Monday, May 11, 2009

The Ending of Matthew 28.19

The ‘great commission’ statement of Mat 28.19 has traditionally been used to support the Trinitarian baptismal practice held by various denominations, even though the three linked ‘names’ are not meant to constitute the one ‘name of God’[1]. But there are questions regarding its biblical and historical authenticity. Both NT scripture and early church testimony suggests this text may have been victim to change. The formulae “is only found in Matthew’s Gospel”[2] a claim supported by its absence in the earliest known transmissions.

The primary source is found in the writings of the 4th century church historian Eusebius, whose works are older than any of the surviving manuscripts of Mat 28:19. It is, therefore, easy to believe that Eusebius' wording was closer to the original text than what we find in the entire NT since the 4th century. It is much more difficult to believe that Eusebius or someone else changed the text contrary to liturgy. Rather, liturgy certainly could have exerted its influence under Constantine to change the original wording to better suit the very political and theologically charged Nicene Creed of 325AD.

Scholar F. C. Conybeare concluded that Eusebius did not know the longer form of the text until the Council of Nicaea, when the Trinitarian doctrine became established. After Nicaea Eusebius cites the ‘commission’ in both longer and shorter forms, while in the letter written by Eusebius in 325 [during the Council at Nicaea] the manner in which he cites the common form of the text suggests that he had been familiar with it. “But the suggestion that Eusebius’ habit of citing the text in a reduced form was due to the influence of the arcane disciplina (teaching on baptism and the Trinity was unsuitable for uncircumcised ears)”[3] is less likely.

Eusebius quotes many verses in his writings and refers to Mat 28:19 half a dozen times. Yet he never quotes it as it appears today in modern Bibles, but always with the ending of “in my name”:

“But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them, ‘Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name’.” History, 3.5.2. [Emphasis added]

“What king or prince in any age of the world, what philosopher, legislator or prophet, in civilized or barbarous lands, has attained so great a height of excellence, I say not after death, but while living still, and full of mighty power, as to fill the ears and tongues of all mankind with the praises of his name? Surely none save our only Savior has done this, when, after his victory over death, he spoke the word to his followers, and fulfilled it by the event, saying to them, ‘Go ye and make disciples of all nations in my name’.” Oration in Praise of Emperor Constantine, 16.8. [Emphasis added]

“For he did not enjoin them ‘to make disciples of all the nations’ simply and without qualification but with the essential addition ‘in his name’. For so great was the virtue attaching to his appellation that the Apostle says, ‘God bestowed on him the name above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth.’ It was right therefore that he should emphasize the virtue of the power residing in his name but hidden from the many, and therefore say to his Apostles, ‘Go ye, and make disciples of all the nations in my name’.” Demonstatio Evangelica, col. 240, p. 136. [Emphasis added]

There is also other evidence pointing to the origin of the longer form. Clement of Alexandria, citing a Gnostic and not the canonical text, adds:

“And to the Apostles he gives the command: Going around preach ye and baptize those who believe in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.’"[4]

Origen also provides us with clues concerning this issue:

"In Origen’s works, as preserved in the Greek, the first part of the verse is cited three times, but his citation always stops short at the words ‘the nations’; and that in itself suggests that his text has been censored, and the words which followed, ‘in my name’, struck out."[5]

Apart from the commentaries on his known copies of the verse, Eusebius mentions a quote he attributes to Papias, bishop in Asia Minor, who, writing in the first quarter of the 2nd century, cites a Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew [which supposedly did not contain the longer verse]:

"Mark having become the interpreter of Peter wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them.

For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could." Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.14-16

Irenaeus, writing around the same time, adds:

“Matthew also issued a written Gospel of the Hebrews in their own language while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the Church.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1

A study of the text itself reveals certain irregularities with Mat 28 and the rest of the NT. Young’s Literal Translation gives us a good example of the unstructured nature of verses 19-20. Here is the YLT rendering, where translators have bracketed off the Trinitarian text [in red] and the Hebrew version:

1. Young’s Literal Translation:

“And having come near, Jesus spoke to them, saying, `given to me was all authority in heaven and on earth; having gone, then, disciple all the nations, (baptizing them--to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit)…'”

2. YLT without longer version:

“And having come near, Jesus spoke to them, saying, `given to me was all authority in heaven and on earth; having gone, then, disciple all the nations, and lo, I am with you all the days--till the full end of the age.”

