Interpreting and Using Matthew 28:19 - III

Threefold Reference: 

James D.G. Dunn: "...in Matt. 28:19, the title Son is used with the Father and the Holy Spirit in a triadic formulation which foreshadows, in at least some degree, the later trinitiarian understanding of God; though here too it should be noted that the idea of pre-existence is absent (we are still far from talk of the eternal being of God in its threefold inner relationships), and the authority Jesus claims and expresses in his commission is that of the risen one."(1)

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)

Above Trinitarian scholar James D.G. Dunn believes this text "foreshadows" a Trinity but here even he does not see Matthew 28:19 as referring to the divine nature of God existing as three persons. Using later creedal language one might see a Trinity in these verses. However, those present in the times of Jesus knew of no such thing nor did they impress upon us that God had even revealed such a thing to them. It is obvious from the setting that Jesus spoke to His disciples who were Jews strictly upholding monotheism and had no prior knowledge of a Trinity.

To embrace such concepts would require clear and explicit teaching. Instead, in the first chapter of Matthew we learn that Jesus is Immanuel--God with us. In the 28th and last chapter we learn that Jesus will be with us for all time. In the third chapter Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah saying "prepare the way of the Lord" (3:3). In the Hebrew Old Testament Isaiah had said, "prepare the way of the LORD" or the way of Yahweh. (Isa. 40:3 ESV) Jesus has also taught them, around the same time, that to see Him was to see the Father and that the Holy Spirit would come in another form (See John 14). There are no distinctions between the Father and Jesus except those produced by His humanity. The context reveals the authority of Christ in the glory of His resurrection. It tells us of His commandments and His continual presence. Not the glory or presence or commands of three divine persons who each comprise a Triune being.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament notes, "We thus find triadic formulas embracing God, Christ, and Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:4ff.; 2 Cor. 13:13; Mt. 28:19. These formulas express the indissoluble threefold relationship but do not actually speak of triunity. The clear-cut statement of 1 Jn. 5 is brought into the text only in the sixth century."(2) Here we see that triadic formulas do not necessarily speak of a unity between three divine persons. The author of the TDNT also suggests 1 John 5:7 is a clear cut statement of the Trinity but further admits that text is an interpolation inserted in the "sixth century".(2) As Dunn noted earlier the Trinitarian understanding is "later" and of course any doctrine can be made to order "later".

In Matthew 28:19 we have three titles that are used for representations of God's revelation, which all point to the one name of Jesus. The three subjects are called by the singular name of Jesus Christ. Well before the times of Christ's earthly, humble state kings and Pharaohs were given throne names. The prophet Isaiah foretold (Isaiah 9;6) early on that the child born and Son given was given throne names (wonderful, counselor (or wonderful counselor), mighty God, everlasting Father). Thus, according to Isaiah the Son would have many names expressing who He was--the mighty God, the everlasting father. The fulfillment of the command in Matthew 28:19 is to baptize into the one name by which we associate the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three subjects Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separated by "and" and are preceded by a definite article "the". This is no great wonder however since Matthew has in mind the Son of God and not just any Son of God.

Granville Sharp's sixth rule/exception

Matthew 28:19 does have a threefold reference to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Although Sharp never cites or includes Matthew 28:19 in his study some Trinitarians have appealed to Granville Sharp’s sixth rule here, which says, in part, that when two or more nouns are listed and separated by “and” and each noun has the definite article “the” in front of it, then each noun refers to a different person, place, thing, or quality than the first noun. There are exceptions however and such is the case when distinct or different actions are intended to be given to the same person. It is the context that must point this out though and not simply three nouns preceded by definite articles. 

