In Scripture and the early Creeds, "one God" is used primarily to refer to God the Father:

1 Cor 8:6 (NIV): yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381: We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

But the Athanasian Creed differs by using the phrase "one God" to refer to the whole of the godhead or Trinity:

And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; ... The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. They are not three Gods but one God.

What explains this shift from thinking first of the Father as God and then to the Son and Spirit as co-equal with the Father, to describing the Trinity as the first and main way we should understand "one God"?

  • 1
    @curiousdannii, Hi. I edited my question to be more specific. I was really asking about the Trinitarian explanation for the Athanasian Creed's peculiar usage of the title "one God" referring to the Trinity. Usually, it refers to God the Father (1 Corinthians 8:6, Nicene Creed).
    – R. Brown
    Sep 5, 2019 at 13:32
  • You can't place restrictions on how a question is answered. If a particular denomination would use other sources to explain their belief, it makes no sense to "disallow" those sources. Sep 5, 2019 at 16:39
  • 1
    I think this reflects a general difference between the western church and the eastern church about whether we should think of Trinity first or of Father first. I reworded the question to get at this issue, hope this gets at what you're asking about.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 6, 2019 at 1:57
  • 1
    @curiousdannii, Thank you. The question is now way better!
    – R. Brown
    Sep 6, 2019 at 2:02

3 Answers 3


Divinity & unity appropriated to God the Father

As is evident in many of the Trinitarian verses listed below, the names "God the Father" and "God" simply are often used synonymously. This is because the Father is the principle of the divinity of the other Divine Persons, Who proceed from Him; He communicates to them the one divinity.

Holy Scripture and the Fathers appropriate certain attributes to each Person. Appropriation is

A manner of speaking in which the properties and activities of God, though common to the three divine persons, are attributed to an individual person. The purpose of appropriation is to manifest the differences in the divine properties and persons. Four kinds of appropriations are known from Scripture and sacred tradition:

  1. substantive names of God (Theos), applied to the Father, and of Lord (Kurios), applied to the Son;

  2. absolute attributes of God, namely power, unity, and eternity applied to the Father; wisdom, equality, and beauty applied to the Son; goodness, harmony, and happiness applied to the Holy Spirit;

  3. works of God, namely efficient cause (Father), exemplary cause (Son), and final cause (Holy Spirit);

  4. worship of God, with the Father as recipient of adoration and sacrifice, and the Son and Holy Spirit as mediators between God and man.

(Etym. Latin appropriatio, ascribing, the attributing of a special characteristic.)

See also Whether the essential attributes are appropriated to the persons in a fitting manner by the holy doctors?, where St. Augustine is quoted as saying (De Doctr. Christ. i, 5):

In the Father is unity, in the Son equality, in the Holy Spirit the harmony of unity and equality; and these three attributes are all one because of the Father, all equal because of the Son, and all harmonious because of the Holy Spirit.

Trinitarian verses

The New Testament not only mentions the Divine Persons of the Trinity

individually, but also frequently, more than forty times, they are mentioned together or at the same time. The main Trinitarian texts are:


  1. Matt. 3:16-17 (Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:22), the theophany at the baptism of Christ.

    And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. And behold a voice from heaven [God the Father], saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

  2. Matt. 28:19, the command to baptize.

    Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

  3. Luke 1:35, the annunciation of the Incarnation.

    And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High [God the Father] shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

  4. John 14:16, 17, 23; 15:26; 16:7-11, 12-15, the promise of the Holy Spirit at the Last Supper.

    And I [God the Son] will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete [Holy Ghost], that he may abide with you for ever. The spirit of truth [Holy Ghost], whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him: but you shall know him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you. […] Jesus answered, and said to him: If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we [with the Holy Ghost] will come to him, and will make our abode with him.
    But when the Paraclete [Holy Ghost] cometh, whom I [God the Son] will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth [Holy Ghost], who proceedeth from the Father, he [Holy Ghost] shall give testimony of me.
    But I [God the Son] tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete [Holy Ghost] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he is come, he will convict the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment. Of sin: because they believed not in me. And of justice: because I go to the Father; and you shall see me no longer. And of judgment: because the prince of this world is already judged. I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth [Holy Ghost], is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you. All things whatsoever the Father hath, are mine. Therefore I said, that he [Holy Ghost] shall receive of mine, and shew it to you.

