Was the pre-Nicene church father Irenaeus a Trinitarian?

This is the fifth article in the series that discusses the Christology of the main Christian authors of the first three centuries after Christ. The first article introduces the discussion, defined the Trinity doctrine and gave an overview of its conceptual and historical development. This was followed by articles discussing the views of Polycarp, Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch. This fifth article discusses the view of Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 115-190).

Irenaeus became a bishop at Lyons about 178 AD. There are two major works by him known to us:

      • Against Heresies and
      • Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

This article discusses Irenaeus’ view of the nature of Christ (his Christology). In the quotes below, “P” stands for Proof of the Apostolic Preaching while “I” to “V” stands for the first five books of Against Heresies. Where I used more than one quote from a page, I added a, b or c.

Irenaeus’ writings are available from Earlychristianwritings.com. The text of the quotes from his works, that are referred to in this article, are listed at the end of this article.

Summary

The analysis of Irenaeus’ writings below concludes that the Father created all things but He created all things “through Christ Jesus.” Irenaeus describes the Father as the “One God, the Almighty,” as the only God and as the true God who “contains all things.”

By describing the Father as the Supreme God Almighty, the Most High, God of all, as ruling over all, who alone knows the very day and hour of judgment (II,28), Irenaeus indicated that the Son is subordinate to the Father. This is emphasized by statements such as that:

Jesus Christ became flesh according to the good pleasure of the Father” (I,9,2), that

He has received dominion over all creation from His Father (III,6a), and that

The Father is greater than Christ (II,28) and the Head of Christ” (V,18; cf. 1 Cor 2:3).

Although Irenaeus described the Father as the “one God” and as the “only God,” and the Son is subordinate to the Father, Irenaeus also described Jesus Christ as “eternally co-existing with the Father” (e.g. II,30) and as “God” (e.g. I,10,1). However, even in the phrases which referred to Jesus as God, Irenaeus described the Son as subordinate to the Father God. For example:

“He who suffered under Pontius Pilate,
the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge,
receiving power from Him who is the God of all” (III,12a).

Irenaeus gave two reasons why the Son is called God, namely:

    • He is the visible image of the invisible Father and
    • “That which is begotten of God is God” (P47).

To understand why Irenaeus was able to refer to the Son as “God” but still as subordinate to the Father, we need to understand the meaning of the Greek word which Irenaeus used, which is the word theos:

One of the possible meanings of theos is “God,” which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.” But theos also has a range of other possible meanings, such as:

          • Beings empowered by God to represent Him, such as Moses (Exo 7:1), and
          • People “to whom the word of God came” (John 10:35; cf. Psalm 82).

To describe a being as theos, therefore, does not mean that that being is God. A being is God if He is the almighty originator of the universe, as Merriam-Webster defined the title. Irenaeus described only the Father as such.

– END OF SUMMARY –

The Father

Irenaeus repeated the same concepts many times over. The following is one of his typical statements about the Father:

“The beginning of all things is God.
For He Himself was not made by any,
and by Him all things were made.
And therefore, it is right first of all to believe that
there is One God, the Father,
who made and fashioned all things” (P4).

This statement is explicitly about the Father and says that:

The Father created all things.

He is the uncaused Cause of all things. Elsewhere, Irenaeus refers to the Father as “Maker of heaven, and earth,” and that He “created all things,” or “grants existence to all” (I,10,1; II,1; III,1; III,6b; III,8; III,12c; IV,5,1-2; IV,20,2b,c; P6).

The Father is “One God.”

Irenaeus was quite fond of the phrase “one God,” also expressed as “One God, the Almighty” (I,9,2; cf. I,10,1; III,1; III,12c; IV,1; IV,6b; IV,20,2a,b,c; V,18; V,22; P5). This is related to the New Testament’s “one God”-statements in which the “one God” always refers to the Father (John 5:44; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5-6; 1 Tim 2:5). Irenaeus also quoted these verses, for example:

“The Apostle Paul in like manner (stated),
‘There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father, who is above all,
and through all, and in us all'”
(IV,32; cf. Eph 4:5-6).

The following is another one of Irenaeus’s typical statements:

“There is shown forth One God, the Father, not made, invisible, creator of all things; above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And, since God is rational, therefore by [the] Word He created the things that were made.” (P5)

This statement again refers to the Father as “One God” and as the Creator. But it adds the following:

The Father is the only God.

As Irenaeus stated, above and after the Father there is no other God. Irenaeus frequently stated that the Father is the only God. For example, he would describe Jesus Christ as “the only-begotten Son of the Only God” (I,9,2) or state, “the Father, is the Only God and Lord, who Alone is God and ruler of all” (III,9a; cf. II,1; II,28; III,6b; III,6c; III,9b; III,25; IV,Preface; IV,1).

That the Father is the only God seems to be the meaning of the “one God” statements above. These two thoughts are integrated in categorical statements such as:

    • “There is One Almighty God” (III,11a)
    • “There is One God, the Maker of this universe” (III,11b; III,12b)

The Father is the true God.

Irenaeus identified the Father as the “true God” and as the “only true God” (III,15). For example:

“The apostles taught the Gentiles that they should leave vain wood and stones … and worship the True God, who had created and made all the humanity … and that they might look for His Son Jesus Christ” (III,5; cf. V,22).

The Father created all things by the Word.

As quoted above from P5, “by [the] Word He [the one God] created the things that were made.” Elsewhere, Irenaeus stated this principle as that:

    • “Through Him all things were made by the Father” (P5) or,
    • The Father created all things “through Christ Jesus” (III,4; cf. III,11a; IV,20,1; IV,20,2b)

The Father “contains all things.”

This interesting quote from (IV,20,2c) makes me think of the principle that God is not somewhere in the universe, rather, the universe is somewhere in God. Elsewhere, Irenaeus described “God the Creator” as “the Only God … alone containing all things” (II,1). Perhaps a related statement made by Irenaeus is that “the Father Himself is Alone called “God”, who has a real existence” (II,28). In other words, the existence of everything else is dependent on the Father’s existence.

