Matthew 28:19 does not reflect primitive Christianity
The great commission of Matthew 28:16-20 is a later tradition and is not likely the words of Jesus. Most especially the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of The Holy Spirit” are not the words of Jesus. They were either added to Matthew at a later period or were included in the composition of Matthew, but were not part of the primitive tradition that Matthew was embellishing upon. Matthew was written later than Luke and Mark and reflects the beliefs and practices of the later Church. Evidence for this includes quotes from numerous references, as well as the citations of Eusebius. Based on these citations, the original reading of Matthew 28:19 was likely: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations in my name.”
The Evidence of Eusebius
- Eusebius Pamphili, or Eusebius of Caesarea was born about 270 A.D. and died about 340 A.D.
- Eusebius, to whose zeal we owe most of what is known of the history of the New Testament” (Dr. Westcott, General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, page 108).
- “Eusebius, the greatest Greek teacher of the Church and most learned theologian of his time… worked untiringly for the acceptance of the pure word of the New Testament as it came from the Apostles. Eusebius…relies throughout only upon ancient manuscripts” (E. K. in the Christadelphian Monatshefte, Aug 1923; Fraternal Visitor, June 1924)
- “Eusebius Pamphilius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, a man of vast reading and erudition, and one who has acquired immortal fame by his labors in ecclesiastical history, and in other branches of theological learning.”… he lived in great intimacy with the martyr Pamphilius, a learned and devout man of Caesarea, and founder of an extensive library there, from which Eusebius derived his vast store of learning.” (J. L. Mosheim, editorial footnote).
- In his library, Eusebius must have habitually handled codices of the Gospels older by two hundred years than the earliest of the great uncials that we have now in our libraries” (The Hibbert Journal, October., 1902)
- Eusebius was an eyewitness of an unaltered Book of Matthew that was likely an early copy near to the original Matthew.
- Eusebius quotes the early book of Matthew that he had in his library in Caesarea. Eusebius informs us of Jesus’ actual words to his disciples in the original text of Matthew 28:19: “With one word and voice He said to His disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all nations in My Name, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.
- The MSS which Eusebius inherited from his predecessor, Pamphilus, at Caesarea in Palestine, some at least preserved the original reading, in which there was no mention either of Baptism or of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” It is evident that this was the text found by Eusebius in the very ancient codices collected fifty to a hundred and fifty years before his birth by his great predecessors (F.C. Conybeare, Hibbert Journal, 1902, p 105)
Quotes from Eusebius
Proof of the Gospel (the Demonstratio Evangelica), 300-336 AD
Book III, Chapter 7, 136 (a-d), p. 157
“But while the disciples of Jesus were most likely either saying thus, or thinking thus, the master solved their difficulties, by the addition of one phrase, saying they should triumph “In my name.” And the power of His name being so great, that the apostle says: “God has given him a name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth,” He shewed the virtue of the power in His Name concealed from the crowd when He said to His disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all the nations in my name.” He also most accurately forecasts the future when He says: “for this gospel must first be preached to all the world, for a witness to all nations.”
Book III, Chapter 6, 132 (a), p. 152
With one word and voice He said to His disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all the nations in my name, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” …
Book III, Chapter 7, 138 (c), p. 159
I am irresistibly forced to retrace my steps, and search for their cause, and to confess that they could only have succeeded in their daring venture, by a power more divine, and more strong than man’s and by the co-operation of Him Who said to them; “Make disciples of all the nations in my name.”
Book IX, Chapter 11, 445 (c), p. 175
And He bids His own disciples after their rejection, “Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name.”
Bible Footnotes and References Regarding Matthew 28:19
The Jerusalem Bible, 1966
It may be that this formula, so far as the fullness of its expression is concerned, is a reflection of the liturgical usage established later in the primitive community. It will be remembered that the Acts speak of baptizing “in the name of Jesus.”
