Barry Newman's Blog

March 10, 2012

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

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 12:33 am

The verbal and situational context of Matthew 28: 19b

The meaning of any word, or better, the understanding that was intended to be conveyed by the person who uttered the word or by the person reporting on the utterance, cannot be determined by an examination of that word alone.  Nor can it be determined with absolute confidence by examining all other instances of how the word is used, even by the same person around the same time.

In the case of Matthew 28: 19, the verbal context in which the word was uttered and the verbal context created by the one reporting the word, if they are different, and the situational context existing for the one – in this case Jesus, of whom it is claimed, gave utterance to the word and the situational context created by the writer himself, need to be examined before deciding what was intended by the statement being reported.  Other matters that are thought relevant might also need to be considered.

We are finally ready to do that.  But to arrive at this point we have had to refer to a number of matters, hopefully with the result that we are able to consider possibilities fairly, particularly those that otherwise we might never have been willing to consider or even able to consider.

The situational and verbal contexts of Matthew 28: 19b are now examined.  This involves some detailed discussion of the verses 18 to 20 excluding detailed comment on the phrase, “immersing in the name of ” itself.

            The situational context

For Matthew the statements of Jesus beginning at 28: 18 and ending at 28: 20 come at the end of his Gospel.  From that we might guess that these words of Jesus have considerable significance.  Yet their appearance here is quite natural given that they are uttered at the end of his earthly ministry.  However that they are the last words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew surely adds to our suspicion that they are exceedingly important as far as both Jesus and Matthew are concerned.[1]

Of course the very last words are, “Lo, I am with you always to the close of the age”.  How encouraging for his disciples and even for us, we his later disciples.  For surely we are meant to assume that all his disciples including those yet to come, will enjoy his presence, for he is to be present with his disciples till this present age should end.  But at that time, he made it clear to his then disciples that he was just about to depart.

Occupying a significant place in his final statements are those words concerning his authority and the making of disciples, “baptising” them, and teaching them.  Yet, why the reference to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”?  We emphasise the “make disciples” component of the command of Jesus and rightly so. However it is important to note that these disciples, yet to be, are to come from “all the nations”.  That phrase is part of the imperative statement.  The words “all the nations” would be particularly important for Matthew to mention, if the assumption that his Gospel was largely written for a Jewish audience, is correct.  It was understandably barely conceivable that Jesus would have disciples from peoples other than the Jews.  Yet that is to be the case. Jesus sees it as important to make this abundantly clear and Matthew sees it as important to include what Jesus said in his account.  Given how poor a Gentile understanding of the revelation of God to the descendants of Abraham before the time of Jesus but also his revelation through Jesus would be, the reference to, “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” could have special significance.  In the course of time these would be disciples would need to understand a great deal about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The questions concerning each of the persons of the trinity, asked of those wishing to be baptised, recorded in the Apostolic Tradition bears witness to this need.  Of course Luke also refers to the nations towards the end of his Gospel (24: 47) and again at the beginning of Acts where Jesus specifies, “Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth” (1: 8).  Given the assumption that Luke has a largely Gentile audience in mind it also makes good sense for him to give these utterances a place of prominence – the place that Jesus gives them – words uttered at the end of his earthly ministry.

But to return to Matthew.  The situation is one where Jesus is giving his final words to his disciples.  They must be quite important.  “And Jesus came and said to them ….” And Matthew wrote his Gospel so that these final words concerning something for the nations should not go unnoticed. They appear at the end of his Gospel.

And we need to return, at some point to the question, “Is it likely, given all that is taught about the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Son in Matthew’s Gospel and that he now focuses on the last words of Jesus, that Jesus in these words, refers to the importance of a ceremonial washing?”

[1] I have earlier stated that I assume that the reference to baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is original. I also assume that Matthew was the author.


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