Barry Newman's Blog

February 29, 2012

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

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 10:21 pm

Immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

This section questions the idea that in Matthew 28: 19 we have a direct reference to a mandatory water ceremony.

Whatever we make of this oft quoted passage: “Going therefore, make disciples of all nations baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”, we need to be reminded that Jesus gave no imperative to” be baptised”.  There was an imperative but strictly speaking it involved “baptising” not “being baptised”.  The substantial imperative however was to make disciples of all nations and “baptising in the name of …” only gained imperative force because the phrase was attached to the substantial imperative.  For an imperative, “to be baptised”, the only appeals that can be made are to Acts 2: 38 and 10: 48.

With respect to Acts 10: 48 the command by Peter for Cornelius and his group “to be baptised”, as suggested earlier, could well have arisen from Peter’s desire for there to be a “public” witness that these God fearing Gentiles must also be considered as entitled to the blessings of God and entitled to be part of the Messianic movement.  They were baptised into Jesus the Christ.  The Messiah had not come only for the Jews.

In the Acts 2: 38 passage, although the imperative is used, such does not automatically devolve into some sort of “hard command”. In fact the first imperative is for repentance.  The second could be understood more as a direction, flowing from the first.  Perhaps what Peter is saying is a little like: “Take her as your wife and put a ring on her finger”.  The first is what is mandatory.  The second is a reference to what by this time has become part and parcel of joining the Messianic movement.  See earlier.

A further matter:  Would it not strike the reader of Matthew’s Gospel as a little odd to have in this Gospel (or any of the Gospels) a ceremony made mandatory and furthermore, for this mandatory practice to be given special prominence by being placed almost at the very end of this Gospel?  In this Gospel much has been made of “matters of the heart, of the mind, of the soul and of the body”.

See the “Sermon on the Mount”, the question about fasting,  persecutions, whom to fear, rewards, woe to unrepentant cities, unclean spirits, the many healed and delivered from demons, the great parables of the sower, and the weeds amongst the wheat,  the teaching against the traditions of the elders, the faith of the Canaanite woman, Jesus words about those who seek signs, the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Peter’s declaration about Jesus, the transfiguration of Jesus, those who are great in the kingdom, temptations to sin, the parable of the lost sheep, forgiveness, divorce, wealth, God’s grace exemplified in the parable of the vineyard workers, the cleansing of the temple, the parables of the vineyard and the tenants, the marriage feast, loving God with  all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s mind and loving one’s neighbour as oneself, Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection, the great “woes” of Jesus against the scribes and the Pharisees, his lament over Jerusalem, the coming of the Son of Man, the parables of the waiting maidens and what to do with the talents, the judgement of the nations, the anointing of Jesus, the last Passover meal, Peter’s denial, praying in Gethsemane,  Jesus his arrest and “trial”, being brought before Pilate, the mocking of Jesus, the two robbers, the cruel crucifixion – a must for sinners, the shaking of the earth, the torn curtain, the entombment, the glorious earth shaking resurrection, and  who can easily forget the warm words, “Come to me all who labour and are heavy lade, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

At the end of all these things, that Jesus should institute a mandatory ceremony?  Does it not seem at least counter intuitive if not incredible?

And the matter appears in no other gospel?!  No command to be baptised, at the end of the other Gospels, dealing, as all the Gospels do with matters of sin, righteousness, judgement and deliverance?  How extraordinary!

And what are we to make of the stark difference between being baptised “in the name of Jesus the Christ” or “in the name of Jesus the Lord” in the Apostolic period and being baptised “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” in Matthew 28: 19?  Were the apostles simply being perverse and disobedient?  Surely not!  Appealing to the fact that the Father and the Spirit are mentioned in some way or another at the same time as the person or persons being baptised in the name of Jesus … in some of the instances, cannot really be conceived of as providing a solution.  The phrases are explicit.  They begin with, “in the name of” whatever the preposition used. Attempts to see “in the name of Jesus …” as inclusive of “in the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit” in some way or another, defy credibility.

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