Interpreting and Using Matthew 28:19 - I

Matthew 28:19, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (ESV)

In this post we will look closer at Matthew 28:19 and at the same time we will continue to examine the statements of Dr. Ron Rhodes on this same verse. We will continue where we left off in the previous post.

Using Faulty Exegesis: In this section Rhodes appeals to Matthew 28:19 and takes time to examine it closer. He says that this passages reveals two facts about the "nature of God". He believes that Matthew 28:19 teaches:

1. The singular form of "name" indicates that God is one and that His nature is singular (one divine essence).

2. Within the unity of this one God are three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, something given strong emphasis in the original Greek with the three recurring definite articles before Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How do Oneness Pentecostals Interpret Matthew 28:19?

I am Oneness Pentecostal but I am only one so I can only speak for myself and what I have read and discussed with others who are also Oneness Pentecostal. We believe that Matthew 28:19 is part of the foundation of Scripture and subsequently our beliefs. Oneness Pentecostals baptize believers while literally invoking the name of Jesus. Using the name of Jesus in the baptismal formula expresses faith in His identity, atoning work, and saving power and authority. The Scriptures record five account of baptism in the New Testament that describe a name or formula and in each case the name is Jesus (e.g. Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16). In Romans and 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul also alludes to a Jesus name formula (e.g. Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 1:13; 6:11). We do not seek to add to what the faithful followers of Jesus did in their obedience to the command, and not suggestion, of Christ.

Oneness Pentecostal scholars do not necessarily affirm that Matthew 28:19 was originally understood as a formula. The Matthean account differs from other accounts that concern baptism but at the same time it also shares the same Christological tenor or thread. This tenor is undeniably present in all the other accounts as well. Oneness Pentecostals seek to harmonize all of Scripture and not place one part of Scripture in opposition to another. Nor should we teach that Peter may have believed something different than Matthew about baptism. The basic formula that uses the name of Jesus is undeniable in the other baptism accounts. The Matthean reference can be interpreted by the Apostles, including Matthew himself, to be the invocation of the name of Jesus. The disciples, as noted above, as well as the early church, carried out Matthews words by baptizing in the singular name of Jesus. It was not until much later that a threefold formula developed. 

The historical distance between the events of Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 are only a matter of one or two weeks. We must remember that Matthew was also with Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. If Matthew's view differed from Peter then Matthew must have held his tongue on that day. Such is not the case however because Peter was also present when Jesus no doubt spoke the words of Matthew 28:19. If Matthew heard Peter and Peter heard Jesus then harmonizing the two passages is the result. We should not try to put the two at odds or seek to discredit the Scriptures themselves. It is the complete testimony of Scripture that bears witness to itself.

It is my conclusion that the context of Matthew 28:19 demands a Christological formula and not a Trinitarian one. The latter abruptly inserts ideas about the Trinity that were not conceived or codified until much later. Above Rhodes, as many other Trinitarian apologists, suggests that the use of a singular name somehow comes to the aid of the Trinitarian interpretation. He concludes that because the name is singular that means that God is singular in being. Here Rhodes has already narrowly defined how he will interpet the passage. Let's break the chapter down in segments and examine the context closer. This will be the best way to begin understanding what the words of Matthew are to impress upon us.

Matthew 28:1-10

No verse of Scripture should simply be understood within a vacuum and so we should seek to understand it more fully and not in isolation. The Gospel of Matthew is generally a Gospel narrative. Jewish scholar Aaron Gale notes this about the Gospel of Matthew, "The Gospel appears rather to be a Greek text written with strong knowledge of and attachment to Jewish Scripture, tradition, and belief."(1) The Jewishness of this Gospel can hardly be denied and although Matthew is not merely following Jewish theology blindly we should keep this in mind as we understand how he has sought to communicate his Gospel.

Matthew 28 includes narratives about the Resurrection of Christ as well as His appearance (28:1-10). The angels tell them not to be afraid for he knew that they sought after Jesus (28:5). Then the angels tells the women to "go quickly" and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. Before they could reach the disciples "Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" (28:9). Jesus then tells them, as did the angel, not to be afraid but to go tell "my brothers" (28:10).

Matthew 28:11-15

This portion contains the report of the guards, who had been watching the tomb of Jesus, to the chief priests about what had taken place at the tomb. The elders were assembled, counsel taken and sufficient money given to the soldiers (28:11-12). The Jews then tell the guards to "Tell people" that the "disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep" (28:13). They also told the guards that if the governor were to find out of Christ's missing body they would "satisfy" him and keep them out of "trouble." (28:14). The guards took the money and did as they were told (28:15).

