Voluntary Submission of the Son—Eternity Past
From times eternal, the Son voluntarily entered in a covenant with the Father that He would become surety, if sin should arise, for the human race. The execution of this eternal covenant would require the voluntary submission of the Son from the covenant’s inception at the Fall of Adam to its fulfillment at the Cross.
Christ was not alone in making his great sacrifice. It was the fulfilment of the covenant made between Him and His Father before the foundation of the world was laid. With clasped hands They had entered into the solemn pledge that Christ would become the surety for the human race if the latter were overcome by Satan's sophistry (1).
The voluntary submission of the Son is further substantiated by the Son’s willingness to step down from heaven and clothe His divinity with humanity. The incarnation of the Son, which began with the decision in heaven and was consummated at His birth, was voluntary on the part of the Son of God.
But Christ, "being in the form of God, counted it not a thing to be grasped to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men." Philippians 2:6, 7, R. V., margin. This was a voluntary sacrifice. Jesus might have remained at the Father's side. He might have retained the glory of heaven, and the homage of the angels. But He chose to give back the scepter into the Father's hands, and to step down from the throne of the universe, that He might bring light to the benighted, and life to the perishing (2).
The Scriptures declare the voluntary nature of the incarnation: “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of Me. I delight to do Your will, O My God” (Ps 40:7-8). This is a clear declaration of the Son’s willing and voluntary submission to His Father’s will prior to the incarnation. Further evidence of the Son’s lack of any yoke of obligation and His voluntary submission to carry out the plan redemption is confirmed by the following two statements:
The Son of God came voluntarily to accomplish the work of atonement. There was no obligatory yoke upon Him, for He was independent and above all law. The angels, as God's intelligent messengers, were under the yoke of obligation; no personal sacrifice of theirs could atone for the guilt of fallen man. Christ alone was free from the claims of the law to undertake the redemption of the sinful race (3).
The heavenly host prostrate themselves before Him, and raise their song of triumph and joy. Glory encircles the King of heaven, and was beheld by all the heavenly intelligences. No words can describe the scene which took place as the Son of God was publicly reinstated in the place of honor and glory which He voluntarily left when He became a man (4).
It’s evident from Scripture that the voluntary submission of the Son to the Father existed from all eternity. The mystery of redemption—that God would establish a new human race, the second Adam, in the person of His Son—brooded in the mind of God from times eternal, “the mystery that had been kept in silence through times eternal (Rom 16:25 R. V.).” “It was an unfolding of the principles that from eternal ages have been the foundation of God's throne” (5). The functional relationship of authority and voluntary submission between the Son and the Father brooded in the mind of the Infinite before the foundation of the world. The Scriptures declare this eternal and voluntary relationship repeatedly. Firstly, the Lamb was “slain was from the foundation of world” (Revelation 13:8) before the angels were created. Secondly, “the precious blood of Chris . . . foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:18-19) was shed for redemption. Thirdly, the grace of God comes through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24) and that same grace “was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
In other words, the Son was voluntarily submissive to the Father in Their mysterious plan, kept in silence before time began, to save a fallen race and reveal the character of God. Fourthly, “God choses us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) that we might be saved, holy and blameless. Finally, God wants us to experience the fellowship of the mystery of Christ for our salvation “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). The Godhead’s eternal purpose was the eternal, voluntary submission of the Son to carry out the mystery of redemption kept secret in the infinite mind of God from times eternal.
From times eternal the Son of God existed as the Word, and as Mediator of the everlasting covenant. Before heavenly beings were created—from everlasting, the Son existed as the Mediator, a role that required submission to the Father’s authority.
The Word existed as a divine Being, even as the eternal Son of God, in union and oneness with His Father. From everlasting he was the Mediator of the covenant, the one in whom all nations of the earth—both Jews and Gentiles, if they accepted Him—were to be blessed (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8). "The Word was with God, and the Word was God." Before men or angels were created, the Word was with God, and was God (6).
From everlasting the Son voluntarily functioned in the role as Word and Mediator (see 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 8:6) between God all future created beings—the secret that brooded in the mind of the Divine Trio. It is virtually impossible to deny functional role differentiation in the Godhead, if Christ functioned in the role of Mediator prior to creation. The Scriptures declare that God’s ways do not change; “I am the Lord, I do not change” (Mal 3:6). Christ has existed in His office as the eternal Son, Mediator, and the Word by voluntary submission to the Father from times eternal.
