[Since the publication of this post, Dr. Tuggy has responded to me on his blog. Check the comments section on this post or on his response post to see our future exchange on the topic.]
Dale Tuggy has presented a challenge to those who believe that “Jesus is God”. You can listen to him present and expound on this challenge on his podcast here. As I am one of those people who believe that Jesus is YHWH, it behooves me to offer a response.
I will preface my comments by saying that I am no philosopher, theologian, or scholar. The extent of my theological education has been 3.5 years of part-time study at a unaccredited institution in an anti-intellectual environment. I recognize that I am at the very bottom of the totem-pole of credibility. However, I have spent a significant amount of time studying these and other theological and philosophical issues on my own time and, at the very least, I do have a mind made in the image of God and so feel at least minimally qualified to engage in the discussion.
Dr. Tuggy presents his challenge in the form of an argument. Here it is:
- God and Jesus differ.
- Things which differ are two (i.e., are not numerically identical).
- Therefore, God and Jesus are two (not numerically identical). (1,2)
- For any x and y, x and y are the same god only if x and y are not two (i.e., are numerically identical).
- Therefore, God and Jesus are not the same god. (3,4)
- There is only one god.
- Therefore, either God is not a god, or Jesus is not a god. (5,6)
- God is a god.
- Therefore, Jesus is not a god. (7,8)
As Dr. Tuggy goes on to say in his commentary on the argument: “The argument is valid. This is just to say, 3 really follows from 1 & 2, 5 really follows from 3 & 4, 7 really follows from 5 & 6, and 9 really follows from 7 & 8. In other words, if there’s a mistake here, it is one or more premises, and not a failure in drawing implications out of them.”
So, how would I respond? Which premise will I deny in order to avoid the conclusion?
Most oneness apologists, I think, would deny premise 2 – “things which differ are two (i.e., are not numerically identical)”. Oneness recognizes distinctions between Jesus and the Father but still strives to affirm their oneness, their numerical identity. I’m not going to do that. I think what Dr. Tuggy calls “a numerical difference” between Jesus is not only part of the explicit and implicit teaching of the NT but should be a crucial part of oneness theology. (I’ll clarify what I mean later.)
Rather, I am going to deny premise 4 – “For any x and y, x and y are the same god only if x and y are not two (i.e., are numerically identical).”. As Dr. Tuggy says, there have been philosophical reasons for denying this premise, but I am not going to come at this from a philosophical angle, not that I think that would be an illegitimate approach. I am going to come at this from a theological perspective.
I think there is a very strong Scriptural reason to deny this premise. My argument is this: The OT records that God has revealed Himself multiple times in ways that can be classified as “numerically distinct”. I am thinking of the so-called “theophanies”. According to the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary a “theophany” is “any temporary, normally visible, manifestation of God”. The word “theophany” comes from two Greek words, theos and phaino, which mean “God” and “appear”, respectively. In simple language a theophany is simply “an appearance of God”. Now, there is some disagreement as to which of the proposed accounts in Scripture are instances of God Himself appearing in visible form. My point can be made with merely one and I think Genesis 18 is an undeniable account of God Himself appearing to Abraham in a visible form. Notice that in Genesis 18 God “appeared to Abraham” in the form of “a man”, that is, in a humanoid form.
I’ll present my counter argument and then elaborate.
- Suppose it is true that “For any x and y, x and y are the same god only if x and y are not two (i.e., are numerically identical).”
- Things which differ are two (i.e., are not numerically identical).
- There were differences between God and the theophany in Genesis 18.
- Therefore, God and the theophany are two (i.e., are not numerically identical). (2,3)
- It is false that the theophany is the same god as God. (1, 4)
- But, it is true that the theophany is the same god as God.
