Dale Tuggy

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.


  1. Paul Peterson
    May 26, 2016 @ 1:18 am

    So many substantial points, Dale! I especially appreciate your emphasis on _what the Bible_ has to say about the Trinity.

    Thank you for collating the 10 (or so) steps in this series of posts. I do feel less confused than I was before I started reading them.

  2. Sean Garrigan
    May 22, 2016 @ 10:19 am

    Hi Dale,

    Very nice conclusion to this thought-provoking series, thanks:-)

    It occurred to me that proponents of the ‘Q Hypothesis’, some of whom see “qualitative” bounded nouns around every corner, might re-conceive your statements something like this:

    “God” in 1, 2, and 3 is a purely “qualitative/mass” noun, but in 5 and 6 is it a proper noun functioning as the semantic equivalent of a proper name.

    To exemplify this, imagine that “QEOS” can function similar to the way that PNEUMA (spirit) does, i.e. it can be a bounded noun in one context (Luke 4:33) and a mass noun in another context (John 4:24).

    Luke 4:33 — in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit (PNEUMA/bounded noun) of an unclean devil

    John 4:24 — God is spirit (PNEUMA/mass noun), and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth

    Now the statements look like this:

    1. The Father is God (QEOS=mass noun)
    2. The Son is God (QEOS=mass noun)
    3. The Spirit is God (QEOS=mass noun)
    4. Those three are numerically distinct.
    5. There is only one God (QEOS=bounded noun).
    6. So, this one God (QEOS=bounded noun) is the three of them together. (1-5)

    I trust that three problems will strike most level-headed people right away:

    1. It’s implausible that QEOS would function as a mass noun in any biblical context, the Q Chimera notwithstanding.

    2. Even if we grant the Q Chimera and accept the proposition that QEOS can function as a mass noun in a biblical context, there is an ambiguity here in that the same word is being used in two different ways; and

    3. When most people assert 1-3 they aren’t using QEOS as a mass noun.

    Can you see any other problems with this restructuring of the statements?


    • Nate Tinner
      May 23, 2016 @ 10:07 am

      I’m unsure of what you mean by “Q Chimera”, but as I’ve spoken with numerous Trinitarians, I have begun to suspect that they do mean “God” in a mass noun (i.e. qualitative) sense when describing how each person “is God”. But I can only suspect it, since they typically seem to be somewhat unsure of what they mean by “God”. But “if the Bible says it…” reigns supreme (with a dash of Nicaea), so the discussion tends to break down there…

      In any case, I myself am certainly becoming more open to the notion that “God” simply cannot be a qualitative noun.

      • Sean Garrigan
        May 23, 2016 @ 10:15 am

        Hi Nate,

        I think you’re right that many Trinitarians possibly view “God” that way, especially those who are familiar with the highly-flawed, unvetted thesis presented by folks like P.B. Harner, Paul Dixon, Don Hartley, and Dan Wallace, i.e. that there are “qualitative” count nouns hovering around every corner;-)

        If you’d like a more complete answer about why I refer to their thesis as a “Chimera” (=pure fantasy), then consider my series dedicated to the chimerical “Q Hypothesis”, here:





        There will be at least two more posts coming in the series.


        • Nate Tinner
          May 23, 2016 @ 10:30 am

          Ahhh, I see. I suppose John 1:1 really is the only passage of great concern for me, then, as the only passage where Jesus “is God”. It almost *needs* to be qualitative there.

          • Sean Garrigan
            May 23, 2016 @ 3:59 pm

            “It almost *needs* to be qualitative there.”

            I think that would only be the case if one begins with Dixon’s assumptions, namely, that an indefinite QEOS results in “polytheism” while a definite one results in the demise of the Trinity, or, in sound Christology for a non-Trinitarian. One of the big problems with this approach is that it has caused Trinitarians to invent linguistic phenomenon out of thin air. If your theology requires you to try and effect a paradigm shift in how language functions just so that one solitary text can sit comfortably within that theology, then it isn’t language or the text that needs revision, but your assumptions.

