The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: 2 Cor 5:14-6:2

This post is part of my Exegetical Compilation series, which I am (verrrrrrry slowly) posting up here.

2 Corinthians 5:14 through 6:2

The traditional chapter division tends to regard 6:1-2 (including the citation from Isaiah 49:8, and Paul’s application of it to the present day) as being topically connected more with verses 3ff on the witness of a good Christian social life, so the point would be not to receive the grace of God and yet have an empty life.

However, this does not at all square with Paul’s citation of Isaiah 49 and its contexts, which are extremely different. But those contexts do square up in interesting ways with Paul’s famous declarations ending out chapter 5; leading to an exegetical argument that chapter 6 really ought to have started with verse 3 “We are giving no cause for offense in anything so that the ministry is discredited” and so on.

Whatever else Isaiah 49 is about, it is not about living a good life as a witness to the nations for their salvation (good advice though that is for evangelism). Nor is it about a day of salvation (or multiple days thereof) when the Lord supported His people in the past relative to Isaiah’s day.

Isaiah 49, including verse 8, is totally about God’s promise to support His people in the future, even though they have betrayed Him once again, when He arrives visibly to rescue them from being overrun by pagan armies in the great and terrible Day of the Lord to come.

This is also thematically woven with God speaking to righteous Israel as His servant – often regarded by Jews as referring to the King Messiah to come, and of course applied by us Christians to Jesus Christ as the ultimate Messiah (with the prophet taking turns speaking for the Father and the Son), perfectly fulfilling the role of righteous Israel. So when YHWH says at verse 8 “In a favorable time I have answered you, in a day of salvation I have helped you” He is by narrative design speaking to Israel exemplified in the Messiah.

Paul in referring to this verse and insisting that now is the day of salvation and the favorable time, therefore probably refers to the Father having helped and saved the Messiah/Son – that time to come was in the future of Isaiah (when the Servant seemed to have toiled in vain and spent His strength for nothing and vanity) but has now been accomplished in Paul’s recent past. God’s grace (per 2 Cor 6:1) was not in vain after all, despite He Who knew no sin coming to be a sin (offering) on our behalf (5:21 immediately prior). What was the goal? – why was the Servant spending out His strength to the final extreme? “So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” answers Paul (5:21b); yet not only us, but in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself (5:19) for which reason we are now the ambassadors of God exhorting people and begging them on behalf of Christ “Be reconciled to God!”

As Arminians (and their Catholic predecessors) are aware, and emphasize, God graciously reconciles the whole world to Himself through Christ. Which definitely fits Isaiah 49 where God highly praises the servant and gives to him not only all Israel, both rebel and righteous, but also all the Gentiles. Even though the rebel armies are going to die choking on their own blood, they will somehow be reconciled with Israel after all, their kings and queens serving Israel humbly. And righteous Israel, grieving over the death of rebel Israel, will be amazed when God not only brings back and restores rebel Israel somehow, but also children they never bore (referring to the Gentiles). The scope of God’s intention to save there is, at least poetically, total.

But as Calvinists (and their Catholic predecessors) are aware, and emphasize, God’s grace was not and shall not be in vain; as God’s reply to the concern of the Servant that he has wasted his strength in vain in Isaiah 49 refutes concluding that the Servant really has wasted his strength; and as Paul stresses here in 2 Cor 6:1.

Just as the Father’s grace in saving the Son was not in vain, so the Son’s sacrifice on the cross will not be in vain: whomever God intends to save from sin, shall be successfully saved by God.

The love of Christ similarly compels those of us who have concluded that One died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (5:14-15)

To preach less than Christ’s goal of reconciling all those who died, for who all He died, or to preach that Christ’s reconciliation of any to God shall be in vain, is to receive the grace of Christ in vain – and, not incidentally, this routinely “gives cause for offense, discrediting our ministry”!

Nor is this topic foreign to Isaiah 49: the purpose of the Servant of God is to bring Jacob (here standing for rebel Israel) back to God so that all Israel may be gathered to Him. (v.5)

To which God adds that being His Servant to both raise up the tribes of Jacob and also to restore the preserved ones of Israel is not enough (which must in context refer to the resurrection of rebel and faithful Jews respectively, thus also to the post-mortem salvation of rebel Jacob!) – God will also make His Servant a light to the nations so that God’s salvation will reach to the ends of the Earth!

