Subordinationism.

Most theological text books mention a trinitarian error called, ‘subordinationism’ but they do not agree on how this error is to be defined. Possibly this is the most inadequately defined of all the major trinitarian heresies.

1.      The emergence of the term ‘subordinationism’.

In the fourth century, several groups of theologians who could not accept the use of the word homoousios (one in being) to define the Father-Son relationship in the creed of Nicea (325) were lumped together and called ‘Arians’- followers of Arius - by the Nicene fathers. Some of them insisted that they were not followers of Arius.[1] Later, the term ‘Arianism’ became a term either to designate those who in some way questioned the full divinity of the Son, or, as a catch-all pejorative term to designate any who deviated from to be teaching on the Trinity given in the creeds and later in the Reformation confessions.[2] From the middle of the sixteenth century until the late nineteenth century the term ‘Anti-Trinitarianism’ was often used as a synonym for the very broad understanding of ‘Arianism’ just mentioned.[3] In the middle of the nineteenth century it came to be recognised that a specific and precise term was needed to speak of those who, in differing historical times, proposed that in some way the Son and/or the Spirit were subordinated to the Father in the immanent Trinity. First, the English term ‘subordinationism’ began to be used for this purpose, and then later in German, ‘subordinationismus.[4]  From then on, this error could be contrasted with the errors of tritheism and modalism, and Arianism recognised as but one form of subordinationism. This technical term immediately discloses something about this theological error. It has to do with the sub-ordering or ranking of the Son and/or the Spirit below the Father; the hierarchical ordering of the trinitarian persons.

 

2. Clarifying matters.

Before we consider the many definitions of the error called ‘subordinationism’ three matters need to be mentioned.

2.1.  First, all orthodox theologians believe that in becoming man for our salvation the Son freely subordinated himself. The temporal and self-chosen subordination of the Son is thus orthodoxy. They do so because this is what scripture teaches. In Philippians 2:6-11, Paul says that Jesus Christ was ‘equal with God’ in heaven, but he did not hold onto this lofty status, instead he

Emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

On the basis of this apostolic teaching, Athanasius and Augustine, made a sharp and clear distinction between, ‘the Son in the form of a servant’ and ‘the Son as God.’ Using other terminology, modern orthodox theologians, make a sharp and clear distinction between ‘the economic Trinity’ and ‘the ‘immanent Trinity.’ The immanent Trinity is the triune God as he is in eternity, apart from history; the economic Trinity is the triune God as he is in history. In the economy (God’s work in the world) the Son is subordinate to the Father but not in the immanent Trinity. To read back the Son’s freely chosen economic subordination into the immanent Trinity leads to subordinationism. This was what Arius did.[5]

2.2. Second, all orthodox theologians affirm ‘order’ (Greek taxis) in divine life and operations.[6]  They do so because Scripture bears witness to a consistent pattern or order in how the divine three persons are eternally self-differentiated, revealed, and operate. For example, the Father begets and sends the Son and the Father creates and saves ‘through the Son’.[7] This order or pattern is consistent, unchanging and irreversible, but it is not a hierarchical order. Orthodoxy excludes hierarchical ordering in divine life because it would deny that the three divine persons are inseparably the one God. Thus, the Athanasian Creed rules that no one divine person is ‘before or after, greater or lesser’ than another. This creedal confession reflects Scripture where no one divine person is always listed first when the three divine persons are named together. Sometimes the Father is mentioned first,[8] sometimes the Son,[9] and sometimes the Spirit.[10] 

2.3. Third, we have to accept that there is no one agreed definition of the error called ‘subordinationism’. On turning to theological dictionaries, books defining theological terms, and systematic theologies we find many different definitions of ‘subordinationism’. Some of these are irreconcilable even if the differences in terminology in them can be resolved. Most of the different terms used in these definitions are theological synonyms. Thus, to speak of the Son and/or Spirit as ‘subordinate’, ‘inferior’, ‘secondary’, ‘ranked lower’, or ‘less than’ the Father is to say exactly the same thing. Similarly, the terms, ‘being’, ‘substance’, ‘nature’, and ‘essence’ are theological synonyms, speaking of what is common to and unites the divine three. Similarly, the terms power and authority can be taken as trinitarian synonyms. To say the Father and the Son have the same power is the same as saying they have the same authority.

