Barry Newman's Blog

March 11, 2012

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

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 10:31 pm

The verbal and situational context of Matthew 28: 19b (continued)

The verbal context

I will assume that Matthew is recording the words that Jesus uttered, though they were probably not given in the Greek language and they are not necessarily exactly what Jesus said.  I will also assume that Matthew was not attempting to alter the understanding that Jesus intended to convey by using the words he, Jesus, did use.

Jesus begins his last words, according to Matthew, with the utterance, “All authority has been given to me, in heaven and upon earth”.  He had demonstrated his authority over the demonic world, the world of diseases and the world of deformities.  It was obvious that he taught with authority (7: 29) and he entered into discussions with the chief priests and elders of the people about this authority, without disclosing by what authority he taught as he did (21: 23-27).  He claimed he had authority to forgive sins (9: 2-6).  He acted with authority as he gave to his disciples, authority to cast out evil spirits, to heal diseases and infirmities (10: 1).  Now at the end of his time on earth he declares, “All authority has been given to me, in heaven and upon earth.”  What an extraordinary statement – “all authority”, “in heaven and upon earth”!  It is difficult to sidestep the “all authority”.  And he speaks of it as having been given – it was not his to begin with.

However, why does he see it as necessary to utter these words at this time?  We are probably right to assume that it is because he is about to make a commandment but it is no ordinary commandment.  It is a commandment to make disciples from “all nations”.  Is it the case that Jesus sees this commandment as so unpalatable for a Jew that he has to begin with a statement saying he has been given this “all authority”.  Of course stating that he been given such authority implies more than just “this commandment must be obeyed”, but it implies this at least. Indeed Matthew records that upon Jesus making his claim about all authority, he then says, “Therefore going, make disciples of all nations.”  Having all authority he has the authority to make the command.

What is the significance of “going”, the participle occurring first in the line of verbs that follow his reference to the authority given to him?  Perhaps it is also part of the recognition that for these Jewish disciples this commandment will not be readily appreciated.  They will have to leave their homeland and go where the nations are.  If we are on the right track see how significant the “all nations” reference is.

And to make disciples, that is, other disciples of Jesus, for they cannot be anybody else’s disciples, means that these disciples will have to be told much about Jesus – his birth, what he did, what he said, why he died, that he rose again and that he will come again in glory to judge the nations (Matthew 25: 31-46) and about repentance, forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.  But they will not readily understand Jesus unless they begin to understand the Father and his relationship to the Son and they will not readily understand their relationship to the Father and the Son unless they begin to understand the relationship of the Father and the Son to the Spirit.

The imperative to make disciples of all nations, with its implication that the original disciples will have “to go” is the immediate verbal context preceding the participle phrase with which we are ultimately concerned – “baptising”, “immersing” them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Given that disciples of Jesus from all nations have to be made, that they will need to know about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but that to begin with that they will know so little about Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it should not be too much of a surprise to find this reference to “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” following upon, “make disciples of all nations”.

Notice at the same time, that though there is this unique reference to the persons of the trinity there is a focus on Jesus himself underlying each of the last statements that he makes.  He has been given all authority, his disciples are being commanded to make other disciples of his, and as we are soon to note, these new disciples are to be taught to observe all that Jesus commanded his present disciples to observe and he is going to be with his disciples always to the end of the age.  It should therefore not overly surprise us then that when new believers were baptised in water as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, they were not baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit but in the name of Jesus the Lord or Jesus the Christ.

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