            I’m not a Trinitarian, and I eagerly embrace both demonstrably legitimate renderings of John 1:1c, i.e. ‘the Word was God’ and ‘the Word was a god’. Both renderings require careful unpacking, but neither is a problem for a Christian biblical monotheist.


            • Nate Tinner
              May 23, 2016 @ 9:08 pm



              • Sean Garrigan
                May 23, 2016 @ 10:05 pm

                “*ahem* How?”

                I assume that you are asking me how either rendering is acceptable grammatically, contextually, and theologically, correct?

                The short answer is that it wasn’t that uncommon for divine names and titles to be applied to agents of God, and this occurred in pretty much all forms of Jewish literature that existed at the time the Bible was written, including the OT, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, and the midrashim. Moses is called “G-god” at Exodus 7:1 and he’s also called “god and king of the whole [Jewish] nation” by Philo, a monotheistic Jew, in “On the Life of Moses” (XXVIII); a human King is probably called God at Psalms 45:6 and Isaiah 9:6, both of which were later applied to Christ, but originally referenced a pre-Christian earthly King; angels are called gods in the OT and Dead Sea Scrolls in a number of places; In 11QMelchizedek we find that Melchizedek is not only called “God” but he’s probably called “your God” where “your” is referring to monotheistic Jews; etc, etc, etc.

                This was so common, in fact, that it’s not only not shocking to find divine names and titles applied to Christ, but it would be downright shocking if such names and titles were NOT applied to him. Would this result in polytheism? Only if the other references noted above result in polytheism (they don’t).

                What could John have meant in calling Jesus “God”, definitely? Marianne Meye Thompson clues us in nicely:

                “The opening words of the Gospel raise the problem of Johannine Christology in acute form when they say both that the Word was with God, thereby implying a distinction between the Word and God, and that the Word was God (1:1-2)…introducing the Word as “God” must be understood in light of the strict monotheism of Judaism that became the heritage of Christianity as well…Here the category of agency sheds light. In the rabbinic writings there is reference to the figure of the saliah, which means literally ‘one who is sent’ (see Apostle). A saliah was a surrogate sent on a task or mission with specific instructions and authority to carry it out… A common saying in the rabbis was ‘the one who is sent is like the one who sent him’ or ‘a man’s agent is equivalent to himself’…Because the saliah may act on behalf of the one who sent him, when one deals with the saliah it is as if one is dealing with the one who sent that person…Jesus is presented in the Gospel against the backdrop of the Jewish concept of agency…Clearly the Word was understood as God’s chief and exclusive agent in creation (1:3). Because Jesus is the chief agent of God, when one confronts him, one confronts God.” (Marianne Meye Thompson, in “Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels”, Intervarsity Press, 1992), pp. 376, 377

                In this understanding, “God” is being applied to the Word in a legal sense, not an ontological one. In other words, it’s being applied to the Word because he is God’s chief agent, not because he is divine ontologically.

                The “a god” rendering could also be applied functionally, and this has much going for it, because a careful reading of the Prologue shows that ontological categories aren’t really in view. The Prologue’s development of the LOGOS is relational and functional, not ontological.

                If ontological categories are implied, then the “a god” rendering could suggest that the LOGOS was a powerful deathless spirit being like God. Though is may sound like polytheism, it is in harmony with the biblical presentation of powerful spirit beings as ELOHIM/QEOI. As D.S. Russell put it:

                “…it must be remembered that monotheism, for the Old Testament prophets, had a connotation very different in many respects from that which it has in modern thought. It is false to assume that the Old Testament writers, however exalted their conception of the Godhead might be, conceived of God as alone in isolated majesty over against men, the creatures of his will. There is ample evidence to show that this conception of monotheism was held in conjunction with a belief in a spiritual world peopled with supernatural and superhuman beings who, in some ways, shared the nature, though not the being, of God.” (D. S. Russell, The Method & Message of Jewish Apocalyptic), p. 235

                Larry Hurtado makes an interesting observation about this:

                “Quite a lot could be accommodated in Jewish speculations about God’s retinue of heavenly beings, provided that God’s sovereignty and uniqueness were maintained, especially in cultic actions. I think that we may take it as likely that the glorious beings such as principal angels who attend God in ancient Jewish apocalyptic and mystical texts were intended by the authors very much as indicating God’s splendour and majesty, and not as threatening or diminishing God in anyway. The greater and more glorious the high king the greater and more glorious his ministers, particularly those charged with administering his kingdom.” (First-Century Jewish Monotheism, JBL 71 [1998]), p. 23

                That’s all I have time for tonight.


