AskDefine | Define trinity

Dictionary Definition



1 the cardinal number that is the sum of one and one and one [syn: three, 3, III, trio, threesome, tierce, leash, troika, triad, trine, ternary, ternion, triplet, tercet, terzetto, trey, deuce-ace]
2 the union of the Father and Son and Holy Ghost in one Godhead [syn: Holy Trinity, Blessed Trinity, Sacred Trinity]
3 three people considered as a unit [syn: trio, threesome, triad]

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see Trinity



From trinite (French: trinité), from trinitas, from tres, three, + noun of state suffix -itas


  1. Literally, threeness: the state of being three; in Christian belief, the three persons (personae) of the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Derived terms

Related terms

Extensive Definition

The Trinity is a Christian doctrine, stating that God is one being who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a mutual indwelling of three persons: the Father, the Son (incarnate as Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Since the beginning of the third century the doctrine of the Trinity has been stated as "that the one God exists in three Persons and one substance, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit".
Opposing nontrinitarian positions held by some groups include Binitarianism (two deities/persons/aspects), Unitarianism (one deity/person/aspect), the Latter Day Saints view of the Godhead as three separate beings, one in purpose, and Modalism (Oneness).
The doctrine of the Trinity was of particular importance historically. The conflict with Arianism and other competing theological concepts during the fourth century became the first major doctrinal confrontation in Church history. It had a particularly lasting effect within the Western Roman Empire where the Germanic Arians and the Nicene Christians formed segregated social orders.


For the concept the word "Trinity" (in Latin, Trinitas) began to be used around the year 200. This Latin word means "the number three, a triad", an abstract noun formed from the adjective trinus (three each, threefold, triple), as the word unitas is the abstract noun formed from unus (one). The Greek term used for the Christian Trinity, "Τριάς" ("Trias", gen. "Triados") means "a set of three" or "the number three", and has given the English word triad. The word "trinity" itself is not found in the Christian Bible, any more than is the word "monotheism", but Christians in general believe that what is meant by these two words is taught in the Bible.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the result of continuous exploration of the Bible by the church, argued in debate and treatises. The concept was expressed in early writings from the beginning of the second century forward.
The first recorded use of the word "Trinity" in Christian theology was in about AD 180 by Theophilus of Antioch who used the corresponding word in Greek (Τριάς) to refer to "the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom", of which he considered the first three days of creation to be types. He did not apply the word to the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Tertullian, a Latin theologian who wrote in the early third century, is credited with using the words "Trinity", "person" and "substance" to explain that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were "one in essence – not one in Person".
About a century later, the First Council of Nicaea (325) established the doctrine of the Trinity as orthodoxy and adopted the Nicene Creed that described Christ as "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoousios) with the Father".

Trinity in Scripture

Neither of the words "Trinity" nor "Triunity" appear in the Old Testament or New Testament. Various passages from both have been cited as supporting this doctrine, while other passages are cited as opposing it.
The Old Testament refers to God's Word, his Spirit, and Wisdom. These have been interpreted as adumbrations of the doctrine of the Trinity, as have been also narratives such as the appearance of the three men to Abraham in Bible verse |Genesis|18. However, it is generally agreed that it would go beyond the intention and spirit of the Old Testament to correlate these notions directly with later Trinitarian doctrine. It required reflection by the earliest Christians on the coming of Jesus Christ and of what they believed to be the presence and power of God among them, which they called the Holy Spirit; and it associated the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in such passages as the Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Bible verse |Matthew|28:19) and Paul the Apostle"s blessing: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (Bible verse 2|Corinthians|13:14), while at the same time not contradicting the Jewish Shema Yisrael: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Bible verse |Deuteronomy|6:4|NIV).
The diverse references to God, Jesus, and the Spirit found in the New Testament were later systematized into the idea of a Trinity – one God subsisting in three persons and one substance – in order to combat heretical tendencies of how the three are related and to defend the church against charges of worshipping two or three gods. The doctrine itself was not explicitly stated in the New Testament and no New Testament writer expounds on the relationship among the three in the detail of that later writers do. Thus, while Matthew records a special connection between God the Father and Jesus the Son (e.g. 11:27), he falls short of claiming that Jesus is equal with God. (cf. 24:36) .
The Gospel of John does suggest the equality and unity of Father and Son. ("I and the Father are one" Bible verse |John|10:30|NIV). This Gospel starts with "the affirmation that in the beginning Jesus as Word "was with God and ...was God" (Bible verse |John|1:1|NIV) and ends with Thomas's confession of faith to Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" (Bible verse |John|20:28|NIV).
Furthermore, the fourth Gospel elaborates on the role of Holy Spirit being sent as an advocate for believers.

Scriptural texts cited as implying support

To support Trinitarianism, Bible exegetes cite references to the Trinity, to Jesus as God, and both to God alone and to Jesus as the Savior.

