May 21: Luke 24:47-49, etc

Luke 24:47-49 and the Great Commission

Having discussed Matthew 28:18-20 (and especially the baptism formula of verse 19) in the previous notes, today I will look briefly at the ‘parallel’ Commission passages in the other Gospels—Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; and [Mark 16:15-16ff]. It is clear that all four post-resurrection Commissions by Jesus to his followers stem from separate traditions, and yet, interestingly, they contain certain common elements. I would isolate these common features as follows:

  • Jesus sends out his disciples, as he is recorded doing earlier in his ministry (Mk 6:7-13 par; Lk 10:1-12)—that is, they become his apostles in the basic meaning of the word:
    • Matthew—”you are (to be) going/traveling (forth) [poreuqe/nte$]…”
    • [Mark]—”you are (to be) going/traveling (forth) [poreuqe/nte$] into the world…”
    • Luke—”to be preached… into all the nations, beginning from Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}”
    • John—”even as the Father has set me forth [a)pe/stalken, i.e. sent me], I also (am) send(ing) [pe/mpw] you”
  • Jesus gives to his disciples power/authority, which he received (from the Father):
    • Matthew—”all authority [e)cousi/a] in heaven and upon earth is given to me..” (it must be inferred that the same authority is given to the disciples, cf. Matt 9:35; 10:7-8)
    • [Mark]—”these signs will follow along… in my name”
    • Luke—”to be proclaimed upon his [i.e. my] name…. See, I set forth [i.e. send] the announcement/promise of the Father upon you”
    • John—”as the Father set me forth, so I send you…. For whomever you release…it will be released for them…”
  • There is an emphasis on repentance and release (forgiveness) of sin:
    • Matthew (also [Mark])—”dunking/baptizing them…”, i.e. the fundamental association of baptism with repentance and forgiveness (Matt 3:11 par)
    • Luke—”repentance [lit. change-of-mind] (is) to be proclaimed upon my name unto release of sins unto all the nations…”
    • John—”(For) whomever you release the(ir) sins, they have been released for them…”
  • Finally, there is an association with the Spirit:
    • Matthew—”dunking/baptizing them in the name of…the holy Spirit”
    • [Mark]—”…trusting and being dunked/baptized…these signs will follow along for the ones trusting…”; cf. the manifestation of the Spirit following (or in connection with) baptism in the book of Acts
    • Luke—”…the announcement/promise of the Father upon you”, clearly a reference to the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4, etc)
    • John—”he breathed in/on (them) and said to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'”

This strongly suggests an underlying historical tradition regarding Jesus’ (final) instruction to his followers, which, it would seem, came to be preserved in two strands of the Gospel Tradition—one set in Galilee (Matthew/Mark) and one set in Jerusalem (Luke/John), with the Markan ‘Appendix’ (or long ending) apparently combining both. With regard to the Commission specifically, the versions in Matthew and the Markan ‘Appendix’ are clearly related—compare, in particular, Matt 28:19 with Mark 16:15-16. Similarly, it is clear that, in the resurrection (and post-resurrection) narratives, Luke and John have certain traditions in common. The accounts of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem in Lk 24:36-43 and John 20:19-20 are quite close, especially if one accepts the Alexandrian/Majority readings rather than the shorter ‘Western’ text of Luke 24. Though less obvious on the surface, the “Commission” accounts in Lk 24:47-49 and John 20:21-23 have a good deal in common as well:

    • The disciples as Jesus’ representatives (witnesses/’apostles’) whom he is sending out from Jerusalem into the wider world—Lk 24:47-48 / Jn 20:21
    • Mention of the Father in connection with Jesus’ “sending”—Lk 24:49a / Jn 20:21
    • The coming of the Spirit on/upon the disciples, with Jesus himself as the source—Lk 24:49a / Jn 20:22 (“I [am] send[ing]…” / “he breathed…”)
    • Reference to the release (i.e. forgiveness) of sins in connection with the work and preaching of the disciples—Lk 24:47 / Jn 20:23

