Is Subordination Within the Trinity Really Heresy? A Study of John 5:18 in Context -- By: Craig S. Keener

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 20:1 (Spring 1999)
Article: Is Subordination Within the Trinity Really Heresy? A Study of John 5:18 in Context
Author: Craig S. Keener


Is Subordination Within the Trinity Really Heresy?
A Study of John 5:18 in Context

Craig S. Keener

Craig Keener is Carl Morgan Visiting Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

In recent years some evangelicals on different sides of the gender roles controversy have questioned the Christological orthodoxy of their opponents, charging them with “tampering with the Trinity” or even with “heresy.” While I have great respect for some of these figures on both sides of the controversy who are issuing such charges, “tampering with the Trinity” and “heresy” is strong language, stronger, I think, than the evidence warrants.1

Nor, in fact, do Christological views coincide as closely with views on gender roles as some of the advocates of either position claim. Thus, for example, I frequently talk with Christians who espouse a complementarian view of gender roles while expressing surprise that anyone would deny the full equality in all respects of the Father and the Son. By contrast, I and some other scholars I know who support a very broad range of women’s ministry affirm the Son’s subordination to the Father. To be sure, that subordination may be voluntary, and we do not draw from it the same conclusions many of our complementarian colleagues do; but the fact remains that one’s view on gender roles does not enable one to predict one’s view of relations within the Trinity, or vice-versa. I do see evidence for the Son’s subordination to the Father in rank; I also believe that evangelicals who differ on the matter should do so charitably.2

In a very meager contribution to this discussion, I submit a brief examination of a passage from John’s gospel that I believe is relevant to the debate, followed by some brief comments on 1 Cor 15:28.

I. Subordination in John 5:18

John 5:18 reports, “This was why the ‘Jews’ were seeking even more to kill him, because he was not merely annulling the Sabbath, but was even claiming that God was his own Father, thereby making himself equal with God.” From John’s standpoint, Jesus is fully deity (1:1, 18; 20:28), but he also submits to the Father, whose rank is greater than his own (10:29; 14:28). In view of his prol...

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