Just as the Servant and Holy One, Who was despised and abhorred by the nation of Israel, is rescued by YHWH, so shall rebel Israel who despised the Holy Servant be rescued; and as rescuing all of Israel is too small a thing to honor and glorify God (v.3, 5), so shall God’s salvation (the phrase from which Jesus literally derives His name) go out even to the pagan kings and princes who shall come to loyally serve the Servant of Kings (vv.6-7)

Notice! – any attempt at trying to minimize the actual scope of intention (whether in Isaiah 49, or in what we call the transition between 2 Cor 5 and 6) to save rebels back into honoring and glorifying God, will instantly and fatally crash into the principle that bringing less than all to honor and glorify God, is too small a thing to honor and glorify God!

If God fails to bring all to honor and glorify God, God fails to properly honor and glorify God; if God didn’t even intend for some rational creatures to honor and glorify God, God would be dishonoring and blaspheming God! God cannot be honored and glorified with dishonor and blasphemy; and the Persons of God do not honor and glorify each other by giving each other creatures of final dishonor and blasphemy.

The Father has given the Son to us (in Isaiah 49) explicitly as a covenant of the people, that as the Son was answered and saved (after dying no less!) so shall the land be restored and the desolated areas (desolated by God in punishment for sin) be rebuilt, and those in prison and in darkness shall be called forth to show themselves and come to God from the north and from the west even from as far away as “the land of ‘the thorns’” (i.e. Sinim, which may be a prophetic reference to China which came to be known by a similar term in several languages. But which surely stands in a pun for the furthest destitution imaginable.)

This is all despite the avowed fact (such as at 49:25-26 but in many other places also) that God intends to utterly kill the pagan armies invading and besieging Israel at the time of His visitation and rescue of Israel from them. But this is so that (as in v.26) all flesh will know that YHWH is the Savior and Redeemer and the Mighty One of Jacob, who in this prophecy is rebel Israel (sometimes “Jacob” stands for righteous Israel, but not in this prophecy – and the application of Jacob’s name to rebel Israel is itself evidence of God’s intentions toward “Jacob” by comparison with the original Jacob who sometimes wrestled against God, and who sometimes even acted like a Satan to those who trusted him): with the results that prophetically follow from people coming to know this, namely (as earlier in the prophecy, with strong though poetic indications of resurrection of the evil as well as the good), final loyalty to God and reconciliation between men.

So while I can and do agree that 2 Cor 6:2 by itself is no argument for post-mortem salvation, in connected context with the preceding verses conjoined with the situation being referenced by Paul in Isaiah, I would argue that Paul is actually admonishing his readers not to be ministers of a lesser reconciliation, and so not to receive the grace of Christ in vain, but to remember instead the example of Christ and His resurrection as the covenant given by God Whom we can expect to keep His side of the covenant (even if we fail or intentionally fall on our side of it) in bringing about God’s goals for Christ’s sacrifice: the reconciliation of all sinners, living and dead, Jew and Gentile, to God (and in God to each other as well).

Just as God reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and assigned to us the ministry of the reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18), that ministry is explicitly this, and nothing less than this (v.19): that God was in Christ reconciling the world, the “all things” which come from God (v.18), to Himself, not counting their rebellions against them. As ambassadors for Christ (v.19-20), God has placed in us the “Logos of reconciliation” Himself! Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were exhorting through us: “we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!”

No scope less than the all things made by God, would properly honor and glorify God. No result less than the all things made by God, would properly honor and glorify God. Even after the day of destruction by God, the time is still acceptable for God to listen to the repentant, and the day of salvation remains for God to help all who have rebelled against Him, however many have died in sin (who in the long run is all of us who are sinners, for whom Christ Himself also dies).