New Revised Standard Version
Modern critics claim this formula is falsely ascribed to Jesus and that it represents later (Catholic) church tradition, for nowhere in the book of Acts (or any other book of the Bible) is baptism performed with the name of the Trinity…
James Moffett’s New Testament Translation
It may be that this (Trinitarian) formula, so far as the fullness of its expression is concerned, is a reflection of the (Catholic) liturgical usage established later in the primitive (Catholic) community, It will be remembered that Acts speaks of baptizing “in the name of Jesus.”
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, page 2637
“Matthew 28:19 in particular only canonizes a later ecclesiastical situation, that its universalism is contrary to the facts of early Christian history, and its Trinitarian formula (is) foreign to the mouth of Jesus.”
The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, I, page 275
“It is often affirmed that the words in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost are not the ipsissima verba [exact words] of Jesus, but…a later liturgical addition.”
A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, J. Hastings, 1906, page 170
It is doubted whether the explicit injunction of Matt. 28:19 can be accepted as uttered by Jesus. …But the Trinitarian formula in the mouth of Jesus is certainly unexpected.
Britannica Encyclopedia, 11th Edition, Volume 3, page 365
“Baptism was changed from the name of Jesus to words Father, Son & Holy Ghost in 2nd Century.”
The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1992, page 585
“The historical riddle is not solved by Matthew 28:19, since, according to a wide scholarly consensus, it is not an authentic saying of Jesus”
The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, page 351
Matthew 28:19 “… has been disputed on textual grounds, but in the opinion of many scholars, the words may still be regarded as part of the true text of Matthew. There is, however, grave doubt whether thy may be the ipsissima verba of Jesus. The evidence of Acts 2:38; 10:48 (cf. 8:16; 19:5), supported by Gal. 3:27; Rom 6:3, suggest that baptism in early Christianity was administered, not in the threefold name, but “in the name of Jesus Christ” or “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This is difficult to reconcile with the specific instructions of the verse at the end of Matthew.”
The Dictionary of the Bible, 1947, page 83
“It has been customary to trace the institution of the practice (of baptism) to the words of Christ recorded in Matthew 28:19. But the authenticity of this passage has been challenged on historical as well as on textual grounds. It must be acknowledged that the formula of the threefold name, which is here enjoined, does not appear to have been employed by the primitive Church”.
Additional References Regarding Matthew 28:19 and Baptism
History of New Testament Criticism, Conybeare, 1910, pages, 98-102, 111-112
“It is clear, therefore, that of the MSS which Eusebius inherited from his predecessor, Pamphilus, at Caesarea in Palestine, some at least preserved the original reading, in which there was no mention either of Baptism or of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament; S. Driver, A. Plummer, C. Briggs; A Critical & Exegetical Commentary of St. Matthew Third Edition, 1912, pages 307-308
“Eusebius cites in this short form so often that it is easier to suppose that he is definitely quoting the words of the Gospel than to invent possible reasons which may have caused him so frequently to have paraphrased it. And if we once suppose his short form to have been current in MSS. of the Gospel, there is much probability in the conjecture that it is the original text of the Gospel, and that in the later centuries the clause “baptizing…Spirit” supplanted the shorter “in my name.” And insertion of this kind derived from liturgical use would very rapidly be adopted by copyists and translators.”