 3. The many definitions of subordinationism.

The many different definitions of the error called ‘subordinationism’ can be grouped into five alternatives.[11]

3.1. The error of hierarchically ordering the divine three persons in any way.

I give a number of definitions in this category, ones with similar wording to each example I put in the endnotes. I found by far the most examples of definitions that fit this category. Subordinationism is,

  • Any doctrine that makes the Son (and/or the Holy Spirit) subordinate, secondary, or less truly divine, than the Father.[12]
  • A theory about the Trinity which sees the Son as in some way less than or inferior to the Father or the Holy Spirit.[13]
  • An understanding of God in which the Son is made inferior in status to the Father and in which the Holy Spirit is made inferior in status to both the Father and the Son.[14]
  •  The idea that the three persons differ in rank.[15]   
  • Teaching about the Godhead which regards either the Son as subordinate to the Father or the Holy Ghost as subordinate to both.[16]

What unites these definitions is that in every case the error proscribed is the hierarchical ordering or ranking of the divine persons. They make no mention of subordination in being (ontological subordination) as if this alone was the primary issue.

 3.2. The error of subordinating the Son in being/essence/nature and/or status.

Then we find definitions that link together ranking in being and/or status. Subordinationism is,

  •  A teaching that the Son and the Holy Spirit are lesser in being or status than the Father.[17] (Note the ‘or’: two ways of subordinating the Son are mentioned, both spoken of pejoratively.)
  •  The doctrine that the Son is subordinate in status and nature to the Father and/or the Holy Spirit is subordinate in status and nature to the Father and the Son.[18]
  •  The doctrine that in essence and status the Son is inferior to the Father, or the Spirit is inferior to the Father and the Son.[19]
 3.3. The error of subordinating the Son in being/essence/nature/substance simpliciter.

Only two examples in this category of definition are found in mainline theological texts, both in Roman Catholic theological dictionaries.

  • A view of Christ which maintains that he is not equal in substantial being with the Father.[20]
  •  [Subordinationism as the error of teaching that the Son and the Spirit] do not fully possess the divine essence (homoousion).[21]

Defining subordinationism in this way is certainly valid. The problem is that in defining subordinationism as the error of subordinating the Son in being (ontological subordinationism) and this only, may leave the door open to teaching that necessarily implies the Son’s subordination in being, even if this is denied.

 3.4. The error of subordinating the Son in being/essence/nature/substance, not subordinating him eternally in role/function.

This way of defining subordinationism, found only in evangelical ‘complementarian’[22] literature, is a variant of the category just mentioned.  This defines the error solely in terms of the ontological subordination of the Son but at the same time denies that teaching the eternal subordination of the Son in ‘role’, meaning authority, involves the ontological subordination of the Son.Many examples of this distinctively evangelical understanding of subordinationism can be found in evangelical theological texts. I give two.

The complementarian position [on the Trinity and women] is equality in being (in the sense of equal value, honour, personhood, and importance) with differences in authority. The complementarian position holds to subordination in function, not subordination in being. [23]

[Subordinationism teaches that] the Son is subordinated in nature to the Father. Subordinationism is not to be confused with the orthodox belief [held by ‘complementarians’] that the Son (Christ) is [eternally] functionally subordinate (i.e. subject to) the Father, though essentially equal with him.[24]

From 1994 to 2016 this understanding of the error of subordinationism found very widespread support among conservative evangelical and Reformed theologians. They openly designated the Father-Son relationship as ‘hierarchical’ in nature.[25] This distinctive and novel doctrine of the Trinity was most clearly articulated and popularised by Wayne Grudem in his, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (1994). He argues that women are permanently subordinated to men in ‘role’, meaning, authority, because the Son is eternally subordinated in ‘role’ to the Father, meaning again authority. His main argument for this is a human analogy. The titles ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, when used of the divine persons, he says, should be understood in exactly the same way as they are when used of human fathers and sons. Fathers, human and divine, rule over sons, and so the divine Son must obey his Father. In so arguing, Grudem made fallen human relations, not scripture, the basis of his doctrine of the Trinity.