And just as we are expected as ambassadors to urge rebels to reconcile to God, as we have been reconciled, so those who work most together with God urge fellow workers with God: DO NOT RECEIVE THE GRACE OF CHRIST IN VAIN! For (5:21) God made Him Who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

He will have done that in vain, if He does not succeed; He will have done that in vain, if He does not intend to bring all who dishonor and blaspheme God to honor and blaspheme God.

Anything less than total scope, anything less than total victory, is too small a thing for the Father to honor the Son in His suffering, and is too small a thing for the Son to honor the Son with His suffering.

Just as those who have not yet received the grace of Christ are urged to receive the grace of Christ; so also those who have received the grace of Christ are urged DO NOT RECEIVE THE GRACE OF CHRIST IN VAIN!

We are being, at best, poor and incomplete royal ambassadors if we do.

Note that the infamously difficult verse at 5:21 (where Christ, despite never sinning, is “made sin” for us so that we might become the righteousness of God), has a strong relationship to Hebrews 9 and Galatians 3 (via Hebrews 10, where the author talks about Christ sacrificing Himself as a sin offering), which is itself a major (though not well known) set of evidence for God’s intention and eventual success at universal salvation from sin.

As always, members are invited to discuss interpretations of these verses below, and to link to discussions either here on the forum or elsewhere.

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Hi Jason

Excellent, stimulating commentary, thanks. One question, for now. You describe 2 Cor 5:21 as “the infamously difficult verse”, which I would have to agree with :smiley: . I reject classic PSA entirely, in favour of the Christus Victor model of the atonement. This verse definitely throws a bit of a spaniard into my works. Can you help me out with how I might square it with my atonement beliefs, please.

Many thanks


Do you supposed it is talking about Jesus taking the* power *of sin from us (who knew no sin and therefore is able to resist temptation), in His sufferings, so that we would have the power to be righteous? That’s a bit different than thinking of judicially about Jesus taking our sins punitively.

Johnny and Dondi,

In the past couple of years I’ve become rather a big fan of the covenantal model of explanation in regard to that detail of the atonement (not excluding other models, but they don’t fit this detail as well. I could talk for a LONG TIME about two different kinds of suffer-sharing models, a revelatory-exemplar model where the Son reveals the character of God, and a model strongly influenced by Lewis/MacDonald’s notion of Jesus’ miracles and in the Incarnation in particular of doing in historical close-up what the Son is always doing for Creation and even in the economy of God’s active self-existence. The ontological model…? I’m not against versions of Christus Victor either. I don’t like the theology of the clumsy ransom model popular among the Patristics, although I do like the clever narrative value of it. :wink: Lewis used a variation of that in the Wardrobe novel, but the Patristic version is even more macho: the Son offers Himself up as bait, Satan takes the bait, and the Son uses that as a trojan horse to go kick the collective butts of the demons and lead a prison raid into and out of hades! Theologically it’s insane, but from an ancient military perspective it’s hilariously epic. :mrgreen: )

Anyway where was I…? Right the covenantal model. As noted this is based on putting together the contexts of Heb 9 (and 10 to some extent), Gal 3, and the Abrahamic covenant scene in Genesis.

My notes on Gal 3, JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Galatians 3:6-8 (probably best to start here)
My notes on Heb 9, JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Hebrews 9:27
St. Paul’s subsequent discussion of adoption and Sarah/Hagar metaphor in Gal 4 has bearing on this, too, JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Galatians 4

The short version… erm… hard to summarize (which is why it’s hard to see, there are several pieces to put together)… On the cross, the Son is fulfilling a covenant He made with the Father to bring all of Abraham’s descendants to righteousness, which thanks to the Incarnation of YHWH Himself as Abraham’s descendant means all rational creatures are Abraham’s descendants (including Abraham himself) for purposes of the covenant. YHWH put Abraham to sleep and stood in for Abraham when making the covenant (meaning at least two persons of YHWH had to be making the covenant, one filling in for Abraham as his descendant). So unlike the Mosaic covenant which only Israel entered into and which can be broken by anyone who fails to keep Torah (and which can be replaced with a new one later with the Torah to be engraved on the heart figuratively speaking, which is necessary because EVERYONE fails to keep Torah), the sin of Abraham or any of his descendants cannot break the covenant of the promise, entered into by YHWH the Son with YHWH the Father with the Son standing surety for all descendants of Abraham (which thanks to the Incarnation means all rational creatures including Abraham himself and those who existed before Abraham). Only the Son or the Father can finally break that covenant, which isn’t going to happen.

