Into The Name...

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

What are we to understand exactly by the baptismal formula, "Into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"?

This form of words occurs in the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, verse 19, where the Lord Jesus, just before his ascension, said to the eleven, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (RV).

Nowhere else in the Gospels is this form of words enjoined, nor is there any mention in the New Testament of it being used. Hence, some who have found a difficulty in harmonising it with other references to baptism, and have an uneasy suspicion that it supports the doctrine of the Trinity, have queried its genuineness, suggesting that it was never used during the apostolic age; but that, like the famous passage concerning the heavenly witnesses in the First Epistle of John (1 Jo. 5:7), it is an interpolation, introduced into the Gospel at a later age. The textual evidence, however, is overwhelmingly in favour of the words in question. They occur in all authorities without exception. They are quite as well attested as any saying of Christ which is recorded in one Gospel only. There is no valid reason to doubt that the Evangelist wrote these words, and that they are a true and exact report of what Jesus actually said.

There are many readers, however, who, while accepting them as genuine, refuse to see in them any reference to the Trinity of Orthodox belief. Their explanation is that the threefold expression is really a verbal amplification and doctrinal exposition of the words "In [or into] the name of Jesus". They contend that since the word "name" in the passage is in the singular number, only one name is intended; that consequently Jesus only is meant, inasmuch as he is the manifestation of the Father in a Son by means of the Holy Spirit.

But this explanation of the formula does not appear to be wholly satisfactory. Granted that Jesus is indeed the manifestation of the Father in a Son by means of the Holy Spirit, are we necessarily shut up to the conclusion that this idea is the very one which the formula was intended to convey? One can scarcely avoid thinking that the above idea would have been more clearly expressed by the words "In the name of the Father manifested in the Son by the Holy Spirit".

Is there, however, no other possible explanation? A study of the various passages in the Epistles which speak of baptism in its bearing to the one baptized will show that the ordinance was regarded as the focus of a number of ideas, prominent among them being union with Christ by a figurative sharing in his death and resurrection, entailing remission of sins and regeneration. We are so much in the habit of regarding that ordinance with the foregoing personal benefits in mind, that the tendency is to overlook, ignore, and almost completely exclude another idea in connection therewith, which was undoubtedly very prominent in the minds of men of the Apostolic age. That idea was discipleship.

Previous, indeed, to the time of John the Baptist, Gentile proselytes were required to submit to baptism before admission to the Jewish community. If an Israelite who had become ceremonially unclean had to bathe his body in water before he could resume his place in the social and religious life, how much more was it incumbent upon a Gentile, who had passed all his previous years in that unholy state, to submit to that cleansing rite?

But the idea of cleansing was by no means its only signification. The Apostle Paul says that, when the Israelites came out of Egypt, they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. 10:1,2), the meaning obviously being, not that Moses' name was called over them in some formula, but that they were baptized into the acknowledgement of his authority, and obedience to him. Under God, Moses became their teacher, and they his disciples. That was the boast of Jews ages afterwards, when some of them were arguing with the man whose sight Jesus had restored. "We are Moses' disciples", they said. "We know that God spake unto Moses" (Jo. 9:28,29).

Those of the Jews who submitted to the baptism of John were accounted to be disciples of John. He taught them in what words to pray, he enjoined fasting, and above all he directed their minds to one who should come after him. They did not, in consequence, cease to be Moses' disciples; but in addition they accepted John as sent by God to prepare them for the coming of the one concerning whom Moses wrote.

Then the time arrived when Jesus himself began to preach and baptize; and those who submitted to his baptism, administered by the twelve, were accounted his disciples. It is recorded that, "When therefore the Lord knew how that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John..." (John 4:1, RV), he did so and so.

What is involved in the term 'disciple'? A disciple is a learner, a pupil, one who follows both the teacher and his teaching and it is evident that baptism into the name of any person conveyed the idea of discipleship to that person, as one's spiritual superior, director and teacher.

Hence the Apostle Paul, in combating the spirit of division in the Church at Corinth, where certain members said, "I am of Paul", others, "I of Apollos", "I of Cephas", "I of Christ", the apostle asks: "were ye baptized into the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, save Crispus and Gaius; lest any man should say that ye were baptized into my name" (1 Cor. 1:12-15, RV). By their baptism each and all in that church, as in every other church, had become disciples, not of any man, not even of an apostle, but of the Lord Jesus Christ; and by that baptism they had signified their willingness to take his yoke upon them and learn of him.

But the Lord Jesus had not completed his course of teaching when the time arrived for him to depart out of this world unto the Father. On the eve of that departure he told his disciples: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (Jo. 16:12). And the writer of the Acts of the Apostles opens by saying: "The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up" (Acts 1:1,2, RV).

If, then, the three-and-a-half years' ministry of the Lord Jesus when on earth was spoken of as a beginning only of his teaching, who, we may ask, was to continue it, so as to complete that revelation of God to man?

Jesus himself gives the answer in these words: "But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things" (Jo. 14:26, RV); and: "when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth...and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come" (16:13, RV). "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev. 2:7, etc.), are words which are reiterated in the last message of the Lord Jesus, in the Apocalypse.

It may be that there is special point in the fact that the baptismal formula, as recorded in Matthew 28:19, is prescribed in connection with the preaching to the Gentiles, who were in darkness, and without God in the world. Such of them as heeded the apostolic message were not only to become disciples of Jesus the Son of God, through having been made acquainted with his sayings and doings, but their minds would assuredly be directed to the promises previously made by God to the fathers, and also to the many things foretold of Christ in Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets.

In this way they would hear, and learn of the Father (cf. Jo. 6:45). And besides all this, they would be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit; which, whether by individual indwelling or through apostolic teaching, would guide them into all the truth.

Is it not fitting that all the above ideas should be comprehended in the formula of the rite which admitted them to discipleship? And it was with emphasis on discipleship that the words of the Lord Jesus enjoining this rite were spoken.

To insist that only one name is connoted by the formula seems to put too severe a strain on the grammatical construction of the passage, and tends to prevent an adequate understanding of all that is involved therein. In any case, those who had submitted to that baptism were described by Paul as being not only "in the Lord Jesus Christ" but also "in God our Father" (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1), the implication being that the name of the Father had been called upon them in addition to that of the Son.

We submit that baptism "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", implied a willingness and an obligation to hear and learn of the Father, as revealed in the Scriptures of the Old Testament; to be subject to the teaching of His Son Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels; and to accept whatsoever the Holy Spirit should further reveal.

We submit that the words enjoined in Matthew 28:19 were the actual authoritative words uttered by the LordJesus, and uttered by the apostles and their co-laborers whenever baptizing; and that, when the writer of the Acts says that persons were commanded to be, or were, baptized in or into the name of the Lord Jesus, he is not indicating the exact form of words which was used in baptizing, but is merely stating that such persons, by their baptism, acknowledged Jesus to be Lord and Christ. When Peter heals the cripple at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, the exact form of words used is quoted (cf. Acts 3:6). No such form of words is given in any of the passages in which persons are said to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. It is surely difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that the apostles, having heard their Master utter the solemn words in Matthew 28:19, within a short time deliberately or heedlessly substituted another baptismal formula, in which only one name is mentioned.

It only remains to be said that in the Epistles, as well as in the fourth Gospel and in the ApocaIypse, we undoubtedly possess the results of the promise that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into all the truth; and therefore the threefold formula is every whit as applicable to candidates for baptism in these far-off days as it was when the gospel was first proclaimed to Jews at Pentecost, and, later on, to Gentiles throughout the world.

By Philip Wale