By way of comparison with Matt 28:19, it is interesting that Luke/John also bring together Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The “Son” is implied by the presence of Jesus:

    • In Luke, compare verse 45 in context (referring to Jesus as the “Anointed” [Christ/Messiah]) with the earlier formulae using the expression “Son of Man” (24:7, also 9:22, 44; 18:31; 22:22).
    • The Gospel of John gives special emphasis to the idea of Jesus as “the Son”, in relation to God the Father—Jn 1:14; 3:35; 5:19-27; 6:27, 40; 8:28; 10:36; 14:31; 17:1ff; 20:17.

In many ways, the account in Lk 24:47-49 is closer to Matt 28:18-20 than the other Commission passages; note especially the parallels between verse 47 and Matt 28:19:

    • The disciples are to preach/proclaim the Gospel “into all the nations”—cp. Matt 28:19a (“make all the nations to be learners [i.e. disciples]”)
    • The wording and syntax also matches formulae related to baptism; cp. especially with Acts 2:38:
      “…repentance (is) to be proclaimed upon his name unto (the) release of sins unto all the nations” (Lk)
      “Repent and be dunked/baptized…upon the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed unto (the) release of your sins” (Acts)
    • In each, the Commission concludes with a promise by Jesus using the emphatic pronoun “I” (e)gw/) and beginning with the exclamation “see!” [i)dou/]:
      “and see! I set forth [i.e. send] the announcement/promise of my Father upon you…” (Lk 24:49 [some MSS omit i)dou])
      “and see! I am with you every day until the (full) completion of the Age” (Matt 28:20b)

Concluding note (on Matthew 28:19)

Returning for a moment to the question of the authenticity of the trinitarian baptismal formula in Matt 28:19, I would here note several arguments in favor of authenticity (on objective grounds):

    • The instruction regarding baptism itself, as well as most of Matt 28:18-20 in context, is fully compatible with the sayings and teaching of the historical Jesus, based on an entirely objective analysis of the Gospel Tradition. For a number of examples and references illustrating this, cf. the prior notes.
    • The common elements and parallels between the various post-resurrection Commission passages in the Gospels (cf. above), which surely represent separate strands of tradition (given their differences), strongly suggest an underlying historical core.
    • Luke 24:47-49 provides independent attestation for the inclusion of a baptismal ‘formula’ as part of the Commission, which is also associated with the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 2:38) and the Father. The other points of similarity between Lk 24:47-49 and Matt 28:18-20 were noted above.

On the contrary, one must, I think, be willing to admit that:

    • Many of the parallels and similarities cited above are relatively loose, and could be said to be outweighed by the significant differences in detail. On the basis of traditional-conservative desire to harmonize, it would actually prove quite difficult to piece together all of these details (and separate Commission passages) into a genuinely convincing whole (judged honestly and objectively).
    • Assuming that Matt 28:19 is authentic, it is most strange that there really is no evidence for it (or its influence) anywhere else in the New Testament. By all accounts, based on the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, early believers were only ever baptized “in the name of Jesus“. If the apostles and early Christians were following Jesus’ example and instruction, then it is likely that Jesus’ original saying would have been something along the lines of: “baptizing them in my name…” (cf. Lk 24:47 / Acts 2:38)
    • The earliest attestation for the saying/instruction of Matt 28:19 is found in Didache 7:1, 3, which is typically dated from the early 2nd (or late 1st) century A.D. A fair date for the traditions in the Didache might be c. 70-80 A.D., which likely coincides with the completed form of the Gospel of Matthew. The trinitarian form (and formula) of baptism is attested in the second and third centuries, but, as far as we know, not earlier than c. 70 A.D.

