Barry Newman's Blog

March 20, 2012

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

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 11:24 pm

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

With this understanding of this part of v. 19, vv, 18- 20a as a whole have the sense of: Jesus declares to his disciples that all authority has been given to him, so that what follows will not, in any way, be taken lightly by his disciples.  They are to make disciples from all nations.  This will mean they will have to go to “all nations”.  If people are to be made disciples, they will need to be thoroughly taught about who the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit is, and they will need to be instructed to observe, to keep all that Jesus had taught, nay commanded, his original disciples. In so doing, they will recognise the authority of Jesus and become his disciples. Making disciples of all nations will involve, going, teaching about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and instructing them to observe the commands of Jesus.

No longer do we have a reference to a ceremony as though this was part of the immensely important matter that Jesus gave as a command to his disciples in his final words to them.  They are being commanded to make disciples of all nations and this will entail going to the nations and teaching the disciples to be about the Godhead and instructing them to abide by all that Jesus had commanded them.  People from the nations will need a great deal of teaching before they could ever become disciples. And they will also need to bow to the authority of Jesus and abide by all that he had said. Surely people cannot be made disciples by being baptised in a water ceremony. To become a disciple does require repentance however and that is what John the baptiser and Peter, for example, called people first of all to do.

Understanding vv. 18- 20a as outlined, has the phrase “immersing into the name of …” fitting tightly within its verbal context.  It makes an explicit reference to what the disciples of the future need to be taught, something which otherwise would only be implicit in the instructions Jesus gives. It allows for the fact that some early Christians did not think it necessary to carry out water baptisms in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, whatever they actually made of verse 19. It explains why the Acts of the Apostles only records water baptisms in the name of Jesus the Christ or Jesus the Lord.  It recognises the difficulty of making disciples from the Gentile world.  It recognises the difficulty that the disciples would have of seeing the necessity of engaging with the Gentile world.  It provides an explanation as to why there is no command of Jesus to actually be baptised in a water ceremony.  It provides a partial understanding of why the writers of the other Gospels did not consider it essential to refer to “baptising in the name of …” which otherwise one would expect them to do so, if it were indeed part of a command statement made by Jesus at the end of his earthly ministry.  It underlines the idea that the command that Matthew refers to is a command that is especially important to record for a Jewish audience.  It answers any objection that the mandatory requirement of such a ceremony seems to be inconsistent with the grace of God revealed in Christ and the freedom he gives his people – that grace conveyed through the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ himself and that freedom God grants to his people to serve him genuinely, from the heart, walking by the Spirit.

It may well be that by using the word, “baptizo” Jesus allows for the water ceremony to be part of the conceptual background.  After all it was a ceremony that had been regularly performed and was going to continue to be regularly performed.   Yet it is being contended here that reference to a water ceremony was not his main consideration.  His concern was the making of disciples and that task would entail going to the nations, thoroughly immersing the disciples to be in who the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is and instructing them to observe all that Jesus had commanded his earlier disciples.

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