A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:28 that Christ will be subject to God forever:
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.
In light of this eternal subjection how can any Christian believe that Jesus is God?
This question is similar to the following ones which we have already addressed:
It will help the readers to have read these articles beforehand since we will not be repeating points already addressed there except for summarizing the main point. In this paper we will be building upon what we have already established previously.
In the first place, when we examine this statement in light of the overall teaching of Scripture, especially from the perspective of Pauls Christology, this text in no way shows that the Lord Jesus Christ is inferior to God in terms of his Divine nature and essence, that Christ is an inferior Divine Being, a lesser god of sorts. It only shows that Christ, by virtue of his being the Divine Son of God, is subject or subordinate to the Father in rank and position.
Yet there is a sense in which Christ is inferior in essence to the Father. The Holy Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus, in his prehuman existence, was and is forever God, and therefore fully equal to the Father in relation to his Deity. He then became a man at some point in time from the virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 1:18-23; Luke 1:26-35; John 1:1-4, 14). Thus, Christs subjection to the Father is also due in one sense to his having a nature which is inferior since Jesus is also fully human to the core, albeit a glorified human at that.
Putting it another way, Christ was subject to God even before he became a man since he was Gods Son, and sons are subject to their fathers, while being equal in the Divine essence and attributes. And since he is God the Son, Christ had sovereign authority and rule over all creation along with both the Father and the Holy Spirit. When Christ then became a man he not only added to his own Divine Person a nature which is vastly inferior to Deity, but he also ended up setting aside his Divine authority for a season since he assumed the role of a slave. After his resurrection and ascension into glory, Christ received his authority where he once more began ruling as Gods Son. He also started ruling as the head of a new creation of glorified human beings, being the first one to rise with a glorified physical body.
What Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 15:28 is that Christ will become subject to the Father once again at the end of the age. Pauls statement seems to imply that the Lord, after his ascension, received more than just the authority that he had voluntarily set aside when he became a man. The text seems to suggest that Christ is currently enjoying a position of honor in which he is not functioning as the Fathers subordinate, but as one holding equal authority with the Father. It is only at the end of the age that Christ will then assume his role of subordination, a role which was his even before he became man by virtue of his being a Son.
After all, sons are equal in essence and nature with their fathers, but subject to them in rank and authority. Likewise, Jesus as Gods Son is equal to him in essence and nature but subject to him in rank and authority.
In fact, the word translated here as made subject (hupotageesetai) is used in contexts where the meaning can only be position and rank, not essence or nature, i.e., that a person is subject to the authority of another without this making that one inferior in essence. For instance, the Greek word stems from the verb hupotasso, which is used quite often in the Holy Scripture as in the following examples:
"Then he (Jesus) went down to Nazareth with them (Joseph and Mary) and was obedient (hupotassomenos) to them. Luke 2:51
Christ made himself subject to his parents by virtue of his being their Son. He obviously wasnt inferior in nature to them in any way, since he is the Divine Savior who had come to save them and others from their sin (cf. Matthew 1:21). Thus, the subjection is purely one of authority and position.
"Everyone must submit (hypotassesthoo) himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established." Romans 13:1
Christians are commanded to submit to the governing authorities, to human rulers. This again shows that the verb relates to a subordination of authority or rank, not of essence or nature.
Christians are also commanded to submit to one another:
"Submit (hupotassomenoi) to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21
Obviously, no one will claim that Christians are inferior in value and essence simply because they are commanded to submit to each other.
It becomes clear from the foregoing that the term "submit" or "subject" does not necessarily imply that the person that is submitting is inferior in nature and essence to the other. It can simply refer to a person being in a lesser position of authority including a voluntary submission to somebody who has no natural or enforceable position of authority, like one Christian to another.