Matthew 28:16-20

As we have seen to this point the chapter is highly Christolgoical. In this portion we can see a high Christology that perhaps equals that of the introduction of this Gospel. This is a key point in interpreting the text of Matthew here. The Resurrection of Jesus and accounts of the Post-Resurrection Jesus are front and center. Not a Trinitarian complex unity. In this portion the eleven disciples go to Galilee; to the mountain Jesus had directed them (28:16). Next, when the disciples saw Jesus they worshiped Him while some still doubted (28:17). Notice the singular focus of their worship is the person of Jesus Christ and not a Trinity or even a conceived perception of threeness. 

Jesus then says that "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (28:19) Here Jesus as one person says that all authority had been given to him or as Christ says in third person--"me". If any member of the Trinity was present, and by their supposed omnipresence we can conclude they would, they should surely be offended since Jesus explicitly leave no room for others (28:18). 

It also does not mean that Jesus is merely Lord over the Church. This is true but Jesus is Lord of the Universe--the I Am (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:24, 58; 10:30, 33; 12:45; 14:9; 20:28). Oscar Cullman notes, "The realm of Christ's lordship is much larger than that of the Church. Literally no element of creation is excluded from it:"(2) Baptism signifies that one has entered the Christian community and is a sign of our submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

Next Jesus tells them to "Go" and "make disciples...baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,". The words "Go" and "baptizing" (also "teaching" 28:20) are participles. These kind of participles are dependent upon the main verb "make disciples". "Go" certainly does not lose its tense completely since this is to be done to all the nations of the world. Nor "baptizing" completely since this action too is to be done within the context of making disciples. This does not make any of the participles less important or any less of a command. Some Greek scholars of the New Testament suggest that "in such a construction it is not uncommon for the participles themselves to assume the force of an imperative. However, the command to make disciples is the primary command, while the commands to baptize and teach are ways of fulfilling the primary command."(3) 

It was because of His authority (28:18) that He sent the Apostles to make or cause disciples (28:19). Notice that Jesus is telling them something to do and not what to say. The disciple making of Jesus transcends that of merely a rabbi teaching someone or creating a following. These disciples were not to simply make disciples for themselves but for Jesus. The means by which disciples are made is by baptizing and teaching them the commands of Jesus. Both are very important for this sentence structure. They were to teach the commands of Jesus but nowhere has Jesus explained or even inferred a Trinity of three divine persons. Here Jesus does not even take time to include an explanation of the Trinity that would seem vital to many Trinitarians who believe that this doctrine is essential for salvation. If Jesus has no teaching on the Trinity then it is ironic that Trinitarians, claiming to be Christians, laud it today in such a fashion. It was not a teaching of Christ and could be wiped from theological literature and yet the Body of Christ would be no worse off.

In the following verse the Christological tenor does not change. Jesus continues by saying to teach them to observe all that "I" have commanded "you". Here Christ uses the pronoun referring back to Himself in first person. He concludes, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." Notice it is Christ who has commanded them and will also be with them "always" (28:20). Jesus is present through the Church as Lord. Present through His disciples or followers but only God is omnipresent in Jewish thinking. Therefore this claim to be "with you always" is perhaps indirectly linked to His name being invoked over them in baptism. It certainly recalls Matthews introduction where Jesus is called Immanuel--God with us (1:23).

Christological Not Trinitarian Context:

This writer believes that Matthew 28:19 belongs in the canon of Scripture and does not believe it is spurious or even contains a variant. It enjoys perhaps one of the most widely attested readings of the New Testament. Early writings from Justin Martyr (A.D. 150), the Didache (AD 200-300) the Diatessoran (AD 175) and others contain the traditional reading. Trinitarians and Oneness thinkers have wrongly attacked this verse in the past. We should not seek to attack the Scriptures but seek to align our understanding with that of the Scriptures. For interpretive reasons we should realize the textual evidence for Matthew 28:19 is without question and it is to be harmonized with the rest of Scripture.