Christ Jesus

Irenaeus contrasted Jesus Christ to the Father with phrases such as:

“The Church … has received … this faith:
One God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea,
and all things that are in them;
and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God,
who became incarnate for our salvation,
and in the Holy Spirit …” (I,10,1; cf. I,9,2; III,1; IV,6b)

This sounds very similar to the opening phrase on the Nicene Creed, formulated more than a hundred years later:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Son of God (Earlychurchtexts)

The One Christ Jesus

In Irenaeus’ statements, Jesus is the “one Christ Jesus” or the “one Jesus Christ” in contrast to the Father, who is the “One God.” The New Testament does not refer to Jesus as “one Christ Jesus” or as “one Jesus Christ,” but, in contrast to the “one God,” the New Testament does refer to Jesus as “one Lord” (Eph 4:5-6; 1 Cor 8:6). Apparently, the New Testament’s “one God” and “one Lord” statements were foundational for Irenaeus’ Christology. This is how it should be, for these statements are specifically formulated to explain the relationship between the Father and the Son. Theologians often mistakenly rely on less clear statements to formulate faulty Christologies. 

The Father is Supreme.

As indicated by the following quotes, Irenaeus described the Father as above all, God Almighty, the Most High, God of all, the Supreme King, God over all, and as ruling over all:

“The Father is above all things for ‘the Father,’ says He, ‘is greater than I'” (II,28).

The Father is “God Almighty, The Most High, The Creator, The Maker” (II,35; cf. P8) – “the God of all, the Supreme King” (III,5).

“He it is who is God over all” (IV,5,1-2; cf. P5).
“God the Father (is) ruling over all” (III,6a)

“Therefore One God, the Father is declared, who is above all” (Book V,18; cf. IV,20,2a).

The Father is Almighty.

Irenaeus used the term “Almighty” frequently, but always only for the Father; never for Christ. For example, the following is a quote by Irenaeus from 1 Corinthians 8:6, to which he added “Almighty” to the description of the Father, as well as “a firm belief in the Spirit of God:”

“A full faith in One God Almighty,
of whom are all things,
and in the Son of God,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
by whom are all things …
and a firm belief in the Spirit of God” (IV,33).

Since Irenaeus identified the Father alone as the “Almighty,” the Son is not Almighty. For a discussion of the title “Almighty” in the New Testament, see – Is Jesus the Almighty?

The Son is subordinate to the Father.

Irenaeus described the subordinate position of the Son in phrases such as:

      • Jesus Christ “became flesh” “according to the good pleasure of the Father” (I,9,2).
      • Every knee will bow to Jesus “according to the will of the invisible Father” (I,10,1).
      • “The Father alone knows the very day and hour of judgment” (II,28; cf. Matt 24:36)
      • “‘The Father,’ says He, ‘is greater than I'” (II,28; cf. John 14:28).
      • “His Son … has received dominion from His Father over all creation” (III,6a)
      • “’He shall he great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest’” (III,16);
      • “The Father is indeed above all, and He is the Head of Christ” (V,18; cf. 1 Cor 2:3).

The Son always existed.

Although the Son is subordinate to the Father, He always existed:

    • “Pre-existing with the Father,
      begotten before all the creation of the world” (P30);
    • “Eternally co-existing with the Father”
      (II,30; cf. IV,6; IV,20,1; IV,20,2a);

I have found that people struggle to understand how Christ could be eternal but still be subordinate to the Father. We need to remember that, to say that Jesus always existed means that He existed for as long as time existed, but time had a beginning – 13 billion years ago with the big bang (NASA). There is no time in the infinity beyond this universe. But that Infinity contains the real substance of our existence because it is the Source of the power and intelligence that brought forth this universe. In that infinity, the Son was begotten of the Father. But beyond that, we should say nothing of that infinity because that has not been revealed to us.

The Son is God.

Although he described the Father as the “one God” and as the “only God,” and described the Son as subordinate to the Father, Irenaeus described the Son also as “God” (I,10,1; III,15; III,19,2; IV,5,1-2; IV,6c; P40; P47). However, even in the phrases which refer to Jesus as God, Irenaeus described the Son as subordinate to the Father God:

“To Christ Jesus, our Lord,
and God, and Saviour, and King,
according to the will of the invisible Father,
every knee should bow” (I,10,1).

“The apostles of freedom called no one else ‘God,’ or named him ‘Lord,’ except the Only true God, the Father, and His Word” (III,15).

“He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge, receiving power from Him who is the God of all” (III,12a).

Irenaeus gave two reasons why the Son is called God:

“The Father is the invisible of the Son, but the Son the visible of the Father. And for this reason all spoke with Christ … and they named Him God” (IV,6c).

“That which is begotten of God is God” (P47).

The translation of theos

To understand why Irenaeus was able to refer to the Son as “God” but still as subordinate to the Father, we need to understand the meaning of the Greek word which Irenaeus used, which is the word theos.

The title “God” defined

Merriam-Webster defines the term “God” as “a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.”

Only one “omnipotent” (almighty) Being is possible. If there were more than one, one would limit to the power of the other. There can also only be one “originator … of the universe.”

Sola Gratia proposes a different definition for “God.” He says that any being that has “the exact same nature with the Father” is God. However, we cannot each have his or her own definition of “God.” That is what dictionaries are for. If we have different definitions for the same word, we will talk past one another.

Consider the historical development of the title “God:”

The meaning of theos

The Greek word, that is translated as “God,” is theos. In the ancient Greek culture, theos was used for the pantheon of the Greek gods such as Zeus, the god of heaven, Hera, Queen of the gods, Poseidon, God of the seas, and many others. The gods were thought of as immortal beings with supernatural powers over nature and mankind.

