Does the Son Eternally Submit to the Authority of the Father?

In my last article, I discussed some of my concerns with a teaching called the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). ESS was developed as a response to feminists and egalitarian arguments regarding gender roles. Wayne Grudem, one of the proponents of ESS, wrote an article giving 12 biblical evidences for defining the relationship between the Father and the Son as one of eternal authority and submission.

While I can agree that the Son does certainly submit to the Father in some respects, I think ESS is a dangerous departure from orthodox formulations of the Trinity. The relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit is so much more than authority and submission. I believe that ESS is the result of isolating and emphasizing one aspect of trinitarian relationships to the neglect of others.

I intend to address each of Grudem’s 12 points and to respond by using John Calvin and Matthew Henry’s commentaries. The purpose in using Calvin and Henry is that they predate the gender roles debates by centuries. If eternal authority and submission is the predominate Scriptural theme as Grudem contends, then there should be evidence in the Protestant commentaries. If it’s not, then I believe Calvin and Henry’s commentaries will illustrate different emphases in those Scriptural passages.

Grudem’s article was written to respond directly to various egalitarian or feminist writers. My response is not meant to support their arguments necessarily but rather to demonstrate that some who hold to complementarian views of gender roles do not agree that ESS is biblically sound or consistent with orthodox formulations of the Trinity.

In preparing to write this, I read through Michael Horton’s chapter on the Trinity in his systematic theology, The Christian Faith. I recommend it as a good summary of the history and issues debated over various definitions of the Trinity. Horton gives a great quote from Gregory the Nazianzus that I believe should be the focus of all discussions of the Trinity:

‘No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One.’ (361, ebook)

This, I believe, is the failure of ESS. It draws our attention away from the majesty of the Triune God.

1. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission indicated by the names “Father” and “Son”

Grudem argues that the patriarchal audience of biblical times would have understood the terms “father” and “son” to mean an authority/submission relationship:

Therefore, what is everywhere true of a father-son relationship in the biblical world, and is not contradicted by any other passages of Scripture, surely should be applied to the relationship between the Father and Son in the Trinity. The names “Father” and “Son” represent an eternal difference in the roles of the Father and the Son. The Father has a leadership and authority role that the Son does not have, and the Son submits to the Father’s leadership in a way that the Father does not submit to the Son. The eternal names “Father” and “Son” therefore give a significant indication of eternal authority and submission among the members of the Trinity.

The problem with using extra-biblical evidences to support an interpretation is that you have no guarantee which evidences are the ones believers are meant to use. The Reformers were very strong on using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Does the Bible teach that adult children are supposed to relate to their adult parents in terms of authority and submission? Not exactly. Genesis 2:24 says that a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Ephesians 6 tells children to submit to their parents.

Grudem acknowledges this Scriptural evidence in a footnote:

However, one word of caution is appropriate here. I am not saying that the Bible commands all adult sons to be subject to their own fathers for their entire lifetimes, for that is nowhere commanded in Scripture. Instead, the Bible commands, “Children obey your parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1), and the word “children” (Greek teknon, plural) would have been heard by the Christians in the church at Ephesus as applying only to children up to a certain age, and not to adults. At least by the time a man “shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife” (Genesis 2:24), when he establishes a new household, and probably in other circumstances as well, the responsibility of children to obey their parents no longer applies to those who have reached adulthood.

But let’s consider some biblical support that Grudem uses to make his argument. Grudem references passages from John: John 5:18-19, John 6:37-38, and John 8:37-38.

John 5:19: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 

In the ESV Study Bible notes, which Wayne Grudem edited, it says:

Jesus’ claim that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, taken with vv. 17-18, affirms two themes: (1) Jesus is equal to God, i.e. he is fully divine; (2) the Father and the Son have different functions and roles, and the Son is subject to the Father in everything he does, yet this does not deny their fundamental equality. (6769, all pages from e-book version)

In contrast, Matthew Henry writes that this passage speaks to the Son having the same authority and power of the Father:

This was justly inferred from what he said, that he was the Son of God, and that God was his Father, patera idion —his own Father; his, so as he was no one’s else. He had said that he worked with his Father, by the same authority and power, and hereby he made himself equal with God. (emphasis mine)

John Calvin also sees equality as the point of the passage:

Arius inferred from it that the Son is inferior to the Father, because he can do nothing of himself. …

For the discourse does not relate to the simple Divinity of Christ, and those statements which we shall immediately see do not simply and of themselves relate to the eternal Word of God, but apply only to the Son of God, so far as he is manifested in the flesh. …

The whole discourse must be referred to this contrast, that they err egregiously who think that they have to do with a mortal man, when they accuse Christ of works which are truly divine. This is his reason for affirming so strongly that in this work, there is no difference between him and his Father. (emphasis mine)

John 6:37-38: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Matthew Henry focuses on the Son’s equality with the Father. Henry frames the Son’s submission as relating to His humanity.:

Here he tells that he came to do, not his own will, but the will of his Father; not that he had any will that stood in competition with the will of his Father, but those to whom he spoke suspected he might. … He therefore never consulted his own ease, safety, or quiet; but, when he was to lay down his life, though he had a human nature which startled at it, he set aside the consideration of that, and resolved his will as man into the will of God: Not as I will, but as thou wilt. (emphasis mine)

John 8:28-29: So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 

Matthew Henry:

First, That he did nothing of himself, not of himself as man, of himself alone, of himself without the Father, with whom he was one. He does not hereby derogate from his own inherent power, but only denies their charge against him as a false prophet;for of false prophets it is said that they prophesied out of their own hearts, and followed their own spirits.