          • Rivers
            May 23, 2016 @ 7:20 pm


            Saying “the word was God” (John 1:1c) can be interpreted several different ways. It doesn’t have to mean that “Jesus was [absolutely] God.” Also, a “word” (LOGOS) is “what” is actually spoken by a person and thus LOGOS could only be referring to a person (i.e. Jesus) by Implication (cf. Revelation 19:13).

            Later in the 4th Gospel, it’s evident that the Jews understood that Jesus’ personal claim to be “the son of God” (John 10:36) was effectually “making himself out to be God” (John 10:30) and was consistent with what the writer said earlier about Jesus “claiming that God was his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).

            We also have the probable variant reading in John 1:18 where the writer referred to Jesus as “the only-begotten (MONOGENHS) God” which was likely just another way of saying “the son of God” (cf. Psalms 2:7) since MONOGENHS could only refer to the “child” of a Father.

          • Sean Garrigan
            May 23, 2016 @ 9:24 pm

            Hi Nate,

            Now that Rivers has expressed his view, I’ll throw a little more into the mix, as I don’t agree with his understandings in a number of ways.

            For example, at John 10 the Jews almost certainly charged Jesus with making himself “a god”, not “God”. The difference isn’t that important, ultimately, because QEOS is being used functionally, there, not ontologically, which I explain, here:


            I was happy to see that Larry Hurtado endorsed “a god” at John 10 in “How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God”, and from both a contextual and a literary standpoint, it’s pretty clear to me at least that his judgment there is correct. (If you’d like, I’ll provide the page when I have time to locate the book, which is boxed up currently.)

            Also, a number of respected scholars have suggested that “the Jews'” understanding that Jesus was “making himself equal with God” was not the view of the Evangelist, but that the Evangelist was merely stating the view of Christ’s opponents. See “The Sabbath in the Fourth Gospel” by Herald Weiss (JBL, Vol. 110, No. 2, 1991) and Adela Yarbro-Collin’s chapter in Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children, where she observes:

            “…talk about Jesus ‘breaking the Sabbath’ [at John 5] is clearly spoken from the point of view of the opponents of Jesus, not necessarily from the vantage point of Jesus as a character in the narrative or of the audience of the Gospel.” (p. 64)

            Obviously if the claim that Jesus broke the Sabbath was the view of Jesus’ opponents and not necessarily Jesus’ own view, then the “making himself equal with God” part would naturally fall into the same category, as the two issues are inextricably connected in the narrative.

            Yarbro-Collin’s entire chapter is a response to Larry Hurtado’s thesis, and it’s worth a perusal!

            The notion that the Jews sought Jesus’ death because they made Rivers’s connection that “Son of God” = “heir” seems historically unlikely. The unique inheritance of the Son is something that his followers would come to apprehend based on Jesus’ teachings and the help of the holy spirit, but in the historical moment, no one would hear “I’m Son of God” and think, “We’d better kill this guy because he just claimed that he would inherit all of God’s belongings when God dies” (no one thought God was going to die).

            Based on the biblical data, “Son of God” is synonymous with “Messiah” (Matt. 26:63; Mark 14:61; Luke 22:70 & 23:2), and the Jews were determined to believe that Jesus’ Messianic claims were false. How do we know this? Because there wasn’t anything blasphemous about *being* the Messiah, and so the view that Jesus was worthy of death for making the claim had to involve their determination that he couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be the Messiah and so Jesus’ claim had to be a false one. That was the excuse they used to have him put to death, but the real reason was envy and fear for their positions (Matt. 27:18; Mark 15:10; John 11:48).