References to the Trinity

A few verses directly reference the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
  • Bible verse |Matthew|3:16–17|NIV: "As soon as Jesus Christ was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and landing on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.' " (also Bible verse |Mark|1:10–11|NIV; Bible verse |Luke|3:22|NIV; Bible verse |John|1:32|NIV)
  • Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (see Trinitarian formula).
  • Bible verse 2|Corinthians|13:14|NIV: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you."
  • Bible verse 1|John|5:7–8|NIV: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." (This is the controversial Comma Johanneum, which did not appear in Greek texts before the sixteenth century.)
  • Bible verse |Luke|1:35|NIV: "The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.' "
  • Bible verse |Hebrews|9:14|NIV: "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"

Jesus as God

Many verses in John, the epistles, and Revelation imply support for the doctrine that Jesus Christ is God and the closely related concept of the Trinity. The Gospel of John in particular supports Jesus' divinity. This is a partial list of supporting Bible verses:
  • Bible verse |John|1:1|NIV "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." together with Bible verse |John|1:14|NIV "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." and Bible verse |John|1:18|NIV "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."The Bible says "God the One and Only" in NIV.
  • Bible verse |John|5:21|NIV "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it."
  • Bible verse |John|8:23–24|NIV: "But he continued,'You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.'"
  • Bible verse |John|8:58|NIV "I tell you the truth", Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"
  • Bible verse |John|10:30|NIV: "I and the Father are one."
  • Bible verse |John|10:38|NIV: "But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."
  • Bible verse |John|12:41|NIV: "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him."—As the context shows, this implied the Tetragrammaton in Bible verse |Isaiah|6:10|NIV refers to Jesus.
  • Bible verse |John|20:28|NIV: "Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'"
  • Bible verse |Philippians|2:5–8|NIV: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!"
  • Bible verse |Colossians|1:15|NIV: "He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God"
  • Bible verse |Colossians|1:16|NIV: "For by him [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."
  • Bible verse |Colossians|1:17|NIV: "He [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
  • Bible verse |Colossians|2:9|NIV: "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form"
  • Bible verse |Titus|2:13|NIV: "while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ."
  • Bible verse 1|Timothy|3:16|KJV: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
  • Bible verse |Hebrews|1:8|NIV: "But about the Son he [God] says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom."
  • Bible verse 1|John|5:20|NIV: "We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life."
  • Bible verse |Revelation|1:17–18|NIV: "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." This is seen as significant when viewed with Bible verse |Isaiah|44:6|NIV: "This is what the says—Israel's King and Redeemer, the Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God."
The Bible also refers to Jesus as a man, which is in line with the Trinitarian concept that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine which is expressed through the theological concept of kenosis.

God alone is the Savior and the Savior is Jesus

The Old Testament identifies the as the only savior, and the New Testament identifies Jesus Christ as God and Savior. These verses are consistent with Trinitarianism, as well as various nontrinitarian beliefs (binitarianism, modalism, the Latter-Day Saints' Godhead, Arianism, etc.)
  • Bible verse |Isaiah|43:11|NIV: "'I, even I, am the , and apart from me there is no savior.'"
  • Bible verse |Titus|2:10|NIV: "and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive."
  • Bible verse |Titus|3:4|NIV: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared", in regard with:
  • Bible verse |Luke|2:11|NIV: "'Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.'"
  • Bible verse |Acts|20:28|NIV: "'the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.'"
  • Bible verse |Titus|2:13|NIV: "while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ"
  • Bible verse |John|4:42|NIV: "They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man [Jesus] really is the Savior of the world.'"
  • Bible verse |Titus|3:6|NIV: "whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior"


The Origin of the Formula

The basis for the doctrine of the Trinity is found in New Testament passages that associate the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Two such passages are Matthew's Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV) and St Paul's: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (Bible verse 2|Corinthians|13:14|NIV).
In 325, the Council of Nicaea adopted a term for the relationship between the Son and the Father that from then on was seen as the hallmark of orthodoxy; it declared that the Son is "of the same substance" () as the Father. This was further developed into the formula "three persons, one substance". The answer to the question "What is God?" indicates the one-ness of the divine nature, while the answer to the question "Who is God?" indicates the three-ness of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit".
Saint Athanasius, who was a participant in the Council, stated that the bishops were forced to use this terminology, which is not found in Scripture, because the Biblical phrases that they would have preferred to use were claimed by the Arians to be capable of being interpreted in what the bishops considered to be a heretical sense. They therefore "commandeered the non-scriptural term homoousios ('of one substance') in order to safeguard the essential relation of the Son to the Father that had been denied by Arius."
The Confession of the Council of Nicaea said little about the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit was developed by Athanasius (c 293 - 373) in the last decades of his life. He both defended and refined the Nicene formula. By the end of the 4th century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine had reached substantially its current form.

Comma Johanneum

One explicit Trinitarian passage often quoted from the King James Version of Bible verse 1|John|5:7 is an addition to the original: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."
Though this passage, known as the Comma Johanneum is commonly found in Latin manuscripts, it is totally absent from the Greek manuscripts, except for a few late examples, where the passage appears to have been back-translated from the Latin. Erasmus, the compiler of the Textus Receptus, on which the King James Version was based, noticed that the passage was not found in any of the Greek manuscripts at his disposal and refused to include it until presented with an example containing it, which he rightly suspected was concocted after the fact. Although the Latin Church Father, Saint Cyprian, is thought to have referred to the passage, it is now considered not to have been part of the original text, and is omitted from modern translations of the Bible, even from the revision of the Vulgate that is now the official Latin text of the Roman Catholic Church.