3.5.The error of subordinating the Son in being/essence/nature and/or in function/role. (The terms ‘function’ and ‘role’ are to be understood as synonyms)

Lastly, I mention definitions that would seem to make the ‘complementarian’ definition of ‘subordinationism’ the essence of this error. Subordinationism is,

  • [A]doctrine which makes the Son and the Holy Spirit inferior to the Father, either in function or essence.[26] (Both ways of subordinating the Son are spoken of pejoratively.)
  •  A doctrine that assigns an inferiority of being, status, or role to the Son or Holy Spirit.[27]  (Note in this definition to subordinate the Son or Spirit in being, or status or role is theological error called ‘subordinationism’).
  •  [The denial that] the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are] co-equal and co-eternal in the Godhead with regard to both the divine essence and function.[28] (Note in this definition that to deny that the Father, Son and Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal both in divine essence and function is the error. Essence/being and function are taken to be inseparable.)

The first of these definitions comes from a 1921 scholarly work and is thus not a response to post 1977 evangelical teaching on the Trinity. The third quote comes from a ‘complementarian’, writing in 1992 before ‘the eternal role subordination of the Son’ had become a contentious issue. These definitions make the complementarian doctrine of eternal function subordination an expression of subordinationism!

Now to sum up on the many definitions of the error called ‘subordinationism’. All these definitions agree that the error of subordinationism speaks of the sub-ordering of the Son, or the Son and the Spirit, in the immanent Trinity. Where they differ is that while most hold that any subordinating of the Son and Spirit in the immanent Trinity is to be rejected, some limit the error to the ontological subordination of the Son. Distinctively evangelical ‘complementarians’ argue that the eternal role or functional subordination of the Son and/or the Spirit, is not a form of heretical subordinationism. It does not imply the subordination of the Son in being/essence/nature (‘ontological subordinationism’).

4. Examples of subordinationism

In the history of the church, not only have the various so-called ‘Arians’ of the fourth century been accused of sub-ordering the Son under the Father, but so too have many others. Bertrand de Margerie says in his substantial study, The Christian Trinity in History, that subordinationism is the ‘perpetual temptation’ facing the church.[29] I give a representative, not exhaustive list of historical examples of the error now called ‘subordinationism’.

5.1. Pre-Nicene subordinationism.

 In the second century the Apologists, including Irenaeus and Tertullian, beginning with the premise that God is a monad who becomes three in history (the economy) prioritised the Father. For them, the Son and the Spirit were brought forth in time by the Father for the works of creation and redemption. In modern theological texts their teaching is almost universally designated ‘economic subordinationism’ because the focus falls on what takes place in the economy not on the eternal life of God apart from history. Their problem was that they began, as I have just said, with the premise that God is one and he only becomes three in history. I was not until the fourth century when it was concluded that God must be triune for all eternity that a better way to conceptualise the Trinity became a possibility. In other words, their theology of the Trinity was an initial attempt at understanding divine triunity. It made clear that deeper thought on how to conceive the eternal life of God was demanded. The Apologists doctrine of God breached no creedal teaching and thus it should not be considered heretical.[30] The Apologists all definitely confessed Jesus Christ as God.

