The Subordination of the Son to the Father
There are a variety of views on this issue:
The rest of this article presents the Complementarian view, the eternal
subordination of the Son.
While it is often assumed that the verses about subordination are restricted
to the time of Jesus' human life on earth, there are many references that
address his position before and after his earthly ministry and some are
timeless, having implications for Jesus' relationship to his Father regardless
References specific to Jesus life after his earthly lifeAfter his resurrection, Jesus is given a seat that is subordinate to God. He is seated at the right had of the Majesty, the Power of God: Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69; Acts 5:31
The Father has bestowed the kingdom to the Son just as the Son will bestow the kingdom to his disciples (Luke 22:29).
Matthew 20:20-23 (Mark 10:35-40) Jesus declares that he cannot give specific positions in the coming heavenly kingdom but only the Father has that authority.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28 - Jesus hands the kingdom to his Father and is eternally subjected to God.
These texts show that even though the Son has all authority over others
(Matthew 28:18) but not
over his Father and Jesus ALWAYS receives the authority from his
Father. He will give it back to his Father but he never bestows
authority on his Father. Even though he has all authority over others,
some authority will continue to be reserved for the Father alone, even
in the Kingdom.
References that appear to be timeless, suggesting eternal subordinationJesus looks to the Father as his God (John 20:17; Ephesians 1:17; Revelation 3:12; compare Micah 5:2-4) If two persons jointly own a business, they may both be considered to be the Boss. But if one person says that the other person is his Boss then there is a difference in the authority structure. The Son looks to his Father as being His God but the Father never calls the Son "His God." The verses mentioned above clearly show that this relationship extends to Jesus' life after his earthly ministry.
The phrase " . . . something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner" refers to activities the "Father does." This would certainly include heavenly activities and would not be limited to only earthly activities. The specific reference in verse 22 stating the Son will be the earth's future Judge will certainly be a heavenly activity, not one accomplished during his earthly ministry. All these things, whether things done prior to the Son's earthly ministry or after, the Son does "in like manner" to what the Father does. Yet these are the same activities about which he also says "the Son can do nothing of Himself." The Son can do nothing that is out of harmony with the Father's will, or simply put, he can only do things that he sees the Father doing. But if the Son cannot do these heavenly activities on his own initiative, then he must have a subordinate role that transcends all time, for all eternity.
John 8:28 (Jesus does nothing
of his own initiative)
Implications for Jesus life prior to his earthly ministryJesus disclosed how it was decided that he would come to earth.
Throughout the writings of John the Sender of the Son is identified
as the Father (John
; 20:21 ;
References with possible implications to Jesus' life prior to his earthly ministryJohn 6:37-39 (Jesus was sent to do God's will, not his own will.) Also see Luke 22:42; Mathew 26:39
John 14:31 (Jesus does
exactly as the Father has commanded him.)
John 12:49,50 (Jesus
does not speak on his own. The Father gave him a commandment
what to speak. The Father told Jesus what to speak.)
John 3:35 (Father has given
all things into the Son's hand.)
About the Holy Spirit:The Holy Spirit is subordinate for similar reasons:
1 Peter 1:12 (Holy Spirit is sent from heaven.)
John 14:26 (Holy Spirit is sent by the Father, yet comes in the authority of the Son.)
John 15:26 (The Holy Spirit, who is not the Father, is present with the Father yet sent by the Son.)
1 Corinthians 12:11 (When the Holy Spirit comes, he does as he wills, yet does nothing on his own.)
John 16:13 (Holy Spirit does not speak on his own initiative, what he hears, he speaks.)
Romans 8:27 (The Holy Spirit, "He", does things according to the Father's will.)
Isaiah 6:8 (Acts 28:25,26) (The Holy Spirit is identified as the Lord yet he asks for a decision on whom to send.)
Similarities between the Son and the Holy Spirit in subordination:
John 12:49,50 (He does
not speak on his own. Father gave him a commandment what to speak. Father
has told him what to speak.)
Were Jesus' limitations due to his human nature or partly due to his chosen subordinate role?When Jesus came to earth he took on the form of man (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8) and the limitations of humanity (Luke 2:51; Matthew 4:2; Matthew 21:18; Hebrews 5:7) so that he could sympathize with our limitations - and we could observe those limitations - but he did not take on the moral weaknesses associated with human sinfulness (Hebrews 4:15). Were the limitations all a result of taking on humanity or might some limitations be due to his having a subordinate role which, for a time, meant taking on a mortal human body (
If the Son's limitations on earth were solely a result of his human
nature, and if he retained this human nature after his resurrection – as
most scholars believe (Luke
With this possibility in mind now consider this question:
Two verses appear to say Jesus knew all things, even during his earthly ministry, while the other two (referring to the same statement) appear to say Jesus does not know the day and hour of the final days of the earth. How can these be reconciled?