But because the Son refuses to break that covenant with the Father (and vice versa), and because the covenant pledged the life of those who swore it to keeping the covenant (meaning God is putting up His own self-existent, self-begetting and self-begotten life, not as a risk but as a surety for fulfilling the covenant promise eventually), the Son voluntarily keeps the terms of the covenant on His side of things and dies for other people who actually sin. Doing that is another guarantee that God will fulfill the covenant of the promise; it doesn’t give God an excuse to break the covenant, He’s keeping the covenant in perfect righteousness by dying as the representative of the unrighteous.

That doesn’t automatically make everyone actually righteous, but it does show how far God is committed to keeping the covenant and bringing about the promise of righteousness for all Abraham’s children (i.e. all rational souls). We’re expected to join the Son in voluntary self-sacrifice, too, in a bunch of different ways, but He leads the way as the captain of the atonement reconciling us to God, and He’s just as committed to leading us to cooperative righteousness with Himself someday as He was committed to dying to keep the covenant for our sakes – and just as committed to keep on self-existing for that matter!

So it isn’t like standard PSA where God is picced and Jesus volunteers to take God’s wrath instead of us and the sinner meanwhile goes scot-free. The Father isn’t angry at the Son at all, and we’re supposed to cooperatively share in the death of the Son to keep the covenant, which He has already shared (and from an eternal perspective always shares) with us.

(I also talk about some of this and chew over the linguistic difficulties of the 2 Cor verse in a recent post where DaveB asked whether the grammar of the term helped solve anything? I don’t think it does by the way. :wink: Grammatically it would probably read that God makes Christ sin or into sin; but Hebrews 10 definitely means Christ sacrificed Himself as a sin-offering. So there’s good reason from extended context, plus avoidance of an obvious immediate contradiction, to expect Paul means a sin-offering here, too, even though the usual Greek phrasing for a sin offering, which Paul is aware of and uses in Romans, isn’t used here.)

Okay JP, you post all this great stuff from which I benefit much, and now I’m going to question one little phrase (Grandma: “You’re pickin’ the fly poop out of the pepper.” Grandma was a deep one) It makes me feel all nit-picky, but hey…

Anyway, here’s the phrase:
“(meaning at least two persons of YHWH had to be making the covenant, one filling in for Abraham as his descendant…)”?

I’m not sure, but let me dig out my copy of O. Palmer Robertson’s book Covenants - an excellent short treatment of the subject - I think he addresses this matter of Abraham not passing through - let me get back to you on that. If I can find the book.

It does seem like a stretch to be reading trin…I mean, Trinitarian :wink: theology back into this, though. I’ll re-read your post and see if the shoe drops for me.


This is really great, thanks so much for taking the time to explain it. I confess the OT covenants, and how they are fulfilled in the NT, is a subject I am woefully ignorant of. One of these days I will get round to exploring the whole subject properly :smiley: .

I need to spend a bit of time reading over the other posts you reference before I can comment properly. But just for now, I wanted to highlight what you say here:

I really like this, for a number of reasons. It addresses a subject I’ve always struggled with (in orthodox terms) - imputed righteousness. I still don’t understand this, but what I do understand, I think, is that God doesn’t simply ‘ascribe’ Abraham’s righteousness to everyone who ‘believes’ in some kind of facile transaction, the corollary being that all our sins are somehow ‘ascribed’ to Christ in some kind of balancing pay-off. I’m pretty sure GMac dismantled this view of the atonement in Justice, although I haven’t checked back on it.

I also really like the way you express our role in this. We are expected to join the Son in voluntary self-sacrifice, with Him as the captain leading the way. This really resonates with me. And it makes sense out of verses such as “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Yes, ontological salvation is wholly a work of God’s grace; but yes too we must be active participants in the ongoing process of noological salvation, until we finally attain sacramental salvation in the beatific vision.