St. Peter:

  1. Acts 2:33, 38-39; 5:31-32, Peter’s first sermons.
    Being exalted therefore by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he [God the Son] hath poured forth this which you see and hear. […] But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God [the Father] shall call.
    Him [God the Son] hath God exalted with his right hand, to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. And we are witnesses of these things and the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to all that obey him.

St. Paul:

  1. Rom. 8:9-11, 14-17; 1 Cor. 2:10-16; Eph. 1:17; 2:17-22, the divine action in the heart of the just.

    But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the [Holy] Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body indeed is dead, because of sin; but the spirit liveth, because of justification. And if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead, dwell in you; he that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead, shall quicken also your mortal bodies, because of his [Holy] Spirit that dwelleth in you. […] For whosoever are led by the [Holy] Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the [Holy] Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.
    But to us God hath revealed them, by this [Holy] Spirit. For the [Holy] Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the [Holy] Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of this world, but the [Holy] Spirit that is of God; that we may know the things that are given us from God. Which things also we speak, not in the learned words of human wisdom; but in the doctrine of the [Holy] Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the [Holy] Spirit of God; for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined. But the spiritual man judgeth all things; and he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that we may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
    That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation, in the knowledge of him:
    And coming, he [Jesus] preached peace to you that were afar off, and peace to them that were nigh. For by him we have access both in one [Holy] Spirit to the Father. Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God, Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone: In whom all the building, being framed together, groweth up into an holy temple in the Lord. In whom you also are built together into an habitation of God in the [Holy] Spirit.

  2. 1 Cor. 6:15-20, Christians as the temple of God.

    Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. Or know you not, that he who is joined to a harlot, is made one body? For they shall be, saith he, two in one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit. Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth, is without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body. Or know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body.

  3. 1 Cor. 12:3-6, the distribution of charisms.

    Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man, speaking by the [Holy] Spirit of God, saith Anathema to Jesus. And no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of graces, but the same [Holy] Spirit; And there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all.

  4. 2 Cor. 13:13, benediction and greeting.

    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God [the Father], and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen.

  5. Gal. 4:4-9,14, the mission of Christ.

    But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law: That he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God hath sent the [Holy] Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father. Therefore now he is not a servant, but a son. And if a son, an heir also through God. But then indeed, not knowing God, you served them, who, by nature, are not gods. But now, after that you have known God, or rather are known by God: how turn you again to the weak and needy elements, which you desire to serve again? […] You despised not, nor rejected: but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

  6. Eph. 3:14-19, the prayer of Paul.

    For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened by his [Holy] Spirit with might unto the inward man,That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity, You may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth: To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fulness of God.

  7. Eph. 4:4-6, the unity of the Church.

    One body and one [Holy] Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.

  8. Tit. 3:4-6, our regeneration.

    But when the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour [Jesus] appeared: Not by the works of justice, which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us, by the laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost; Whom he hath poured forth upon us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour:

  9. Hebr. 9:14, the sacrifice of Christ.

    How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?

  10. Hebr. 10:29-31, the evil of apostasy.

    How much more, do you think he deserveth worse punishments, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath esteemed the blood of the testament unclean, by which he was sanctified, and hath offered an affront to the [Holy] Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said: Vengeance belongeth to me, and I will repay. And again: The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

St. Peter:

  1. 1 Pet. 1:1-2, greeting and benediction.

    Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers dispersed through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect, According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, unto the sanctification of the [Holy] Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you and peace be multiplied.

  2. 1 Pet. 4:14, reproach in the name of Christ.

    If you be reproached for the name of Christ, you shall be blessed: for that which is of the honour, glory, and power of God, and that which is his [Holy] Spirit, resteth upon you.

