Is Matthew 28:19 Legitimate or Spurious?

Is Matthew 28:19 legitimate or spurious?

Originally published on Facebook by JASON SMITH·WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2018

In this forum an op was posted questioning the validity of Matthew 28:19. That verse reads as follows:

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19)

This verse has been legitimately questioned on the basis that nowhere in God’s Word do we see any baptism occurring with this express terminology (i.e. in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost) but only the Name of Jesus (i.e. see Acts 2:38; 8:12, 16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16; Romans 6:3)

This was expressed to be “a 100% contradiction” with Matthew 28:19 and, on the surface, it really does look that way but I would like to suggest an alternative view.

In Matthew 28:19 the noun “name” is in the singular but 3 distinct agencies are mentioned. Is this a problem? I do not believe it should be and here’s why.

“Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him (Exodus 23:21)

According to the passage above the name of God is within His Son thus the Two (Father and Son) share the same Name and, according to the verse below, the Son incarnated with the purpose of declaring God’s Name

“And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26)

Finally, the holy Spirit, which is sent by the Father, is sent to us in the name of His Son.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:26)

Now if the Son shares the Name of His Father and the Spirit has been sent to us by the Father in the Son’s Name then, presumably, this would have to be the same Name too. My point here is that there is a clear interconnection of the “name” here from the Father to Son and also with the Spirit. Thus to use the Name of Father, Son and Spirit when baptizing would comprehend an action to be done with respect to all three agencies.

In other words what I am getting at here is that the apostles might not have understood Jesus’ injunction as liturgy (aka: the express wording of a baptismal formula) but rather a description of what they were to baptize people into. That is the apostles were to baptize people into a belief in God as their Father, the Lord Jesus Christ as His Son and the holy Spirit as their enabler. So the baptisms that we have record of should not to be viewed as contradictions of this statement in Matthew 28 but may simply be taking it for granted. That is that the new converts were to receive God as their Father and His Spirit as their enabler upon their baptism in Jesus’ Name. The Matthew 28:19 is a description of experience to be had not explicit liturgical wording to be used. This is one way that Matthew 28:19 and the baptisms of Acts are in harmony.

Moving on let’s get to the real heart of this issue. What manuscript evidence do we have that Matthew 28:19 is not genuine? Absolutely none! You see all of the manuscript evidence that we have actually supports this verse as genuine. Yes, you heard me correctly! We do not have any early Greek manuscript evidence that suggests this verse is spurious. And the long version is present in other ancient versions like the Syriac or the Latin. That is key for this particular discussion. This is quite different from a verse like the Johannine Comma where we have plenty of manuscript evidence against it.

The next key point here is that early Christian witnesses support the authenticity of this verse. For instance an early Christian document, the Didache, actually includes it. The Didache is a 1st century AD Christian document. The portion relevant for our discussion is this:

7:1 But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. 2 Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. (Didache 7:1, 2)

Later on this same document refers to this same baptism as having occurred “in the name of the Lord” (9:1). Notice that there has been a switch from the three-fold name (7:2) to the singular name of the Lord (9:1). This further supports the contention that they were considered synonymous. Here are a few other witnesses:

Justin Martyr, a 2nd century Christian author wrote this:

“Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are born again, for they then receive washing in water in the name of God the Father and Master of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit… (Justin Martyr, 1st Apology ch. 61)

Irenaaeus, a 2nd century Christian author wrote this:

“…And again, giving to the disciples the power of regeneration into God, he said to them, ‘Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’…” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3 ch. 17.1)

Numerous church fathers also quote this verse such as Tertullian, Hippolytus and Cyprian. The salient point here is that we do not have any real evidence against the authenticity of this verse. And the truth is that the scholarly consensus actually supports it.

Finally let us consider the testimony of sister White.

Unlike the Johannine Comman, which she never quotes, sister White quotes and/or alludes Matthew 28:19 hundreds of times! If it was spurious then wouldn’t God have left His servant know? At the very least the passage would be avoided like 1 John 5:7, 8 is in her writings but this is not the case. Here is a small sampling of her quotes on this matter.

“Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” {6Red 55.1}

“He told them of the life of Christ on earth, and of his cruel and shameful death. He told them how the Lord of life had broken the barriers of the tomb, and risen triumphant over death. He repeated the Saviour’s commission to his disciples: “All power is given unto me in Heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” He told them also of Christ’s promise to send the Comforter, through whose power mighty signs and wonders would be wrought, and described the glorious fulfillment of that promise on the day of Pentecost. {3SP 416.4}

“They were to teach the observance of all things whatsoever Jesus had commanded them, and were to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Jesus was about to be removed from his disciples; but he assured them that although he should ascend to his Father, his Spirit and influence would be with them always, and with their successors even unto the end of the world. Christ could not have left his followers a more precious legacy than the assurance that his presence would be with them through all the dark and trying hours of life. When Satan seems ready to destroy the church of God, and bring his people to confusion, they should remember that One has promised to be with them who has said, “All power is given unto me in Heaven and on earth.” {3SP 238.1}

“Having received their commission from God and having the approbation of the church, they went forth baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and administering the ordinances of the Lord’s house, often waiting upon the saints by presenting them the emblems of the broken body and spilt blood of the crucified Saviour, to keep fresh in the memory of God’s beloved children His sufferings and death. {EW 100.2} “How broad and extended the command is, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”! What honor is here conferred upon man, and yet how large a number hug the shore! How few will launch out into the deep, and let down their nets for a draught! Now, if this is done, if men are laborers together with God, if men are called to act in city missions, and to meet all classes of minds, there should be special preparations for this kind of work. {RH June 21, 1887, par. 18}

“When Christ gave his final commission to his disciples, he said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” This commission is for us; then let us work in the Spirit of Christ for our fellow-men. In great cities and smaller cities, in highways and by-ways, let us go forth to hold up Jesus as the one able to cleanse from sin. Every member of the church may be a working member, if he can do no more than say, “Come.” For the word declares, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” {RH January 27, 1891, par. 13

“They were to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Christ’s name was to be their watchword, their badge of distinction, their bond of union, the authority for their course of action, and the source of their success. Nothing was to be recognized in his kingdom that did not bear his name and superscription. {RH March 15, 1898, par. 6}

“Baptism is a most solemn renunciation of the world. Those who are baptized in the threefold name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, at the very entrance of their Christian life declare publicly that they have forsaken the service of Satan and have become members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King. They have obeyed the command: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, ... and touch not the unclean thing.” And to them is fulfilled the promise: “I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18. {6T 91.3}

“As a Christian submits to the solemn rite of baptism, the three highest powers in the universe,—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,—place their approval on his act, pledging themselves to exert their power in his behalf as he strives to honor God. He is buried in the likeness of Christ’s death, and is raised in the likeness of His resurrection. The Saviour went down into the grave, but He rose from the dead, proclaiming over the rent sepulcher, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” {ST August 16, 1905, par. 1}

“Baptism is a most solemn ceremony. When men and women, truly converted, are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, these three representatives of heavenly authority behold the scene and accept the vows made by human agents to walk henceforth in newness of life. In taking the baptismal vows, you have united with the highest powers in the heavenly courts, to live a life patterned after the life of Christ. I praise the Lord with my whole soul that you have taken this step. {Lt174-1909.3}

Following is a response to one of the questions below the original post:

 Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Question: Brother N asked, What about this (Fig 1.) one brother Jason Smith?

Jason answered: What about it brother N? Also where did you get the picture from? I ask because it looks like someone might be trying to pull a fast one by the way they cut the quote short. They painted over the continuation of the quote with the same color as the page. Here is the quote in its more complete context: 

"There are many who say that they baptize in the name of Christ alone, and by a a single immersion, but the gospel command, which was given by God himself, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, reminds us that we should administer holy baptism to every one, in the name of the Trinity and by trine immersion, for our Lord said to his disciples, 'Go, baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (The Act of Baptism: In the History of the Christian Church pg 77)

This quote informs us of several things. 

1) Many baptized in the Name of Christ alone and by single immersion. This fits with what I described in my op, namely, that the baptism in the Name of the Father, Son and holy Spirit was not viewed as a liturgical formula. 

2) That Jesus said to His disciples to baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Ghost. This fits with what I described in my op, that this passage is genuine.

3) This verse was understood, by Pelagius (and presumably others) as teaching the trinity and, oddly enough, a trine immersion (being immersed 3 times). This view is not supported by my op and seems to be a clear misapplication of the text.