The Unbreakable Threefold Cord: A Defense of the Trinity (Part 8)

In this part, we will look at the challenges of Christ being subservient to the Father. Scripture clearly tells us that Christ was (and even still is) under the Father. He is subject to the Father. The Father has authority over Him. In fact, we are told that the Father is His God in several passages. These passages abound in the Bible, and those who deny the Trinity are drawn to them like a magnet. Mr. Burch is no exception. We will examine these Scriptures and understand how they fit into the trinitarian perspective.

A divine humility

Before we get to the passages that can choke a trinitarian who is not prepared to defend the doctrine, we need to examine a passage that is very familiar to anyone who wants to understand the Person of Jesus Christ. This passage is Philippians 2:5-11, also known as the Carmen Christi.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
–Philippians 2:5-11

To understand this enigmatic passage and what we are told about Christ, we must understand the context and the message being communicated. The point of this passage is for Christ to be our example of humility. In verses 3-4, we are told to “esteem other better than themselves” and to look not at our own concerns only, but at the needs of others, as well. This is the backdrop for the Apostle Paul’s example of the highest form of humility–and our example! We are to have the mind of Christ in what He did (v.5).

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:”

Christ was “in the form of God,” or in the morphe tou theou. In Isaiah 9:6, Israel is told that “a child is born” and “a son is given” to them; yet, this “child” and “son” would be known as “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” The Hebrew for “the mighty God” is el-gibbor. Some contend that this name used of the Messiah does not prove that He is God, because it could mean “God is mighty” or that the Messiah would be a “mighty god” or a “mighty judge” or “hero.” Yet, closely in this context, the same name is used of Yahweh in Isaiah 10:21:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God [el-gibbor], The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
–Isaiah 9:6

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD [Yahweh], the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God [el-gibbor].”
–Isaiah 10:20-21

Keep in mind that Isaiah 9:6 says that the name of the Messiah shall be called el-gibbor concerning the salvation of Israel, and the remnant of Israel that shall be saved will return to el-gibbor. Earlier, the prophet Isaiah also had this to say about the identity of Messiah:

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
–Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel means “God with us,” as Matthew explains (Mat. 1:23). Indeed, those who deny the Trinity will downplay the significance of the name of Immanuel. Does it just mean that God’s hand was intimately involved in Israel through this one known as the “Son of God,” or does it really mean God with us in the obvious sense of the divine incarnation? God Himself (the One True God) Who created all things actually took on human flesh and was born as a baby and lived among His own creatures?! Well, if both the Messiah child and Yahweh can be called el-gibbor (“mighty God”) in close proximity in the same prophetic context, then I would think Messiah being called Immanuel (“God with us”) should really mean that He would be God Himself.

Now, let us go back to the Carmen Christi. Christ was “being in the form of God.” In this state, He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” The word for “robbery” is harpagmon, which is another hapax legomenon, or word with a singular occurrence in the New Testament. According to Strong’s concordance, it is related to harpazō, which means to “seize,” “snatch,” or take by force. However, Christ did not consider “equality with God” something to be seized, snatched, or grasped.

There are two senses in which the word could be used. One is to seize something that belongs to another. The other sense is to clench onto something jealously, such as to guard and protect it. Both senses could apply to this verse. Christ being in the morphe tou theou (“the form of God”) did not consider to einai isa theō (“to be equal with God”) something that would need to be stolen to be His, because He already had it! Also, in His humility–the mind of Christ–He did not feel that He had to clench onto this “equality with God” jealously. He was willing to give it up in a sense through the humility of the incarnation.

Remember, the King of Babylon (“Lucifer”) in Isaiah 14:14 wanted to exalt himself to “be like the most high;” yet he would “be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” For a creature of God to desire and strive to assume “equality with God” results in the curse of God. If this is the case, could one rightly say that simply not attempting to be equal with God is being “humble”? Does everyone who admits he is less than God have the “mind of Christ”? Logically, Philippians 2:5 is yet another proof that Christ shares the one Being of Yahweh Himself, for Yahweh knows no equals! If Christ is a created being, then it is flatly ridiculous to think that the mere consideration of not holding on to “equality with God” is an example of humility!

The obedient God

Given that Christ did not have to “grasp” at “equality with God” and that He was “in the form of God,” we will see how significant this is for His act of humility.

“But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:”
–Philippians 2:7

The phrase “made himself of no reputation” translates heauton ekenōsen, which means that He “emptied himself.” The meaning of the verb kenoō has been the subject of theological debate regarding its use in Philippians 2:7. It is used in four other places–all by the same Apostle Paul:

  • Romans 4:14–the Law of Moses has been made “void.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:17–preaching the gospel with worldly wisdom would make the Cross “of no effect.”
  • 1 Corinthians 9:15–dying is better than making glorying in the gospel “void.”
  • 2 Corinthians 9:3–brethren sent to collect relief for Jerusalem saints would make sure Paul’s boasting of the Corinthians’ charity was not “in vain.”

