Why do you not baptize by using the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”? (Part 3)


In the first installment, we discussed the fact that Matthew 28:19 does not set forth a “formula,” which must be used when baptizing a person, and that the teaching that the baptizing minister must say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit,” is erroneous and unbiblical.  At the same time, we pointed out that “the concept stated in Matthew 28:19, in referring during the entire baptism ceremony to the role and function of the Father and Jesus Christ, bestowing on the baptized person the gift of the Holy Spirit, is accurate and biblical.”

In the second installment, we began our discussion as to the genuineness of the passage in Matthew 28:19. We quoted from commentaries and other sources advocating the authenticity of Matthew 28:19, citing ancient authors referring to the threefold trinitarian baptism, saying that Jesus spoke these words. We pointed out that none of those authors actually quoted or directly referred to the book of Matthew as evidence for their claim; that nowhere do we read that an author by the end of the first or the beginning of the second century said: “Jesus said in the book of Matthew, at the end of the book, that we are to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We raised the question as to whether they just referred to some “human tradition,” according to which Jesus allegedly stated these words, and that the suspicion, then, that these words were later added in order to confirm the “Christian” practice and belief, as did happen in the case of 1 John 5:7-8, ought to be addressed.

In this installment, we will discuss the concerns authors and commentaries have raised as to the genuineness of Matthew 28:19. First, though, let’s consider this:

We will recall from our previous discussion that only Matthew 28:19 mentions “baptizing” “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The parallel Scripture in Mark 16:15-16 does NOT include such a statement. We will also recall that according to the written Scriptural record, the apostles NEVER baptized in the name of the Father or of the Holy Spirit, but ONLY in the name of Christ. It appears inconceivable that they would have completely ignored and disobeyed a command of Christ, IF it had been a command given to them and known to them. It is for this reason alone that the words in Matthew 28:19, in any event, CANNOT be viewed as a formula which has to be uttered by the minister when baptizing a person.

There are no Scriptures that state that we are baptized in or into the Father.  There is one Scripture that might suggest that we are baptized in or into the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 reads: “For by [Greek, “ek,” meaning “out of”] one Spirit are we all baptized INTO [Greek, “eis”] one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles…; and have been all made to drink INTO [Greek, “eis”] one Spirit.” The first part of the passage says that the Spirit baptizes us INTO the spiritual body. In regard to the second part of the passage (“have been all made to drink INTO one Spirit”), Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible cautions us that this last word “eis” may not be genuine; the NU omits it altogether, and the RSV translates, “all were made to drink OF one Spirit.”

There are many Scriptures showing us that we have been baptized INTO Christ. Compare for example Galatians 3:27: “For as many of you as have been baptized INTO [Greek, “eis] Christ have put on Christ.”

Other Scriptures show that people were baptized “in the name” [Greek: “onoma”] of Christ, such as Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:48.

The Bible teaches of course that we must be baptized WITH the Holy Spirit. Many passages show that God the Father gives us the Holy Spirit upon baptism (Compare Acts 1:5, 8; 2:33; 11:16). In that sense, we are baptized INTO the Church, the spiritual body of Christ, THROUGH or “out of” the Spirit (compare 1 Corinthians 12:13). Compare also 1 Corinthians 6:11 (“but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified IN the NAME of the Lord Jesus and BY [Greek, “ek”, meaning “out of”] the Spirit of God,” AV). None of the Scriptures says, however, that we are baptized in or into the NAME of the Holy Spirit, and none of them even says that we are baptized in or into the Holy Spirit (with the possible exception of 1 Corinthians 12:13, see above).

With this introduction, let us review the many arguments advanced by biblical scholars concluding that Matthew 28:19 might not be genuine.

The Catholic Jerusalem Bible states:

“It may be that the formula, so far as the fullness of its expression is concerned, is a reflection of the liturgical use established later. It will be remembered that Acts speaks of baptizing ‘in the name of Jesus.’”

The New Revised Standard Version says:

“Modern critics claim this formula is falsely ascribed to Jesus and that it represents later church tradition, for nowhere in the book of Acts is baptism performed with the name of the Trinity.”

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, pp. 26-37, states under “Baptism”:

“Matthew 28:19 in particular only canonizes a later ecclesiastical situation… Its Trinitarian formula is foreign to the mouth of Jesus.”

Hasting’s Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 2, p. 377, points out:

“The Christian baptism was administered using the name of Jesus. The Trinitarian formula of any sort was not suggested in the early Church history.”

Donald Guthry writes in “New Testament Theology,” on page 719:

“The dispute over the authenticity of the triune formula revolves around the comparison with the simpler formula in Acts… The question arises whether the triune formula requires a later date.”

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states in vol. 8, on page 598:

“Many deny the authenticity of this Trinitarian formula… on the basis of the fact that the only evidence we have of actual Christian baptism indicates a consistent monadic formula – baptism in Jesus’ name.”

The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7, points out on page 624:

“The formula of verse 19 was probably a later development.”

The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge states on page 435:

“Jesus, however, cannot have given His disciples this Trinitarian order of baptism after His resurrection, for the New Testament knows only baptism in the name of Jesus… which still occurs in the second and third centuries, while the Trinitarian formula occurs only in Matthew 28:19, and then only in Didache 7:1 [as mentioned before, an apocryptic book] and Justin, Apology 1:61… the formal authenticity of Matthew 28:19 must be disputed.”

