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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Trinity: One God in Three Persons

Don Stewart :: Has God the Son Been Eternally Inferior to God the Father?

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Has God the Son Been Eternally Inferior to God the Father? (Subordinationism)

The Trinity: One God in Three Persons – Question 23

Jesus Christ is the eternal God. Indeed, there was never a time a time when He was anything less than God. However, there have been those who have denied this important truth.

There was an early heresy in the church that is known as Subordinationism which made Jesus a character lesser than God the Father. It can be summarized as follows:

1. Subordinationism: The Son Is a Lesser Being than the Father

Subordinationism taught that the Son was both eternal and divine. This is different from the heresy of Arianism which said Jesus was a created being. Subordinationism does not do this.

However, Subordinationism makes a huge mistake when explaining Jesus’ nature. Indeed, it teaches that Jesus is not equal to God the Father in His attributes. Consequently, the Son was subordinate, or lesser in character or His attributes to God the Father.

One of the early church fathers, Origen, taught a form of this false doctrine. He said that the Son eternally derives His being from God the Father. In other words, His nature or character is somehow dependent upon God the Father.

2. This Is Not the Same as Jesus Being Subordinate in His Role

This heresy is not the same as saying that the Son has been eternally subordinate in His role. It is important that we make the distinction between who the Son is in His essential being and His role within the Trinity. As God the Son, He has been subordinate to God the Father in His role. One can be equal in character but take on a subordinate role.

Indeed, there had to be different roles between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for there to be personal distinctions between them. However, the members of the Trinity are equal in character and unified in their plans for time and eternity.

3. Subordination in the Godhead Is Not Arianism

It has been argued that subordination within the Godhead suggests the heresy of Arianism; that the Son is somehow lesser in character to God the Father. But this is not true. Submission, with respect to God the Son, Jesus Christ, has to do with His incarnation. When He came to earth as a human being Jesus voluntarily submitted to the Father. While He took an inferior position He was never lesser in character.

Thus, the submission of the Son to the Father has nothing to do with His eternal relationship with the other members of the Trinity. It was necessary because He became human. After the redemption of salvation of humanity was accomplished Jesus Christ returned to role as God the Son. He was not subordinate to the Father. The Bible contains no suggestion of authority and obedience in Godhead. Each member has equal status.

Summary – Question 23
Has the Son Eternally Been Inferior to God the Father? (Subordinationism)

There is an ancient heresy in the church known as Subordinationism. It taught that God the Son was the eternal God but that His attributes were in some ways inferior to that of God the Father. This was based upon the fact that the Son was in submission to the Father while here upon the earth. Certain people wrongly assumed that this meant that He was inferior in character.

However, the fact that God the Son submitted to God the Father does not imply inferiority. Indeed, the Bible teaches they are the same substance. While each member of the Trinity is fully God they have different roles or functions within the Godhead. When Jesus, God the Son, came to earth He voluntarily submitted to the will of God the Father. In doing so, He was lesser in position to God the Father but He was not lesser in character.

Thus, when properly understood the submission of Jesus Christ to God the Father while He was here upon the earth does not imply that He was in any sense lesser in character to the Father. Fortunately, the heresy of Subordinationism has not been very widespread.

Is Jesus Lesser in Nature than God the Father? ← Prior Section
Did Jesus Become Exalted by God at His Baptism? Next Section →
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