John Calvin:

In the whole of these proceedings, which you condemn, no part is my own, but I only execute what God has enjoined upon me; the words which you hear from my mouth are his words, and my calling, of which He is the Author, is directed by him alone. Let us remember, however, what I have sometimes mentioned already, that these words are accommodated to the capacity of the hearers. For, since they thought that Christ was only one of the ordinary rank of men, he asserts that whatever in him is Divine is not his own; meaning that it is not of man or by man; because the Father teaches us by him, and appoints him to be the only Teacher of the Church; and for this reason he affirms that he has been taught by the Father.

According to Henry and Calvin, this passage is not about an inherent authority/submission relationship between the Son and the Father, but rather about Jesus’s rightful authority to teach. He was not teaching on His own authority or power as a man or as a human prophet. He was teaching them by the power of God. He was also claiming equality with God, and this the Jewish audience understood clearly. This was why they accused Him of blasphemy.

In a related note on reading into what it means to be “father” and “son,” Michael Horton warns about the care we should take in using analogies:

In adopting an analogical approach to divine and human persons, we must also recall that creatures are analogical of God rather than vice versa. As Athanasius reminds us, God’s fatherhood is not an analogy of human relations, but vice versa. Therefore, we cannot begin with our concept of ideal human personhood or society. (The Christian Faith, 379)

2. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission prior to creation

Grudem is countering arguments that the Son’s submission to the Father is temporary and restricted to the incarnation:

The “temporary submission” view claims that the Son’s submission to the Father was only for the period of his Incarnation. By contrast, Scripture gives us indications of a unique leadership role for the Father long before the Son came to earth

There are several passages that Grudem uses to support this point. The ESV Study Bible commentary also makes similar claims in a couple of places.

John 3:35: The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

In the commentary on John 3:35:

The Father … has given all things into his hand indicates supreme authority for the Father in the counsels of the Trinity, and a delegated authority over the whole created universe for the Son, as is indicated also in many other NT passages. Yet at the same time, the Father, Son and Spirit are fully God in the unity of a single divine being.(6754-6755, emphasis mine)

Ephesians 1:4: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

The commentary on Ephesians 1:4:

He chose us in him means that the Father chose Christians in the Son (Christ), and this took place in eternity past, before the foundation of the world. This indicates that for all eternity the Father has had the role of leading and directing among the persons of the Trinity, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in deity and attributes.(7579, emphasis mine)

Neither Calvin nor Henry make any particular comments on John 3:35 regarding authority or the eternal counsels of the Trinity. On Ephesians 1:4, Calvin writes that the passage is about salvation being not about our merit but Christ’s:

In Christ. This is the second proof that the election is free; for if we are chosen in Christ, it is not of ourselves. It is not from a perception of anything that we deserve, but because our heavenly Father has introduced us, through the privilege of adoption, into the body of Christ. In short, the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their own; for when he says that we are chosen in Christ,it follows that in ourselves we are unworthy.

Acts 1:7: He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 

The ESV Study Bible commentary on Acts 1:7:

the Father has fixed by his own authority. Ultimate authority in determining the events of history is consistently ascribed to God the Father among the persons of the Trinity.(7012)

Matthew Henry and John Calvin both write that this passage is meant to warn against seeking to know things that God has not revealed:


It is folly to covet to be wise above what is written, and wisdom to be content to be no wiser.


This is a general reprehension of the whole question. For it was too curious for them to desire to know that whereof their Master would have them ignorant; but this is the true means to become wise, namely, to go as far forward in learning as our Master Christ goeth in teaching, and willingly to be ignorant of those things which he doth conceal from us. But forasmuch as there is naturally engendered in us a certain foolish and vain curiosity, and also a certain rash kind of boldness, we must diligently observe this admonition of Christ, whereby he correcteth both these vices.

Grudem also appeals to Romans 8:29.

Romans 8:29: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Instead of seeing an eternal authority/submission structure, Matthew Henry, writes of Christ as the “image of his Father” and of Christ’s work as Mediator:

Christ is the express image of his Father, and the saints are conformed to the image of Christ. Thus it is by the mediation and interposal of Christ that we have God’s love restored to us and God’s likeness renewed upon us, in which two things consists the happiness of man

I will agree that there has always been an ordering in the economic Trinity, but I deny that this ordering means there is an authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity. Michael Horton summarizes it this way:

Rather, in every external work of the Godhead, the Father is always the source, the Son is always the mediator, and the Spirit is always the perfecting agent. (The Christian Faith, 381, emphasis mine)

3. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in the process of creation

Grudem argues that because the Father created through the Son that that indicates an authority/submission structure:

In the process of creating the universe, the role of initiating, of leading, belongs not to all three members of the Trinity equally, but to the Father. The Father created through the Son.

Grudem uses John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:1-2 as support.

John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

Matthew Henry sees John 1:1 differently:

The evangelist here lays down the great truth he is to prove, that Jesus Christ is God, one with the Father.

