This the 14th installment of a review of RA Torrey’s 1898 publication What The Bible Teaches. See all of Lex’s posts here. A PDF copy of the book can be downloaded here. You are welcome and encouraged to join the discussion.
Chapter 14 THE SUBORDINATION OF THE SON TO THE FATHER
There may be more confusing articles of faith for the orthodox catholic believer but relationship of Jesus to the Father ranks right up there. The most notable heresies of the early church involved the person of Christ and the essence of His being. It took a monumental effort for the church to plumb the depths of the writings of the Apostles to figure out many of the nuances they contained, but about three hundred years after the Resurrection they did (the Council of Nicaea, 325 AD, and Council of Constantinople, 360 AD 1). Both Paul and John wrote at length about Jesus and His relationship to the Father. Torey tries to boil it down into a few pages and about 15 sections from Scripture. Frankly if I was living in the first couple hundred years of the infant church I dread to think which side of the battle for the person-hood of Christ I might have landed. It must be noted that some church fathers themselves held what today would be considered heretical views. Not as heretical as the Gnostics and Montanists, but it must be remembered that the mature orthodox catholic (note the small “c” again) theology we know today did not exist in the early church. They had to bravely figure it out for themselves, with the help of the Holy Spirit of course.
I must admit that when I first read this section through as Torrey wrote it I was a bit confused by his propositions. Like “God the Father is greater than Jesus Christ the Son.” “God the Father is Jesus Christ’s God.” And “Jesus Christ the Son is, and eternally shall be, subordinate to God the Father.”
That just sounded wrong. But then I read his final sentence: “All the passages quoted have reference to the incarnate Christ and not to the pre-existent Word.”
So this whole chapter then concerned only the person of Jesus Christ as He walked the earth. Not to the resurrected Christ. This is important because there are some limitations to His ministry that are removed after the Resurrection. (For example see Matt. 24:36 and Mark 13:32)
Frankly I am ill equipt to expound on these thing that took the best minds of the church hundreds of years to figure out. Even the disciples who spent years walking with our Lord, listening to Him teach day in and day out were quite confused, even up to that last day before His betrayal!
But none the less it is completely awesome to read what the Bible teaches as the Apostle John deliberates on Jesus and His Father, as you read the verses chronicled by Torrey in this chapter. I fix my attention of the best section of Scripture one could read, where Jesus Himself puts into words the explanation of His work and the relationship with His Father, trying to pierce the darkness of confusion in the disciples minds. This is in John chapters 13 through 17. Read these straight through and be amazed. Particularly the first verses of chapter 14 where the disciples seem completely bewildered. Probably speaking for them all Philip asks, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Very clearly Jesus replies, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9) There are many verses that depict the relationship between Jesus and the Father. And all are important for their reasons. But I love this verse as it seems to sum up all the teaching into the one fundamental issue. If you want to see the Father, the Lord God Almighty, look at Jesus. Note Jesus’ statement “I and the father are one.” from John 10:30. Which, when the Jews heard, they picked up stones to throw at Jesus because they knew He was saying that He was God incarnate.
We’ll know fully when He brings us into His kingdom, but we can see from the Bible that the relationship between Jesus and the Father is intimate, special, awesome, and fearful to behold.
1 Philip Schaff writes, “The ecumenical councils were the open battle-fields, upon which the victory of orthodoxy was decided. The doctrinal decrees of these councils contain the results of the most profound discussions respecting the Trinity and the person of Christ; and the Church to this day has not gone essentially beyond those decisions.” History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity A.D 311-590, section 117, paragraph 7, originally published, 1867.