When Greek became the common language of the Empire, the Jews translated the Hebrew elohim as the Greek theos. Since elohim, in the Hebrew culture, was used for the true God but also for a range of other beings, theos took on the same meanings in Jewish and Christian writings, which included:

    • Any immortal being with supernatural powers;
    • Beings empowered by God to represent Him, such as Moses (Exo 7:1), and
    • People “to whom the word of God came” (John 10:35; cf. Psalm 82).

See the article on theos for a discussion of the meanings.

The meaning of “God”

The original New Testament, written in Greek, was written only in capital letters. The same applies to Iranaeus’ writings. (He wrote in Greek.)

But, over the centuries, the distinction between upper- and lower-case letters developed. With that, over time, came the practice to capitalize the G and to use the word “God” to refer to one specific being, namely the One who exists without cause. In other words, we use the word “God,” with an upper case G, as the name for one specific Being, namely the One who exists without cause.

How the ancient writers distinguished

However, when the original New Testament as written, and when Irenaeus wrote, these writers did not have a word that is equivalent to God. Given the broad range of meanings of the word theos, Irenaeus and the other pre-Nicene fathers could refer to both the Father and Jesus Christ as theos. But they distinguished the Father from the other theos-beings in various other ways. Irenaeus (and the Bible writers), for example, as quoted above, described the Father as:

      • The “one God,”
      • “The only God,”
      • “The Almighty,”
      • “One God … who is above all” and
      • “The True God,” and
      • “The Father … who Alone is God.”

To make sure that the reader understands, Irenaeus stated this also negatively, namely, “there is no other God” (P5).

How to translate theos

By means of such techniques, and by describing the Father as the Head of Christ, and as greater than Christ, Irenaeus represented Christ as subordinate to the Father. The point is that, as Irenaeus described Him, the Son is not “God” as defined above by Merriam-Webster, namely the omnipotent (almighty), omniscient originator of the universe. Given this definition, and given Irenaeus’ Christology, only the Father is “God” in modern English. Consequently, theos, when used by Irenaeus for Jesus, should not be translated as “God.”

On the other hand, to translate theos as “god” when it describes Jesus is also not acceptable because, in Christian circles, the title “god” is often understood as referring to false gods. That is a dilemma for translators to sort out.

God from God

Consider again the statement which Irenaeus made in P47: “That which is begotten of God is God.” This reminds me of the Nicene Creed, which reads:

God from God,
light from light,
true God from true God

Since the word theos, which is translated four times in this verse as “God,” merely means “god,” and in the ancient Greek language, simply means an immortal being with supernatural powers, all that Irenaeus meant was that, since the Father is an immortal being with supernatural powers, and since Jesus Christ is the only begotten of God, He is also an immortal being with supernatural powers. If that is correct, then Irenaeus’ statement must be translated as “That which is begotten of god is god.”

However, the Nicene Creed adds the word “true” before “theos.” As we have seen, both the New Testament and Irenaeus use the phrase “true theos” only for the Father (III,15; III,5; V,22; John 17:3; 1 Thess 1:9; 1 John 5:20). (For a discussion of 1 John 5:20, see the article on theos.)

Therefore, the question is, what does the Nicene Creed mean by “true theos? Does it mean that Jesus Christ is “God” in the modern sense of the word, or that He truly is an immortal being with supernatural powers? For a discussion, see the article on the interpretation of the Nicene Creed

Lord

In the quotes above, Irenaeus used the title “Lord” many times and for both the Father and for Jesus Christ. This is also not proof that Jesus is “God” as defined above. The same principles that apply to the title “God,” also apply to the title “Lord,” namely that Irenaeus applied the title “Lord” to the Father in a special sense, for he refers to the Father as the “only Lord” and as “the true Lord:”

“The Father, is the Only God and Lord” (III,9a).

“God the Creator … since He is the Only God, the Only Lord, the Only Creator, the Only Father” (II,1).

“It was the true Lord and the One God … the same did Christ point out as the Father” (V,22).

Similar to theos, the Greek word that is translated as “lord” (kurios) has a wide range of meanings:

On the low end of the spectrum, it can simply be a respectful form of address to somebody in a more senior position, similar to “sir” or “master.”

But exalted beings, such as kings and gods were also addressed as “lord.”

Given the exalted view which the New Testament and Irenaeus have of “the only-begotten Son of the Only God” (I,9,2), such as that He “eternally co-existed with the Father” (II,30) and “has received dominion from His Father over all creation” (III,6a) so that every knee in heaven and on earth must bow to Him (I,10,1), Jesus Christ is most appropriately called “Lord.”

However, given the clear distinction between the “one God” (the Father) and the “one Lord, Jesus Christ” that is made by the “one God” statements (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:4-6; 1 Titus 2:5), Jesus is not “Lord” in the same sense as the Father. Rather, “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).

Triadic passages

One of the major ‘proofs” of the ‘divinity’ of Christ and of the Trinity is the triadic passages, which are passages in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together, for example, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). Irenaeus also mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit many times together in a single passage (e.g. I,10,1; IV,6b; IV,20,1). These passages do include the Son and the Holy Spirit in “the divine identity,” if I may borrow a term from Richard Bauckham. However, we need to respect the clear statements in both the New Testament and Irenaeus’ writings that the Father is the “only true God” (III,15; John 17:3).

Conclusion

Irenaeus believed that the Father is “the only and the true God,” who also created all things. He alone is “Almighty.” He wrote that “every knee should bow” to Jesus because that is “the will of the invisible Father.” Irenaeus saw Christ as distinct from God and subordinate to the Father, explicitly quoting from the Bible that the Father is “the Head of Christ.” None of the quotes say that the Holy Spirit is self-aware. There is also no mention of one substance or of Christ’s proposed dual nature.

According to what I quoted above from Irenaeus, he was no philosopher. He simply takes the Scriptures as they are. However, he emphasized verses that Trinitarians avoid.

The purpose of the mini-series of articles is to determine whether the church fathers in the first three centuries believed in the Trinity. If we use Irenaeus, writing in the late second century, as a norm, then the answer must be a loud and clear “no.” 

List of quotes

Below are quotes from Irenaeus’ writings. For the full text, see Irenaeus of Lyons (earlychristianwritings.com).