Moreover, the context of 1 Corinthians 15:28 indicates that the Greek passive hupotageesetai should be taken as a middle voice. This would mean that the Son is not being made subject, or that someone is forcing him to submit. Rather, the middle voice suggests that the Lord Jesus is voluntarily subjecting himself to the Father. As Greek NT scholar Spiros Zodhiates noted:
The translation of the verb as "the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One" is very misleading. It is taken as a passive, whereas the exegesis demands that it should be taken as a middle voice which means that the Lord Jesus Christ at the completion of His mediatorial work subjects Himself to the One who had subjected all things unto Him. It is a voluntary act and not a compulsory subjugation of one person of the Trinity to the other. This is not something which took place while the Lord Jesus was the God-Man on earth, but it is something that will take place in the future when all people will be made subject unto Christ, and then He will finally subject Himself with the finished work of redemption before God the Father. One of the greatest difficulties of the translation of the N.T. lies in discerning when the passive form should be taken with the passive meaning or the middle voice meaning, as, for instance, Jesus Christ "is made subject" or He "subjects Himself." (Spiros Zodhiates, New American Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible [AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1990], p. 1530)
In light of this, note how the following translations render the verse in question:
then the Son Himself will also subject Himself to [the Father] Who put all things under Him. Amplified Bible
the Son will present himself to God. NLT
the Son will put himself under God's authority. GOD's Word
then he himself, the Son, will place himself under God. The Good News Translation
then he will put himself under God. New Century Version
Thus, Christs submission is a voluntary act intended to bring perfect unity and peace between God and all creation, the very point Paul was making in context:
"Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he has put everything under his feet. 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. When he has done this, then the Son will subject himself to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all." 1 Corinthians 15:24-28
Christ destroying every other and opposing rule so as to make all things subject to God shows that the Lord Jesus subjection is done for the purpose of bringing everything into perfect harmonious fellowship with God as the Sovereign head of creation.
But even here we need to be careful since Christ subjecting himself doesnt mean he ceases to rule. Paul and the other NT writers clearly teach that Christ rules forever:
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on Davids throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." Isaiah 9:6-7
"In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human handsa rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy." Daniel 2:44-45
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14
"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." Luke 1:32-33
"and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:19-23
"and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:11
"The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." Revelation 11:15
Therefore, 1 Corinthians 15:28 simply means that Christ, even though he rules forever, will do so under the authority and headship of his Father. The following biblical example should help to further illustrate this point:
"So Pharaoh said to Joseph, Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discreet and wise as you are; you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; and he made him to ride in his second chariot; and they cried before him, Bow the knee! Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt. Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do." Genesis 41:39-46, 55
"Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground." Genesis 42:6
"So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Make haste and go up to my father and say to him, Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry;" Genesis 45:8-9
"When he summoned a famine on the land, and broke every staff of bread, he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass the word of the LORD tested him. The king sent and released him, the ruler of the peoples set him free; he made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions, to instruct his princes at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom." Psalm 105:16-22
Joseph was lord over all of Egypt and was second only to the pharaoh. Thus, both pharaoh and Joseph ruled over Egypt and the world, with one of them being subject to the other. Whats more, both were equal in essence and nature since both were fully humans!
These biblical facts bear repeating: In light of the clear NT teaching that the Lord Jesus is fully and essentially God, submission in reference to Christ in so far as his Deity is concerned can only be viewed in terms of authority, that Christ is subordinate to the Father by virtue of his being a Son. It does not show that the Son is inferior to the Father as far as Christs Divine nature and essence is concerned, or that he cannot therefore be God also.
Furthermore, Christ is also subordinate by virtue of his having the nature of a creature, humanity, a nature which is vastly inferior to Gods eternal, uncreated essence.
In the words of the Athanasian Creed:
29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.
31. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.
32. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
34. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.
35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.
36. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; (Source; bold and italic emphasis ours)
We conclude with Edmund J. Fortman's summation of Paul's Christology since he does a wonderful job of piecing it together:
At times Paul writes as if Christ is 'subordinate' to the Father. For he tells us that 'God sent forth his Son to redeem' (Gal 4.4) and 'did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all' (Rom 8:32). And in a notable passage he declares that 'when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one' (1 Cor 15.28). Taken by themselves these passages might warrant the conclusion that Paul held a merely subordinationist view of Christ and did not place Him on the same divine level with the Father. But if they are taken together with the passages cited above in which Paul does put Christ on the same divine level as the Father by presenting Him as the creator of all things and the 'image of the invisible God' who was 'in the form of God' and equal to God, it becomes clear that Paul views Christ both as subordinate and equal to God the Father. Possibly he thus means merely to subordinate Christ in His humanity to the Father. But more probably he wishes to indicate that while Christ is truly divine and on the same divine level with the Father, yet there must be assigned to the Father a certain priority and superiority over the Son because He is the Father of the Son and sends the Son to redeem men, and there must be ascribed to the Son a certain subordination because He is the Son of the Father and is sent by the Father. Nowhere, however, does Paul say or imply that the Son is a creature, as the Arians subordinationists will say later on. On the contrary, he makes it clear that the Son is not on the side of the creature but of the Creator and that through the Son all things are created ... (Fortman, The Triune God — A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity [Wipf and Stock Publishers: Eugene, Oregon, February 1999], p. 18)
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