The 'not knowing' in Mark 13 and Matthew 24 is clearly not metaphorical nor idiomatic. It is literally true that no one (except the Father) possesses the knowledge of the day or hour. The disciples asked when the disaster would occur (in Matthew 24:2,3; Mark 13:2-4) because they did not know. Jesus' answer was that not only did they not know, "no one knows . . . but the Father alone."
Some scholars explain this apparent conflict by appealing to the fact that during his earthly ministry Jesus was not only fully God but also fully Man. Since in his humanity Jesus experienced the limitation of hunger, which he had not known while he was in heaven (John 3:13) then other limitations would also be due to his humanity. Others see how this explains the physical limitations that accompany Jesus' humanity but some find it hard to see why this explains any mental limitations.
How would the dual nature of Jesus offer an explanation for the above apparent contradiction? Some conclude that when Jesus took on his human nature he possessed two minds, a human mind and a Divine mind, with the human mind responsible for Jesus' knowledge rather than the Divine mind. Others hold that Jesus had one mind but while in his mortal body he chose to have a subconscious mental part that was inaccessible to the conscious mind and then, after his resurrection, his humanity became dominated by the Divine so his subconscious became accessible. Either way, it would seem there was one memory databank that Jesus always had access to (the human mind/conscious mind) and another databank that, due to his human limitations, was inaccessible (the Divine mind/subconscious mind).
Critics, like myself, ask whether these explanations are necessary or even consistent. If Jesus' mental limitations were due to his humanity, then there could be other things that Jesus did not know. Indeed, if there were other things, like facts about creation, that Jesus did not know while in his earthly tent, then my 'answer' given below collapses. However I think that the appeal to two minds (or two distinct parts of one mind) is unnecessary and does not totally explain what is stated in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32.
One could ask:
The word for 'know' in Luke 13:25,27 and Matthew 25:12 is the same (root) as in Mark 13 and Matthew 24 (a Greek synonym of the word is in Matthew 7:23). But it seems to be an idiomatic use for the Judge knows that the judged are evildoers yet he says "I do not know you" and "I do not know where you are from." Clearly it is not literally true that the Judge does not know the judged. Likely this references means the Judge has not had a close relationship with them and does not know them as true disciples. This illustrates that the word for 'know' can have a latitude of meaning. This makes us aware that there may be some flexibility in resolving the apparent contradiction.
Why the Son does not knowIn Matthew 24:15,21 (Mark 13:14,19) Jesus refers to the great Desolation or Distress that falls on Jerusalem as foretold in Daniel 9:12,27 and Daniel 11:31; 12:1. He tells of his return to then gather God's elect (Mark 13:27 / Matthew 24:31) also a parallel to Daniel 7:18,19,21,22,23,27 where the kingdom is restored to Israel. This teaching is familiar to his disciples as shown in an earlier chapter (Matthew 19:28) where the kingdom is restored to his Israelite disciples. Although Jesus answers their question of "when . . .?" with "no one knows . . . but the Father alone" the question comes up again after Jesus' resurrection. In Acts 1:6,7 the disciples ask "is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" I believe Jesus' answer here extends the previous comment "no one knows . . . but the Father alone" by adding "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority."
I think this is the real answer. The decision to bring the Tribulation to the earth is a decision reserved exclusively for the Final Decision-Maker, the Father. Jesus does not know the time because his subordinate role does not give him the authority to set the day or the hour. Although he has been given all authority over all creation (Matthew 28:18) he does not have authority over the Father. Jesus knows all that there is to know about created things, but the Son must wait to see what the Father reveals (John 5:19,20 - "the Father will show Him greater works than these").
There is nothing in any of the troublesome biblical references (Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:36; John 5:20) that require Jesus to have forgotten anything or that there was some knowledge he had once had but was now inaccessible. These things that Jesus did not know or had not seen were not things derived from the realm of creation but things that must come exclusively from the Father, the Final Decision-Maker.
