Marketing in Confusion: A Response to Dale Tuggy, Part 2

 For Part 1

Right Out of the Gate

It suffices to say that I was immediately struck by the opening sentence and the error inherent in it:

In trinitarian tradition, the one God is the Trinity.

Notice the problem? If not, read the sentence again, slowly.

The problem is literally the matter of the article “the”. I mean, there are other problems but for the purpose of this examination, we need to focus in on the use of language, and the language that the writer, assuming that this is Tuggy, uses is very important. 

With that being said, note the two related phrases in his opening volley “the one God” and “the Trinity”. One needs to ask, does Tuggy define these two phrases anywhere in his presentation?

Reading through, I cannot find any sufficient definition of what Tuggy means by “Trinity” or “the Trinity”. But he does give us a definition of “God”, at least as far as what needs to be concerned, and he does this in the first premise of his stated argument: when Tuggy says “God”, what he means is “Yahweh”, the god of Israel.

However, before he gets to this definition, he begins with an example that is necessary for his argument to proceed, what he calls, “a foundational, unanalyzable concept that [we]already have and regularly use: the concept of numerical identity or sameness.” To demonstrate this concept, he gives us three examples, but I will only focus on his first and last examples: the example of a rock and the biblical example of Abraham.

Regarding the example of a rock, he writes,

Out hiking, you point and say: “There is a big rock!” You’re asserting that (1) there is big thing over there – call it b, (2) there is a rock over there, call it r, and (3) that the one just is the other, that b = r (and vice versa). So in some existence claims, you’re employing the concept of numerical identity (=). 

And while serviceable, this example is lacking something that is important to the discussion: that identity is categorically nested. There is the category of “rock” to which one must necessarily appeal to categorize reality, and there’s the category of “size” to which “big” could necessarily be applied. However, his example is lacking an additional category. 

Let’s move this example to another moment, let’s say the next day, you’re hiking again, and you see a different rock that is also big, and you point it out to your companion. Does that mean that the “big rock” you saw just the day prior morph into this new rock or did the category of what could qualify as a “big rock” simply gain another example? Let’s say that you go another day and see a third “big rock”.

But what is this additional category that is necessary?

Let’s say that some days later you and your hiking companion are recounting your excursion to a third party and you happen to say to your companion, “Hey, remember that big rock we saw?” and you companion asked for clarification so that he would know which “big rock” you’re specifically referring to so that he could make the connection.

And herein lies the problem, one “big rock” has numerical identity only as far as it is unspecified among other “big rocks”.

His third example is equally troublesome.

…[Suppose] you’re reading Genesis for the first time, and not paying attention very well, you’re thinking this “Abram” is one character and “Abraham” is another. But the, you suddenly realize your mistake, and you as it were collapse the “two” of them into one. You now see that Abram just is Abraham, and vice-versa.

The question is, if you’re actually reading the story of Abram/Abraham how could you possibly confuse the two, unless you skipped his renaming at the initiation of God’s covenant with him in Genesis 17:5. It is at this point where Tuggy plans to make his argument, in this “confusion”, because this one man has his name changed. But there are other men (and one woman) who have their names changed: Jacob (Israel), Joseph (Zaphenath-paneah), Daniel (Belteshazzar), Esther (from Hadassah). Names, however, are not merely markers for identity; in the biblical narrative they are meant to symbolize other aspects, namely changes in relationships or trajectories in life. While there is a correlative numerical aspect, each is one person--in numerical terms--, that doesn’t affect their ontological status. Something that Tuggy seems to understand, when he writes,

In sum, don’t confuse numerical identity (aka numerical sameness) with qualitative identity/sameness. Human “identical twins” are by definition (normally) qualitatively the same (to a high degree) but if they are twins they can’t be numerically the same. (As twins, they are two similar things, not one thing.) Notice that similarity comes in degrees and kinds, but it seems that numerical sameness does not; it is all-or-nothing, and doesn’t come in various kinds. (emphasis original)

Indeed, we wouldn’t necessarily think that twins are the same person. To do so necessarily confuses the who with the what.

The WHO and the WHAT

For a moment, let’s consider the example of twins who are named Burt and Ernie.