5.2. Origen’s subordinationism

Origen (185-254) made several important contributions to a fully triune understanding of God but on some matters later theologians judged many of his conclusions inadequate or even heretical.[31] On a positive note he argued that God was eternally triune and that the Son and the Spirit share the divine nature/being. However, the way in which Origen differentiated the Father, the Son and the Spirit led him to order the persons hierarchically. On the basis of his Platonic philosophy he concluded that because the Son and the Spirit are generated by the Father they must be less in divine being and power than the Father. For him, derivation entailed diminution in being and authority. Hanson says that for Origen the subordination of the Son was ‘within a graded Godhead so that the distinct persons share the one nature. This is very different to Arius’ teaching’.[32] A few strands of Origen’s theology possibly can be seen in Arius’ teaching but there are more contrasts between what these two men taught on the Trinity than similarities.[33]

5.3. Fourth century ‘Arianism’.

As mentioned abovethe Nicene fatherslumped together those they opposed, calling them all ‘Arians’ – followers of Arius.[34]  Modern critical studies of the fourth century debates about the Trinity have made it clear that there were in fact several distinct groups of so-called ‘Arians’, who differed on many matters and yet were united on others.[35]For example, Arius taught that the Son was created in time and he could not call him ‘God from God, Light from Light’, whereas many of those called ‘Arians’ of the middle of the fourth century did not teach the Son was created in time and they could confess him as ‘God from God, Light from Light’.[36] What they all agreed on was that the Son is not God in the same sense as the Father. The Father has unrivalled priority in the Godhead; the Son is subordinated to him. J. A. McGuckin says that despite its ‘shifting expressions’, fourth century Arianism attributed ‘an inferior status … to the Son of God’.[37] Similarly, Robert Letham says all the Arians held ‘that the Son was of a lesser rank or status than the Father.’ [38] ‘Arians of all shapes froze the triad into a hierarchy.’[39]  Lewis Ayres reaches much the same conclusion. He says all the so-called Arians of the fourth century emphasised the ‘difference between Father and Son … mak[ing] use of relational language, frequently of a hierarchical nature’.[40] None of these scholars, it is to be noted, define ‘Arianism’ in terms of ‘the ontological subordination of the Son’. This certainly was implied by what the Arians of all kinds taught, but their modern critics, as we have just seen, all argue that the fundamental error of all the ‘Arians’ was the hierarchical ordering of the divine persons, even if they use different wording to make this point. In support for their opinion that the Son was less than the Father, the ‘Arians’ found numerous biblical texts that spoke of the Son as sent by the Father, praying to the Father, not knowing certain things, getting tired and hungry and suffering. They inferred that the Son’s subordination seen in the economy was to be read back into the eternal life of God. Khaled Anatolios says, ‘a large part of the logic of Nicene theology consists in precisely overcoming this inference.’[41]

5.4. Sixteenth century Reformed subordinationism. 

In his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 13 Calvin attacks those in the Reformation family who while they confess ‘that there are three [divine] persons’ speak of the Father as ‘the essence giver’ as if he were ‘truly and properly the sole God’. This he says, ‘definitely cast[s] the Son down from his rank.’[42] It implies that the Father is God in a way the Son is not. Modern scholars are agreed that this was a sixteenth century form of what today is called, ‘subordinationism’. Richard Muller says Calvin recognised that what his opponents were teaching ‘amounted to a radical subordination of the second and third persons, with the result that the Father alone is truly God.’[43] Ellis agrees, adding that this teaching also implied tritheism, three separate Gods.[44]

5.5. Seventeenth century Arminian subordinationism.

Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), in contrast to Calvin, argued that the begetting of the Son should be understood as the generation of the person of the Son and therefore the attribute of self-existence, or aseitas, belonged to the Father alone.[45]  His disciple, Simon Bischop (1583-1643), who assumed the name Episcopius, went further speaking openly and repeatedly of the subordination of the Son.[46] He wrote, ‘It is certain from these same scriptures that to these people’s divinity and divine perfections [the Son and the Spirit] are attributed, but not collaterally or co-ordinately, but subordinately.’[47]In seventeenth century England Arminian subordinationism gained wide support from leading English divines, including, Bishop John Bull (1634-1710), Bishop John Pearson (1683-1689) and Samuel Clarke (1675-1729), one of the most learned biblical scholars of his day.[48]