The Sovereign of the universe—the One who has supreme rank, authority, and power—had an associate, a co-worker. The term, sovereign, implies sovereign authority over any and all associates. “The Sovereign of the universe was not alone in His work of beneficence. He had an associate--a co-worker who could appreciate His purposes . . . the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God” (7). Although His Co-Worker was invested with equal power and authority, the Son of God voluntarily submitted to the Supreme Sovereign of the universe in His role within the Godhead.
The Second Person of the Godhead was not appointed or installed in some new office designated by the term “Son.” The distinction in names, “Father” and “Son,” has always existed, implying role differentiation. Christ has always been the eternal, self-existent Son. “While God's Word speaks of the humanity of Christ when upon this earth, it also speaks decidedly regarding His pre-existence. The Word existed as a divine being, even as the eternal Son of God, in union and oneness with His Father” (8). “In His incarnation He gained in a new sense the title of the Son of God. . . . While the Son of a human being, He became the Son of God in a new sense” (9).
The designation “eternal Son” carries obvious implications with respect to submission and authority. Biblical evidence for the eternal Father-Son relationship may be summarized in the following texts: Luke 10:22; John 1:14; 5:19-26; 10:36; 17:1-13, 21-25; 1 John 2:22-24; etc. The clearest biblical declaration of the Father-Son relationship appears in 1 Corinthians 11:3. “But I want you to know that head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
The explanation for this order of authority (Father/Christ, Man/Woman) is found in the creation story, which appears in the context of the passage itself. “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” 1 Cor 11:8-9). Advocates for women’s ordination vainly try to interpret the word “head” in this passage as “source” (Greek: kephalē). But the Greek word consistently is translated in the New Testament as “head” and in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). It is never translated as “source” in Scripture, but always as “head” or ruling authority (10). Likewise, rosh in the Hebrew Old Testament is consistently translated as “head.”
More New Testament evidence of the Father/Son relationship follows: The Father created all things through His Son and for His Son’s benefit (John 1:3; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2, 10; Eph 3:9; Col 1:16 ); nevertheless, the Father who sits on the throne is ultimately credited with the creation (Rev 4:11), though He accomplishes it through His Son (Heb 1:2). The Father “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” and “predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Eph 1:4; Rom 8:29). The Father did the “choosing” and the “predestinating” in Christ.
The Son never “chose” or “predestined” us in the Father. The relationship of roles is fixed. The Father/Son relationship of Authority Figure and Agent, through whom His purposes are accomplished, existed before the world was created. This relationship is essential if we are to account for the Father’s eternal purpose to save the world through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
The Scriptures confirm the eternal nature of the voluntary, submissive relationship of the Son to the Father, even before the beginning of creation, in parallel with Their simultaneous equality of being. The submission of the Son of God, functioning as Michael the Archangel, was misunderstood by Lucifer, requiring the Father to declare to the host of heaven that He had invested His Son with authority, endowed Him with unlimited power, and that the Son would carry out His will and His purposes, but would do nothing of Himself alone. The One who invests authority in the Other possesses supreme authority.
The great Creator assembled the heavenly host, that he might in the presence of all the angels confer special honor upon his Son. The Son was seated on the throne with the Father, and the heavenly throng of holy angels was gathered around them. The Father then made known that it was ordained by himself that Christ, his Son, should be equal with himself; so that wherever was the presence of his Son, it was as his own presence. The word of the Son was to be obeyed as readily as the word of the Father. His Son he had invested with authority to command the heavenly host. . . . There was contention among the angels. . . They were discontented and unhappy because they could not look into his unsearchable wisdom and ascertain his purposes in exalting his Son Jesus, and endowing him with such unlimited power and command. They rebelled against the authority of the Son (11).
From eternity past the Father and the Son entered into a covenant with clasped hands, that if the human race should be overcome by Satan’s deceptions, the Son would become their surety (12). With the fall of Adam, the execution of the eternal covenant became necessary. It was after the Fall that the Son received permission from the Father to give His own life as a ransom for the race. Ellen White confirms the submission of the Son to the authority of the Father, who grants permission to His Son to carry out our redemption:
Soon I saw Him approach the exceeding bright light which enshrouded the Father. Said my accompanying angel, "He is in close converse with His Father." The anxiety of the angels seemed to be intense while Jesus was communing with His Father. Three times He was shut in by the glorious light about the Father, and the third time He came from the Father we could see His person. His countenance was calm, free from all perplexity and trouble, and shone with a loveliness which words cannot describe. He then made known to the angelic choir that a way of escape had been made for lost man; that He had been pleading with His Father, and had obtained permission to give His own life as a ransom for the race (13).