Hastings Dictionary of the Bible 1963, page 1015:
“The chief Trinitarian text in the NT is the baptismal formula in Mt 28:19…This late post-resurrection saying, not found in any other Gospel or anywhere else in the NT, has been viewed by some scholars as an interpolation into Matthew. It has also been pointed out that the idea of making disciples is continued in teaching them so that the intervening reference to baptism with its Trinitarian formula was perhaps a later insertion into the saying. Finally, Eusebius’s form of the (ancient) text (“in my name” rather than in the name of the Trinity) has had certain advocates. Although the Trinitarian formula is now found in the modern-day book of Matthew, this does not guarantee its source in the historical teaching of Jesus. It is doubtless better to view the (Trinitarian) formula as derived from early (Catholic) Christian, perhaps Syrian or Palestinian, baptismal usage (cf Didache 7:1-4), and as a brief summary of the (Catholic) Church’s teaching about God, Christ, and the Spirit…”
Word Biblical Commentary, Vol 33B, Matthew 14-28; Donald A. Hagner, 1975, page 887-888
“The threefold name (at most only an incipient Trinitarianism) in which the baptism was to be performed, on the other hand, seems clearly to be a liturgical expansion of the evangelist consonant with the practice of his day (thus Hubbard; cf. Did. 7.1). There is a good possibility that in its original form, as witnessed by the ante-Nicene Eusebian form, the text read “make disciples in my name” (see Conybeare). This shorter reading preserves the symmetrical rhythm of the passage, whereas the triadic formula fits awkwardly into the structure as one might expect if it were an interpolation… It is Kosmala, however, who has argued most effectively for the shorter reading, pointing to the central importance of “name of Jesus” in early Christian preaching, the practice of baptism in the name of Jesus, and the singular “in his name” with reference to the hope of the Gentiles in Isa. 42:4b, quoted by Matthew in 12:18-21. As Carson rightly notes of our passage: “There is no evidence we have Jesus’ ipsissima verba here” (598). The narrative of Acts notes the use of the name only of “Jesus Christ” in baptism (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; cf. Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27) or simply “the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16; 19:5)
The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, page 435
“Jesus, however, cannot have given His disciples this Trinitarian order of baptism after His resurrection; for the New Testament knows only one baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:43; 19:5; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 1:13-15), which still occurs even in the second and third centuries, while the Trinitarian formula occurs only in Matt. 28:19, and then only again (in the) Didache 7:1 and Justin, Apol. 1:61…Finally, the distinctly liturgical character of the formula…is strange; it was not the way of Jesus to make such formulas… the formal authenticity of Matt. 28:19 must be disputed…”.
The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics
As to Matthew 28:19, it says: It is the central piece of evidence for the traditional (Trinitarian) view. If it were undisputed, this would, of course, be decisive, but its trustworthiness is impugned on grounds of textual criticism, literary criticism and historical criticism. The same Encyclopedia further states that: “The obvious explanation of the silence of the New Testament on the triune name, and the use of another (Jesus Name) formula in Acts and Paul, is that this other formula was the earlier, and the triune formula is a later addition.”
The Jerusalem Bible, A Scholarly Catholic Work
“It may be that this formula, (Triune Matthew 28:19) so far as the fullness of its expression is concerned, is a reflection of the (Man-made) liturgical usage established later in the primitive (Catholic) community. It will be remembered that Acts speaks of baptizing “in the name of Jesus,“
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, 1946, page 398
“Feine (PER3, XIX, 396 f) and Kattenbusch (Sch-Herz, I, 435 f. argue that the Trinitarian formula in Matthew 28:19 is spurious. No record of the use of the Trinitarian formula can be discovered in the Acts or the epistles of the apostles”.
The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, Vol. 1, Harry Austryn Wolfson, 1964, page 143
Critical scholarship, on the whole, rejects the traditional attribution of the tripartite baptismal formula to Jesus and regards it as of later origin. Undoubtedly, then the baptismal formula originally consisted of one part and it gradually developed into its tripartite form.
G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962, page 83
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” leads us to expect as a consequence, “Go and make disciples unto Me among all the nations, baptising them in My name, teaching them to observe all things I commanded you.” In fact, the first and third clauses have that significance: it looks as though the second clause has been modified from a Christological to a Trinitarian formula in the interests of the liturgical tradition”.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, II, 1913, Baptism
The authors acknowledge there has been controversy over the question as to whether baptism in the name of Christ only was ever held valid. They acknowledge that texts in the New Testament give rise to this difficulty. They state the “Explicit command of the Prince of the Apostles: “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins (Acts, ii).” … Owing to these texts some theologians have held that the Apostles baptized in the name of Christ only. St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and Albertus Magnus are invoked as authorities for this opinion, they declaring that the Apostles so acted by special dispensation. Other writers, as Peter Lombard and Hugh of St. Victor, hold also that such baptism would be valid, but say nothing of a dispensation for the Apostles.”
