We have demonstrated Bible teaches that both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are God. We have also shown that the Ante-Nicene Fathers we have examined are in agreement with this. We have also discovered that the Ante-Nicene Fathers taught that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to the Father, that is to say of lower rank. These men taught this in ways that most Trinitarians find disconcerting. Is their teaching Biblical? Or is it under the undue influence – and we must say undue because Christianity is never totally free from the culture around it – from outside of the faith?
Traditional Arian (we’ll give the term “Watchtower” a rest because we know the Witnesses are tired of us using it) attacks on the Trinity usually assume that the Trinitarian(s) believe that the three persons of the Godhead are equal to one another. They then proceed to use any Bible passage that even hints of the subordination of the Son and the Spirit to prove that Jesus Christ is not God. Trinitarians are thus faced with having to explain a lot of Scripture that doesn’t really deal with the issue of Christ’s divinity, only his place in the Godhead. In the original debate (that’s a mild way to put it; theological war is closer to what it was) Trinitarians has a broader arsenal because the Bible, although authoritative, was not interpreted or viewed as it is now. There was more latitude to employ concepts from Greek philosophy to explain the Trinitarian position, and the church had the rapidly developing magisterium to back it up.
In the present time, with the organisational fragmentation of Christianity, it is more difficult to make formulae based on the same kind of concepts active during the original debate to “stick.” People are wont to take the Bible out of context to prove their idea, be it in real concord with the Bible or not. Moreover one would like to think that our ability to understand the Scriptures, freed from the need for allegorising or ecclesiastical interpretation, would improve; otherwise put, we should be able to face the facts of the Bible in the face.
The Arians are in a more serious dilemma for two reasons. The first is that they, in denying the fact that Jesus is God, denigrate the author and finisher of our faith to the point where it is hard to see the point of Christianity under such conditions; we have explored this relative to the subject of false “gods” already, and will return to it again. The second is that the Arians, having defined their position on many passages of Scripture based on an opponent who believes in three equal persons of the Godhead, are at a serious loss if their adversary abandons that part of the position. Their position is made worse because such opponents, having kicked out a leg from under their table, are in a position to use the Bible passages the Arian formerly took comfort in against them. This is in fact what we see frequently in the Ante-Nicene Fathers; verses that Arians have used for years to weaken the concept of the deity of Christ suddenly don’t mean what Arians thought they used to.
In recognising the possible validity of the subordination of the Son and the Spirit in the Godhead, the advocate of such a position is, along with everyone else, in a difficult spot. We must recognise that subordinationism was, until the Arian controversy, the accepted belief of Christianity; it had to come from somewhere, and that “somewhere” was, as we will see, the Bible itself. During the original controversy Arians of all shades were able to use the same Greek philosophy in parallel with their Trinitarian opponents to ultimately force them to abandon subordinationism and thus avoid confusion with Arianism. But same belief was dropped from normative Christianity in order to defend a more important idea, the deity of Christ, a necessary prerequisite to real redemption, which was the whole nature of Christ’s mission here in the first place.
Christians, however, who believe in the authority of God’s written Word and desire to interpret it in a fashion that recognises the original meaning of the text have to face a simple fact: if the Bible teaches something, then we are obligated to follow it, and afterwards set ourselves to explain and understand it in a manner that is both makes sense and is consistent with where we started. We can and should use the tools of philosophy, science and other disciplines to help us in our quest. But we ultimately have to start with the truth, and that truth comes from God through an authoritative revelation.
At this point we run the risk of being repetitious with the beginning of our work; let us proceed to examine some passages from the Scriptures that in fact discuss the relationship of the Son and the Spirit with the Father. We will set forth these passages with some comments, although our plan is to expand on these topics later.
…These are the things that the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning (arche) of the creation by God…” (Revelation 3:14)
“…has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he as appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things. He is the reflection of his glory and the exact representation of his very being, and he sustains all things by the word of his power; and after he had made a purification for our sins he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in lofty places.” (Hebrews 1:2,3)
He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creations; because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15,16)
We want to start this with the “transitional” topic between the two issues, i.e., the fact that through and by Jesus Christ all things were created. In looking at these verses Arians claim that these verses demonstrate a number of things that show that Jesus Christ is not God.
