Dale Tuggy and Anti-Trinitarians: Consequences of Denying the Trinity

Anti-Trinitarian Dr. Dale Tuggy, Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, has long been challenging the concept of the orthodox Christian view of the triune Godhead, and has been engaging Dr. Robert Bowman (here and here). In both responses he has addressed the issue of personhood, or self-ness (or "three-selfnesses" regarding the three persons of the Trinity), and identity. While we Trinitarians deny that the Godhead is comprised of three Beings, since God is one Being in three equally-divine Persons, we can readily admit to the language of God existing in three distinct Selves without relegating those three Selves to three separate Beings and concluding with belief in three Gods .

Dr. Tuggy argues: "Yes, I think that being two selves implies being two beings." The burden of proof, then, is to prove such. He continues: "I think that Mr. Bowman thinks it a matter of definition that the Trinity requires that the Father and Son be two selves, but one being." (link) For Trinitarians, the language of "beings" with regard to the Godhead would imply three separate Gods, an admission toward Tritheism. We do not use the language of the Father existing as a separate Being, the Son existing as a separate Being, and the Holy Spirit existing as a separate Being who are in some sense related to one another. We use the language of God existing as one Being in three equally-divine Persons or Selves; and we do so while also denying Modalism.

However, the use of this language is perceived as deceptive or double-talk by opponents of the Trinity. Tuggy argues:

  1. The Father and the Son are the same God.
  2. For any x and y, and for any kind F, if x and y are the same F, then x is an F, y is an F, and x = y. (x and y are numerically one)
  3. The Father = the Son. (1, 2) (link)
Dr. Tuggy's first premise appears misleading, especially as it is qualified in the second premise, and is concluded in the third: the Father and the Son are not the same, even though the two Selves (or Persons) of Father and Son are both God. To use the strict language of the Father and the Son as being "the same God," in an attempt to make a mathematical equation and thus conclusion, is to somewhat border on conflating and confusing their distinct Selves.

That the Father and the Son share the divine Being, as God, is of no threat to the unity of God -- i.e., that there is but one God. Christian orthodoxy made this clear at Nicea: Jesus is of "one Being with the Father," since God is one Being, yet not one Self; and by Athanasius: "So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God." How one God can exist as three Selves is a mystery of our Christian faith, no doubt; but just because the ontological Trinity is, as the Athanasian Creed states, "incomprehensible," and as St Augustine states, "What is needed is a loving confession of ignorance rather than a rash profession of knowledge. To reach out a little toward God with the mind is a great blessedness; yet to understand is wholly impossible,"1 is not an indication that it -- the conception and reality of the Triune God -- is therefore unorthodox.

For example, that God has always existed, i.e., had no beginning, is entirely incomprehensible; yet Dr. Tuggy and others do not argue against God's eternality on the grounds of not wholly understanding that reality. That the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, existed with the Father from eternity past, and created all that is, seen and unseen, yet could be born as a human being is entirely incomprehensible; yet we cannot argue against the incarnation on the grounds of not wholly understanding that reality. Just because we find the reality of the Trinity -- one God as three equally-divine Persons or Selves -- difficult to articulate or understand does not thereby indicate that God has not revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: one God in three equally-divine Persons.

Dr. Tuggy further insists that "x and y are numerically one." Yet the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three separate Beings, in mathematical terms written as 1 + 1 + 1 = 3; but rather, 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. This is Trinitarian theology 101: x and y may be considered two selves without the demand that x and y be two Gods; without demanding that x and y are two modes of one God (one Self); or that x and y are strictly "numerically one." Therefore the Father ≠ Son. Tuggy insists that premise "3 follows from 1 and 2, so we can't say the argument is invalid." (link) The logic is not in question: what is in question, what is inaccurate, is the philological problem that he himself created in the syllogism: i.e., Tuggy is not at all being fair with regard to Trinitarian theology, but twists his syllogistic logic to his advantage. 