Formulation of the Doctrine

The most significant developments in articulating the doctrine of the Trinity took place in the 4th century, with a group of men known as the Theologians. Although the earliest Church Fathers had affirmed the teachings of the Apostles, their focus was on their pastoral duties to the Church under the persecution of the Roman Empire. Thus the early Fathers were largely unable to compose doctrinal treatises and theological expositions. With the relaxing of the persecution of the church during the rise of Constantine, the stage was set for ecumenical dialogue.
Trinitarians believe that the resultant councils and creeds did not discover or create doctrine, but rather, responding to serious heresies such as Arianism, articulated in the creeds the truths that the orthodox church had believed since the time of the apostles.
The Trinitarian view has been affirmed as an article of faith by the Nicene (325/381) and Athanasian creeds (circa 500), which attempted to standardize belief in the face of disagreements on the subject. These creeds were formulated and ratified by the Church of the third and fourth centuries in reaction to heterodox theologies concerning the Trinity and/or Christ. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, revised in 381 by the second of these councils, is professed by the Eastern Orthodox Church and, with one addition (Filioque clause), the Roman Catholic Church, and has been retained in some form in the Anglican Communion and most Protestant denominations.
The Nicene Creed, which is a classic formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, uses "homoousios" (Greek: of the same essence) of the relation of the Son's relationship with the Father. This word differs from that used by non-Trinitarians of the time, "homoiousios" (Greek: of similar essence), by a single Greek letter, "one iota", a fact proverbially used to speak of deep divisions, especially in theology, expressed by seemingly small verbal differences.
One of the (probably three) Church councils that in 264–266 condemned Paul of Samosata for his Adoptionist theology also condemned the term "homoousios" in the sense he used it. Fourth-century Christians who objected to the Nicene trinity made copious use of this condemnation by a reputable council.
Moreover, the meanings of "ousia" and "hypostasis" overlapped at the time, so that the latter term for some meant essence and for others person. Athanasius of Alexandria (293–373) helped to clarify the terms.
Because Christianity converts cultures from within, the doctrinal formulas as they have developed bear the marks of the ages through which the church has passed. The rhetorical tools of Greek philosophy, especially of Neoplatonism, are evident in the language adopted to explain the church's rejection of Arianism and Adoptionism on one hand (teaching that Christ is inferior to the Father, or even that he was merely human), and Docetism and Sabellianism on the other hand (teaching that Christ was an illusion, or that he was identical to God the Father). Augustine of Hippo has been noted at the forefront of these formulations; and he contributed much to the speculative development of the doctrine of the Trinity as it is known today, in the West; the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus) are more prominent in the East. The imprint of Augustinianism is found, for example, in the western Athanasian Creed, which, although it bears the name and reproduces the views of the fourth century opponent of Arianism, was probably written much later.
These controversies were for most purposes settled at the Ecumenical councils, whose creeds affirm the doctrine of the Trinity.
According to the Athanasian Creed, each of these three divine persons is said to be eternal, each almighty, none greater or less than another, each God, and yet together being but one God, So are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.—Athanasian Creed, line 20.
Modalists attempted to resolve the mystery of the Trinity by holding that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are merely modes, or roles, of God. This anti-Trinitarian view contends that the three "persons" are not distinct persons, but titles which describe how humanity has interacted with or had experiences with God. In the role of the Father, God is the provider and creator of all. In the mode of the Son, man experiences God in the flesh, as a human, fully man and fully God. God manifests himself as the Holy Spirit by his actions on Earth and within the lives of Christians. This view is known as Sabellianism, and was rejected as heresy by the Ecumenical Councils although it is still prevalent today among denominations known as "Oneness" and "Apostolic" Pentecostal Christians, the largest of these sects being the United Pentecostal Church. Trinitarianism insists that the Father, Son and Spirit simultaneously exist, each fully the same God.
The doctrine developed into its present form precisely through this kind of confrontation with alternatives; and the process of refinement continues in the same way. Even now, ecumenical dialogue between Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, the Assyrian Church of the East, Anglican and Trinitarian Protestants, seeks an expression of Trinitarian and Christological doctrine which will overcome the extremely subtle differences that have largely contributed to dividing them into separate communities. The doctrine of the Trinity is therefore symbolic, somewhat paradoxically, of both division and unity.

