Dale Tuggy: Are the Persons of the Trinity “Selves”?

   Posted by: Rob Bowman   in Trinity

In Dale Tuggy’s response earlier today to my previous post, he says, “Bowman reproduces the common theological saying that the ‘Persons’ of the Trinity are not ‘persons in the modern sense,’ that is, what I call ‘selves.’” This is not accurate. I never said anything about whether the Persons of the Trinity are “persons in the modern sense.” Neither the word modern nor any synonym appeared in my post. What I said was that the term was and is used analogously rather than univocally. This is as true of the ancient Greek word hypostasis or the ancient Latin word persona as it is of the modern English word person. Nor did I deny that the three Persons might be called “selves” but rather emphasized that it depended on precisely how such a term is understood.

This misunderstanding leads Dr. Tuggy to critique my position on the grounds that it is incompatible with certain NT teachings that are actually quite important to my understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Let’s look at these NT teachings briefly.

Dr. Tuggy points out that Christ’s role as the “mediator” between God and man requires three parties or “selves” as he puts it—God, Christ, and the human in need of reconciliation to God. Well, yes, at least in some fashion. It’s a bit more complicated than that, because Jesus clearly is a human and at the same time he is the mediator on behalf of humanity (1 Tim. 2:5). You can see where I as an orthodox Christian would go from that insight: Christ functions as the mediator precisely because he is both God and man. But the point of immediate relevance here is that I agree that Christ is someone other than God the Father, and he is also someone other than the human beings who are estranged from God and in need of someone to reconcile them to God.

Dr. Tuggy also points out that in the NT Jesus and the Father talk to each other, have a friendship with each other, and that the Father tells the Son what to do and the Son obeys. “Statements like these presuppose that God is a self, and that Jesus is a self, and that they are two different selves, and not the same one.” My only objection to this conclusion is that Dr. Tuggy understands self as equivalent to entity or being, as requiring that the two be bounded or separated ontologically as two beings. But I agree with his point, which can be restated in this way: the Father is someone, the Son is someone else, and the Son is not the Father. Indeed, this is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity, which is why I devote a web page of my outline study on the Trinity to defending the proposition that “The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Are Each Someone Distinct from the Other Two.” In that part of the study I point out that the Father sent the Son, that the Father and the Son love each other, speak to each other, and know each other, and that the Son is our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). That last point, of course, is equivalent to Paul’s teaching that Christ is the mediator between God and human beings. So when Dr. Tuggy emphasizes that the Father and the Son are two “selves,” the NT teaching to which he appeals plays an integral role in the doctrine of the Trinity.

In Dr. Tuggy’s view, if the Father and the Son are two “selves” then they are “two beings, and not two modes (personalities, etc.) of one being.” Again, much depends on how one defines terms. I maintain that the Father and the Son are two Persons, which I have defined as two “loci of relationality,” within the one divine Being. (Loci is the plural of locus and refers to points in terms of which a whole is defined, such as the two foci of a classic ellipse.) The divine loci of relationality are not “less than selves,” as Tuggy interpreted me to mean, but are if anything more than finite, individuated human selves. The Persons of the Trinity are fully relational, fully engaged in knowing, loving, and honoring one another, and in a way that transcends our capacities and our comprehension. Their mutuality transcends that among finite creatures because the triune God is one infinite Being, unbounded by the natural boundaries of human selfhood that circumscribe the extent to which we can know someone else.

That Dr. Tuggy has badly misinterpreted my understanding of the Trinity is patent from an illustration he gives. He compares Paul’s salutations (“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”) on a Trinitarian reading to a Christmas card signed “Merry Christmas from the President of the USA, and from Barack Obama.” This is a great illustration—but it illustrates a problem with the Oneness Pentecostal doctrine of God (a modern counterpart to ancient monarchianism or modalism), not with the doctrine of the Trinity. In Trinitarianism, the Father is someone genuinely other than the Son, not another designation for the same someone.

Whenever a critic of the doctrine of the Trinity uses such an illustration, I relax. The criticism has missed its target.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 at 10:34 am and is filed under Trinity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. continuing the conversation with Robert Bowman – different selves, same being? | Trinities    Sep 11 2014 / 4pm:

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