God made the world by a word (Ps. 33:6 ) and Christ was the Word. By him, not as a subordinate instrument, but as a co-ordinate agent, God made the world (Heb. 1:2 ), not as the workman cuts by his axe, but as the body sees by the eye. (emphasis mine)

Hebrews 1:1-2: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 

Matthew Henry again affirms the equality of the Son with the Father in creation:

By him God made the worlds, both visible and invisible, the heavens and the earth; not as an instrumental cause, but as his essential word and wisdom. By him he made the old creation, by him he makes the new creature, and by him he rules and governs both.

John Calvin also speaks to the unity and diversity of the Trinity in creation:

According to the most usual mode of speaking in Scripture, the Father is called the Creator; and it is added in some places that the world was created by wisdom, by the word, by the Son, as though wisdom itself had been the creator, [or the word, or the Son.] But still we must observe that there is a difference of persons between the Father and the Son, not only with regard to men, but with regard to God himself. But the unity of essence requires that whatever is peculiar to Deity should belong to the Son as well as to the Father, and also that whatever is applied to God only should belong to both; and yet there is nothing in this to prevent each from his own peculiar properties.

As in the second point, there is an ordering in the economy of the Trinity in the work of creation. That ordering does not mean there is an authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity.

4. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission prior to Christ’s earthly ministry

Grudem’s next point is that the Father’s authority and the Son’s submission is evident in the sending of the Son:

The Father sending the Son into the world implies an authority that the Father had prior to the Son’s
humbling himself and becoming a man. This is because to have the authority to send someone
means to have a greater authority than the one who is sent. He was first “sent” as Son, and then he
obeyed and humbled himself and came. By that action he showed that he was subject to the
authority of the Father before he came to earth.

Grudem uses Galatians 4:4 and 1 John 4:9-10 in the article.

Galatians 4:4: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 

Calvin sees Christ’s eternal equality with God in this verse:

God sent forth his Son. These few words contain much instruction. The Son, who was sent, must have existed before he was sent; and this proves his eternal Godhead. Christ therefore is the Son of God, sent from heaven.

1 John 4:9-10: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Calvin focuses here on why Christ was sent:

And sent his Son It was then from God’s goodness alone, as from a fountain, that Christ with all his blessings has come to us. And as it is necessary to know, that we have salvation in Christ, because our heavenly Father has freely loved us; so when a real and full certainty of divine love towards us is sought for, we must look nowhere else but to Christ.

Grudem’s argument also appears in his commentary on John 14:28.

John 14:28: You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

The ESV Study Bible commentary sees authority and submission in the sending of the Son:

In saying that the Father is greater than I, Jesus means that the Father as the one who sends and commands is “greater” (in authority or leadership) than the Son. However, this does not mean that Jesus is inferior in his being and essence to the Father. (6816-6817)

In contrast, Matthew Henry explains that the “Father is greater” means that Christ has humbled Himself in the incarnation and would be returning to His greater estate:

The reason of this is, because the Father is greater than he, which, if it be a proper proof of that for which it is alleged (as no doubt it is), must be understood thus, that his state with his Father would be much more excellent and glorious than his present state; his returning to his Father (so Dr. Hammond) would be the advancing of him to a much higher condition than that which he was now in.

John Calvin argues the same:

This passage has been tortured in various ways. The Aryans, in order to prove that Christ is some sort of inferior God, argued that he is less than the Father …

Christ does not here make a comparison between the Divinity of the Father and his own, nor between his own human nature and the Divine essence of the Father, but rather between his present state and the heavenly glory, to which he would soon afterwards be received

The Father is not “greater” because He sent the Son, but returning to the Father is much “greater” than the voluntary humiliation of the incarnation.

John Calvin makes this point clear in his Institutes:

Thus, when he says to the apostles, “It is expedient for you that I go away,” “My Father is greater than I,” he does not attribute to himself a secondary divinity merely, as if in regard to eternal essence he were inferior to the Father; but having obtained celestial glory, he gathers together the faithful to share it with him. He places the Father in the higher degree, inasmuch as the full perfection of brightness conspicuous in heaven, differs from that measure of glory which he himself displayed when clothed in flesh. … Accordingly, John, declaring that he is the true God, has no idea of placing him beneath the Father in a subordinate rank of divinity. (Institutes, I.13.26)

5. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission during Christ’s earthly ministry

Grudem makes the point that the Son submitted to the Father during Christ’s incarnation:

While on earth, Jesus often speaks of his submission to the authority of his Father.

He uses John 6:38, John 8:28-29, and John 15:9-10. We’ve already looked at the first two in the first point. But I will add John Calvin‘s commentary on John 6:39 here:

As to the distinction which Christ makes between his own will and the will of the Father, in this respect, he accommodates himself to his hearers, because, as the mind of man is prone to distrust, we are wont to contrive some diversity which produces hesitation. To cut off every pretense for those wicked imaginations, Christ declares, that he has been manifested to the world, in order that he may actually ratify what the Father hath decreed concerning our salvation.

John 15:9-10: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 

Where Grudem sees eternal authority and submission, Henry and Calvin describe Christ’s work as mediator and His human nature. Grudem’s views are evident in three excerpts from Grudem’s ESV Study Bible commentary.