- Therefore, it is false that “For any x and y, x and y are the same god only if x and y are not two (i.e., are numerically identical).” (5,6)
Premise one is simply the supposition of the premise in question. You’ll notice that premise 2 is taken from premise 2 of Dr. Tuggy’s argument. Premise 3 is the first critical premise in my argument. What do I mean by this? First, I think Dr. Tuggy would agree with me that “God” is “an invisible (not-visible) spiritual (not physical) being unlimited in space or time (not confined to a space-time point)”. Second, the theophany in Genesis 18 was a visible, physical being limited in time and space. I don’t think Dr. Tuggy will deny that the theophany was visible or limited in space and time (given that the being was visible to Abraham and thus located at a point in space-time). He might deny that the being was strictly physical. We could argue that, but it is no matter. There are still two significant differences: God is invisible but the theophany was visible and God is not confined to a space-time point but the theophany was confined to a space-time point. I think this is sufficient to establish that there were differences between God and the theophany in Genesis 18. It wouldn’t be reasonable to think that God literally changed or lost his attributes we’ve just laid out in order to appear to Abraham. So, God was the same being (invisible, spiritual, and unlimited in space and time) during this appearance as He was before and after. Therefore, I think premise 3 is true. Premise 4 follows from 2 & 3. Premise 5 follows from the supposition and premise 4, the conclusion that God and the theophany are two. Premise 6 is the second critical premise in my argument. From the very definition of “theophany” I think it is clear that this is true. The theophany is God Himself. The text says that “the LORD (YHWH) appeared to Abraham” (v.1). Throughout the passage, it is “the LORD” that is speaking. After the purpose for which the theophany occurred was served, the text says “the LORD…departed” (v.33). Therefore, I think premise 6 is true. If premise 6 is true, then, premise 5 is false, and therefore, the supposition (premise 1) is false.
I can only see two ways out of this argument for one such as Dr. Tuggy. First, one can deny the concept of “theophany” in the first place. This would translate to a denial of premise 6. Second, one can deny that the differences I’ve mentioned between God and the theophany are significant. This would translate to a denial of premise 3. I don’t think either of these are going to work. As for denying premise 6, one would have to radically allegorize the language of the Scriptures in order to sustain this route. It says “the LORD appeared” and in the form of “a man” no less. I invite the reader to review Genesis 18 in its entirety and judge for themselves if it seems reasonable to think this theophany is someone other than YHWH Himself. As for denying premise 3, I can’t really think of any more significant differences than those between spiritual and physical, visible and invisible, limited in space and time and unlimited in space and time.
CONNECTION TO ONENESS
As I said earlier, a definite distinction between the Father and the Son needs to be a crucial part of a proper Christology. (On that, Dr. Tuggy and I will agree.) However, as I’ve argued so far in this post, this distinction doesn’t need to rule out the possibility of a “oneness” which will allow us to identify the Son as YHWH Himself. In fact, I think the theophany I used as the example from which to launch my argument (and the others in Scripture) serve as a foreshadowing of God’s revelation of Himself in the Son. There are enlightening similarities and distinctions.
As for the similarities, just as the theophany was visible, physical, and confined to a space-time point, so was Jesus Christ. I would also argue that just as the theophany was God Himself (YHWH), so was Jesus Christ. Just as the theophany was God revealed in a “humanoid form”, so was Jesus Christ.
As for the differences, whereas the theophany was a temporary manifestation of God, Jesus Christ is a permanent manifestation of God whose kingdom will be eternal (Luke 1:33). Whereas the theophany was merely a manifestation of God in a humanoid form, Jesus Christ was a real (complete, genuine, authentic) human being (Hebrews 2:17).
It is this last point that I think is the most significant. Jesus Christ was a real human being. I think this is the fact which is often under-appreciated in the oneness camp. We often emphasis the oneness of Jesus with the Father, the earmark of our movement and theology, to the neglect of preserving the proper distinction. We need to emphasize that, as a human being, Jesus had a human mind and consciousness that was distinct from that of the Father. This is how Jesus could relate to the Father as is expressed in his prayers, for example. To deny this would be to turn the prayers of Jesus into Jesus “praying to Himself”, which is obviously unacceptable. The author of Hebrews says that “he had to be like his brothers and sisters [humanity] in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:7). It is, in part, the fact that Jesus is a real human being that qualifies him to make atonement for us and to be our high priest and mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).
At the same time, as we in the oneness camp affirm, Jesus is God Himself, which is why, we believe, He was called God and worshipped as God. Do I claim that this is easy to understand or articulate? No. I affirm with the Apostle Paul that “the mystery of godliness is great: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16).
Now, unitarians are going to object that if Jesus is complete human being then He cannot be God. Perhaps, my argument against premise 4 in Dr. Tuggy’s argument will be a step in the direction of countering that notion.
May God bless us all on our search for truth.