They further state, “The authority of Pope Stephen I has been alleged for the validity of baptism given in the name of Christ only. St. Cyprian says (Ep. ad Jubaian.) that this pontiff declared all baptism valid provided it was given in the name of Jesus Christ… More difficult is the explanation of the response of Pope Nicholas I to the Bulgarians (cap. civ; Labbe, VIII), in which he states that a person is not to be rebaptized who has already been baptized “in the name of the Holy Trinity or in the name of Christ only, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles.”
Joseph Ratzinger (pope Benedict XVI) Introduction to Christianity: 1968 edition, pp. 82, 83
“The basic form of our profession of faith took shape during the course of the second and third centuries in connection with the ceremony of baptism. So far as its place of origin is concerned, the text (Matthew 28:19) came from the city of Rome.”
Wilhelm Bousset, Kyrios Christianity, page 295
“The testimony for the wide distribution of the simple baptismal formula [in the Name of Jesus] down into the second century is so overwhelming that even in Matthew 28:19, the Trinitarian formula was later inserted.”
For Christ’s sake, Tom Harpur, page 103
“All but the most conservative scholars agree that at least the latter part of this command [Triune part of Matthew 28:19] was inserted later. The [Trinitarian] formula occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and we know from the only evidence available [the rest of the New Testament] that the earliest Church did not baptize people using these words (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”) baptism was “into” or “in” the name of Jesus alone. Thus it is argued that the verse originally read “baptizing them in My Name” and then was expanded [changed] to work in the [later Catholic Trinitarian] dogma. In fact, the first view put forward by German critical scholars as well as the Unitarians in the nineteenth century, was stated as the accepted position of mainline scholarship as long ago as 1919, when Peake’s commentary was first published: “The Church of the first days (AD 33) did not observe this world-wide (Trinitarian) commandment, even if they knew it. The command to baptize into the threefold [Trinity] name is a late doctrinal expansion.”
A History of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, 1953, page 63, 95
“With the early disciples generally baptism was “in the name of Jesus Christ.” There is no mention of baptism in the name of the Trinity in the New Testament, except in the command attributed to Christ in Matthew 28:19. That text is early, (but not the original) however. It underlies the Apostles’ Creed, and the practice recorded (*or interpolated) in the Teaching, (or the Didache) and by Justin. The Christian leaders of the third century retained the recognition of the earlier form, and, in Rome at least, baptism in the name of Christ was deemed valid, if irregular, certainly from the time of Bishop Stephen (254-257).”
The Seat of Authority in Religion, James Martineau, 1905, page 568
“The very account which tells us that at the last, after his resurrection, he commissioned his apostles to go and baptize among all nations (Mt 28:19) 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 himself. No historical trace appears of this baptismal formula earlier than the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (ch. 7:1,3 The Oldest Church Manuel, ed. Philip Schaff, 1887), and the first Apology of Justin (Apol. i. 61.) about the middle of the second century: and more than a century later, Cyprian found it necessary to insist upon the use of it instead of the older phrase baptized “into Christ Jesus,” or into the “name of the Lord Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27; Acts 19:5; 10:48. Cyprian Ep. 73, 16-18, has to convert those who still use the shorter form.) Paul alone, of the apostles, was baptized, ere he was “filled with the Holy Ghost;” and he certainly was baptized simply “into Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:3) Yet the tri-personal form, unhistorical as it is, is actually insisted on as essential by almost every Church in Christendom, and, if you have not had it pronounced over you, the ecclesiastical authorities cast you out as a heathen man, and will accord to you neither Christian recognition in your life, nor Christian burial in your death. It is a rule which would condemn as invalid every recorded baptism performed by an apostle; for if the book of Acts may be trusted, the invariable usage was baptism “in the name of Christ Jesus,” (Acts 2:38) and not “in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, 1929, page 723
Matthew 28:19, “the Church of the first days did not observe this worldwide command, even if they knew it. The command to baptize into the threefold name is a late doctrinal expansion. In place of the words “baptizing… Spirit” we should probably read simply “into my name,”
Edmund Schlink, The Doctrine of Baptism, page 28
“The baptismal command in its Matthew 28:19 form cannot be the historical origin of Christian baptism. At the very least, it must be assumed that the text has been transmitted in a form expanded by the [Catholic] church.”
