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Today the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. In the Trinitarian Formula, we invoke the NAME (singular) of the Three Persons of the Trinity. In English we say: "In the NAME OF the Father, and OF the Son and OF the Holy Spirit." Note the repetition of the preposition 'OF' prefixed to each of the Three Persons, to reinforce individuality. But at the same time, we do not say: "In the NAMES of the Father, etc." Does it imply that there is but one name for all the Three Persons, and that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not individual names? My question therefore, is: What according to Trinitarians is the reason for starting of the Trinitarian Formula with "In the name…" (singular) and not "In the names…" (plural)?

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    The question tags do not indicate which Christian Group is under analysis. What is meant by 'The Universal Church' ?
    – Nigel J
    Jun 4, 2023 at 19:48
  • Nigel, by Universal Church , I mean the entire Church including, but not limited to, the Catholic Church. 4thJune, 2023 is celebrated as Trinity Sunday by both the Western and the Eastern Liturgical Calendars. ( Courtesy; Wikipedia ). Jun 5, 2023 at 2:35
  • Synecdoche The word, "Name" is used, but it is a synecdoche representing the full "Authority and Divine Power" of the Trinity!
    – ray grant
    Sep 25, 2023 at 21:29

7 Answers 7

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Does it imply that there is but one name for all the Three Persons, and that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not individual names?

Sort of; it's not that the individual persons don't have names, but that God has one Name, and the formula is as it is to emphasize that there is one God.

However...

What is the reason for starting with 'in the Name' and not 'in the Names'?

...the best answer is because that's what Jesus told us to do.

Matthew 28:19
[Jesus said,] "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..."

"Name" here ("ὄνομα") is singular.

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"In the name…" (singular) shows the unity of the divine essence.

Pohle-Preuss, The Divine Trinity: A Dogmatic Treatise, § "The threefold personality of God as taught in the New Testament ­— Texts treating of the three Divine Persons together":

The essential identity of the three Divine Persons follows further from the singular form “in nomine” ["in the name"], because throughout the Bible “nomen Domini” ["name of the Lord"] signifies God’s power, majesty, and essence.13 As the Three have but one name, so They have but one essence, one nature, one substance. St. Augustine beautifully observes:

Iste unus Deus, quia non in nominibus Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, sed in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Ubi unum nomen audis, unus est Deus
This is one God, for it is not in the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, but in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Where thou hearest one name, there is one God.14


13. “Nomen est numen.” ["The name is the divinity."]
14. August., Tract. in Ioa., 6, n. 9.

Baptism is invalidated by saying "In the names…" (plural).

Pohle-Preuss, The Sacraments: A Dogmatic Treatise (vol. 1): The Sacraments in General, Baptism, Confirmation, § "Matter and Form" of baptism:

Baptism would still be invalid if the minister would introduce a phrase embodying an anti-Trinitarian heresy,54 e.g., “I baptize thee in the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”55


54. Tritheism, Arianism, etc.
55. “Baptizo te in nominibus Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are the names of the Divine Persons, not of the Trinity.

God is one

not in the oneness of a single Person, but in the Trinity of one substance. […] distinction in persons, unity in essence
non in uníus singularitáte persónæ, sed in uníus Trinitáte substántiæ. […] in persónis propríetas, et in esséntia únitas
Preface of the Holy Trinity

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The three Persons in the one, blessed Godhead all have a variety of names and titles. There is no one single name for the Father, or for the Son or for the Holy Spirit. I won't develop that here as it is self-evident to all who are familiar with the Scriptures.

The origin of the phrase in question, "In the name of..." is Jesus Christ himself. He was the first to command it, and for that to be written down by the apostle Matthew, under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them..." Matthew 28:19-20 A.V.

