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“in my name.” We have translated the text according to the evidence we have that there were early Greek texts that read that way, and also according to what the Apostles did in Acts. They made disciples in the name of Jesus. We admit that there is no extant Greek text that says “go and make disciples of all the nations in my name,” they all read “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the holy spirit.” Nevertheless, we believe that the historical evidence, as well as the evidence in the Bible itself, supports the conclusion that the common rendering is a very early addition to the text, and the original reading was “in my name.” We give the following evidence to support our conclusion:

1). There is not a single occurrence of the disciples baptizing anyone in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every single record in the New Testament show that people were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.'” (Acts 2:38). “They had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16). “So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).

It is inconceivable to us that Jesus would command his Apostles to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit just before he ascended, and yet about a month later, on the Day of Pentecost, they completely ignored what he said and baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ.” To us, it seems clear that Christ told the Apostles to make disciples in his name, so that is what they did, baptizing in Jesus’ name.

2). Based on the biblical and historic evidence, it is the consensus of many scholars that the Trinitarian formula that appears in Matthew 28:19 was a later addition to the text. For example, the conservative Christian publication, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, states (“Baptism,” Vol. 1, p. 465):

It appears from Biblical records that the earliest Christians baptized with the formula ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 2:38). The Trinitarian formula ascribed to Jesus in his final commission (Matt. 28:19) is generally regarded to have been shaped at a later date through the liturgical usage of the community of Christians.

3). Eusebius (c. 260–c. 340) was the Bishop of Caesarea and is known as “the Father of Church History.” Although he wrote prolifically, his most celebrated work is his Ecclesiastical History, a history of the Church from the Apostolic period until his own time. Today it is still the principle work on the history of the church at that time. Eusebius quotes many verses in his writings, and Matthew 28:19 is one of them. Fredrick Conybeare studied the works of Eusebius and documented that on 17 different occasions he quoted Matthew 28:19 without the Trinitarian formula, but instead with “in my name” (see Fredrick C. Conybeare in Zeitschrift fur Neutestamentlich Wissenschaft, “The Eusebian Form of the Text of Matthew 28:19,” 1901, pp. 275-288). For example, in Book III of his Ecclesiastical History, Chapter 5, Section 2, which is about the Jewish persecution of early Christians, we read,

But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them, ‘Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name.’

We read the same thing in his Oration in Praise of Emperor Constantine, Chapter 16, Section 8, which says:

What king or prince in any age of the world, what philosopher, legislator or prophet, in civilized or barbarous lands, has attained so great a height of excellence, I say not after death, but while living still, and full of mighty power, as to fill the ears and tongues of all mankind with the praises of his name? Surely none save our only Savior has done this, when, after his victory over death, he spoke the word to his followers, and fulfilled it by the event, saying to them, ‘Go ye and make disciples of all nations in my name.’

The Greek text that Eusebius was using read, quoted by Conybeare, is, πορευθέντες μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν. This translates to “Go, disciple all the nations in my name, teaching them to keep all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.”

Eusebius was present at the council of Nicaea, and involved in the debates about Arian teaching and whether Christ was God or a creation of God. We feel confident that if the manuscripts he had in front of him read “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” he would never have quoted it as “in my name.” Interestingly, however, after (and only after) the Counsel of Nicaea, when there was great pressure from the Emperor and other bishops to conform to a Trinitarian belief, Eusebius quoted Matthew 28:19 with the Trinitarian formula on three different occasions. We believe that the earliest manuscripts read “in my name,” and that the phrase was enlarged to reflect the orthodox position as Trinitarian influence spread.

4). Although Eusebius is the only Church Father that directly quotes a shorter version of Matthew 28:19, Conybeare (cited above), notes that there are “echoes” from two other pieces of pre-Nicene literature, both earlier than Eusebius, that indicate they were referencing a version of Matthew without the Trinitarian baptismal formula. Those two sources are Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) in his dialogue with Trypho, and the early Christian work called “The Shepherd of Hermas.” While not strong evidence of a shorter version of Matthew 28:19, the evidence of these Church Fathers does add some support to our conclusion.

5). The reading “go and make disciples of all the nations in my name” creates internal agreement with what we see in Luke and in the Epistles of Paul. In the last chapter of Luke, when Jesus was talking to his disciples, he said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise out from among the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46, 47). It fits the scope of Scripture that both Matthew and Luke would end with Jesus speaking to his followers about making disciples in his name in all of the nations, and not that Jesus would command baptism in Matthew but leave it out in Luke. Furthermore, Paul wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to tell the Good News” (1 Cor. 1:17). It hardly seems correct that Paul could say that Jesus did not send him to baptize if in fact one of the very last commands of Jesus to his disciples was to go and baptize people.

