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 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 at 2:35

5 Answers 5


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.


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.


"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


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.

  • 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 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 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 at 22:54
  • You have a point, Samuel Bradshaw. Hope you develop it into an answer. Jun 5 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 at 15:26

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.

  • 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 at 8:33
  • Yes, the translations are therefore must be wrong for following the Greek pattern.
    – Michael16
    Jun 5 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 at 15:29
  • "following the irregular Greek pattern of collective singular nouns and verbs in this instance" This point needs some serious elaboration as does some of the discussion around ellipsis, namely what is elided.
    – eques
    Jun 5 at 15:29
  • I clarified a bit in the answer, the grammatical discord is the irregular form of Greek; and the repetition is elided. There are 3 baptism in each name. Jews had already known and baptise in Father's name. New believers first repented in John's repentance baptism, then Jesus, and then holy spirit. The nations without god needs the baptism of all 3.
    – Michael16
    Jun 5 at 15:41

It is a rhetorical device, rather than grammatical. Try reciting the formulation aloud, along with your alternative, and see which one sounds better. IMHO the "Name" formula has more of a ring to it.

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