3. Hebrew Gospel of Matthew

"Go and (teach) them to carry out all the things which I have commanded you forever."[6]

The edited version [#2] would run similar to the rest of the apostolic witnesses, where Jesus’ command of authority [miracle working, remission of sins, baptism] is to be made only “in his name”[7] [cp. Mar 16.17]. It is a well known fact that the ending of Mark is highly questionable. In fact, known manuscripts have 3 completely different endings. And here we are in a similar situation at the end of Matthew. Matthew and Mark contain a large amount of similar material which some attribute to a “Sayings” source or a hypothetical ‘Q’ document. So the logical question is: Did the same source intentionally corrupt the endings of both Matthew and Mark? Or did the original [‘Sayings’ or ‘Q’] source not have the Trinitarian formulae at all?[8]

There is a misconception within modern Christian understanding that in order to be baptized into someone that someone has to be God, but Scripture states that the Jews were “baptized into [the name of] Moses” (1 Cor. 10:2). This simply meant that the person was baptized “into the name” of an authority figure who functioned in the place of “the Lord” [cp. Moses as god-elohim, Ex 3.14ff; 7.1][9]. For example, “Deu 18:5 7 speak of serving in the “name” (authority) of the Lord; 18:22 speaks of prophesying in the “name” (authority) of the Lord; 1 Sam 17:45, David attacked Goliath in the “name” (authority) of the Lord, and he blessed the people in the “name” (authority) of the Lord; and in 2 K 2:24, Elisha cursed troublemakers in the “name” (authority) of the Lord”[10].

We should not assume that the traditional baptismal ritual, as it has come down to us, was already a “well-established and necessarily public ceremony…the initiation ceremony was still simple and spontaneous. Certainly the testimony of Acts points firmly in that direction [2.41; 16.31-33]”[11].

For example, Paul views baptism as the “medium through which God brought the baptized into participation in Christ’s death and burial.”[12] This is his initial argument in 1Cor 1 where he uses baptismal language to try and bring to a close the many “contentions and wrangling and factions” [v.11]. Paul’s words, when carefully analyzed, suggest that believers should be baptized in the name of the one who was crucified for them. He also says we have been “buried with him (Jesus) in baptism” [Rom 6.3-5] and not with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Where Mat 28:19 is also used to suggest that there are 3 names under heaven whereby we must be saved, in opposition to the apostolic declaration:

“There is no other name (than the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth) under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12; cp. Rom 10:9.

“If the imagery of passing through the Red Sea (‘under the cloud’ and ‘through the sea’) is equivalent to baptismal immersion (in water), and if Moses represents Christ (‘into Moses’ on the analogy of ‘into Christ’), then Paul presumably had in view the experience of being baptized (in water) into Christ.”[13]

The baptismal language used in the other Gospel accounts express faith in the physical life of Jesus, the crucifixion of the Son of God for our sins, and the remission of sins through “his name”[14]. Something Mat 28.19 does not do. For example Luke writes “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.” [24.46-47] Mark uses similar wording to Mat 28.19 but with the command to “go into all the world...preach the gospel...to every creature ...baptized...in my name...” [Mar 16:15-18] Of course, it is not baptism that “in my name” refers to here, but rather the works that the disciples would do. Yet compared to Matthew, the similarity is striking, for neither is baptism explicitly mentioned there, but that disciples should be made “in my name.”

James Moffett's New Testament Translation, in a footnote on page 64 about Mat 28:19, writes:
"It may be that this (Trinitarian) formula, so far as the fullness of its expression is concerned, is a reflection of the (Catholic) liturgical usage established later in the primitive (Catholic) community. It will be remembered that Acts speaks of baptizing ‘in the name of Jesus’, cf. Acts 1:5." [Emphasis added]

In The Bible Commentary, Dr. Peake makes it clear that:

"The command to baptize into the threefold name is a late doctrinal expansion. Instead of the words baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost we should probably read simply-‘into my name’." p 723 [Emphasis added].