And I thirdly really like it :smiley: because it puts the focus firmly on Jesus becoming incarnate to save us from our sins - the power of sin in our lives - as opposed to the church’s woeful focus on helping us escape the consequences of sin, ie hell.

Or have I missed the point entirely? :smiley:


Butting in: I like the way Francis Schaeffer organized things with the two parts of his book on true spirituality: 1 - Freedom now from the bonds of sin and 2 - freedom now from the results of the bonds of sin.
Butting out…

Okay, then it’s only one YHWH in the Genesis account standing in for Abraham to covenant with Himself, and the Father and Son in Gal and Heb covenanting with each other, which DON’T THINK ABOUT WHETHER THIS HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH BI/TRINITARIAN DISPUTES OR NOT. :mrgreen:

Oh man, nit-picking get you this: :mrgreen:
And I don’t even know what that IS :laughing:

Yep, you’re recalling correctly! A much larger word-study could be devoted to it, but that would only confirm what MacD was saying: the term just means to correctly reckon up or judge what the situation is (like in ancient or modern accounting). Abraham was righteous to trust God and leave Mesopotamia for the promised land, and God fairly judged that as righteousness. Doesn’t mean his righteousness was perfect, or even that it would have satisfied St. Paul (or even that it would have satisfied Abraham).

“For it is God that is at work in you”, yep! :slight_smile: (Nice combination comparison with ontological and noological salvation there, btw!)

Notice also, by the way, how this all synchs together with my long-standing connection of righteousness with its (at least apparent) Greek compound-word “fair-togetherness”, and that with my metaphysical account of the Trinity. There is no righteousness other than God’s righteousness (as 1 John says), and that means we have to look to God for our standard – which (for those who accept the Trinity anyway) is itself the ground of all real (and hypothetical) existence!

“and that means we have to look to God for our standard – which (for those who accept the Trinity anyway) is itself the ground of all real (and hypothetical) existence!”

I think that’s completely and utterly true.

Also, it helps account for why the penal sub proponents seem so insistent. They aren’t pulling the typical position completely out of nowhere, they’re only missing some pieces – but those missing pieces make the character of what’s happening a lot different from the character that results from guesses about why the Father is sending the Son to die for sinners. (…because… um… He’s angry about sin and needs to hit someone?)

Sorry, my grammar could have been better. I meant that for those who accept the Trinity (or even binitarianism) the righteousness of fair-togetherness between persons is itself the ground of all real etc.

But then most trinitarian theologians miss that somehow. :angry: ECT or anni can only be the inevitable results. (And then to explain the final loss, Arm or Calv soteriology in some variation has to be proposed.)

While I’m on the topic of atonement theories, and having mentioned Galatians 4 above, I suppose I should add that I’m also rather in favor of the adoption/ransom model, where the father decides the child is finally mature enough to inherit and so pays a ‘raising/ransom’ price to lift the status of the child from a slave in the household to a son or daughter. There’s quite a bit of this kind of thing being talked about in the Gospels, too, though sometimes it’s obscured for modern audiences by the question “what should I do to inherit the kingdom”? – literally they’re asking what they should be doing to be enjoying the allotment of the inheritance, i.e. what do they have to do to (if anything, or is just being a child of the Abraham covenant enough) to convince God they’re mature enough to have the status of sonship in the kingdom.

Adoption in the NT atonement account isn’t at all about God deciding that He’ll treat persons who aren’t His own children as though He created them and fathered their spirits after all (i.e. like a human adult could adopt some other person into a family who wasn’t related already by generation). It is however about the children being led astray by rebel tutors into disavowing their relation to God; so the children are the ones acting (whether explicitly, or in effect like Jesus’ Pharisee opponents) in rebellion against the Father, thus as though God is not really their father.

Somehow this got all flipped around eventually to the sort of thing MacDonald was complaining about in his works, where it’s like we were created and fathered in our rational spirits by someone or something other than God (Satan??) but God takes us in anyway: a theology that repudiates even basic supernaturalistic theism for something more like the polytheism of Mormonism.

