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According to What does the Bible really teach?, a Watchtower publication, pp.41–42:

The only-begotton Son never even considered trying to be equal to his Father. The Bible clearly teaches that the Father is greater than the Son. (John 14:28).

John 14:28 says:

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I."

Which, on the surface, appears to agree with the JW claim that Jesus himself says he is "not equal" to his Father.

What is the Protestant response to this, in the context of the divinity of Jesus. How can Jesus be divine, and also "lesser" than the Father?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

Good question, it is written

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:5-7)

Herein it says Jesus is equal with God (the Father), thus contradicting the watchtower quote you provided.

"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16 NKJV)

In John 14:28 Jesus is saying he is subordinate to the Father, but Philippians 2:5-7 says he is equal. So Jesus is subordinate but equal. To be subordinate does not mean one is not equal, for example the Bible admonishes wives to be subordinate to their husbands in the Lord (Ephesians 5:22), yet they are 100% equal in value in God's sight. More info on Jesus divinity from Scripture found here -

Hope that helps!

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Jesus is both God and man, Divine and human natures in one person. In regard to His humanity, He is subordinate to God the Father, but in regard to His Deity, He is the Father's equal.

The mistake people like the JW's (and there are other sects ancient and modern who have gone the same route) is to take the statements in Scripture about Jesus as a human being on earth, living in obedience to the Father, and treat them as if they were about His eternal being.

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Protestants have answered this question in several different ways:

  1. That within the Trinity, the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, though equal with him in essence
  2. That Christ here specifically refers to his human nature
  3. That the Son is lower than the Father in his role as mediator between God and Man
  4. That in his present state of humiliation, he is less glorified than the Father

These views often have some overlap, and many commentators see value in more than one explanation. Baptist John Gill, for example, mentions 1, 2, and 4,1 and William Burkitt (Church of England) mentions or implies all four.2

Christ as eternally subordinate

The first view is that this passage refers to Christ being, as the second member of the Trinity, eternally subordinate to his Father. Among those holding to this view are Baptist A. T. Robertson,3 Charles Ellicott (Church of England),4 and Heinrich Meyer.5 Ellicott writes:

In this passage, as in others of the New Testament, it is plainly asserted that in the divine nature there is a subordination of the Son to the Father.4

Robertson agrees, writing that "the filial relation makes this necessary."3 Others, like J. W. McGarvey6 (Church of Christ) and Dispensationalist Thomas Constable,7 agree with this concept in principle, but do not believe that it is in view in this passage.

Christ on earth

The remaining three positions, though somewhat overlapping and perhaps seemingly similar, are nonetheless considered distinct by a number of theologians. I'll treat them separately, noting where particular theologians seem to overlap.

Christ's human nature

The second view, that Christ is here referring to his human nature being lower than the Father, is not argued by many Protestants, though some attribute it to many of the church fathers. Among the most prominent Protestant proponents of this view are Methodists John Wesley8 and Adam Clarke.9 With regard to the "greater than I" language, Wesley writes:

As he was man. As God, neither is greater nor less than the other.8

Christ as Mediator

This view is perhaps best summarized by the Geneva Study Bible:

Christ is mediator, for in this regard the Father is greater than he, in as much as the person to whom request is made is greater than he that makes the request.10

It is maintained by Methodist Thomas Coke,11 Philip Schaff12 (Reformed), the ESV Study Bible, and the Dispensational Moody Bible Commentary. John Calvin, though emphasizing the view we will discuss next, still uses language reminiscent of Christ's mediatorial work:

[Christ] places himself between God and us; and, indeed, as it has not been granted to us to reach the height of God, Christ descended to us, that he might raise us to it.13

Christ in the state of humiliation

Among Protestant commentators who clearly prefer one of these positions, this one is the most widely held. These commentators point to the surrounding context, like the New Bible Commentary does:

[This statement] must be regarded in its context, i.e., in the light of the thought that Jesus was going to the Father, which was a process of glorification. His future position would be greater than His present position because of the greatness of the Father.

Constable writes that, due to the incarnation, the Father "enjoyed greater glory than the Son during Jesus' earthly ministry."7 As a result, say Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, the "inferiority of which Christ here speaks [...] would be removed by His going to the Father."14 Proponents of this view point to two passages in particular: Philippians 2:5–8 and John 17:5:

Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. [ESV]

John MacArthur15 and D. A. Carson in particular point to the language of John 17:5 as evidence that Christ here is discussing his return to his full glory, as Carson writes:

If Jesus' disciples truly loved him, they would be glad that he is returning to his Father, for he is returning to the sphere where he belongs, to the glory he had with the Father before the world began (17:5).16

Others holding this view include the Reformed Study Bible, Presbyterians Calvin13 and Albert Barnes,17 and independents (Church of Christ) James Burton Coffman18 and McGarvey.6 Anglican Leon Morris also defends this view,19 as does Matthew Poole.20


All four of these points are widely held by Protestants: that Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father, that through the incarnation he had divine and human natures, that he served as Mediator, and that his time on earth was less glorious than being in heaven. It's thus not surprising that we see all of these views presented as possible explanations for the passage.

However, the most frequently defended view, both historically and especially by recent scholars,21 is that Jesus here refers to the Father's exalted position in heaven, a position to which he was about to return.

References and notes:

  1. Gill, Exposition of the Whole Bible
  2. Burkitt, Expository Notes
  3. Robertson, Word Pictures
  4. Ellicott, Commentary for English Readers
  5. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Commentary
  6. McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel
  7. Constable, Notes
  8. Wesley, Explanatory Notes
  9. Clarke, Commentary
  10. Geneva Study Bible
  11. Coke, Commentary
  12. Schaff, Popular Commentary
  13. Calvin, Commentary
  14. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory
  15. MacArthur, New Testament Commentary, 135–36
  16. Carson, Gospel According to John, 508
  17. Barnes, Notes
  18. Coffman, Commentaries
  19. Morris, Gospel According to John, 584–85
  20. Poole, Annotations
  21. All commentators mentioned above from the last 50 years (Carson, Constable, ESV, MacArthur, Moody, Morris, New Bible, and Reformed) hold to this position, except ESV and Moody.
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Phillipians 2: 5-8 clearly explains it -

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Christ humbled himself in his incarnation and with reference to his incarnation as a man, he says that the Father is greater than him even though by his nature/form, he was Equal to God.

Also, functionally Christ has always been submissive to the father just as a wife is functionally submissive to the husband even though a Woman is equal to a man in nature/created equal.

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