The Father’s Eternal Authority Over the Son

I hope to demonstrate that God’s dominion over His Son is eternal- that the Son, begotten of the Father prior to creation, has always been under the dominion and authority of His Father, the one God. As scripture says “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3), and the Son frequently refers to the Father as His God (John 20:17, Rev. 3:12).

We may note in support of this that God created the world through His Son, and not the other way around. Within that creation account in Genesis 1 we see the Son’s subordination to the Father as His head and God, with a pattern being established throughout the chapter, saying “God [the Father] said, Let there be…”, and “And God [the Son] made…”. This is again referred to in Psalm 148:5 “He [God] commanded, and they were created”; God did not command things which did not yet exist, but commanded His Son, Who was with Him, “through Whom all things were made” (John 1:1-3). From the beginning, then, the Son of God has always been under the authority of His Father, willingly subject to Him Who begat Him.

Yet some want to overthrow this doctrine, and claim that the Son was equal in authority to the Father prior to the incarnation. They attempt to limit the Son’s subordination to the Father to the incarnation. In doing so they unwittingly attempt overthrow monotheism. That is because according to scripture, for us there is one God, the Father, Who is over all (Eph 4:6), alone “Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8)- the word translated “Almighty” being the Greek word “Pantokrator”, literally meaning, ‘ruler over all’. This is in agreement with the Nicene Creed, and many other ancient creeds, which define the one God as “the Father Almighty [Pantokrator]”.

Godhood, after all, according to the scriptures is dominion. As Sir Isaac Newton observes:

“This Being [God] governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator [Greek word usually translated “Almighty”], or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually signifies a Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.” (Newton, General Scholium)

Newton’s observations well account for how scripture uses the term “God”. To be “God” therefore is to have dominion, and Godhood is dominion. Thus scripture can justly call the judges of Israel and holy angels “gods” without this in any way blaspheming the one supreme God, the Father. That the Father is the one God then does not tell us something about His nature, but rather tells us that He is the one Who alone has supreme dominion over all, absolutely. Thus on the one hand, as Paul and other scriptures said, there are many gods, and yet in another sense, the highest sense, there is only one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has dominion over all things absolutely. This dominion (or Godhood) extends not only over all creation, but also over His own only-begotten Son, as we saw above. Thus Christ could say to His disciples, looking forward to His ascension “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

That the Son, although He is another individual person from the Father, the one God, is also called “God” should be no surprise at all. For the Lord said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Having thus received Godhood over all creation from His Father, “in Him the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). Nor was this deity something the Son merely received upon His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, but from the beginning, as the only-begotten Son of God begotten prior to creation and all time, the “the Word was God”. And thus the Son is called “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6), and thus the Psalmist says to the Son “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. 7 Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Ps 45:6-7 KJV).

The Son is then God and true God, but this does not make Him the Lord God Almighty, the one God, the only true God- for these titles belong to His Father alone, as His Father alone has Godhood over all things absolutely, including over the Son Himself; while the Son has Godhood over all creation which was made through Him, given to Him by the Father, which He exercises according to the Father’s will, on His behalf (John 5:30).

For the Father then to be the one God then is equivalent to saying that he has dominion over all things. Yet, if the Son were equal to the Father, He would not have dominion over all, as the Son would not be under His dominion.

Not only that, but if there were two equal authorities, there would be no Supreme Ruler over all- there would thus be no sense in which there were one God at all. Hence an attack on the Father’s eternal authority over the Son is an attack on monotheism itself. While appearing to honor the Son, making the Son out to be equal with the Father actually serves to overthrow the Christian faith, to the dishonor of both the Father and the Son.

If then, the Son had ever been equal with the Father, there would, at that time have not been one God, as there would be no divine monarchy of the universe, no one Supreme Ruler over all. Not only that, but the Father, besides lacking His identity as the one God, would also not be truly “Lord God Almighty”, since He would not be ‘Almighty’ (Ruler over all). This is of course, as absurd as it is blasphemous, to suggest that the Father became the one God at some point in time, or that there was a time when He was not “Lord God Almighty”. God is unchanging (Mal 3:6)- that means that whatever He is, He always is, always has been, and always will be. He is then eternally the one God, eternally and unchangingly the one “Lord God Almighty”.