Trinitarian Theology

Baptism as the beginning lesson

Baptism itself is generally conferred with the Trinitarian formula, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV). Trinitarians identify this name with the Christian faith into which baptism is an initiation, as seen for example in the statement of Basil the Great (330–379): "We are bound to be baptized in the terms we have received, and to profess faith in the terms in which we have been baptized." "This is the Faith of our baptism", the First Council of Constantinople also says (382), "that teaches us to believe in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. According to this Faith there is one Godhead, Power, and Being of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV may be taken to indicate that baptism was associated with this Trinitarian formula from the earliest decades of the Church's existence.
Some groups, such as Oneness Pentecostals, demur from the Trinitarian view on baptism. For them, the fact that Acts does not mention the formula outweighs all other considerations, and is a liturgical guide for their own practice. For this reason, they often focus on the baptisms in Acts, citing many authoritative theological works. For example, Kittel is cited where he is speaking of the phrase "in the name" (Greek: ) as used in the baptisms recorded in Acts:
The distinctive feature of Christian baptism is that it is administered in Christ (), or in the name of Christ (). (Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 1:539.)
The formula () seems rather to have been a tech. term in Hellenistic commerce ("to the account"). In both cases the use of the phrase is understandable, since the account bears the name of the one who owns it, and in baptism the name of Christ is pronounced, invoked and confessed by the one who baptises or the one baptised (Bible verse |Acts|22:16|NIV) or both. (Kittel, 1:540.)
Those who place great emphasis on the baptisms in Acts often likewise question the authenticity of Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV in its present form. A. Ploughman, apparently following F. C. Conybeare, has questioned the authenticity of Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV, but the majority of scholars of New Testament textual criticism accept the authenticity of the passage, since there are no variant manuscripts regarding the formula, and the extant form of the passage is attested in the Didache and other patristic works of the first and second centuries: Ignatius, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, and Gregory Thaumaturgus. The Acts of the Apostles only mentions believers being baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Bible verse |Acts|2:38|NIV, ) and "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Bible verse |Acts|8:16|NIV, Bible verse |Acts|19:5|NIV). There are no biblical references to baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit outside of Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV, nor references, biblical or patristic, to baptism in the name of (the Lord) Jesus (Christ) outside the Acts of the Apostles.
Commenting on Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV, Gerhard Kittel states:
This threefold relation [of Father, Son and Spirit] soon found fixed expression in the triadic formulae in 2 C. 13:13, and in Bible verse 1|Corinthians|12:4–6|NIV. The form is first found in the baptismal formula in Bible verse |Matthew|28:19|NIV; Did., 7. 1 and 3....[I]t is self-evident that Father, Son and Spirit are here linked in an indissoluble threefold relationship.
In the synoptic Gospels the baptism of Jesus himself is often interpreted as a manifestation of all three persons of the Trinity: "And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Bible verse |Matthew|3:16–17|NIV).

One God

God is one, and the Godhead a single being: The Hebrew Scriptures lift this one article of faith above others, and surround it with stern warnings against departure from this central issue of faith, and of faithfulness to the covenant God had made with them. "Hear, O Israel: The our God is one " (Bible verse |Deuteronomy|6:4|NIV) (the Shema), "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Bible verse |Deuteronomy|5:7|NIV) and, "Thus saith the the King of Israel and his redeemer the of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; and beside me there is no God." (Bible verse |Isaiah|44:6|NIV). Any formulation of an article of faith which does not insist that God is solitary, that divides worship between God and any other, or that imagines God coming into existence rather than being God eternally, is not capable of directing people toward the knowledge of God, according to the Trinitarian understanding of the Old Testament. The same insistence is found in the New Testament: "Why do you call me good? Jesus answered. No one is good—except God alone" (Bible verse |Mark|10:18|NIV), and, as other so-called gods are merely mythological, "there is no God but one" (Bible verse 1|Corinthians|8:4-6|NIV).
In the Trinitarian view, the Father and Christ share the one essence, substance or being. The central and crucial affirmation of Christian faith is that there is one savior, God, and one salvation, manifest in Jesus Christ, to which there is access only because of the Holy Spirit. The God of the Old Testament is still the same as the God of the New. In Christianity, it is understood that statements about a solitary God are intended to distinguish the Hebraic understanding from the polytheistic view, which see divine power as shared by several beings, beings which can, and do, disagree and have conflicts with each other.

God in three persons

According to the Trinity doctrine, God exists as three persons, or in the Greek hypostases, but is one being. God has but a single divine nature. Chalcedonians—Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans and Protestants—hold that, in addition, the second person of the Trinity—God the Son, Jesus—assumed human nature, so that he has two natures (and hence two wills), and is really and fully both true God and true human. In the Oriental Orthodox theology, the Chalcedonian formulation is rejected in favor of the position that the union of the two natures, though unconfused, births a third nature: redeemed humanity, the new creation.
The members of the Trinity are said to be co-equal and co-eternal, one in essence, nature, power, action, and will. As stated in the Athanasian Creed, the Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated, and all three are eternal with no beginning. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that, in the sense of the Latin verb procedere, but not in that of the Greek verb ἐκπορεύεσθαι, the Spirit "proceeds" from the Father and the Son (see Filioque).
It has been stated that because three persons exist in God as one unity, "The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" are not three different names for different parts of God but one name for God, because the Father can not be divided from the Son or the Holy Spirit from the Son. God has always loved, and there has always existed perfectly harmonious communion between the three persons of the Trinity. One consequence of this teaching is that God could not have created man in order to have someone to talk to or to love: God "already" enjoyed personal communion; being perfect, he did not create man because of any lack or inadequacy he had. Another consequence, according to Rev. Fr. Thomas Hopko, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, is that if God were not a Trinity, he could not have loved prior to creating other beings on whom to bestow his love. Thus we find God saying in Bible verse |Genesis|1:26-27|NIV, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." For Trinitarians, emphasis in Genesis 1:26 is on the plurality in the Deity, and in 1:27 on the unity of the divine Essence. A possible interpretation of Genesis 1:26 is that God's relationships in the Trinity are mirrored in man by the ideal relationship between husband and wife, two persons becoming one flesh, as described in Eve's creation later in the next chapter. Bible verse |Genesis|2:22|NIV Some Trinitarian Christians support their position with the Comma Johanneum described above, even though it is widely regarded as inauthentic.

