What is “Subordinationism”?

Q: What is "subordinationism"?

A: Very simply put (and there are many nuances), subordinationism is the belief that there is a hierarchy within the Godhead (Trinity) that has the Father as the head, with the Son and the Spirit flowing from the Father and in an equal, but submissive role. The main reason for this little series of posts is the way that it relates to the conversation on gender roles - I'm not sure that it plays a huge part, but the conversation did spark my curiosity.

Q: Is this the heresy of "Arianism"?

A: No. What was defined as heresy at the Council of Nicea

  • Arianism taught that Christ is a created being - of "like substance", but not the "same substance" - sort of a "lesser god" or "created god".
  • Arianism denied the full deity of Christ.
  • Ariansim denies that the Son is of one essence, nature, or substance with God; He is not consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father, and therefore not like Him, or equal in dignity, or co-eternal, or within the real sphere of Deity.

Q: What is different about the two?

A: Subordinationism declares that each member of the Trinity are individual persons, yet fully unified in will and purpose; each member of the Trinity is fully God.  James White, in "The Forgotten Trinity" puts in this way: There is One "WHAT" (the Godhead/Trinity).  Within that one WHAT, there are three "WHOS" (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).  To deny that the persons of the Trinity are indeed three persons, is a denial of the Trinity that is known as "modalism" - held to by "Oneness" churches.
The Son and the Spirit are "generated" from the Father, yet all three are eternal and fully God and fully equal in person, dignity and deity. Are we confused yet? This is why the Trinity is called a "mystery".

Other helpful terms:


"The monarchy of the Father"


"Eternal Sonship"

It is a mistake to confuse the belief of eternal submission with the heresy of Arianism.

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11 thoughts on “What is “Subordinationism”?

  1. I think it is a mistake to see eternal subordination in Trinitarian teaching. For example, from your link "ekporeusis," which you may want to remove:

    If it is correctly situated, the Filioque of the Latin tradition must not lead to subordination of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity.

  2. I may very well come to that conclusion...but if I do it will be because of what I find in Scripture.

    I am finding that it is the word "subordinate" that I'm having the most problem with.

    Eternal submission? Not so much, if you see submission as being voluntary.

    I do see a hierarchy, which I know flies in the face of our modern human reasoning that demands that hierarchy come with inequity.

    God's thoughts are not our thoughts and if we find in Scripture that the Son was/is/will be submissive to the Father, then I still need to see the point in Scripture where that ends.

  3. I should add...I currently have about 50 tabs open in a separate window just on this topic...arguments from both sides, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Church Fathers, etc., etc...

  4. one more "and..."

    Whichever side I end up on - the point of this post is that "subordinationism" is not "Arianism".

    Right now I'm reading a lengthy article on the topic (pro-subordination) by Craig Keener (egalitarian).

    Folks on both sides of the comp-egal conversation come down on both sides of the subordination issue.

    I think that the real value may come in terms of how we view submission (or in the language of the day, subordinationism). Whether or not we/I/whoever come to the conclusion that Christ will be eternally submissive to the Father, the fact is still that in our past, Christ HAS BEEN submissive to the Father and His example is unique and an excellent one to strive for.

  5. Leigh Ann

    Glad to see you are still alive and kicking. I am interested to see your thoughts develope on this as I am doing some of the same reading and studying.

  6. Leigh Ann

    Hey, Molly, the rest of the quote that you posted above leads me to believe that they are talking about a heresy similar to that of Arian which denies the Spirit as "person with the Father".

  7. Some days...just barely. Every semester I have a couple of really rough weeks between when I start to feel overloaded and when I really get into the swing of the class.

    I think I've got both rhythms - and it's spring break from college (but not from work!)

  8. Leigh Ann

    I do not envy you the school schedule. When I look back on it, it's a wonder that I made it through undergrad. But thinking about school and work makes me tired.

  9. Eloquorius

    Ellen: My compliments on your study of this issue, I know it's been a lot of work for you. IF the Son is subordinate to the Father (the relationship itself implies such) then it certainly impact EVERY area of life where submission is ordained -- church, work, government and marriage. How can anyone look at any of aspect of the life and person of Christ and say, "there's nothing that applies here" and still call themselves Christ-centered? Again, the very thought processes of the "egal" side reveals as much as the conclusions they come to.

  10. Thank you dear.

    I'm wouldn't say that the egals would say that there is nothing to be learned, it is only that they do not wish to believe that submission is for eternity - especially if it is "unilateral" and especially if it involves gender.

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