Paying the ransom price to free someone from slavery has an application in rescuing captives or prisoners of war by “paying a ransom”, too, but that isn’t what ransom is actually about in the NT. Nor is it what the most popular idea of ransom atonement theory was about among the Patristics, which (as I noted above) was more like a badass clever military strategy, sort of like a Samson event done on purpose: the Son voluntarily allows Himself to be slain in a fight against Satan (betrayed to death by the wife who should have been loyal to him! – and not in an agreement to swap so that Satan will let go his captives for Christ) so that Satan will bring His body/soul into His fortress to gloat and triumph over it. Whereupon the Son takes the opportunity (before or after being brought inside the fortress – after awhile the notion shifted over to Christ raiding hades from the outside, since He really shouldn’t need to sneak into the fort) to KICK ALL THE ASSES OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS! The ‘ransom’ part in that case is freeing the prisoners in hades and ‘raising them up’.

That version of ransom theory isn’t at all a valid theological model (which is why it kept being tweaked to make the Son more legitimately powerful over hades from the outside), and it doesn’t really have any direct scriptural evidence, but the raid on the Plunder-Possessor’s captives is a big image for Christ in the famous incident of the sin against the Holy Spirit; and there’s an odd sort-of echo in RevJohn where after a successful career of bothering the Antichrist and frying his minions, the Two Witnesses let themselves be killed and triumphed over in the AC’s capital city for a few days, and then return to life to nuke the city with their bodily resurrection and ascension.

The Patristic raid-on-hades ransom theory is mainly important today as a witness to the prevalence of the agreement among theologians that 1 Peter is definitely talking about Christ descending to hades to preach the gospel to its captives and raise them to life – which most Patristics agreed involved some kind of post-mortem salvation of sinners, not the rescue of “righteous” pre-Christian saints out of hades, since they shouldn’t need rescuing! They disagreed with each other over how many sinners were brought out of hades by Christ, however, and/or whether others would come out later and how many, and whether anyone else would go in meanwhile. Notoriously, St. Augustine late in his life realized he’d be (back to) universal salvation, if this was added to the other details of his soteriology, so he was one of the rare fathers who denied this was about raiding hades at all: he started the idea that Christ time-traveled back to the impenitent sinners before the flood to evangelize them for no good reason other than because He wanted to (I guess) since on Augustine’s theology they must have been non-elect and Christ couldn’t have been empowering them to accept the gospel and be saved (therefore not seriously offering salvation either). But hey, it saved him from having to acknowledge post-mortem salvation of sinners out of hades! :laughing:

Not to derail atonement theories currently being discussed, but I just wanted to clarify my point suggesting that Christ was taking the *power *of sin upon Himself, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Which is a cooperative effort albeit through the Christ’s strength, by walking in the Spirit.

The reason I went this route is because Romans 6-8. If we we are going to be delivered from sin, we have to be delivered by it’s power. We are buried with Him in death, but raised to life by His resurrection. It seems to me that even if we were to take the PSA route as it is with His death, that His resurrection would at least *cause *us to be free from the power of sin, according to Romans 6.

But I think something much more powerful is going on in His death than mere penal substitution here (though I do not know why we would have to abandon PSA altogether in competition with another theory? Why couldn’t Christ’s death have multiple applications? :question: ). Christ’s death has supposedly killed sin in our body whereupon we are to reckon ourselves “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11). But it is a duel function of the death-resurrection that frees us from sin and its power.

Paul gets into a parathentical discourse in Romans 7 about our inadequacies in conquering sin in and of ourselves, and the futility of even trying before returning to the victory over sin through Christ, in which there is no condemnation, in Romans 8.

The power of the law of the Spirit is greater than the law of sin and death:

*"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." - Romans 8"2-4*

Again it is a cooperative effort in walking in the Spirit’s power, as opposed to our weakness of our own disposition. It is a dynamic that goes beyond the mere legal transaction (though I don’t necessarily count that out too).

BTW, a thorough treatment contrasting Penal Substitution vs Christus Victor by Derek Flood can be found here:

Updated the original article today with more discussion of key issues (and more direct refs to various verses in 2 Cor 5,6 and Isaiah 49), especially in regard to the Father and the Son honoring and glorifying each other.