Barry Newman's Blog

March 17, 2012

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

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 9:10 pm

“Baptising”, “immersing” them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – a possible understanding (continued)

Let us now consider an alternative, particular in light of both the situational and verbal contexts of the participle phrase.  Hints about such an alternative have been fairly obvious from time to time.  It is possible that “baptizo” in Matthew 28: 19 is to be understood metaphorically.  There is no reference to “‘baptising’ in the name of” in the Greek literature at least before about the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., outside of the New Testament.  However, of the 100 or so known instances of usage of “baptizo” in that literature, about 30 are used in some metaphorical or other abstract sense.  Furthermore it has been noted earlier that the reference to the ancient Israelites being “immersed” in (“eis”) Moses (1 Corinthians 10: 2) is clearly metaphorical in character.  It has also been argued that the references to believers being immersed in (“eis”) Christ (Romans 6: 3 and Galatians 3: 27) are quite likely metaphorical in character as well though in each of the three instances, “to onoma” does not appear, actual names do. (As a further indication of the value of considering the possibility of an abstract usage for “baptizo”, such a consideration contributes significantly to solving the age old problem phrase, in 1 Corinthians 15: 29, “baptised on behalf of the dead”.  See a previous blog series.)

Words that appear appropriate as translations for “baptizo” in either a literal or abstract sense include: immerse, whelm, overwhelm, enshroud, engulf, envelop. As mentioned earlier, in the case of persons immersed in the sea or rivers etc. the word, “drown” is appropriate and where ships are immersed in the sea, the word, “sink” is suitable.  Of the various possibilities I think that the word “immerse” is a reasonably appropriate one when translating, Matthew 28: 19.

I have indicated earlier that I think that the “to onoma”, in the phrase “eis to onoma”, when the phrase is used in association with “baptizo”, can be a reference to “who this person is”, and this is likely to be the case if the person is God or his son Jesus.  I have also referred to the suitability of “eis” (into) as a preposition to accompany “baptizo”, especially when both the immersing and into what the immersing is being made is the focus.  The relevant phrase of Matthew 28: 19 reads, “baptizontes … eis to onoma”.   And I have also pointed out that “baptizo” is intensive in form – the entity is well and truly, thoroughly immersed, noting also that the idea of withdrawal from the immersed state is not “written into” the word itself.

On the basis of what has been said in the previous paragraphs and the situational and verbal contexts for Matthew 28: 19b as argued above, that phrase could be translated, “immersing into who the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is,” with the understanding that this would amount to teaching them, in depth, intensely, those of all nations that are to be made disciples, who the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is. And Jesus taught his original disciples much about the Father, himself and the Holy Spirit that they could pass onto the would-be disciples.

The answer to the question previously asked, “Where is the explicit reference in the instructions of Jesus to what these disciples of the future are to be taught?” is that it is in the phrase, “immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

Note how understanding the phrase, “immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as a direct reference to “teaching them in depth who the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is”, allows one to better understand the role played by the next phrase, “instructing them to observe all that I have commanded you”.  The second phrase does not replace the other or act as some mere explanation of the other.  The first indicates those matters about which a person needs to be taught before becoming a disciple.  The second phrase, indicates how these would be disciples must conform to what has been taught with specific reference to what Jesus taught.  In so doing they will recognise the authority of Jesus and bow to that authority.  One phrase without the other would be incomplete. The second phrase compliments the first and makes clear that what Jesus taught must be obeyed.

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