May 20: Matthew 28:18-20 (concluded)

Matthew 28:18-20 (concluded)

In yesterday’s note I looked at the specific phrase “baptizing them into the name of [ei)$ to\ o&noma tou=]…”; today, I will proceed to examine the trinitarian phrase which follows: “…of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit“. Given the emphasis on baptism in the name of Jesus in the earliest Christian period (cf. the previous note), and based on the other sayings preserved in the Gospels, we might expect Jesus to have said simply, “…baptizing them into my name“. Many critical commentators consider the apparent trinitarian construct here to be a somewhat later formula retrojected into the words of the historical Jesus. This possibility will be addressed briefly after an examination of each portion of the three-fold phrase.

“of the Father” [tou= patro\$]

That Jesus would reference the Father in his final words to his disciples is hardly unusual, since God as Father was a central element of his teaching, as recorded throughout the Gospel Tradition. The idea, of course, is ancient, going back to Old Testament and Israelite tradition (Ex 4:22; Deut 32:6; Ps 89:26; Isa 1:2; 63:16; 64:8; Hos 11:1; Jer 3:19; 31:9; Mal 2:10, etc), and even earlier—virtually a universal religious concept. Jesus makes frequent use of the title “Father”—both in his own address to God, and in instruction to his followers—too many to list here, there being nearly 200 occurrences in the Gospels. Perhaps the most famous and well-known instance is to found in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9 / Lk 11:2), a passage which specifically refers to the Father’s name. There are an especially high number of references to the Father in Matthew—notably in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7, cf. 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, etc), but elsewhere through the Gospel as well (Matt 10:20, 29, 33; 12:50; 13:43; 15:13; 16:17, 27, et al). An even more distinctive (and frequent) use of “(my) Father” is found in the Discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John (more than 100 references), including several sayings which specifically relate to the name of the Father:

    • John 5:43; 10:3, 25—Jesus claims to have come in the Father’s name, working (miracles, etc) in His name; cf. also Jn 12:13 par
    • John 12:28—Jesus asks the Father to make His name honored/esteemed (i.e. glorified) through the Son
    • John 17—In the great prayer that concludes the Discourses of chaps. 13-17, Jesus declares that he has manifested and made known the Father’s name to his disciples (vv. 6, 26), and prays that they continue to be kept/guarded in His name (vv. 11-12)

There are also sayings which express the other side of the reciprocal relationship between Father and Son, where Jesus instructs his followers that, when they pray and bring petition to the Father, they should specifically make the request “in my name”—cf. John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23—the idea being that Jesus will be working/acting on their behalf with the Father. For indication of a similar relationship between Father and Son (Jesus) in the Synoptic Gospels, cf. Matt 11:25-27 par; Mark 13:32 par; 14:36. Especially significant are the sayings which connect Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John (cf. below).

References to God as Father are rather less frequent in the remainder of the New Testament. Paul often sets “God the Father” parallel with “the Lord Jesus Christ” in a basic creedal construction (Rom 1:7; 15:6; 1 Cor 1:3; 8:6; 2 Cor 1:2-3; 11:31; Gal 1:3f; Phil 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; 3:11, 13; 2 Thess 1:1-2; 2:16; Philem 3; Col 1:3; 3:17; also Eph 1:2-3, 17; 5:20; 6:23, etc); and there are several other passages which reflect basic theological or Christological formulae (e.g., 1 Pet 1:2-3; Jude 1; Rev 1:6; and cf. throughout 1 John). However, with regard to the baptism formula in Matt 28:19, it is worth noting that: (a) there is virtually no reference to the name of the Father in the New Testament outside of the sayings by Jesus referenced above, and (b) there is no evidence that early believers were ever baptized “in the name of the Father”.

On the first point, from the traditional Israelite/Jewish point of view, the name of God the Father was YHWH/Yahweh, which, as Christianity spread among Greek-speakers, was typically expressed by the title “Lord” (Ku/rio$). Gradually, this title was applied more and more to Jesus, and its distinctive association with YHWH was largely lost to believers in the Greco-Roman world. As we have already seen, it was the name of Jesus that was of primary importance for early believers.