5.6. Nineteenth century American Reformed subordinationism. 

In nineteenth century America, subordinationism again flourished,[49] and even the greatest Reformed theologian of his day, Charles Hodge, succumbed to this error.[50] For him three ‘essential facts’ sum up the doctrine of the Trinity: ‘unity of essence, distinction of persons, and subordination.’[51] At least thirteen times he insists on ‘the principle of subordination of the Son to the Father, and the Spirit to the Father and the Son’[52] – hierarchical ordering in the Trinity. This subordination is not limited to the economy, as it is in the Nicene fathers, but rather located in ‘the mode of subsistence and operation of the persons.’[53]  Hodge even speaks of the Son as ‘inferior in rank.’[54]

5.7. Nineteenth century German Lutheran subordinationism. 

Subordinationism in yet another form gained support from a number of Lutheran theologians in Germany in the nineteenth century. Stockhardt, writing in opposition, says the well-known theologians Thomasius, Frank, Delitsch, Martensen, von Hoffman and Zoeckler all argued that the Father is God in the primary sense, and the Son and the Spirit are God in second and third degree. He criticises most sharply the Leipzig theologian, Karl Friedrich Augustus Kahnis (1814-1888).[55] For these Lutheran theologians, God was God, Jesus Christ was God in some lesser way. The American Lutheran theologian, F. Pieper (1852-1931), argues that behind this teaching lay an acceptance of ‘modernism’, or what we would call today, theological ‘liberalism’.[56]

5.8. Twentieth century evangelical subordinationism. 

In this list of those who have been accused of the error called ‘subordinationism’ I must include contemporary evangelicals who self-designate themselves ‘complementarians’. They argue that teaching the eternal subordination of the Son in ‘role’ or ‘function’, meaning authority, does not imply the ontological subordination of the Son, which for them is what the heresy of subordinationism involves, and nothing else.[57] However, their critics have consistently argued that to eternally and necessarily subordinate the Son in role/authority must imply the ontological subordination of the Son.[58] They say, if what distinguishes the Son as the Son is his eternal subordinate relationship to the Father, then in nature/being/essence he is the subordinate Son.  Millard Erickson, the doyen of evangelical theologians, says,

A temporal, functional subordination without inferiority of essence seems possible, but not an eternal subordination. And to speak of the superiority of the Father to the Son while denying the inferiority of the Son to the Father must be contradictory.”[59]

The creeds and confessions of the church, which should be understood as the communally agreed conclusion on what the Bible teaches on important doctrinal questions, also rule out of court the complementarian doctrine of the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed is the most definitive statement on the Trinity to come from the patristic age. It declares that:

  • ‘The Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, is all one: the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Spirit.’
  • ‘The Father is almighty, the Son almighty and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet there are not three almighties: but one almighty.’
  • ‘And in this Trinity, none is before or after another’ [no hierarchical ordering] and ‘none is less than another’ [no ranking], all three are ‘co-eternal’ and ‘co-equal.’

Then we have the Reformation confessions. All of them make oneness in being and power basic to the doctrine of the Trinity. If the Father and the Son are one on power, both omnipotent, then the Son is not set under the Father in authority. What is more, the Belgic Confession of 1561 says, ‘All three [are] co–eternal and co–essential. There is neither first nor last: for they are all three one, in truth, in power, in goodness, and in mercy.’ The Second Helvetic Confession of 1566, says the ‘three persons, [are] consubstantial, coeternal, and coequal,’ and then it condemns those who teach that any divine person is ‘subservient, or subordinate to another in the Trinity, and that there is something unequal, a greater or less in one of the divine persons.

Surprisingly and unexpectantly, in 2016 several well-qualified complementarian theologians agreed with their critics and said what we have been teaching is heresy; it is Arianism in new wording. It is a form of the error called ‘subordinationism’. A short and sharp ‘civil war’ followed in the complementarian camp and after a couple of months many of the generals in the army supporting the eternal role subordination of the Son surrendered. Kevin Giles in his 2017 book, The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity, tells this story.

