Barry Newman's Blog

February 8, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part XIII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 10:56 am

Matthew 28: 19, 20 – Understanding the Text

How then can we defensibly understand Matthew 28: 19, 20?

To begin with, it may be helpful to remember that the actual imperative belongs to “make disciples”, with “baptising” along with “going” and “teaching” being participles.  The emphasis is on making disciples.  “Baptising” should then be understood as involved in some way with making disciples. One could argue that the sense is that one could not become a disciple unless one was baptised in a baptismal water ceremony but such a conclusion is contrary to the nature of the gospel.  Furthermore, the Ephesians who are only familiar with John’s baptism are referred to as disciples (Acts 19: 1-7), though we recognise that their discipleship must have been limited. And they were baptised again. Though this is not the understanding adopted here, it would be more plausible to suggest that what was implied in Matthew 28: 19 was that a water baptismal ceremony conducted “in the name …” was an outward indication (though only an indication) that one was being made a disciple.  Just as the “going” of the text was not necessary for every person to become a disciple, though it was necessary for people of all nations to become disciples, so it could be argued that a water baptismal ceremony was not necessary for a person to become a disciple though it would be an indication of such.

We also need to reflect on the last participle phrase, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”  This seems very much like what is involved in persons being made disciples.  Becoming a disciple of Jesus would undoubtedly involve being taught what he had taught and coming under his authority and the authority of what he had taught.  And coming under his authority implied observing what he had taught.  That is, the last participle phrase seems like a fairly explicit exposition of the imperative, “make disciples”.

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