Matthew 11:27: All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 

ESV Study Bible:

All things have been handed over to me by the Father. This reveals the profound divine self-consciousness of Jesus, as well as the supreme authority of the Father within the Trinity, by which he has delegated authority over “all things” to the Son. “All things” probably refers to everything needed with respect to the carrying out of Christ’s ministry of redemption, including the revelation of salvation to those to whom he chooses to reveal the Father.(6026)

Matthew Henry:

All things are delivered unto me of my Father. Christ, as God, is equal in power and glory with the Father; but as Mediator he receives his power and glory from the Father; has all judgment committed to him.

John Calvin:

We now see that he connects faith with the eternal predestination of God, — two things which men foolishly and wickedly hold to be inconsistent with each other. Though our salvation was always hidden with God, yet Christ is the channel through which it flows to us, and we receive it by faith, that it may be secure and ratified in our hearts.

Mark 10:40: but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 

ESV Study Bible:

is not mine to grant Though Jesus is fully God, yet there are differences of authority within the Trinity and the Son throughout Scripture is always subject to the authority and direction of the Father, who will ultimately determine who exactly receives such positions of honor. Jesus both defers authority to his heavenly Father and implies that he will himself be exalted. (6259-6260)


By this reply Christ surrenders nothing, but only states that the Father had not assigned to him this office of appointing to each person his own peculiar place in the kingdom of heaven. He came, indeed, in order to bring all his people to eternal life; but we ought to reckon it enough that the inheritance obtained by his blood awaits us. As to the degree in which some men rise above others, it is not our business to inquire, and God did not intend that it should be revealed to us by Christ, but that it should be reserved till the latest revelation. We have now ascertained Christ’s meaning; for he does not here reason as to his power, but only desires us to consider for what purpose he was sent by the Father, and what corresponds to his calling, and therefore distinguishes between the secret purpose of God and the nature of that teaching which had been enjoined on him. It is a useful warning, that we may learn to be wise with sobriety, and may not attempt to force our way into the hidden mysteries of God, and more especially, that we may not indulge excessive curiosity in our inquiries about the future state.

John 12:49: For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 

ESV Study Bible:

Not … on my own authority indicates again that supreme authority in the Trinity belongs to the Father, and delegated authority to the Son, though they are equal in deity.(6809)


Christ, as Son of man, did not speak that which was of human contrivance or composure; as Son of God, he did not act separately, or by himself alone, but what he said was the result of the counsels of peace; as Mediator, his coming into the world was voluntary, and with his full consent, but not arbitrary, and of his own head.


For I do not speak from myself. That the outward appearance of man may not lessen the majesty of God, Christ frequently sends us to the Father. This is the reason why he so often mentions the Father; and, indeed, since it would be unlawful to transfer to another a single spark of the Divine glory, the word, to which judgment is ascribed, must have proceeded from God. Now Christ here distinguishes himself from the Father, not simply as to his Divine Person, but rather as to his flesh; lest the doctrine should be judged after the manner of men, and, therefore, should have less weight.

There is no doubt that the Son submitted to the Father during his incarnation. His role as Mediator and His human nature are both referenced throughout the New Testament regarding His submission. This does not mean, however, that there is therefore eternal authority and submission in the immanent Trinity.

6. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s ministry as Great High Priest

Grudem writes that Christ’s intercession for believers is proof of the Son’s eternal submission to the Father:

To “intercede” (entygchanō) for someone means to bring requests and appeals on behalf of that person to a higher authority, such as a governor king, or emperor (cf. Acts 25:24 which uses the same verb to say that the Jews “petitioned” the Roman ruler Festus). Thus Jesus continually, even today, is our great high priest who brings requests to the Father who is greater in authority. Jesus’ high priestly ministry indicates an ongoing submission to the authority of the Father.

Grudem uses Romans 8:34 to support this point.

Romans 8:34: Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Calvin, on the other hand, writes of Christ’s role as Mediator in His intercession for believers:

Who intercedes, etc. It was necessary expressly to add this, lest the Divine majesty of Christ should terrify us. Though, then, from his elevated throne he holds all things in subjection under his feet, yet Paul represents him as a Mediator; whose presence it would be strange for us to dread, since he not only kindly invites us to himself, but also appears an intercessor for us before the Father. But we must not measure this intercession by our carnal judgment; for we must not suppose that he humbly supplicates the Father with bended knees and expanded hands; but as he appears continually, as one who died and rose again, and as his death and resurrection stand in the place of eternal intercession, and have the efficacy of a powerful prayer for reconciling and rendering the Father propitious to us, he is justly said to intercede for us.(emphasis mine)

Far from seeing a difference of authority and submission, Calvin shows Christ as highly exalted and as having reconciled us to the Father.

7. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

Grudem writes that Christ needed the Father’s authority to send the Holy Spirit:

After his ascension to heaven, after his earthly ministry was over, after God highly exalted him, he still did not have the authority on his own to pour forth the Holy Spirit in new power on the church. He waited until he received that authority from the Father, and then he sent forth the Holy
Spirit in his new, more powerful work

Grudem uses Acts 2:33 to support this point.

