Barry Newman's Blog

February 9, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part XIV)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 12:28 am

Matthew 28: 19, 20 – Understanding the Text (continued)

Returning to “baptising them in the name of …” what do we understand by the phrase, “in (or into) the name of”?  According to Ferguson, the Greek expression “into the name of” as used in antiquity commonly occurs in commercial and legal contexts and refers to “into the ownership or possession of someone, though he suggests that perhaps the phrase in Matthew has more in common with the Hebrew phrase, “into the name of” and supports the idea that the notion is, “with reference to”[1].  The reality is that it is too prescriptive to demand that the phrase should be precisely understood one way or another.  However, let us take on both these ideas but attach them to a metaphorical understanding of “baptizo”.  To immerse someone with reference to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit could imply to thoroughly engulf them, saturate them, with all that pertains to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  That is, to thoroughly teach those who are to be made disciples all that Jesus taught about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – “teaching” being the next participle in the statement.  To immerse someone into the ownership or possession of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit would imply submerging them under the governorship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; that is, to bring about, for those who are to be made disciples, their coming under the complete authority of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – the authority of Jesus being implicit in the next phrase, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”.  Just as there is only one name, there is only one undivided authority. And coming under that one authority would necessitate having been taught all about those with that authority – especially all about him to whom all authority in heaven and earth had been given (v. 18)  He had been given all authority (v. 18), becoming his disciple would involve coming under his authority (v. 19a), being “enfolded” in the name entailed coming under the authority of that name (v. 19b) and being taught to observe all that Jesus had commanded could not but imply coming under the authority of Jesus (v. 20). Authority permeates vv. 18 to 20.  There is little conceptual room available for reference to ceremonial observance!

A metaphorical understanding of “immersing” (the use of that word involves a translation and not the transliteration, “baptising”), reveals a strong linkage between the imperative, “make disciples” v. 19 and the requirement of “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” of v. 20.  The idea that a water baptismal ceremony is what is solely in mind in the use of “baptizo” accepts by comparison a weaker connection between “make disciples” and “teaching them …”.  An outward indication by means of a ceremony is not in itself being taught – the essence of becoming a disciple is.


[1] Op. cit., pp. 135, 136

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