Does Sending Imply Subordination?: The Envoy-Revealer Model and John’s Christology

The dominant model in contemporary Johannine scholarship for understanding the structure and content of John’s Christology is the envoy-revealer model. The envoy-revealer model emphasizes that the Father sends the Son to make the Father known by revealing what the Father has told him. Some argue that John’s envoy-revealer model has been influenced by Jewish halakhic rules of agency that state, “A man’s agent is like the man himself” and “the sender is greater than the sent” (M. Ber. 5:5; b. Hag. 10b; Gen. Rab. 78:1.) These rules of agency are then used to interpret Jesus’s various statements about being sent by the Father (John 4:34; 5:23; 5:37; 6:29; 8:18; 12:49, etc.), and ultimately used to show a pre-existing subordinationist relationship between the Father and Son.

I will argue that John’s sending language does not imply subordination within the Godhead, but instead points to the divine missions which reflect the processions of the one co-equal and co-eternal God. To prove this, I will exegete John 5:17–30 to show the Son’s equality with the Father and resolve the apparent tension of verses 10:30 and 14:28. In the process, I will evaluate and draw from voices within contemporary Johannine scholarship as well as theologians from the history of the church.

Keywords: Gospel of John, Fourth Gospel, Christology, Trinity, envoy-revealer, sent, subordinationism, classical Christology, Nicaea, partitive exegesis, Loader, Barrett, and Borgen.

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