Honesty, Boldness, and the Subordination of the Son of God

I have been listening to David Platt’s _radical_ as I drive. I applaud him for his bold defense of the words of Jesus. It embarrassed and convicted me. It moved me not just to sorrow, but to repentance. It made me remember that it is God who must drive truth home, not me. I have to say what Scripture says whether men like it or not. We all know that, and I have done it often, but not always.

Changing my attitude and bowing more completely to the truth, and thus to Jesus who is the truth, I’ll go ahead and comment on the following:

I ran across a guy who defends “eternal subordination,” which is the teaching that the Son was always subservient to the Father, even before the incarnation. That seems such an obvious truth from Scripture that I’m surprise anyone opposes it, but apparently the idea that the Father and Son are exact replicas of one another is one of those “taboo” doctrines of evangelicals. It can’t be questioned even in areas where it is obviously wrong. Why is there a Trinity if the three members are identical triplets?

Bruce Ware is willing to embrace the obvious eternal subservience of the Son to the Father, a truth that we should honor Jesus for and a truth that Jesus seemed proud of. But Mr. Ware is very careful not to suggest that the Father is in any way ontologically greater than the Son. (Ontologically means in their being, but the concept is rather ethereal and hard to define.)

Perhaps because they are of the same substance/essence, something that was taught from the days of the apostles onward, they are ontologically equal. If we wish to be scholars, however, we cannot honestly claim ontological equality without letting our hearers know that the early churches, those who still held the teaching of the apostles, did not see that equality exactly as we do.

I can make an excellent scriptural case that every appearance of God before the incarnation was a Christophany, an appearance of the Word, not the Father. The early Christians would take it one step further. God (the Father), they taught, CANNOT appear on earth. He CANNOT be confined to one spot. Only the Word can be found in one place. The Father fills all things and cannot be confined. Compare this idea to John 1:18, which tells us that God has never been seen by man.

The following is from Theophilus, bishop of Antioch around AD 170, but you will find the teaching multiple times in the second-century writings of the church:

“You will say … to me: ‘You said that God cannot to be contained in one place; how do you now say that he walked in Paradise?’ Hear what I say: The God and Father of all truly cannot be contained, and is not found, in a place … but his Word, through whom he made all things, being his power and his wisdom, assuming the person of the Father and Lord of all, went to the garden in the person of God and conversed with Adam.”

Is that an ontological difference? Ontologically equal is an impressive theological term, but if it doesn’t allow for the Son to be confined to a place while the Father, who fills everything, cannot be, then the term describes something that is not true.

We need to add one more difference between the Father and Son, this one from Scripture. Mark 13:32 tells us that the Father has a time in mind for the end which is unknown to the Son.

I suppose this does not have to be an ontological difference, but it is a difference that I suspect evangelicals will not allow, no matter what Jesus said. In evangelical eyes, he’s not allowed to be less than the Father in any way except while he was on earth. It borders on silliness to suggest that Jesus was so distanced from his divine role as the Word of God during his time on earth that he didn’t know things that he knew before the incarnation, then suddenly knew it again after the resurrection.

When Jesus said the Son does not know the day or the hour because it is in the Father’s determination, he is saying that the Son will not know until the Father sends him back to rescue us from this corrupt world and from our almost useless theology.

We cannot honor the Son by teaching things about him that are not true from Scripture and from his own words. When we deny the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father and we turn our heads away from differences between the Father and Son that were taught by the apostles, then we are dishonoring the Son, not elevating him.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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