For the remainder, I want to parse our language of "being" and "person" or "self." This is only fair since our use of terms is the controlling agent in explaining our theology. When we suggest that God is one Being, we mean: 1) there is only one God (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:6; 46:9; 47:8, 10; Mark 10:18); 2) God's existence is termed a unified-compound Being; 3) by "God" we include the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy  Spirit (cf. Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; 9:6; Matt. 6:9; John 8:24, 28, 58; Acts 5:3, 4); and thus we find three Persons as one Being we call God. 

No doubt anti-Trinitarians will scoff at our classifying and parsing God as Being vs. God as three equally-divine Persons. For Tuggy, he readily admits that "Self and being are not the same concept," but then argues that "the concept of a self is the concept of a certain kind [emphasis added] of being." (link) Granted that Being and Self (Person) are not the same concept, then we are right to carefully parse the two epistemologically. A snail, for example, can be classified as a being without attaching any notion of self or personhood to the creature. What we are permitted to confess with regard to God as Being, in relation to God as three Selves or Persons, is that "all three persons share the same divine essence."2 (emphasis added) This sharing of the divine essence, what we denote as homooúsios, is the key to understanding properly how God can be called three Selves or Persons in one Essence or Being.

God's Being (or Essence) is often personified in the Old Testament. Aside from God as Father, we also find Wisdom/Word, and Spirit. Dr. Gerald O'Collins underscores the uncontested fact that the "most valuable feature of Wisdom, Word, and Spirit as expressive of the divine activity ... lay in their being not abstract principles but vivid personifications ... Wisdom called on men and women to listen to its message [Word] and to follow it,"3 while the Spirit enabled them to do so.

One could nearly enough assume that the personifications of Wisdom/Word and Spirit merely relate to and mark by inference the activity of God as Father, one Being and one Person, but the questions always remain: 1) How, then, do we explain these vivid personifications as also being distinct from God as Father? and 2) Who, then, are these Persons of Wisdom/Word and Spirit? Dr. O'Collins' conclusion is remarkable, I think: 
The vivid personifications of Wisdom/Word and Spirit, inasmuch as they were both identified with God and the divine activity and distinguished from God, opened up the way toward recognizing God to be tripersonal. The leap from mere personifications to distinct persons is always, to be sure, a giant one. Nevertheless, without these OT personifications (and the Father/Son language applied to God), the acknowledgment of the Trinity would not have been so well and providentially prepared -- by foreshadowings and by an already existing terminology.4 
But what opponents like Dr. Tuggy beg from Trinitarians is how one Essence, or Being, can include three distinct Selves, or Persons. I will confess, though, that, from my amateur opinion, anti-Trinitarians are the philosophical cause of their own problem regarding the Trinity. For when one concedes that three equally-divine, ontologically and economically co-equal, co-eternal Selves possess the same mind, will and intention, then one better understands how three Selves can be conceived as a unified Essence.

Not that God exists as three Essences; nor that God exists as One Being and One Self; but that, as one Essence, God exists in three co-equal and unified Selves. This is a confession that can be made of no other Being in the universe -- that three divine Selves maintain absolute unity, have done so from eternity past, and are conceived of as sharing one Essence. 

I fear that Dr. Tuggy and other anti-Trinitarians are making an historical mistake in their arguments against the ontological Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are "not merely like each other (homoiousios)" -- note Tuggy's statement, "I think that being two selves implies being two beings" -- "but they are of the same essence (homoousios). Thus the three members of the Trinity equally share in the divine being."5 Whereas Dr. Tuggy renders the Father and the Son as two beings, and by logical consistency two Gods, Christian orthodoxy has always argued that two (we mean three) Selves can share the one divine Essence.

He already confessed that "Self and being are not the same concept." Why, then, are we not permitted to carefully hold that three Selves can share the same divine Essence, and that such an insistence -- since this is the manner in which God has revealed Himself to us -- does not logically demand that the three Selves are in actuality three Beings?

