Barry Newman's Blog

February 12, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part X)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 10:59 pm

                    Immersed “epi” the name

We will now attempt to provide and answer to the question of why, “epi” is used in association with “baptizo” and “the name” in Acts 2: 38.  The phrase under scrutiny is, “baptistheto epi to onomati”.

To begin with it should not be surprising that Acts 2: 38 with its “epi” should have as a variant “en”, the appearance of “epi” seemingly being an oddity.   Yet it is more likely that “epi” is the original” rather than “en” since, independently of the weight of the manuscript evidence being in favour  of “epi”, it would be less likely for “en” to have been changed to “epi” than the other way around.

Liddell and Scott, indicate that one of the usages for “epi” with the accusative has a causal sense – “of the object or purpose for which one goes”, “as regards”, “of persons set over others” or, “according to, by”.[1]  The first three of these alternatives may be the most significant in the present instance.  It might also be worth noting that Acts 2: 38 is the only instance when “baptizo appears in the imperative in the New Testament. Furthermore, there is no such instance to be found in the Greek literature at least up until the beginning of the 2nd century A.D.

Given that this is Peter’s imperative on the Day of Pentecost to the crowds that had gathered, perhaps the emphasis in what Peter is demanding is not so much on the performance of a water ceremony but the completely new appraisal that his listeners are to have of this Jesus of Nazareth.   He begins with the notion of repentance rather than with that of water baptism. “Repent and be baptised” are his words.  Whatever people previously thought of him, this Jesus of Nazareth is to be seen as the Christ and they are being told to be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ or Jesus, the Christ[2].  The extent to which Peter elaborates upon the person of this Jesus, the appeal he makes to his mighty works, the outworking of the purposes of God through him and the fulfilment of Scripture concerning him is consistent with “epi” being used in the sense of “with respect to”. And it is with respect to “the name” of Jesus, the Christ.  That is, I suggest it is with respect to who this Jesus, the Christ is.  He is at least the Christ!  See later for discussion on the significance of “name”.

In spite of all that has been said above and its significance, I do not think that the use of “epi” in Acts 2: 38 is all that relevant to our consideration of Matthew 28: 19 where “eis” is used.  None the less, what occurred on the Day of Pentecost will again be referred to, from time to time, later.

As an aside it should be noted, as indicated earlier, that it is not that the phrase, “epi to onomati” is rare in the Greek literature, it is not.  It is simply rare when used in conjunction with “baptizo”, the only occurrence known up until New Testament times being in the Acts 2: 38 passage.

Immersed “en” the name

We will now attempt to provide an answer to the question of why, “en” is used in association with “baptizo” and “the name” in Acts 10: 48.  The phrase under scrutiny is, “baptisthenai to onomati”.

The Acts 10: 48 passage with its “en” has some common elements with Acts 2: 38.  Although “baptizo” is not in the imperative, it is linked with the verb of “command” – Peter, “commanded” Cornelius and his company to be baptized.  Furthermore, the name in which they are to be baptized is the same name as the name in Acts 2: 38 – the name of Jesus, the Christ – the only other time that this name is used in conjunction with baptism in the New Testament.  But why “en” in the case of Acts 10 and not “epi” as with Acts 2 or “eis” as in the other five instances?

Liddell and Scott, give as one illustration of the use of “en” with the dative case – “of the state, condition, position in which one is”[3].  Noting that again an imperative is to the fore, perhaps “en” in Acts 10: 48 is used to give emphasis to the new situation arising for these God fearers (Acts 10: 2).  They were to be seen as having the same state as that of the Jews of Acts 2.  Luke gives considerable attention to this perspective in Acts 10 and 11.  “Epi” might have given greater focus to “regarding Jesus, the Christ” and “eis” might have given greater focus to what one was being immersed into but “en” perhaps draws attention to the state – the same state as the believing Jew.  Peter commanded that the baptism take place perhaps because he wanted it to be clear that though Cornelius and his group were not Jews, they were to be treated as having the same status in Jesus, the Christ as the believing Jew.

In terms of a conclusion, I think that when considering issues relating to Matthew 28: 19 it is important to give some recognition to the circumstances in which Peter commanded that Cornelius and his company be baptised.  Understandably then, the baptism of Cornelius and his company will again be referred to later. However, that “en” is used in Acts 10: 48 and not “eis” is probably of no great relevance for our understanding of the Matthew 28 text.

Again as an aside it should be noted that the phrase, “en to onomati” is not rare.  It is simply that in conjunction with “baptizo” it is quite rare.


[1] Liddell, H.G. and Scott, Ibid., p. 287

[2] I think that it is more likely that at the baptismal ceremony, the sense is “Jesus, the Christ” rather than Jesus Christ.  I will tend to refer to “Jesus, the Christ” hereafter particularly when a baptismal ceremony in the New Testament is being discussed.

[3] Ibid., p. 257

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