The first obviously is that Jesus Christ is depicted as part of the creation. Arians have traditionally maintained that, since the Son is a creature, he cannot be God, as he comes from God’s (the Father’s to be exact) creative power. Now it needs to be admitted that these verses show that the Son came forth from the Father, otherwise he could not be “the exact representation of his very being” or “the first born of all creations.” But we have shown that this event took place outside of the boundaries of finite time, and this sets the Son apart from the rest of the creation.
The second is that Jesus Christ is depicted as the “beginning” of creation, merely the first in a long series of creative products of the Father. But the Bible is stronger in its depiction of the “beginning” than just being first in line; he described as being the creations arche; this eliminates interpreting “beginning” strictly as a time or place event. Moreover these verses show that the creation is dependent on the Son for its existence; this is underscored by a follow up verse, “Also, he is before all other things and by means of him all others things were made to exist.” (Colossians 1:17) The creative power of the Son as God is implicit in this idea.
So these verses are an excellent way to start our subject; we see that the Son is a Son to the Father but at the same time creative God.
“He said to them: ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but this sitting down at my right hand and at my left is not mine to give, but it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’” (Matthew 20:23)
This is a clear indication of the fact that the Son is subordinate to the Father in that there are certain things that the Father has reserved for himself, at least at certain points in time. We make that qualification in light of Matthew 28:18: “And Jesus approached and spoke to them saying: ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.’” It is not reasonable that the Father give “all authority” to a mere man, but with God the Son this delegation makes sense.
“Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)
The usual Arian inference from this is that the Son could not be God if there is something he does not know. But there are more reasonable explanations of this.
First, it could be referring to the Son’s human knowledge, which is of necessity finite, especially in view of the bodily state he was in at the time he said this.
Second, if we look at this from a subordinationist standpoint, we can see that it is proper for the Father to reserve certain things for himself in view of Jesus’ objectives. It is evident that the disciples were very interested in “setting their watches” for Jesus’ return; it simplifies things if Jesus does not know the hour of his return rather than having to put up with the disciples badgering him for the answer. It is an interesting thing to think about if we consider that the Watchtower, having denied the Son his divinity, has gone on to claim that they knew the hour of his return on more than one occasion. We now know that the Watchtower does not in fact know something that “the greatest man who ever lived” did not either.
“Again, for the second time, he went off and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this to pass away except I drink it, let your will take place.” (Matthew 26:42)
“I cannot do a single thing on my own initiative; just as I hear, I judge; and the judgment that I render is righteous, because I seek, not my will, but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30)
These verses, and others like them, are used to show that Jesus could not be God because he conforms to the Father’s will. But this is absurd; whether we assume or not that Jesus is subordinate to the Father, the Father and the Son must be one in will and purpose. If this means subordination, then so be it; the way in which Jesus explained it certainly would indicate that kind of relationship.
“For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted also to the Son to have life in himself.” (John 5:26)
This is frequently interpreted by Arians as saying that, since the Father granted the Son’s life to him, the Son is inferior to him and cannot be God. What this verse is saying, however, pertains to the subject of the nature of the life of God. We have seen that Jehovah God is “He who is” and his existence is moreover self-sustaining and not dependent on anything or anyone else. This verse certainly tells us that the Son obtained his life from the Father; however, it also says that the Son, having obtained that life from the Father, has life “in himself” that is as self-sustaining and independent as the Father. Since this type of life is unique to God, what we have here is yet another affirmation of Jesus’ divinity. It is in light of this verse that the following be understood: “Just as the living Father and I live because of the Father, he also that feeds on me, even that one will live because of me.” (John 6:57)
“If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going my way to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28)
This is yet another statement that the Father is superior to the Son; what we don’t see is a denial of Jesus’ divinity. It is very important here to note that Jesus states that the Father is “greater” not “better” than Jesus. This implies a quantitative difference rather than a qualitative one. It is crucial to make this distinction in understanding both the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are “of one substance” (the “substance” of God) while at the same time the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father.
“This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3)
This verse puts forth two issues at once; the issue of Jesus praying to his Father, and the issue of Jesus’ acknowledgement of the Father as “the only true God.”
