What is Subordinationism?

Question
What is Subordinationism?
Answer
The heresy of Subordinationism is a serious Trinitarian error. It assumes that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not merely relationally subordinate to God the Father, but also subordinate in their nature and being. This heresy led to the development of numerous other ones: Arianism, Macedonianism, Monarchianism, and Sabellianism. It is the foundation of modern day Unitarianism. It was rejected by the First Council of Constantinople (381), which also condemned Arianism.

Some brief definitions at this point concerning the Christian doctrine of the Trinity are imperative. Christianity looks at the Trinity from different perspectives: (1) the Ontological Trinity and (2) the Economic Trinity. In the Ontological Trinity, there are three persons - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit - who together are One being. The Son and the Spirit are equal to the Father in power, in glory, and in being (John 1:1, etc.). So, all three Persons within the Godhead are equal in nature, essence, and attributes (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, holiness, etc.). See "What are the Attributes of God" below.

In Christianity, we also observe the truth of the Economic Trinity; the Son willingly submits to the Father's authority, and the Holy Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son. However, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not subordinate in their being and nature, as each member of the Trinity is of the same substance. The Economic Trinity deals with the activity of God and the different roles or functions of the three Persons of the Godhead in regard to creation and redemption. It is God the Father who sends the Son into the world for his people's redemption. It is God the Son who acquires his people's redemption upon Calvary and it is God the Spirit who applies that redemption to his people. In a manner of speaking, one united and eternal mission, three united but different roles. This definition should not be confused with the heresy of Modalism, affirming that God is one Person, not three. See "What is Modalism" below.

Subordinationism claims Christ himself stressed this own inferiority to God the Father (Mark 10:18; 13:32; John 14:28, etc.). However, Subordinationism fails to understand that on occasion Jesus merely "concealed" certain aspects of his divine nature. See "What is Kenosis" below. Moreover, it fails to understand the Christian doctrine of the Economic Trinity (see above). In essence, it confuses the elements of the Ontological Trinity and the Economic Trinity.

Subordinationism is a heretical doctrine.

Despite all the heresies in the early church (among them, Adoptionism, Albigenses, Apollinarianism, Arianism, Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Kenosis, Marcionism, Modalism, Monarchianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Patripassionism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Socinianism, Subordinationism, and Tritheism, etc.) the Word of God still abides (1 Pet 1:23). Amidst all these assaults against God and his church by numerous false religions, the church has grown stronger, not weaker. In many ways, the church should be thankful for the gift of opposition!

Related Topics:

What are the Attributes of God? What is the Trinity?
Christological Heresies?
What is Adoptionism?
What is Albigenses?
What is Apollinarianism?
What is Arianism?
What is Docetism?
What is Ebionism?
What is Gnosticism?
What is Kenosis?
What is Marcionism?
What is Modalism?
What is Monarchianism?
What is Monophysitism?
What is Nestorianism?
What is Patripassionism?
What is Pelagianism?
What is Semi-Pelagianism?
What is Socinianism?
What is Tritheism?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).