To claim that Mat 28 indicates that all men should be baptized into a ‘triune’ God is to be quite ignorant of the facts and the whole message of the Bible and therefore the baptismal language used in v. 19. And to insist that "name" here is a term used to indicate that "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" are somehow one God is a hermeneutic violation of the immediate context, ignoring the fact that all authority has been given “in the name” of Jesus alone. The one thing that name is pertaining to, is not the identity of a ‘triune’ God, but the one authority, the one plan and purpose, of God the Father through the authority of God's Son in God's Holy Spirit. The disciples are to do these things in the name of the authority of the Father, given to the Son, by the Holy Spirit. And this is why Jesus commanded his disciples to do nothing until they had received the Holy Spirit from on high[15].

The interpretation presented here is demanded not only by the ancient concept of "name" but the force of the immediate context and the consistent testimony of the Scriptures. We don't need to understand the nature and significance of the resurrection to simply see that Jesus tells us plainly what he means by "in the name of" when he says, "all authority... is given to me. Go therefore and baptize all nations in the name of”.

Apart from the stand alone baptismal formula of Mat 28.19, there is nothing to suggest that baptismal language varied in as much as professing an authority in the one and only name of Jesus. The role Mat 28.19 played in the early baptismal practice and missionary work of discipleship is simply non-existent. Readings of Mat 28:19 have not been found in surviving ante-Nicene NT manuscripts and according to the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection of writings[16]. It was not until the 2nd century that the longer version of Mat 28:19 was implemented in the full, ritual description of baptismal practice [which included the baptism of young children][17].


Works Cited

Clement, Theodotus, Robert Pierce Casey, The Excerpta Ex Theodoto of Clement of Alexandria, Christophers, 1934.

Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, Eerdmans, 2004.


George Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, Mercer University Press, 1998.

Huub Van de Sandt, Hubertus Waltherus Maria van de Sandt, David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and Its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, 2002.


J. D. G. Dunn, J. W. Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, Eerdmans, 2003.

M. J. Kruger, The Gospel of the Savior: An Analysis of P. Oxy. 840 and Its Place in the Gospel Traditions of Early Christianity, BRILL, 2005.


R. P. Martin, Peter H. Davids, Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, InterVarsity, 1997.

W. J. Conybeare, J. S. Howson The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, C. Scribner, 1867.

F. Neirynck, Jozef Verheyden, R. Corstjens, Contributor F. Neirynck, Jozef Verheyden, R. Corstjens, The Gospel of Matthew and the Sayings Source Q: A Cumulative Bibliography 1950-1995, Peeters Publishers, 1998.

James DG Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: a re-examination of the New Testament teaching on the gift of the Spirit in relation to pentecostalism today, Westminster John Knox Press, 1977.

[1] “The casual reader of Scripture will discern a mere two verses in the entire Bible which seem, at first glance, to be capable of a Trinitarian interpretation: Mat 28.19 and 2Cor 3.14. Both of these verses have become deeply rooted in the Christian consciousness…Yet these two verses, taken together or in isolation, can hardly be thought of as constituting a doctrine of the Trinity.” McGrath, Christian Theology, 248.

[2] G.R.Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, p 78.

[3] ibid, p 82.

[4] Clement, Theodotus, Robert Pierce Casey, The Excerpta Ex Theodoto of Clement of Alexandria, p 287.

[5] Barnes quoting Conybare, A History of Historical Writing, Dover, 1963, p 43-50.

[6] Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, 1998, p 151.

[7] Cp. Luke 24.47; John 20.31; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5.

[8] For more see Kruger, The Gospel of the Savior, BRILL, 2005, p 252-256; Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Oxford Press, 1993, p 158, 232-233; Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, p 1060-1065.

[9] Jesus uses the phrase “in my name” to designate one who has the authority of the Lord some 17 times in the NT: i.e. Mat 18:20; Mar 9:37, 39, 41; 16:17; John 14:14, 26; 15:16 & 16:23 etc.

[10] Graeser, Lynn, Shoenheit, One God and One Lord, CES, 2003, p 455-457. These scriptures are only a small sample, but they are very clear. If the modern versions of Mat 28:19 are correct, then we would still not see this verse as proving the Trinity. Rather, they would be showing the importance of the 3: the Father who is God, the Son (who was given authority by God; Mat 28:18) and the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of God.

[11] Ibid

[12] Dunn, Theology of Paul, 457.

[13] Dunn, Theology of Paul, 448-454.

