 2)

The ERAS/ESS position seems to demand that both Father and Son have different wills

A final crucial point of Trinitarian doctrine that tells against ESS positions is the traditional insistence that the divine persons act inseparably. The acts of God are not subcontracted out to the persons individually. Rather, all of God does all that God does, in an indivisible manner. The Father works through the Son in the Spirit, but this working isn’t such that it could be separated into three distinct roles in some divine division of labour. Rather, Father, Son, and Spirit act as a single agent in unified action.


In the previous post in this series, we began to consider some of the theological concerns that surface in the teaching of those who hold to a form of the ERAS/ESS position. In this post, we wish to consider these concerns in more detail. In particular, the ERAS/ESS position seems to demand that both Father and Son have different wills. However, according to the Nicene tradition, the Father and the Son have only one will, the will of the single divine nature. God’s one will isn’t just a matter of the unity, agreement, or coincidence of three wills of the divine persons, but is the single will that belongs to the one and undivided divine nature. There cannot be different acts of willing in God.

Mark Jones has dealt with this point thoroughly and perceptively, demonstrating just how devastating this problem can be for the ESS position. He quotes John Owen to show how affirming the singularity of the will of God need not be inconsistent with speaking of the will of a particular Person of the Trinity:

The will of God as to the peculiar Actings of the Father in this matter, is the Will of the Father; And the Will of God, with regard unto the peculiar Actings of the Son, is the Will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry Wills, but by the distinct Application of the same Will unto its distinct Acts, in the Persons of the Father and the Son.

An important further part of the picture, which helps to explain biblical suggestions of a diversity of will between the Father and the Son in his incarnation, is the teaching of dyothelitism. Christ has a divine and a human nature and a divine and a human will proper to those two natures. This is why it is appropriate to speak of Christ’s obedience to the Father and why this does not entail a plurality of wills in God himself. Christ submits to and obeys the will of the Father–the single will of God–as a man with a human nature and will.The traditional doctrine distinguishes the

The traditional doctrine distinguishes the hypostases by eternal relations of origin: the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten of the Father, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The claim that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father is the doctrine of eternal generation, and has been questioned or rejected by people on both sides of the debate surrounding ESS. Keith Johnson discusses Augustine’s doctrine of eternal generation in some detail. Johnson argues that eternal generation serves to explicate the Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son, maintaining with Augustine that the ‘temporal sending of the Son reflects the Son’s relation of being eternally “from” the Father’ (31). The ‘ordered equality’ of the Father and the Son work in creation and redemption is ultimately grounded in this relation in the immanent Trinity.

This doctrine does not depend upon speculative arguments founded upon a few isolated proof texts, but upon reflection upon the broader shape of the revelation and acts of God in both the Old and New Testaments.

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