That means that necessarily the Son has always been subject to the Father in all things, as the scriptures teach throughout. The Father did not become the one God, and the Almighty, at the time of the Son’s incarnation- He is eternally and unchangingly the one God, the only Lord God Almighty, and His Son has always been under His Godhood and headship, since before the foundation of the world when the Father begat the Son from Himself.

2 thoughts on “The Father’s Eternal Authority Over the Son”

  1. Hi again, Andrew. I continue to keep up with your blog, though I’m sometimes too busy to comment. I’ve been wanting to put in my two cents here, though. You write:

    “From the beginning, then, the Son of God has always been under the authority of His Father, willingly subject to Him Who begat Him…”

    “… if there were two equal authorities, there would be no Supreme Ruler over all- there would thus be no sense in which there were one God at all.”

    I would agree that if there were *two* equal authorities, there would be no Supreme Ruler, and thus not one God, but two. (I would also argue that it would be impossible to have two distinct powers that are both absolute and equal, since they could possibly disagree, in which case one would not get their way.)

    But traditionally, it’s been held that the Father and Son have a single will, a single power, and single actions “ad extra.” So, when you write…

    “If then, the Son had ever been equal with the Father, there would, at that time have not been one God, as there would be no divine monarchy of the universe, no one Supreme Ruler over all.”

    it seems as though you are assuming that the Father and Son have *two* powers, thus creating a dilemma: either there is not a monarchy, or else one power must be subordinate to the other. Maybe this is the view of the homoians or (some, but not all?) homoiousians. I’m not as familiar with their views. But certainly the homoousian view (e.g., Athanasius and the Cappadocians, but also many, many others) is that there is only a single power, which is in some sense “originally” the Father’s (just as the divine nature) and which He gives to the Son and the Spirit, along with His essence, will, etc. So that there is a monarchy, simply because there is only a single power, period.

    Would you agree with that? Or are there homoian or homoiousian texts that would argue that the Father and Son have two powers? My dissertation goes into detail on Gregory of Nyssa’s view that the persons share single powers and actions.

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  2. Hi Beau,

    I agree with you that there is one power or authority relative to creation shared by the Father and the Son, original in the Father, derivative in the Son. I would see viewing the Son as having an independent authority problematic; the Son exercises the authority He received from the Father, on the Father’s behalf, and according to His will.

    The Son sits down with the Father on His throne, we are told in Revelation. I take the throne as a symbol of authority and power. That the Son sits down on that throne with the Father tells us that the authority and power He exercises over creation is not another independent authority from that of the Father, but the Father’s own authority.

    This, however, does not nullify the differences in authority between the Father and Son which allow the Son to call the Father His God. Christ shares in the power and authority of the Father over creation while still being under the authority of the Father Himself. In respect to creation They share one authority; in respect to each other, the Father is supreme (Almighty, pantokrator).

    So that there is one kind of authority that the persons share, the Son exercising no other authority than that of the Father, is important, yet this is not enough in itself to constitute a divine monarchy. For there to truly be a monarchy, after all, there must not simply be one supreme authority, exercised by several persons, but be one supreme ruler over all. One rule does not make one ruler- for there to be one supreme ruler, there must be one person who has supreme authority over all other, including any others to which he might give a share in that authority relative to his kingdom.

    As to the fathers, most of the ante-nicenes I know of, and some of the Nicenes, would acknowledge something like this; a shared authority that still admits of a hierarchy of authority within the Trinity. Tertullian gives the analogy of a human monarchy; Novatian asserts that the Son is equal in divinity relative to creation, yet subject to the Father. Hilary (a homoousian) also speaks of “the submission of filial love” the Son gives to the Father.

    In Christ,

    Andrew Davis

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