Dale Tuggy, Personhood, and the Trinity

Unitarian Dale Tuggy perpetuates confusion as to personhood within the Trinity. Forgive my rhetoric here, but I am astonished that some people are convinced by his arguments against the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, belief in which, according to our early Church fathers of the Christian faith, is required for the salvation of the soul: "Whosoever will be saved," states the Athanasian Creed, "before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith [which then expounds upon the doctrine of the Trinity]. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly."

Tuggy begins (all emphases original): "In standard formulations of trinitarian theology nowadays, one says that there is (only) one God 'in three Persons.' But what does this mean? We can ask about how these 'Persons' relate individually or collectively to the one God. How exactly are they 'in' him? But more fundamentally, what is meant by 'Person' here? Some trinitarians will tell you that the answer is, basically: nothing." Nothing? Really? For evidence he quotes St Augustine (all emphases original):
So the only reason, it seems, why we do not call these three together "one person," as we call them "one being" and "one god," but say "three persons" while we never say "three gods" or "three beings," is that we want to keep at least one word for signifying what we mean by "trinity," so that we are not simply reduced to silence when we are asked three what, after we have confessed that there are three. (The Trinity [De Trinitate], VII.11, pp. 228-9, trans. Edmund Hill, modified) (link)
St Augustine's answer is not "nothing," as Tuggy wants his readers to believe. As a matter of fact, Augustine is granting us an answer, a name, when referring to the three individuals of the Godhead: Persons. These three Persons are not three gods; we are not tritheists. There is not one Person masquerading as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as Oneness Pentecostals and Unitarians argue. There is one God, one Being, in three equally divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Tuggy states above: "We can ask about how these 'Persons' relate individually or collectively to the one God. How exactly are they 'in' him?" Here he presents overt and blatant confusion. The three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, do not relate individually "to the one God," nor are the three Persons "in" God, as Tuggy frames the matter, but relate to each other, as anyone possessing personhood relates to another individual possessing personhood. To suggest that there is one God "in three Persons" is not tantamount to suggesting that there are three Persons "in" one God.

This, from my perspective, is so very elementary regarding the subject of the Trinity that I am in a state of shock as to how anyone who devotes his scholarship to this subject, as does Tuggy, misunderstands and misrepresents the core of his main subject. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are God; not three gods, but one God, in three Persons; not three Persons "in" one God, but one God in three Persons. Tuggy contorts orthodox language to his own advantage so as to confuse his readers and gain converts to his heresy. But Tuggy's most evident misunderstanding and confusion relates to personhood itself.

Tuggy writes: "In English nowadays, 'person' often means human being." Popular conception about personhood does not establish definition, philosophical parameter, or context. Personhood can be attributed to angels, demons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the Godhead, as well as to human beings. Tuggy rightly frames personhood as consciousness, but fails to mention self-consciousness, as he writes: "But even worms, probably, are conscious." Worms, however, are neither self-conscious nor are endowed with certain qualities of a mental capacity -- e.g., reason, deliberation, desire -- that attribute to being a person. Hence we cannot attribute personhood to worms.

Dale Tuggy prefers the word "self" to "person." He argues: "Because in trinitarian theology theorists are wont to insist on some special meaning for 'Person,' I have labeled this universal concept as the concept of a 'self.'" Are we Trinitarians accustomed to insist on "some special meaning" for the concept of Person? Tuggy makes us appear as though we are guilty of special pleading. Is this true? Is our concept of "person" different than the perceived "normal" rendering of the word? Let us investigate:

  • The composite of characteristics that make up an individual personality; the self. (The Free Dictionary)
  • The personality of a human being. (Merriam-Webster)
  • The state or fact of being an individual. (Dictionary.com)
  • A human being regarded as an individual. (Oxford)
  • A man, woman, or child; used when describing someone's character. (Cambridge)
  • The most common answer is that to be a person at a time is to have certain special mental properties then. (Stanford)
  • The Latin word persona was originally used to denote the mask worn by an actor. From this it was applied to the role he assumed, and, finally, to any character on the stage of life, to any individual. (Catholic Encyclopedia)
What is the definition of "self"? "The total, essential, or particular being of a person; the individual." (link) What advantage does Tuggy gain by using "self" in lieu of "person"? None. Absolutely none. To be a "self" is to be an "individual" is to be a "person." While Tuggy claims that Trinitarians are accustomed to special pleading, with regard to the word "person," we counter that false claim by emphasizing the fact that we contextualize personhood in the exact same manner as does everyone else.

