Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

by Allison Quient, Nicholas Quient | April 30, 2021

Book Review

One cannot ignore the impact of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology upon conservative evangelicalism, especially as it relates to the evangelical gender debate. As co-founder of The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood1 and a significant face behind the complementarian-leaning English Standard Version, Grudem’s second edition (ST2 hereafter) merits a review in Priscilla Papers.

Although much remains unchanged in ST2 regarding critical issues within the gender debate, there are some differences. Of note, Grudem (and Bruce Ware2) have adjusted their understanding of the Trinity to include Eternal Generation,3 also known as Eternal Procession. Eternal Generation holds that the Son is eternally begotten by the Father. To use creedal language, the Son is Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made. Not surprisingly, Grudem attempts to link this ancient doctrine with his views on gender hierarchy.

Although Grudem demonstrates awareness of some recent egalitarian scholarship from Philip Payne and Cynthia Westfall, he lacks the substantive engagement one might expect when updating such a massive and influential work. Aside from some minor corrections and updated bibliography at the end of each section, there is little else new in ST2 concerning the evangelical gender debate. This is unfortunate because there have been numerous exegetical, textual, and theological advances within the broader egalitarian conversation.

In this review article, two areas will be critiqued: 1) Grudem’s use of Eternal Generation to support eternal functional hierarchy within the Trinity and between man and woman. 2) Elements of Grudem’s perspective on 1 Tim 2:12 and Rom 16:7 concerning recent linguistic studies.

Eternal Hierarchy of the Son?

Eternal Generation is an ancient doctrine that helps one understand how, in the context of monotheism, one member of the Trinity can be completely and fully God, equal in essence or nature and yet distinct from another member of the Trinity. Grudem adds Eternal Generation to his prior way of distinguishing the members of the Trinity based on authority and submission, which he uses as a basis for gender-based hierarchy.

What does the eternal generation of the Son represent for Grudem? It signifies that in some sense the Son is “from” the Father (297) whether, preferably for Grudem, this means “the Father eternally communicates to the Son the divine essence,” or also legitimately, “the Father is the source of the personal distinctions between Father and Son” (298). The Son being from the Father implies that:

the Son is of the same nature as the Father (for a father begets a son like himself),

the Son is a distinct person from the Father (for the Son is begotten and the Father is unbegotten), and

there is a specific order in the relationship between Father and Son (the biblical pattern is always from the Father through the Son, as in 1 Cor. 8:6. (297)

How exactly Eternal Generation supports eternal functional hierarchy is disjointed in ST2. It appears Grudem uses the former doctrine as a sort of connection between the work of the Trinity in creation and the eternal existence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, it is unclear how exactly Grudem moves from one to the other or can legitimize using one to help interpret the other.

There appears to be a reliance on the term order to describe Eternal Generation, which typically connotes pattern as he includes above, yet order may on its own have the additional sense of directing, authority, and obedience when it comes to Trinitarian “roles” (299).4 In other words, order means something slightly different in the discussion of Eternal Generation than how complementarians typically describe fundamental hierarchal relationships. Yet, somehow, “the role of initiating, directing, and sending is appropriate to the position of the Father, who is first in the regular ordering of persons in the Trinity (from the Father, through the Son in the Spirit) and the one after whom all human fatherhood is patterned (Eph. 3:14–15)” (299). Further, the particular analogical relationship between the Father and human fathers is not exact. Yet, the divine names (“Father” and “Son”) are taken to support an eternal functional hierarchy in the Trinity and in gender relationships (302–3).

Other issues with Grudem’s problematic position do not appear to have been worked out or incorporated adequately. The crucial difficulty is a pattern where Grudem does not distinguish well between a critique of where his reasoning leads and the passages he interprets myopically. A critique of his argument or categorization is considered “false” for one (or more) of three reasons: 1) Because he claims something other than what is leveled as the logical conclusion to his view (306). 2) Because the critiques are “not based on Scripture.” 3) Or, since his opponent is not seeking to prove a negative, his critic does not show how Scripture explicitly denies the eternal subjugation of the Son to the Father (310) in the passages Grudem appeals to individually. These tendencies are apparent in how he interacts with critiques from Aimee Byrd, Matthew Emerson, and Luke Stamps. These critiques will also provide an occasion to rehash some of the critical overall problems for Grudem’s understanding of the Trinity.

