Jesus and Authority

If the “Son” is sent by the “Father,” and if the “Son” comes to do the will of the “Father,” does it not stand to reason that God wishes by this language to indicate something of the authority and submission that exists within the relationships of the members of the immanent trinity?

– Bruce Ware, quoted here (see also here).

It is the nature of the second person of the Trinity to acknowledge the authority and submit to the good pleasure of the first.

– J.I. Packer in Knowing God (1973), quoted here.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. …”

– Matthew 28:18 (TNIV)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

– Philippians 2:9-11 (TNIV)

So is Jesus the one who submits to authority or the one who exercises it?

22 thoughts on “Jesus and Authority

  1. A very interesting subject – one I’m particularly interested in. It’s all been rather hijacked by the complementarians. Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem etc have the subordination of the son a truth which is echoed in the rightful subordination of the women to the man – it helps in their construction of a theology of male headship which they then seek to describe in its practical outworkings and what this should mean for the dynamics between husbands and wives.
    In Grudem and Rainey’s ‘Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood’, they describe that the ‘Biblical View of Submission …requires her to submit to him…, while no passage indicates that a husband should be subordinate to his wife.’1 It is in the casual exchange of the word submit for subordinate that significant problems lie. These two words are not synonymous because the former is theological and about ‘dying to self’, the latter is worldly, denoting inferiority.

    I have no problem with the idea of Christian submission but I am a little suspicious about the idea of Christ’s subordination – something doesn’t add up because of what becomes its logical extension.

    There was a very interesting live debate over in America where this very idea was being debated and Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem were putting forward their case for subordinationism
    For links see

    I’ll check in on this thread – I want to write on this for my Christology and heresies module – thanks
    God bless

  2. Tim and Colin, I would agree that there is an element of “both”. But where is the emphasis in the Bible? Yes, the incarnate human Jesus submitted to the collective will of the divine Trinity including himself. Yes, there is 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, whatever that means. But all we read, I think, about the risen Jesus now is that he is the one with all authority. I don’t mean he has authority over the Father, but neither is the Father over him; I don’t see a hint of this anywhere concerning the risen Jesus.

    Rachel, I am of course aware of the link to complementarianism. But logically that should be a separate discussion, so (like Nick Norelli) I don’t want this thread to be sidetracked by that one. I haven’t read the posts you link to, but will do so.

    By the way I should have credited Suzanne, with more than just a link, for her research into what Bruce Ware has written about this.

  3. One thought: If the Father is not over the risen Christ, then why does Jesus hand the Kingdom back to the Father so that God can be all in all? Paul seems to be at pains to point out a non-symmetrical relationship in the trinity when he writes:

    15:24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. 15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 15:26 The last enemy to be eliminated is death. 15:27 For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says ‘everything’ has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. 15:28 And when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.

    Not sure what in Heaven Paul is going on about here if we don’t accept some sort of subordination.

  4. Well, Alastair, even if we do accept some sort of subordination, what in heaven is going on here? But note that in the present all things, but excepting God the Father, are “under his feet”, having been arranged there (a better word than “subjected”). At some point in the future there will be a change, but this will happen when all authority has been destroyed, so it is hardly a matter of authority! And there is no suggestion, despite the English translations (which wrongly try to make the Greek hupotagesetai in v.28 into a passive rather than a middle form), that this change will be at anything other than the Son’s initiative, him voluntarily submitting himself to the Father’s will.

  5. Through the link Rachel gave I am looking at the summary of the debate between Ware and Grudem on one side and McCall and Yandell on the other.

    The period I am interested in is the one “after Christ’s ascension into heaven” (my main focus here, as I accept that Jesus submitted to the Father during his life on earth). For this period Grudem lists a number of scriptures as indicating “the authority of the Father and the submission of the Son to the Father’s authority”: “Heb 7:23-25; Rom 8:34 … Acts 2:32-33 … Rev 1:1 … Acts 2:32-33; Eph 1:20-22; Heb 1:3; Pss 110:1; 45:9; Rev 2:26; et al”. I have looked at all of these verses and none of them show Christ in continuing submission to his Father; some indicate different roles for Father and Son but with no sign of a hierarchical relationship. While Ephesians 1:20-22, like Philippians 2:9-11 which I quoted above, shows the Father giving all authority to the Son at the resurrection and ascension, presumably returning what the Son had voluntarily surrendered at the incarnation, it also clearly shows that the Son is exercising that authority in the present age.

    I will quote in full Ware’s “Concluding Affirmations and Denial” as an example of muddled and self-contradictory theological thinking, mixing a formal affirmation of the words of the Creeds with a denial of their intended underlying meaning. The Creeds clearly intended to deny any kind of permanent subordination of the Son to the Father. Ware rejects this while claiming to accept the Creeds:

    1. We affirm an “equality of identity” (and not merely an “equality of kind”) among the Persons of the Trinity—the strongest form of equality there is, in principle. Hence there exists a full and eternal equality among the three Persons each of whom possesses fully and eternally the identically same divine essence, i.e., the one, eternal, and undivided divine essence.