The same name that is invoked over us in baptism is the name of the "I" who will be with us "always". To have His name invoked in baptism or a covenant initiation is also a proclamation of the complete and full Deity of Christ as God Himself. In Exodus 3:12 it is God who tells Moses "I will be with you." In Joshua 1:5 it was the very same God who was with Moses that said "Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you." (ESV) 

Such a context does not make sense if we are to take Matthew 28:19 to mean baptize in the name of three divine persons, namely the Trinity. Such a conclusion obviously does not fit the context. Here Jesus is not merely included in the Deity of God. The context demands a Christological tenor and interpretation. In fact, Oneness Pentecostals affirm that one name to be Jesus. There is no evidence of any speculation about divine essence or a relationship between three divine persons. Oneness Scholar David K. Bernard notes, "the setting, context, word meanings, grammar, and harmony of Scripture all point to the name of Jesus."(4) Can you imagine Jesus telling us to go baptize in the name of three divine persons and I will be with you always?

In the next post we will look even closer at the use of the singular name, the threefold reference, the Great Commission and other aspects of this great Scripture.


1) Levine, Amy-Jill; Brettler, Marc Z. (2011-10-15). The Jewish Annotated New Testament (p. 1). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

2) Cullman, Oscar (1963) The Christology of the New Testament (227) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminster Press

3) Barclay Moon Newman and Philip C. Stine, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, UBS helps for translators; UBS handbook series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1992). 886.

4) Bernard, David K. (2005) Understanding God's Word. Word Aflame Press (158)


Ron Rhodes and Oneness Pentecostals

Dr. Ron Rhodes

Ron Rhodes is president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries. I was recently given a link to some of his writings. Rhodes is a Trinitarian who styles himself as a cult apologists and has attempted to deal with the doctrines of Oneness Pentecostals. For the sake of this blog post we will be discussing his online article: "Is Jesus the Father and the Holy Spirit?" This article appeared in the CRI Journal in November, 2008.

Right away Rhodes obfuscates and puts on his Trinitarian lenses. He says, "Modalism first surfaced in the third century in the writings of Sabellius and Paul of Samosata." Really? Firstly, Rhodes does not mention the distinct differences between Sabellius and Paul of Samosata. There is a huge difference. The latter was a dynamic monarchian or one who believe that Jesus is Son of God by being adopted by God at some point in his earthly life. Sabellius was a modalistic monarchian who saw Jesus as a manifestation of the One God. During the third century conflict about the nature of Christ was coming to a head however it was not new to the third century. It was finally reaching a head in the third century.

Secondly, modalism did not "first surface" in the third century. This is simply an historical error on the part of Rhodes. Men like Zephyrinus, Noetus and Epigonus are claimed to be modalistic monarchians living during the second century. Sabellius himself only got started teaching around the beginning of the third century. We know little of Sabellius' early life but that doesn't mean his teachings originated in the third century. Thomas Finger noted, ""Early Christians, who referred to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in terms appropriate to God, were accused of being tritheists. In response theologians insisted on divine unity and explained it by means of three main models. Modalism emerged first."(1) It is the Trinitarian doctrine which emerged in later centuries and finally being hammered out in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Although Oneness Pentecostals have agreement with early writers like Sabellius it does not mean that they are consequently simple Sabellian modalists. In Christ God was not just an actor in a performance but has truly become Incarnate. God did not merely don a fleshly robe but "became flesh" (John 1:14) to reconcile the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). For Oneness Pentecostals God does not act successively as Father, Son and Holy Spirit but He acts simultaneously as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus is more than a mask or an actor. He is God Himself Incarnate.

Rhodes says that Oneness Pentecostals are "serial offenders" concerning fundamental rules of hermeneutics.

Illegitimate Preunderstandings: Here Rhodes has in mind presuppositions or opinions formed prior. No human being on earth can escape presuppositions. Not even the good Dr. Rhodes. From our birth several factors are included in our development and many opinions are formed along the way. The problem is not in having them necessarily but in having them when they are not valid. Oneness Pentecostals do reject the Trinity so it should be no surprise that they do not read the Scriptures as Trinitarians. Trinitarians do the same thing. Trinitarians and Oneness Pentecostals alike must examine their presuppositions in light of Scripture. Here Rhodes is only complaining, building a strawman and not telling us anything we do not know.