“of the Son” [tou= ui(ou=]

Every relevant passage in the New Testament refers to baptism in the name of Jesus (cf. the discussion in the previous note). Now, early Christians would automatically understand that being baptized into Jesus (or into his name) meant the same as being baptized into the Son; however, if we accept the authenticity of Matt 28:19, it is worth considering precisely what Jesus would have meant here by “Son”.

In the (Synoptic) Gospels, Jesus never uses the title “Son of God” of himself (only in Jn 3:18; 5:25; 9:35 v.l.; 10:36; 11:4)—it is applied to him by others (also Jn 1:34, 49; 11:27; 19:7), though there is no indication that he ever denied or contradicted its use (cf. Mark 14:62 for a relatively clear affirmation; but cp. Matt 26:64; Lk 22:67-70). In the sayings of the Synoptic Tradition, Jesus typically refers to himself by the Semitic expression “Son of Man”, which at times may be partially synonymous with “Anointed One” (Messiah), and, in certain passages, serves to identify Jesus as God’s heavenly representative (cf. Dan 7:13-14) who will appear at the end-time; but it always has a distinct range of meaning from “Son of God”. At best, there is an association between Jesus as “Son of Man” and “Son of God” in the juxtaposition of Mk 14:61-62a and 14:62b (par); which can also be inferred in the vision of Stephen in Acts 7:56. The “Son of Man” sayings in the Gospel of John are unique in that they express (or assume) the idea of Jesus’ pre-existent deity—i.e., he is the Son who has come down from the Father (as the Son of Man); following his death and exaltation (glorification), he will return to the Father in heaven (Jn 1:51; 3:13-14; 6:27, 62; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31). Elsewhere in John, Jesus simply refers to himself as “the Son”, usually in the context of his relationship to the Father (cf. above)—Jn 3:16-17, 35-36; 5:19-27; 6:40; 8:36-38; 14:13; 17:1; note also 1:14.

If Matt 28:19 is interpreted as a Christian formula, then it need not mean anything more than that the specific words “in the name of the Son”, etc, are to be recited in the performance of baptism (cf. below). Even so, it is worth noting, that this formula is never used elsewhere in the New Testament—believers are baptized “in the name of Jesus”, but never “in the name of the Son“. Indeed the very expression “name of the Son” is extremely rare, occurring only in the Johannine tradition—Jn 3:18; 1 Jn 3:23; 5:13, and cf. also Jn 20:31—where the emphasis is entirely on faith/trust in the name of the Son.

“of the holy Spirit” [tou= a(gi/ou pneu/mato$]

There is a clear association of the Spirit with the rite of baptism in early Christian tradition, as indicated in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 2:38-41; 8:12-17; 9:17-18; 10:44-48; 11:15-17; 19:2-6), where believers receive the Holy Spirit as an event parallel to, and coordinate with, the symbolic act of baptism. This clearly is understood as a fulfillment of the prediction uttered by John the Baptist (and/or Jesus himself) that, just as John baptized in water, so Jesus would baptize believers in the Holy Spirit (cf. the earlier note on Mark 1:8 par; Jn 1:26, 31, 33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). According to this parallel, the Spirit is symbolized by water, which is a relatively common motif in the Old Testament (cf. Joel 2:28ff, cited in Acts 2:17-18, 33—the Spirit “poured out” like water). Elsewhere in the New Testament (in Paul’s letters), the regular idiom is baptism into Christ—his death, his body, his name, etc. Paul generally does not associate the Spirit specifically with baptism, though the idea is certainly implied (cf. Rom 6:4; Gal 3:27); only in 1 Cor 12:13 is this made explicit—”for in one Spirit we are all dunked [i.e. baptized] into one Body”. Note the chiastic parallel in the syntax of the phrase:

    • in [e)n] one Spirit (i.e. the Holy Spirit)
      —we are all dunked/baptized
    • into [ei)$] one Body (i.e. the person of Jesus Christ, symbolized by the Community)