    2. We affirm the Nicea-Constantinople declaration that the Son is fully homoousios with the Father and hence is of the same nature as the Father; the Father and the Son (and the Spirit) are equally God and fully God, while there is one and only one God.

    3. We affirm the eternal, absolute, and non-reciprocal role relations among the three Persons of the Godhead, with the Father as supreme in role as highest in authority, the Son second and under the authority of the Father, and the Spirit third and under the authority of the Father and the Son. This is in no wise is a subordination of nature or essence. We affirm that some properties that are distinct to each Person are essential to their personal identities, and we also affirm, without conflict or contradiction, that all properties true of the divine essence are possessed fully and eternally by each of the three divine Persons without exception and without qualification.

    4. We deny altogether as entirely misleading and fallacious the assertion that the Son’s eternal submission to the Father (i.e., the Son’s eternal functional subordination to the Father) entails a denial of the complete and eternal essential equality of the Son and the Father. Eternal functional subordination is fully compatible with and in no way contradicts the fully equality of essence of the Trinitarian Persons and the homoousios of the Son with the Father. Therefore, we affirm that relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the essentially equal Persons of the Godhead.

    McCall shows the fallacy in Grudem’s argument that “If one divine person sends another, then the divine person sent is eternally and necessarily subordinate to the divine person who sends”.

    I couldn’t follow from the summary Yandell’s more philosophical argument against Grudem and Ware, but later he gave this even briefer version which makes sense:

    (1) If Son is subordinate in all possible worlds, then the Son is necessarily subordinate; (2) if the Son is necessarily subordinate, then the Son is essentially subordinate; (3) if the Son is essentially subordinate but the Father is not, then the Son and Father are not homoousios. Thus, RS [Grudem and Ware’s view] entails ontological subordinationism.

    – which means that it goes against the Creeds and is close to Arianism. It is indeed hard to see how a distinction can be necessary but not ontological.

  6. When you remove the stipulated assumption that ‘necessarily’ does lead to ‘essentially’ then the so called argument fails through a lack of internal integrity.
    (that refers to the structure of the argument and not to any person)

    As such there is no dispute with the Creeds and Arianism is very distant.

  7. Glenn, I am not a professional philosopher, but I really cannot see any philosophical sense to saying that something is (in the technical sense) “necessarily” true while denying that it is “essentially” true. See for example the definition in this article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    an essential property of an object is a property that it must have … the use of the word “must” reflects the fact that necessity is invoked in the elucidation …

    It is true that according to one view

    An essential property would then be understood as a non-trivial necessary one.

    which implies that there are properties which are necessary but not essential because they are trivial. But I would not expect you to argue that the submission of the Son is a trivial matter. And there is some scepticism about whether there are in fact such things as essential properties, but such ideas can hardly be compatible with the Creeds even if they might be compatible with biblical revelation.

    There is indeed an interesting argument whether the distinction between the Father as eternally begetting and the Son as eternally begotten is an essential or an accidental one. If it is an essential one that also implies a difference of essence between the Father and the Son. But if it is an accidental one it implies a distinction which is eternal but not essential. I suspect that this demonstrates the dangers of either side in this debate relying on philosophical arguments like this.

  8. Perhaps God the Father has given Jesus authority over all the ‘heavens and the earth’ ie. the Universe. Of course, God is so much bigger than that, bigger even than the Universe that we see. Mmm.

  9. I have always read verses like Phil. 2 as denoting a change of status in the rankings of the Trinity. If the Father gives to Jesus the name which is above every other name, and gives him all power in the universe, then it seems to me that the Father has then subordinated himself to Jesus. In Revelation, for instance, the Lamb is given the power to control the opening of the seven seals, a sign that he is now running things in the last days.

    So, no, the Father and the Son are not permanently subordinate to one another. I would say, however, that the very terms (chosen by Jesus) “Father” and “Son” denote a fundamental relationship. The Father and the Son are not permanently subordinate to one another, but I would say that their relationship reflects a kind of symmetry in which the Son learns from the Father and models him. There is no reason, for the sake of abstract clarity, to rob the powerful and touching language Jesus used to describe the Father/Son dynamic of its inherent meaning. The Son is a Son, and the Father is a Father.

  10. Benjamin, I agree with you. To put things perhaps too simly, during Jesus’ life on earth the Father was in charge, but during the age of the church Jesus is in charge. But there is an eternal distinction between them, that one is the Father and the other is the Son.

