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.

January 9: Luke 2:52

For the next several days, leading up to the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus (Jan 13), I will examine Luke 2:52—the only verse in the New Testament which describes Jesus’ life as a young man prior to his baptism. Each word and phrase will be discussed in detail.

Luke 2:52
Kai\  )Ihsou=$ proe/kopten [e)n th=|] sofi/a| kai\ h(liki/a| kai\ xa/riti para\ qew=| kai\ a)nqrw/poi$

kai\  )Ihsou=$ (“and Yeshua/Jesus…”). This is the fifth mention of Jesus’ name in the Lukan Infancy narrative: the first two relate to the giving of the name in the angelic annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:31), repeated at the circumcision (Lk 2:21). The next three are found in Lk 2:22-40, 41-52. The parallel structure of these two sections was illustrated in the previous note, and may be clarified here:

  • The little child Jesus (to\ paidi/on  )Ihsou=n) in the Temple (2:22-38)—the phrase is in the accusative (his parents brought the little child Jesus into the Temple), with “the (little) child” mentioned before “Jesus”.
    • Summary statement of the growth of the little child (to\ paidi/on) (2:40).
  • Jesus the child ( )Ihsou=$ o( pai=$) in the Temple (2:41-50)—the phrase is in the nominative (Jesus remained behind), with “Jesus” mentioned before “the child”.
    • Summary statement of the growth of Jesus ( )Ihsou=$) (2:52).

It is significant that Jesus neither speaks nor acts on his own until this second episode (v. 43b, 46-51), when he is twelve years old (v. 42). This is a realistic depiction in terms of the normal development of a human child, and stands in contrast to a number of extra-canonical Infancy Gospels (Pseudo-Matthew, Arabic Infancy Gospel, Infancy Gospel of Thomas), where Jesus is shown to be an omniscient, miracle-working child practically from birth. It is only in 2:41-50 that “Jesus” takes precedence over “the (little) child”, as would befit the historical moment—for at the age of twelve, a Jewish boy was on the threshold of manhood, and would very soon take his place among the adult males in society. In other words, he was beginning to come into his own identity. Something of this is certainly indicated by Jesus’ statement in verse 49 (on the rendering and interpretation of this difficult saying, see my earlier article). The circumstances surrounding this saying are important:

  • Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem with his parents for Passover, as would be required by all adult males from the age of thirteen; for the twelve year old Jesus, this may, at the historical level, reflect a preliminary orientation to the practice under the supervision of his parents.
  • Jesus was separated from his parents and remained behind; it is useless to speculate on just why/how this separation may have occurred.
  • Symbolically at least, Jesus took his place as a young pupil seated among the Teachers (of the Law) in the Temple (there is no real indication that the boy Jesus was teaching them).
  • When confronted by his parents, Jesus affirmed his own identity and destiny (“it is necessary for me to be in/among the [things] of my Father”); note the difficulty his parents have in understanding this.

The Gospel writer (trad. Luke) does temper this episode with a statement in verse 51 (parallel to v. 39), that Jesus returned and was in obedient submission to his parents. However, by the end of verse 52, it is clear that we are dealing with Yeshua/Jesus as an independent young man, and the stage is set for the Gospel narrative proper—that is, of his adult ministry, marked and inaugurated by the revelation at his Baptism (Lk 3:21-22).

This depiction of the (natural human) growth and development of the child Jesus has proved somewhat problematic for commentators and theologians who approach the text from the standpoint of a developed (post-Nicene) Christology. As indicated above, there is no evidence in Luke 1-2 that Jesus, as a child, possessed omniscience (or even divine foreknowledge), nor did he work any miracles. The wisdom (sofi/a) and understanding (su/nesi$) mentioned in vv. 40, 47, and 52 need not reflect anything more than that of a gifted and precocious youth. All of which is fine for an affirmation of Jesus’ full humanity; but what of his deity? This will be explored, in relation to the remainder of verse 52, over the next few notes.

It is interesting that Luke offers no explanation for the name “Jesus (Yeshua)” such as we see in Matthew 1:21 (cf. earlier note), even though he is clearly writing for a Gentile (Greco-Roman) audience (Lk 1:1-4; Acts 1:1ff). Y¢šûa± (u^Wvy@) is a shortened form of the Hebrew Y§hôšûa± (u^Wvohy+), by contraction from Yôšûa± (u^Wvoy). Matthew 1:21 is presented as the message of Gabriel to Joseph, “and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins”; however, most critical scholars would effectively attribute the explanation to the Gospel writer (or earlier tradition). If intended as an actual etymology of the name, then, while certainly correct in a religious and theological sense, from a linguistic point of view it would seem to be inaccurate. By all accounts, uWvohy+ (Y§hôšûa±) is a combination of Yah(u), a theophoric/hypocoristic form of the divine name hwhy (YHWH) and uwv (“cry for help” cf. the noun u^Wv [šûa±] “[cry for] help”); the meaning would be something like “May-YHWH-help”. The etymology (if such it is) in Matt 1:21, would seem to derive the name from uvy (“save, deliver”); and, admittedly, the name is very close to (almost a homonym of) the noun hu*Wvy+ (y§šû±â), “salvation”. However, there is no reason to force the narrative in Matthew to bear the weight of such analysis. The similarity between y§šû±â and Y¢šûa± is enough to make the explanation entirely valid—such wordplay is frequent in the Scriptures, and is appropriate to time and place, used for communicating even the most profound theological insight. (See, for example, in my earlier note on Matthew 2:23).