“Go and make disciples of all the nations.” The phrase, “of all the nations” reads as if it was a genitive when in fact “nations” is in the accusative case (direct object), not the genitive case. Thus, in one sense, a more proper translation is “go disciple all the nations.” Normally we would want to avoid the genitive in this case because it can be limiting and mean “out of, “ thus referring to make some of the people disciples, whereas the accusative is a clearly broad goal, “disciple all the nations.” The reason that most versions read, “make disciples of all the nations” rather than “disciple all nations” is that the Greek word mathēteuō (#3100 μαθητεύω) more naturally refers to both the making and training of disciples. Thus, if we say, “go and make disciples of all the nations,” we clearly understand that they were not disciples before, and we have to get them saved and then disciple them, whereas if we say, “go disciple all nations,” they may already be disciples and we are going to give them further instruction. Translators differ as to which translation is closer to representing what Christ said, and so both translations exist among the English versions.
It seems clear that after his resurrection Jesus expanded the missionary work of his disciples. Whereas before his resurrection he clearly said, “Do not go on any road of the Gentiles, and do not enter into any city of the Samaritans, but go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6), now he says to go to the nations and disciple them.
“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the holy spirit.” This phrase is part of a famous last saying of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew now generally known as “The Great Commission.” The passage has elicited much discussion because it is an important declaration of Jesus to his disciples before he ascended into heaven.
The ancient Church applied this command to the Apostles and rarely applied this command to any concept of universal evangelism (for a fuller explanation of the history, see Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Matt. 21-28. Helmut Koester, ed., 2005). In the Middle Ages it was associated with apostolic succession and even in the Reformation it was not thought of as a general mission of the Church, although the Anabaptists and some independent Protestant theologians applied it to mission work. It was not until around the year 1800 that Matthew 28:19 began to be generally accepted by Protestants as applying to universal mission work.
The phrase “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (or “holy spirit”)” has been the common reading in every major English translation. However, there has been some debate in the past century about whether this reading is original to the Gospel of Matthew. There is a shorter reading of the verse that a few theologians have thought to be original based on the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea in the early fourth century AD, and the Shem Tov Hebrew manuscript of Matthew, an independent Hebrew witness, omits the baptismal command in this verse. However, trying to modify the Greek text of Matthew based on that slim evidence is not generally good exegesis.
If the current manuscript reading of Matthew 28 is not correct, that would mean that all the “correct” manuscripts, and the literature of the early church including the quotations of Matthew 28:19 in the writings of the Church Fathers, would have had to have been destroyed or altered, and in general the early church was too fragmented and not centralized enough for that to happen (for a more compete discussion of this, see “Is Matthew 28:19 a Forgery” by Sean Finnegan on biblicalunitarian.com).
Further evidence that the reading of Matthew 28:19 was not changed after the Council of Nicea is that there were still many people in the Church who did not believe that Jesus was fully God and fully human, and if the text of Matthew had been changed at or after the Council of Nicea, then it seems certain that people who opposed the developing theory of the Trinity would have made enough of an issue of it that some trace of those arguments could be found in the literature of the time, but no evidence of any argument about changing the text exists.
The REV reads “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit” on the basis of the Greek manuscript evidence. In order to substantiate the conclusion for the longer, common reading as being original to the Gospel of Matthew, we will discuss both the textual and external evidence in support of the common reading and respond to some of the major questions that are often raised about them.
The external evidence in support of the longer, common reading is strong in that it appears in every single New Testament Greek manuscript that contains this section of Matthew. However, it must be pointed out that the oldest manuscript witnesses of Matthew 28:19 are Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus from the fourth century, after the Council of Nicea, because the last section of the Gospel of Matthew is missing from all extant papyri and the Old Syriac manuscripts. But in addition to the manuscript evidence in favor of the longer, common reading, there are a number of patristic writers who support this reading as well.
Does the commonly accepted translation of Matthew 28:19 prove the existence of the Trinity? No. The mention of the Father, Son, and holy spirit together in one context only shows that these three exist. The doctrine of the Trinity that states there are three “Persons” in one God was not codified until 381 AD. The Council of Nicea in 325 AD merely decided that Jesus was God, and did not make the Holy Spirit into a “third Person” in the Trinity. Also, there is a debate about whether the English translation of Matthew 28:19 should read “Holy Spirit” or “holy spirit” (the biblical evidence supports “holy spirit”), but in any case, there is no presentation in Matthew 28:19 of any formal doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Son and “Holy Spirit” together make “one God” and that the three “Persons” are co-equal and co-eternal, and that doctrine is not stated in this verse. This verse refers to three, but never says they are “one.” If the phrase about the Father, Son, and holy spirit is original, then the three things this verse refers to are: God the Father; His Son the Lord Jesus Christ; and the holy spirit, a “gift” from God (cp. Acts 2:38).