This effectively results in a two-fold baptismal ‘formula’, which could easily be supplemented by the (proto-)Trinitarian syntax in the earlier verses 4-6:

    • the same Spirit (v. 4)
    • the same Lord [i.e. Jesus, the Son] (v. 5)
    • the same God [i.e. the Father] (v. 6)

Again, as in the case of “the Father” and “the Son” (cf. above), believers in the New Testament are never baptized “in the name of the Holy Spirit”; indeed, the expression “name of the (holy) Spirit” never occurs outside of Matt 28:19. At best, there are several passages in which the Spirit is associated specifically with “the name of Jesus“—Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 Pet 4:14; and, most notably, John 14:26. Of these, only Acts 2:38 has the context of baptism, but Jn 14:26 is certainly more relevant to a ‘trinitarian’ formulation: “…the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my [i.e. the Son’s] name“. This verse will be discussed, along with the other Spirit/Paraclete references (Jn 14:16; 15:26; 16:7), in an upcoming note.

The Didache 7

A study of Matt 28:19 cannot be complete without consideration of the similar formula in Didache 7:1, part of a brief instruction in chapter 7 regarding baptism. Verse 1 reads:

“…having said all these things before(hand) [i.e. informed/instructed the believer], ‘dunk [i.e. baptize] into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit’ in living [i.e. fresh, running] water”

The portion in single quotes is virtually identical with the formula in Matthew; only the form of the verb is different, as befitting the context. The main critical question is: Does the Didache simply quote Matthew 28:19, or does it preserve a separate version of the instruction, transmitted independently? If the latter, does this come down as an authentic saying from Jesus, or as an (apostolic) tradition? Unfortunately, the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-150) often do not give specific citations, so it can be difficult to know for certain if the authors are citing from a written Gospel (e.g. Matthew) or have preserved sayings of Jesus and Gospel traditions independently. The date assigned for the Didache (“Teaching [of the Twelve Apostles]”) has ranged from very early (1st century) to very late (3rd-4th century); most (critical) commentators today would place it in the first half of the 2nd century, with the possibility that it preserves teaching and tradition from the late 1st century (c. 70-100 A.D.). What is important to note, is that already by this time (c. 80-110 A.D.?), the passage corresponding to Matt 28:19 has come to be treated as a fixed formula. The Didache indicates that it would be recited as part of the baptism ritual, as the three-fold act mentioned in 7:3 demonstrates. A similar practice is attested in the second and third centuries (Justin, First Apology 61; Tertullian, Against Praxeas 26; Apostolic Constitutions 8:47 [canon 50]). As we have noted above, this contrasts with early Christian tradition recorded in the New Testament, where believers were, it would seem, only baptized “in the name of Jesus”. The traditions recorded in the book of Acts, if authentic, date from c. 30-60 (with the book itself completed some time after 70 A.D.), making them considerably earlier than the earliest date usually given for the Didache.

A final comment on the authenticity of Matt 28:19 must wait until we have considered the other post-resurrection Commission passages in the Gospels, especially that in Luke 24:45-49, which I will do in the next daily note.

May 19: Matthew 28:18-20 (continued)

Matthew 28:18-20 (continued)

The previous note examined the “Great Commission” by Jesus at the close of the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 28:18-20), especially the command to baptize in vv. 19-20a. Today I will be looking in detail at the specific phrase “into the name of…” [ei)$ to\ o&noma tou=…].