Had Jesus meant to tell Christians to baptize in three names, to indicated three distinctives with regard to baptism, he would have said, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Ghost". But the fact that all three persons in the blessed Trinity are of the one divine substance, or being; all equally God, means that there is this one, over-arching 'Name' that covers all of that, in one go. It is the Name of supreme authority of the one, true God. The entirety of the Godhead is encapsulated by this power of the authority of the Divine Name.

Of course, non-trinitrians will not have that, but this question is asked from, and looking to, the perspective of mainstream Christianity which is based on this foundational doctrine of the Trinity.

That is why all mainstream Christian groups baptise using the formula that starts, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit".

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    Up-voted +1. onoma means not only name, but 'authority' and 'cause' Strong 3686. The baptism is in the name of, under the authority of and unto the cause of . . . . . . . . .
    – Nigel J
    Sep 28, 2023 at 3:08
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To be honest, I suspect this is a question of English grammar rather than theology.

The expression could be taken as an abbreviation of "In the name of the Father and {in the name] of the Son and [in the name] of the Holy Spirit". In other words, the word "name" at the beginning would be singular in form even if they were different names.

I can't speak for Latin grammar, but the point is worth checking.

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  • Latin and Greek have parallel grammar in that place. It would be unusual and therefore require justification for that type of elision
    – eques
    Jun 4, 2023 at 22:18
  • Agreed. I admittedly come from a non-Trinitarian viewpoint, but this seems like a question of grammar. If it said "in the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," it would imply that each of the three persons has multiple names. Also, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost aren't names anyway, they're titles – "in the name of" essentially means "by the authority of." There's no need to say "by the authorities of" because it's the same authority from all three. Jun 4, 2023 at 22:44
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    Foxe's Book of Martyrs (published in 1563, not too long before the King James Version of the Bible), uses a similar phrase – "name" meaning "authority": "in the name of the king and queen" (ccel.org/ccel/foxe/martyrs/files/fox116.htm). Jun 4, 2023 at 22:54
  • You have a point, Samuel Bradshaw. Hope you develop it into an answer. Jun 5, 2023 at 0:37
  • @SamuelBradshaw Not necessarily. While a singular noun related to a plural is typically "shared", whether a plural noun related to a plural is specifically one each or multiple depends at least in part on particular grammar rules in languages. If your suggestion were generally the case, how would languages express the idea of a plurality with one per each (e.g. names for 3 persons, 1 name per person).
    – eques
    Jun 5, 2023 at 15:26
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Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost - Matthew 28:19

We bring a lot of assumptions to this verse which, while not necessarily wrong, may serve to hamper understanding at depth.

Baptizing

The above mentioned verb βαπτιζω (baptizo), which is really the same verb as the parent but with more dynamic, deliberate or willful action: to do an immersion, to plunge in. This verb is used in the classics to describe the deliberate sinking of ships, the "inundating" of a city by throngs of people, or a being up to the ears in debt. It's used 80 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, but translators should avoid using the verb "to baptize", since in English that verb doesn't do anything other than refer to a relatively modern religious ritual, namely Christianity's ritual of water baptism. As we describe above, there are quite a few mediums into which one may be immersed, and it's the willful and total immersing that this verb speaks about, not the medium.

In

The ubiquitous preposition εις (eis) describes a motion into any place or thing, and can often be translated with "in", "into" or "at". It is the opposite of εκ (ek), which describes a motion out of anything, and differs from προς (pros) in that the latter describes the approach while εις (eis) describes the arrival.

The Name

The noun ονομα (onoma) means name, and it and our English word "name" stem from the same ancient Proto-Indo-European root "nomn-" that left its mark in languages from Sanskrit (nama) and Avestan (nama) to Russian (imya) and all European languages. That means that our word describes something that was among the very first concepts to be named; a necessarily ancient idea that sits at the very core of what defines humanity. Our word "noun" comes from the Latin word for "name," namely nomen, and sure enough, technically speaking, one's personal name is a "proper noun" and nouns like "lamp" or "mouse" are really the "names" of things. That means that a human name creates a generic category that contains one member: someone named Barney is as unique as the lamp and the mouse.