Mutually indwelling

God is not directly identified as "the Son" in the Old Testament. Israel (and, poetically Ephraim) are called God's first born son, representing an aspect of the Jewish nation's relationship with God. There are, however, what many Christians believe are foreshadowings of Jesus as God the Son.
Psalm 2;&version=31; is widely considered a Messianic psalm (Jewish Messianic Interpretations of Psalm 2) prophetically describing the Lord's "Anointed One" (verse 2). It contains in verse 7 the divine decree: "You are my Son, today I have become your Father." Verse 12 contains the words "Kiss the Son". While in verse 7 the Hebrew word for son is used, in verse 12 a Chaldean word is used. Support for the translation of the Chaldean word as "Son" is found in its other appearances, such as Ezra 5:2 This psalm denotes a Father Son relationship between God and the Messiah, who as the Son would be the heir (verse 8). Isaiah 9, also considered a Messianic prophecy, describes the coming Messiah as "Mighty God" (verse 6). Psalm 110 describes the LORD (understood as God the Father) sharing his eternal glory with the psalmist's Lord (understood to be the Son, the Messiah).
In Daniel chapter 7 the prophet records his vision of "one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13, who "was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him." (v14;&version=31;) Christians believe worship is only properly given to God, and that in the light of other Bible passages this "son of man" can be identified as the second person of the Trinity. Parallels may be drawn between Daniel's vision and Jesus' words to the Jewish high priest that in the future those assembled would see "the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven". (Matthew 26:64-65 Jesus was immediately accused of blasphemy, as at other times when he had identified his oneness with God Christians also believe that John saw the resurrected, gloried Jesus and described him as "One like the Son of Man" (Revelation 1:13

God the Spirit in the Old Testament

Deity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament:
Words of the Holy Spirit called the words of God:

Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant distinctions

The Western (Roman Catholic) tradition is more prone to make positive statements concerning the relationship of persons in the Trinity. Explanations of the Trinity are not the same thing as the doctrine itself; nevertheless the Augustinian West is inclined to think in philosophical terms concerning the rationality of God's being, and is prone on this basis to be more open than the East to seek philosophical formulations which make the doctrine more intelligible.
Eastern Christianity, for its part, correlates ecclesiology and Trinitarian doctrine, and seeks to understand the doctrine of the Trinity via the experience of the Church, which it understands to be "an icon of the Trinity". Therefore, when St. Paul writes concerning Christians that all are "members one of another", Eastern Christians in turn understand this as also applying to the Divine Persons.
The principal disagreement between Western and Eastern Christianity on the Trinity has been the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the other two hypostases. The original credal formulation of the Council of Constantinople was that the Holy Spirit proceeds "from the Father". While this phrase is still used unaltered both in the Eastern Churches, including the Eastern Catholic Churches, and, when the Nicene Creed is recited in Greek, in the Latin Church, it became customary in the Latin-speaking Church, beginning with the provincial Third Council of Toledo in 589, to add "and the Son" (Latin Filioque). Although this insertion into the Creed was explicitly rejected by Pope Leo III, who equally explicitly approved the doctrine it expressed, it was finally used in a Papal Mass by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014, thus completing its spread throughout Western Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox Churches object to it on both ecclesiological and theological grounds.
Anglicans have made a commitment in their Lambeth Conference, to provide for the use of the creed without the Filioque clause in future revisions of their liturgies, in deference to the issues of Conciliar authority raised by the Orthodox. Most Protestant groups that use the creed also include the Filioque clause. However, the issue is usually not controversial among them because their conception is often less exact than is discussed above (exceptions being the Presbyterian Westminster Confession 2:3, the London Baptist Confession 2:3, and the Lutheran Augsburg Confession 1:1–6, which specifically address those issues). The clause is often understood by Protestants to mean that the Spirit is sent from the Father, by the Son, a conception which is not controversial in either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. A representative view of Protestant Trinitarian theology is more difficult to provide, given the diverse and decentralized nature of the various Protestant churches.

Naming the Persons

Some feminist theologians refer to the persons of the Holy Trinity with gender-neutral language, such as "Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer (or Sanctifier)". This is a recent formulation, which seeks to redefine the Trinity in terms of three roles in salvation or relationships with us, not eternal identities or relationships with each other. Since, however, each of the three divine persons participates in the acts of creation, redemption, and sustaining, traditionalist Christians reject this formulation as suggesting a new variety of Modalism. Some theologians prefer the alternate terminology of "Source, and Word, and Holy Spirit".
Responding to feminist concerns, orthodox theology has noted the following: a) the names "Father" and "Son" are clearly analogical, since all Trinitarians would agree that God is beyond all gender; b) that, in translating the Creed, for example, "born" and "begotten" are equally valid translations of the Greek word "gennao", which refers to the eternal generation of the Son by the Father: hence, one may refer to God "the Father who gives birth"; this is further supported by patristic writings which compare the "birth" of the Divine Word "before all ages" (i.e., eternally) from the Father with his birth in time from the Virgin Mary; c) Using "Son" to refer to the Second Divine Person is most proper only when referring to the Incarnate Word, Jesus, who is clearly male; d) in Semitic languages, such as Hebrew and Aramaic, the noun translated "spirit" is grammatically feminine. Images of God's Spirit in scripture are also often feminine, as with the Spirit "brooding" over the primordial chaos in Genesis 1, or grammatically feminine, such as a dove.