            • Rivers
              May 25, 2016 @ 8:56 am


              If you read the scriptures, you’ll discover that Jesus was plainly teaching that the Jewish leaders wanted to “kill” him because they understood that his identity as the “son” meant that he was the “heir” and entitled to the “inheritance” of God’s kingdom (Matthew 21:33-38).

              • Sean Garrigan
                May 25, 2016 @ 11:40 am

                “If you read the scriptures, you’ll discover that Jesus was plainly
                teaching that the Jewish leaders wanted to “kill” him because they
                understood that his identity as the “son” meant that he was the “heir”
                and entitled to the “inheritance” of God’s kingdom (Matthew 21:33-38).”

                The account doesn’t say that. They wanted to kill Jesus because of what the parable implied about what was to happen to *them*, not specifically about Jesus as “heir”. As verse 45 clearly says:

                “45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that HE WAS SPEAKING ABOUT THEM. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.”

                It wasn’t his status as “heir” that enraged them, but that the parable implied *their* demise:

                “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”


                • Rivers
                  May 25, 2016 @ 12:16 pm


                  Of course the parable was “ABOUT THEM” because THEY were the ones who were going to “kill” the “son” who THEY knew was the “heir” from whom THEY wanted to steal the “inheritance.” Your point doesn’t change anything that Jesus was teaching about himself in the parable.

                  • Sean Garrigan
                    May 25, 2016 @ 3:50 pm

                    ” Your point doesn’t change anything that Jesus was teaching about himself in the parable.”

                    Nor was I trying to change anything that Jesus was teaching about himself in the parable. What I was trying to do was help Nate to see the critical flaws in the strange connection you’re attempting to make in an effort to show that in every context where “equal with God” or some variation appears it has to do with their perception that Jesus is heir.

                    Even in the account you offered to try and make this connection, heirship is not what enrages the Jews. Rather, their outrage occurred because they inferred that they were the ones referenced in the parable who are guilty of judgment because of how they treated the heir.

                    This is pretty basic, Rivers, I don’t know why you’re struggling with it.


                    • Rivers
                      May 25, 2016 @ 7:33 pm


                      Every time the terms “Father” and “son” are used to speak of the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, it denotes that “the son” is the Father’s heir. Thus, it is a fundamental motif throughout the apostolic writings.

                      Paul illustrated it this way … “as long as the HEIR is a child, he is no different than a slave, even though he [the child] is OWNER OF EVERYTHING, but he remains under guardians and tutors until the day set by the father” (Galatians 4:1-2). Paul also related this explicitly to the obedience of Jesus Christ and his subsequent corronation (Philippians 2:6-11).

                      This is what “equality with God” refers to, and the reason that Jesus and the writer of the 4th Gospel made dozens of reference to the fact that “all things” (knowledge, authority, people, power, glory) had been given to the human Jesus. He was the man “appointed HEIR of all things” (Hebrews 1:2).

                    • Sean Garrigan
                      May 25, 2016 @ 7:52 pm

                      “Every time the terms “Father” and “son” are used to speak of the
                      relationship between God and Jesus Christ, it denotes that “the son” is
                      the Father’s heir. Thus, it is a fundamental motif throughout the
                      apostolic writings.”

                      Not according to biblical usage. In biblical usage, ‘Son of God’ was synonymous with “Messiah”, and “Messiah” was a royal title for the King who would emerge from David’s line. Jesus’ adversaries didn’t go around asking Jesus: “Tell us the truth, are you going to inherent all of God’s belongings?” That sense of being “equal with God” wasn’t on their radar.

                      Paul’s writings are too late to tell us what those who had Jesus executed were thinking. As I said previously, understanding Jesus’ unique status emerged upon reflection and with the help of the holy spirit, and Paul certainly engaged in such reflection with such help. But in the historical moment, no one would have heard Jesus say “God is my Father”, and think: “Hmmm, he just called God his Father, which means that he’s also claiming that he will come to own all of God’s belongings. Why, that makes him equal with God. We’d better kill this guy!”