St. John:

  1. 1 John 4:11-16, charity.
    My dearest, if God hath so loved us; we also ought to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his charity is perfected in us. In this we know that we abide in him, and he in us: because he hath given us of his [Holy] spirit. And we have seen, and do testify, that the Father hath sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God. And we have known, and have believed the charity, which God hath to us. God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him.

source: Sacræ Theologiæ Summa IIA: One & Triune God p. 250

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    This answer was great, but ought to be updated to have something to do with the Athanasian Creed specifically.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 6, 2019 at 13:18
  • @PeterTurner curiousdannii's edits helped. See what I added on appropriation.
    – Geremia
    Sep 6, 2019 at 17:53
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    But you haven't explained why they changed how they appropriated things in the Athanasian creed.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 7, 2019 at 22:33
  • @curiousdannii How is it a change?
    – Geremia
    Sep 7, 2019 at 22:54
  • This answer doesn't seem to answer the question, why is the one God the Father in the Nicene Creed, but the Trinity in the Athanasian Creed?
    – matt2048
    Oct 20, 2022 at 23:10

The Athanasian Creed in General

The Athanasian Creed is so called because it was traditionally written by St. Athanasius, notable for his defense of the trinitarian doctrine of God against the novelty of the priest Arius. However false the attribution to Athanasius, the idea that it does not constitute a faithful exposition of the Catholic faith as he saw it ha sno merit whatsoever—it is clearly a distilled statement of his faith. It is, if not Athanasius' Creed, a markedly Athanasian one, in other words.

Said credal formula involves the most basic doctrines of "the Catholic faith,... without keeping which whole and inviolate a man will without a doubt perish eternally." Like the Nicene Creed, its focus is on the doctrine of God in particular, and specifically the triune nature of God. But whereas the Nicene Creed is content to affirm at an Ecumenical and thus dogmatic Council of the Church that the Son is divine in the sense of sharing the nature of the Father, not merely partaking in some way in it, the Athanasian Creed focuses on the precise details of the triune nature of God, such as the absolute equality of the persons, so that it is clear whether you hold to an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, or have a modified 'Trinity lite.'

The Nicene Creed also has "God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God," which clause is intended to reject the hersey of Arianism which does not believe that the Son is true God, but a creature, and affirm that the Son shares the nature of God because He was "begotten of the Father before all ages." You won't find the deity of the Holy Ghost in the Nicene Creed because the Arian heresy was one which denied the divinity of the Son; it was not a Pneumatological heresy (or heresy regarding the Holy Ghost)—which would be addressed in a later Council, Constantinople I (and likewise, other Christological doctrines not delved into at Nicaea).

The Unity of God in Scripture

Scripture leaves no room for us to consider the persons of the trinity to be other than the one God—and moreover affirms that they are. In case the "three" and "one" in the Trinity are being conflated or made univocal, it should be first understood that the "one" refers to one aspect of God's nature, and "three" another—the same aspect is not both one and three at the same time, which is nonsense-speak, not a mystery: the mystery is how a nature can be equally said to belong to three persons, and yet be one nature. This is how it is possible to speak of one God, but three persons. However, this is at least not unthinkable when considering that the divine nature is fundamentally incomprehensible to man anyway—if the name Michael means "Who is/can be like God?" the one could ask also, "what is like God?" to which the answer to said rhetorical questions is, "no one, and nothing." And if nothing is like God, we can at best understand God's nature through imperfect analogy, and certainly not as He is: "no one can see my face and live" (Exodus 33:20). God is invisible; here, to see means to experience in an unmediated way (expressed by analogy to sight. We digress.

One God, the Father

Trinitarians of course, as you note, affirm the doctrine that the one God is the father. However, this doesn't preclude the Trinity any more than John 17:3 (DRB):

Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

If the Father is not the only true God, then the Trinity is false by definition, because it asserts Him to be such. Who is He supposed to be? It should also be noted that "true God" and "God" are synonymous here, since "the God" is "the true God." Therefore, this verse is really only saying the Father is God, and other false idols and gods are "nothing in the world, and there is no God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4). It does not help the Unitarian as he thinks it does.

What non-Trinitarians do is reword this verse from "you are the only true God" to "only you are the true God," making the verse not about what the Father is, to what the Father exclusively is, which is clearly Semantically different—and only equivalent to the actual verse if it is assumed first that God must be unipersonal, rather than tripersonal. If "the divinity of the Father" is seriously taken for an argument against the Trinity, then the Trinity has not been apprehended properly. Just as someone who says, "God is not a man" to the Incarnation is ignorant that such is a premise necessary for the Incarnation to be true.

