The Subordination of the Spirit, “What the Bible Teaches”

This the 24th installment of 52 reviewing 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 in your comments to these posts.


Here is another short chapter RA Torrey writes in Book 3 – What the Bible Teaches About the Holy Spirit. After summarizing last week the distinction of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son, Torrey briefly discusses how the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son. He uses verses primarily from the Gospel of John:

John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

John 15:26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.”

John 16:13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”

Torrey summarizes one of his propositions, “The Holy Spirit speaks not from Himself but speaks the things which He bears.” Sure, but does that mean the Holy Spirit is subordinate or does it merely define a role He possesses?

Paul in 1 Corinthians wrote that Believers are the Temple of God and also the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16 and 1 Cor. 6:19). In that context there is little subordination. The Father and Son and Holy Spirit are all equally God. So the topic of this relationship is deep, rich and complex, and makes for exquisitely profitable study – easily done by merely reading constantly and attentively one’s Bible.

I agree with Torrey that “It is the work of the Holy Spirit to glorify Christ.” But is it enough to state a few of these verses to support such a statement of subordination within the Godhead I’m not so sure. This is a topic fit for a detailed theological discussion, and doesn’t seem particularly helpful in a narrow summary of this nature. At least that’s how this chapter looks to me.

But then Torrey wrote at the end of the 1800s. Perhaps the connotation then of “subordination” had more the meaning of “role” since his concluding proposition is “The Holy Spirit in His present work is subordinated to the Father and to the Son.” But it seems pretty obvious that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all have different roles in the Godhead, as you see by just reading the New Testament. But there it is, the chapter in brief. I subordinate this post for your comment.

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3 Responses to The Subordination of the Spirit, “What the Bible Teaches”

  1. Lex says:

    I thought the same thing when I read this chapter.

    “Subordinate” means “lower in rank, subject, etc.” If Holy Spirit is fully God, however, and the Bible teaches that there is One God in three Persons, then how God be subordinate to Himself?

    I think the scripture Torrey uses distinguishes Holy Spirit’s role in the Godhead, but I don’t know if any of that makes Him subordinate.

    Unless, like you said, the term had a different connotation when Torrey wrote the book.

  2. Pingback: The Subordination of the Holy Spirit | The Esther Project

  3. JohnJ says:

    I slightly amended the end of my post but I agree with you that unless the 17th century primarily defined the word as ancillary, or providing support (which I don’t think is the case) then I have to define subordinate here as “role.” And it is obvious that each member of the Trinity has a distinct role and function.

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