6). That the command to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would have been added to the text of Matthew fits the scribal tendency to add the practices of the Church at a later time back into the text. For example, when it comes to baptism, textual research shows that there is little doubt that the closing verses of Mark were added to Mark and were not part of the original text, and they too include the command to baptize (cp. Mark 16:16, and see commentary on Mark 16:9). Another example of adding a practice of the Church back into the text involves fasting. Fasting was important to the developing Church, and the word “fasting” became inserted into the Greek manuscripts in several places, and from there even got into some of the early versions such as the King James Version (cp. Matt. 17:21; Mark 9:29; Acts 10:30; 1 Cor. 7:5). Thankfully, the number of Greek texts and early manuscripts we have today and our ability to compare them has allowed us to ferret out most of the later additions, but there are still some problem verses, such as Matthew 28:19.

7). The traditional reading of Matthew 28:19 has long been noted to have some problems. In the words of Hans Kosmala, “The traditional conclusion is, even as a prose text, comparatively ‘heavy;’ its syntax is awkward and, as Otto Michael has remarked, we miss some logical order.” The logical order that Michael, Kosmala, and other scholars have referred to is that making a disciple in the early Church involved teaching them to obey and then baptizing them when they made a commitment to Christ. Yet in the closing verses of Matthew 28, the disciples are first baptized, then taught to obey. While this is not conclusive in and of itself, it is evidence to the fact that the phrase “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” seems to be put in the text out of order, rather than just being a part of the original text.

8). The short reading has a balance and elegance that the longer reading lacks. Kosmala writes:

“The older Eusebian version enables us to divide the conclusion of Matthew into four natural lines…We see the passage is no longer a prose text like the traditional text, but a hymnic piece. The Eusebian conclusion has a definitely poetical and almost elegant form. It is a self-contained unit of four lines. It is well balanced in its structure and the lines follow one after the other in a logical sequence;…. The poem is not a Greek poem…It is Semitic in the structure of its contents. In its Greek garb it is most likely a translation from Hebrew. …the interrelation between the four lines is obvious. It is the same as in all well-constructed Hebrew poetry” (Hans Kosmala, “The Conclusion of Matthew;” Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute 4 (ASTI 4), 1965, pp. 132-147).

9). The short reading fits with the scope of Scripture regarding the importance of the name of Jesus. It makes perfect sense that before leaving earth, Jesus would instruct his followers to make disciples in his name (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47) and be witnesses for him (Acts 1:8). From the book of Acts alone, we learn that the name of Jesus was central to Christian life. The disciples baptized in his name (Acts 2:38; 8:12; 10:48; 19:5); healed in his name (Acts 3:6, 16; 4:10; ); taught that salvation came by his name (Acts 4:12); taught and preached in his name (Acts 5:28; 9:27); suffered for his name (Acts 5:41; 9:16), called on his name (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16); received forgiveness through his name (Acts 10:43); were called by his name (Acts 15:17); risked their lives for his name (Acts 15:26); cast out demons by his name (Acts 16:18); and were willing to die for his name (Acts 21:13). The Bible even tells us that there was opposition to the name of Jesus (Acts 4:17, 18; 5:26; 26:9).

From what we can see in the New Testament, it completely fits with the scope of Scripture that shortly before leaving earth, Jesus would tell his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all the nations in my name, teaching them to obey all that I commanded you.” Then, from what we know about the developing church, it makes sense that likely sometime in the middle of the second century someone would add the phrase about baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

10). Another “interesting” piece of information about Matthew 28:19 is that it seems to be missing in some places where it seems logically it would have been. Conybeare (cited above) points out some of the places in ancient writings where we would have expected Matthew 28:19 to be, but it is not copied, or only partially copied. While it is true that there is no way to prove that an original was somehow expunged, or even if the text would have supported the Trinitarian formula if we had the text, it is well known that, particularly after the time of the Emperor Theodosius (346-395), writings that did not agree with the official position of the Church were sought out and destroyed. Origen, for example, is cited as quoting the first part of Matthew 28:19 three times, but each time stopping with “nations.” Conybeare also points out that in the fourth century, the group called the “Pneumatomacki,” those people who resisted recognizing “the Holy Spirit” as the third person of the Trinity, apparently used a text of Matthew that did not have the Trinitarian formula, something that can be inferred from the things written by and against them.

11). The Trinitarian formula does not appear in the Shem-Tob Hebrew manuscript of Matthew. In the fourteenth century a complete Hebrew text of Matthew appeared in the body of a Jewish polemical treatise entitled Even Bohan, “The Touchstone.” The author was Shem-Tob ben Isaac ben-Shaprut (sometimes called Ibn Shaprut; because his name was actually Shem-Tov, sometimes the manuscript it referred to as the Shem-Tov manuscript). This Hebrew manuscript does not seem to be copied from the Greek or Latin, as was thought by earlier scholars, but clearly seems to be a copy from a Hebrew manuscript tradition, which is very important because some of the Church Fathers testified that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew. [For more on the Shem-Tob Hebrew manuscript of Matthew, see commentary on Matthew 3:3].

In contrast to the common reading found in the Greek manuscripts, the Shem-Tob Hebrew manuscript reads:

19Go, 20and (teach) them to carry out all the things which I have commanded you forever.”

The omission of the command to baptize and the Trinitarian formula in the Shem-Tob manuscript contributes to our conclusion that the Trinitarian formula did not exist in the original manuscript of Matthew, but was a later addition.

