What is perichoresis and is it biblical?

by Matt Slick
11/27/2019
 

Perichoresis is a Christian theological term that refers to the fellowship of the three persons within the eternal Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is derived from the Greek περιχώρησις, perikhoresis which means "going around, rotation." The term was used by "John of Damascus (d. 749) to help describe the Trinity"..."The use of perichoresis in Eastern theology before John of Damascus can also be traced in Gregory Nazianzen’s Epistle 101, Maximus the Confessor, and Pseudo-Cyril."1 And, "It is described, we may recall, as the free and ordered “interrelational self-formation” and “eternal interpersonal life” of the Trinity. It denotes more than coinherence, but the dynamic constitution of one another’s being. "2

Perichoresis deals with the intra-Trinitarian relationship in the essence of God's being in which there is fellowship of the three members of the Godhead that includes love, harmony, and mutually exhaustive knowledge, etc.. It is also a defense of the oneness of the Godhead. God is one substance, one essence, not three interrelated and mingling parts. There is in the three, a unity of essence without coalescence. It can be said that each member of the Godhead permeates the other, indwells the other, is related to the other, and yet each also retains distinction.

In the context of the Trinity, perichoresis applies to the nature of God and is only about him.  No other beings have perichoresis. Different people, for example, can share a common nature, but they are distinct individuals and distinct beings. Though each of the members of the Godhead share the same nature (divinity), there is within the Godhead a unique quality of the mutual indwelling of each member of the Godhead with each other as the distinctiveness of the members are retained.  See Economic Trinity for more on that.

 

Christological Perichoresis

Jesus is a single person with two distinct natures (Hypostatic Union).  The perichoresis of Christ is about how those natures relate to each other while being in union, and inter-penetrating each other, yet also remaining distinct.  We see the attributes of both natures of Jesus are ascribed to the single person (communicatio idiomatum). But exactly how do the two natures relate to each other in the one person?  We are not sure. Different views have been proposed.

  • "Luther affirmed that the exalted humanity of Christ participated in the omnipresence of his deity in such a way as to communicate his presence at the Lord’s Supper."3
  • "Jürgen Moltmann has recently given considerable thought to this issue in relation to the cross. He contends that because of the perichoresis of the divine in the human it can and must be affirmed that God suffered in the death of Christ."4
  • "Gunton employs perichoresis as a transcendental rooted in the Trinity."5

Verses used to support perichoresis

Perichoresis is brought to the forefront when we encounter such verses as the following.

  • Trinitarian
    • Psalm 2:7, "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You."
    • John 13:3, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,"
    • John 14:11, "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves."
    • John 15:26, "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,"
  • Christological
    • John 8:42, "Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me."
    • John 14:11, "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves."
    • John 16:14, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you."
    • John 16:28, "I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.”"
    • John 17:8, "for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me."
    • John 17:21, "that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me."

 

Quotes from Various Sources dealing with perichoresis

"A term used in the theology of the Trinity to indicate the intimate union, mutual indwelling, or mutual interpenetration of the three members of the Trinity with one another. Also used for the relation of the two natures of Christ." McKim, Donald K. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms. Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014

"Perichoresis is used in the context of the Holy Trinity to denote an interpenetration of the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person remains distinct from the others, but participates fully in their Being and action as one."Thiselton, Anthony C. The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015.

"A term used in the theology of the Trinity to indicate the intimate union, mutual indwelling, or mutual interpenetration of the three members of the Trinity with one another. Also used for the relation of the two natures of Christ."McKim, Donald K.. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded . Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

"As the essence of the Godhead is common to the several persons, they have a common intelligence, will, and power. There are not in God three intelligences, three wills, three efficiencies. The Three are one God, and therefore have one mind and will. This intimate union was expressed in the Greek Church by the word perichoresis, which the Latin words inexistentia, inhabitatio, and intercommunio, were used to explain."Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Complete; Vol. 1: Introduction, Vol. 2: Part 1, Theology Proper; Part 2, Anthropology; Part 3, Soteriology; Vol. 3: Part 4, Eschatology (With Active Table of Contents) . Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

  • 1. Sailer, William, J. Creighton Christman, David C. Greulich, Harold P. Scanlin, Stephen J. Lennox, and Phillip Guistwite. Religious and Theological Abstracts. Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts, 2012.
  • 2. Themelios 36, no. 1 (2011).
  • 3. Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
  • 4. ibid.
  • 5. Themelios 36, no. 1 (2011).
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.