Acts 2:33: Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 

In the ESV Study Bible commentary, it explains:

The interactive and differentiated relationship among the persons of the Trinity is clearly evident in this verse. Thus God the Father first gave the promise that the Holy Spirit would come in a greater, more powerful way to accomplish his work in people’s lives (as indicated in Peter’s quote from Joel 2 in Acts 2:17-19). Then, when Christ’s work on earth was accomplished, Christ was exalted to the second highest position of authority in the universe, namely, at the right hand of God, with ruling power delegated to him by God the Father. Then Christ received authority from the Father to send out the Holy Spirit in this new fullness. (7020-7021, emphasis mine)

Instead of an inherent authority and submission in the immanent Trinity, Calvin explains that receiving or obtaining from the Father speaks to Christ as Mediator:

Furthermore, whereas it is said that he obtained it of the Father, it is to be applied to the person of the Mediator. For both these are truly said, that Christ sent the Spirit from himself and from the Father. He sent him from himself, because he is eternal God; from the Father, because in as much as he is man, he receiveth that of the Father which he giveth us.

This is consistent with the Nicene Creed’s filioque clause: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Spirit proceeds from both God the Father and God the Son.

Acts 2:33 does speak to the work of the Trinity, but I do not believe that it proves a authority/submission structure within the immanent Trinity.

8. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s receiving revelation from the Father and giving it to the church

Grudem believes that the Father’s authority is evident in Jesus receiving the revelation that is revealed to John:

Jesus did not initiate the book of Revelation on his own, but he was given this revelation by the Father and authorized by the Father to deliver it to the church.

Grudem refers to Revelation 1:1.

Revelation 1:1: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John 

Calvin, of course, did not write a commentary on Revelation, but Matthew Henry did. Henry explains that Jesus received the revelation in His office as Mediator:

It is a revelation which God gave unto Christ. Though Christ is himself God, and as such has light and life in himself, yet, as he sustains the office of Mediator between God and man, he receives his instructions from the Father. The human nature of Christ, though endowed with the greatest sagacity, judgment, and penetration, could not, in a way of reason, discover these great events, which not being produced by natural causes, but wholly depending upon the will of God, could be the object only of divine prescience, and must come to a created mind only by revelation. Our Lord Jesus is the great trustee of divine revelation; it is to him that we owe the knowledge we have of what we are to expect from God and what he expects from us.

Again, this passage is further evidence of Christ’s work as Mediator, and it is not evidence of the eternal authority of the Father and submission of the Son.

9. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in Christ’s sitting at God’s right hand – a position of authority second to that of the Father himself

Grudem writes that Christ being at the right hand of the Father indicates a position of secondary authority:

To sit at the LORD’s right hand is not a position of equal authority, for “the LORD” (Yahweh) is still the one commanding, still the one subduing enemies. But it is a position of authority second only to the LORD, the king and ruler of the entire universe.

Grudem uses several passages to support this point. Some (Acts 2:33) have been considered in other points. Grudem particularly uses Psalm 110:1 to prove that the right hand is a secondary authority. However, Calvin, Henry, and Charles Spurgeon see the right hand of the Father to be an indication of great honor and power.

Psalm 110:1: The LORD says to my Lord:“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 

Calvin explains that the Father is ruling through Christ:

The simile is borrowed from what is customary among earthly kings, that the person who is seated at his right hand is said to be next to him, and hence the Son, by whom the Father governs the world, is by this session represented as metaphorically invested with supreme dominion.

My favorite explanation of this passage comes from Charles Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David:

How condescending of Jehovah’s part to permit a mortal ear to hear, and a human pen to record his secret converse with his co-equal Son!

Ephesians 1:20: that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places 

Calvin defines “the right hand” as being the place of highest royal power:

And set him at his own right hand. This passage shews plainly, if any one does, what is meant by the right hand of God. It does not mean any particular place, but the power which the Father has bestowed on Christ, that he may administer in his name the government of heaven and earth. It is idle, therefore, to inquire why Stephen saw him standing, (Acts 7:55,) while Paul describes him as sitting at God’s right hand. The expression does not refer to any bodily posture, but denotes the highest royal power with which Christ has been invested. This is intimated by what immediately follows, far above all principality and power: for the whole of this description is added for the purpose of explaining what is meant by the right hand.

Hebrews 1:3: He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high

Matthew Henry also describes “the right hand” as a place of highest honor:

From the glory of his sufferings we are at length led to consider the glory of his exaltation: When by himself he had purged away our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, at his Father’s right hand. As Mediator and Redeemer, he is invested with the highest honour, authority, and activity, for the good of his people; the Father now does all things by him, and receives all the services of his people from him. Having assumed our nature, and suffered in it on earth, he has taken it up with him to heaven, and there it has the high honour to be next to God, and this was the reward of his humiliation.Now it was by no less a person than this that God in these last days spoke to men; and, since the dignity of the messenger gives authority and excellency to the message, the dispensations of the gospel must therefore exceed, very far exceed, the dispensation of the law.

