Interpreting and Using Matthew 28:19 - II

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 the earliest times of Christianity the controversy that arose was Christological in nature and not Trinitarian. The discussion of the Trinity arises from the Christological controversies of those earliest times. To come to a proper Biblical and truly Apostolic interpretation of Scripture we must clearly and decisively subjugate the philosophy and theology of these later discussions to interesting yet nominal chatter. Oscar Cullman rightly notes,
"We can therefore say that early Christian theology is in reality almost exclusively Christology...If we are to avoid the danger of seeing the Christological problem of the New Testament in a false perspective from the very beginning, we must attempt first of all to disregard these later discussion...it was necessary for the Church at a certain period to deal with the precise problems resulting from the Hellenizing of the Christian faith..."(1)
In this post we will continue exploring Matthew 28:19. I have explored this important verse in prior posts here and here. So far, we have examined the context of 28:19 and content of Matthew 28. It is obvious that a clear overriding Christological tenor pervades in Matthew 28 and it takes center stage in verses 18-20. Let's continue in our unfolding of this Scripture.

"in the name"

The participles "make disciples" and "baptizing" are followed by a prepositional phrase which begins with "in the name..." This is similar to what we see in Acts 2:38 and other places (e.g. Acts 8:16) although in Matthew 28:19 a different Greek preposition is used to translate "in". Oneness scholar Talmadge L. French notes, "The use of varying prepositions, and the lack of of the precise wording accompanying the name "Jesus," can hardly be said to mitigate against the formula which the text appears to be intentionally establishing."(2) The use of different prepositions then, in no way, blunts the formula which includes the name of Jesus. For example, in Acts 19:5 we have "in the name of the Lord Jesus" and there the same preposition is used as is used in Matthew 28:19.

Some Trinitarians will suggest "in the name" is an idiom for something like "in the authority of". Although in certain contexts this meaning could be inferred this however should not be appealed to to overturn what has been established by the Old Testament and used by the earliest followers of Jesus while invoking His name. French also points out that "in the name" is not to be understood in these accounts as primarily "idiomatic phraseology referring to authority or ownership, for idiomatic nuance is considered insufficient explanation for the repeated use of the form "in the name."(3) Some Jewish scholars have even suggested that "in the name" is "a Semitic expression, perhaps coming from Aramaic-speaking Jesus-followers."(4)

The Gospels record several accounts of baptism but not once do we see a baptism done "in the authority of". Using this suggestion we would expect baptism's by those like John the Baptist to mean the same as "in the authority of" also. If so, baptism was the same and there should have been no need for re-baptism (See Acts 19:1 ff.). If "in the name" means "in the authority" or "in the authority of the Son" then the Apostles of Jesus did disobey Him because we have actual invocation of the name of Jesus not Yahweh (Acts 22:16). It seems incumbent then upon the Trinitarian, here, to indicate where anyone in the New Testament was baptized while invoking the name of Yahweh or Father, Son, Holy Spirit--not Jesus. If this cannot be provided any baptism done not invoking the name of Jesus is Biblically invalid and must rely upon later historical or liturgical formulations.

This perhaps peculiar use of "in the name" by the post-Pentecost community is clear. Any person baptized essentially enters into the relation or reality of belonging to Christ and His Lordship. Not the Trinity. In John 3:18 whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned but those who do not believe are condemned and have not "believed in the name of the only Son of God." (ESV) In John 20:31 we are also told that by believing we have "life in his name." (ESV) Three times in Acts 4 we see a reference to the "name" of Jesus, 1) salvation in no one else...no other name...by which we must be saved, (4:12, ESV) 2) charged them not to speak or teach at all "in the name of Jesus" (4:18, ESV) 3) healing, signs and wonders were done "through the name of your holy servant Jesus" (4:30, ESV) The high regard for the name of Jesus has no equal and if "Father" or "Holy Ghost" were names of two other divine persons this is not even considered by the Bible writers.