                      I have a somewhat long piece on my blog about how “Son of God” was understood in Jesus’ day. It doesn’t address your novel view, but Nate might find it interesting:



                    • Rivers
                      May 26, 2016 @ 9:07 am


                      I think what you’re missing is that the Jewish opponents of Jesus didn’t believe that his claim to be “the son of God” was legitimate.

                      I don’t think going the “Messiah” route helps your argument either because the Messiah was to be “the son” of God (Mattthew 22:41-46; Mark 14:61) and hence the heir of God’s kingdom (Psalm 2; Psalms 110). The apostles understood that “the Christ [is] the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

                      Why do you think that an “historical reading” would be more important than an “inter-textual reading”? Is the apostolic testimony the only contemporary “historical” material we have about what Jesus and the apostles were teaching?

                    • Sean Garrigan
                      May 26, 2016 @ 11:02 am

                      “I think what you’re missing is that the Jewish opponents of Jesus didn’t
                      believe that his claim to be “the son of God” was legitimate.”

                      Not at all. The fact that Jesus’ adversaries chose not to accept Jesus’ claims and/or chose to construe them in a way that would serve their evil designs has been part of my exegesis all along, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made the point here.

                      I don’t mean you any disrespect, but I can see why academic journals have refused to publish your articles. Your fundamentalist inter-textual approach is no longer considered valid in the academy, because it assumes that the different writers were always saying the same thing.

                      You obviously don’t realize that your “heir” angle is really a subset of the agency paradigm that you claim to reject. The very things that make Jesus “heir”, i.e. authority, power, the Kingdom, etc., are shaped by the agency model, and are actually a subset of that model.

                      Central to the agency model is the fact that the agent is given a commission along with the power and and the authority to carry it out, and that once the agent’s work is compete, he hands things back to the principal. Jesus isn’t “heir” in the traditional sense, because God isn’t going to die leaving the Son as a permanent owner of His belongs. The Son will eventually give the Father’s belongings back to Him (1 Cor 15) just as all agents do when their commissions have been fulfilled.


                    • Rivers
                      May 26, 2016 @ 2:15 pm


                      The rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders is part of everyone’s exegesis and interpretation.

                      The “agency paradigm” is insufficient because any common slave could be an “agent” (as in the illustration of the difference between the “slaves” who were sent by God, and the “son” who was sent by God in the parable of the vineyard I showed you, Matthew 21:33-37). A “slave” is not an “heir” like a “son” who is the father’s equal as “owner of everything” (Galatians 4:1-2).

                      It certainly isn’t accurate to claim that “heirship is a subset of agency.” I never need to mention the “agency model” at all in order to interpret any of the numerous texts which make the human Jesus equal with God the Father. I even show fellow Biblical Unitarians why the “agency principle” doesn’t work.

                      Your suggestion that “God must die to have a traditional heir” is erroneous. There are numerous references to Israelites attaining “inheritance” from the living God (e.g. tithes given as payment to the Levites, Numbers 18:21) or from an earthly father who wasn’t dead (e.g. the share of the estate claimed by the “prodigal son”, Luke 15:11-12).

                      It seems to me that you are confusing the modern concept of “inheritance” (i.e. typically posthumous) with the biblical concept inheritance (i.e. “adoption” by a living father) described by Paul (Galatians 4:1-6).

                    • Sean Garrigan
                      May 26, 2016 @ 5:28 pm

                      “The rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders is part of everyone’s exegesis and interpretation.”

                      No one said otherwise.

                      You don’t seem to even understand my points, which makes continued dialogue wearisome.

                      The fact that there are different types of agents doesn’t mean that one type of agent isn’t an agent just because his agency differs from another type of agent! I shouldn’t even have to explain this, really, yet I have no doubt that you’ll still miss the point with your next reply.

                      It is indeed accurate to say that the heirship developed in relation to the Son’s relationship with the Father is a subset of agency. The Son was granted power and authority to complete his commission from God, and he will give it all back once his commission as agent/Son is complete (1 Cor 15:28).

                      As I’ve said many times, I’m not into these arguments without end, so I’ll probably wrap up now or very soon. I’ll try and find time to put something about agency up on my blog for those who are interested in what scholars have had to say on the matter.