Calvin, on the same passage, says Christ is governing in the place of the Father:

The right hand is by a similitude applied to God, though he is not confined to any place, and has not a right side nor left. The session then of Christ means nothing else but the kingdom given to him by the Father, and that authority which Paul mentions, when he says that in his name every knee should bow. (Philippians 2:10) Hence to sit at the right hand of the Father is no other thing than to govern in the place of the Father, as deputies of princes are wont to do to whom a full power over all things is granted. And the word majesty is added, and also on high, and for this purpose, to intimate that Christ is seated on the supreme throne whence the majesty of God shines forth. As, then, he ought to be loved on account of his redemption, so he ought to be adored on account of his royal magnificence

Hebrews 8:1: Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven

Matthew Henry describes the authority of Mediator at the right hand of the Father:

Where he now resides: He sits on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high, that is, of the glorious God of heaven. There the Mediator is placed, and he is possessed of all authority and power both in heaven and upon earth. This is the reward of his humiliation. This authority he exercises for the glory of his Father, for his own honour, and for the happiness of all who belong to him; and he will by his almighty power bring every one of them in their own order to the right hand of God in heaven, as members of his mystical body, that where he is they may be also.

Hebrews 10:12: But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

Matthew Henry sees this passage as describing the exaltation of Christ as man and Mediator:

To what honour Christ, as man and Mediator, is exalted-to the right hand of God, the seat of power, interest, and activity: the giving hand; all the favours that God bestows on his people are handed to them by Christ: the receiving hand; all the duties that God accepts from men are presented by Christ: the working hand; all that pertains to the kingdoms of providence and grace is administered by Christ; and therefore this is the highest post of honour.

1 Peter 3:22: who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 

John Calvin explains that sitting at the “right hand” is a mark of the supreme power that Christ wields:

Who is on the right hand of God. He recommends to us the ascension of Christ unto heaven, lest our eyes should seek him in the world; and this belongs especially to faith. He commends to our notice his session on the Father’s right hand, lest we should doubt his power to save us. And what his sitting at the right hand of the Father means, we have elsewhere explained, that is, that Christ exercises supreme power everywhere as God’s representative. And an explanation of this is what follows, angels being made subject to him; and he adds powers and authorities only for the sake of amplification, for angels are usually designated by such words. It was then Peter’s object to set forth by these high titles the sovereignty of Christ.

Far from teaching that the right hand of the Father is a place of secondary authority, Matthew Henry and John Calvin use the phrase to describe the exaltation of Christ as man and Mediator to the place of highest honor and power. In his commentary on Philippians 2:9-10, Calvin explains:

For what need, I ask, had he, who was the equal of the Father, of a new exaltation? … The meaning therefore is, that supreme power was given to Christ, and that he was placed in the highest rank of honor, so that there is no dignity found either in heaven or in earth that is equal to his.

10. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission in giving the Son authority to rule over the nations

Grudem sees the Father’s authority in His giving the Son authority over the nations:

The Father’s authority over the Son is seen in how he delegates to the Son authority over the nations

Grudem uses Daniel 7:13-14 to support this point.

Daniel 7:13-14: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. 

Calvin, in his commentary on this passage, explains that Christ became subject to the Father in His role as mediator:

For if we hold this principle that Christ is described to us, not as either the word of God, or the seed of Abraham, but as Mediator, that is, eternal God who was willing to become man, to become subject to God the Father, to be made like us, and to be our advocate, then no difficulty will remain.


Behold, therefore, a certain explanation. We will not say it was bestowed with relation to his being, and being called God. It was given to him as Mediator, as God manifest in flesh, and with respect to his human nature.

Matthew 28:18: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 

In the ESV Study Bible’s commentary on Matthew 28:18, it explains that because Jesus was given authority by the Father, then the Son remains subject to the Father:

All authority. In his risen state, Jesus exercises absolute authority throughout heaven and earth, which shows his deity. His authority has been given by the Father, which indicates that he remains subject to the Father. (6113)

Matthew Henry, on the other hand, writes of Christ’s equality with God and His role as mediator:

As God, equal with the Father, all power was originally and essentially his; but as Mediator, as God-man, all power was given him; partly in recompense of his work (because he humbled himself, therefore God thus exalted him ), and partly in pursuance of his design; he had this power given him over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as were given him (Jn. 17:2 ), for the more effectual carrying on and completing our salvation.

Calvin also points to Christ’s role as Mediator in this passage:

Yet let us remember that what Christ possessed in his own right was given to him by the Father in our flesh, or—to express it more clearly—in the person of the Mediator; for he does not lay claim to the eternal power with which he was endued before the creation of the world, but to that which he has now received, by being appointed to be Judge of the world. Nay, more, it ought to be remarked, that this authority was not fully known until he rose from the dead; for then only did he come forth adorned with the emblems of supreme King.

So for Henry and Calvin, Christ has a delegated authority in His role as Mediator. This is not the same as an eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father.

11. The Father’s authority and the Son’s submission after the final judgment and then for all eternity

Grudem believes that the authority of the Father and the submission of the Son will continue for all eternity:

Here is an indication of what will happen after the final judgment, when all enemies are destroyed and we enter into the eternal state. Just to be sure that there is no misunderstanding, Paul specifies that it was always the Father who always had ultimate authority, for it was the Father who“put all things in subjection” to the Son – all things, that is, but of course not the Father! Paul explicitly says, “He is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.” The Father has never been subject to the Son. “He is excepted.”

And then Paul specifies that once every enemy has been conquered and even death has been destroyed, the submission of the Son to the Father will not cease even at that time, for even 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” (v. 28). The Son has been subject to the authority of the Father since before the
foundation of the world, and here Paul specifies that the Son will continue to be subject to the authority of the Father forever.

Grudem uses 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 as support for this point.

1 Corinthians 15:24-28: Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 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.