6.      And finally, defining the error called ‘subordinationism’.

In the light of what has been discussed, and on the basis of what the Athanasian Creed declares is ‘the catholic faith’,the following two definitions of subordinationism are given for consideration.

  1. Subordinationism is the error of sub-ordering the Son and/or the Spirit in any way. It is a denial that the three co-equal persons are the one God.
  2. Subordinationism is the error of hierarchically ranking or ordering the Father, Son and Spirit in any way within the eternal life of God.  It involves explicitly or implicitly denying the unequivocal ‘co-equality’ of the eternally and immutably differentiated three divine persons who are the one God.  Very commonly this error arises because the voluntary and temporal subordination of the Son in the economy (history) for our salvation (Phil. 2:4-9) is read back into the immanent Trinity; the triune God as he is in himself apart from human history.   



[1] This story is most fully told by R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-81 (Edinburgh: T. &t. Clark, 1988)

[2] See M. Wiles, Archetypal Heresy. Arianism through the Centuries (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996).

[3] On this see, B. B. Warfield, ‘Antitrinitarians,’ S. M. Jackson (ed.), The New Schaff-Hertzog Encyclopaedia of Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1949), 203.

[4] The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 1227, gives the earliest use of this term in English as 1843 and the second in 1882. The first use of the German term is given as 1862.

[5]  The definitive study on this matter is Paul Molnar, Divine Freedom and the Immanent Trinity: In Dialogue with Barth and Contemporary Theology, (Bloomsbury: T. & T. Clark, 2nd edition, 2017). In this book, he attributes many of the errors of contemporary trinitarian theology to Karl Rahner who equates the economic and immanent trinities.

[6] On divine order see R. Letham,  The Holy Trinity in Scripture, History, Theology and Worship (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2004), 179, n. 29, 383, 400; T. F. Torrance, Trinitarian Perspectives: Towards Doctrinal Agreement (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 65-66, 71-72, 112, 119,  and  Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 48-50, 109-110, 134, 164-165, 219, 225-226, 311.

[7] Rom. 5:1, 9, Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:16, Heb. 1:2.

[8] E.g. Matt. 28:19, Eph. 3:14-17 etc. On this whole matter see Letham, The Holy Trinity, 61-85, Giles, Jesus and the Father, 108-110.

[9] E.g. 2 Cor.13:13, Gal. 3:1-5, Eph. 2:17-18, etc.

[10] E.g. Rom. 8:9-11, 1 Cor. 12:4-6, Eph. 4:4-6.

[11]Kevin Giles, ‘Defining the Error Called Subordinationism’, Evangelical Quarterly, (2015) 87.3, 207-224.

[12] J. L. Gonzales, Essential Theological Terms (Louisville, Kent.: WJK, 2005), 167.  And in very similar wording, F. Young, ‘Subordinationism’, in A. Richardson and J. Bowden (eds), A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, (London: SCM, 1983), 553, ‘Any Christological position which subordinates the Son to the Father in such a way to endanger his essential divinity’. And, The Westminster Handbook of Patristic Theology, J. A. McGuckin (ed.), (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster/John Knox, 2004), 321, [To] ‘affirmed the divinity of the Son or Spirit of God, but conceived it somehow as a lesser form of divinity than that of the Father.’

[13] M. O. Carroll, Trinitas: A Theological Encyclopaedia of the Holy Trinity (Wilmington, Del.: M. Glazier, 1987), 207.

[14] R. P. O’Brien, The Harper-Collins Encyclopaedia of Catholicism (New York: Harper­Collins, 1955), 1227. So also, H.E. W. Turner, ‘Subordinationism’. A Dictionary of Christian Theology, A. Richardson (ed.), (London: SCM, 1969), 329. It is the error of ‘positing a difference of status among the three Persons.’ And in very similar terms, G. O’Collins, The Tripersonal God: Understanding and Interpreting the Trinity (New York, NY: Paulist, 1999), 206, [The consigning of] ‘an inferior status to the Son and the Holy Spirit as being under and derived from the Father’.

