The traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity is commonly expressed as the statement that the one God exists as or in three equally divine “persons”, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Every significant concept in this statement (God, exists, as or in, equally divine, person) has been variously understood. The guiding principle has been the creedal declaration that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of the New Testament are consubstantial (i.e. the same in substance or essence, Greek: homoousios). Because this shared substance or essence is a divine one, this is understood to imply that all three named individuals are divine, and equally so. Yet the three in some sense “are” the one God of the Bible.

After its formulation and imperial enforcement towards the end of the fourth century, this sort of Christian theology reigned more or less unchallenged. But before this, and again in post-Reformation modernity, the origin, meaning, and justification of trinitarian doctrine has been repeatedly disputed. These debates are discussed in supplementary documents to this entry. One aspect of these debates concerns the self-consistency of trinitarian theology. If there are three who are equally divine, isn’t that to say there are at least three gods? Yet the tradition asserts exactly one God. Is the tradition, then, incoherent, and so self-refuting? Since the revival of analytic philosophy of religion in the 1960s, many Christian philosophers have pursued what is now called analytic theology, in which central religious doctrines are given formulations which are precise, and it is hoped self-consistent and otherwise defensible. This article surveys these recent “rational reconstructions” of the Trinity doctrine, which centrally employ concepts from contemporary analytic metaphysics, logic, and epistemology.

Additional material related to this entry can be found in three supplementary documents:

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Author: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Dale Tuggy)

Keywords: Logos, Word made flesh, Jesus is the Word, trinitarianism, Tri-unity, Pre-existent word, Pre-existence, Pre-existent, Jesus is God, God the Son, hypostasis, Jesus existed before Abraham, Christ existed before Abraham, Greater than Abraham, Existed before Abraham, Before Abraham, Trinity, Trinitarian, Preexistence, Jesus preexisted, Jesus pre-existed, Jesus preexisted before he was born, Jesus' preexistence, Jesus' pre-existence, Christ preexisted, Christ pre-existed, Christ's preexistence, Christ's pre-existence, Jesus's preexistence, Jesus existed before he was born, Deity of Christ, Deity of Jesus, Triunity, Arianism, Arian, Three in one, Three gods, Three gods one person, Three persons, Johannine comma, Johanine comma, Johanine coma, Johannine coma, Comma, False doctrine, False teaching, Arius, Arias, Nicene Creed, Nicaea, Nicea, Athanasian Creed, Athanasius, Father son holy spirit, Father son holy ghost, Triune, Three persons in one God, eternal sonship, god manifest in the flesh, God incarnate, incarnation, incarnate, God made flesh, God manifestation, eternal son, eternal son of God, Christology, Christologies, Binitarian, Binitarianism, Jesus is divine, Christ is divine, God in three persons, divinity of Jesus, divinity of Christ, Homoiousian, Homoousian, Homoousion, Adoptionism, adoptionist

Bible reference(s): Matthew 28:19, John 1:1-3, John 1:14, John 1:18, John 10:30, John 10:33, John 20:28, Colossians 1:16, Philippians 2:6, Hebrews 1:8, 1 John 5:7-8

Source: Dale Tuggy, “Trinity,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. First published July 23, 2009; substantive revision March 18, 2016.

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