One obtains permission only from another who has supreme authority. The submission of the Son to the Father was clearly understood by Lucifer and the angels, to the extent that the Son was perceived as being nearly equivalent to themselves. The Biblical evidence for this perceived equivalency is implied in Revelation 12:7-9, where Satan enters into conflict with Michael. However, the full extent of the equality of being and power of the Son to the Father had heretofore been misunderstood, requiring a full declaration by the Father. From the viewpoint of the angels, it was apparent that the Son of God was submissive to the Father. It is true that the Son was certainly functioning in a submissive role in relation to the Father, although it was not clear to the angels that it was a role of voluntary submission, but with full equality of vested authority.
Voluntary Submission of the Son—Eternity Future
After the ascension, Christ was exalted at the Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33). To be seated at the right hand of a king in the ancient world indicated that the one thus seated was second in authority—as a co-regent, ruling together. The right hand/side is the place of favor, strength, and authority (cf. Pss 63:8; 108:6; 110:1; 118:15-16; 138:7; 139:10; Matt 22:44; 26:64; Rev 1:16-17). The Messianic promise in Psalm 110, “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies My footstool” (v. 1), points to the authority of the Father. That Christ would be exalted to the right hand of God after His ascension is found in numerous other passages (Mark 16:19; Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:13; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).
The supreme functional authority always belongs to the Father in relation to the voluntary submission of the Son. “The Son of God was next in authority to the great Lawgiver” (14). This is functional, not inherent ontological authority. The Father is the first among equals in terms of functional authority (15). Thus we have evidence that one can be “next in authority” and still be equal in being, equal in importance, and equal in personhood.
After His ascension Christ, functioning as our High Priest, intercedes in our behalf before the Father, providing further evidence that the Father possesses supreme functional authority, since the Son does not command the Father, but brings intercessory requests (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25).
The Father, as the first among equals, delegates authority to the Son to execute judgment in the world (John 5:22), and the Son voluntarily assumes the role of Judge. The Son Himself declares that the Father has given Him the “authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).
Throughout eternity the submission of the Son of God to His Father’s authority will be manifested to the universe of unfallen beings. Forever to retain His human nature, uniquely perpetuating the results of His incarnation, Christ will be one with His brethren, our Elder Brother:
To assure us of His immutable counsel of peace, God gave His only-begotten Son to become one of the human family, forever to retain His human nature. . . . God has adopted human nature in the person of His Son, and has carried the same into the highest heaven. . . . The I AM is the Daysman between God and humanity, laying His hand upon both. He who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners," is not ashamed to call us brethren. Hebrews 7:26; 2:11. In Christ the family of earth and the family of heaven are bound together. Christ glorified is our brother. Heaven is enshrined in humanity, and humanity is enfolded in the bosom of Infinite Love (16).
The Son will forever be voluntarily subject to the authority of the Father. Paul says that after the last enemy, death, is destroyed, “the Son Himself will also be subject to Him [the Father] who put all things under Him [the Son], that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). But the larger passage says much more than the fact stated in verse 28. The passage in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 is “talking about the new creation, the end of the old order under sin and the beginning of the new order, which is really a return to the order that existed before sin entered.
The text makes clear that there is a differentiation of roles in the eternal divine economy. For the purpose of dealing with sin, God the Father put everything in Creation under the authority of the Son, the active Agent in creation and redemption. Yet the Father was exempt, not being subject to the Son. The text is very explicit in this regard. The One who put all things in subjection to the Son was not subject to the Son, but remained in authority over Him. When the plan of salvation is complete, the Son returns everything to the original plan in which all things are subject to God the Father, so that God the Father may be all in all; that is, superior to everything else, including the Son—not superior in ontology, but in the role He plays as the Father (17), the Sovereign of the universe (18).
The Andrews Study Bible asserts that this passage (I Cor. 15:24-28) is not dealing with Christ’s role in the Trinity, but with His function as the Second Adam in representing humanity. But the text is describing the relation of the Father to the Son in the new heaven and new earth. “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24). The text goes on to describe how God has placed all things under Christ but Christ will in the end place all things back under His Father, so ‘that God may be all in all’ (v. 28). This is not about the incarnation and Christ coming as the Second Adam, but rather, about how everything returns to normal in the new creation at the end of the reign of sin. Verse 20 is about the resurrection. Verses 21-23a are about the resurrection. Verse 23b is about the second coming. Verse 24 introduces the end of sin and the beginning of the new creation. There is a clear move away from the historical to the eschatological. The submission or subjection to the Father that Christ puts into effect in verse 28 is clearly eschatological, in the new creation (19).
