John Frame on 1 Corinthians 15:28 and Eternal Subordination

In his section on the Trinity in The Doctrine of God,1 Frame gives four lines of explanation for texts that teach that the Son is in some sense less than or subject to the Father. He is commenting specifically on John 14:28; and 1 Corinthians 11:3; and 15:28.

In his first comment, Frame offers what strikes me as a potentially helpful perspective on the issue of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Complementarians and egalitarians agree that during the incarnation the Son was functionally subordinate to the Father. Where they disagree is (1) how long that subordination lasts and (2) on what basis it exists. Frame thinks it lasts eternally on the basis of His eternal humanity.

1. Jesus utters these words in what the Westminster Catechisms call his “state of humiliation” (WLC, 42–57; WSC, 23–28). In John 14, he faces the cross itself. But throughout his earthly ministry, he lives in subjection to his Father, As prefect, man he obeys, God, seeks God’s blessing in prayer, and does the works the Father show shim. He cannot act by himself, but only in subjection to the Father (John 5:30). He treats the Father, in other words, as any covenant servant should: as his superior, as the one who is greater. And, as Jesus remains both human and divine through all eternity, he will, as human servant, always be subject to the Father in these ways.

. . .

The case is similar in regard to 1 Corinthians 11:3 (“the head of Christ is God”) and 15:28 (“then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all”), where I think the first consideration above is determinative. As the servant of God, who remains eternally man as well as God, Jesus demonstrates his obedience by subjecting himself to the headship of God the Father. (682–83, emphasis added)

If Frame is correct, then the eternal subordination of the Son is linked to the eternal humanity of the Son. The Son will always be in some sense subject to the Father since (1) He is a man (2) and no man—even glorified man—can be equal with God. It seems quite likely, then, that the Son is and will eternally be subordinate to the Father with respect to His humanity.

But this raises at least one question in my mind: how do we account for what seems to be a change of state from not subordinate to subordinate: ὅταν δὲ ὑποταγῇ αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα, τότε [καὶ] αὐτὸς ὁ υἱὸς ὑποταγήσεται τῷ ὑποτάξαντι αὐτῷ τὰ πάντα? The implication is that immediately prior to that point the Son is not subject to the Father (at least not in the sense that He is about to be subjected to Him). If the subordination of the Son is linked to His humanity, how is it that that subordination seems to have a temporary break during His reign?

It seems that the sense in which the Son will be subordinated (according to 1 Cor 15:28) is the same as the sense in which He is presently not subordinated. If that is the case, I cannot see how that sense is as Frame suggests Christ’s humanity (for obviously Christ remains human during His reign and would thus be subordinate in that sense during His reign). I think Frame is likely correct in his assertion that the Son is subject to the Father with regard to His humanity, but for now I’m inclined to think that this is not the subjection that 1 Corinthians 15:28 addresses.

What that subjection is I’m still trying to discern.

Thoughts? What am I missing? What assumptions am I making that need to be questioned?


  1. Cf. the Logos John Frame Collection.

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11 Responses to John Frame on 1 Corinthians 15:28 and Eternal Subordination

  1. Chris Anderson March 22, 2008 at 5:43 pm #

    Interesting, Phil.

    Wondering: do you think 1 Cor 15:28 requires a change in relationship? Could it not be a stronger restatement of v. 27, saying that the Son will then (still, understood) be subject to the One who subjected everything (else, understood) to Him? It seems like that would be in keeping with the context in which Christ’s universal dominion is qualified/limited in regard to the Father.

    Does otan…tote along with the future tense of the verb require a change vs. an explanation? I ask because I don’t know. I freely acknowledge my ignorance. :)

    Last thing: It seems like your statement that “no man—even glorified man—can be equal with God” could have some frightful implications regarding the deity of Christ.

  2. Phil Gons March 22, 2008 at 8:02 pm #

    1. For now it seems most natural to me to read v. 28 in such a way that a change of state from not subject to subjected is in view (though certainly the Father was not during the Son’s reign subject to Him), perhaps due to my reading of egalitarians who like to stress this point (while never getting around to saying that the Son subjection to the Father actual does mean). I’m certainly open to a reading that counters such a notion. It would definitely make certain aspects of the text a little easier to interpret. None of the commentaries that I’ve looked at have addressed this issue. I’ll definitely give it some more thought.