History of Dogma, Vol. 1, Adolph Harnack, 1958, page 79
“ Baptism in the Apostolic age was in the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 1:13; Acts 19:5). We cannot make out when the formula in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit emerged”
Bible Catechism, Rev. John C Kersten, S.V.D., Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y., N.Y.; l973, p. 164
“Into Christ. The Bible tells us that Christians were baptized into Christ (no. 6). They belong to Christ. The Acts of the Apostles (2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5) tells us of baptizing “in the name (person) of Jesus.” -- a better translation would be “into the name (person) of Jesus.” Only in the 4th Century did the formula “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” become customary.”
What about the Didache?
- Didache means “Teaching” and is also known as The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.
- The date of its original work, its authorship, and provenance are unknown, although most modern scholars date it to the first century (90-120 AD)
- The chief textual witness to the text of the Didache is an eleventh-century Greek parchment manuscript known as Codex Hierosolymitanus or Codex H, (1056 AD)
- It is highly probable that the Didache was modified during the approximately 950 years from when it originated as compared to Codex H
- The Didache is silent on repentance and the symbolic death into Christ
- The Didache 7 states, “But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. 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. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice (three times) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
- The internal evidence points to Didache 7 as an interpolation, or later addition. In Didache 9, which deals with communion, the writer says, “But let no one eat or drink of this Eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (the Greek text says “Iesous” which is Greek for Jesus)
- Shortly after saying baptism should be performed in the titles Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Didache states the absolute necessity of being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (i.e., “Iesous” – the same Greek word as in Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5). This represents an obvious contradiction and gives validity to the argument that Didache 7 is an interpolation.
- Although there are some interesting contents within the Didache that were likely written in the early second century, it is evident that later interpolations and editions to the Didache cause uncertainty about the veracity of any of its contents.
Comments on the Didache
John S. Kloppenborg Verbin, Excavating Q, pp. 134-135
“The Didache, an early second-century Christian composition, is also clearly composite, consisting of a “Two Ways” section (chaps. 1-6), a liturgical manual (7-10), instructions on the reception of traveling prophets (11-15), and a brief apocalypse (16). Marked divergences in style and content as well as the presence of doubtless and obvious interpolations, make plain the fact that the Didache was not cut from whole cloth. The dominant view today is that the document was composed on the basis of several independent, preredactional units which were assembled by either one or two redactors (Neiderwimmer 1989:64-70, ET 1998:42-52). Comparison of the “Two Ways” section with several other “Two Ways” documents suggests that Didache 1-6 is itself the result of multistage editing. The document began with rather haphazard organization (cf. Barnabas 18-20), but was reorganized in a source common to the Didache, the Doctrina apostolorum, and the Apostolic Church Order …”
Johannes Quasten, Patrology Vol. 1, Page 36
Quasten wrote that the Didache was not written during the lifetime of the original apostles: “the document was tampered with by later insertions… the document does not go back to the apostolic times … Furthermore, such a collection of ecclesiastical ordinances presupposes a period of stabilization of some duration. Scattered details indicate that the apostolic age is no longer contemporary, but has passed into history.”
Eusebius History 3:25
In the early fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea wrote that “… the so-called Teachings of the Apostles … was spurious.”