The Name

Ancient Near Eastern cultures treated names and naming in a quite different manner than modern Western society. The name had a dynamic, magical quality, effectively embodying the character and essence of the person. This was all the more true with regard to religious belief—to “call upon” or to invoke the name of a deity was fundamental to ancient religious practice and identity (Gen 4:26b, etc). The invocation and use of a divine name also had to be done with great care—there was considerable power involved, and danger if handled improperly; this is the situation which underlies the famous command regarding the name of YHWH/Yahweh (Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11). In addition to its use in religious ritual, the divine name would be invoked in oaths, treaties and other agreements—both for the purpose of guaranteeing truthfulness and fidelity, and also to bind the oath or agreement, etc, under the power of the god. There would be divine blessing for the one who fulfills and agreement, but divine curse or punishment for the one who violates it. Indeed, there was believed to be theurgic power and efficacy in the name, which could be invoked over just about any area of daily life.

The Name of Jesus

For early Christians, it was specifically the name of Yeshua (Jesus) which was central to religious belief and practice. Already in the earliest layers of Christian tradition, the belief in Jesus’ deity—as the Son of God who is now seated in glory at the right hand of God the Father (YHWH)—was well-established. All aspects of Christian religious life took place according to the name of Jesus. This is expressed clearly in the book of Acts; note the following examples:

In the Gospels, there are number of sayings and teachings by Jesus where he refers to “my name”—Mark 9:37-39; 13:6 pars; [16:17]; Matthew 18:20; also Luke 24:47. Especially significant is the teaching in the Discourses of John, cf. Jn 14:13-14, 26; 15:16, 21; 16:23-26; also 3:18. The emphasis there is on believers requesting of God the Father in Jesus’ name. Also important is the related idea that Jesus himself has come—i.e. speaks, works and acts—in the name of the Father (Jn 5:43; 10:3, 25; 12:28; 17:6, 11-12, 26; cf. also Mk 9:37; 11:9 pars; Matt 23:39 par). This latter point will be discussed further in the next daily note.

Baptism in Jesus’ Name

The central, intiatory act of baptism, marking one’s conversion and entry into the Community of believers, in the early Christian period was performed specifically “in the name of Jesus”. Given the religious importance and significance of this (divine) name (cf. above), this is hardly surprising. However, it is important to note that is especially prominent in the earlier Christian tradition (as recorded in the book of Acts), and is less commonly attested in later periods. Here are the key passages, where baptism is said to be:

    • Acts 2:38—”upon [e)pi/] the name of Yeshua into/unto a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]” (Note: some MSS read “in” [e)n] instead of “upon”). This follows precisely the formula in Luke 24:47.
    • Acts 8:16—”into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua”, after which they receive the Holy Spirit (v. 17)
    • Acts 10:48—”in [e)n] the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed”, after having received the Spirit prior (vv. 44ff)
    • Acts 19:5—”into [ei)$] the name of the Lord Yeshua”, parallel to believers trusting in(to) [ei)$] Jesus (v. 4)
    • Cf. also 1 Cor 1:13, 15—”into the name of…”

Matthew 28:19 uses the same idiom of baptism “into [ei)$] the name of…”. It was also said of John’s baptism that it was “into [ei)$] a change-of mind [i.e. repentance]” (Matt 3:11, cf. Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38), where the preposition ei)$ indicates purpose or result. Elsewhere in Gospel tradition, John’s baptizing is described as being “of [i.e. for, leading to] repentance” and “into [ei)$] release [i.e. forgiveness]” (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4), i.e. for the purpose of (and resulting in) the forgiveness of sins. There are two key aspects of the use of ei)$ (“into”) with regard to baptism:

    1. It reflects trust/faith in(to) JesusMatt 18:6 par; Acts 10:43; 19:4-5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18. The idiom is especially frequent in the Gospel of John: Jn 2:11; 3:16, 18, 36; 4:39; 6:29, 40; 7:31, 38-39; 8:30; 9:35-36; 10:42; 11:25-26, 45, 48; 12:36-37, 44, 46; 14:1, 12; 16:9; 17:20. The parallel use of e)n (“in”) at Jn 3:15; 8:31 strongly suggests that the expressions “trust in” and “trust into” are virtually equivalent (cf. Mk 1:15; Acts 18:8). Also generally synonymous is the phrase “trust upon [e)pi] (the Lord) Jesus”, cf. Acts 3:16; 9:42; 11:17; 16:31.
    2. It signifies entrance into the Community and spiritual/symbolic union with Jesus. This theme is developed considerably by Paul in several of his letters, where we find the phrase “dunked/baptized into (the) Anointed {Christ}”. The key verse is Galatians 3:27—”as many of you (as) have been dunked into (the) Anointed, you have sunk in(to the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]”. The emphasis is no longer on the name of Jesus, even though Paul still uses this language (cf. 1 Cor 1:2, 10ff; 5:4; 6:11; Col 3:17; 2 Thess 1:12; 3:6, etc); rather, it is on the person of Christ. In Romans 6:3-4, baptism is interpreted as symbolizing the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus (cf. Col 2:12). Cf. also 1 Cor 10:2; 12:13—the latter reference specifically emphasizing baptism into one body (the Community as the body of Christ) and in one Spirit (Eph 4:4-5).

This discussion on Matt 28:18-20 will conclude in the next daily note.

May 18: Matthew 28:18-20

Today’s note on the on the Holy Spirit, examines briefly the so-called “Great Commission” of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. This passage is altogether unique among the references to the Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, and is especially noteworthy as the only clear and specific Trinitarian passage in the Gospels (for other seminal trinitarian formulae in the New Testament, cf. 1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Pet 1:2).

Matthew 28:18-20

These verses which close the Gospel of Matthew represent Jesus’ (final) instruction to his followers. It is unnecessary to attempt to harmonize this post-resurrection appearance (in Galilee) with the very different tradition in Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John, in which Jesus appears to his followers (giving final instructions to them) in Jerusalem. Many critical scholars would hold that the Gospel writer has simply created a narrative setting in Galilee, based on the tradition in Mk 16:7 (par Matt 28:7, 10; note the different reference to Galilee in Lk 24:6), for the words of Jesus in vv. 18-20 which would have been transmitted independently. Some commentators also consider the authenticity of Jesus’ words themselves to be suspect, especially the declaration in verse 19 which seems so much to reflect a Christian baptism formula. It is worth considering whether, on objective grounds, there is any validity to such a suspicion: has a later baptismal formula been retrojected into the Gospel? Before proceeding with an exegesis of verse 19, it will be helpful to summarize the context:

  • Verse 16:
    • “the eleven learners [i.e. disciples]”—the episode involves only the twelve specially chosen ones (Matt 10:1-4 par), minus Judas Iscariot
    • “travelled/departed into the Galîl {Galilee}”—they left Jerusalem and journeyed north (back) into Galilee, according to Matt 28:7, 10 par; it does not say precisely when this took place, but based on the narrative context, it surely would not have been long after they were informed by the women (v. 10). This, of course, would seem to be contrary to the tradition(s) in Luke 24:36-53 / Jn 20:19-23
    • “unto the hill/mountain which Yeshua arranged for them”—apparently referring to some specific instruction or preparation made by Jesus, which has not been recorded; in the narrative context, it may have been part of the information provided by the women (v. 10). According to the wider Synoptic tradition, the Twelve were originally chosen and commissioned upon a mount(ain), cf. Mark 3:13ff, though this detail is not in the parallel Matt 10:1ff; perhaps the mount(ain) in Matt 5:1ff is intended.
  • Verse 17:
    • “and seeing him”—possibly indicating a sudden or unexpected appearance by the resurrected Jesus (cf. Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19)
    • “they kissed toward (him)”—this verb (proskune/w) serves as a Greek idiom for giving homage, worship, etc. The appearance of the resurrected Jesus is not described, but his very presence would be enough to cause his followers to be in awe and to pay homage. The context here does not necessarily indicate a specific belief in Jesus’ deity on the part of his followers (but cf. Matt 14:33; 16:16; 27:54, etc).
    • “but the(y also) were of two (mind)s”—i.e. they had doubts or uncertainty that it was really Jesus; this could mean either (a) they harbored some doubt, or (b) some of them doubted. For a general parallel, cf. Luke 24:41, and note Jn 20:25ff.
  • Verse 18:
    • “And coming toward (them), Yeshua spoke to them”—introducing the words/saying of Jesus