Against Heresies

The following is quoted from Irenaeus’ voluminous work, Against Heresies.

John, proclaiming One God, the Almighty,
and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten,
by whom all things were made …
the only-begotten Son of the Only God,
who, according to the good pleasure of the Father,
became flesh for the sake of men. (I,9,2).

The Church … has received … this faith … (in)
One God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea,
and all things that are in them;
and in One Christ Jesus, the Son of God,
who became incarnate for our salvation;
and in the Holy Spirit … (I,10,1)

To Christ Jesus, our Lord,
and God, and Saviour, and King,
according to the will of the invisible Father,
“every knee should bow, of things in heaven,
and things in earth, and things under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess” to him (I,10,1).

God the Creator,
who made the heaven and the earth,
and all things that are in it …
since He is the Only God, the Only Lord, the Only Creator, the Only Father, alone containing all things, and Himself commanding all things into existence (II,1).

This God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul the apostle also has declared,
“There is One God, the Father, who is above all, and through all, and in all” [Eph 4:6]. (II, 2).

Since the Father Himself is Alone called “God“,
who has a real existence …
the Scriptures acknowledge Him Alone as “God,” …
the Lord confesses Him Alone as his own Father (II,28)

The Lord, the very Son of God, allowed that the Father Alone knows the very day and hour of judgment, when he plainly declares, “But of that day and that hour knows no man, neither the Son, but the Father Only.” (II,28)

The Father … has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day … we may learn through him that the Father is above all things. For “the Father,” says He, “is greater than I.” (II,28).

The Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom he wills that God should be revealed. (II,30)

All the other expressions likewise bring out the title of One and the same being; as, for example … God Almighty, The Most High, The Creator, The Maker, and such like. (II,35).

These [Apostles] have all declared to us that there is One God, Creator of heaven and earth … and one Christ the Son of God. (III,1).

The ancient tradition, believing in One God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, through Christ Jesus, the Son of God (III,4).

Our Lord … acknowledged as God, even the God of all, the Supreme King, too, and his own Father (III,5)

The apostles taught the Gentiles that they should leave vain wood and stones … and worship the True God, who had created and made all the humanity … and that they might look for His Son Jesus Christ (III,5).

God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from His Father over all creation (III,6a)

I do also call upon You, LORD God of Abraham, and God of Isaac, and God of Jacob and Israel, who IS the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … that we should know You, who has made heaven and earth, who rules over all … above whom there is no other God, do grant, by our Lord Jesus Christ, the governing power of the Holy Spirit, to every reader of this book to know You, that You Alone are God, to be strengthened in You (III,6b)

“We know that an idol is nothing, and that there is no other God but One. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, yet to us there is but One God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we through Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (III,6c)

He indeed who made all things can alone, together with His Word, properly be termed God and Lord (III,8).

He, the Father, is the Only God and Lord, who Alone is “God” and ruler of all. (III,9a)

There is therefore One and the same God, the Father of our Lord. (III,9b).

There is One Almighty God, who made all things by His Word … that by the Word, through whom God made the creation, He also bestowed salvation on the men included in the creation (III,11a)

There is One God, the Maker of this universe … the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (III,11b).

He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge, receiving power from Him who is the God of all (III,12a)

The One and the same God … that He was the Maker of all things, that He was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (III,12b)

To the Greeks they preached One God, who made all things, and His Son Jesus Christ (III,12c)

The apostles of freedom called no one else “God,” or named him “Lord,” except the Only true God, the Father, and His Word. (III,15)

The angel said … He shall he great, and shall be called the Son of The Highest … And David … confessed him as Lord, sitting on the right hand of The Most High Father. (III,16).

He [Jesus] is … God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word … He had … in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father. (III,19,2)

Their Creator, who is both God Alone, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (III,25).

There is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption. (IV,Preface).

No other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word (IV,1)

Our Lord … did also command us to confess no one as Father, except Him … who is the One God and the One Father (IV,1).

Whom Christ confessed as His Father. Now He is the Creator, and He it is who is God over all (IV,5,1-2)

Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is the God of the living, who spake to Moses, and who was also manifested to the fathers. (IV,5,1-2).

The Son, being present with His own handiwork from the beginning, reveals the Father to all  (IV,6a)

There is One God, the Father, and one Word, and one Son, and one Spirit, and one salvation to all who believe in Him. (IV,6b).

And through the Word Himself who had been made visible and palpable, was the Father shown forth … all saw the Father in the Son: for the Father is the invisible of the Son, but the Son the visible of the Father. And for this reason all spoke with Christ when He was present [upon earth], and they named Him God. (IV,6c).

For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom … He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness.” (IV,20,1)

The apostle say, “There is One God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all.”…. the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father; and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit (IV,20,2a)

There is therefore One God, who by the Word and Wisdom created and arranged all things. (Book IV,20,2b)

There is One God the Father, who contains all things, and who grants existence to all (IV,20,2c).

The Apostle Paul in like manner (stated), “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.” (Book IV,32). (Eph 4:5-6)

A full faith in One God Almighty, of whom are all things, and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things … and a firm belief in the Spirit of God  (IV, 33). (1 Cor 8:6)

And therefore One God, the Father is declared, who is above all, and through all, and in all. The Father is indeed above all, and He is the Head of Christ. (V,18; cf. 1 Cor 2:3).

It was the true Lord and the One God … the same did Christ point out as the Father, whom also it compels the disciples of Christ, alone to serve. (V,22)

Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

The following excerpts are from the translation by J. Armitage Robinson.

The beginning of all things is God. For He Himself was not made by any, and by Him all things were made. And therefore it is right first of all to believe that there is One God, the Father, who made and fashioned all things (P4).

There is shown forth One God, the Father, not made, invisible, creator of all things; above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And, since God is rational, therefore by [the] Word He created the things that were made (P5).

