Calvin and Henry on Hebrews… contra Eternal Functional Subordination

This year, I have decided to do a deep dive read of the book of . It is such a fountain of , Soteriology, and Covenant Theology that it is in many ways the central cog upon which Reformed theology turns.

As part of that deep dive, I am not only reading Hebrews repeatedly but have also decided to read various commentaries alongside it. First, up for me are and Matthew Henry.

Chapter 1, in many ways, is a Christological treatise. The author speaks of the glory of Christ in both his natural and mediatorial senses. That is, he speaks of the glory of Christ as God, as well as the glory of Christ as the exalted man.

In my reading of Calvin and Henry, two phrases stuck out in relation to the recent controversy that just had to be repeated.

Henry commenting on Hebrews 1:10

The Lord Christ had the original right to govern the world, because he made the world in the beginning. His right, as Mediator, was by commission from the Father. His right, as God with the Father, was absolute, resulting from his creating power. 1

The EFS advocates (eg Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, Doug Wilson) commonly point to passages which speak of Christ as subordinate to the Father and argue that that is a voluntary submission that happens not only during Christ’s incarnate humiliation but in eternity past as a function of his natural relation to the Father. Henry here makes a clear distinction here between the commissioning (sending) of the Son as Mediator and his utter equality with the Father as God. His right to govern the world is on the same exact basis as the Father’s right to govern the world, and that basis is that they together created the world.

Similarly, Calvin commenting on Hebrews 1:9:

But as Christ recieved this unction when in the flesh, he is said to have been anointed by his God; for it would be inconsistent to suppose him inferior to God, except in his human nature. 2

Calvin is making a similar point to Henry. Just as EFS advocates will often point to the “sending” (commissioning) passages to support the idea that the Son is a voluntary servant of the Father eternally, they will also point to the various references to Christ being anointed or appointed to a particular task or office. Calvin here rejects that interpretation and instead argues that the anointing of Christ was according to his human nature since it would be inconsistent to think of him as inferior (here he means subordinate as well as naturally inferior) to God (the Father). His anointing was as the Mediator, that is to say, his anointing is as the second Adam, not as the second person of the Godhead.

Notes:

  1. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2381. Emphasis mine.
  2. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, translated by John Owen (not that John Owen!). Emphasis Mine