Aimee Byrd, in Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, claims the doctrine Grudem espouses is “troubling” and “disconcerting” because it “teaches that the Son, the second person of the Trinity, is subordinate to the Father, not only in the economy of salvation but in his essence. The eternal relationship between the Father and the Son is then described as one of authority and submission.”5 To support this claim she notes that Grudem makes “authority and submission” a “matter of eternal nature.”6 Grudem states, “Authority and submission to authority . . . are truly divine concepts, rooted in the eternal nature of the Trinity for all eternity. . . .”7

If authority and submission are rooted in the eternal nature (an ontological category) of the Trinity then 1) individual members of the Trinity contain a part of what belongs to God’s nature that other members do not, and 2) these parts of God’s nature are hierarchically construed, therefore the Son in his nature or essence is not of equal authority to the Father. However, Grudem says he believes in “ontological equality but relational differences” (300). Unfortunately, this does not resolve the heretical logical result of his view. To further add to this point, his use of “role” has been expanded beyond mere functional limits to include what is unchanging, eternal, and essential. “The Father by virtue of being the Father, eternally has authority to plan, initiate, lead, direct, command and send . . .” (304). At issue is not the mere presence of functional authority, but authority based in one’s nature. Byrd is not bearing “false witness against” her neighbor (a claim Grudem makes, 307) by pointing out an obvious difficulty Grudem needs to resolve.

Finally, Grudem cites the critique by Matthew Emerson and Luke Stamps in the book, Trinitarian Theology.8 Emerson and Stamps offer a number of critiques, including the use of Scripture to support Eternal Subordination. They raise caution concerning the “exegesis of discrete texts,” which in systematic theology runs the risk of settling for proof-texting at the expense of considering wider contexts.9 An Eternal Subordination conclusion is also drawn from a variety of texts that could easily be read as the mediatorial role of the Messiah and hence do not constitute straightforward evidence for Grudem’s position.10 Not only is it inappropriate to claim this is straightforward evidence, but it also does not attend to the careful patristic distinction between the Son’s divine person and incarnation. Rather than becoming obedient, the Son is by nature obedient to the Father.11 Further, there is an inability to show how “order” demands a “suborder” or “subordination” within the Trinity. Too much is made of biblical prepositions used to describe the work of the Trinity. This is similar to Eunomius and others who denied the full deity of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day, one might not want to follow through to the conclusion of where the argumentation leads, but the argumentation is “sharply criticized by the pro-Nicene party.”12

Grudem gravitates toward the objection of Emerson and Stamps that, if there is a distinction between authority and submission among the members of the Trinity, then there are distinct wills in the Godhead (309). Ultimately at issue is that one is unable to adequately separate function from ontology since authority is not merely a “relational term” but descriptive of who God is in his essence.13 If there is a difference in agency within God, then instead of orthodoxy one arrives at tritheism or subordinationism since one cannot claim the Son’s essence includes submission within the Trinity without implying there are distinctions in the divine will.14 In response, Grudem claims “their objections are based not directly on Scripture or even on major creeds but on several writers” (310). Yet he misses the pertinent point that Emerson and Stamps offered a critique of his inadequate use of Scripture.15 Next, he claims that at “the heart of their objection” “is not that Scripture denies that the Son is eternally subject to the Father,” but that Pro-Nicene supporters do (310). Here he oddly seems to assume Emerson and Stamps need to demonstrate that Eternal Generation is explicitly denied in certain passages when the issue is that Eternal Subordination  1) is not taught in Scripture, 2) counter interpretations are more plausible, and 3) Eternal Subordination is antithetical to Nicene Orthodoxy. Further, Grudem contends that the existence of a single will does not rule out “different actualizations or different expressions of that will” (310). He appears unaware or unwilling to engage with their response to this line of reasoning on pp. 128–29 of Trinitarian Theology. In the end, he insinuates the two are overconfident. He believes his own conclusion to be “consistent with the overwhelming testimony of Scripture that the Son obeys the Father in every respect of his relationship to the world” (312).