The Word called the Son, and the Spirit the Wisdom of God. Well also does Paul His apostle say: One God, the Father, who is over all and through all and in us all. For over all is the Father; and through all is the Son, for through Him all things were made by the Father (P5)

This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building … God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things (P6).

The Father is called Most High and Almighty and Lord of hosts (P8).

[The prophets] instructed the people and turned them to the God of their fathers, the Almighty; and they became heralds of the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God … pre-existing with the Father, begotten before all the creation of the world (P30).

Thus then the Word of God in all things hath the pre-eminence, for that He is true man and Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God (P40).

So then the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God; for that which is begotten of God is God.  (P47).

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

FIRST 300 YEARS

FOURTH CENTURY

FIFTH CENTURY

LATER DEVELOPMENT

The Son is subordinate to God. “God is the Head of Christ.”

Purpose

The Bible presents the Son as subordinate to the Father. But this is inconsistent with the Trinity doctrine in which the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-equal with the Father.

The first defense of the Trinity doctrine is to say that the Son was only temporarily subordinate to the Father while He was on earth, but that He was equal with the Father before His incarnation and that He again is equal with the Father after He returned to heaven.

However, as this article will show, according to the Bible, the Son always was subordinate to the Father and will always be subordinate to the Father.

Therefore, the second defense of the Trinity doctrine is to say that the Son is eternally functionally subordinate to the Father but ontologically (in terms of substance and being) equal to the Father. This article quotes several authorities to show that this is truly an orthodox teaching.

This article then concludes by arguing that even eternal functional subordination does not protect the Trinity doctrine against the evidence from the Bible that the Son is subordinate to the Father.

The Main Enemy of the Trinity Doctrine

According to Kevin Giles, the three great trinitarian heresies are tritheism, modalism, and subordinationism.

    • Tritheism is the risk that the Trinity may be understood as three Gods.
    • Modalism is the risk that the Trinity may be understood as one Person.

These are regarded as two incorrect understandings of the Trinity doctrine. But Subordinationism is the main enemy of the Trinity doctrine for it challenges the very foundation of the Trinity doctrine. Ted Peters says that if anything, contemporary mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic trinitarian thinking is “antisubordinationist.”1Ted Peters, God as Trinity (Louisville: Westminster, 1993), p. 45

The Real Issue

One of the foundational principles of the Trinity doctrine is that Jesus is God. The word “God” is defined by dictionaries as “the supreme or ultimate reality.” Therefore, to say that Jesus is God is to say that He is “the supreme or ultimate reality,” meaning that He is equal to the Father.

But there is no word in the Greek of the New Testament that is equal to the word “God.” There are a few instances where the English translations of the New Testament refer to Jesus as “God.” But the word in the Greek is theos and may also be translated as “god.” In the thinking of the time, there were many “gods” of different levels. Paul, for example, wrote, “indeed there are many gods” (1 Cor 8:5). Jesus said that the Father is “the only true God” (John 17:3) to differentiate the Father from the other “gods” in Greek thinking. RPC Hanson, perhaps the foremost scholar on the Fourth Century Arian controversy, said, “There were many different types and grades of deity in popular thought and religion and even in philosophical thought.” Therefore, to translate theos as “God” when it refers to Jesus is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof thereof.

So, to determine whether Jesus is “God,” we must determine whether He is subordinate to the Father or not. The title theos is really irrelevant to this discussion. For example, there are a number of instances where the Bible refers to the Father as Jesus’ God (e.g., Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34; John 20:17; Eph 1:3; Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12). Since the word theos has such a flexible meaning, these statements simply mean that the Son is subordinate to the Father.

Subordination in the Bible

Carl Henry stated:

“The biblical data put beyond doubt the subordination of the Son.”2Henry, God, Revelation and Authority. Vol. V. The God Who Stays (Waco, TX: Word, 1982) 207.

For example:

Jesus, as a child, “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

Jesus said that He did not know when Judgment Day will be. He added, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mark 13:32; cf. Matt 24:36).

Jesus explicitly admitted, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed and submitted to his Father: “Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt 26:39).

Jesus described the Father as His “God” (John 20:17). Consistent with this, He also prayed to God (e.g., John 17:1). For instance, He asked the Father to give the Spirit to His disciples (John 14:16-17) and that His disciples might “be with Me where I am” (John 17:24).

Everything that He did and said was given to Him by the Father (e.g., John 5:19, 30; 8:42; 14:10; 17:4).

The subordination of the Son to the Father is contrary to the Trinity doctrine in which the Father, Son, and Spirit are three co-equal Persons of the One God. One of the defenses of the Trinity doctrine against such subordination passages is to say that His subordination was temporary. It is argued that, because of sin and the desire to save, the Son temporarily submitted to the Father and became man. In other words, He was not always subordinate to the Father. 

This article will now show that, in the Bible, the Son always was and always will be subordinate to the Father:

Subordinate before He came to Earth

There are several indications that the Son was subordinate to the Father before He came to this world:

God’s Son

The following shows that He did not become the Son when He became a human being; He was God’s “only begotten Son” before God sent Him to this world:

When the fullness of the time came,
God sent forth His Son
” (Gal 4:4).

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son

(John 3:16; cf. 3:18; 1:18; 1 John 4:9).

God did not send the Son into the world
to judge the world …
” (John 3:17).

Within a family, regardless of actual capability, sons are considered subordinate to fathers and expected to honor and respect them. God uses human relationships to explain divinity.

Begotten Son

God has many sons, but Christ is God’s only “begotten” Son (e.g., John 1:18; 3:16). What that exactly means, we do not know, but since God uses human relationships to explain divinity, it implies that Jesus was not created but came forth from the being of the Father. This implies that the Father is the Ultimate Source of all things and that Jesus always was ontologically subordinate to the Father. As Tertullian stated:

The Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges: My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

(For a further discussion, see Only Begotten.)

Sent by God

In John’s gospel, Jesus says perhaps forty times that the Father “sent” Him (John 4:34; 5:30; 8:42) and “gave Him what to do and what to say” (John 12:49; cf. John 5:36; 6:38; 8:26, 28, 38, 40; 10:32; 14:24, 31; 15:10, 15; 17:4, 8, 14). For example, Jesus said:

I came down from heaven,
not to do mine own will,
but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38).