12). The book of Matthew has no presentation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Some prominent Trinitarians doubt that the apostles were even introduced to the doctrine until after they received holy spirit. It seems strange that there would be an inclusion of the doctrine of the Trinity at the very end of Matthew when it had not been a subject of discussion earlier in the book, and it seems even stranger that Jesus would introduce a new baptismal formula that had the name of the Father, Son, and holy spirit without some teaching as to what that meant or why it needed to be there.

13). Why would the Trinitarian baptismal formula have been added in Matthew 28:19? As the Church developed, both the ceremony of baptism and the doctrine of the Trinity became more central to the Faith, and so verses that dealt with those subjects were sometimes altered or added. In fact, many passages of the Bible were altered by scribes to fit their theology (see Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture). The Gospel of Matthew became the favorite Gospel in the Greek Church, so it was important that doctrines central to the Faith could be found in it. As Kosmala points out: “It [Matthew] was put to an extensive liturgical use, as research of the past few decades has shown. No gospel lent itself so readily for any additions which the Church felt obliged to make than the Gospel of Matthew.”

We must keep in mind that today if people disagree on an issue of the Faith, about the worst thing that happens is that they refuse to speak to each other. But in the centuries after Christ, theology was hotly debated and “losers” could be beaten or killed by angry mobs, imprisoned, banished or even executed. So there was a lot of pressure on bishops to have verses that supported one’s particular position to be able to “win” any debate.

Although the ancient manuscripts often differ, thankfully, that does not mean we cannot trust the Bible. Today we have some 5700 Greek manuscripts, plus manuscripts in Latin, Georgian, Coptic, Syriac, etc., plus quotations that exist in the Church Fathers, and furthermore today we are aided by computers that can compare and contrast all these manuscripts. So given today’s situation, scholars are usually able to determine the original reading of the text. Nevertheless, there are a few verses such as this one, Matthew 28:19, which are still hotly debated.

Scholars have proposed different possibilities as to when the Trinitarian baptismal formula would have been added to the text, and how it came to be so widely dispersed. Conybeare suggested that the reading was created sometime around 130-140 AD and first appeared in the Old Latin texts and texts from Africa [Alexandria], and then got copied into the Greek texts in Rome and then, during the Nicene time got established enough to get into the Greek texts that have survived until today.

14). We have dealt above with reasons why the REV translation reads, “go and make disciples of all the nations in my name, teaching them to obey all that I commanded you,” and leaves out the phrase about baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We now turn to a different side of the argument. What if we are wrong and the common text is correct. Does that mean there is a Trinity? No, it does not. There is no “proof” of the Trinity in the common reading of Matthew 28:19. If the Father, Son and holy spirit are mentioned in the original text of this verse, it would only affirm that those three exist, something we do not contest. The doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, Son and “Holy Spirit” together make “one God,” and that is never stated in this verse. This verse refers to three, but never says they are “one.” If the phrase about the Father, Son, and holy spirit is original, then the three things this verse refers to are: God the Father; His Son the Lord Jesus Christ; and the power of holy spirit. (We say “holy spirit” instead of “Holy Spirit” because we believe that this verse is referring to God’s gift of holy spirit that is born inside each believer. It is lower case because it refers to the gift of God, and not God. For more on this, see Graeser, Lynn, Schoenheit, The Gift of Holy Spirit: The Power to be like Christ.

15). It is sometimes stated that in order to be baptized into something, that something has to be God, but that reasoning is false, because Scripture states that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” (1 Cor. 10:2).

16). It is important to understand why the word “name” is used. A study of the culture and language shows that the word “name” stood for “authority.” Examples are very numerous, but space allows only a small selection. Deuteronomy 18:5-7 speak of serving in the “name” (authority) of the Lord. Deuteronomy 18:22 speaks of prophesying in the “name” (authority) of the Lord. In 1 Samuel 17:45, David attacked Goliath in the “name” (authority) of the Lord, and he blessed the people in the “name” (authority) of the Lord. In 2 Kings 2:24, Elisha cursed troublemakers in the “name” (authority) of the Lord. The Apostles baptized in the “name” of Jesus Christ because it meant all his authority, similarly, Paul rhetorically asks the Corinthians if they were baptized “in the name of Paul,” which of course they were not because Paul had no power or authority to save anyone. These scriptures are only a small sample, but they are very clear. Also, we should know that there are other customs involving the word “name,” but authority is a major one we need to be aware of.

In conclusion. In deciding how to translate the REV and omitting the Trinitarian formula from Matthew 28:19, we carefully considered the points above and concluded that the Eusebian version of the Greek text was most likely the original. Hans Kosmala asks the following important question: Would the Gospel suffer any loss by the substitution of the shorter conclusion, or would this conclusion perhaps bring out the Gospel’s message even more clearly? We assert that the shorter version quoted by Eusebius explains why the Apostles never baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; fits with the conclusion of Luke and the words of Paul, and magnifies the name of the Lord Jesus, in keeping with the rest of the message of the New Testament.


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