My understanding is that "Trinity" is not is not used in the Christian Bible to define the three hypostases: God, Christ, and Holy Spirit. What then is the historical origin of the Doctrine of the Trinity?

Put another way, when and from whom did the word "Trinity" come about in relation to the hypostases? Is there a reason "Trinity" appears in the Christian lexicon rather than referring to the specific hypostasis?

3 Answers 3


The Trinity described:

The Athanasian Creed, formulated a few hundred years after the death of Jesus, defined the Trinity this way: “The Father is God: the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.”

Did Jesus start the Trinity?

Many would say that it's origin started with Jesus Christ, however that would conflict what the bible say even about his "own" origin (creation) about him being equal:

Colossians 1:13-15

13. Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14. In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: 15. Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16. For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

Was the Origin of the Trinity in the bible?

No where in the scriptures does it make mention of Trinity.

In its 1999 issue on the Trinity, The Living Pulpit observed: “Sometimes, it seems that everyone assumes that the doctrine of the trinity is standard Christian theological fare,” but it added that it is not “a biblical idea.”

“The doctrine of the trinity . . . is not a product of the earliest Christian period, and we do not find it carefully expressed before the end of the second century.”Library of Early Christianity—Gods and the One God.

Where then could the Origin of the Trinity come from?

In his book The Church of the First Three Centuries, Dr. Alvan Lamson states that the doctrine of the Trinity “had its origin in a source entirely foreign from that of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; that it grew up, and was ingrafted on Christianity, through the hands of the Platonizing Fathers.”

Who were these “Platonizing Fathers”? They were apostate clerics who were infatuated with the teachings of pagan Greek philosopher Plato.

The Platonic trinity, itself merely a rearrangement of older trinities dating back to earlier peoples, appears to be the rational philosophic trinity of attributes that gave birth to the three hypostases or divine persons taught by the Christian churches. . . . This Greek philosopher’s [Plato’s] conception of the divine trinity . . . can be found in all the ancient [pagan] religions.”—Nouveau Dictionnaire Universel (Paris, 1865-1870), edited by M. Lachâtre, Vol. 2, p. 1467.

History shows that the ancient civilizations and cultures that believed in a Triad god or gods were: Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome which all were conquering nations, one after another, could have carried their beliefs into Christianity after Jesus' death - during the time of the Romans and of which historically were Pagans.

  • The paragraph beginning with "In his book The Church. . ." is from Jehovah's Witnesses publication, The Watchtower. CARM quotes it here: carm.org/quotes-trinity-watchtower-jehovahs-witnesses
    – Steve
    Nov 22, 2017 at 13:35
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for taking the site tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. For some tips on writing good answers here, see: What makes a good supported answer? Though your answer seems to me to be as valid as any other, since it conflicts with the dominant view in institutional Christianity, it will likely get some downvotes. The more references you can provide to support it, the better. Nov 22, 2017 at 14:04
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    @Steve Actually it is a very Old book by an Old author in the 1800s. Not by Jehovah's Witnesses. google.com/… Nov 22, 2017 at 14:51
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    Ahh ... so the JW used it to cherry-pick passages for support of their doctrine.
    – Steve
    Nov 22, 2017 at 15:06
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    @Steve I don't see any issues with cherry-picking in this case, because they've included the passages which deal directly with the question asked, "What is the origin of the doctrine of the Trinity?" This isn't a theological debate, it's a statement of what Christian scholars have believed is the origin of the doctrine of the Trinity. Sweeping it under the carpet would be deceptive as well.
    – user32540
    Nov 23, 2017 at 0:37

Regarding first part of your question that “Trinity" is not used in the Christian Bible: answer to this question tries to give the biblical basis for Trinity,

Regarding your second part of the question, on historical origin of the Doctrine of the Trinity, I have come across the following historical notings of Church fathers.

The apostolic Fathers unanimously taught that the "we" in Gen 1:26, refers to the Trinity:

  1. 74 AD Epistle of Barnabas: (Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter VI-- Though this is not part of Canon, we get the insight that the idea of Trinity was being discussed at that point of time)
  2. 150 AD Justin Martyr: (Dialogue of Justin Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew: Chapter LXII.—The Words "Let Us Make Man")
  3. 180 AD Irenaeus (Against Heresies 4:20:1).
  4. 200 AD Tertullian: "If the number of the Trinity also offends you, as if it were not connected in the simple Unity, I ask you how it is possible for a Being who is merely and absolutely One and Singular, to speak in plural phrase, saying, "Let us make man in our own image, and after our own likeness; " whereas He ought to have said, "Let me make man in my own image, and after my own likeness," as being a unique and singular Being? In the following passage, however, "Behold the man is become as one of us," He is either deceiving or amusing us in speaking plurally, if He is One only and singular. Or was it to the angels that He spoke, as the Jews interpret the passage, because these also acknowledge not the Son? Or was it because He was at once the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, that He spoke to Himself in plural terms, making Himself plural on that very account? Nay, it was because He had already His Son close at His side, as a second Person, His own Word, and a third Person also, the Spirit in the Word, that He purposely adopted the plural phrase, "Let us make; "and, "in our image; "and, "become as one of us." (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter XII. Other Quotations from Holy Scripture Adduced in Proof of the Plurality of Persons in the Godhead.)
  5. 200 AD Tertullian: (Tertullian, Book V, Elucidations, Chapter VIII.—Man the Image of the Creator, and Christ the Head of the Man.)
  6. 200 AD Tertullian: (Tertullian: On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Elucidations, Chapter V.—Some Considerations in Reply Eulogistic of the Flesh. It Was Created by God.)
  7. 250 AD Ignatius (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians, Chapter II.—The True Doctrine Respecting God and Christ.)
  8. Origen: "it was to Him that God said regarding the creation of man, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." (Origen Against Celsus, Book V, Chapter XXXVII)
  9. Novatian: (A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXVI. Argument.—Moreover, Against the Sabellians He Proves that the Father is One, the Son Another.)
  10. Constitutions of the Holy Apostles: (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book V., VII)