    2. Again, I don’t know that it absolutely requires it, but it does at least strongly suggest it. I need to do some digging to see if ὑποτάσσω can have a stative rather than a true passive force in the passive. This would make your suggestion much more tenable, I think.

    3. Only if misconstrued. My statement applies to Christ only concerning His humanity, not His deity. Of course, we cannot split His natures in two, but neither should we merge them into one. Christ is both creature and Creator. As concerns His humanity, He is not equal to God, but as concerns His deity, He is. So, as long as Christ remains human, He cannot be equal to the Father with reference to that humanity.

  3. Mike March 22, 2008 at 8:57 pm #

    Phil, I’m assuming that this posts comes out of your research. My wife and I just began working through the Greek text of 1 Cor, so when we get to 15, I’ll be looking and thinking about this question you’ve posed.

    When you complete your diss., I might have to look for it on UMI.

  4. Phil Gons March 22, 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    Chris, here is the translation in the ICC commentary (A. T. Robertson and Alfred Plummer):

    When, however, the all shall have been subjected to Him (the Son), then (and not till then) shall the Son Himself also be subjected to Him (the Father) who subjected the all to Him (the Son), that God may be all in all. (357)

    Notice that the argue for the exact opposite of your understood idea of still.

    They immediately comment,

    The passage is a summary of mysteries which our present knowledge does not enable us to explain, and which our present faculties, perhaps, do not enable as to understand.

    Their few comments are of little help, but at least they are honest about not knowing how to handle it! :)

  5. Phil Gons March 22, 2008 at 9:42 pm #

    Charles Hodge comments,

    When the work of redemption has been accomplished, the dead raised, the judgment held, the enemies of Christ all subdued, then, and not till then, will the Son also himself be subject to him who put all things under him. (emphasis mine)

  6. Alex May 5, 2008 at 10:27 am #

    Just to offer a different interpretation on 1 Cor. 15:28 from an Ethiopian Orthodox Church perspective.
    Verse 25 states: “He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.”
    On verse 26, “death” is mentioned as the last of the enemies that would be put under His feet. Part of Verse 27 is similar to verse 25: “He has put all things under his feet. The first difference is, the phrases: “all enemies under His feet” (Vs. 25), and “all things under His feet.” It is fair and legitimate to assume that “all enemies” and “all things” mean the same thing.
    Continuing on Vs. 27, we find the phrase: “He who put all things under him is excepted.” Everything under this phrase depends on the interpretation of this phrase. Who is “He who put all things under him”? In this phrase “he” and “him” refer to the same being (thing). So who is this “he” who subjected all things, and to whom Christ was also made subject? If “all enemies” on vs 25 and “all things” on verse 27 are the same, then “the excepted “he” is also an enemy. Thus it cannot be God. If that is the case, then it indicates that Christ was subject to an enemy that subjected all under his feet.
    The enemy that subjected all, to which Christ also made Himself subject to is “death” – the last enemy that will be destroyed – for everyone was made subject to death, but Christ – through making Himself subject to it, destroyed it. Everyone’s subjection to this enemy is a consequence of sin, but Christ’s subjection is a voluntary subjection of atonement for our sins.

    What of 1st Corinthians 11:3 – “the head of Christ is God.” This relationship is not a description of hierarchy of authority or dominion, but of unity. This is evident in the phrases on verses 11 & 12 of Cor. 11: “neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.”

