Blogging the Institutes | 1.13.25-26 | What Christ’s Subordination Really Is

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

What Christ’s Subordination Really Is

False teaching on the Trinity continues with the thought that each Person (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) only contains part of God’s essence. The Father has a part, the Son has a part, and the Spirit has a part, and together, they make up the whole essence of God.

But such teaching runs contrary to Scripture. The Bible teaches us that God is one in essence. Therefore, the essence (the “God-ness”) of both the Son and Spirit is unbegotten – it is not given to them by the Father.  However, the Father is first in terms of taxis, or order, within the Trinity. He himself begat his own wisdom. He is also considered to be rightly consider the principle and fountain of all Godhead. Thus the term “God” taken by itself is unbegotten. Furthermore, the Father with respect to his Person, is unbegotten.

Our doctrine doesn’t give any support to the idea that there are multiple gods. These false teachers assign to us a position that only comes from their own imagination, as if we hold that three Persons emanate from one essence. What we believe is this: we don’t separate the Persons from the essence. Rather, all of we do, is propose a difference of relationship between the Persons residing in it. If the Persons were separated from the essence, there might be some plausibility to their argument. In a sense, there would be a trinity of Gods, not of Persons in one God. Our formulation answers their question, “Whether or not the essence happens at the same time in forming the Trinity?” As if we imagined that three God derived from the essence.

Their objection, that there would be a Trinity without a God, originates from the same absurd belief. Although God’s essence does not contribute to the difference between the Persons, the Persons do not exist apart from God’s essence. If the Father were not God, then he couldn’t be the Father. If the Son were not God, he could not be the Son. Therefore, the Godhead exists absolutely by itself. The Son, regarded as God, exists as God by himself without reference to Person. Although we can also say that, when he is designated as Son, he comes from the Father. Thus, the Son’s essence is without beginning, while his Person has its beginning in God.

Indeed, the orthodox writers of the past who spoke of the Trinity used terms “Person.” They did not included the essence in the distinction between the Persons. To do so would be to introduce not only absurd error but also false worship. Those who try to categorize God by Essence, Son, and Spirit plainly do away with the “Godness” of the Son and the Spirit. On the other hand, the “parts” of God would intermingle and merge with one another and due away with any distinctions. In sum, if God and Father were synonmous terms, the Father would give “God-ness” to the Son, leaving nothing but a shadow. The Trinity would therefore be nothing more than the union of one God with two creatures!

If Christ can properly be called God, isn’t he then improperly titled, “the Son of God”? No. Because when the term “God” is used to compare Jesus to God, it is used as a title for the Father. The Father is the originator of Personhood but not divine essence. In this sense, we can better understand Jesus’ words in John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Because he is speaking as the Mediator, Jesus holds a middle place between God and humanity. Yet, he does so in away that his glory is not diminished. Although he humbled himself, he did not lose the glory which he had with the Father. It was concealed from the world. In Hebrews, the authors says that Christ was both made lower than the angels and exists as the eternal God who created the world (Hebrews 1:10; 2:9).

Therefore, as the Mediator, Christ often addresses the Father using the term “God” to include his own divinity too. Thus, when he says to the apostles, “It is good for you that I go away,” “My Father is greater than I,” he is not seeing himself as a lesser “god.” Rather, he places the Father in a higher degree because he still exists in heavenly glory. While he, as the Son, humbled himself and took on human flesh in order to gather together the faithful to share glory with himself.

For the same reason, Paul says that Christ will restore, “the kind of God, even the Father,” “That God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24, 28). Nothing more absurd exists than to deny the eternality of Christ’s divinity. If he will never cease to be the Son of God, under the name of the Father, the one divine essence which both share can be understood. Christ descended to us in order to raise us to the Father. At the same time, he raises us to himself because he is one with the Father. Therefore, you can’t restrict the term “God” to only the Father. You can’t deny the Son the title of “God” either. When John declares that Christ is the true God, he is not placing the Son under the Father in subordinate role in terms of his divinity. I wonder what these false teachers mean when they confess that Christ is truly God yet excluded him from the same essence of the Father. As if there could be any true God but the one God!

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