That Jesus' subordinate role extends to decisions in the future kingdom
can be seen in Matthew
20:20-23 (Mark 10:35-40)
where the Father alone has the authority to decide the ranking of Jesus'
disciples. It is consistent that since the Father has fixed the time of
the great Distress "by His own authority" (Acts 1:7) the day and hour would
be something that the Son does not 'know.'
WHO else does not know the day or hour?I claim that not only is the above answer possible, it addresses another issue. Reexamine Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32. The text says "no one knows" and ends with the exception "but the Father alone" (Greekmonos - Matthew 24:36). Typically we focus on "the Son" as stated in Mark 13:32 but now let us consider who else could be included among those who do not know. What is the scope of "no one?" Is the scope of "no one" limited to the list given ("not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son") or could the scope be everyone in earth and heaven ("but the Father alone")? Humans are not specifically listed but they would be assumed since Jesus' audience was human. Demons are not "angels of heaven" nor are they listed but it would be very odd if they knew the day and hour. So the list by itself is not the entire set of those who do not know. It seems likely (to me) that the broader statement "no one knows . . . but the Father alone" is the primary statement and the phrase "not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son" clarifies by extending the scope beyond the human audience. Considering Acts 1:7, which states that the setting of the time belongs to the Father's jurisdiction, suggests there is NO ONE else in the whole universe who knows because no one else has the authority to set the time. If this is the correct understanding then the Holy Spirit also does not know.
So why does the Holy Spirit - who is also God - not know what the Father
alone knows. If the explanation for the Son's ignorance rests on his human
nature, then that cannot explain why the Holy Spirit does not know for
the Holy Spirit never took on a dual nature. However if our answer is based
on the subordinate role taken by the Son
and the Holy Spirit, then
the reason for the ignorance of the Holy Spirit is the same as that for
the Son. Just as there are things that the Father would yet show the Son
(John 5:19,20), there are
things that the Son will yet share with the Holy Spirit (
No verse specifically answers this but I think there is a reasonable possibility. Elsewhere evidence has been given to show that while only one God made the universe and is capable of doing what no other could do, yet both the Father and the Son shared in the making of the universe. From Hebrews 1:3 and John 5:19,20 it is clear the Son is exactly like the Father and does everything the Father does. But there are differences between the two, certain roles are reserved for each person; only the Son is the mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and only the Father has the jurisdiction to decide certain things in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23 ; Mark 10:35-40 ; Acts 1:7).
Assuming it is true that the Son is included in the One God who made the universe yet has an eternally subordinate position next to his Father, then what would be implied if they were both addressed as "God" side-by-side? There are a few verses in the Old Testament where the "true God" (Jeremiah 10:10) is referenced side-by-side with other gods (eg.: 1 Kings 18:24) yet we know that Yahweh is a distinct God from these others and could not be "one" with them in any sense. Thus it might be that we do not see such statements about the Father and Son both being "God", in the same sentence, is because such a reference would likely convey the idea that there were two distinct Gods. Giving them both the same supernatural title "God" in the same context might not reflect the subordinate role of the Son even though it would maintain the "God" nature they share.
Paul had great knowledge that rivaled the 12 Apostles (2 Corinthians 11:5,6; 10:10), he was considered by many to be an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1,2) yet in the context of the twelve he hesitated to be called an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:7-9). Paul wrote most of the New Testament but the twelve had a prominence that Paul did not (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 21:14). He was not inferior yet he was submissive (Acts 21:23,24). Paul was included in the one Bride of Christ along with the twelve. So in one context he was reckoned as an apostle, yet in another context, because of his rank, he was not.
I think this suggests that Jesus, when being referenced alone, can be identified as "God" because he is included in the One Maker of all things who brought the universe into existence from nothing (Romans 4:16,17; - which could be a reference to Jesus since it seems reasonable to think that Genesis 17 and 18 refers to Jesus - see John 8). Yet when he is mentioned in the immediate context of his Father and he is described with one of his submissive roles (as "Christ") he is not given the role of "God" thus avoiding the conflict of rank. This would parallel how Paul did not accept the title of "apostle" in the company of the twelve due to the respect he had for their role as assigned by Jesus.
Other than the role/functional differences between the Father and Son, and the phraseology that would maintain those differences, we do not see any differences between the Father and Son. They are both honored the same (John 5:23;1 John 2:23), they both receive worship (Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:13,14) and religious service (Daniel 6:26; 7:13,14,27 - Ralfs; compare John 12:26).