[15] ‘Subordinationism’, Dictionary of Theological Terms, ed., A. Cairns, (Belfast: Ambassador, 2002), 446.

[16] ‘Subordinationism’, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone (eds), (Oxford: OUP, 1974), 1319.

[17] R. Letham, The Holy Trinity, 502.

[18] ‘Subordinationism’ in The Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church, eds, J. D. Douglas and W. A. Elwell, (Grand Rapids: Regency, 1989), 363.

[19] M. E. Erickson, The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001), 192.

[20] ‘Subordinationism’, in The New Dictionary of Theology, K. Komonchak, M. Collins, and D. A. Lane (eds), (Wilmington, DE.: M. Glazier, 1987), 986.

[21]‘Subordinationism’ in Dictionary of Theology, K. Rahner and H. Vorgrimler (eds), (2nd ed), New York: Crossroad, 1981), 488.

[22] This term is a post 1990 self-designation by evangelicals who teach the permanent subordination of women and the eternal subordination of the Son in ‘role’, meaning authority. It is not a helpful self-designation because virtually all Christians believe the sexes complement each other. They complete what it means to be human. The pre-1990 designation, ‘evangelical hierarchicalists’ is a more accurate and meaningful title for this position.

[23] W. Grudem, Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2006),255. On pages 251 to 253 Grudem spells out his hierarchical understanding of the Trinity. For him what indelibly and primarily differentiates the Father and the Son is their differing authority.  In his Systematic Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1994), 245 and 251, he gives a more discursive explanation of what he believes subordinationism involves.

[24] N. Geisler, Systematic Theology, 2, (Minneapolis, Mn: Bethany, 2003), 297.

[25] For more on this and documentation see Kevin Giles, The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity (Eugene, Or.: Cascade, 2017), 8-34.

[26] ‘Subordinationism’, in A Dictionary of Religion and Ethics, S. Matthews, ed. (New York: MacMillan, 1921), 420.

[27] R. C. and C. C. Kroeger, ‘Subordinationism’, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, W. A. Elwell (ed.),  (Grand Rapids; Baker, 1984), 1058.

[28] H. W. House, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 47.

[29] (Massachusetts: St Bede, 1982), 74.

[30] W. Marcus, Der Subordinationismus: als historisches Phanomenon (Munchen: M. Hubner, 1963), 171, insists that the subordinationism seen in the pre-Nicene fathers is to be sharply distinguished from Arian subordinationism. He says it was not ontological but ‘heilsgeschichlich-kosmologische oder oikonomische’.

[31] L. Ayres, Nicea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: OUP, 2004), 23-28, outlines the complexities of Origen’s thinking on the Trinity.

[32]  Hanson, The Search, 64.

[33] On the contrasts and parallels between Origen and Arius’ teaching see Hanson, The Search, 61-74 and Ayres, Nicea, 20-30.

[34]  On the so-called ‘Arians’ of the fourth century see Hanson, The Search, 3-59, 557-638, Ayres, Nicea, 105-132,and,D. Gwynn, The EusebiansThe Polemic of Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the Arian Heresy (Oxford: OUP, 2007).

[35] K. Anatolios, Retrieving Nicea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 28, says, ‘there are fundamental doctrinal continuities between Arius and others who were uncomfortable with the outcome of Nicea, despite significant discontinuities. Hanson, The Search, 99, speaks of fourth century Arianism as ‘a theology which retained to the end certain characteristic ideas.’

[36] See the Arian ‘Dedication Creed’ of 341 and the Arian ‘Macrostich Creed’ of 345. The texts of these creeds with analysis is given in Hanson, The Search, 284-324

[37] The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology (Louisville: John Knox, 2004), 30. Italics added to the word ‘status’.

[38] The Holy Trinity, 400.

[39] The Holy Trinity, 147.

[40] Nicea, 42, see also 16, and 129.