Word Studies and Linguistics

In the realm of word studies, Grudem lacks substantial engagement with key egalitarian scholars and research. For example, he argues for largely the same positions as in his first edition without interacting with those who have advanced the discussion in academic literature, such as Payne, Westfall, and Jamin Hübner, concerning the verb authenteō in 1 Tim 2:12.16 Linguistic advancements are ignored in favor of simple re-statements of previous ideas. Grudem appeals to Al Wolter’s essay on authenteō in a footnote (1159 n.69) in support of the complementarian understanding of the verb, even though Wolters in a postscript in the same essay admits that he has insufficient training to deal with modern advances in linguistics as put forth by Westfall.17

Similarly, as it relates to 1 Tim 2:12 and authenteō, Grudem cites his own work, which was published in 2004, putting it out of date concerning the work of Westfall (2014, 2016), Payne (2009), and Hübner (2015)—all three are informed in linguistic theory and all three have substantially disputed Grudem’s analysis.18 For instance, Westfall in particular has demonstrated that the few occurrences of authenteō cannot fit into the model offered by Grudem (that authenteō in 1 Tim 2:12 refers to a positive exercise of authority in an ecclesiastical setting), especially since the noun can refer to a person who commits murder (Philo, Det. 1:78). Instead of engaging with Westfall’s linguistic work, Payne’s word study, and Hübner’s methodological overview, Grudem concludes—without any explicit rationale—that Wolter’s study is sufficient to end the debate. This demonstrates an exegetical triumphalism on Grudem’s part that is unwarranted by the actual evidence and complexity involved in the evangelical gender debate concerning authenteō.19

We see a similar avoidance of counter-arguments as Grudem ignores the work done by Payne (Man and Woman, 319–36) on the present-tense verb “I am not permitting” (1 Tim 2:12, epitrepō). As Grudem responds to Payne’s argument (that Paul used a present-tense verb to denote a temporary injunction, not an eternal prohibition), he does not even cite Payne’s work in his response (1161).20 Given that Payne has argued rather forcefully for this point since 1986, it is incongruous that Grudem did not see fit to cite and engage Payne’s specific arguments. Grudem further asserts that if one were to accept the logic of his (unnamed and uncited) interlocutor, one would witness “the nullification of many New Testament instructions for Christians” (1161). This conclusion is both uncharitable and incorrect, as Payne correctly points out that Jesus himself negates specific commands from Moses (Matt 19:8, Mark 10:4), illustrating Payne’s point that “epitrepō does not refer to a universal or permanent permission”—there is a contextual reality of language, yet Grudem does not seem to grasp the significance of this exegetical point.

Concerning the treatment of Junia in Rom 16:7, Grudem simply asserts that the ESV (an explicitly complementarian translation he spearheaded) is correct to limit the role of Junia (and Andronicus) by adopting the reading offered by Daniel Wallace and Michael Burer.21 Although Grudem notes that this debate is “complex” (1121), he nevertheless feels that the weight of the complementarian understanding of Junia “strongly favors the ESV translation” (1121). Given that this quite recent reading has been criticized since the publication of Grudem’s first ST (1994),22 one must note that Grudem’s conclusion is a noteworthy failure to engage with new and challenging evidence—at least, one is left in the dark as to why Grudem prefers his own reading as compared to the wealth of data and arguments that might challenge his perspective.23

Conclusion

We must note that one is free to disagree with competing ideas and opposing views; this is common and necessary in the search for truth. Grudem is not obligated to change his mind on any given egalitarian argument if he does not believe that the argument carries sufficient weight. However, despite sometimes offering multiple points of critique, one is still hard pressed to discover adequate engagement with key criticisms or corrections from his opponents. What we have in ST2 is a surface-level treatment that lacks nuance and exegetical precision on the question of gender equality that deserves far more.

Grudem’s commitment to the authority and applicability of Scripture is to be commended, but his lack of serious engagement with key challenges and recent advances in the study of God’s word undermines a work that has been over twenty years in the re-making. Those looking for an evangelical systematic theology that is up-to-date on recent theological and exegetical advances, let alone egalitarian, should look elsewhere.

Notes

1. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood began as a response to the assemblance of Christians for Biblical Equality and has been in operation since 1987.

2. See Ware’s contributions to Keith Whitfield, ed., Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application (B&H Academic, 2019).