I proceeded forth and have come from God,
for I have not even come on My own initiative,
but He sent Me
” (John 8:42).

My teaching is not Mine,
but His who sent Me
” (John 7:16).

Paul confirmed this:

But when the fullness of time came,
God sent forth his Son, born of a woman

(Galatians 4:4; cf. Rom 8:3)

Since He was sent before He became a human being, He was subordinate to the Father before His incarnation. (Note: This article assumes pre-existence, which is discussed in another article.)

Jesus claimed so often that He was sent by the Father to give the Jews an appreciation of Him and His mission (e.g., John 11:42). But the Jews did not believe Him. Today, many Christians still do not believe Him, but for the opposite reason, for they do not believe that He always was subordinate to the Father.

Creation

God is the eternal origin of all things but He created all things “through” the Son:

All things came into being through Him,
and apart from Him nothing came into being
that has come into being
” (John 1:3).

The world was made through Him“(John 1:10).

God …in these last days has spoken to us in His Son …
through whom also He made the world” (Heb 1:1-2).

All things have been created through Him
and for Him
” (Col 1:16).

For us there is but one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and we exist for Him;
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
by
(Gr. dia = through) whom are all things,
and we exist through Him
” (1 Cor 8:6).

In Revelation 4, in which Jesus is absent, God alone is identified as the Creator (Rev 4:11). Jesus only enters God’s throne room in chapter 5 (Rev 5:6).

The word “through” in these verses identifies God as the Creator and assigns a subordinate role to the Son. It means that Jesus is not an independent Creator but is God’s Means of creation: All creative power and wisdom are from the Father but through His Son. For further discussion, see, God created all things through His Son.

God not only created all things through His Son; the Son also upholds all things “by the word of His (God’s) power” (Heb 1:3; Col 1:17). [Hebrew 1:2-3 uses the word “His” four times to consistently refer to “God” (Heb 1:1).]

These facts imply an extremely close relationship between the Son and “all things,” which is understood to refer to the entire universe (Col 1:16). It is proposed, therefore, that, by ‘begetting’ (giving ‘birth‘ to) Jesus, as His “only begotten Son,” God brought all things into being, which is similar to the Logos-Christology of pre-Nicene times. (See, The Apologists

Foreknowledge

Before the foundation of the world” “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … chose us in Him” (Eph 1:3-4; cf. 1 Pet 1:1-2; Rev 13:8; 17:8). This indicates that, although the Son already existed “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:5, 24), He did not take part in choosing us. That God “chose us” before we even existed implies foreknowledge, but this foreknowledge is limited to the Father.

Subordinate to God after His ascension

There are also several indications that the Son today still is subordinate to the Father:

At the right hand of God

Jesus ascended to heaven and took His seat “at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2; cf. Acts 2:30; Acts 2:33; 7:55; Rom. 8:34; Mark 14:62; 16:19). This is the place of honor over the entire universe but is still subject to the ultimate Ruler.

Jesus’ God and Head

The risen Son is said to be “head over all things” (Eph 1:22; Col 2:10). However, decades after Christ ascended to heaven, Paul refers to the Father as Jesus’ God (Eph 1:16-17; cf. Eph 1:3-4) and as “the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3). The Book of Revelation, received about 60 years after His ascension, also refers to the Father as Jesus’ God (Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12). This, therefore, describes the relationship between the Father and the Son today and for all eternity. In contrast, Peter referred to Jesus as God’s “servant” (Acts 3:13; cf. 26).

Statements such as that “God is the head of Christ” and that the Father is His God refer to Him as a Person; not only to one of His two natures as in the theory of the hypostatic union, as adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.

Other indications

Other indications that Jesus still is subordinate to the Father, include:

Jesus said, “To sit on My right and on My left,
this is not Mine to give, but it is for those
for whom it has been prepared by My Father
” (Matt 20:23).

Jesus received the visions contained in the book of Revelation from God (Rev 1:1).

Future Eternity (1 Corinthians 15)

1 Corinthians 15 describes the future condition after sin and the consequences of sin have been eradicated. It says that, in that future ideal state, after God’s people have been raised from death, and death itself and all of Satan’s forces have been destroyed (1 Cor 15:24), then Christ “hands over the kingdom to the God and Father” (1 Cor 15:24) and:

Then the Son Himself also will be subjected
to the One who subjected all things to Him,
so that God may be all in all
” (1 Cor 15:28).

In other words, in that perfect future state, after all traces of sin have been removed, the Son will be subordinate to God the Father for all eternity. Any possibility of the submission of the Son to the Father being a temporary or less-than-ideal state of affairs seems out of the question here. (Right Reason)

Some commentators counter that “God” in the phrase “God may be all in all” refers to the Trinity. But, with this interpretation, verse 28 states that the Son will be subjected to Himself as well as to the Father and to the Spirit, so that all three may be “all in all.” This is an extremely awkward interpretation. The sentences before us just don’t read that way. In addition, verse 24 identifies “God,” to whom Christ would hand over the kingdom, specifically as the Father (1 Cor 15:24).

Who is Christ?

The current series of articles attempts to determine and describe who Jesus really is:

Alternative Views

Mere Man

Some people claim that He was merely a man, namely the ultimate example of a person who is completely filled with the Holy Spirit. In this view, Jesus did not exist before He was born as a human being. Listen, for example, to Dr. Tuggy’s podcast 189. Dr. Tuggy relies on what he calls “common sense;” irrespective of what the Bible says.

Contrary to what Tuggy teaches, one of the articles in this series provides evidence that Jesus did exist before He was born. In fact. God created all things through His Son and still maintains all things through His Son (Heb 1:2-3)

First Created Being

Jehovah WitnessesJehovah’s Witnesses, according to the NAMB website, teach that Jesus Christ was the first created being of Jehovah God and that, through the agency of the His Son, Jehovah created all other things in the universe.