Again, in my amateur opinion, those who argue against the Christian orthodoxy of Trinitarianism perpetuate an ignorance not with regard to the ontological Trinity but regarding the economic Trinity. Such persons misunderstand how the Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can share a divine Essence. 1 x 1 x 1 = 1 is an easy-enough equation to grasp and affirm. But how the three relate to the other to form the equation as one is somehow missed. The consequences of a Trinitarian-bankrupt theology are devastating in absolute terms. 

I think Jesus' confession, "The Father and I are one" (John 10:30), is the key to a proper understanding of the economic Trinity. If one were to deny that the Father and the Son, as two distinct Persons, share the Essence of God, then that person argues with those who charged Jesus of blasphemy in the first century. After all, Jesus is the one who makes the claim of being "one" with His Father (John 10:30), and insists on making Himself equal with the Father: "My Father is working still, and I am working." (John 5:17 RSV) Should one deny that this confession was thought as blasphemy, then one is obliged to ignore the reaction of the Jewish leaders: "This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he ... called God his own Father, making himself equal with God." (John 5:18)

Jesus' qualifying His words and actions did not help the situation (John 5:19-20), as He further expounded upon His equality with the Father, and His position of righteous Judge (John 5:21-24). Coppedge writes:
The intimate relationship between Jesus and the Father comes into perspective when toward the end of his time with [His] disciples, Jesus says, "That you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father" (Jn 10:38; see also John 14:10-11; 17:21). Jesus also says, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). His hearers understand the implication and accuse him of blasphemy, "because you, being a man, make yourself God" (Jn 10:33; cf. John 10:36, 38; 17:11, 21-22).6
Anti-Trinitarians are obligated to side with Jesus' opponents and confess that He actually was a blasphemer; that is, if Jesus is not "one" with the Father, the second Person of the Trinity, who shares of the divine Essence. Therefore Jesus' death on the cross could in no manner conceivable have been propitiatory (atoning for our sins), but only an act of justice on the part of those who complained against His blasphemy, thus leading Him to His own crucifixion. 

In short: If Unitarianism is true, then Jesus deserved to die for blasphemy, since He made Himself out to be one with the God of Israel -- a notion all anti-Trinitarians are obligated to hold as objective and primary truth. Dr. Dale Tuggy and other anti-Trinitarians cannot, as is the old adage, have their cake and eat it, too. Either Jesus actually was (and is) divine, and shares in the same divine Essence with the Father (and the Holy Spirit), or He is the greatest blasphemer who ever lived, died a just death for His own sins of blasphemy (God forbid), and did not atone for the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Thus neither did God raise Him from the dead, nor is He seated at the right hand of the Father. In such a case, then, the whole of the New Testament can be rightly tossed in the dustbin of history, as it is full of lies and the worst sort of deception. 

Moreover, the orthodox and traditional Christian religion should be denominated as the grandest deceptive cult in the annals of world history, since it has historically advocated not merely the divinity of Jesus, whom anti-Trinitarians, Unitarians, and Jehovah's Witnesses (et al.) declare is merely human; but has also made Jesus to be equal with the Father (and the Holy Spirit); the Creator of the universe and of all that exists, both seen and unseen; the One who atoned for sins (which He did not, and thus we are, each one of us, still in our sins); and the present-future King of kings and LORD of lords, the rightful future judge of all the earth. If Trinitarianism is wrong, and anti-Trinitarianism or Unitarianism is right, then we have no Savior, we have no redemption, and we have no future with God in His eternal kingdom. This is what is riding on the orthodoxy of classic, economic Trinitarianism.


1 Quoted from Gerald O'Collins, SJ, The Tripersonal God: Understanding and Interpreting the Trinity, second edition, revised (New York: Paulist Press, 2014), 11.

2 Allan Coppedge, The God Who is Triune: Revisioning the Christian Doctrine of God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007), 127.

3 O'Collins, 34.

4 Ibid. 

5 Coppedge, 131.

6 Ibid., 29.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.