Clarifying Tuggy’s Pneumatology

I admit that I’m a real fan of Dr. Dale Tuggy’s work and podcast, and his argument against modalism about the Son had some impact on me some time ago. In the spirit of discussion and respect, I’d like to ask Dr. Tuggy to clarify his pneumatology (or view on the Holy Spirit).

What has puzzled for some time is how much of what he says about God and Jesus straightforwardly applies to the Holy Spirit as well. Given a few truths that he has said on multiple occasions seem self-evident, and given a straightforward reading of just a couple of scriptures (for starters), it seems like Tuggy should accept that the Holy Spirit is neither numerically identical to God, nor to Jesus.

Truths about God and Jesus

In what he has called his “challenge” to “Jesus is God” apologists, the first three premises of his argument are the following:

  1. God and Jesus differ.
  2. Things which differ are two (i.e., are not numerically identical).
  3. Therefore, God and Jesus are two (not numerically identical). (From 1, 2)

Tuggy then lists a number of ways that God and Jesus differ, such as the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead, but Jesus was raised by God from the dead, and the fact that God sent his Son, but Jesus did not send his Son.

As he says, premise (2) is a version of the indiscernibility of identicals that is “self-evident” to anybody who understands how absolute identity works. Tuggy similarly states in a podcast about self-evident truths about the Trinity and Incarnation that:

Beings which have differed, do differ, will differ, or could differ at one time (or in eternity) are two beings, not one.

I began this post with a link to an argument that he gives against modalism about the Son. There he justifies a premise similar to (1) above by saying:

The Son was sent by God to save the world, but God wasn’t so sent. At Gethsemane, God wanted the Son to be crucified, but the Son didn’t want himself to be crucified. The Son is the mediator between God and humankind, but God isn’t.

By now it should be clear that Tuggy frequently cites differences between God (i.e., the Father) and Jesus in the New Testament and, in conjunction with (some form of) the indiscernibility of identicals, reaches the conclusion that God and Jesus are two.

Who (or What) Is the Holy Spirit?

I have mentioned my Oneness Pentecostal background before, and for a moment I want to dig into that background to make a point. One way that Oneness Pentecostals provide evidence for their claim that Jesus just is the Father is to turn to Luke 1:35. See? It’s the Holy Spirit who causes the conception, and whoever causes conception is the father of another. So, Oneness Pentecostals reason, the Holy Spirit just is the Father.

Oneness Pentecostals also turn to passages like 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 to show that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Christ. By “spirit of Christ” Oneness Pentecostals, if they accept a concrete nature view of Christ’s human nature, can refer to the Spirit (i.e., the Father) who assumes the human nature, or perhaps to Christ’s concrete human spirit. One might also note that the Holy Spirit is the “Comforter” in John 14:26, and yet Jesus is called the “Comforter” in 1 John 2:1. The same Greek word underlying “Comforter” is used in both of those Johannine texts.

Oneness Pentecostals also tend to say that the Holy Spirit is “God in spiritual action.” This means that “Holy Spirit” refers to something like a state of affairs, or to God doing something, rather than to God himself. No state of affairs is a person, and vice versa.

The only reason I bring Oneness Pentecostals up here is to show that biblical unitarians use the very same arguments about the Holy Spirit. At least some say that the Holy Spirit just is the Father, and others say that the Holy Spirit just is the human spirit of Christ. It could also be that the Holy Spirit is something like a state of affairs, or maybe it’s the case that all of these uses appear, and are valid, depending on the context.

The Holy Spirit in Acts

Now here’s what I wanted to get to. Consider this argument:

  1. Things which differ are two (i.e., are not numerically identical).
  2. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit differ.
  3. Therefore, God and the Holy Spirit are two.
  4. Therefore, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are two.

To see why God and the Holy Spirit are two, we might turn to Acts 5. It’s a rather dramatic chapter where we find that Peter and the apostles are arrested because they are healing people. After they are miraculously freed from prison, they are found preaching again. Then we have this interaction:

5:27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the council, and the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood on us!” 29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than people. 30 The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you seized and killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these events, and so is the Holy Spirit (καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον) whom God has given (ὃ ἔδωκεν ὁ θεὸς) to those who obey him.” (NET)

I have offset those two bold statements about the Holy Spirit, with the corresponding Greek, to make two points. First, the Holy Spirit is a witness to the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him. I’ll leave it for Tuggy to confirm, but I take it that he would argue that Jesus and the Father are two selves on the basis that they are two witnesses to the fact that Jesus is “the light of the world” (see John 8:12-18). It seems that one can make a similar argument that the Holy Spirit is a personal agent, alongside Peter and the apostles, who counts as a witness. This is why I think Finnegan was wrong to opine on Tuggy’s podcast that translators mistakenly say “who(m)” in Acts 5:32. The neuter pronoun is irrelevant to natural gender (since πνεῦμα is grammatically neuter) and the Holy Spirit is obviously cited as a witness by Peter. Second, God and the Holy Spirit clearly differ here: the Holy Spirit is given by the Father (cf. Luke 11:13), but where in the NT do we read that the Father is so given?

The reason why Jesus and the Holy Spirit are two is related to the previous discussion. I share a conviction that Tuggy apparently has: There are some things that Christians tend to miss in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. Ironically, Oneness Pentecostals miss some things as well. Here’s one in particular:

2:32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear.

