Eternal Subordination of the Son as Essential to the Godhead?

I'm going to get in trouble over this one.

The egalitarian camp have long been criticised in many way, but not least in that their position undermines classical Trinitarian doctrine. So, for example, from the previous article,


From the Trinity

Some feel that one's position on egalitarianism affects one's position on subordination within the Trinity. In other words, Jesus is the eternal Son and always does that which is pleasing to theFather (John 8:29), yet his (subordinate) role as the Son does not imply inequality. This relationship of equality with different roles fits the Complementarian view.

There is clearly some weight to this argument, since we see egalitarians regularly respond by denying the eternal subordination of the Son which they rightly recognise is, in principle, incompatible with their position. So, as one brief example, this or this on the ever-gracious Rachel's blog and of course a concurrent debate in the academic strata (and here is one excellent example of a discussion).

 I obviously think there's great fruit here for further dialogue, not least because of the almost endless ways in which the Scriptures speak of the full divinity of the Son and yet, time and time again, show Him as relationally and functionally subordinate to the Father. But one text struck me last week.

1 Corinthians 15:24 Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” {Psalm 8:6} Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

What I want to know is how the egalitarians cope with this for it seems to state very clearly not only that the relational subordination of the Son is eternal, but also that this is a necessary and essential part of God being who He is.

First, we should note that Paul very clearly uses the language of submission (υποτασσω) to describe what is happening here – in particular in v27-28 at the climax of the argument (the “put under”) language is also using that “submission” word. Thus at the end all things (ie the Creation) are “submitted” to Christ who then Himself is “submitted” to God (the Father, in context). This is clearly an “eternal” event for it is the ongoing outcome of “the end”. ie this is the result of the return of Christ. Thus, there is an eternal submission of the Son. We should also further note that the language of submission here with respect to Christ “will be made subject” is in the passive (as the English translators also render it) – ie this is something “done” to the Son , he is made subject by the Father. The strength of this is quite astounding.

Secondly, we should note that this eternal submission of the Son is in order that (or, perhaps, “with the result that”) God “may be all in all”. The phrase “all in all” is a uniquely Pauline one in the Scriptures (used in 1Cor. 12:6; 15:28; Eph. 1:23; 2Thes. 3:16). The use in 1Cor. 12:26 and 2Thes. 3:16 speak to the ability of God the Father to do all things in every way that He so chooses. The usage in Eph. 1:23 mirrors that here in 15:26 and, indeed, has the same context – the place of Jesus as head of all things in order that God might be seen to be sovereign over all things.

Ephesians 1:22 And God placed all things under [Christ's] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Thus we see the Scriptures showing us very clearly that God's eternal sovereignty over the entire renewed Creation is expressed as part of a process that includes the eternal subordination of the Son. More than that, the eternal subordination is required – this is done so that God may be seen to be all in all.

Rather than being alien to true divinity, the eternal subordination of the Son is an essential part of it. Of course, this is nothing new to classical Trinitarians – they see no discordance in the Scriptures between the subordination of the Son and His divinity, nor between it and the eternal nature of the Godhead. They, of course, go on to note that if there is no such discordance between subordinated role and equal divine status between Father and Son then the same principle holds true for the classical complementarian position with regards to male and female roles.


But I'm intrigued as to how the egalitarians read it.



7 comments on “Eternal Subordination of the Son as Essential to the Godhead?

  1. I, along with David, am intrigued. I assume that there are some egalitarians reading this blog, and I’d very much like to read what they have to say.

    Don’t worry about getting David into trouble; I’m sure he doesn’t mind too much wink

  2. “We should also further note that the language of submission here with respect to Christ “will be made subject” is in the passive (as the English translators also render it) – ie this is something “done” to the Son , he is made subject by the Father. The strength of this is quite astounding.”

    Hmmm, actually the text does _not_ say that ‘he is made subject _by_ the Father’. The passive construction allows the agent in an action to be demoted/omitted. Paul does not indicate any agent.

  3. Hi Bruce.

    Yes, you’re right – technically, the agent is not named. But in the context it’s pretty clear who it is, surely? God is the one who, immediately prior to the phrase in question, is placing things in subjection. Then immediately afterwards we are told that the subjection of the Son is in order that God may be seen to be all in all.

    It strikes me we need a very good reason not to then read God (the Father) as agent at that particular point. It certainly seems to be the natural sense of the logic Paul is setting out.

    btw, have long been fascinated by the work of SIL. What do you do for them?

  4. I think the significance of Bruce’s observation is that the passive of this particular verb can be used to emphasise the willing, voluntary nature of the submission on the part of the one who submits – i.e. the person who submits recognises that there is an ordered structure, and places himself or herself in that structure. This is the way it seems to be used in a number of other passages, e.g.:
    1. the submission of people w.r.t. God or Christ – e.g. – James 4:7, Eph 5:24
    2. Wives w.r.t. husbands – e.g. 1 Cor 14:34, Eph 5:22, Col 3:18, Tit 2:5, 1 Pet 3:1
    3. Christians w.r.t. secular authorities – e.g. Rom 13:1, 5; Tit 3:1 –
    4. younger men w.r.t. elders – e.g. 1 Pet 5:5

    With regards to the wife / husband passages, this observation can be a helpful clarification for the complementarian position. It guards against the idea, for example, that husbands should impose their authority by force. Complementarianism is not about forcing submission.

    Something similar is probably going on in 1 Cor 15:28 too – the passive without a subject seems to be used by Paul to show that the Son’s submission to the Father is voluntary. The submission of the Son to the Father is not like the subjection of God’s enemies to Christ (1 Cor 15:25-27). It is not that the Father will force the Son to submit against his will, but that God the Son acts fully as God the Son and places himself within that right and good ordered relationship with the Father.

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