Similar references are also there form all these apostolic Fathers while they were preaching about the concept of Trinity by quoting Genesis 19:24:

  1. 150 AD Justin Martyr: Dialogue of Justin Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew, Chapter LVI.—God Who Appeared to Moses is Distinguished from God the Father.)
  2. 180 AD Irenaeus " (Irenaeus, Book 3, ch 6)
  3. 200 AD Tertullian "That is a still grander statement [of Christ's deity] which you will find expressly made in the Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." There was One "who was," and there was another "with whom" He was. But I find in Scripture the name Lord also applied to them Both: "The Lord said unto my Lord, ....... but in determinate and simple declarations?" (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, [In which he defends, in all essential points, the doctrine of the holy Trinity.] Chapter XIII.—The Force of Sundry Passages of Scripture Illustrated in Relation to the Plurality of Persons and Unity of Substance. There is No Polytheism Here, Since the Unity is Insisted on as a Remedy Against Polytheism.)
  4. 250 AD Ignatius " (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians, Chapter II.—The True Doctrine Respecting God and Christ.)
  5. 253 AD Cyprian (The Treatises of Cyprian, Treatise XII. Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews. Third Book., Testimonies., 33. That the Father judgeth nothing, but the Son; and that the Father is not glorified by him by whom the Son is not glorified.)
  6. Novatian: (A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XXVI. Argument.—Moreover, Against the Sabellians He Proves that the Father is One, the Son Another.)
  7. Novatian (A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, Chapter XVIII. Argument.—Moreover Also, from the Fact that He Who Was Seen of Abraham is Called God; Which Cannot Be Understood of the Father, Whom No Man Hath Seen at Any Time; But of the Son in the Likeness of an Angel.)
  8. Constitutions of the Holy Apostles: " (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book V. XX. A Prophetic Prediction Concerning Christ Jesus.)

Your question pre-supposes that, since the word "Trinity" is excluded from the Bible, then the "historical origin of the doctrine of the Trinity" is also excluded from the Bible. However, I would beg to differ.

For example, consider the word "monotheism." It too is excluded from the Bible; you will not find the word "monotheism" written explicitly in the text of the Bible.

"Monotheism" is defined as "the doctrine or belief that there is only one God. The Bible states that "there is one God, and there is no other but Him" (Mark 12:32).

  • Since "monotheism" is defined as "the doctrine or belief that there is only one God,"
  • and the Bible (loc. cit.) states that "there is one God, and there is no other but Him,"
  • then we may conclude that the Bible confirms monotheism even though the word "monotheism" itself is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible.

The name of a doctrine does not need to be explicitly stated in scripture as long as the elements which define the doctrine are stated or implied.

The historical origin of the doctrine of the Trinity is the Bible. If you would like to know what the doctrine of the Trinity entails, another dedicated question may be in order.

  • See edits made to my original post. Monotheism is a good analogy here, but is different than what I'm asking in the sense that monotheism is self-evident in context of the bible, while the Trinity may not be.
    – bn.
    Jan 14, 2013 at 2:04
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    @bn: I disagree that monotheism is self-evident. While the Bible does say that there is one God (Mark 12:32: εἷς ἐστιν θεὸς), there are other beings also referred to as θεός, including Satan, who is described as "the god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4: ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου). Remember, capitalization that exists in English to distinguish "god" versus "God" did not exist in original Greek manuscripts. It is an English construct. Both "god" and "God" would be derived from a Greek word that looked exactly like this: ΘΕΟΣ, without miniscules.
    – user900
    Jan 14, 2013 at 2:29
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    H3br3wHamm3r81: I'm thinking of Ex. 20:1-4 & Deut. 5:6-7 which seems pretty clear in support of monotheism.
    – bn.
    Jan 14, 2013 at 2:35
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    More like henotheism, rather than monotheism. Exo. 20:3: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Then other gods do in fact exist.) Deut. 5:6: I [am] the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (YHVH your God, but not the god of others; cp. Exo. 23:32-33.) Again, monotheism is hardly self-evident.
    – user900
    Jan 14, 2013 at 2:42
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 - "While the Bible does say that there is one God (Mark 12:32: εἷς ἐστιν θεὸς), there are other beings also referred to as θεός" - Bible states that there is only One Creator of all things, and among other beings referred to as θεὸς only that One who created everything is the real God.
    – brilliant
    Jun 23, 2013 at 7:15

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