At his exaltation, Jesus is granted the power to pour out the Holy Spirit by the Father. That’s exactly what he did, seeing how the evidence of the Holy Spirit is what began this chapter (Acts 2:1-4) and and how Peter is here repeating language from his reference to Joel 2:28 in verse 17. On the day of Pentecost, then, the Holy Spirit was poured out, but the spirit of Christ was not. Jesus and the Holy Spirit differ and therefore are two.

The “Equivocal” View

It seems to me that the only way out here is to accept what I’ll call an “equivocal” view of the Holy Spirit. That’s essentially what I take Sean Finnegan to have argued for on Tuggy’s podcast. How does that help?

In the Acts 5:27-32, perhaps “Holy Spirit” refers to Jesus and therefore counts as a witness who is numerically distinct from the Father. Yet, in Acts 2, “Holy Spirit” refers to something impersonal—something like a liquid, a gift, or perhaps God’s own presence in people. In this case, the Holy Spirit is numerically distinct from Jesus, because Jesus isn’t poured out, a gift, or God’s own presence (in Tuggy’s view). In both contexts, “Holy Spirit” has different referents, and the conclusions at (3) and (4) of our argument above still hold. It’s just that “Holy Spirit” in premise (2) can be used equivocally.

In light of this discussion, the equivocal view seems implausible to me. Consider Acts 5:27-32 first. Is there precedent to think that the Holy Spirit is Jesus in that passage? Well, in Acts 5:9 Peter refers to the “Spirit of the Lord.” If by “Lord” he means the “Lord Jesus,” then maybe this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. “Spirit” can be a shorthand for “Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:3, 5; 8:18). But if Peter means “Lord God,” then this isn’t a reference to Jesus. Yet, this also assumes a genitive of simple apposition (“The S/spirit who is the Lord”) rather than possessive genitive (“The S/spirit which is the Lord’s“). Seeing how the Spirit is sent by both Jesus and the Father (as we saw above), the possessive genitive seems proper for either the Father or Jesus, and probably preferable here. But obviously that’s consistent with a Trinitarian view.

There might also be a connection between “Holy Spirit” and “the spirit of Jesus” (τὸ πνεῦμα Ἰησοῦ) in Acts 16:6-7. The Holy Spirit prevents Silas and Paul from preaching in Asia, and then the spirit of Jesus prevents them from going into Bithynia. Since both function similarly in this passage, we might be tempted to equate the two. But again, we run into the question of what sort of genitive “the S/spirit of Jesus (τὸ πνεῦμα Ἰησοῦ)” happens to be.

Is there any place in Luke’s Gospel—the first part of the Luke-Acts story—that uses “Holy Spirit” to refer to Jesus? Not that I can find. Jesus is the one who baptizes people in the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16), on whom the Holy Spirit descends (Luke 3:22), who is full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), and so on. Jesus even distinguishes himself from the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:10). Absent of some good reason to take “Holy Spirit” as a reference to Jesus elsewhere in Luke-Acts, the equivocal view, when applied to Acts 5:27-32, looks ad hoc.

Now consider Acts 2. Here I point out that the Spirit “was giving” (ἐδίδου) people the ability to speak in tongues (Acts 1:4). This verb (δίδωμι) occurs 95 times in Luke-Acts. There are a handful of times where the verb is connected to something impersonal.[1] But in every case where a subject of the verb is supplied, it’s a personal agent who “gives” (or some other action in the verb’s semantic range). The only possible exception I have found is Acts 20:32, where “the word of his grace” is “able . . . to give.” The inductive argument from Luke’s use of language is obvious.

Is Acts 2:4 using personification? I imagine that’s where Tuggy might want to go with this. But the problem I see with that suggestion is that it also appears ad hoc. It’s only when the Spirit seems to do something in Acts 2 that non-literal language is suggested. And yet it’s supposed to be literal that the Spirit is poured out like a liquid, or given as a gift, elsewhere in the chapter.

I’m also not so sure that the language of being “poured out” (Acts 2) and being “given” (Acts 5:32) warrant an equivocal view. Here I’m envisioning somebody saying that the “poured out” language indicates that “Holy Spirit” is something impersonal, while “given” is consistent with the “Holy Spirit” as something personal (e.g., “God gave me you for the ups and downs…”). Maybe I need to look into this more, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference here. At face value, it seems as if these descriptions of the Holy Spirit are basically synonymous. If that’s the case, and if the Holy Spirit is a witness in Acts 5:32, albeit one that was “given” by God, what reason is there to say that the Holy Spirit isn’t a distinct divine Person who was, in a manner of speaking, “poured out” on the day of Pentecost? Why can’t these be ways of speaking about a distinct divine Person, hypostasis, self, or whatever one’s Trinity theory allows for, who is “given” in a way that is something like being “poured out” at Pentecost?

Unless I’ve gone seriously awry in this analysis, it seems like we have at least as much explanatory scope and power over these texts if we suppose that “Holy Spirit” refers to a divine Person who is distinct from both God (the Father) and Jesus. What I’d like to hear from Tuggy, then, is where I’ve gone wrong and how he would explain these texts. I hope he’ll take the time to clarify his pneumatology and, consistent with his former charismatic background, do an internet version of the laying on of hands so that we might be filled with the knowledge of the Spirit.


[1] “Good measure,” Luke 6:38. Knowledge, Luke 8:10. Requests, Luke 11:9. A sign, Luke 11:29. “Much,” Luke 12:48. “More,” Luke 19:26. Christ’s body, Luke 22:19. Christ’s name, Acts 4:12. (Possibly) the Spirit, Acts 8:18. However, note how many of these are the objects of the middle or passive form of δίδωμι. My point relates specifically to active forms of the verb.

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