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)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jesus never verified what Paul wrote thus indicating any made up stories can be present in the New Testament.

None of the Church Father ever quote Matthew 28:19 or 1John5:7 in their early days, however in the 4th century concept of 'three gods in oneness' were added to the original texts of Matthew 28:19 and 1John 5:7 thus showing how twisted were the minds of men inventing lies.

Early Church Fathers believed that there is only One Father the creator, creating all including God Son and Holy Spirit.

Adversus Trinitas

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