A reader, Ron Maness, a church librarian, sent me some research he had done comparing various interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:28:
When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all. (NASB)
It is fascinating to compare the differences in interpretation between those who see an Eternal Subordination of the Son in this passage and those who don’t. It’s an interesting exercise on the impact of our presuppositions. It also shows how ESS/EFS/ERAS has become very widespread. Ron kindly gave me permission to share his findings here.
The Trinity and 1 Corinthians 15:28
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:28 ESV
Reformation Study Bible, ESV Version, 2015, Study Notes. Does not mean the Son is inferior in dignity and being. Rather, in his messianic work, the Son subjects himself to the will of the Father “when he delivers to the kingdom to God the Father (vs 24). The climax of Christ’s submissive, messianic work is this total conquest over his enemies. Author of Study Notes not named.
Gordon D. Fee. As in 3:22-23 and 11:3, the language of subordination of the Son to the Father is functional, referring to his “work” of redemption, not ontological, referring to his being as such. The unity of God lies behind all such language. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the NT), Eerdmans, 1987, page 760.
Anthony C. Thiselton. In the light of later formulations of a doctrine of the Trinity, in which the three persons of the Trinity are coequal in glory, some find themselves troubled by what has been called a “subordinationist” Christology here. But there are two responses:
1) First, in first century Hellenistic religions, there was often too readily an overly cozy focus on of some specific “Lord” (kyrios), which left vague ideas of the supreme, transcendent God as no more than a shadowy figure in the background. God, the Creator and Agent of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the ultimate source and goal of all. Neil Richardson concludes in a specialist study that 15:24 and 15:28 are in line with Paul’s theology elsewhere.
2) Second, mainline Christian theology has always distinguished between (a) “internal” relations within the Trinity of divine persons, and (b) how G0d-as-Trinity acts upon and in the world. To humankind and creation, God is God; believers relate to Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as God. Issues about “internal” trinitarian distinctions of role do not affect the praising doxology of the created order to God through Christ in the power of the Spirit. God remains source and goal of all; God remains all in all.
1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary, by Anthony C. Thiselton. Eerdmans, 2006, page 272.
Paul W. Marsh. The question here is one of function. Just as the incarnate Son was subject, or subordinate, to the Father to effect eternal redemption at his First Advent, and to that extent owned him as greater, so coming again the second time for the final accomplishment of that commission the same relationship continues. The task completed, the Redeemer, man’s Mediator, surrenders the kingdom to Him who sent him. Their essential equality and unity remains. The Son’s mediatorial function completed, God now reigns not through Christ, but as “immediate sovereign of the universe” (Hodge). 1 Corinthians, New International Bible Commentary (NIV), edited by F.F. Bruce, 1979.
Matthew Henry. The man, Christ Jesus, who has appeared in so much majesty during the whole administration of his kingdom, shall appear upon giving it up to be a subject of the Father. Though the human nature must be employed in the work of our redemption, yet God was all in all in it. The Matthew Henry Study Bible (KJV), edited by A. Kenneth Abraham, 1997.
F.F. Bruce. When this subjection is completed and the last enemy destroyed, Christ has full accomplished his mediatorial ministry. …now he “delivers the kingdom to God the Father”. …His mediatorial kingship is the means for the consummation of the kingdom of God, which was inaugurated by his work on earth. The humble submissiveness to his Father’s will which characterized him then will continue to characterize him to the consummation, when “the Son himself will also be subjected” (or “will subject himself”) to “him who put all things under him”. But since the Son is the image and revelation of the Father, “Father and Son are really one in this activity” (Cullman). 1 & 2 Corinthians (The New Century Bible Commentary), by F.F. Bruce, Eerdmans, 1971.
Leon Morris. This presents a difficulty, for it appears to some that one member of one member of the Trinity is seen as inferior to another. But we must bear in mind that Paul is not speaking of the essential nature of either the Son or the Father. He is speaking of the work that Christ has accomplished and will accomplish…The climax of this whole work will come when he renders up the kingdom to him who is the source of it all. In that he became man for the accomplishment of that work, he took upon him a certain subjection that is necessarily impressed upon that work right up to and including its consummation. The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Revised Edition (Tyndale NT Commentaries), by Leon Morris, 1985.
John MacArthur. From the time of his incarnation until the time when he presents the kingdom to the Father, Christ is in the role of a servant, fulfilling his divine task as assigned by his Father. But when that final work is accomplished, he will assume his former, glorious place in the perfect harmony of the Trinity…Christ will continue to reign, because his reign is eternal, but he will reign with the Father in trinitarian glory, subject to the Trinity (?) in that way eternally designed for him. 1 Corinthians (MacArthur NT Commentary), by John MacArthur, Moody Press, 1984.
Charles Hodge. The subjection here spoken of is not predicated of the eternal Logos, the second person of the Trinity, any more than the kingdom spoken of in v 24 is the dominion which belongs essentially to Christ as God. As there, the word Christ designates the Theanthropos, so here does the word Son designate not the Logos as such, but the Logos as incarnate. …so is the subjection here spoken of consistent with his eternal equality with the Father. It is not the subjection of the Son as Son, but of the Son as Theanthropos of which the apostle speaks…In one sense he is subject, in another sense he is equal. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Charles Hodge, Eerdmans, 1950.
