Who Should Christians Worship?

Here’s a screencast version of a talk I gave in Atlanta at the 2012 Theological Conference sponsored by the Atlanta Bible College. My thanks to the hosts and audience there for a good discussion.

This version is a bit longer, and I’ve tweaked my definitions of idolatry, I hope making them more accurate.

I believe an actual video of my talk will eventually be posted at the 21st Century Reformation website. The Atlanta version is more conversational and has film of me talking, and I believe it will include the Q&A that followed. I will post links when they are available.

Part 1:

Part 2:

About Dale

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

16 Responses to Who Should Christians Worship?

  1. J.S.P. says:

    Hi Dale,
    I appreciate your quest to define your terms better. I wonder, however, if debating someone who is apparently certain that he has a coherent model of the trinity would help you on your journey. Olivianus (http://eternalpropositions.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/time-to-edit-those-reformed-confessions/) may be a good person to interact with, although he may have some rough edges. I would like to see what comes of such an interaction.

  2. Pingback: trinitarian or unitarian? 5 – Origen’s Against Celsus – Part 1 (Dale) » trinities

  3. Pingback: Linkage: White vs. Navas – Does the New Testament teach “the deity of Christ”? (Dale) » trinities

  4. villanovanus says:

    If you want to learn a bit more than the “logic arguments” that Dale considers not only (and rightly) so important, but also (wrongly) so exhaustive, perhaps you will want to look at my Journal at Beliefnet, post The “worship” due to Jesus.


  5. T A says:

    Well deduced. I would add one comment to correct a misunderstanding. N.T. scholar/titan James G. Dunn “Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?” does in fact, as you suggest, support that worship of Jesus as God developed later in the 1st century, probably spurred on by the gospel of John and Revelation. Larry Hurtado, whom you mentioned along with Dunn in support of a later development of worship, actually quite opposes Dunn, and holds that a binitarian form of worship developed fairly early on…he calls the early mutation of monotheistic understanding and fresh cultic devotion as “an explosion” in modifications, attributing it to as early as Paul’s time. Having read both writers extensively on this matter, I would direct readers to Dunn in support of your conclusions, but not in the direction of Hurtado, who opposes Dunn’s position of a “late deveopment of worship of Jesus” at every turn. They are at odds with one another on this point.

  6. Dale says:


    Thanks for your comment. I do hope to interact with more such people. If you look at my published papers, I have in fact “debated,” in philosophy of religion journals, with a number of theorists. Of course, in such a venue, the focus is less on biblical interpretation and more on coherence. But actually, I think biblical issues are more important.

  7. Chris S says:


    I know this is an old post, but I am new to the site and am exploring all of the content.

    Regarding worship, I am confused about what you believe. Do you worship Jesus as a god? Do you differentiate the types of worship offered to God the Father and the Son?

    It seems like you offer comparable worship to Father and Son, with the son a god and the Father the God. How is this not polytheism? Two “gods” are being worshipped.

  8. Dale says:

    Hi Chris,


    On the proper, monotheistic definition of “God” there’s only one. So no, I don’t worship Jesus “as a god”, i.e. thinking that he’s a god. In the monotheistic sense, only the Father is a god. I worship Jesus as the unique Son of God, because of what he’s done for us, and because God has raised him to the highest position under him, that all should confess him to be Lord, to the glory of God.

    As I explain towards the end of the lecture here, I don’t think one can really meaningfully distinguish kinds of worship, so as to say that the higher kind goes only to God, and the lower kind to the Son. This is, though, what many unitarians have said.

    How is this not polytheism? It just isn’t… perhaps you’re assuming that a being can be properly worshiped if and only if it is god? I deny that. If God exalts his Son for us to worship, then we must do that, even if that Son is not a god.

    I hope that helps.

  9. Jaco says:

    “As I explain towards the end of the lecture here, I don’t think one can really meaningfully distinguish kinds of worship, so as to say that the higher kind goes only to God, and the lower kind to the Son.”

    I’m wondering about this, Dale. From a cognitive psychology perspective, I do think this is possible. Take for instance the emotive responses one has toward different authority figures. A junior lecturer, for instance, deserves honor and respect, and perhaps receives that. But someone like a dean of a faculty, with years of experience, perhaps an amazing character and sincere interest in students will evoke a different devotion-related response among students. Knowing the person, their qualities and character, directs one’s sense of devotion and respect toward that person. This is the case in all our relationships. Hence my position that it is not worship per se which determines who the recipients are. It is the position, authority and character of the recipients which determine the relationship and worship rendered them.

    Just my thought…

  10. John says:

    Also I think there is probably a considerable difference in the respect we give to a ‘principal’ – as opposed to his ‘agent’.

    There must also be a difference to the respect given to Christ as ‘intercessor’ between man and God — and God himself.

    These differences may not be apparent from a few words appearing on a page of text. – but as you say,
    those participating in the scenes depicted would have a very definite opinion as to what was going on.
    (for example Acts 7 v 59)

    Every Blessing

  11. Dale says:

    Hey gents,

    I think we probably agree. Let me explain my meaning a little more. I say, I can’t draw a distinction *in terms of the actions alone*, like in your bodily motions. Jaco, your example brings this out. For both the Dean (or more exp. guy) and for the young prof, I stand up straight, address them as Dr., defer to them, listen to them, and so on. Mentally, of course, I regard them diferently, and my motives differ somewhat in the two cases. But someone observing would say I treat the two much the same.