When applied to Matt. 28:19 this rule simply identities the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as distinct in some way. If the distinction is pressed to hard, as Trinitarians want to suggest, then they must show how these are not three separate beings when orthodox Trinitarians typically affirm one being consisting of three persons. Oneness believers have never ceased to acknowledge the distinctions made here. Oneness Pentecostals see that they are distinct manifestations or roles in our salvation, but all are fulfilled in, and revealed through Jesus. His is the one name mentioned. To say a grammatical rule forces three different nouns to be regarded as separate divine persons that are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial is merely theological interpretation. No rule of grammar does such a thing.

In a Jewish way of thinking it is easy to use such a form stylistically. For example, the following verses uses such a threefold formula: 1 Tim. 5:21 speaks of God, Christ and elect angels (See also Luke 9:26). In 1 Thess. 3:13 Paul has God and Father, our Lord Jesus and all his saints. In Rev. 3:12 Johns uses this Hebraism for emphasis when he has the name of my God, the name of the city of my God and the new Jerusalem. Father, Son (John 1:1, 8:58; 20:28; Phil. 2:5-11) and Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-9) are God/Yahweh of Israel and are identified as such. The God of Israel is not vague or hidden but has a personal name as one unified personal spirit being. Yet, these distinctions do not necessitate that the inexhaustible and unlimited personality of the God of Israel be divided or separated. Such threefold repetitions are for emphasis and glorify the majesty of our God. They are not to distinguish multiple divine persons.

In 1 Thess. 5:23 Paul records, "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (ESV) In the Greek text the nouns "spirit", "soul" and "body" have the article before them are separated by "and" and refer to one person. The English translations leave out the articles. Yet, in spite of this verse some theologians still do not believe the soul and the spirit are distinct but the same.

Does anything in the context of Matthew 28:19 indicate an exception to Sharp's rule? Is there anything that indicates one person is in view rather than three persons? As we have already seen above we can safely answer, "Yes!" It's clear that the word "name" is a singular noun. Even Trinitarian scholar R. Kendall Soulen has argued that Matthew 28:19 does refer to one name but further adds "The name of the Holy Trinity is one name in three inflexions."(3)

This name refers to the One Who has been Resurrected and appeared before many. It is the name of the One whose empty tomb was covered up with money by the Jews as a night raid by the disciples. It is the name of the missing body in the empty tomb that the governor was never to know about. It is the name of the One who was worshiped while others doubted. It is the name of the One who has all power and for whom we are to make disciples. It is the name of the One who will be with us always. It is the name of the One who Matthew calls Immanuel "God with us" (Matt. 1:23).

The Great Commission:

Consider these other parallel Great Commission texts. In Mark 16 below we see something very similar to Matthew 28. Mark begins with the same participle.

Mark 16:15-16,
15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (ESV)

Luke 24:44-49,
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (ESV)

In Acts 3:6, 16 Peter orally invokes the name of Jesus and commands the cripple to "rise up and walk". He further clarifies in verse 16 that it was Jesus' name, through faith in His name, that brought healing to the cripple. In Acts 4:10, 12 the name of Jesus is connected to healing and salvation. 

Greek New Testament scholar D.A. Wallace notes, ""In many ways, the books of Acts is a detailed account of how these apostles accomplished the command of Matt. 28:19-20".(4) Trinitarians mistakenly baptize converts by actually quoting the titles Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As noted earlier, the disciples are not being told something to say but rather something to do (Go, make disciples, teach). If quoting the words of Jesus was the intention of this Gospel writer or Christ Himself then we should expect to find it referenced in another parallel account or in passages relating to baptism. No such thing exists for good reason. In fact, as Wallace suggests the book of Acts records how the disciples carried out the commands of Matthew 28:19 and that was done by invoking the name of Jesus. 


1) Dunn, James D.G. (1989) Christology in the Making SCM Press (49)

2) Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1995). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (329). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

3) Soulen, Kendall R. "Who Shall I Say Sent Me? The Name of God in Trinitarian Perspective" Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D. C.http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/jsrforum/writings/SouWhos.html

4) Wallace, D.A. (1996) Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (645)

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)