It should be obvious that, in view of the fact that the Father and the Son are different persons (hypostases as the Greeks would say) that there should be some kind of communication between them. It should also be obvious that, as Jesus Christ was both divine and human, that his human nature – his soul, if you please – should have need of communication with the Father. Finally, since we have the text of this, what is really part of “the real Lord’s prayer” in John 17, since it was spoken by Jesus it was heard by the disciples and John in particular; the contents were as much for their edification (and ours) as they were for the Father.
Turning to the question of “the one true God,” this is another place where our teacher from Alexandria and our friends from Brooklyn agree, but still go in a different direction when it comes to the Son. If we consider the fact that the Father is the arche of the Son, this concept makes sense, at least to the Son.
But when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will be also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.” (1 Corinthians. 15:28)
This is another affirmation of the future subjection of the Son to the Father, which again is not really a clear denial of the deity of the Son. The final phrase “all things to everyone” is a curious translation; the KIT puts it “all (things) in all.”
“Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took on a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men. More than that, he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly have him the name that is above every [other] name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11)
We have cited this passage in this entirety because there is a great deal to note here, both things that concern our present subject and things that do not.
- The phrase “in God’s form” should be understood in terms of such passages as Hebrews 1:2,3. It is rather silly to say that someone is not God just because he is “in God’s form;” what form should Jesus Christ be in to be God?
- There are a number of ways to deal with the phrase “consideration to a seizure.” The first would be to say that the Son is subordinate to the Father to begin with; the Son knowing this, he gave no thought to achieving equality with the Father. The KIT offers another solution; if we consider the phrase “who in form of God existing not snatching, he considered the to be equal (things) to God,” we could say that he was in the form of God not by theft but by right, and he is considered to be God’s equal, namely that he was and is God.
- The phrase “obedient as far as death” indicates that the Son is under the Father’s authority, especially in the matter of the Son’s mission to redeem humanity and the agonising consequences that it brought.
- It is beyond the scope of this work to discuss the matter of the cross versus the “torture stake,” but the concept of the perfect man being put to death on what was in the ancient world frequently used as a phallic symbol (an upright pole) seems to be a very strange way of improving our idea of redemption.
- The idea of exalting the Son must be understood in terms of “in front of humanity,” thus “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.” (John 3:14,15) Jesus’ death on the cross was humiliating immediately and exalting in the long term.
- It is frequently the custom of the NWT to translate the Greek “Kurios” as “Jehovah” in their zeal to restore the divine name. It would thus make sense to translate “Jesus Christ is Lord” as “Jesus Christ is Jehovah” but this is not done.
We have seen in this section that Jesus showed us that he was in some way subordinate to the Father while still being God; those verses that show the former do not deny the latter. At the point for many the discussion is at an end, because all theology is conceived as piling up one proof text upon another and thus settling the case.
However, as we said at the outset, for those who do not accept the Bible as authoritative, this is not enough. Additionally much of the debate surrounding this subject – historically at least – has had reference to concepts not explicit in the Scriptures. This is true for both sides of the debate. It is our task now to enter into a different type of examination of our subject. In doing this we look for our understanding of it to increase and for us to realise something that many Christians overlook: that God’s ways are not only correct, but that they are rational and make sense.
 It is interesting to note that the Qur’an likewise attributes creative powers to Jesus: “When ALLAH will say, ‘O Jesus son of Mary, remember MY favour upon thee and upon thy mother; When I strengthened thee with the spirit of holiness so that thou didst speak to the people in the cradle and when of middle age; and when I taught thee the Book and the wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when thou didst fashion a creation out of clay, in the likeness of a bird, by MY command; then thou didst breathe into it a new spirit and it became a soaring being by MY command; and thou didst heal the night-blind and the leprous by MY command; and when thou didst raise the dead by MY command; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from putting thee to death when thou didst come to them with clear Signs; and those who disbelieved from among them said, ‘This is nothing but clear deception.’” (Sura 5:110) It is also interesting to note that the Qur’an, like the Bible, only attributes creative power to God: “O men, a similitude is set forth, so listen to it. Surely those on whom you call upon instead of ALLAH cannot create even a fly, though they should all combine together for the purpose. And if the fly should snatch away anything from them, they cannot recover it therefrom. Weak, indeed, are both the seeker and the sought.” (Sura 22:73)