Here we find further confirmation of the eternal, willing submission of the Son to the Father’s authority extending to eternity future. In eternity past, prior to the foundation of the world, the Son was subject to the Father. In the creation the Son was subject to the Father; following the incarnation the Son was subject to the Father; from His ascension, the Son has been subject to the Father, sitting at His right hand. Today, as He intercedes for us, the Son is subject to the Father; and when death is destroyed, the Son will be eternally subject to the Father (I Cor. 15:28).
The confirming evidence that Christ will be subject to the Father throughout eternity is the reality that the Son willingly condescended to encumber Himself with a human nature, never to be the same after having become our Elder Brother. The entire Treasure of Heaven was given to the human race. Christ has become the Second Adam, the new Head of the human race.
Nevertheless, the Son is not eternally inferior to the Father; He is equal to the Father in His being or essence, for He is fully God. The principle of headship, voluntary submission, and equality, inherent in divine love and the nature of the Trinity, was ordained of God to be inherent in the creation of mankind, male and female. “Let Us make man in Our image . . . . . male and female He created them” (Gen 1:26-27).
Free Will, Submission and Love
Free will and the freedom to choose is an inherent characteristic of the Godhead, and of all created, intelligent beings. Indeed the idea of free will, in conjunction with the concept of voluntary submission, is a fundamental principle of the heavenly realm and integral to the nature of God’s sacrificial loving character. The Father demonstrates His love by voluntarily giving His Son to the world (John 3:16). The Son demonstrates His love by voluntarily submitting to the Father’s will and stepping from heaven to become the Redeemer of mankind, which is exemplified in the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5-8).
There is no love unless it is voluntary and there is no love unless there is voluntary submission to recognized authority (20). The inter-relationship of voluntary submission and love is inherent in the Divine Trio, which our study has demonstrated. The character of God and His love demands that any submission to the one in authority (the first among equals) must be voluntary. The character of God, which essentially is love, precludes and rules out any inherent subordination associated with the ontological nature.
Not only the moral image of God but the principle of headship/submission, inherent in divine love, was instilled in the creation of man as male and female. The Apostle Paul’s justification that the woman is not to exercise authority over the man is based on the creation order (1Tim 2:12-13; also 1 Cor 11:7-9). But this image was nearly obliterated with the inception of sin. The overarching purpose of the gospel is to restore the image of God—including the principle of headship/submission—in mankind. “The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God” (21).
Since the purpose of the plan of redemption is to restore the image of God in fallen human beings, any rejection of the restoration of the image of God—which includes the creation headship principle and its restoration in the home (Eph 5:22-33) and the church (1 Tim 2:8-3:16; 1 Cor 11:3-16)—would be unthinkable. First, such rejection is tantamount to the rejection of the very nature of God, and second, it is a virtual repudiation and rejection of the gospel itself, the purpose of which is to restore the image of God in man. Continuing down this path will only lead to a misrepresentation of the character of God to the world by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the consequential hindering of the ultimate purpose of the gospel and the delaying of the coming of Christ.
This series has demonstrated that the functional roles of authority and voluntary submission within the Divine Trio are independent of the ontological nature of Their Being. Indeed the concept of authority and voluntary submission is a fundamental principle of the heavenly realm, not only within the Godhead but also among the angels (22) and all created intelligent beings, which can be violated by inherent free will or freedom of choice. Voluntary submission is a choice of the free will and is not integral to one’s ontological being.
Implications for the Ordination-Gender Debate
The 2015 General Conference session decisively rejected women’s ordination (23) for the third time (24), based on the reading of principally the Bible as well as the Spirit of Prophecy writings, the results of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee process (25) and other related study materials. Those advocating the ordination of women teach the full equality of men and women ontologically (their essential being) along with identical and interchangeable functional roles. Essentially, from their perspective, there are no gender or role differences except for pro-creation of child-bearing.
Proponents of female ordination in the North American Division (NAD) further advocate a trajectory in the Bible, beginning after the Fall in Genesis 3 leading to perfect functional role equality in the gospel dispensation, based largely on Galatians 3:28 – “there is neither male nor female . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (26). In the aforementioned citation the NAD adopts a new hermeneutic (method of interpreting the Bible) using a principle-based reading of the Bible, called: “principle-based, contextual, linguistic and historical-cultural reading strategies” (27).