In the ESV Study Bible commentary on this passage, it says:

the Son … will also be subjected. Jesus is one with God the Father and equal to the Father in deity yet functionally subordinate to him, and this verse shows that his subjection to the Father will continue for all eternity. God will be all in all, not in the sense that God will be everything and everything will be God, as some Eastern religions imagine, but in the sense that God’s supreme authority over everything will be eternally established, never to be threatened again.(7385-7386, emphasis mine)

Matthew Henry explains in his commentary on this passage that Christ has a delegated authority in his role as Mediator:

As man, all his authority must be delegated. And, though his mediation supposes his divine nature, yet as Mediator he does not so explicitly sustain the character of God, but a middle person between God and man, partaking of both natures, human and divine, as he was to reconcile both parties, God and man, and receiving commission and authority from God the Father to act in this office. The Father appears, in this whole dispensation, in the majesty and with the authority of God: the Son, made man, appears as the minister of the Father, though he is God as well as the Father. Nor is this passage to be understood of the eternal dominion over all his creatures which belongs to him as God, but of a kingdom committed to him as Mediator and God-man, and that chiefly after his resurrection, when, having overcome, he sat down with his Father on his throne, Rev. 3:21 .

This is separate from His unlimited power as God:

This is not a power appertaining to Godhead as such; it is not original and unlimited power, but power given and limited to special purposes. And though he who has it is God, yet, inasmuch as he is somewhat else besides God, and in this whole dispensation acts not as God, but as Mediator, not as the offended Majesty, but as one interposing in favour of his offending creatures, and this by virtue of his consent and commission who acts and appears always in that character, he may properly be said to have this power given him; he may reign as God, with power unlimited, and yet may reign as Mediator, with a power delegated, and limited to these particular purposes.

He also writes that Christ, as Mediator, will deliver up the kingdom to the Father in completion of His work of redemption:

That this delegated royalty must at length be delivered up to the Father, from whom it was received (v. 24); for it is a power received for particular ends and purposes, a power to govern and protect his church till all the members of it be gathered in, and the enemies of it for ever subdued and destroyed (v. 25, v. 26), and when these ends shall be obtained the power and authority will not need to be continued.

The meaning of this I take to be that then the man Christ Jesus, who hath 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. Things are in scripture many times said to be when they are manifested and made to appear; and this delivering up of the kingdom will make it manifest that he who appeared in the majesty of the sovereign king was, during this administration, a subject of God. The glorified humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all the dignity and power conferred on it, was no more than a glorious creature. This will appear when the kingdom shall be delivered up; and it will appear to the divine glory, that God may be all in all, that the accomplishment of our salvation may appear altogether divine, and God alone may have the honour of it.

Calvin also interprets this passage to be referring to Christ’s role as Mediator:

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.

He also explains that Christ will deliver up the kingdom of believers to God in completion of His role as Mediator:

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 vail 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.

As is true in other passages discussed previously, where Grudem sees support for his belief in the eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father, Calvin and Henry interpret the passages in terms of Christ’s role as Mediator and His human nature.

12. Are all the actions of any one person of the Trinity actually the actions of all three

Grudem’s last point is specifically a response to certain arguments that seem to make no differentiation between the persons of the Trinity in the work that each does:

And so we must conclude that Erickson is incorrect in saying that an action of any member of the Trinity, such as predestining, sending, or commanding, “should not be taken as applying to the Father alone but to all members of the Trinity.” To say this is actually to come very close to
obliterating the distinctions among the members of the Trinity. It is coming very close to the ancient heresy of modalism, which said that there was only one person in God who manifested himself in different ways or “modes” of action. And it is certainly not a position which is consistent with hundreds of texts which show unique activities being carried out by one person of the Trinity with respect to another person of the Trinity.

I completely agree that there is both unity and diversity in the Trinity. There are distinctions made in Scripture regarding the roles each person plays in the various works of God. I think John Calvin explained this well in his commentary on Hebrews 1:2 explaining how both the Father and the Son can be said to be “Creator”:

According to the most usual mode of speaking in Scripture, the Father is called the Creator; and it is added in some places that the world was created by wisdom, by the word, by the Son, as though wisdom itself had been the creator, [or the word, or the Son.] But still we must observe that there is a difference of persons between the Father and the Son, not only with regard to men, but with regard to God himself. But the unity of essence requires that whatever is peculiar to Deity should belong to the Son as well as to the Father, and also that whatever is applied to God only should belong to both; and yet there is nothing in this to prevent each from his own peculiar properties.

However, believing that there are distinctions and differences in the persons of the Trinity and especially in the eternal work of God is not the same as believing that there is an inherent authority/submission structure in the immanent Trinity.

In conclusion, I don’t believe that Grudem has proven his case for an eternal submission of the Son to the authority of the Father. Matthew Henry and John Calvin repeatedly interpret the above passages as being about Christ’s role as Mediator and not about authority and submission. There is a distinction in the persons of the Trinity, but there is not a hierarchy of authority and submission in the immanent Trinity. This is consistent with what Calvin writes:

It were unbecoming, however, to say nothing of a distinction which we observe that the Scriptures have pointed out. This distinction is, that to the Father is attributed the beginning of action, the fountain and source of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and arrangement in action, while the energy and efficacy of action is assigned to the Spirit. … though in eternity there can be no room for first or last, still the distinction of order is not unmeaning or superfluous, the Father being considered first, next the Son from him, and then the Spirit from both. (Institutes, 1.13.18)

The Westminster Confession of Faith explains it this way:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (WCF 2.3)

There is unity and diversity in the Trinity, but any discussion of the Trinity should be done with caution as our finite minds are not particularly capable in comprehending such a mystery. All of our consideration of the Trinity should cause us to worship and glorify God. If it doesn’t, we should be concerned.

