Barry Newman's Blog

September 6, 2009

Biblical Baptism (part V)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 10:46 pm

Misunderstood Passages in the New Testament? (cont.)

Matthew 29: 19, 20
In attempting to answer this question, we need to properly understand the text – Matthew 28: 19, 20 where Jesus instructs his followers – “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Clearly, after the day of Pentecost, Peter, Phillip, Paul, and others carried out literal water baptisms.  Given the sense of “baptizo” they were probably full immersion baptisms.  And they were probably always associated with the necessity of repentance – a change of mind about Jesus whom God had sent (Acts 2: 38) – similar to the baptisms of John the Baptiser who also demanded a change of mind (Matt. 3: 2, 8, 11; Mark 1: 4). However the book of Acts does not record anyone being baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  People were baptised in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2: 38, 10: 48) or in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 8: 16, 19: 5).  Yet Matthew 28: 19 pointedly refers to the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That the word “name” is used only once is understandable – there is only one God. However, the word “and” appears two times indicating the importance of each person of the Godhead.  Perhaps the command is not about literal water baptism!  Neither Canon Knox nor Bishop Robinson was convinced that water baptism was in mind. It is also significant that Paul, in writing to those Corinthian who had been sanctified in Christ Jesus, did not regard literal water baptism as of supreme importance.  In opposing the view that they belonged to different factions, defined in terms of who baptised them, he wrote, “Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1: 17).  How odd, if Christ commanded his disciples to carry out literal water baptism, that Paul is exempt from this commission!  How strange too, if the command relates to water baptism, that only Matthew records it!  What all the Gospels indicate is that people are to be instructed. Mark records how Jesus said that before certain things occur, “The gospel must first be preached to all nations” (Mark 13: 10). Luke records Jesus telling his disciples that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached to all nations (Luke 24: 47) and John records Jesus saying to them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you (with a message about forgiveness)” (John 20: 21, 23).

What then does Matthew 28: 19, 20 mean?  The actual command is, “make disciples …” The words, “go” (literally – “going”), “baptising” and “teaching” relate to that command.  “Make disciples” means instruct people about Jesus so that they will become his followers.  “Teaching them”, says something similar, though Jesus elaborates upon what the people are to be taught. The phrase, “baptising them” is bracketed or embraced by both these items and would it not mean the same sort of thing?  It could have a similar meaning, if understood as a metaphor.  Is not Jesus saying, “The disciples are to be, “immersed”, “thoroughly instructed” or “swamped” in all that pertains to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit”? As mentioned earlier, a Greek speaking person of the 1st century would find it unusual that in the New Testament “baptizo” was so often used to refer to a water ceremony.  What would appear more normal would be either an ordinary literal water usage or a metaphorical one and it makes good sense if this latter possibility is the way it is used in Matthew 28: 19.  Besides, such an understanding means that all of the oddities mentioned earlier, disappear.


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