Burt and Ernie are the who in this equation, and twins is what they are. But they also fall under an additional what-category of “human”. That is to say that when we speak of Burt and Ernie as individuals (numerical-category) we are not confusing their what-category of either “twins” or “humans”. That is, what makes them “human” or “twins” isn’t dependent on whether or not Burt is/isn’t Ernie or Ernie is/isn’t Burt, but what makes them human is necessarily related to the same thing that makes them twins (born to a human mother who conceived and carried them concurrently); however their being humans, while related to their being twins, isn’t dependent on what makes them twins. That is to say that we hold one aspect of their ontology (human) in distinction to another (twins) while also distinguishing their identity (Burt and Ernie). Burt is not Ernie, Ernie is not Burt, but they are both humans while not being the same human because they are twins.

But let’s suppose for a moment that Burt and Ernie were conjoined twins that shared the same heart, the same lungs, the same digestive tract, but were two separate heads with two distinct personalities. Are they then one person or two since they share the same body? Are they one human or two?

It depends on how careful that we are with our categories at this point because, on one hand, we could say that there were two humans--regarding personality--but also one human regarding shared physical space or even essence. If either Burt or Ernie, in the instance of the conjoined twins were to become separated from the body (essence) that they share then one or the other would cease to exist in that body but their individual human-ness would remain.

Regarding Tuggy’s example of Abram/Abraham, then you can see where the example is going, but you can also see what he is willing to exclude.

Tuggy’s focus on one, single category of “numerical identity”, namely that, “[only] a single thing/entity/being can be numerically the same as itself,” has been shown to be problematic in the human category--regarding the example of conjoined twins--, the question is how much more problematic can it be when he attempts to apply it to the divine category, where the limits of essence don’t exist in the same way that they exist in the created world. More importantly, how does his interpretive framework interfere with unambiguous statements and force the multiplication of entities, violating principles of simplicity in interpretation.

The Unitarian Sidestep

One of the ways that Tuggy attempts to get around this obvious problem is by either ignoring what Trinitarians have said, or deliberately misrepresenting their positions.

The clearest example of this, in the article, is found in his argument wherein he will attempt to show that, “some clear claims of biblical theology together with claims needed by any Trinity theory…are incoherent, as they imply a contradiction.”(emphasis original)

Now, I will assume that by “Trinity theories”, he means that theologians have spent considering the relationships of the Persons in the Godhead throughout history and have developed what could be construed as multiple competing theories regarding how that relation has operated throughout eternity. Tuggy has written an article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that covers most of them, but still evidences confusion about what such terms mean.

However, any theory, much like the various theories of atonement that exist, should only be rejected or valued on one primary basis: whether or not they affirm or deny the long held, long established definition of the Trinity that has been held by the church:

Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal Persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[1]

This distinction of Persons is most clearly seen in the New Testament; however, Jewish theology, prior to the Christian era was notoriously complex, built around a recognized concept of “divine agency” with regard to representing God, seen in figures such as Moses or the fabled Enoch, or the various angels, such as Michael.[2] However there was a recognition that there were other such agents who were different than the angelic or human messengers, possessing qualities of divinity that placed them in a role second only to God himself, but doing so in a way that didn’t compromise God’s identity.[3] Moreover, this “chief agent” could be venerated as God without compromising the worship due to God.[4]

This was due to the fact that early interpreters derived an apparent double-manifestation of God from their reading the text of Scripture.[5] To prevent any understanding of polytheism, there was an insistence that the second manifestation didn’t operate with any independent motivation, but stood in perfect unity with God, thus closing any avenue for the even the possibility of conceiving of a competing second deity.[6] The unity of God was seen by the fact that this double-manifestation was named together in the Decalogue and that it appeared together at its issuance.[7] As Jewish scholar Alan Segal has noted,

The argument that two figures or manifestations of God are possible  is separable from the argument that God has two attributes, one just and the other merciful. Of course, they are related ideas. But what they share is a dependence on exegesis either of the repetition of the name of God or the different names of God in the scripture.[8]

While those ancient interpreters, looking at the Old Testament context, could clearly see two manifestations of God while maintaining their purposeful or even ontological unity as the same God, it should cause us to pause and ask, what exactly is Tuggy missing or refusing to consider?[9]

What is it that “implies a contradiction”?

His argument. He lays out his argument like so:

1. God is just Yahweh.

2. Yahweh is just the Father.

3. God is just the Father. (1 & 2)

4. God is just the Trinity.

5. It is not the case that the Trinity is just the Father.

6. The Trinity is just the Father. (3 & 4)

Knowledgeable Trinitarians look at this argument and scratch their heads because it represents no historical understanding of Trinitarian thought or definition. Moreover, the language that Tuggy employs in his argument is troublesome.

