The Key to the Trinity: “That God May Be All in All”

Believe it or not, we are nearing the end of this series. In three more articles we’ll discuss the Spirit, trinitarian relationships, and an example of how this doctrine enriches our lives as Christians. But first I want us to wrestle with one more “problem” text. In his famous resurrection chapter, Paul fast-forwards to the end of time when “the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1Co 15:28).[1] Does this verse teach that the Father alone is God, and that the Son is intrinsically inferior to Him? No, it does not. Consider:

First, we should be careful what inferences we make from subjection language. The same verb is used of Christ’s subjection to His earthly parents (Luk 2:51). Yet Joseph and Mary were not ontologically superior to Him![2]

Second, the larger passage (vv20-28) cautions us from making rash inferences. The paragraph features phrases about Christ’s making everyone alive (v22), delivering the kingdom to the Father (v24), reigning until His enemies are defeated (v25), and future subjection to the Father (v28). From these phrases we could infer that everyone will one day be saved, the Father isn’t yet sovereign, Christ’s reign is only temporary, and the Son is not presently subject to His Father.

But in every instance we’d be wrong.[3] Salvation is only for those “who belong to Christ” (v23), the Father is sovereign (1Ti 6:15), and Christ will reign forever (2Pe 1:11; Rev 11:15).[4] The truth is that Paul is compressing God’s vast timeline of events – from creation to the eternal state – into nine short verses! This is yet another reason to be careful not to make undue inferences from verse 28.

Third, throughout 1 Corinthians Paul repeatedly identifies Jesus as Yahweh. Recall from a previous article that in 8:6 Paul identifies Jesus as the one Lord (Yahweh) of the Shema (Deu 6:4). This is one of many OT Yahweh texts that Paul applies to our Savior in this letter. See further his use of Jeremiah and the Psalms: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1Co 1:31; Jer 9:24); “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (1Co 10:26; Psa 24:1).[5] In these instances, Paul clearly identifies Jesus as Yahweh, an identification that 15:28 cannot peel away.[6]

Now, someone might object: “How can this be right? Yahweh isn’t subject to anyone, and yet you’re saying that the one who is subject in 15:28 is Yahweh.” This takes us to the next point:

Fourth, in 1 Corinthians, the Son became “crucifiable.”[7] That is, the Son is not only God; He also became man. Can God be crucified? One would think not. But the paradox of the incarnation is such that Paul speaks of the rulers of this age crucifying “the Lord of glory” (2:8). Paul has just used the word “Lord” to identify Jesus as Yahweh (1:31). When he says that men crucified “the Lord of glory,” he is speaking of Jesus’ lordship in the highest possible sense. Here is a marvel surpassing all human imagination (2:9), and it’s certifiably true (15:3). Now, “if the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion does not efface his identity as ‘Lord of glory’ … neither does his last-day submission to God the Father.”[8] As we saw in previous articles, the incarnation explains how Christ can have God as His God while never ceasing to be God.[9]

Fifth, in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, the focus is on Christ’s humanity. In other words, Christ’s incarnation isn’t just a possible explanation of 15:28; it’s the contextual one. Paul begins by comparing Christ’s humanity to Adam’s: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (vv21-22). Paul follows this with OT quotations, bringing the humanity of Christ into even finer focus.[10] With the word “feet” as the common link, Paul shows how God’s intention to exalt humankind in Psalm 8 will be realized through the completion of Christ’s reign foretold in Psalm 110. This incarnational emphasis returns at the end of the chapter when Paul speaks of Christ as “the last Adam” and “second man” (vv45-49).

Finally, as already noted, this passage comprises the story of the whole Bible. If God’s story has a beginning (vv 21-22), it also has an end (v24). Paradise lost must one day be restored. Man let death into the world; man must somehow chase it out. If all the damage done to God’s creation stems from man’s seeking to supplant God, the only satisfying resolution to this story’s narrative arc is if a man should offer perfect submission to God.

A man must do it, but no man could. So God Himself did it by becoming man for us. The Son became crucifiable, died and rose again. Now He reigns, and He will not stop until all sinful rebellion against God is overcome and death itself is abolished (Rev 20:14). Then, as the last act in time as we know it, He will restore to God what was lost (v24).[11] The Man who has it all will subject Himself to God – God subject to God, that God may be all in all.

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV.

[2] On the willingness of the Son’s submitting Himself in 1 Corinthians 15:28, see Timothy A. Brookins and Bruce W. Longenecker, 1 Corinthians 10-16: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), 160.

[3] Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 261-63.

[4] As Gregory of Nazianzus observed, just as Matthew 28:20 doesn’t mean Christ will stop being with us in eternity, neither does 1 Corinthians 15:25 mean that Christ will stop reigning. See Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 773.

[5] See Gordon D. Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 127-42, for these and more.

[6] In fact, a decent case can be made that Paul identifies Jesus as Yahweh in the very paragraph that 15:28 concludes. See Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 125-27.

[7] The term and this point come from R.B. Jamieson, “1 Corinthians 15.28 and the Grammar of Paul’s Christology,” New Testament Studies 66, no. 2 (April 2020), 197-99.

[8] Jamieson, 200.

[9] This is also relevant to 1 Corinthians 3:23 and 11:3.

[10] Jamieson, 202-4.

[11] William Hoste and William Rodgers, Bible Problems and Answers (Kilmarnock: John Ritchie, n.d.), 339-40.