Is the eternal Father/Son relationship a relationship of authority/submission? – Fred Sanders

The only image of the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity. It is the economic Trinity which should serve as the model of any mimetic ethic we might undertake.

Is relationship between the eternal son and the eternal father egalitarian? or complementarian? No. It’s weirder than that. It turns on the eternal generation of the Son, a relationship in which the Son exists as always being from the Father, but in complete equality.

What else can we say about this eternal Fatherhood and Sonship? I do not think we should describe it as a relationship of authority, in which one commands and the other obeys. Why not? …

First, I do not think the persons of the Trinity are three distinct centers of consciousness, each with its own faculties of knowing and willing, its own mental contents and perspectives. That is, I am not a social trinitarian in the modern sense of the term, and cannot place Father and Son over against each other as negotiating between themselves the claims of their independent wills within the unity of the one God.

Secondly, I think that what we see here in the history of salvation – the Son obeying the command of the Father – is a true representation of what occurs between the Father and Son in the immanent Trinity, but it is a representation under certain specific conditions: conditions of incarnation and redemption. What passes between them in their eternal life together is something high and exalted, something we probably do not have a name for. What the Lord Jesus lives out, there in the being of God, is eternal sonship, sovereign filiality, perfect fromness. When it takes on flesh and dwells among us, that sonship is expressed in the form of obedience. But “obedience to a command” is not a worthy name for it as it exists on high.

The above is an excerpt from Fred Sanders’ post The Trinity in Gender Debates which was published on October 30, 2012. Some paragraph breaks have been added. [The above excerpt is not an exact match to the linked article. See note below*. Editors.]

[*Note from the bottom of Fred Sanders’ article The Trinity in Gender Debates added April 18, 2021. Editors.]:

This post is a revised version of remarks I made at a public discussion with Kevin Giles at Biola last week (Oct 26, 2012), at the invitation of Ron Pierce and his “Theology of Gender” class. Those remarks in turn incorporated some comments from a 2006 ETS paper, also delivered in dialogue with Dr. Giles. It seems every couple of years this issue is raised again, and I’m never happy enough with the way the discussion is framed, or with the aptness of my remarks, to publish them. But with the Jowers & House volume now in print, and with Kevin in town for a public conversation, it seemed appropriate to go ahead and state my views in case they are helpful for a wider audience.


1 thought on “Is the eternal Father/Son relationship a relationship of authority/submission? – Fred Sanders”

  1. When we look at the example of Christ, even though He is above “all principality and power and might,” (Eph 1:21) Christ never tries to push us down further beneath His authority. Instead, He raises us up “to sit with Me in My throne….” (Rev 3:21)

    That’s the heart of God towards us—always wanting to lift us up—not push us away.

    The way that Jesus wanted things to be was:

    “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because all things that I heard from My Father, I have made known to you.”
    John 15:15 (BLB)

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