Barry Newman's Blog

February 15, 2012

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

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 9:59 pm

In the name – with reference to “the name” (continued)

                     Other perspectives

Bietenhard discusses how “onoma” is used in a number of different contexts: the Greek World and Hellenism, the Old Testament, Hellenistic Judaism, and Later Judaism and the New Testament.[1]  In general terms, although he recognises that “onoma” can be used in a variety of ways, including a reference to “people”, a person’s reputation, and simply providing an appropriate label to an entity, he indicates that it often denotes more than a “name” itself.

Focussing on “eis to onoma” for the moment, Schaberg considers the possibility that it “may simply be a common phrase, without the overtones of the OT ‘name’ theology.”[2]  He writes, “In Hellenistic inscription and papyri, “eis to onoma” is frequent with a financial meaning: a sum of money is paid ‘into the account’ of someone.” Referring to Schweizer he states that, “Soldiers took an oath and pseudonymous documents were written ‘eis to onoma’”.  With this usage in mind he posits that the phrase in Matthew could be that the baptised person, as he sees it, was dedicated to Father, Son and Spirit, becoming their property.”  However he cites, Hartman warning against such a technical understanding supplying the imagery for the New Testament text.  “He is of the opinion that the phrase was more neutral and carried different meanings.”[3] Schaberg claims that “An explanation of the phrase based on the Hebrew-Aramaic expression ‘leshum’ or ‘leshem’, a term found in the Mishnah and Talmud, and elsewhere leads to a similar interpretation, though the Semitic phrase is more elastic.  Here ‘shem’ does not have a strict meaning, ‘Name’ but the phrase (that is, ‘eis to onoma’) means ‘with regard to’, ‘with reference to’, ‘for the sake of’, ‘because of’, ‘in the interests of’, ‘with the obligation of venerating’, ‘for’ (I take it that “the name” is understood).  It is a flexible phrase and can denote both the basis and purpose of that which is named.”[4]  Schaberg continues, “The meaning of the baptismal context (as he sees it) would have to do with the relationship between the baptized and the Father, Son and Spirit.”[5] Schaberg again refers to Hartman however, who “cautions … against finding too precise a grammatical aspect and of distinguishing too sharply between a causal and final meaning of the phrase.”[6]

Obviously the notion, “in the name of” does denote different things with different names being involved and in different contexts. However we are concerned with the general notion of “in the name of” when that applies to God and ultimately in the phrase, “immersing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as found in Matthew 28: 19.

I suggested earlier that “onoma” in “eis to onoma” when the reference is to being “baptised”, “immersed” in the name of Jesus or similar or when it is to believing in the name of Jesus or similar can generally be understood to imply something like, “who he is”. The New Testament, and in this Matthew is no exception, has a high view of Jesus, such a high view, that he is referred to along with the Father and the Holy Spirit and bracketed between them in the phrase, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”!  I have suggested that “name” in “in the name” in the Old Testament where the reference is to God can generally be understood as a reference to who God is or to some significant aspect or aspects of God.  One might expect a similar situation when the name is a reference to Jesus.

So now a few comments on how “the name” is sometimes used in association with Jesus in the New Testament: Many will say that they prophesied in his name, cast out demons in his name and did mighty works in his name (Matthew 7: 22).  Whoever receives such a child, as the one he held in his arms, in his name, receives him and whoever receives him receives him who sent him (Mark 9: 37).  His disciples will be hated by all for his name’s sake (Luke 21: 17).  Whatever the disciples would ask the Father in his name he would give to them (John 15: 16). Paul was a chosen instrument of the Lord Jesus who declared to him that he Paul would carry his name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel (Acts 9: 15). The name of the Lord Jesus was extolled when an evil spirit reacted adversely upon the use of the name of the Lord Jesus by those the evil spirit did not recognise (Acts 19: 17).  Paul urged the Colossian believers to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3: 17).  The name that he obtained is more excellent than their name, being much superior to angels (Hebrews 1: 4). As Jesus has been given the name, “Lord”, God’s own name (Philippians 2: 11), so his name can be invoked as though it were God’s and vice versa – “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Joel 3: 5, Acts 2: 21, Romans 10: 13). Belief in his name is not a reference to claiming that one knows he exists but to him, he being who he is. He, what is denoted by his name, has become the object of one’s trust (John 1: 12).  He is worthy of such trust. And such trust leads to eternal life (John 3: 16). And many believed in his name (John 2: 23). That sins are forgiven for the sake of his name” (Acts 10: 43) implies that sins are forgiven, when one might have thought only God can forgive sins, somehow or another, because of what his name represents.  Does not his name represent who he is?

In conclusion, it depends on the context, but reference to “the name” within the phrase, “in the name” can often bring to the fore, some specific aspect of a person, for example, his power or his authority.  However in some instances it can become too artificial to so limit it. “In the name” with reference to God or with reference to Jesus seems, in general terms, often to carry with it, to a lesser or greater degree, “who the person is”.   Consequently, the position that I have adopted in relation to the “to onoma” of “eis to onoma” when used in association with “Jesus, the Christ”, “Jesus, the Lord” and “the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (and even “Paul”) is a reference to something like, “who the person is”.  And I do not think any consideration of how “name” is understood  in such a phrase as, “eis to onoma” in the Greek speaking world, external to the New Testament, has much bearing on how one should understand it in the New Testament particularly when the reference is to such as those just named.


[1] Bietenhard, H. “onoma, onomazo, eponomazo, pseudonumos” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (eds. Kittel, G. and Friedrich, G. (trans. Bromiley, W., volume V, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1968, pp. 242-283

[2] Schaberg, J., The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Society of Biblical Literature, Dissertation Series, No., 61, Scholar Press, Chico, CA, 1982, p. 19

[3] Idem.

[4] Idem.

[5] Idem.

[6] Idem.

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