Dale Tuggy and the Biblical Basis of the Trinity, Part 1: Are Essential Elements Missing?

First Council of Nicaea

First Council of Nicaea (325) – unknown Eastern Orthodox icon

In Part VII of my eight-part series of articles entitled “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” I offer the following concluding argument for the doctrine:

A. All the elements of the doctrine are taught in Scripture.

1. One God who is one divine being (see Part I and Part II).
2. The Father is God (see Part III).
3. The Son is God (see Part IV).
4. The Holy Spirit is God (see Part V).
5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, i.e., they are not each other, nor are they impersonal; they relate to one another personally (see Part VI).

B. The New Testament presents a consistent triad of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (God, Christ, Spirit)….
C. Therefore, the Bible does teach the Trinity.

On April 13th, at the 2019 Theological Conference, a Biblical Unitarian meeting in Hampton, Georgia (ironically held at the Calvin Center, owned by the liberal PCUSA), Dale Tuggy devoted part of his lecture, “How Not to Argue from the Bible to the Trinity,” to a critique of the above argument. Unlike the Unitarian-Universalist Association, which has drifted completely away from the Bible and Christianity, the advocates of Biblical Unitarianism generally take a fairly conservative view of the Bible and accept such basic Christian beliefs as the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, in this respect they are more conservative than many pastors and scholars in the PCUSA! Tuggy is a philosopher who blogs on the subject of the Trinity. His critique of the above argument begins just under 17 minutes into the video and ends about ten minutes later. In this post, I will respond to his claim that my argument for the Trinity is unsound. In a second post, I will respond to his claim that my argument is incoherent.

Before he gets to his main criticisms of my argument, Tuggy asserts that I don’t need the second premise, regarding the consistent triad of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament (point B. above). He speculates that I threw it in there because I think only Trinitarianism can explain this premise and that Unitarianism can’t. Tuggy guessed incorrectly here (although I certainly think Trinitarianism explains this information better than Unitarianism). The middle “premise” is needed not because my argument would not work without it but because it anticipates and refutes a possible objection. Specifically, the point about the consistent triadic teaching of the New Testament shows that the doctrine of the Trinity is not cobbling together unrelated elements of biblical teaching. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are coordinated as divine persons in numerous passages throughout the NT in such a way as to confirm that the finding that the NT teaches the deity of each person (established in earlier parts of my outline) is not an accident or a misreading. These three persons—and only these three—are presented to us in the NT as true deity.

Tuggy concedes that my argument is logically valid (minus what he sees as an extraneous premise) but questions whether the argument is sound. His main objection is not that I failed to establish the six elements of the doctrine I stated were essential (note that point A.1. above summarized the first two elements) but that those elements do not mention “a tripersonal god,” or that the three persons “have the same ousia (essence, nature),” or the concepts of eternal generation and eternal procession. For example, he argues that it is a problem that there is no word for the “tripersonal god” in the Bible and that in order to defend the doctrine of the Trinity I needed to justify the use of such a term. In effect, Tuggy is here dictating that the essential elements of the doctrine include more information than the six elements I identified. His argument here fails to engage the basis on which I maintain that these six elements exhaust the category of essential elements of the doctrine. From the six propositions, the doctrine of the Trinity in some form follows. That is, if all six propositions are true, then the doctrine of the Trinity is necessarily true. If any one of the six propositions is false, then the doctrine of the Trinity is necessarily false. Therefore, each of the six propositions is essential, and only these propositions are essential, as elements of the doctrine of the Trinity.

I explain this briefly in the introduction to the article series. Mormons cannot affirm one divine being; Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians cannot affirm that the Son is God; Monarchians cannot affirm that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not each other. Trinitarians—and only Trinitarians—can affirm all six propositions. Therefore, these six affirmations are sufficient to define Trinitarianism, i.e., to distinguish it from other positions.

It is true that I did not include such concepts as eternal generation and eternal procession. These concepts are explanatory devices advanced in mainstream Trinitarianism to explain (at least somewhat) how the Son and the Holy Spirit are differentiated from the Father in eternity. However, one need not affirm these concepts in order to be Trinitarian. For example, one might maintain that the Second Person is eternally the Logos, who is truly God, and that the title “Son” applies to him by virtue of the Incarnation (as a Messianic title, for example). Some people consider this view heterodox, but the view is still a form of Trinitarianism. It clearly is not a form of Unitarianism, Monarchianism, or other non-Trinitarian theology.

Likewise, the expression ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί (“of the same essence as the Father”) found in the Nicene Creed is a way of expressing the deity of the Son that is very significant in the history of Trinitarian theology but is not itself an essential element of the doctrine of the Trinity per se. It was important in the context of the Creed as a way of distinguishing the mainstream Christian view from Arianism, which viewed the Son as a separate and subordinate deity.

Interestingly, the Nicene Creed does not do what Tuggy claims is surprising that the Bible does not do if the Trinity is true: it does not use a special term for the three persons such as “Trinity” or “tripersonal God” or “triune God.” Tuggy faults my argument for failing to include the use of such a term as one of the essentials of the doctrine of the Trinity, yet the Nicene Creed also fails to include the use of such a term. The longer form of the Nicene Creed produced by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 also neglected to use any such terminology. By Tuggy’s own reasoning, then, the Nicene Creed in both of its forms does not constitute an adequate statement of the doctrine of the Trinity! Nor does the Creed speak of the Holy Spirit’s “eternal procession” from the Father. It says that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father,” but does not specify that this procession is an eternal relation.

Tuggy’s objection that my argument for the doctrine of the Trinity is missing essential elements of the doctrine thus misses the mark. It takes important expressions used in Trinitarian theology to explicate or articulate the doctrine and mistakenly claims that these expressions in and of themselves are essential elements or propositional claims of the doctrine.


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3 Responses to Dale Tuggy and the Biblical Basis of the Trinity, Part 1: Are Essential Elements Missing?

  1. Right on. I think many theologians and apologists miss the simplicity of the biblical Trinity in their pursuit of the language of later creeds and confessions. When it comes to proving the Trinity is biblical, we have to define it as Scripture defines it, not try to just use Scripture to hold up later language as if the later language were the primary doctrine. Looking forward to the next article.

  2. Pingback: Dale Tuggy and the Biblical Basis of the Trinity, Part 2: Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Incoherent? | Bowman on Target: Rob Bowman's Blog

  3. Pingback: podcast 261 – How to Argue that the Bible is Trinitarian – Response to Bowman – Trinities

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