[41] Retrieving Nicea, 4. He says, ‘Nicene orthodoxy hinges on the insistence that, at least in one crucial aspect, the “form” or appearance of the economic Trinity does not correspond to that of the eternal immanent Trinity. A strict and unqualified conflation of the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity would entail that the subordination of the incarnate Son to the Father reflects the same order of subordination in the immanent Trinity.’ On p. 45, he says Arius’ error was just this, he strictly correlated the economic and immanent Trinity. See also, J. Behr, The Nicene Faith: Part One, True God of True God (Crestwood, NY.: St Vladimir’s, 2004), 213-214; T. F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 149-153.

[42]  The Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. J. McNeil, trans. F. l. Battles), (London: SCM, 1960), 1.13.23 (p. 149).

[43] Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, 4, The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 81.

[44] B. Ellis, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, and the Aseity of the Son (Oxford: OUP, 2012), 63, 154, 155.

[45] Ellis, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, 114-116. He notes that Arminius defined the Father as, ‘The first Person of the sacred Trinity’.

[46] Simon Episcopius, Institutiones Theologicae, in Opera Theologica, 2nd ed., 1, (’s–Gravenhage, 1678). Ellis, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, 122, says , ‘His discussion of the importance of recognizing subordination among the persons takes up nearly half of the chapter on the Trinity, and the following four chapters are largely taken up with the implications of this subordination.’

[47] Episcopius, Institutiones Theologicae, 1, 4.2.32.

[48] Muller, Post Reformation, 96. On the English story see in more detail, Wiles, Archetypal Heresy, 153-159; S. Hampton, The Anti-Arminians: The Anglican Reformed Tradition from Charles 11 to George 1 (Oxford: OUP, 2008), 166-191; P. Dixon, Nice and Hot Disputes: The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century (London: T. & T. Clark, 2003).

[49] See for example, W. H. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2003), 250, and A. H Strong, Systematic Theology, 3 vols(Philadelphia: Griffith and Rowland, 1907-9), 1, 342.

[50] Systematic Theology, 1, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), 442-474.

[51] Systematic Theology, 1, 467.

[52] Systematic Theology, 1, 460. See also 445, 460, 461, 462, 464, 465, 467, 468, 474.

[53] Systematic Theology, 1, 445, 461. Muller, The Triunity of God, p. 184, explains how the Reformed scholastics came to speak of ‘the modes’ of subsistence and operations’, rather than just subsistence and operations.

[54] Systematic Theology, 1, 469.

[55] G. Stockhardt, ‘Der moderne Subordinationismus im Licht der Schrift,’ Lehre und Wehre, 40 (1894), 17- 24.  For a brief comment on this debate in English see D. R. Law, ‘Kenotic Christology’ in The Blackwell Companion to Nineteenth-Century Theology, D. Ferguson, ed., (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2010), 251-280.  

[56] Christian Dogmatics, 1, (St Louis, Miss.: Concordia, 1950), 384.

[57] For examples of complementarian teaching on the Trinity see, George Knight, New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 32-34, 55-57; J. Piper and W. Grudem, edsRecovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), 104, 130, 163, 257, 394; W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 230-257; Bruce Ware, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles and Relevance (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways, 2005); M. Harper, Equal and Different: Male and Female in the Church and Family (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1994), 6, 13-14, 83, 121-122, 153-163; R. Doyle, ‘God in Feminist Critique’, Reformed Theological Review, 52.1 (1993), 21; J. Frame, The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002),  721; J. S. Horrell, ‘Towards a Biblical Model of the Social Trinity’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 47.3 (2004), 415.

[58] See Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2006); Millard Erickson, Who’s Tampering with the Trinity: An Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2009); D. Jowers and H. W. House, The New Subordinationism? Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son, (Eugene, Or.: Wipf and Stock, 2012); Giles, The Rise and Fall; D. G. Butner, The Son Who Learned Obedience: A Theological Case Against the Eternal Submission of the Son (Eugene, Or.: Pickwick, 2018).

[59] Millard Erickson, God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1995), 309.