  11. This subject has always fascinated me. In Phillipians 2v6-7 (NASB) we read that Jesus:

    ” who although existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped but emptied himself taking the form of a bond-servant being made in the likeness of men. ”

    This passage suggests to me that subordination was made voluntarily by one member of the Godhead so that the collective will of the Godhead i.e the redemption of mankind, could be achieved. Before the Word became flesh then equality among members of the Godhead existed. the Bible does not seem to indicate that at the end of all things as to whether the ‘ Word made Flesh’ will return to the Word i.e non-corporeal or whether its incarnation as Jesus is in fact permanent. I would like to think that it is, as God becoming man is how we can relate to Him.

    Another interesting issue here arises in Genesis, where we read about ‘God ‘walking ‘ in the Garden of Eden. Did the Word become flesh before at this time in human history but at this stage was not in voluntary subordination? Was this in fact, Jesus walking in the garden?

  12. Thank you, Iconoclast. I would suggest, and I think this is orthodox Trinitarian teaching, that the Son remains human after the resurrection and ascension. But his voluntary subordination is reversed by his exaltation, in verse 9 of the passage you quote.

    As for God walking in the garden, I have always understood this as metaphorical language rather than a literal incarnation.

  13. Peter,

    Thank you for hyour continuing dialoue with me over the last few years. I want to clarify. I am not arguing from scripture texts, nor from a philosophical standpoint, against the subordinate role of Christ.

    I am arguing that it is a clear contradition of historic Christianity to say that Christ is under God in authority.

    In the Athanasian Creed, in Augustine, in the Westminister Confession, and in the ETS doctrinal statement, Christ is emphatically equal in power to God. You cannot be a Christian unless you hold to this.

    But all these statements and writings were made in Latin first, except the latter, and the Latin said that Christ equal in “potestas” which is the translation for the Greek exousia in the Vulgate. It was NOT the translation for dunamis. That was virtus.

    There is no ambiguity. Christ was always stated to be equal to God in potestas (exousia, power/authority.”

    These are the Christian Creede, and many have taken their stand outside of them. creeds.

  14. Thank you, Sue. I realised that you are arguing for incompatibility with historic Christianity, and I am glad you are doing so. I am trying to make a different point, incompatibility with the Bible.

  15. The more I think about it, subordinationism leads to some very peculiar places for the believer. If Christ is continually subordinate then the believer must be subordinate with him. Our status as co-heirs with Christ means that to the degree he is subordinate to the Father is the degree we must be subordinate to the Father (just to be clear, I think that Love and the humility and service that mark its presence will always be between Father, Son, and us. I’m speaking purely from an authority point of view)

    So if we are to “reign with Christ” and be his “Bride” then I think the Son could be said to have “come into his own”. The inheritance has been given, the authority lies elsewhere, and we participate in that.

    As for 1Cor. 15:24, I think that could be read as Jesus deferring to the Father, not necessarily giving up his place. The end of Perelandra perfectly dramatized this.

  16. Peter,
    Apologies for going slightly off topic here, but does the sense of the text in Gen 3v8 “the Lord God “walking” in the garden” really lend itself to metaphor?

    On first reading it appears to say God was ‘walking’ and that Adam and Eve heard his voice. Now it may be that this can be translated differently, but Adam and Eve definitely had a communication channel to God that was verbal and personal in nature almost like the relationship that the disciples had with Jesus.

    Something that walks has legs, so what was the nature of God in the garden? How did God appear to them and what did they see? Would it in fact, be contrary to Christian doctrine to assert that God could have been incarnate in human form pre-fall- albeit co-equal in the Godhead?

    While it says in John that the Word became flesh and lived among us, was this the only time it happened?

    Fully agree with your comments re: Todd Bentley nastiness BTW. For some reason ‘christians’ seem to be particularly good at this kind of thing. People who make these comments usually have something themselves to hide.

  17. Thank you, Sue. I realised that you are arguing for incompatibility with historic Christianity, and I am glad you are doing so. I am trying to make a different point, incompatibility with the Bible.

    Thanks. Our arguments are complementary. 😉

  18. Benjamin, thanks for your comment. I think I agree. I don’t remember the end of Perelandra (also known as Voyage to Venus) by CS Lewis well enough to get your final reference.

    Iconoclast, consider also that Abraham, Moses, David etc “had a communication channel to God that was verbal and personal in nature”, but I don’t think anyone claims that there was a real incarnation involved. And then is the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament a real incarnation of God? Angels walk around on two legs and speak, but are not human or incarnate, but spiritual beings. Anyway, the Hebrew word for “walk” in Genesis 3:8, the hithpael form of HLK “go”, does not imply two legs but just movement, typically backwards and forwards, and is used for example of the heavenly fire in Ezekiel 1:13 and of lightning flashes in Psalm 77:17.

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