Given God’s ultimate authority and power, Christ’s exalted position as the risen Messiah and Lord, and the power of God to believers via the holy spirit, which Jesus spoke of at the Last Supper, it makes sense that Jesus would mention all three of them here in Matthew 28. It seems strange to our modern ears, however, that if Jesus commanded to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and holy spirit, why, in the Book of Acts, did the disciples consistently baptize “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:47-48; 19:5-6). There are a couple of possibilities as to why that would happen, and none would require us to change the wording of Matthew 28:19 in the Greek text. For example, we today think of a baptism “formula” because we are thinking in terms of what happens in churches based on 2,000 years of church practice. But there is no evidence that John the Baptist or Jesus’ disciples used any “formula” when they baptized as recorded in the Four Gospels. So it could well be, and it makes sense in the historical context, that Jesus was not giving his disciples a “baptismal formula” to use, but rather just telling them to baptize in the “name” (authority) of the Father, Son, and holy spirit, and they did that, but in the baptism itself, they just pronounced the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and head of the Church. There are also some other possibilities that have been set forth by church historians as well.
[For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”].
“name.” A study of the biblical culture and language shows that in this context the word “name” primarily stood for “authority,” and doing something in the “name” of a person or persons who had great authority was very common. In fact, acting “in the name of” is still common today, and the Macmillan Dictionary says that to act “in the name of” is “using the authority given by someone or something.” Biblical examples are very numerous and space allows for only a few examples, but Deuteronomy 18:5-7 speak of serving in the “name” (authority) of the Lord; Deuteronomy 18:22 speaks of prophesying in the “name” (authority) of the Lord; 1 Samuel 17:45 says David attacked Goliath in the “name” (authority) of the Lord, and he blessed the people in the “name” (authority) of the Lord; and 2 Kings 2:24 says Elisha cursed troublemakers in the “name” (authority) of the Lord.
In Acts, the Apostles baptized in the “name” of Jesus Christ because it meant all his authority. Similarly, Paul rhetorically asked the Corinthians if they were baptized “in the name of Paul” (1 Cor. 1:13), which of course they were not because Paul had no power or authority to save anyone. These scriptures are only a small sample of the examples that could be given, but they make the point. Also, although there are other customs involving the word “name,” authority is one that is most applicable in Matthew 28:19.
It was also part of the customary use of the word “name” that it was often used in the singular even when there was more than one person involved. It is sometimes claimed that because Matthew 28:19 says the “name” (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that the three must be one God, but that is not true, as a study of the word “name” in the Bible and biblical culture shows. The word “name” in the singular was often used of two or more. For example, Genesis 48:16 (KJV) says, “…the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac.” Some modern versions read, “names of my fathers,” but the Hebrew text uses the singular, “name.” We see the same distributive use of the word “name” in verses such as 1 Samuel 17:13, where the “name” of Jesse’s three oldest sons was Eliab, then Abinadab, then Shammah. No one claims that the three eldest sons of Jesse, the father of David, were somehow “one,” it is just that the Bible sometimes uses “name” in a distributive sense.
The word “name” is also used in the singular when speaking of more than one god. Exodus 23:13 (KJV) says not to mention the “name of other gods” (cp. Deut. 18:20; Josh. 23:7). We should note that although the Hebrew text uses the singular word “name,” some modern versions ignore that fact and translate the Hebrew word as “names” (cp. HCSB; ESV; NET; NIV), but other modern versions leave “name” singular (cp. NAB; NASB; NLT; JPS; NJB). 2 Samuel 7:9 has the singular word “name” as a collective singular that refers to a group of people. The King James Version reads, “And I [God]was with thee [David]…and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth” (most modern versions have translated the second “name” in the verse as the plural noun “names,” but the Hebrew text is singular and reads “name,” and the same is true in 1 Chron. 17:8). We also see the singular word “name” used to refer to a group of people in Proverbs 10:7: “…the name of the wicked will rot” (NASB). There are English versions that change “name” to “names,” but in the Hebrew text “name” is singular. Also, the NET and the Complete Jewish Bible translate the word “name” as “reputation” in Proverbs 10:7, but the Hebrew word is “name,” even though a person’s name and reputation were intertwined. In concluding this discussion on “name,” we should see that “name” referred to the name and the authority and reputation of the one or ones whose name was being used, and also that a common custom was to use the word “name” in the singular even when it referred to a group.
Also, although it is sometimes stated that in order to be baptized into something, that something has to be God, that reasoning is false, because Scripture states that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” (1 Cor. 10:2).
In Acts, the Apostles baptized in the “name,” the authority, of Jesus Christ.