Richard Bauckham: "The formula, as in the phrase `calling on the name of the Lord' which New Testament usage takes up from the Old with reference to baptism and profession of Christian faith, requires precisely a divine name. `The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit' names the newly disclosed identity of God, revealed in the story of Jesus the Gospel has told...The Old Testament phrase means to invoke God by his name YHWH," but the early Christian use of it applies it to Jesus. It means invoking Jesus as the divine Lord who exercises the divine sovereignty and bears the divine name."(5)

Spiros Zodhiates: "These believers are to be baptized "in the [one] name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," that is, the Triune God. The single name embraces Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one distinct Deity; otherwise, Matthew would have said "names."(6)
Oneness Pentecostals would agree with Bauckham and Zodhiates here that a "divine name" instead of "divine names" should be understood and that the phrase means to invoke God "by his name". It is clear to some Greek New Testament scholars that the use of the word "name" in its singular form is significant. No constructions to unwrap this should include name distinction, or imply different names. If the singular use of "name" here means very little then it could also support name distinction which would seem to violate the very thing Matthew seems to intentionally be establishing--a Christological formulation.

As noted earlier the followers of Jesus actively called and referred to the name of Jesus. In Acts 2:21 "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (ESV) Here Luke has in mind an actual invocation of a name. As Bauckham recognizes above, the Old Testament paradigm was adopted by New Testament believers. That which they adopted involved an invocation of a name.
Psalm 80:18, Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! ESV

Isaiah 12:4, And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. ESV

Joel 2:32, And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. ESV

Zephaniah 3:9, “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. ESV

Zechariah 13:9 They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” ESV
Old Testament texts such as Isaiah 52:6 record that "my people shall know my name". In this text the people of Israel had allowed the name of God to be despised (Isa. 52:5) and those taken in Babylonian captivity "are taken away for nothing." Yet, we find also in Zechariah 14:9 "the LORD will be one and his name one." ESV Both of these texts use the singular form of "name" as well. Many mistakenly think a name is not that significant today but for the ancient culture from which the earliest followers of Jesus emerged a name represented who that individual was and their character and function.

Throughout the Scriptures "in the name of the Lord" can indicate an idiom. However, as we have seen there are other times when this phrase indicates that either the name of Yahweh or Jesus was invoked or called over individuals in covenant initiation or covenant renewal. For example, in Numbers 6 the Aaronic priesthood was to literally "pronounce" the name of Yahweh (Numbers 6:27, TEV) It was during the intertestamental period that pronouncing the name of Yahweh fell out of use. As Joel 2, above indicates, there was a future time when men and women shall call on the name of the Lord. For the believer today it is the name of Jesus. Joel's invitation to call on the name of the Lord is applied by the Apostle Peter and fulfilled in Acts 2:38 when those present called on the name of Jesus over those entering into covenant with Christ.

In Numbers 6 when the priests would "pronounce" the name of Yahweh His Spirit was also present. If it is Yahweh which is to be pronounced then this hardly distinguishes Christianity from Judaism (Old Testament) at this pivotal point. Besides, it is certainly not consistent with Apostolic praxis found in the New Testament. Oneness Pentecostals stress that "The name "Jesus" means "Yahweh-Savior"(7) and "the Old Testament name Jehovah has been incorporated into and superseded by the New Testament name Jesus."(8) Besides being a baptismal name the name of Jesus is the only saving name upon which New Testament believers call on for salvation (See Acts 2:21, 38; 4:12; 22:16; Romans 10:13); it is the highest name (Phil. 2:9); God's powerful name (Acts 5:10).

If Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different in person then we should see "names". The word "name" is a singular noun but in the Jewish way of thinking a "name" is synonymous with "person". It includes the reality of that person, thing, or quality. Often the word "name" or "names" is placed for the person or persons bearing that name (Luke 6:22; Acts 1:15; Rev. 3:4; 11:13). Notice these seemingly conflicting comments by Trinitarian scholar Millard Erickson referring to Matthew 28:19, 
"Note that "name" is singular, although there are three persons included...Yet another direct linking of the three names is the Pauline benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14..."(9)
Erickson recognizes that the Scriptures teach one name in Matthew 28:19 but a few sentences later he continues referring to Father, Son and Holy Spirit as "three names" on the same page. Jesus is called Lord, given the name Jesus, and title Christ. None of these three references however muddy the notion that Jesus is the One Immanuel. Notice the conclusions of Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica in reply to objections about baptism:
Now Christ commanded the sacrament of Baptism to be given with the invocation of the Trinity. And consequently whatever is lacking to the full invocation of the Trinity, destroys the integrity of Baptism...Nor does it matter that in the name of one Person another is implied, as the name of the Son is implied in that of the Father, or that he who mentions the name of only one Person may believe aright in the Three; because just as a sacrament requires sensible matter, so does it require a sensible form.(10) 
Although there are three personal names of the three Persons, there is but one essential name. Now the Divine power which works in Baptism, pertains to the Essence; and therefore we say, "in the name," and not, "in the names."(11)
Here Aquinas believes that Christ commanded us to invoke the Trinity, i.e. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. If not the integrity of baptism is destroyed. Yet a few sentences later he concludes that the name of one Person or another does not matter. He concludes the name of the Son is implied in that of the Father. One can mention the name of one and still believe correctly about the Trinity. Aquinas also believed baptism was only a sacrament but that it should be sensible matter requiring a sensible form.

