Does the Bible present Jesus as eternally equal with the Father?

Two Views among Evangelicals

Ted Peters says that if anything, contemporary mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic trinitarian thinking is “antisubordinationist.” (God as Trinity (Louisville: Westminster, 1993), p. 45.) But Kevin Giles, in an article in The Academic Journal of CBE International, stated:

“Paradoxically … many evangelical theologians have been moving in the opposite direction. Since the 1980s, evangelicals wishing to uphold the idea male headship … have been arguing that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father.”

“Conservative evangelicals who speak of the eternal subordination of the Son quote in support Paul’s assertion that God the Father is the “head of Christ” just as “man is the head of woman” (1 Cor 11:3), and the texts that speak of the Son being “sent” by the Father (John 4:34, 5:30, etc.), and obeying the Father (Rom 5:18-19; Heb 5:8).

Giles, on the other hand, claims that the Bible writers present the Son as equal with the Father:

“They frequently associated the Father, Son, and Spirit together, implying their equality (cf. Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:13; Eph 4:4-6; etc.), and on occasions spoke of Jesus as Theos (John 1:1, 20:28; Rom 9:5; Heb 1:8), calling him “the Lord” (the title for Yahweh used in the Greek OT) some two hundred times.”

Can the Bible answer this question?

However, Giles implies that this debate, whether the Son is subordinate to the Father or not, cannot be resolved from the Bible alone and that we must rely on “tradition:”

“If there were no way to settle this debate over the interpretation of the Bible we would have a stalemate. Each side could simply go on quoting their proof texts and no resolution would be possible. But this is not the case. Evangelicals … are in complete agreement that “tradition”—understood as how the scriptures have been understood by the best of theologians across the centuries—is a good guide to the proper interpretation of scripture: it is a secondary authority.”

Gotquestions, another conservative protestant site, claims that the Bible is able to provide the answer. Using language that is reminiscent of the Athanasian Creed, it states:

The Bible teaches that the Father is God, that Jesus is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. The Bible also teaches that there is only one God.

For this reason, this question is not about the “tradition.” The question is, what are the main texts and principles in the New Testament for both the views that the Son is equal with the Father and that the Son is subordinate to the Father, and what are the main counterarguments for each of these points?

Eternal Subordination

As Giles indicated:

“All accept that the Son was for a limited period (temporally) subordinated in the incarnation. What is in dispute is whether or not the Son is subordinated in the eternal or immanent Trinity in his being/nature/person and/or work/operation/function.”

So, I am particularly interested in indications that the Son was equal or subordinate to the Father before He “became flesh” and after His ascension.

Role vs being Subordination

Giles distinguishes between “eternal subordination in role/function” and “subordination in person or being,” but also states that, if the Son, in “eternity” is subordinate in His “role/function,” then He is also subordinate in His “being:”

“Most speak only of an eternal subordination in role/function for the Son. However some evangelicals honestly admit that eternal role subordination by necessity implies subordination in person or being.”

In note 4 of his article, Giles states that this distinction ”is entirely novel. It has no historical antecedents. Previously the argument has been eternal subordination in being/nature/essence and work/operation/function are two sides of one coin.”

Furthermore, since this question is about the Bible alone, and since the Bible does not explain the relationship between the Father and Son in terms of substance or being, I do not expect an answer that will rely on the distinction between role and being.

Catholic Christians

I assume this is not a question that will interest Catholic Christians, since they rely on tradition to a great extent. But I hope that Protestant Christians will be more interested to provide an answer.

Explanation

This is a copy of a question I placed on Stackexchange. That site is regulated by individuals with high standing in the academic world, but most are traditionalists and are irritated by me questioning long-standing views. Whether they will accept my question remains to be seen. I do intend to answer the question myself, but that would require some substantial research and I will now be able to do that right away.

Other Available Articles

The Old Testament foresaw that the Law of Moses will fall away.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE SERIES

According to Galatians and the Acts 15 Church Council, the Law of Christ has been nullified and replaced by “the Law of Christ.” However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law.”

The purpose of this article series is to explain this apparent contradiction.

All quotes are from the NASB.

THE OLD TESTAMENT WILL COME TO PASS.

Jesus, on the other hand, in the Sermon on the Mount, taught that everything in the Old Testament will come true.

MATTHEW 5:17 – FULFILL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS

In this verse, Jesus said:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I did not come to abolish but to fulfill
.”

The Law or the Prophets” is the term that the Jews used for what is known today as the Old Testament.