Peake’s Commentary of the Bible, 1962, states on page 798 under “Matthew”:

“… most commentaries doubt that the trinitarian formula was original at this point in Matthew’s Gospel, since the NT [New Testament] elsewhere does not know of such a formula and describes baptism as being performed in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, states on page 86:

“This is the closest of the New Testament comes to stating the proposition that YHVH, Adonai, the one God of Abraham… consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… Although nearly all ancient manuscripts have the trinitarian formula, Eusebius, the church historian [who died in 340 AD] … in his writings preceding the council of Nicea in 325 C.E., quotes the verse without it.”

As we will discuss this phenomenon more fully below, Eusebius, believing in the Trinity, failed to quote the words of Matthew 28:19, referring to baptism, before the Council of Nicea, while quoting the words before and after the omitted text.

David Flusser wrote in “The Conclusion of Matthew in the New Jewish Christian Source,” Annals of the Swedish Theological Institute, 1967, on pages 110-120:

“The trinitarian formula in the words of the resurrected Jesus is not attested before the Gnostic Theodotus, i.e., not before the second half of the second century… Thus it is difficult not to assume that the shorter form of the saying found so far only in quotations by Eusebius [omitting the clause, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”] is the original text of Matthew 28, 18b-20… Eusebius’ text of Matth 28, 19-20a before Nicaea was as follows: ‘Go and make all nations disciples in my name, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’”

Fred C. Conybeare, “The Eusebian Form of the Text Mt. 28, 19,” in “Zeitschrift fuer die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde des Urchristentums,” (1901), pointed out that Eusebius had quoted Matthew 28 seventeen times [others say, eighteen times] BEFORE the Council of Nicea, OMITTING the disputed words, and three times AFTER the Council of Nicea, including the disputed words (at p. 282).

He also stated on pages 284-287:

“[Neither Clement of Alexandria nor Origen give any] hint of the important precept to baptize in the triune name which in our texts intervene… [The] German scholar Teller [in 1786] disputed the genuineness of the text [i.e., to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit]. So did Evanson, vicar of Tewkesbury [in 1792].”

He also wrote:

“Harnack remarks (Dogmengeschichte I, 68): ‘Mt. 28:19 ist kein Herrenwort.’ [‘Matthew 28:19 is not a word of the Lord’]. Martineau… writes thus: ‘The very account which tells us that at last, after his resurrection, he commissioned the apostles to go and baptize among all nations, betrayed itself by speaking in the Trinitarian language of the next century, and compels us to see in it the ecclesiastical editor, and not the evangelist, much less the founder itself… J.H. Schotten in his word, Die Taufformel, [the baptismal formula], wrote: ‘The comparisons of the texts of the three gospels and the critical analysis pertaining to their ages leads us to conclude that the records about the establishment of the baptism through Jesus in the gospel of Matthew must be of a relatively late date.’ H. Holtzmann in an article on baptism [in 1879] arrives at a similar conclusion.”

He also pointed out on pages 282 and 283 that Justin Martyr, as well as “Pastor Hermae,” did NOT quote the longer, but only the shorter form: “Two writers earlier than Eusebius show a knowledge of this shorter form of text; and neither of them formally cite the passage, but rather echo it. The first is Justinus Martyr in the Dialogue with Tryphon 39, p. 258… The second passage is in the Pastor Herrmae and is a less certain reference… the earliest writer who cites Mt 28,19 in a form approximating to the text established in the manuscripts of the Gospels, is the Gnostic Theodotus.”

On page 286, Conybeare explains that the Catholic Church, strongly teaching the Trinity as one of their most fundamental doctrines, “adopted the position that baptism in the name of Jesus Christ alone” is “quite valid. As the canon of the Synod of Nemors (1284) expressed it… baptize te in nominee Christi. It in some measure explains the decision of the popes that the text of Mat. 28,19 was not yet authoritatively fixed by the church and that the [Catholic version] of the fourth century retained the Eusebian reading [prior to Nicea].”

Conybeare then asks the following questions, on pages 287 and 288, without committing himself:

“Is the Eusebian and Justin’s reading of Mt. 28,19 [which omits the words, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”] original? If so, was not the [text including those words] created about 130-140? Was it not due to a reaction on the text of Matthew of liturgical, and, specifically, of baptismal usage? Did it not arise, like the text of the three witnesses [referring to the addition in 1 John 5:7-8, discussed earlier] in the African and old Latin texts first of all, thence creep in to the Greek texts at Rome, and finally establish itself in the East during the Nicene epoch, in time to figure in all surviving Greek codices?”

E.W. Bullinger writes in “Word Studies on the Holy Spirit,” on pages 47-49:

“It is difficult to suppose that there would have been this universal disregard of so clear a command (in Matthew 28:19), if it had ever been given; or if it ever really formed part of the primitive text. It is a question therefore whether we have here something beyond the reach of science, or the powers of ordinary Textual Criticism. As to the Greek MSS, there are none beyond the fourth century, and it seems clear that the Syrian part of the church knew nothing of these words. Eusebius quotes this verse no less than eighteen times, and always quotes it in this form, ‘Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations.’ He omits the reference to ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ Now, Eusebius, the great Ecclesiastical historian, died in 340 AD, and his work belonged, therefore, in part to the third century. Moreover, he lived in one of the greatest Christian libraries of that day. If the Greek MS there contained these words, it seems impossible that he could have quoted this verse eighteen times without including them.

“Professor Lake… and Mr. Conybeare have called attention to this fact, and shown that neither Justin Martyr (who died in 165 AD), nor Aphraates of Nisibis (who flourished in Syria, 340 AD), knew nothing of these words. It looks, therefore, as though the words got into the text (perhaps from the margin) in the church of North Africa; and that the Syrian Churches did not have them in the MSS at their disposal. The point is interesting. The difficulty is there.”

This is indeed the case, and it is up to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

(To Be Continued)

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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