A Sensible Form Includes Jesus:

As we have seen to this point the sensible form of baptism in Apostolic praxis and given in Matthew 28 is a Christological form. An invocation of the name of Jesus is a sensible form given the data and not titles or the name of Yahweh. Above Aquinas maintains that we must obey that given to us by Christ but no one name really matters. This inconsistency exposes the weakness of the Trinitarian argument because the earliest believers held the name of Jesus as the only saving name (Acts 4:12). The name of Jesus was and would be the first and most important name uttered by their tongues.

In Hebrew the theology of names is very important since character and identity are tied into a name. The name Abram means high father. Thus, terms like "father" can be a name. In those times he would not be called Abram but literally high father. Hebrews viewed a name as descriptive of the identity of the person so much so that it can be said a person was his or her name. Biblical names always mean something.

Matthew gives a richer identity, character, description and function to the one named--Jesus. Since Matthew indicates the name is singular however we still must ask which name does the singular referent refer? The disciples of Jesus would have understood him to mean that they were to baptize into the name of the one person, who is God, and is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The context clearly demands a Christological interpretation that points to the name of Jesus--not Yahweh. After all, the person whose power and authority we are told to reference is named Jesus.

Some Trinitarians may affirm here that the one name is Yahweh and recite the titles Father, Son and Holy Spirit in baptism. To them this is to invoke Yahweh. One name is actually three names in such a paradigm. Yet, they will never be able to produce one baptism done invoking the name of Yahweh or even in the titles Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today even the pronouncement of the name of Yahweh can be debated.

While maintaining a Christological interpretation Oneness Pentecostals conclude the name to be pronounced in baptism is Jesus. The name above every name is Jesus! (Philippians 2:10-11) This is an important and fundamental distinction. The earliest community of believers were exclusively devoted to Christ and invoked His name in water baptism. To be baptized, while calling on that worthy name, was to identify the believer with Christ and His resurrection. With a cry of reformation Oneness Pentecostals urge this same practice today.

In the following post we will look closer at the threefold reference (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) found in Matthew 28:19.


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

2) French, Talmadge L. (1999) Our God Is One. Voice & Vision Publications (218)

3) ibid. pg. 216-217

4) Levine, Amy-Jill; Brettler, Marc Z. (2011-10-15). The Jewish Annotated New Testament . Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. 1 Cor. 1:13

5) Bauckham, Richard J. God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Kindle Location 830). Kindle Edition.

6) Zodhiates, Spiros. (2006) Exegetical Commentary on Matthew (28:19) by AMG Publishers. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

7) Segraves, Daniel. L. (2008) Reading Between the Lines: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament St. Louis, MO: WAP Academic (Kindle Edition, Location 1889)

8) Bernard, David K. (1992) In the Name of Jesus. St. Louis, MO: Word Aflame Press (61)

9) Erickson, Millard (1985) Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company (329)

10) The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas Second and Revised Edition, 1920 Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province Online Edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight (Article 6) http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4066.htm

11) The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas Second and Revised Edition, 1920 Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province Online Edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight (Article 5, reply to Obj. 6) http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4066.htm


Anonymous said...

Your blogs are tremendous. Keep up the good work, it is needed.

Anonymous said...

False teaching of Roman Church noticeable in early 2nd century; heavily influenced by Paul-ine doctrine that Jesus have a rather 'special' Father as compared to the 'typical' Father mentioned by Prophet Isaiah and Prophet David.

The Romans of 4th century introduced the ideology of baptizing in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

They added those words onto Matthew 28:19 and 1John 5:7. No Romans of 2nd century have quoted these verses before.

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

Clearly, they do not belief in Triune concept as the three entities were never equally exist in oneness.

Adversus Trinitas

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