Obviously, what Christ did to Himself through the incarnation was drastic. In whatever way He “emptied Himself,” it was not to remove His deity–but rather the outward manifestation of His deity. I believe that “made himself of no reputation” captures the idea quite well, and that it reflects what Isaiah foretold in the famous Messianic chapter:

“For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”
–Isaiah 53:2

Being the Yahweh that Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6:1 high and lifted up with His glory filling the temple, He veiled Himself when He tabernacled among us in human flesh and looked just a normal person. Only His words, actions, and miracles demonstrated Who He was; otherwise, someone could see Him and touch Him and not notice anything special. As John said: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” (John 1:10)

When Philippians 2:7 says that Christ “was made in the likeness of men,” it does not mean that He only “appeared” to be in the flesh as the gnostics claimed. Christ really was incarnate. The “likeness of men” means that He was fully man and was like them without sin. According to Romans 8:3, Christ was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” In Hebrews 2:14, as God’s children “are partakers of flesh and blood,” Christ “also himself likewise took part [or partook] of the same.” In 1 Peter 2:24, He also “bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Christ was “fully God and fully man” through the incarnation.

Now, notice the clause in Philippians 2:7 that we skipped: He “took upon him the form of a servant.” This is another key to understanding what Jesus says about Himself and the Father while on earth. A servant serves and has a master. Somehow, Jesus can humble Himself in the flesh by washing the feet of His own disciples, but when He says “the Father is greater than I”–the Arians and henotheists will come out in droves to claim that this proves that Jesus cannot be Yahweh! Being a servant and being obedient to the Father and His own Law through the incarnation to be the Perfect Substitute for sins is the whole purpose of the incarnation.

The voluntary sacrifice

“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
–Philippians 2:8

Notice that Christ humbled Himself. This is a reflexive, transitive verb. This action of the Son was voluntary. Do not miss the weight of how important it is to understand this powerful truth. Christ’s humility was voluntary! If Christ were a finite, creature of God, His humility would not have been voluntary. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Christ had a mind to humbleHimself. Remember that Yahweh said that “beside me there is no Savior.” If Jesus is not Yahweh, then He did not face the Cross voluntarily. He would have been bound by the command of a higher power to take on flesh and die on the Cross. That is not what the Carmen Christi teaches us. It clearly and painstakingly proclaims the voluntary humility of the mind of Christ who put His “equality with God [the Father]” on the shelf so that He could satisfy the perfect justice of Yahweh on our behalf. There simply is no conceivable way Philippians 2:5-11 makes a lick of sense if Jesus Christ is a created being and not Yahweh. The Trinity is necessarily true for Christ to humble Himself and be the voluntary sacrifice!

The God of Christ

If Jesus voluntarily humbled Himself through taking on flesh, perfectly following the Law, and becoming obedient to the death of the Cross, obviously the Father is His God for as long as He keeps Himself under the Father. Let’s briefly look at passages often used to challenge the absolute deity of Jesus Christ in light of what we studied above.

“Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.”
–John 14:28

Jesus was undergoing persecution from the Jewish religious leaders. If the disciples understood that Jesus would perform His sacrifice and go back to the glory of heaven and be with the Father, they would rejoice. If they loved Jesus, they would be glad for Him that after He was done on earth, He would be exalted. “The Father is greater than I” is quite an understatement given the sufferings that Jesus would undergo. In fact, if Jesus were merely talking about Himself as being a creature, hence inferior to God the Father, why would He even need to say this? Are these monotheistic Jews confused? If so, why would they be, since this is a human being talking? If not, why even bring it up?

“And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.”
–Luke 18:18-19

Mr. Burch brings up Jesus’ statement here as proof that Jesus is not God.[1] The question is whether Jesus is explicitly distinguishing Himself from Yahweh or implicitly identifying Himself as Yahweh. Why is Jesus splitting hairs over the term “Good Master”? Maybe He is making a point! Jesus often used the rhetoric of questions to get His inquirers to think. Take this encounter, for example:

“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,
Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.
He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?
If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?
And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”
–Matthew 22:41-46

By asking these Pharisees a tough question, Jesus made them ponder Who He was. Obviously, He was communicating the idea that He was much more than simply “the Son of David” after the flesh. The same could be inferred from His question of the rich young ruler’s use of “Good Master.” In stating “There is none good but God,” could not Jesus be making this man ponder the idea that Jesus could be more than “Good Master.” He could be the “Good God.”