Simon Kistemaker. Quotes Charles Hodge: “In one sense he is subject, in another sense he is equal…So the eternal Son of God may be both coequal with the Father and officially subordinate to him”. This means that in his office as redeemer and mediator Christ is subject to God the Father. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Simon Kistemaker, Baker Books, 1993.
Chrysostom. The apostle speaks in one way when he is talking about the Godhead alone and in another way when he is talking about the divine dispensation…it is clear that he is thinking of the divine dispensation of the incarnation, in which the Son has willingly subjected himself to the Father. 1-2 Corinthians (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol 7), edited by Gerald Bray, Intervarsity Press, 1999.
Augustine. However, the rule of Catholic faith is this: when the Scriptures say of the Son that he is less than the Father, the Scriptures mean in respect of the assumption of humanity. But when the Scriptures point out that he is equal, they are understood in respect of his deity. 1-2 Corinthians (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT, vol 7), edited by Gerald Bray, Intervarsity Press, 1999.
John Calvin. In the first place, it must be observed, that all power was delivered over to Christ, inasmuch as he was manifested in the flesh. It is true that such distinguished majesty would not correspond with a mere man, but, notwithstanding, the Father has exalted him in the same nature in which he was abased, and has given, him a name, before which every knee must bow, etc. …We acknowledge, it is true, God as the ruler, but it is in the face of the man Christ. But Christ will then restore the kingdom which he has received, that we may cleave wholly to God. Nor will he in this way resign the kingdom, but will transfer it in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity, because a way of approach will then be opened up, from which our infirmity now keeps us back. Thus then Christ will be subjected to the Father, because the veil being then removed, we shall openly behold God reigning in his majesty, and Christ’s humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God (citation missing).
Subordinationist or Other Interpretations (including those where it is not clear whether the subordination is eternal or limited to the Son’s redemptive work)
Tom Schreiner: Jesus’ unique relation to the Father is also implied in a few texts…Perhaps when using the designation “God” of the Father, Paul thinks primarily of Jesus as the human Messiah. But it also seems likely that he thinks of God’s priority in relation to the Son, particularly since, as we have noted previously, the Son is sent by the Father into the world…Further, God is Christ’s head (1 Cor 11:3), so that the Son is under his authority and rule. The Father has an authority that is greater than the Son, for the Son will “submit” to him after the kingdom is consummated, and the Son will hand the kingdom over to the Father (1 Cor 15:24,28). Thereby the Father will be “all in all”. The priority of the Father, however, does not cancel out the truth that the Son also shares divinity…Paul does not work out how this fits with monotheism, which he clearly affirms. The full theological and philosophical implications were left to the later church to work out. New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, by Thomas R. Schreiner, Baker Academic, 2008, page 323.
Tom Schreiner: The submission of Christ to the Father…Such submission (of wives to husbands) should not be construed as demeaning or as a denial of a person’s dignity or personhood, for Christ himself submits to the Father—and as the Son he did what the Father commanded, yet there is no idea that the Son lacks dignity or worth. Two Views on Women in Ministry, edited by James R. Beck, revised 2005, Zondervan, page 303.
Tom Schreiner referencing Craig Keener: Most egalitarians deny there is any sense in which the Son submits to the Father…But Craig Keener (“Is Subordination with the Trinity Really a Heresy: A Study of John 5:18 in Context, TJ 20 (1999), who is himself an egalitarian, suggests that the subordination of the Son, properly understood, is supported biblically. Two Views on Women in Ministry, edited by James R. Beck, revised 2005, Zondervan, page 303, fn.
David Garland. This is the only place in Paul’s letters where the absolute use of the title “the Son” appears (corresponds to the absolute use of God the Father in vs 24). It connotes submission to the Father. ..The title refers to the subjection of his will to God’s will and does not imply the inferiority of his person (as per Schweizer, who says “it describes a subordinate position in relation to the Father”). 1 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT, Baker, 2003, page 713)
Craig Blomberg. As representative of humanity, and doing what humans were supposed to have done but failed to do, Jesus remains ultimately subordinate to God…Although God the Son is essentially equal to the Father, he remains functionally subordinate, just as his glorified humanity keeps him distinct from what he was prior to the incarnation. 1 Corinthians, NIVAC, Zondervan, 1994, page 298.
ESV Study Bible. Jesus is one with God the Father and equal to the Father in deity, yet functionally subordinate to him (Mark 14:36, John 5:19, 26-27,30; 17:4), and this verse shows that his subjection to the Father will continue for all eternity. Study Notes on 1 Cor by Frank Thielman.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. The subordination of the Son to the Father is not one of divinity or dignity but one of function. God the Father is supreme, not subject to anyone. Jesus the Son, fully divine, carries out the Father’s will. Study Notes on 1 Corinthians by Eckhard Schnabel.