However, the article – Only Begotten – proposes that Jesus was not created but came forth from the being of the Father. Furthermore, His Son had “equality with God” before He was born as a human being (Phil 2:6) and He has ”life in Himself” (John 5:26). These things indicate that He is more than a created being.

Almighty God

In the Trinity doctrine, the Son is God; co-equal and co-eternal with the Almighty Father. Head of ChristHowever, another article in this series shows that the Bible maintains a distinction between God and Jesus, which means that Jesus is not God. Furthermore, the very purpose of the current article is to show that Jesus is not co-equal with the Father but subordinate to Him.

The question, then, if none of the options above are correct, who is Jesus really? 

Summary

(1) His God

The Father is His God (John 20:17). Therefore, He also prayed to the Father (Mark 14:32).

(2) As a Human Being

With respect to His existence on this earth as a human being, Jesus received everything He has from the Father. God gave Jesus:

    • The Holy Spirit (John 1:32-34),
    • His teachings (John 7:16),
    • His works (John 5:36),
    • His disciples (John 6:37-39), and
    • Authority to take up His life again after He died (John 10:18).

Because He only had what God gave Him, Jesus said that He “can do nothing of Himself” (John 5:19) and He did not know all things. For example, He said that He did not know the hour or the day of His second coming; “but the Father alone” (Matt 24:36).

(3) His eternal existence

God also gave Jesus everything He has with respect to His eternal existence. God gave Jesus:

    • All the fullness of Deity” to dwells in Him (Col 2:9; cf. 1:19).
    • To have “life in Himself” (John 5:26),
    • The authority to give life to the dead (John 17:1-2),
    • Authority to execute judgment” (John 5:27),
    • Authority over and ownership of the entire universe (Matt 28:18; Luke 10:22), and
    • That “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:22-23). He receives this honor because God exalted Him above all other beings (Phil 2:9-10).

(4) Before His incarnation

This article argues that He was subordinate to the Father before His birth as a human being, as evidenced by the fact that God had begotten Him (gave birth to Him) (John 3:16), created all things “through” Him (Col 1:16), sent Jesus into the world (John 8:42), and gave Him what to do and to say (John 12:49).

(5) After His ascension

Greater than IAlso, after His ascension and exaltation, He remained subordinate to God. For example, Jesus said that He is going to His Father who is “greater than” Himself (John 14:28). He took His seat at the right hand of God (Heb 12:2), which is the place of honor over the entire universe, but still subject to the ultimate Ruler. Consistently, many years after His ascension, Paul described the Father as “the Head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3), did Jesus receive the visions contained in the book of Revelation from God (Rev 1:1), and did He refer to God as His God (Rev 3:2, 12).

– END OF SUMMARY –


Eternal Subordination

One God

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4) was and is a cornerstone of Judaism, in contrast to the polytheism of the nations. In this verse and elsewhere in the Scriptures, “LORD” in all capitals actually translates God’s name, Yahweh. So, what this verse (the shema) actually says is that Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one.

The New Testament never uses the name, Yahweh. It uses the Greek word theos instead. The New Testament several times repeats the principle that Yahweh is one, but it does it by referring to “one theos,” “only theos” or “true theos.” The important point is that such phrases always refer to the Father alone. Notice how the following quotes contrast the “one God” to Jesus Christ, who is often referred to as Lord. For example:

In prayer, Jesus said: “This is eternal life,
that they may know
You, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3; cf.
5:44).

Paul wrote that the believers in Thessalonica have turned from idols “to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thess 1:9-10).

To Timothy, Paul described the Father as “the … only Sovereign … who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:15-16) and as “eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17). The Being in both these quotes is “invisible” and, therefore, refers to the Father alone.

Jude closed his letter by giving glory to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Jude 1:25).

There is:

The following are more examples, but verses begin with the phrase “there is,” indicating that these verses define God:

There is … one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all who is over all
” (Eph 4:4-6).

There is one God,
and one Mediator also between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus
” (1 Tim 2:5).

There is but one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and we exist for Him;
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
by whom are all things, and we exist through Him
” (1 Cor 8:6).

There are many texts in the Bible that mention the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but since these “there is”- verses explicitly define God, they must be regarded as very important for our understanding of the divine.

1 John 5:20

It is sometimes claimed that 1 John 5:20-21 refers to the Son as “true God, but read these verses carefully:

20(a) And we know that the Son of God has come,
(b) and has given us understanding
(c) so that we may know Him who is true (Father);
(d) and we are in Him who is true (Father),
in His Son Jesus Christ.

(e) This is the true God and eternal life.
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

20(d) identifies “Him who is true” as the Father. Therefore, “the true God” in part (e) is the Father. The purpose of these verses is to contrast the true God, who is the Father, with the idols in verse 21.

The Father is God.

These references to the Father as the “one theos,” “true theos” or “only theos” is part of the overall trend of the New Testament to refer to the Father alone as theos, indicating the subordination of the Son to the Father. For example, at the beginning of any of the New Testament letters, one will find statements such as:

Grace to you and peace
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7).

Is Jesus called God?

In a handful of instances, the New Testament does refer to Jesus as theos. However. the word has a wide range of meanings. It may be translated as “God” or as “god,” but sometimes even exalted people are described as theos (See theos). The renowned scholar R.P.C. Hanson stated:

“The word theos or deus, for the first four centuries of the existence of Christianity had a wide variety of meanings. There were many different types and grades of deity in popular thought and religion and even in philosophical thought.” (link)

If we understand that theos has a wide range of meanings and basically means an immortal being with supernatural powers, then it is quite appropriate for Jesus to be called theos. For a discussion of the Bible passages that refer to Him as theos, see Does the New Testament refer to Jesus as God?

In English, the title “God” refers to the Almighty; the Ultimate Reality. In the Trinity doctrine, the Son is equal to the Father. The translation of theos, when it refers to Jesus, as “God,” therefore, is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof thereof.