And

The ubiquitous copulative particle και (kai) simply means "and" or "also". And και (kai) is altogether not very exciting either. It's mostly used to tie words or statements together in much the same way as does our English word "and"

Baptize is most often assumed to mean water and "in the name of" is assumed to be a single phrase meaning something like "by the authority of". However, Jesus came to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, so water need not always be in view.

"Name" can indicate authority but it most often is simply a definition of who or what something is. Since 'and' is copulative and 'name' is singular, the 'name' (or defining nature) of Father, Son, and Spirit is the same. It is a decidedly Trinitarian verse directly from the mouth of the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, this verse can be understood as follows:

"having gone, then, disciple all the nations, totally and willingly immersing them within the defining nature of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit".

This, then, is not a call to go about performing a water baptism ritual but a directive that, through the teaching of the gospel, members of all tribes and tongues and nations may willingly and completely be immersed in the Triune God. You must be born again.

If water immersion is the clear, inextricable intention of the wording of the "great commission" then Paul has been exempted from Jesus' command by Jesus Himself:

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,so that no one can say you were baptized in my name. I did, in fact, baptize the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t recall if I baptized anyone else. **For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — **not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect. - 1 Corinthians 1:14-17

I've not yet seen anyone insisting that the Apostle Paul was not fulfilling the "great commission".

  • Incidentally, this understanding brings great depth to the command against 'taking the Lord's name in vain'. It is not a prohibition against verbal misuse of the words God or Jesus (although as a matter of love and respect one should not) but it is a prohibition against making an empty (vain) confession, as those who honor Him with their lips but their hearts are far from Him.
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    Up-voted +1. Very astute. Very individual. Whether all is technically correct, I am not qualified to say. But it has made me to ponder and I shall ponder it more. Much appreciated, Brother Michael.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 25, 2023 at 19:21
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    Down-voted: While the beginning part has some validity, the last part, concluding that baptism = immersion (instead of the application of water more broadly) is sheer conjecture with no supporting details. So also, "not a call to go about performing a water baptism ritual" is a preaching with no proof. Up until relatively recently Baptism = putting water on people of all ages in the name of the Triune God. This was the universal practice for well over 1500 years.
    – user24895
    Nov 23, 2023 at 17:44
  • @Epimanes I appreciate the reason for the down-vote. Would you argue that being baptized with the Holy Spirit still requires water? Nov 24, 2023 at 13:43
  • @MikeBorden My issue is not that you have your own opinion. My issue is that there is no support given from scripture (in that second half).
    – user24895
    Nov 30, 2023 at 12:05
  • @Epimanes. I've edited in response. Nov 30, 2023 at 17:12
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The fact that it is a singular name thrice, means that it is not one baptism but 3 baptism you take in the name of each: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Ellipsis was very common in ancient writings, and it must have been used the same way in verbal teaching or tradition in the early church, as the construct would be unnecessary to be spoken in minute detail: (baptise in the name of the father, in the name of the Son etc). Thus, you baptise thrice in the water for each name.

It could be said (either sarcastically or seriously) that the one baptism expresses a unification of the three into one name and one person, hence has been committing a Unitarian heresy. In the Catholic Church, even the use of wrong pronoun "we" instead of "I", nullifies the baptism ritual.

To some it may seem that the English translation is imitating the grammatical discord or irregular Greek pattern of collective singular nouns or verbs in this for singular subject. However, some have suggested that the ellipsis is apparent, and the sentence is legal according to English rules. The repetition of in the name of has been elided.

I found a great answer on BHSE:

Grammatically it is natural to view the prepositional phrase “in the name” as being “applied” to all three terms independently.

This could be an example of the adjunctive και[and] or of ellipsis, or both. The adjunctive και [and] lends itself to ellipsis and also serves to reduce repetition.