I’ll close with a quote from Calvin that sums up the caution we should have:

Therefore, let us beware of imagining such a Trinity of persons as will distract our thoughts, instead of bringing them instantly back to the unity. The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, certainly indicate a real distinction, not allowing us to suppose that they are merely epithets by which God is variously designated from his works. Still they indicate distinction only, not division. (Institutes I.13.17)

May God be glorified even if we never fully understand how He can be One and Three at the same time.

Calvin on Ephesians 4

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV

This passage of Scripture came to mind today, and I thought it might be interesting to read Calvin’s teaching on these verses. From his commentary on Ephesians:

Tossed to and fro, and carried about. The distressing hesitation of those who do not place absolute reliance on the word of the Lord, is illustrated by two striking metaphors. The first is taken from small ships, exposed to the fury of the billows in the open sea, holding no fixed course, guided neither by skill nor design, but hurried along by the violence of the tempest.

The next is taken from straws, or other light substances, which are carried hither and thither as the wind drives them, and often in opposite directions. Such must be the changeable and unsteady character of all who do not rest on the foundation of God’s eternal truth. It is their just punishment for looking, not to God, but to men. Paul declares, on the other hand, that faith, which rests on the word of God, stands unshaken against all the attacks of Satan.

By every wind of doctrine. By a beautiful metaphor, all the doctrines of men, by which we are drawn away from the simplicity of the gospel, are called winds God gave us his word, by which we might have placed ourselves beyond the possibility of being moved; but, giving way to the contrivances of men, we are carried about in all directions.

By the cunning of men. There will always be impostors, who make insidious attacks upon our faith; but, if we are fortified by the truth of God, their efforts will be unavailing. Both parts of this statement deserve our careful attention. When new sects, or wicked tenets, spring up, many persons become alarmed. But the attempts of Satan to darken, by his falsehoods, the pure doctrine of Christ, are at no time interrupted; and it is the will of God that these struggles should be the trial of our faith. When we are informed, on the other hand, that the best and readiest defense against every kind of error is to bring forward that doctrine which we have learned from Christ and his apostles, this surely is no ordinary consolation. …

Let us therefore confidently expect that we shall reap the advantage which is here promised, — that all the impostures of men will do us no harm. They will attack us, indeed, but they will not prevail. We are entitled, I acknowledge, to look for the dispensation of sound doctrine from the church, for God has committed it to her charge … .

Calvin on the Creation of Eve

In his commentary on Genesis, John Calvin answers objections to the manner in which Eve was created:

Although to profane persons this method of forming woman may seem ridiculous, and some of these may say that Moses is dealing in fables, yet to us the wonderful providence of God here shines forth; for, to the end that the conjunction of the human race might be the more sacred he purposed that both males and females should spring from one and the same origin. Therefore he created human nature in the person of Adam, and thence formed Eve, that the woman should be only a portion of the whole human race. This is the import of the words of Moses which we have had before, (Genesis 1:28,) “God created man… he made them male and female.” In this manner Adam was taught to recognize himself in his wife, as in a mirror; and Eve, in her turn, to submit herself willingly to her husband, as being taken out of him. But if the two sexes had proceeded from different sources, there would have been occasion either of mutual contempt, or envy, or contentions. And against what do perverse men here object? ‘The narration does not seem credible, since it is at variance with custom.’ As if, indeed, such an objection would have more color than one raised against the usual mode of the production of mankind, if the latter were not known by use and experience.

Calvin on the Creation of Light Before the Sun

One of the reasons frequently given for why Genesis 1 shouldn’t be read literally is that the order of the creation days gives the creation of light before the creation of the sun and moon. How can it be that light existed before the heavenly bodies? How can one have an “evening and morning” without the sunrise and sunset? How can there be plants on the third day before the sun and moon on the fourth day? Here are a few quotes from John Calvin’s commentary on Genesis that address these questions:

Let there be light It be proper that the light, by means of which the world was to be adorned with such excellent beauty, should be first created; and this also was the commencement of the distinction, (among the creatures.) It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light. And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore the Lord, by the very first order of creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.

And God called the light That is, God willed that there should be a regular vicissitude of days and nights; which also followed immediately when the first day was ended. For God removed the light from view, that night might be the commencement of another day.

Let the earth bring forth grass Moreover, it did not happen fortuitously, that herbs and trees were created before the sun and moon. We now see, indeed, that the earth is quickened by the sun to cause it to bring forth its fruits; nor was God ignorant of this law of nature, which he has since ordained; but in order that we might learn to refer all things to him he did not then make use of the sun or moon. He permits us to perceive the efficacy which he infuses into them, so far as he uses their instrumentality; but because we are wont to regard as part of their nature properties which they derive elsewhere, it was necessary that the vigor which they now seem to impart to the earth should be manifest before they were created.

The whole of the commentary on Genesis can be found here.