The word translated “fulfill” is pléroó. The danger of this word is that one might understand this as that the OT was done away with. Strong’s concordance defines pléroó as “to make full, to complete” (something that was previously not full or incomplete). This does not mean that the thing that is made full then ceases to exist. On the contrary, when something is made full or complete it has become more prominent than ever before. For example, Jesus said to the “scribes and Pharisees,” “Fill up (pléroó) … the measure of the guilt of your fathers” (Matt 23:29, 32). Guilt does not disappear once it has become full or complete. In the same way, when Jesus said that He came to “fulfill” the OT, that does not mean that he came to abolish “the Law or the Prophets.

Some explain pléroó in Matthew 5:17 as that Jesus came to merely clarify the meaning of “the Law and the Prophets” (the Old Testament). However, “fulfill,” correctly understood, is a good translation, for pléroó is used many times in the gospels and consistently means that Jesus came to make true what the Old Testament promised. (See the article on Matthew 5:17-18). “Fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 should, therefore, be understood as saying that the Son of God came to put into effect what the Old Testament promised.  In other words, He did not come merely to explain the Old Testament; He came to do something.

MATTHEW 5:18 – THE LAW SHALL NOT PASS AWAY

Verse 18 continues:

“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

People sometimes make the mistake of interpreting “the Law” in the same way as that we use the word ‘law’ in modern English. They then understand “the Law” to always refer to the Law of Moses.  As discussed in Matthew 5:17-18, the Greek word that is translated as “law” (nomos) has a much broader range of meanings than the modern English word “law.” The meaning in a particular setting depends on the context. Since verse 17 refers to “the Law and the Prophets” and since verse 18 elaborates on verse 17, nomos (“the Law”) in verse 18 is shorthand for “the Law and the Prophets.” “The Law,” therefore, in this verse, refers to the whole Old Testament; not to the Law of Moses specifically.  As an example of this usage, in Galatians 4:21 Paul mentions the story of Abraham’s two sons from Genesis but wrote that this story is recorded in “the Law.”

Verse 18, therefore, confirms verse 17. While verse 17 speaks of Jesus’s mission specifically, saying that He did not come to abolish the Old Testament, but to put it into effect, verse 18 is about the Old Testament more generally, saying everything in it will be accomplished.  The point is that nothing in the Old Testament will ever fall away.

THE OLD TESTAMENT FORESAW THAT THE LAW OF MOSES WILL FALL AWAY.

This leaves us with an apparent contradiction.  Galatians explains that “the Law” is no longer relevant to God’s people. It describes the Law as “slavery” (Gal 4:25) and concludes, “it was for freedom that Christ set us free” (Gal 5:1). It then replaces “the Law” with the “Law of Christ,” which is summarized as, “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). [Is that not a wonderful command?]  How do we reconcile this with Jesus’ statement that nothing in the Old Testament will fall away “until all is accomplished?”

The answer is that THE OLD TESTAMENT TAUGHT that the Law of Moses was a temporary addition that would be nullified when Christ comes.  Consequently, to teach that the Law of Moses fell away is not a deviation from the Old Testament but is derived from the Old Testament.  The following are indications that this is what Paul believed:

Paul frequently quotes the OT to justify his views. For example, for his key teaching, that people are justified by faith, he quotes from Habakkuk: “The righteous man shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11) and he points out that Abraham was justified by faith (Gal 3:6).

He claimed that the gospel which he preaches is the same gospel that God gave to Abraham (Gal 3:6-9).

In Romans 3:31, Paul wrote:

Do we then nullify the Law through faith?
May it never be! On the contrary,
we establish the Law
.”

The Law” here is again the whole Old Testament or at least the first five books of the Bible. This verse confirms Paul’s view that “faith” (the teaching that people are justified through faith) is a fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Similar statements are:

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith (rather than through the Law) …” (Gal 3:8; cf. Rom 3:21-22).

Through the Law” means based on “the Law” or as indicated by “the Law.”

PAUL TRUSTED THE OLD TESTAMENT.

Because of his unwavering faith in the Old Testament, Paul could write as follows of the Old Testament:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).

I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14).

CONCLUSION

Paul, therefore, understood his teaching, that the Law of Moses has been nullified, as derived from the Old Testament.

But where in the Old Testament, we can ask, did Paul get the idea that the Law of Moses would be abolished when Christ comes?  He seems to get it from the fact that the Law of Moses was “added” more than 400 years after God made the covenant with Abraham (Gal 3:17, 19). For that reason, he concluded, is the covenant permanent while the Law was a temporary emergency addition “until the seed (Christ) would come” (Gal 3:19, 16).