    Contrast that with this case: I owe my wife love, and I owe my daughter love. But not the same kind of love! We would all agree here on the sorts of different actions appropriate to wife-love and to daughter-love on my part. Here, there is clearly a higher and lower “worship” (honor).

    I think we can’t do that with God and Jesus. To both, we pray, sing, meditate upon, talk to, bow to, exalt in word, obey. It’s more like the dean vs. the prof.

    If someone asks me, “Do you worship Jesus as God?” I think the question is ambiguous. The answer is Yes, if they mean, do I do to Jesus the sorts of things I do to do God. But the answer is No, if they mean, do I worship Jesus out of a belief that he is God. I worship him not as God (i.e. not in the recognition that he’s God) but rather as Son of God and exalted Lord.

    So, I worship for God and for Jesus, you can say, does differ, if you’re including the motives in the action. This lies plain on the face of Rev 5. Note the reasons cited for praising the two of them – they’re different!

    But outwardly, they sing the two of them a song, bow to them. So in a sense, the worship offered is the same.

    What do you think?

  12. Jaco says:

    Dale, I think we agree. And, as always, I love your clarity. Thanks!

  13. John says:

    That is ‘spot -on’!
    One always has to take into account what is going on in the minds of the participants for each scene depicted.
    Sometimes ‘mere words’ will not suffice!
    This is well inderstood in the field of psychiatry – and even the Law.

  14. Chris S says:


    Thank you for taking the time to respond.

    I still struggle in understanding how the humanitarian unitarian view isn’t polytheism.

    Let me try to explain why I struggle.

    In my understanding of your view:

    1). Both Jesus and the Father are called theos in the Bible. The Father is called theos most consistently in the NT, but in places like John 20:28, Jesus is called theos as well.
    2). Humanitarian unitarians worship both Jesus and the Father.
    3). Two different persons are worshiped. Both are called theos in the Bible.

    How does this not result in polytheism? There are two persons, each called theos in the NT, being worshiped.

    I am still trying to understand the unitarian arguments, so maybe you can help point me to some resources for further study.


  15. Hi Chris,

    “1). Both Jesus and the Father are called theos in the Bible. The Father is called theos most consistently in the NT, but in places like John 20:28, Jesus is called theos as well.”

    Lot’s of folks were called G-god(s) (ELOHIM, QEOI, QEOS) in the Bible and in the literature of the time, such as Moses, judges, kings, angelic beings, etc, but only one of them was God Himself (=YHWH). Since the ancients were able to accommodate such usage with no problem, why should it be a problem for us?

    “2). Humanitarian unitarians worship both Jesus and the Father. 3). Two different persons are worshiped. Both are called theos in the Bible.”

    Again, lots of folks were called G-god(s) in the Bible and in the literature of the time. As I’ve said elsewhere:

    “Once we recognize (a) the flexible use of such divine titles in the biblical period among monotheistic Jews, and (b) the contexts in which such applications were considered appropriate, then we come to realize something we might not have expected: Not only is it not surprising to find divine titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament, but it in light of his unique status as God’s agent par excellence, it would be downright shocking to find that such titles were not applied to him!”

    Regarding the worship of Jesus, if this is in fact what his happening in the NT (I differ from Dale, here, somewhat), then the biblical qualifications offered help us to recognize why and how such behavior is appropriate. It’s not because Jesus is God himself, but because our treatment of Christ is “to the glory of God the Father.” I have been told that Jesus’ inclusion as a central figure within the context of a sacred meal is an inclusion in worship, yet in that very context Jesus is the sacrifice, not the God to whom it is offered. IMO, it seems pretty hard to justify an inference to polytheism from such religious practices.

    So I think the answer to your questions can best be discerned if you simply restructure them away from the assumptions that inspired them and towards the biblical answers:

    1) Why is Jesus “called” G-god in Scripture.
    2) Why is Jesus included as a central figure in the context of religious worship?


  16. John says:

    As Sean has noted above, ‘theos’ is used both of Christ and ‘God’ in the NT.
    Please see Strongs Greek Concordance reference 2316

    (i) If ‘theos’ is preceded by the definite article it refers to ‘the God’ -the one and only Lord God Almighty.

    (ii) If ‘theos’ is not accompanied by the definire article to can refer to ‘a god’

    In the scriptures we are told that ‘those to whom the word/law was given were ‘gods’
    This includes Judges. Prophets etc.

    As Messiah Christ was certainly ‘a god’

    Thus we have the drama depicted in John Chapter 10 where Christ was described as ‘theon’ but without the definite article – i.e. ‘a god’

    Christ did not deny this, after all he had just declared that he was The Messiah, but insinuated that the Pharisees wre being hypocritical – since they themselves were ‘gods’. See Psalm 82, and they accused Him of blasphemy simply because he had called himself ‘Son of God’


    All is not as it seems.!

    I often try to put myself in Thomass’ position. If facing the risen Christ I would have –

    – Uttered ‘my Lord’ – acknowledging the presence of the risen Christ
    -Uttered ‘my God’ – acknowledging Gods role in the resurrection.

    Consider the words of the Greek text

    ‘ ho kyrios mou kai hp theos mou’

    The Lord of me and the God of me.

    The Granville Sharp rules state that where one has –

    -two nouns not being proper names
    -each preceded by the definite article ‘ho’
    -and joined by a conjunction ‘kai’

    then we have TWO persons in view – in this case ‘Christ’ and God’

    Trinitarians continue to distort the scriptures- no doubt for theological reasons.

    Every Blessing

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