For example, when he uses the adverb “just”, in what sense does he mean for it to be understood? Does it need to be understood as “exactly” or “in actuality” or “barely”? Indeed if we consider that the verb “is” to serve as an equal sign between the two, and reverse the equation, does the implication carry the same force as Tuggy’s phrasing?

He gives us some insight into this by explaining what the premises mean to him.

Regarding premise 1, he writes that, “…throughout the [Old Testament]…Yahweh is the proper name of the one God there. Yahweh is not supposed to be one being while God is another.

There is some sense of truth to that, in the sense that, whenever “God” is referred to, in the context of the Old Testament, the god that the writer is referring to usually is Yahweh. For example, in Micah 4:5, the prophet writes,

For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. (ESV) 

Here, the prophet clearly is contrasting the gods that were named by the peoples around him at the time with the name of Israel’s god Yahweh, with the all-caps “LORD” standing in for the underlying, unpronounced four consonants Y-H-W-H.

However, sometimes things get switched around because other terms are used, such as in Psalm 68:20, where the psalmist writes,

Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death. (ESV)

Here, behind the all-caps “GOD” lie the four consonants of the Tetragrammaton, whereas “Lord” is used to translate the Hebrew word adonai. Interestingly, this psalm, becomes the backdrop against which Paul cements his identification of Jesus as Yahweh in Ephesians 4 by citing 68:18.[10] The connection to this verse is that the small-caps caps “Lord” appears with the all-caps “LORD” in a passage that is directly tied to a verse which becomes contentious for the identity of Jesus in a question that Jesus poses to his critics in Matthew 22, a question drawn from Psalm 110:1.

It suffices to say that there is a reason to assess the uses of “LORD God” alongside uses of “Lord GOD” as not so much synonymous but serving as intentional distinctions between divine Persons built around the use of the Tetragrammaton paired with or distinguished from “Lord”, and the subsequent identification of Jesus with the “Lord” of Psalm 110:1, especially when one moves from the Old Testament into the New.[11]

This prior distinction of Persons might seem to pose a problem for numerical identity given Tuggy’s assumptions and a priori commitment to the premise that “God is just Yahweh”, as if “Yahweh” exists singularly and without distinction. This is definitely at odds with the above demonstrated evidence that Yahweh is clearly distinguished from other gods by at least two, separate and distinct manifestations. But how can one god be multiple manifestations without multiplication of numerical identity?

This is where that prior appeal to properly maintained categories of ontology (the What) from identity (the Who) come into play. As Louis Berkhof has surmised,

Human nature or essence may be regarded as a species, of which each man has an individual part, so that there is a specific (from species) unity; but the divine nature is indivisible and therefore identical in the persons of the Godhead. It is numerically one and the same, and therefore the unity of the essence in the persons is a numerical unity.[12]

One of the issues that leads to such a failure of reasoning is that our definition of what constitutes what a “god” is, as a class of being, is fundamentally unbiblical

For the biblical writer, the term “god”, which comes from the Hebrew word elohim, could be applied broadly to a number of different entities: Yahweh, the gods of the nations, what we call “demons”, even dead humans.[13] Our problem is that we have pared the biblical concept down to one thing (Yahweh), defined by a specific set of attributes, when the biblical concept of “god” is broad and varied.

This is not to say that Yahweh is one among equals, like the polytheistic pantheons of interchangeable deities.[14] Rather it is to say that there is something about Yahweh that distinguishes him from the other gods, both qualitatively and personally, in order to say that Yahweh is “species unique”.[15]

That is to say that once we have a firm grasp of the biblical concept of “god” as a class of being, something like a biological genus like feline or canine, that is populated by various unique species then we can see Yahweh for what he is: distinguished among that class by a particular set of unique attributes.

One of those attributes being multi-personal.

For Part 3


1. James R. White. The Forgotten Trinity, Revised Edition. Bethany House Publishing. 2019. p. 30 (ePub)

2. Larry Hurtado. One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, Second Edition. T&T Clark Publishing. 1998. p. 17

3. Ibid, p. 18

4. Ibid, p. 19

5. Alan Segal. Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism. Brill Publishing. 2002. p. 38

6. Ibid, p. 37

7. Ibid, p. 38-9

8. Ibid, p. 39

9. A more thorough discussion of this subject can be found here.

10. Michael S. Heiser. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Lexham Press. 2015. p. 291-4

11. Segal, p. 205-209

12. Louis Berkhof. Systematic Theology. GLH Publishing. 2017. p. 63

13. Heiser, p. 30

14. Ibid, p. 31

15. Ibid, p. 32


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