I had a surprise visit from my Jehovah’s Witness friends a couple of weeks ago. They normally call me to set up an appointment, but this time they were in the neighborhood and decided to drop by.
As usual, they had an agenda they wanted to accomplish. On this occasion, they asked if we could talk about the inferiority of Jesus. Immediately I knew where this conversation was going. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was a lesser deity than the Father. To justify this belief, they point to verses that spotlight Jesus’ submission to the Father. In Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ron Rhodes writes,
For example, Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), and referred to the Father as “my God” (John 20:17). First Corinthians 11:3 tells us that “the head of Christ is God,” and 1 Corinthians 15:28 says that Jesus will “be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
Consequently, they had me read 1 Corinthians 15:28. Paul writes, “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all.” Here, they argued, is explicit evidence from Scripture for the inequality between Jesus and the Father.
How should we understand these kinds of passages? Moreover, if Jesus isn’t equal with the Father, how can we claim He is God?
These isolated passages must be read in light of the entire corpus of Scripture. The same apostle Paul who calls Jesus “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13) also says Jesus is subordinate to the Father (1 Cor. 15:28). Both are true. It will do no good to ignore or distort the former to make sense of the latter.
These passages are reconciled through an understanding of the distinction between a person’s nature and role.
Here is how I illustrate this with Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the biblical marriage relationship, a husband and a wife have different roles. Not only that, but a husband has a greater office than a wife. As a result, he is the head of the family (Eph. 5:23). This might be controversial to secular society, but it shouldn’t be to a Jehovah’s Witness.
So, in one sense, the husband is greater than the wife because they have different roles. However, in another sense, husbands and wives are equal because they both have the same human nature (Gen. 1:27). They are equal in nature, but unequal in roles.
The marriage relationship is a dim reflection of the Persons of God. The co-equal, co-eternal Persons of the Trinity are one in divine nature. However, each divine Person has a distinct role in salvation. There is a voluntary submission of roles in the work of redemption. The Son takes on human flesh and submits to the Father in giving His life on the cross.
Lest you doubt what I’m saying, listen to Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Here Paul takes the same submission language of a wife to her husband and applies it to the Son and the Father.
If we want to truly understand who Jesus is, then we need to look at all of what Scripture says. Those who deny the deity of Christ read the Bible with one eye closed. They only look at isolated verses here and there and must ignore and distort clear passages that teach the deity of Christ. However, all of Scripture must be consulted if we are going to have an accurate portrait of Jesus. And when we read the Bible with both eyes open, we see the incarnate Christ as equal to the Father in His deity, but also in submission to the Father in His role.