The authors of Scripture structure the personhood of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, attributing Godhood to each while also distinguishing each. The Personhood and divinity of the Father is assumed. Unitarians (heretics) allege that the Father is God, He is the only Person (or Self, or Individual) that we name God, and no other Person is named given that there is no Godhead. There is only God and He is the Father -- only the Father and He is God. Jesus-Only Pentecostals (heretics) maintain that Jesus is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Trinitarians hold the traditional view of the Church that the Being we name God is the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit; the Son is not the Father or the Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. God, then, is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and each are Persons.

We find divine names applied to Jesus, who is His own Person, just as to the Father and the Spirit (cf. Ex. 3:14, 15 with John 8:56, 58; Ps. 110:1; Isa. 9:6; Jer. 23:5, 6; Joel 2:32; Matt. 1:21; 22:43, 44, 45; Luke 2:11; Acts 2:21, 34, 35, 36, 37; 9:17; 16:31; Rom. 10:9, 13; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11; Heb. 1:1, 2; 1 Pet. 1:7, 8; 5:15; Rev. 1:7, 8, 11; 22:13, 16, 17, 18; 19:13); divine works are attributed to Him (cf. Matt. 19:28; John 1:1, 2, 3; 5: 28, 29, 36; 10:28, 37; 11:25; 14:11; 17:2; Acts 5:31; Phil. 3:21; Col. 1:16, 17; 3:13; Heb. 1:3, 10; Rev. 21:5); divine worship is given to Him as being God and, thus, worthy of such divine adoration (cf. Isa. 6:1-5; Matt. 8:2; 15:25, 26, 27, 28; 28:17; Luke 24:51, 52; John 5:23; 9:38; Acts 1:24; 7:59, 60; 1 Cor. 1:2; Phil. 2:9, 10, 11; 1 Thess. 3:11; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:12, 13, 14), to which divinity and deity Jesus Himself admits (cf. Matt. 10:37, 38; 12:48; Luke 14:26; John 5:23, 25; 8:56, 57, 58; 10:30, 38; 11:4; 14:10; 18:1-5), which otherwise -- meaning, if He were not deity, not God the Son -- would have been overt blasphemy, and deserving of stoning, rejection, and crucifixion.

The Holy Spirit is both a Person and God, since both are revealed thusly in Scripture: maintaining Personhood (cf. John 14:15, 16, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:7-14; Acts 6:9; 7:51; 13:2; Rom. 8:26, 27; 15:30; 1 Cor. 2:10, 11, 12, 13; 12:11; Eph. 4:30; Col. 1:8; 1 Thess. 5:19; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 10:29; Rev. 2:7), attributes of God (cf. Gen. 1:1, 2; Job 26:13; 33:14; Ps. 104:30; 139:7, 8, 9, 10; Luke 1:35; John 3:3, 5; 14:26; 16:13; Rom. 1:4; 8:2, 11; 15:30; 1 Cor. 2:10; 3:16; 12:4-6; Eph. 4:30; 2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 9:14; 2 Pet. 1:21), and mentioned in unity with the Father and the Son (cf. Isa. 48:12, 16; Matt. 3:16, 17; 28:19; Luke 3:21, 22; John 1:33; Acts 2:33; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18; 1 John 5:7, 8). We remain convinced of the church-historical perspective that non-Trinitarian philosophy is heretical, its advocates are unregenerate, and its errors are to be exposed, challenged, and avoided at all costs.


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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.