Barry Newman's Blog

January 26, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part X)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 10:44 am

Matthew 28: 19 – Problems in Understanding the Text as a reference to a Baptismal Water Ceremony

Let us now turn to Matthew 28: 19 and recognise the problems we have if we see the reference to baptism being a reference either solely or primarily a reference to a literal water ceremony.  Some of what I say here has already been referred to in the previous blog series. I will list 8 problems.

1. Given the nature of Matthew’s Gospel it should strike us as odd that at its conclusion it refers to the necessity of a water ceremony.  With the exception of Matthew 21 where a reference is made to John’s baptism, the only other reference to the water ceremony in Matthew is at the beginning of the Gospel in chapter 3 where again it refers to John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus at that time.  The content of the Gospel after chapter 3 does not prepare the reader to expect a command in chapter 28 that concerns a water ceremony.  It is arguable however that Matthew uses chapter 3 and chapter 28 as types of “book ends” to his Gospel using the crucial notion of “immersion”.  In the water ceremony of chapter 3 all three of the Godhead are referred to when the Father, addresses Jesus as “my Son”, and the Spirit of God descends upon him.  In chapter 28 mention is made again of all three but here “immersion” may be understood to have a metaphorical character (see above and below).   The reference to the promise that Jesus will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire mentioned in chapter 3 and Matthew’s conclusion in 28: 20 of Jesus promising that he would be with his disciples always may be a further part of the “book end” approach.

2. Though the command refers to “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, any mention of “in the name of” in association with water baptism in the Acts of the Apostles, is only made in terms of “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2: 38; 10: 48) or “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8: 16; 19: 5).  To argue that the activity of the Father and the Holy Spirit are to be recognised as associated with the water ceremony and so caught up in “the name of Jesus Christ” or “the name of the Lord Jesus” is to ignore the importance of “in the name of” in the command.  One would expect at least one reference in the Acts of the Apostles to mention “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” if the command of Matthew concerns water baptism.

3. Matthew’s Gospel is the only Gospel that refers to a commandment for a water ceremony to be performed if indeed that is what the commandment is about.  On the other hand, all the Gospels in one way or another refer to the “world wide mission” that is captured in Matthew 28: 19.  If there is a special ceremonial command, given that it would indeed be special, given the rarity if not the entire absence of such commands outside of the Gospels, one might well expect it to be mentioned in all four Gospels.

My next post will be in a week or so time.

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