Logical Coherency

On the face of it, the doctrine of the Trinity seems to be logically incoherent as it appears to imply that identity is not transitive—"for the Father is identical with God, the Son is identical with God, and the Father is not identical with the Son." Recently, there have been two philosophical attempts to defend the logical coherency of Trinity, one by Richard Swinburne and the other by Peter Geach et al. The formulation suggested by Swinburne is free from logical incoherency, but it is debatable whether this formulation is consistent with historical orthodoxy. Regarding the formulation suggested by Geach, not all philosophers would agree with its logical coherency. Swinburne has suggested that "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be thought of as numerically distinct Gods". Geach suggested that "a coherent statement of the doctrine is possible on the assumption that identity is "always relative to a sortal term".
Some Messianic groups, the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists, and even some scholars within (but not necessarily representing) denominations such as Southern Baptist Convention view the Trinity as being comparable to the concept of a family, hence the familial terms of Father, Son, and the implied role of Mother for the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word for "God", Elohim, which has an inherent plurality, has the function as a surname as in "Yahweh Elohim". The seeming contradiction of Elohim being "one" is solved by the fact that the Hebrew word for "one", "echad", can describe a compound unity, harmonious in direction and purpose; unlike "yachid" which means singularity.
If God has compositional parts, they are either finite or infinite parts. If finite, then God is finite. If infinite, then there are multiple infinities. Each case becomes a denial of monotheism. By definition, therefore, the belief in compositional parts has been regarded as a heresy since the establishment of the Nicene Creed, and reaffirmed in Protestant Creeds such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith which state "God has no parts". Louis Berkhof describes the doctrine of the Trinity requiring belief in a "simplex unity" and not a complex (or composite) being. "There is in the Divine Being but one indivisible essence" and "The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons."

The Trinity in art

The Trinity is most commonly seen in Christian art with the Spirit represented by a dove, as specified in the Gospel accounts of the Baptism of Christ; it is nearly always shown with wings outspread. However depictions using three human figures appear occasionally in most periods of art.
The Father and the Son are usually differentiated by age, and later by dress, but this too is not always the case. The usual depiction of the Father as an older man with a white beard may derive from the biblical Ancient of Days, which is often cited in defense of this sometimes controversial representation. However, in Eastern Orthodoxy the Ancient of Days is understood to be God the Son, not God the Father. When the Father is depicted in art, he is sometimes shown with a halo shaped like an equilateral triangle, instead of a circle. The Son is often shown at the Father's right hand (Bible verse |Acts|7:56|KJV). He may be represented by a symbol—typically the Lamb or a cross—or on a crucifix, so that the Father is the only human figure shown at full size. In early medieval art, the Father may be represented by a hand appearing from a cloud in a blessing gesture, for example in scenes of the Baptism of Christ. Later, in the West, the "Throne of Mercy" (or "Throne of Grace") became a common depiction. In this style, the Father (sometimes seated on a throne) is shown supporting either a crucifix or, later, a slumped crucified Son, similar to the Pieta (this type is distinguished in German as the Not Gottes) in his outstretched arms, whilst the Dove hovers above or in between them. This subject continued to be popular until the eighteenth century at least.
By the end of the fifteenth century, larger representations, other than the Throne of Mercy, became effectively standardised, showing an older figure in plain robes for the Father, Christ with his torso partly bare to display the wounds of his Passion, and the dove above or around them. In earlier representations both Father, especially, and Son often wear elaborate robes and crowns. Sometimes the Father alone wears a crown, or even a papal tiara.

