Thursday, May 14, 2020

Craig on eternal sonship

A sequel to this post:

Craig seems to think that in order to reject eternal generation, he must reject ontological sonship. If so, that's confused. These are theological metaphors. Metaphors are open-textured. Metaphors have multiple connotations. As such, most authors don't intend for every connotation of a metaphor to be in play. So the interpretive question is to identify the intended connotation.

Consider some of the connotations of fatherhood and sonship: fathers preexist sons, fathers age, fathers die, fathers and sons are embodied agents, sons undergo a maturation process, sons result from sex between a father and a mother.

When the NT uses father/son language for two persons of the Trinity, these connotations are clearly off the table. They reflect sheerly human things incompatible with deity. So the intended connotation(s) of the father/son terminology in NT Trinitarian usage is narrow. 

One connotation of the metaphor is derivation. Since that's incompatible with his position (I agree), he demotes the father/son terminology to the economic Trinity. It doesn't seem to occur to him that another connotation of the father/son metaphor is representation. A son resembles his father (like father/like son) and a son is especially qualified to act on behalf of his father, as his father's agent. Both are grounded in ontological sonship. 


  1. Is resemblance and representation unique to the Son? Is the Father, in principle, not fit for that in any other conceivable world?

    1. No doubt the Father can make things that represent him in the world. Human fatherhood is a direct example.

      But that's not what I was talking about. Rather, I was referring to the mutual resemblance between Father and Son. They mirror each other.

    2. Yes, I was unclear. I meant the unique sense in which the Son represents the Father. If the unique resemblance of the persons is mutual, then is the person we call Father in this world unable, in some other world, to do what the Son does in this world? Is this type of division of labor necessary. Just trying to wrap my head around what it means. I recall Frame saying something along the lines of the Son's economic role being appropriate to the Son specifically.

    3. i) An interesting question. I don't think we know enough to answer that. Perhaps the division of labor in the economic Trinity is arbitrary. Perhaps members of the Trinity could switch economic roles.

      ii) I'd say representation in the sense of resemblance is what underlies representation in the sense of agency. Resemblance is more fundamental than agency. Resemblance is ontological whereas agency is economic. In a different possible world, the Father could act on the Son's behalf.

      iii) But my immediate point is that resemblance is constitutive of deity. Father, Son, and Spirit can't be divine unless they mirror each other. And Scripture uses father/son language to indicate the deity of both persons. It uses a different designation for the Spirit because fatherhood/sonship is the closest analogue in human experience, but since that's a two-way relation, that particular metaphor is exhausted when applied to two individuals. There isn't an equivalent metaphor for a third individual. But the resemblance principle must extend to the Spirit.

    4. Really helpful. Thanks Steve. And I appreciate the eternal generation vs. ontological sonship distinction. The latter does seem to be more warranted by the bible than the former.