    • chime February 18, 2014 at 7:53 am #

      Alex, Alex oh Alex… read it again please, is that right definition of these vs 27? ‘He’ refers to the God the father, but ‘Him’ refers to the Son.may be if u can read Amharic bible it has better explanation for this. the vs is very clear. may be it is vague when we compare with trinity. you know trinity is not the word of the bible. but we the christian use this word to explain God the father the son and holly spirit. I do believe in the presence of father, son and holly spirit but, trinity is not correct for me. also it is not biblical word. then when we go back to the 1 cor 15:23-29 at the last of the day, when the last enemy death subjected under the feet of Jesus Christ, also Jesus himself will made subject to him(God the father) who put every thing under him(Jesus). it is clear at last God the father will reveal his real name as it is written on John rev 3. then after God the father must be all in all as Jesus right now. because every thing only kneel for the name of Jesus right now(Philip 2), please do not give the wrong explanation for the word of God that gave us an eternal life.

  7. Phil Gons May 7, 2008 at 10:05 pm #

    Alex, thanks for dropping by and for sharing your interpretation of 1 Cor 15:28. If this is as you say the “Ethiopian Orthodox Church perspective”—and I’m not questioning you—I’d love it if you could point me to some sources that would be appropriate for citing in my dissertation.

    In brief response, your interpretation has some serious problems. The most insurmountable one is that the time frame of verse 28 is future and eschatological—thousands of years after Christ’s death.

  8. Jose Troche June 14, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    Is interesting how we find ways of explaining things that are not there “Jesus humanity” where did that one came from? when Jesus was on earth he WAS all human, he wasn’t “human & god” at the same time, if you read Hebrews 2:9,14-18 you will see that Jesus was made a little inferior than the angels, and verse 17 says tha he was made to be “like his brothers”.What do you make of this? nowhere in the bible you will find a text to support the idea that Jesus was man & god, he had to be all human for the ransom to work & be accepted by God, he was like Adam, was Adam man & god? NO,NO,NO. Ah and the other thing on 1 Corinthians 15:28 here it says that Jesus will be subordinate (it dosn’t say say anything about “humanity)to God for all eternity (the greek word here means “SUBORDINATE”) trinitarians try to find ways of changing something so simple, so clear, so reasonable to explain something that doesn’t make sense and that is an afront lie to God & Jesus Christ.
    Have much more if you like, agape.

    • Basliel kassa July 22, 2015 at 4:22 am #

      Jose Troche, neither Hebrew 2:9,14-18 nor 1Corinthians 15:28 teach Jesus was all human. 1Cor15:9 says `who was made (not created) a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.` This means Jesus, from his very beginning, was not created man, rather, made man so that he could suffer from death` which is not possible for spirit. This is apparent from the reading of verse 14 when it says `Foreasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same(i.e took flesh and blood). You see? Jesus was not from flesh and blood; rather look flesh and blood to be found likewise with his brothers so that he could able to deliver them. So, Jesus is not all human. Jesus is both human and God – John 1:1, 1:14, Philippians 2, colossians 2:9, Ephesians 2:10 and so many verses are there which tell us jesus is both man and God. Therefore, the meaning of 1cor 15:28 is all about his being man and God as well.

  9. Andrew Chapman June 15, 2015 at 8:02 am #

    It’s worth reading, in case you have not, the excellent evangelical commentators of the nineteenth century, who knew Greek and were not afraid to prefer a plain reading of the text to the theories of some of the theologians, however illustrious. Thus Henry Alford, for example: ‘“The interpretations, that subjection is only an hyperbolical expression for the entire harmony of Christ with the Father (Chrys., Theophyl., Œc[67]):—the limitation of it to His human nature (Theodoret, Aug[68], Jerome, Est., Wolf, al.), with the declarative explanation, that it will then become plain to all, that Christ even in regard of His kingship, is, on the side of His Humanity, dependent on the Father (Flatt)—and the addition, that Christ will then in His divine nature reign with the Father (Calv.:—‘regnum—ab humanitate sua ad gloriosam divinitatem quodammodo traducet’);—the interpretation (of αὐτὸς ὁ υἱός!) as referring to Christ’s mystical Body, i.e. the Church (Theodoret),—are idle subterfuges (leere Ausfluchte).” De Wette. The refutation of these and all other attempts to explain away the doctrine here plainly asserted, of the ultimate subordination of the Son, is contained in the three precise and unambiguous words, αὐτὸς ὁ υἱός.’


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