Eastern Orthodox tradition

Direct representations of the Trinity are much rarer in Eastern Orthodox art of any period -reservations about depicting the Father remain fairly strong, as they were in the West until the high Middle Ages. The Second Council of Nicea in 787 confirmed that the depiction of Christ was allowed because he became man; the situation regarding the Father was less clear. The usual Orthodox representation of the Trinity was through the "Old Testament Trinity" of the three angels visiting Abraham - said in the text to be "the Lord" (Genesis:18.1-15). However post-Byzantine representations similar to those in the West are not uncommon in the Greek world. The subject long remained sensitive, and the Russian Orthodox Church at the Great Synod of Moscow in 1667 finally forbade depictions of the Father in human form. The canon is quoted in full here because it explains the Russian Orthodox theology on the subject:
Chapter 2, §44: It is most absurd and improper to depict in icons the Lord Sabaoth (that is to say, God the Father) with a grey beard and the Only-Begotten Son in His bosom with a dove between them, because no-one has seen the Father according to His Divinity, and the Father has no flesh, nor was the Son born in the flesh from the Father before the ages. And though David the prophet says, "From the womb before the morning star have I begotten Thee" (Ps.109:3), that birth was not fleshly, but unspeakable and incomprehensible. For Christ Himself says in the holy Gospel, "No man hath seen the Father, save the Son" (cf. Bible verse |John|6:46|KJV). And Isaiah the prophet says in his fortieth chapter: "To whom have ye likened the Lord? and with what likeness have ye made a similitude of Him? Has not the artificier of wood made an image, or the goldsmiths, having melted gold, gilt it over, and made it a similitude?"(). In like manner the Apostle Paul says in the Acts (), "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art of man's imagination". And John Damascene says: "But furthermore, who can make a similitude of the invisible, incorporeal, uncircumscribed and undepictable God? It is, then, uttermost insanity and impiety to give a form to the Godhead" (Orthodox Faith, 4:16). In like manner St. Gregory the Dialogist prohibits this. For this reason we should only form an understanding in the mind of Sabaoth, which is the Godhead, and of that birth before the ages of the Only-Begotten-Son from the Father, but we should never, in any wise depict these in icons, for this, indeed, is impossible. And the Holy Spirit is not in essence a dove, but in essence He is God, and "No man hath seen God," as John the Theologian and Evangelist bears witness () and this is so even though, at the Jordan at Christ's holy Baptism the Holy Spirit appeared in the likeness of a dove. For this reason, it is fitting on this occasion only to depict the Holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove. But in any other place those who have intelligence will not depict the Holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove. For on Mount Tabor, He appeared as a cloud and, at another time, in other ways. Furthermore, Sabaoth is the name not only of the Father, but of the Holy Trinity. According to Dionysios the Areopagite, Lord Sabaoth, translated from the Jewish tongue, means "Lord of Hosts". This Lord of Hosts is the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And although Daniel the prophet says that he beheld the Ancient of Days sitting on a throne, this should not be understood to refer to the Father, but to the Son, Who at His second coming will judge every nation at the dreadful Judgment.

Scenes that depict the Trinity

Only a few of the standard scenes in Christian art normally included a representation of the Trinity. The accounts in the Gospels of the Baptism of Christ were considered to show all three persons as present with a separate role. Sometimes the other two persons are shown at the top of a crucifixion. The Coronation of the Virgin, a popular subject in the West, often included the whole Trinity. But many subjects, such as Christ in Majesty or the Last Judgement, which might be thought to require depiction of the deity in the most amplified form, only show Christ. There is a rare subject where the persons of the Trinity make the decision to incarnate Christ, or God sending out the Son. Even more rarely, the Angel of the Annunciation is shown being given the mission.

Less common types of depiction

The depiction of the Trinity as three identical persons is rare, because each Person of the Trinity is considered to have distinct attributes. Even rarer is the depiction of the Trinity as a single anthropoid fiugre with three faces, because the Trinity is defined as three persons in one Godhead, not one Person with three attributes (this would imply Modalism, which is defined as heresy in traditional Christian orthodoxy).
The Trinity may also be represented abstractly by symbols, such as the triangle (or three triangles joined together), trefoil or the triquetra—or a combination of these. Sometimes a halo in incorporated into these symbols. The use of such symbols are often found not only in painting but also in needlework on tapestries, vestments and antependia, in metalwork and in architectural details.


Different depictions

Four 15th century depictions of the Coronation of the Virgin show the main ways of depicting the persons of the Trinity.
Book of Hours, with three diferentiated human figures for the Trinity

Depictions using two different human figures and a dove

Other depictions

Ambivalence to Trinitarian doctrine

Some Protestant Christians, particularly some members of the restoration movement, are ambivalent about the doctrine of the Trinity. While not specifically rejecting Trinitarianism or presenting an alternative doctrine of the Godhead and God's relationship with humanity, they are neither dogmatic about the Trinity nor hold it as a test of true Christian faith. Some, like the Society of Friends (Quakers) and Christian Unitarians, may reject all doctrinal or creedal tests of true faith. Others, like some members of the restorationist Churches of Christ, in keeping with a distinctive understanding of "Scripture alone", say that since the doctrine of the Trinity is not clearly articulated in the Bible, it cannot be required for salvation. Still others may look to church tradition and say that there has always been a Christian tradition that faithfully followed Jesus without such a doctrine.

Non-orthodox Trinitarianism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) identify the Trinity (or Godhead) as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but with a different intention than the Nicene faith. They regard these three as individual members of a heavenly triumvirate, completely united with one another in purpose - each member of the Godhead being a distinct being of physical form (God the Father, Jesus Christ) or spiritual form (The Holy Ghost.)
The Trinity in Christian Science is found in the unity of God, the Christ, and the Holy Ghost or—"God the Father-Mother; Christ the spiritual idea of sonship; divine Science or the Holy Comforter". The same in essence, the Trinity indicates "the intelligent relation of God to man and the universe".


Some Christian traditions either reject the doctrine of the Trinity, or consider it unimportant. Persons and groups espousing this position generally do not refer to themselves as "Nontrinitarians". They can vary in both their reasons for rejecting traditional teaching on the Trinity, and in the way they describe God.

