Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead -- By: Bruce A. Ware

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 13:2 (Winter 2008)
Article: Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead
Author: Bruce A. Ware


Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles:
Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead1

Bruce A. Ware*

*Professor of Christian Theology
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky

Introduction: Framework for the Doctrine of the Trinity

The Christian faith affirms that there is one and only one God, eternally existing and fully expressed in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is equally God, each is eternally God, and each is fully God—not three gods but three Persons of the one Godhead. Each Person is equal in essence as each possesses fully and simultaneously the identically same, eternal divine nature, yet each is also an eternal and distinct personal expression of that one and undivided divine nature.

The equality of essence among the members of the Trinity, then, is greater than the equality that exists among human beings or among any other finite reality. For example, my wife, Jodi, and I are equally human, in that each of us possesses a human nature. That is, her nature is of the same kind as my nature, viz., human nature, and so our equality surely is real as an equality of kind. But the equality of the three divine Persons is even more firmly grounded. Here, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each possesses not merely the same kind of nature, viz., divine nature; rather, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each possesses fully and eternally the identically same nature. Their equality, then, is not merely an equality of kind but an equality of identity. There is no stronger grounding possible for the full equality of Persons of the Godhead than this. And so we affirm today what the church has affirmed as orthodox since the days of Nicea-Constantinople, that the oneness of God, and hence the full essential equality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is constituted precisely in a oneness of divine nature possessed fully, simultaneously, and eternally by each of the divine Persons.

Therefore, since by nature or essence the Father, Son, and Spirit are identically the same, what distinguishes the Father from the Son and each of them from the Spirit cannot be their one and undivided divine essence. At the level of divine essence, each is equal as each possesses the identically same divine nature. Rather, what distinguishes the Father from the Son and each of them from the Spirit is instead the particular roles each has within the Trinity—both immanent and economic—and the respective relationships that each has with the other divine Persons.

In this article, then, we wish to examine parti...

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