Another passage Mr. Burch presents is 1 Corinthians 11:3 in which “God” is the “head of Christ”:

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”
–1 Corinthians 11:3

This poses no problem for the Trinity, because, as we saw in a previous part in this series, the Persons of the Trinity take different roles. When the Son was incarnate, He clearly glorified the Father. Now that the Son is raised from the dead and exalted, every knee will bow to Jesus in fulfillment of Isaiah 45:23. However, Christ still is subject to the Father and will turn the reigns of His kingdom back over to the Father when He judges the living and the dead. The Apostle Paul explained this chronology:

“For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”
–1 Corinthians 15:27-28

The ignorant Son of God

More puzzling can be passages that show that the incarnate Jesus Christ did not know all knowable things. Mr. Burch brings up Mark 13:32:

“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”
–Mark 13:32

Does the Son not know the timing of His own return? First, let’s look at some textual data around this phrase. Matthew 24:36 in the KJV reads as follows:

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”
–Matthew 24:36

Notice what is missing here? The Son is not mentioned. Interestingly, some Greek manuscripts include oude ho huios (“nor the son”) in Matthew 24:36, but the Byzantine text (used by the KJV) does not. There is little textual question that the phrase belongs in Mark 13:32, but textual critics that favor the Alexandrian texts would affirm that it should also be in Matthew 24:36. Whatever the case, it is evident that Jesus said that He did not know this time.

What are we to make of this? If Jesus is Yahweh, shouldn’t He know this? We do know from the Karmen Kristi that Jesus Christ “emptied Himself” somehow in His incarnation. With the limitation He embraced in taking upon Himself finite flesh, we can understand that He did indeed suppress the exercise of fully divine knowledge in His human form. In Luke 2:52 we are told that “Jesus increased in wisdom…” Although the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ (fully human and fully divine natures) will always be mysterious to us as humans, there is nothing wrong with accepting that there are mysteries in God’s Word. Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36 do not prove that Jesus Christ is a created being separate from the Father. They just give us more insight into what Philippians 2:5-11 tells us.

Like Father Like Son

Mr. Burch uses two verses to allege that because Jesus says and does only what the Father does or gives Him. Here is the first one:

“For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.”
–John 12:49

The context of this is immediately following where John said that Isaiah saw His glory and spoke of Him. As I explained earlier, trinitarianism accepts the fact that Jesus limited Himself and submits to the Father for the purpose of redeeming the world. At first glance it seems that what Jesus said poses a problem with Jesus and the Father being the same being. On the contrary, the verse shows the perfect harmony between the Father and the Son! Jesus is saying that He is a perfect witness of the will of the Father. He said earlier in verse 45, “he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.” Of course, Mr. Burch would have no problem with this statement demonstrating that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” However, one must ask the question of how could a finite creature of God claim and exhibit perfect harmony with the will of the infinite Father! Let’s look at verse 48:

He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
–John 12:48

God the Father will judge someone who does not receive the words of Jesus? All of His words? He never qualifies which words–such as the Catholic pope speaking ex cathedra. It seems when Jesus says anything the Father expects people to listen. Moses or the prophets never made such a claim. Gabriel or any of the angels never made such a claim. Yes, Mr. Burch would agree that the Son of God is unique, but how does a finite creature of God have perfect harmony with the infinite, perfect God?

Let’s see Mr. Burch’s second proof text:

“Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”
–John 5:19

At first glance, this appears to be a very limiting statement Jesus makes of Himself–and indeed it is! It is so limiting, in fact, that He is limited to being in perfect harmony with the Father. The Son can do nothing ap heautou (“of himself”). If He were a separate, sentient being one would think He could exercise His own will to do things ap heautou, but that is not the case. In fact, whatever the Father does, the Son also does, according to this verse. This is perfect harmony with the Father that would not befit a finite creature.

The context of this verse is even more revealing. This is what Jesus said this to Jews who wanted to kill Him because He healed a bedridden man on the Sabbath and how He explained this miraculous action. What was it that He said that got them riled up?

“But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”
–John 5:17-18

How does saying God is one’s Father make one equal with God? The Jews would know that Malachi asked “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” (Mal. 2:10). Other Jews that also opposed Jesus said “we have one Father, even God” (Joh. 8:41). What’s the big deal?

The issue is with what Jesus was claiming about Himself regarding the Sabbath. He said “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” God “worked” when He created the universe. Though He “rested” on the seventh day from creating; nevertheless, He continued to “work” by keeping the creation in order. Jesus was claiming that He is “lord of the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:8) and that He can do His divine work at any time because He is always working with the Father since the beginning! Because of this, the Jews asserted that this was a claim to being “equal with God.”

John provides no commentary stating that these Jews were wrong in their inference. We have only the words of Jesus in response. First, Jesus says that He does what the Father does in perfect harmony. Then, we see a startling statement by Jesus:

That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.”
–John 5:23

How in the world does one honor the Son even as he honors the Father? Does Mr. Burch honor a finite, created Jesus Christ even as he honors the eternal, perfect God the Father? Given his henotheistic interpretation of the Bible, it would seem that this is impossible. One cannot honor a creature even as one honors the Creator Who is admittedly above the creature. If Jesus Christ is ontologically inferior to the Father, it is impossible to honor Him even as the Father.

  1. Les Burch, It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is: Seven Common Beliefs That Aren’t in the Bible (Mustang, Okla.: Tate Publishing & Enterprises, LLC, 2013), 108.

About dmynyk

Daniel holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Pensacola Christian College and an M.I.S. from University of Phoenix. He is passionate about defending and promoting historic, orthodox Christianity that has lost its foothold in evangelical churches.

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