Inappropriately Cross-Referencing Verses: Trinitarians and Oneness Pentecostals reference Scripture with Scripture. Oneness Pentecostals firmly believe that Scripture interprets Scripture as well. Rhodes mentions the fact that Luther also said "Scripture is its own expositor." There is no disagreement there. Just because someone, anyone, can abuse cross referencing does not make Oneness or even Trinitarianism wrong. Again, Rhodes tell us nothing new and has yet to show how Oneness Pentecostals actually interpret or exegete certain passages incorrectly.

Not Interpreting Difficult Verses in Light of Clear Verses: In this section Rhodes reveals his own incorrect presupposition. Rhodes saying it is so does not make it so. No matter how many times he simply repeats his opinion in this article. He never shows how Oneness Pentecostals do this but simply says they do when they reference Matthew 28:19 with Acts 2:38. One need only pick up a commentary or cross-referencing resource concerning either passage to see the two passages referenced together in some sense. Rhodes merely produces a canard. As if there is no reason that any student of the Bible would do so. As if it requires only Oneness Pentecostals to do that? Is that what you believe, Dr. Rhodes? He then lists verses showing the distinction between Jesus and the Father. As if Oneness Pentecostals do not know they exist or that they do not acknowledge them. Oneness do not claim to be identical to modalists although they hold similar views. The term "modalism" was given to those in the early church by Trinitarians who did not agree with them. Sadly, the only remains of their writings have only been preserved by the pen of those who wrote against them and therefore our judgement is limited concerning these writers.

Oneness Pentecostals believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each act, speak and are personal. God is  personal and therefore we should not be surprised. Because of this however we do not assume God is three distinct divine persons with their own center of consciousness. Oneness believe that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are necessary to God's plan of redemption for fallen humanity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit describe God's redemptive roles or works but not three separate or distinct persons in God. Even Satan is called father (John 8:44), son (2 Thess. 2:3-4), he is a spirit being and is even called "god" (2 Cor. 4:4). It does not follow that it means Satan is three different divine persons. Even Balaam's donkey can see and even speak but this in no way ensured that a donkey was after all a person (Numbers 22:27-28).

Ignoring Context: Here Rhodes once again writes as though Oneness Pentecostals do not understand that Jesus had an "other" experience with God. In the next post we shall see how it is Rhodes who has ignored the context of Matthew 28:19. Oneness Pentecostals understand the humility and prayers of Christ and interpret them in light of His humble life on earth. The New Testament clearly shows us that Jesus thought of God as other than Himself. This is a psychological distinction though and not a substantive one. Adam had a God who was "other" than himself and therefore it is no surprise to us that Jesus would also have an "other" experience. Jesus was not just God but He is God existing as a man. If the worlds fastest sprinter were to participate in a sac race with a youth group he would not stop being the sprinter. But he purposely limited himself to participate in the sac race. Jesus is not just God but He is God, body and soul. Because He was God existing as a real man this also enabled Him to pray and communicate with God.

Jesus uses "we" in John 14:23 and Trinitarians conclude this means more than one person. Jesus has defined the Holy Spirit though in that very chapter. Jesus said that it will be both the Father and the Son that would make their abode in our lives when we receive the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is speaking substantively here then the Jesus, before the eyes of them standing by, saw a human Jesus, a real man. Were they to imagine a physical Jesus entering their chest cavity? No. Because of the work of Calvary the Holy Spirit would be available to them in a different way, a different form perhaps. When we receive the Holy Spirit we receive the same Spirit of Christ. God is a personal spirit being. In the Bible we read of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Son or the Holy Spirit but does this mean we have three distinct spirits? No. God has already revealed that there is only one Spirit (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:11) and we are baptized by one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and yet it is God Himself. It is not another spirit, being or person other than God.

Oneness Pentecostals do not deny that the Father is God, the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. We do not additionally conclude, as Trinitarians, that they are distinct persons in one being called God. Even at the Baptism of Christ (Matt. 3:16-17) no one leaves thinking of a Trinity or more than one divine person in the nature of the One God. If so, it was never spoken of or repeated until centuries later. If those who were present on that day did not see the Trinity how can Trinitarians do this today? It is only by what Dr. Rhodes called earlier: "Illegitimate Preunderstandings". That is to read the Baptism of Christ and other verses as a Trinitarian and not as one standing on the banks of the Jordan river.

Using Faulty Exegesis: In this section Rhodes appeals to Matthew 28:19 and takes time to examine it closer. In the following post we will look closer at this verse.


1. Finger, Thomas N. A contemporary Anabaptist theology : Biblical, historical, constructive. 2004 (409). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)