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. Dominic Foo
    August 23, 2015 @ 8:55 am

    Hi Dale,

    I wonder if you might consider the following Trinitarian and Christological option:

    Suppose one were to affirm a very strongly modalist understanding of the Trinity whereby the three persons are modes of God in the way in which the biblical unitarian thinks that the Holy Spirit just is a mode of God. We take the word “Son” in the Trinity to simply refer to God’s wisdom or Logos, etc, and is a “son” in this metaphorical sense of being derivative of God’s mind, etc.

    Then we combine this concept of the Trinity with a “Nestorian” Christology whereby the human Jesus Christ is filled with fullness of deity but yet distinct enough from God to be able to stand in personal relationship with God. For even in Orthodox Christology Christ is supposed to have “two wills” anyway, the human and the divine. We could simply identify the divine will with the modalist God and the human will with Christ. Thus if they have two wills, they presumably have two psychologies, two minds, and two “persons” or “selves” in our contemporary sense of the word instead of a hypostatsis. Therefore in the New Testament every use of the word “Son” simply refers to the human Jesus Christ per se in relation to the modalist God.

    Would not this approach the biblical unitarian position and provide a theological framework to express some of the primary theological intuitions of the Unitarian position, e.g. that there is a true distinction between Jesus Christ and God and they have an interpersonal relationship with one another? By clarifying the person of the “Son” in the Trinity to just mean the begotten Word or Wisdom rather than referring to the human Jesus Christ, we can maintain the Trinity while avoiding some of the absurdities which arise should the “Son” in the trinity refer to human Jesus Christ directly.

    This way, one can do justice to the basic biblical unitarian intuitions while being able to come under the broader Latin Trinitarian tradition which tends towards modalism. To my knowledge, while Sabellianism maybe officially condemned, I don’t know of any official condemnation of modalism.

    This line of thought came to me when I encountered the “unitarian” Stephen Nye who was actually a modalist and remained a priest of the Anglican Church all his life.

    • Jaco van Zyl
      August 24, 2015 @ 3:25 am

      Not to answer for Dale, but aren’t you assuming that Jesus’ internal conflict was between his human and Divine minds? If that was the case, then the human Jesus shouldn’t get any credit for his obedience. If, on the other hand, one allows the untheologised text to speak for Jesus, then we see an Adamic Jesus choosing between his own urges to self-preserve on the one hand, and obey his Father’s will on the other. Both are aspects of the same human mind.

      That would be true Biblical restorative Unitarianism. And I don’t think there’s any desire to join Trinitarianism of any kind.

      • Dominic Foo
        August 24, 2015 @ 5:31 am

        I am assuming that Jesus internal conflict was between his own human will and the divine will. After all, not my will but thine be done, etc. I don’t see why the fact that the conflict is between his own human will and the divine will should be any less meritorious than if it were between a will for self-preservation and his Father’s will.

        (Although it is tricky to attempt to argue against a theological point based on considerations of what constitutes true merit because of all kinds of moral luck considerations, etc)

        • Jaco van Zyl
          August 24, 2015 @ 9:58 am

          But that is where the problem lies: introducing something special which in fact was normative. Hence my referring to Jesus as Adamic. His struggle was no different from Adam’s which by no means requires the kind of schizoidal ontology pushed for my modalists. Keep it uncluttered and uncontaminated.

          • Dominic Foo
            August 24, 2015 @ 10:02 pm

            I don’t see why something being normative is mutually exclusive to it being special. Don’t forget that Christ was baptised and anointed with the Holy Spirit before being driven into the wilderness. His situation with Adam cannot be utterly identical.

            • Jaco van Zyl
              August 26, 2015 @ 5:11 am

              I thought what happened with Jesus was so unique that it required special interpretation such as by the later Gentile philosophers, precisely since Judaism explained it inadequately. Now you’re saying something different. You might want to explain what you mean by normality not necessarily excluding the special. You might also explain whether the special in Jesus case was special in kind or special in degree.
              On your second point, Jesus being anointed by holy spirit and driven into the wilderness was again a way of being possessed by God’s spirit such as what typically happened to ancient mystics/sages. But Jesus’ struggles were not unique. His being confronted with choices of either self-preservation or self-denial for God’s sake was a rerun of the Eden story; only this time with glory as consequence as opposed to condemnation (Romans 5, Php. 2:6-11). So Jesus was Adamic in the true sense of the word fulfilling God’s initial plan as opposed to failing in it.
              Insisting on the kind of eisegetical leaps required by later councils is problematic.

    • Dale Tuggy
      August 27, 2015 @ 10:09 am

      Hi Dominic,

      Thanks for this excellent comment. I think that this was probably what most of the so-called monarchians were up to. Yes, this is arguably consistent with both biblical unitarianism, with “Socinian” views about God and Jesus, and also, I think, with what some theologians call “Spirit christology.” The basic idea is that there is a divine element in Jesus – but it’s just God himself, contra the logos theologians and their descendants. I think a historical case for this needs to be made, looking at everything that the “monarchians” were alleged to say in our extant sources – but I don’t know when I’ll get around to this, and I may not be the best person to do it. Nathaniel Lardner already has done this, pretty well as best I can tell. Not only this, but they claimed that they were the historical mainstream, that the logos theologians were the innovators. This may be what unitarians need to answer the taunt / objection that no sizable body of mainstream Christians in ancient times held such views. But this requires thinking, uncharitably, that many of the ancient logos theologians badly misunderstood the motivations and views of their opponents.

  2. Jesus and God sitting together | Blogging Theology
    August 18, 2015 @ 1:11 pm

    […] a recent post Professor Dale points out some ways in which Jesus differs from God, in the portrayals of the New […]

  3. Jonathan Jensen
    August 17, 2015 @ 5:52 am


    Yeah, I’d say that the original video uses a lot of specious argumentation. It confines possible interpretations to being that Jesus can only be God, without possibly entertaining the other possibilities.

    Some errors that I noticed were:
    1) relating Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” to God, rather than to “David” in Ezekiel 34, which is what Jesus was referring to by the context (where a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, while the wicked shepherds care nothing for the sheep).
    2) relating Jesus as judge to God, when all the messiahs judged, and God had appointed judges over Israel, having spoken through the prophets that the awaited Messiah He would make His firstborn, appointing him over all nations. They consistently seem to gloss over this, or imagine it that to judge, you have to have a certain caliber of power capacitance — like a “mere man” couldn’t possibly have the *ability* to wield such immense power. I have actually heard this argument.
    3) relating Jesus as savior to God – using tunnel vision to direct people to where only God *SAVED THEM OUT OF EGYPT*, claiming that only He is a *GOD* Who has ever saved His people, in contrast to other, false gods in particular – while neglecting that both the Old and New Testaments (in case we thought there may be some misunderstanding) call other people saviors, such as Gideon, Moses, and Noah.

    These usually seem the big ones that people are blinded by. I think you’ve also done a nice job asserting the differences that you mentioned and backing them up thoroughly.