This would result in:

In the name of [εἰς τὸ ὄνομα] the Father and [in the name of] the Son and [in the name of] the Holy Spirit. (NA28) εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος,

An even better source confirming the ellipsis is from the 19th century scholar Heinrich Meyer's NT commentary, in the footnote we read:

Had Jesus used the words τὰ ὀνόματα [names] instead of τὸ ὄνομα [name], then, however much He may have intended the names of three distinct persons to be understood, He would still have been liable to be misapprehended, for it might have been supposed that the plural was meant to refer to the various names of each separate person. The singular points to the specific name assigned in the text to each of the three respectively, so that εἰς τὸ ὄνομα is, of course, to be understood both before τοῦ υἱοῦ and τοῦ ἁυίου πνεύματος; comp. Rev 14:1 : τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ. We must beware of making any such dogmatic use of the singular as to employ it as an argument either for (Basilides, Jerome, Theophylact) or against (the Sabellians) the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

The example can be confused with the grammatical discord found in Greek, Beginning with NT Greek where we often see singular noun or verbs for plural subjects.

To use the example of 1 John 4:1 "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." The Greek has a singular verb "is" (estin) for plural spirits, implying implicitly to test each spirit individually. We also see the discord in Matt 10:2 (ὀνόματά ἐστιν) names is; Luke 10:20 names written(sg). However, in the case of the baptismal formula verse, it is not an example of grammatical discord, but of ellipsis.

Although one answer says that the English of grammar requires plural names for plural nouns, there are better experts like Meyer who have settled any doubt among those with poor English. We should conclude that the ellipsis is natural in English as it is in Greek. The verse should be understood as baptising in all the three names.

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  • Michel16, I beg to agree with the idea of correctness of English style of expression, than of grammar. But in legal terms , we use plural, for instance: This property is registered in the names of Mr Smith and his wife, with equal shares. Jun 5, 2023 at 8:33
  • Yes, the translations are therefore must be wrong for following the Greek pattern.
    – Michael16
    Jun 5, 2023 at 9:54
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    "The fact that it is a singular name thrice, means that it is not one baptism but 3 baptism" and yet Scripture is clear there is "one faith, one baptism"
    – eques
    Jun 5, 2023 at 15:29
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    That doesn't clarify at all. You need to support the claim that an expression in the form "in NOUN of NOUN1, and of NOUN2 and of NOUN3" can be understood due to elision as "in NOUN of NOUN1 and in NOUN of NOUN2..."; that's not a ordinarily elision pattern. You also need to clarify what you mean by discord and collective nouns.
    – eques
    Jun 6, 2023 at 0:11
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    " that the one baptism expresses a unification of the three into one name and one person, hence has been committing a Unitarian heresy." say what? "a baptism" is the entire act, not a single pouring of water.
    – eques
    Jun 6, 2023 at 0:12
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Synecdoche The single, unassuming word, Name is used, but it is being used as a synecdoche representing the full "Authority and Divine Power " of the Trinity. It is a singular word meant to represent the full Almighty power of God.

To understand this concept (figure of speech) simply recall Sgt. Preston of the Yukon (a Mounted Policeman in Canada) yelling to a fleeing criminal, "Stop in the Name of the Queen!" The lone policeman had a very limited amount of power himself. But the minute he mentioned the "Name" he had the full weight and authority of the British Empire behind him!!!

In the same vein, a policeman not in a Kingdom, may yell, "Halt in the Name of the Law!" Again, the minute he mentions the "Name" he has total control over the fleeing suspect granted by the Law of the land.

When a pastor/priest/bishop baptizes a believer in the "Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" he is adjuring the full power of God to witness the public conversion, and he is baptizing the born-again person into nothing less than the spiritual, honorable Family of God.

As a synecdoche, the "Name" represents all that the Almighty Jehovah God of Eternity is in essence---no matter how mysterious and ineffable that glorious trinitarian Being is. The single "Name" can represent the "Trinity" in its entirety because it is a synecdoche.

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