This new method of interpretation, employing principles of higher criticism, is applied selectively to supposedly “difficult” passages, such as those pertaining to women like 1 Timothy 2-3, 1 Corinthian 11, Titus 1, and others. However, most readers will quickly conclude—based on a plain reading of the text—that the Bible clearly specifies gender differentiation especially to the office of elder and overseer. In fact the Bible teaches gender differentiation with respect to male/female functional roles prior to the Fall where the leadership of Adam and the natural voluntary submission of the woman is established based on the creation order of male and female (28).
Some may argue that the ordination of women is an inconsequential, even a non-doctrinal issue. But the issue is not ordination; the issue is Biblical authority in filling the office of elder/overseer. But the issue is deeper than just the authority of the Bible and the office of elder in 1 Timothy 2 and 3 and Titus 1. It is based on the principle of authority and voluntary submission established not only after the Fall of Adam, but established at the creation of male and female in Genesis 2 prior to the Fall (29). Furthermore, the issue of ordination—more specifically the office of elder—is even deeper than the concept of authority and voluntary submission rooted in the creation order of Genesis 2.
The underlying issue revolves around the principle of authority and voluntary submission in the Trinity and the reflection of the image of God in the distinct roles God has given to male and female. Concisely stated, the real issue in the women’s ordination controversy may be summarized as follows: If the church insists on appointing women to the office of elder (ordination), it rejects the restoration of the image of God in humanity—the very purpose of the gospel. It effectively rejects the gospel as defined in Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.
Moreover, by insisting on gender equality of leadership offices in the church, we would at the same time deny God Himself by denying the voluntary relationship of authority and voluntary submission within the Divine Trio that has existed from the beginning of creation. In other words, the decisions revolving around the ordination of women have potentially enormous, even eternal consequences.
1. E. G. White, Youth Instructor, June 14, 1900 par. 6
2. The “sacrifice” in the context of the quotation refers to the incarnation. E. G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 22
3. ----The Faith I Live By, 199.
4. ----Signs of the Times, May 10, 1899.
5. ----Desire of Ages, 22. See also E. G. White, Signs of the Times, April 18, 1906 par. 2. “The science of redemption is the science of all sciences; the science that is the study of the angels, and of all the intelligencies of the unfallen worlds; the science that engages the attention of our Lord and Saviour; the science that enters into the purpose brooded in the mind of the Infinite,--‘kept in silence through times eternal;’”
6. White, Review and Herald, April 5, 1906 par. 5
7. ----Patriarchs and Prophets, 34.
8. ----Review and Herald, April 5, 1906.
9. ----Selected Messages, Bk. 1, 226.
10. Professor Edwin Reynolds deals with kephalē extensively in his Theology of Ordination Study Committee paper. https://www.adventistarchives.org/biblical-hermeneutics-and-headship-in-first-corinthians.pdf
11. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1, 17-22, emphasis added.
12. See note  13. White, Early Writings, 126, emphasis added.
14. ----The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 2:9.
15. In Revelation, He is the One who sits on the throne and wills and orders the creation of all things and arranges redemption of humanity, creating all things through Christ (John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2), reconciling humanity to Himself in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:19), and redeeming humankind through the blood of Christ (Rom 3:24-25; 1 John 4:9-10).
16. White, The Desire of Ages, 25-26.
17. Greek, hupotassō: “to subject, to subordinate, put in subjection, be subject to, submit to.” See the standard Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich, (2nd Edition), hupotassō, 848.
18. The quoted section was excerpted from communication with Professor Edwin Reynolds.
19. Father is called pantokratōr several times in Revelation (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22), which is frequently translated as Sovereign or Almighty. Literally, it means “the One who holds (or controls) everything.”
21. White, Education, 125.
22. Jerry Moon, “Ellen White, Ordination, and Authority,” Theology of Ordination Study Committee, July, 2013, 3.
24. The ordination of women was also rejected in the 1990 and the 1995 General Conference Sessions.
26. https://www.adventistarchives.org/north-american-division-brc-report.pdf (See pp. 22-31)
27. Ibid., 25
28. See my TOSC paper for supporting evidence in Genesis 1-3. https://www.adventistarchives.org/restoration-of-the-image-of-god-headship-and-submission-john-peters.pdf The apostle Paul uses the creation order of Adam and Eve to establish the headship of Adam (1 Timothy 2:13; 1 Corinthians 11:8-9).
Elder John W. Peters served the Pennsylvania Conference of Seventh-day Adventists as a local pastor before his recent retirement. He and his wife Elizabeth now live in Port Charlotte, Florida.