Received everything from the Father.

The Holy Spirit

God gave Jesus the Holy Spirit at His baptism (John 1:32-34).

His followers

God gave Jesus His followers (John 17:6; cf. 6:37-39; 6:44, 65; 10:29; 17:1-2). Jesus also said:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).

My Father is the vinedresserSimilarly, in the parable of the true vine (John 15) the Father is the One who works: “My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). It is the Father who cuts away branches that do not bear fruit and prunes other branches “so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2; cf. 17:2, 9, 24; 10:29).

Resurrection

The Father gave Jesus to take up His life.

I have authority to lay it (My life) down,
and I have authority to take it up again.
This commandment I received from My Father.

(John 10:18)

Immortality

As discussed above, Paul wrote that the Father “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim 6:15-16). This means that the Son receives His immortality from the Father. The Father received life from no one, for He is the eternally self-existent Source of life.

God redeems through Christ.

Sometimes, we think of Jesus as the Redeemer, and that is true, but, as shown in the discussion of the letter to the Colossians, Jesus is the Means of redemption, while the Father is the driver of redemption. For example:

“… thanks to the Father …
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness,
and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”
(Col 1:12-14).

It was the Father’s good pleasure … 
through Him (Jesus)
to reconcile all things to Himself
” (Col 1:19-20).

When He comes into the world, He says,
‘Sacrifice and offering you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me …
behold, I have come … to do your will, o God.’” (Heb 10:5–7).

The only God our Savior,
through Jesus Christ our Lord
” (Jude 1:25;
cf. John 3:16);

Received Divine Attributes

There are a number of indications in die Bible of Jesus’ divinity, such as that all the fullness of Deity dwells in Him, that He created all things, and that He is the Judge of the living and the dead, but the Bible also indicates that He received His divinity from the Father: 

Authority to judge.

God” is the judge (e.g., 1 Sam 2:10; Psa 50:6; Eccl 12:14; Gen 18:25; Joel 3:12). But, in the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the Judge of the world (Matt 25:31-46, John 5:27, 9:39; Acts 10:42; Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; and 2 Tim 4:1). For example, Jesus said:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory …
All the nations will be gathered before Him;
and He will separate them from one another,
as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats

(Matt 25:31-33).

We may want to use this as proof of His deity, but Jesus received this authority from the Father:

The Father … has given all judgment to the Son,
so that all will honor the Son
even as they honor the Father.
He who does not honor the Son
does not honor the Father who sent Him

(John 5:22-23).

The Father … gave Him authority to execute judgment,
because He is the Son of Man
” (John 5:27).

Authority to raise the dead

Jesus is able to give life to the dead. For example:

Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes

(John 5:21).

He said, “My sheep hear My voice …
and I give eternal life to them,
and they will never perish

(John 10:27-28; cf. 5:28-29; 6:40, 44; 11:25-26).

God gave Jesus the authority to raise the dead:

Just as the Father has life in Himself,
even so He gave to the Son also
to have life in Himself
” (John 5:26).

Jesus prayer, “Father …
You gave Him authority over all flesh,
that to all whom You have given Him,
He may give eternal life
” (John 17:1-2).

All authority and all things.

Jesus claimed that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). The phrase “has been given” implies that God gave Him this authority. Jesus confirmed this when He said:

All things have been handed over to Me by My Father
(Luke 10:22, cf. Matt 11:27)

The Father loves the Son
and has given all things into His hand

(John 3:35; cf. 13:3).

Worship 

The Father … has given all judgment to the Son,
so that all will honor the Son
even as they honor the Father

(John 5:22-23; cf.
17:24).

The words “so that” mean that Jesus will be honored equally with the Father because the Father “has given all judgment to the Son.” Jesus, therefore, receives glory because it is the Father’s will.

We see this also in Philippians 2 which says that every knee will bow to Jesus because God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil 2:9-10; cf. Heb 1:6). Furthermore, every knee will bow to Jesus “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).

That every knee will bow to Jesus is worship, for the word that is sometimes translated as “worship” (proskuneó) simply means “to do reverence to” (Strong’s Greek: 4352) and is often translated as “bow down” (Matt 8:1-2; 9:18-19; 15:25; 20:20; Mark 5:2, 6; 15:19 – NASB). For further discussion, see Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?

The following quote, similar to Philippians 2, also refers to Jesus receiving “the name which is above every name,” but this quote associates that event with His enthronement to God’s right hand, which is mentioned very often in the New Testament, (e.g., Acts 5:31):

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory
seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and every name that is named
” (Eph 1:17, 20-21)

This explains the glory which Jesus had “with” the Father “before the world was” (John 17:5). That He received glory and honor “with” the Father implies that Jesus does not receive glory and honor independent from the Father. This we also see in Revelation 5, where God and Jesus are worshiped together (Rev 5:13).

A separate article discusses “worship” in the New Testament. Ancient Greek had fewer words than modern English. Consequently, words had a broader range of meanings. Similar to the word theos, the Greek word proskuneó can mean “worship” but it can also simply mean to show respect. 

Fullness of deity

All the fullness of Deity dwells in Christ in bodily form” (Col 2:9).

This is often taken as evidence that Jesus is God. However, firstly, even believers are to “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). “There were many different types and grades of deity in popular thought and religion and even in philosophical thought.” (RPC Hanson).

Secondly, the Father gave Jesus this fullness:

It was the Father’s good pleasure
for all the fullness to dwell in him
” (Col 1:19).

Conclusion

Eternal subordination implies essential (ontological) subordination.

The Father, therefore, is not only greater than Jesus because Jesus “emptied Himself” when He became a  human being (Phil 2:5), but the Father always was greater than His Son and always will be. The trinitarian teaching, that Jesus is co-equal to God, is not Biblical.

Other Articles

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    Ted Peters, God as Trinity (Louisville: Westminster, 1993), p. 45
  • 2
    Henry, God, Revelation and Authority. Vol. V. The God Who Stays (Waco, TX: Word, 1982) 207.