The actual saying (Commission) by Jesus can be divided into three parts:

    • Verse 18—Declaration: “All authority [e)cousi/a] in heaven and upon earth is given to me”
    • Verse 19-20a—Instruction/Commission, governed by three participles (indicating regular/continual action), one primary (aorist), and the other two subordinate (present):
      • poreuqe/nte$ (“going, travelling”) make all the nations (my) learners [i.e. followers/disciples]
        • bapti/zonte$ (“dunking”, i.e. baptizing) them…
        • dida/skonte$ (“teaching”) them…
    • Verse 20b—Declaration/Promise: “See, I am with you every day until the (full) completion of the Age”

The central instruction, regarding baptism, is the portion to be examined in detail here:

Verse 19b:

bapti/zonte$ (“dunking”)—the verb bapti/zw literally means “dunk, submerge”, but in a Christian context is typically transliterated into English as “baptize”. As a technical term for the Christian rite, it does not necessarily indicate a full dunking or immersion in water. That the historical Jesus would have instructed his followers to ‘baptize’ is not at all unlikely; one may cite the following evidence, from the Gospels and the cultural background of the time:

    • The precedent and example of John the Baptist, central to the early Gospel tradition, and reliable on objective grounds. According to Jn 1:35ff, at least two of Jesus’ disciples were John’s followers before turning to Jesus. A number of (critical) commentators have suggested that Jesus himself may have begun as a disciple of John; at any event, he was baptized by John, and the brief dialogue in Matt 3:14-15 suggests that Jesus intended this as an example to follow, i.e. the fulfillment of righteousness (cf. Matt 5:6, 20; 6:1, 33, etc).
    • According to Jn 3:22-23; 4:1-3, Jesus’ disciples were baptizing people already during the early days of his ministry. Commentators readily admit the unusual nature of these details; according to the so-called “criteria of authenticity”, their historical reliability would seem to be confirmed—it is not at all the sort of thing that early Christians would emphasize or invent.
    • The central significance of baptism in John’s ministry was repentance (i.e. washing/cleansing) from sin, in preparation for the coming of the Lord (for Judgment). Jesus continued this emphasis throughout his own ministry—Mk 1:15; Matt 4:17; cf. also Matt 11:20-21; 12:41 par; Lk 5:32; 13:3ff; 15:7ff, etc. His disciples likewise followed the pattern in their own preaching (Mk 3:7-13 par, cf. Matt 10:7; Lk 10:9-11). Repentance was, from the beginning, a key element in accepting and following Jesus: Mk 1:17-18 (note the proximity to v. 15); 5:14-17 par; 10:21ff par; Matt 21:28-32 par; Lk 5:8ff; 19:7-10; Jn 8:11, etc. The early Christian preaching clearly followed the pattern of John and Jesus (Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19, etc).
    • The Community of the Qumran texts practiced ritual washing (ablution) in manner similar, and roughly parallel, to Johannine and early Christian baptism. It signified cleansing from sin/impurity, entry into the Community and participation in its (daily) life—cf. 1QS 3:4-5; 5:13-14. The practice of ritual baths would seem to be confirmed by the archeology of the site of Khirbet Qumran, i.e. the presence of cisterns and pools (miqw¹°ôt).
    • Ritual washing/bathing is widely attested in numerous ancient cultures and religions, prior to, or contemporary with, the time of Jesus. Going “into the water”, with the symbolism of washing and the start of a ‘new life’, played a role, for example, in the Greco-Roman “mystery cults” (cf. for example the Eleusinian rituals).

ei)$ to\ o&noma tou=… (“into the name of…”)—this important phrase will be discussed in the next daily note.