3. For a full discussion of Eternal Generation by someone well-versed in the gender debate, see Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (IVP Academic, 2012). For the relevance of Eternal Generation to theology, see Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain, eds., Retrieving Eternal Generation (Zondervan, 2017).

4. Roles are eternally and hierarchically conceived for Grudem rather than their usual transient nature in everyday speech (one can take on the role of an administrator, President, or mother at various moments without them being eternal qualities).

5. Aimee Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose (Zondervan, 2020), 100–101.

6. Byrd, Recovering, 103.

7. Byrd, Recovering, 103, citing Wayne Grudem in app. 1: “The Meaning of Kephalē (‘Head’): A Response to Recent Studies,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Crossway, 1991, 2006), 457, 462, 463.

8. Matthew Emerson and Luke Stamps, “On Trinitarian Theological Method” and “Response to Bruce A. Ware and Matthew B. Yarnell III,” in Trinitarian Theology: Theological Models and Doctrinal Application, ed. Keith Whitfield (B&H, 2019).

9. Emerson and Stamps, “Response,” 131.

10. Emerson and Stamps, “Response,” 132.

11. Emerson and Stamps, “Response,” 131.

12. Emerson and Stamps, “Response,” 133.

13. Emerson and Stamps, “Response,” 135–36.

14. Emerson and Stamps, “Response,” 136.

15. Emerson and Stamps have responded to Grudem and his ST2: “On the Biblical and Historical Doctrine of the Trinity: A Response to Wayne Grudem,” The Logos Academic Blog.

16. Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Zondervan, 2009); Jamin Hübner, “Translating αὐϑεντέω (authenteō) in 1 Timothy 2:12,” Priscilla Papers 29/2 (Spring 2015) 16–26; Hübner, “Revisiting αὐϑεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12: What Do the Extant Data Really Show?,” Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 5/1 (Summer 2015) 41–70; Cynthia Long Westfall, “The Meaning of αὐθεντέω in 1 Timothy 2:12,” JGRChJ 10 (2014) 138–73; Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Baker, 2016).

17. See the postscript in Al Wolters, “The Meaning of authenteō,” 65–115 in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, 3rd ed., ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R. Schreiner (Crossway, 2016) 114–15.

18. Grudem does note the debate between Payne and Köstenberger (ST2 1161–62 n.73) but offers a one-sided series of assertions that give little information as to why Köstenberger’s work should be preferred to Payne’s. This is a methodological failing.

19. See Wolters, “The Meaning of authenteō,” and the work of Westfall, Payne, and Hübner.

20. He does not even cite the response to Payne by Thomas Schreiner in Women in the Church!

21. Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7,” NTS 47 (2001) 76–91; Michael H. Burer, “Episēmoi en tois Apostolois in Rom 16:7 as ‘Well Known to the Apostles’: Further Defense and New Evidence,” JETS 58/4 (2015) 731–55.

22. One immediately thinks of the materials written by Richard S. Cervin, “A Note Regarding the Name ‘Junia(s)’ in Romans 16:7,” NTS 40 (1994) 464–70; Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2002) 166–86; Linda Belleville,“  Ἰουνίαν . . . ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις: A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Materials,” NTS 51 (2005) 231–49; Eldon J. Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Fortress, 2005); Dennis J. Preato, “Junia, A Female Apostle: An Examination of the Historical Record,” Priscilla Papers 33/2 (2019) 8–15; Yii-Jan Lin, “Junia: An Apostle Before Paul,” JBL 139/1 (2020) 191–209; Andrea Hartmann, “Junia—A Woman Lost in Translation: The Name IOYNIAN in Romans 16:7 and its History of Interpretation,” Open Theology 6/1 (2020) 646–60.

23. There is a rather amusing methodological inconsistency in this section. Grudem chides egalitarians for the novel nature of their alternative understanding of 1 Tim 2:12 and he believes the origins of this happened after 1966 (1163; although he admits in n.76 that some denominations ordained women long before that time). And yet, Grudem is content to utilize an argument first constructed by Wallace and Burer concerning Junia being “well-known to the apostles” which appears in full force in 2001. This interpretive blunder is surely unintentional, but it illustrates the incoherence of Grudem’s methodology.