Matthew 28:19 Is this a baptismal formula?

A.T. Robertson The Christ of the Logia. Matthew 28:19
4. But Is It a Baptismal Formula? Is it necessary to believe that, if the words
are a genuine logion of Jesus, He meant them as an “exact form of words to be used in baptism”? It is clear that Jesus “would not prescribe a set form of words for this purpose” (Plummer, p. 433). All modern scholars practically agree that Jesus was unlikely to do such a thing. If the language of Matthew xxviii. 19
is beyond doubt a ritualistic formula, then some doubt may exist as to whether this is after all the teaching of our Lord. Lindsay (Int. Stand. Bible Encycl.} calls Matthew xxviii. 19 “the formula of Christian baptism.” It is true that Tertullian
(De Bapt. 13) expressly asserts that in Matthew xxviii. 19 the “law of baptism has
been imposed and the formula prescribed. ‘ ‘ It is trine immersion: “And it is not once only, but thrice, that we are immersed into the Three Persons, at each several mention of Their Names” (Adv. Praxean.}. There is no doubt that the words of Jesus in Matthew xxviii. 19 came to be used as a formula and gave rise to trine immersion.
But the problem is, not later ecclesiastical custom, but the point of our Lord. Did He mean His command to be a set and necessary formula?
It is submitted that this is by no means a necessary interpretation of the language. The fact that the Acts uses only the name of Jesus in conection with baptism shows that no such formula was considered necessary. Peter urges at Pentecost
that the new believers “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts ii. 38). Cornelius and the rest were ordered by Peter to “be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts x. 48). The mistaken disciples of the Baptist at Ephesus were “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts xix. 5). Paul spoke of being “baptized into (unto) Christ” (Eom. vi. 3, etc.). Plummer pointedly says: “If our Lord had really given directions that the Trinitarian formula was to be employed by the Apostles, the formula given in Acts would never have come into use” (p. 433).
But do we have a “formula” in Acts? The language varies too much to be a “formula.” The essential thing was to baptize in the name of Jesus Christ in order to distinguish Christian baptism from Jewish proselyte baptism. “We have seen that the Didache and Justin Martyr and Eusebius, all have the short form and the
long form. Both undoubtedly existed. By and by the full form was insisted upon as necessary. Cyprian (Ep. Ixxiii. 18) argues against the practice of baptizing “in the Name of Jesus Christ.” The Apostolical Ccmons (50) forbid a presbyter baptizing “into the death of Christ” with “only one immersion which is administered into the death of the Lord.” Trine immersion proves the use of the Trinitarian formula. But we do not know that it was so practised at the
very beginning. Maclean (Hastings Dictionary of the Apostolic Church) argues that, since “it was our Lord’s habit not to make regulations but
to establish principles,” we may conclude that in Matthew xxviii. 19 “He did not here prescribe a formula, but unfolded the spiritual meaning of the rite.” This interpretation coincides best with our Lord’s teaching and with the apostolic practice of freedom, while it explains also the later development of the ritualistic formula from the word of the Master.
5. Shaft We Say “In” or “Into?” Allen (p. 396) is clear that a distinction is to
be drawn between “in the Name of Jesus Christ” (Acts ii. 38; x. 48) and “into the Name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts xix. 5). The one symbolizes the fact that one has become a disciple of Jesus, the other lays stress on the result of the ceremony.
Plummer (p. 433) thinks that “baptizing into the Name of the Trinity may mean immersing into the infinite ocean of the Divine Perfection.”
Both prepositions (kv and els) are those justified, he holds, but they convey different ideas. He here follows Heitmuller (In Namen Jesu). But, in view of the practical identity of the two prepositions (see Eobertson’s Grammar of the Greek
New. Testament, p. 592), it is doubtful if a real difference can be insisted upon in Acts. The papyri and the inscriptions give numerous instances of els TO 6>ojua where money is placed to the credit of one. The instances in the New Testament
are many where one cannot render els by “into” as in Matthew xii. 41: “They repented at the preaching of Jonah.” And in Matthew x.41 we have the very idiom ds ovoita : “He that receives a prophet in the name of a prophet,” “in
the name of a righteous man,” “w the name of a disciple.” It is probably an over-refinement, therefore, to contend for “into the Name of” in
Matthew yyix. 19. The baptism is commanded by Jesus and is to be performed on the authority of the Trinity. The Name of Jesus alone was
enough, for He stood for the Trinity. But the act of baptism rightly symbolizes one’s relation to the Trinity, and hence each Name is given by our
Lord. In the papyri “name” (opo/za) often is used for the person or the authority of the person. It occurs frequently in the Septuagint in this sense. See Acts i. 15: “The number of the names (persons) together were about one hundred
and twenty.”
We are driven, therefore, by every line of argument to adhere to the Lord’s command to baptize as a genuine part of Matthew’s Gospel and a true Saying of Jesus. Certainly there is nothing that modern scholarship has brought to light that
justifies our setting aside this Magna Charta of the Christian propaganda. The Lord’s Command to baptize stands as an integral part of the great Commission. Men differ in their interpretation of it. The spirit of the teaching of Jesus inclines
one to take it as a symbol of the new life already begun, not the means by which the change is wrought. In other words we do not have a sacramentarian
injunction, but a symbolic picture of the death to sin and the resurrection to life as
Paul expounds it in Romans vi. 4. But baptism belongs to the program of Jesus in the evangelization of the nations.

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About sjbjburke

I am an evangelist that enjoys Bible study and I look forward to posting outlines and receiving helpful comments. My wife and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in 2010 and we enjoy serving the Lord together.
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