[14] First, scripture teaches that baptism in the name of Jesus is an act of repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Second, baptism in his name alone is associated with the promise of God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, 19:1-5). Third, baptism in the name of Jesus is compared to our personal willingness to be living sacrifices or even die with Christ. (Rom 6:1-4; Col 2:12). Fourth, being baptized into Christ is how we “put on” Christ (Gal 3:27). Fifth, baptism in his name is called the “circumcision of Christ,” and reflects our “putting off” the man of sin, therefore becoming a “new creature in Christ Jesus” (Col 2:11-12; 2Cor 5:17).

[15] Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:33, 36. “It would be more to the point to raise the question why Luke’s version of the commission…does not include the command to baptize (24.46f.)…Certainly the omission is strange, but it is surely due to the manner in which Luke has chosen to cast his version of the missionary commission, viz. as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy…
…it is a consistent aim of Luke to underscore the proclamation of the gospel to the nations as part of the divine will announced beforehand by the prophets [cp. Acts 10.43]…but he was too discreet to claim that the prophets foretold Christian baptism!” Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the NT, p79-80.

[16] Ignatius (35-110 A.D.), Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.), Tertullian (155-250 A.D.), Hippolytus (170-245 A.D.), Cyprian (?-258 A.D.).

[17] Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Developments, Intervarsity, 1997, p 112-123.

5 comments:

Shammah said...

I don't have problems with the idea that Matthew 28:19 may have been as short as Eusebius quotes it (I did verify your references, and they were accurate. Much better than Sabbatarians, whose references are almost always inaccurate.)

The problem is that the tradition of baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not only ancient, but it's the only tradition we can find in the apostolic churches.

It's mentioned in the Didache, Justin's First Apology, and repeatedly later.

Also, as regards Matt. 28:19, Tertullian appears to make reference to the Trinitarian formula there, and that's A.D. 200. He writes, "After this we are immersed three times, making a somewhat larger pledge than the Lord appointed in the Gospel" (De Corona 3).

I don't know what Tertullian could be referring to except Matthew 28:19.

So even if Matt. 28:19 was originally "in my name," we're left with the same dilemma we always had. We already knew Acts repeatedly references baptism in Jesus' name. However, *all* the earliest tradition of the Church has them immersing three times, once proclaiming belief in the one God, the Father, once proclaiming belief in the Son, Jesus Christ, and once proclaiming a belief in the Holy Spirit, the person being baptized actually being required to state his belief out loud.

NEPHESH said...

"...the tradition of baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not only ancient, but it's the only tradition we can find in the apostolic churches..."

what about the church of Acts, isn't that Apostolic??

My faith is grounded more on the NT tradition than much later proto-Orthodox doctrine traditions of the "Early Church Fathers". To be honest, i do not trust them either. Have you noticed they were all Gentile Christians?

NEPHESH said...

PS: check out Kosmala's excellent study on this subject at my new site:

http://benadam74.wordpress.com/

Shammah said...

In fact, I have noticed that they were Gentile Christians. Paul gave us a heads up in Romans 9-11 that might be the case.

It is a legitimate and important point that the Book of Acts, across the board, says baptism in Jesus' name. The question remains, if God is concerned about what name is pronounced by someone while a baptism is happening, why is there no indication that any apostolic church anywhere, when they describe their practice of baptism, pronounces only the name of Jesus over the baptized?

Do we really want to suggest that true Christianity disappeared from the earth before the end of the first century? I for one can't go there. I'm not interested in a religion that God can't preserve for even a century.

Maybe we aren't understanding Luke's (a Gentile, by the way) sense when he says people were baptized in Jesus' name. Maybe he's just contrasting it with a Jewish baptism.

It seems highly suspect--at best--to simply take Luke's wording in Acts and develop a doctrine that isn't backed up anywhere else.

NEPHESH said...

"Do we really want to suggest that true Christianity disappeared from the earth before the end of the first century? I for one can't go there. I'm not interested in a religion that God can't preserve for even a century."

History confirms this is exactly what happened, the "Church of Christ" very early on was infiltrated and changed by Jewish-Gentile interpretations of the "Law of Christ".

In saying that, it doesnt mean to say that God has not preserved and has ALWAYS preserved a "remnant". Even in the OT when most of the nation of Israel went astray God had a remnant somewhere.

Example, remember the prophet Ezequiel i think when he was commanded to go and preach to the people and he was afraid since NONE can be found? Yet he converted thousand of people.