Trinitarians also believe that the Son is the true God, and the Holy Ghost is the true God (precisely because there is only one divine nature—one God; anyone believed to be God, namely the Trinity, is considered to be synonymous with that divine nature, not a 'one-third participant'). Note that the Creed of Nicaea, which asserts the equality of the Son with the Father, and that they share and are one substance (or nature) says that the Father is the one God we believe in; it is simply that by extension, anyone who shares His nature or substance is just as much the one true God by definition. Thus the Creeds do not have a different faith; the Athanasian is simply a far more in depth and precise look at relationship of the persons.

The Scriptures cited by the other answerers are sufficient, so I don't want to belabour the point by re-citing them. Besides, the Scriptural 'proof' for both Unitarianism and Trinitarianism is always debatable by someone. We don't rely on Scripture minus the faith which grounds them: as Athanasius said, it becomes necessary to cite them as proofs only insofar as they are rejected by heretics who ignore tradition and assign the Scriptures a novel interpretation, and not as though the doctrine stood or fell on someone's acceptance of a Trinitarian explanation of them. In other words, to vindicate the Scriptures' meaning, "that they bear the orthodox sense."


Since the persons of the Trinity have one nature or substance, not three separate natures, they are one of that substance (God). This is why Jesus will be able to say, "I and the Father are one [God]," or that "He that has seen me has seen the Father." Not that they are identical personally, but both are identical to the divine nature.


I will answer in the Protestant perspective (Sola Scriptura).

1. Singular Name, Singular Essence

The New Testament speaks of "Adam" as the type of Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). Jesus is like Adam, belonging to a plurality of persons. In Genesis 5:2 (Hebrew/LXX), God named the male and female "Adam" (same singular name) and even described them as "one flesh" (one human). Apparently, the singular name is singular identity implying common essence. So, Biblically speaking, two humans are actually one human based on God's perspective.

N.T. Scripture says that the Father and the Son possess the same singular Divine name "Lord" (Kyrios) (Philippians 2:9-11, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Jude 1:4) implying the essence of deity (specifically, being eternal) as the Lord of the Shema is the Creator of all things.

In the New Testament, we also read that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all of them together possess a singular Divine "name" which is most probably Kyrios (Matthew 28:19).

2. Monotheistic Names applied to the Trinity

In the Bible as a whole, Yahweh is known in Greek by the name Kyrios (Lord). It is the benchmark of a true deity in the Scriptures.

Lord = God in the Jewish sense.

The Father is the "one Lord" (Mark 12:29 a Shema quote --- Deuteronomy 6:4)

Jesus is both "one Lord" and "only Lord" (1 Corinthians 8:6, Jude 1:4).

The Holy Spirit possesses that same name (Matthew 28:19).

Another Biblical benchmark of a true deity is the Divine essence.

The singular name "Adam" signify common human essence just as the singular name Kyrios (=YHWH) signify eternal Divine nature which is common to the Trinity.

  1. The Essence of God contrasted to the Essence of Man

Humans beget children whom they are of same nature with --- generically speaking. However, Scripture says that the human essence per se being passed onto offspring is only mere "likeness" (not identical essence to its parent).

"When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth." Genesis 5:3 (ESV)

On the other hand, Christ Jesus is the "exact imprint of his nature" (Hebrews 1:3 ESV). In God, there are no parts but only always "the fulness of deity" (Colossians 2:9).


@Sola Gratia, has correctly pointed out that the Athanasian Creed is an exposition of the Trinity doctrine per se evincing the absolute equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit whilst the Nicene Creed is using language of scripture (monotheistic names: "one God, one Lord" 1 Cor. 8:6) and contemporary language (homoousios) to refute the new teaching that the Son is not true God (Arius's doctrine).


According to the Bible expressed in the Nicene Creed, the Trinity is not three gods but one God because they (1) have the same singular monotheistic names (2) have the same exact essence. The Athanasian Creed uses the same paradigm as the Nicene Creed in that it uses Divine Names (one God, one Lord) as applicable to all the persons of the Trinity due to their consubstantiality.

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