Nontrinitarian groups

Since Trinitarianism is central to so much of church doctrine, nontrinitarians were mostly groups that existed before the Nicene Creed was codified in 325 or are groups that developed after the Reformation, when many church doctrines came into question
In the early centuries of Christian history Adoptionists, Arians, Ebionites, Gnostics, Marcionites, and others held nontrinitarian beliefs. The Nicene Creed raised the issue of the relationship between Jesus' divine and human natures. Monophysitism ("one nature") and monothelitism ("one will") were early attempts, considered heretical by trinitarians, to explain this relationship.
During more than a thousand years of Trinitarian orthodoxy, formal nontrinitarianism, i.e., a doctrine held by a church, group, or movement, was rare, but it did appear. For example, among the Cathars of the 13th century. The Protestant Reformation of the 1500s also brought tradition into question. At first, nontrinitarians were executed (such as Servetus), or forced to keep their beliefs secret (such as Isaac Newton). The eventual establishment of religious freedom, however, allowed nontrinitarians to more easily preach their beliefs, and the 19th century saw the establishment of several nontrinitarian groups in North America and elsewhere. These include Christadelphians, Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Unitarians. Some groups espousing Binitarianism such as the Living Church of God claim that Binitarianism was the majority view of those that professed Christ in the second century.
Twentieth-century nontrinitarian movements include Iglesia ni Cristo and the Unification Church. Nontrinitarian groups differ from one another in their views of Jesus Christ, depicting him variously as a divine being second only to God the Father (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses), Yahweh of the Old Testament in human form, God (but not eternally God), Son of God but inferior to the Father (versus co-equal), prophet, or simply a holy man.
Included in this are Oneness Pentecostals, who deny the Trinitarian doctrine, though affirming their belief that God came to Earth as man (i.e., manifested himself) in the man Jesus Christ. Like Trinitarians, Oneness Pentecostals believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. One can understand Oneness Pentecostals by replacing the Trinitarian term "person" with the term "mode" or "manifestation" when discussing the Christian Godhead. Many Oneness Pentecostals can recite the first Nicene Creed, as it rejects Arianism, yet preserves the oneness of God and divinity of Jesus Christ. Yet Oneness Pentecostals are regarded by all orthodox Christians groups as subscribing to the heresy of Modalism, teaching that God displayed himself in the Old Testament as Father, in the Gospels as the Son, and after the Ascension as the Holy Spirit, which is not the accepted orthodox view of three distinct persons in one divine essence. Oneness Pentecostalism teaches there is only one person displaying himself in different ways.


trinity in Arabic: الثالوث الأقدس
trinity in Azerbaijani: Üç üqnum
trinity in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Сьвятая Троіца
trinity in Breton: An Dreinded
trinity in Bulgarian: Света Троица
trinity in Catalan: Santíssima Trinitat
trinity in Min Dong Chinese: Săng-ôi-ék-tā̤
trinity in Czech: Nejsvětější Trojice
trinity in Danish: Treenigheden
trinity in German: Dreifaltigkeit
trinity in Estonian: Kolmainsus
trinity in Modern Greek (1453-): Αγία Τριάδα
trinity in Spanish: Trinidad (religión)
trinity in Esperanto: Sankta Triunuo
trinity in Basque: Hirutasun
trinity in French: Trinité chrétienne
trinity in Friulian: Trinitât
trinity in Irish: Tríonóid
trinity in Scottish Gaelic: Trianaid
trinity in Croatian: Trojstvo (nauk)
trinity in Korean: 삼위일체
trinity in Indonesian: Tritunggal
trinity in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Trinitate
trinity in Icelandic: Heilög þrenning
trinity in Italian: Trinità
trinity in Hebrew: השילוש הקדוש
trinity in Latin: Trinitas
trinity in Luxembourgish: Dräifaltegkeet
trinity in Lithuanian: Švenčiausioji Trejybė
trinity in Hungarian: Szentháromság
trinity in Malayalam: ത്രിത്വം
trinity in Macedonian: Свето Тројство
trinity in Malay (macrolanguage): Tritunggal
trinity in Dutch: Drie-eenheid
trinity in Japanese: 三位一体
trinity in Norwegian: Den hellige treenighet
trinity in Norwegian Nynorsk: Treeininga
trinity in Polish: Trójca Święta
trinity in Portuguese: Santíssima Trindade
trinity in Romanian: Sfânta Treime
trinity in Quechua: Kimsantin Dyus
trinity in Russian: Троица
trinity in Albanian: Trinia
trinity in Simple English: Trinity
trinity in Slovak: Najsvätejšia Trojica
trinity in Slovenian: Sveta Trojica
trinity in Serbian: Света Тројица
trinity in Serbo-Croatian: Trojstvo
trinity in Finnish: Kolminaisuusoppi
trinity in Swedish: Treenighetsläran
trinity in Thai: ตรีเอกภาพ
trinity in Tagalog: Trinidad
trinity in Vietnamese: Ba Ngôi
trinity in Turkish: Teslis
trinity in Ukrainian: Трійця (християнство)
trinity in Chinese: 三位一體

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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