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Why do you not baptize by using the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”? (Part 1)

Many mistakenly believe that a proper baptism must include these words, as quoted in the Question above, or similar words such as, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and they base that concept on the Scripture in Matthew 28:19, as rendered in the Authorized Version, using the words “Holy Ghost,” or in the New King James Bible, using the words “Holy Spirit.”

But as we will show in this series, the Bible really does not command us to use those words during the baptism ceremony, and there are many reasons for this.

It should be stated at the outset that Trinitarians see clear evidence for their belief in Matthew 28:19. The Ryrie Study Bible comments: “Here is evidence for the trinity: one God (the name) who subsists in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Each of the three is distinguished from the other; each possesses all the divine attributes; yet the three are one.“

We know, of course, that the concept of the Trinity is wrong. Even the Ryrie Study Bible continues to state, “This is a mystery which no analogy can explain satisfactorily.” Of course not, because this idea is utter nonsense. But it must be admitted that the passage in Matthew 28:19 could pose a problem which must be properly explained, as we will attempt to do in this series.

To begin with, there is one other passage that has been frequently used to prove the Trinity.  This passage can be found in 1 John 5:7-8, which is translated in the New King James Bible as follows:

“For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.”

We explain this Scripture in our booklet, “Is God a Trinity?”:

“The way this passage is translated in the New King James Bible is considered a proof text by some that the Holy Spirit is a person. But this is not true at all. With that rationale given to verse 7 (‘there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one’), it would follow from verse 8 (‘there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree as one’), that ‘water’ and ‘blood’ would also have to be persons. But nobody claims that.

“In addition, most scholars agree that the words in verse 7, ‘in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one,’ were later added by the Catholic Church to ‘prove’ the Trinity, and that these words were not in the original writings. Many Bible translations and commentaries state that this particular phrase, referred to as the ‘Comma Joanneum,’ is ‘not contained in the best authorities and constitutes a late addition in the Latin Text’ [Pattloch Bible, Appendix, page 85].

“The Zürcher Bible comments in a footnote that ‘this passage was added in the fourth century in the Latin Text, and only in the 15th century in some Greek Texts.’ The NIV [New International Version] adds in a footnote that this particular phrase is only contained ‘in the late manuscripts of the Latin Bible and that it is not found in any Greek manuscripts before the 16th century.’ Other commentaries point out that these words are clearly a falsification and that they have therefore been correctly omitted, even as a footnote, in many modern translations. So this passage is clearly not proof at all that the Holy Spirit is a separate divine person.”

When turning again to Matthew 28:19, the genuineness of this passage has also been questioned by commentators. Before addressing this question in future installments, we explain in our free booklet, “Is God a Trinity?”, that, in any event, this passage does not teach the Trinity at all:

“As the role of Christ in the baptismal ceremony is mighty important… so also is the role of the Father. It was God the Father who gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for us, so that we could have eternal life. Once we repent and believe we are then to be baptized as an outward sign of inner repentance, to ‘bury our old self.’ Once we come out of the watery grave, we are to walk in newness of life. And, this can only be done with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.

“We are to make disciples by baptizing them, and by teaching them to observe all things that Christ commanded. And, we baptize a person ‘in’ or ‘into’ [the Greek word eis can mean ‘in’ or ‘into’] the ‘name’ or ‘possession’ [the Greek word onoma can mean ‘name’ or ‘possession’] of the Father and of the Son who both are present through the Holy Spirit. The entire clause, ‘baptize in the name of,’ in Greek, ‘eis (to) onoma tinos,’ also conveys the meaning of coming under the ‘control’ or ‘authority’ of the Father and of the Son (cp. Strong’s, #3836; and William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, p. 575). And… it is the Holy Spirit, emanating from the Father and from the Son, by which we have fellowship with the Father and Jesus Christ.

“When we are baptized in, or into, the name or possession of Jesus, we recognize that we are baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3). When we come out of the watery grave, and one of God’s ministers places his hands on our heads and asks God the Father for the Holy Spirit, emanating from both the Father and the Son, we recognize that it is the Holy Spirit of God flowing into us that enables us to walk in newness of life. We also recognize that we are entering, at that very time, the Family of God as begotten, but not yet born, children of God the Father and brothers and sisters of our elder brother Jesus Christ. In that sense, we become the possession or the ‘property’ of the God Family. And all of this is made possible, then, through God’s Holy Spirit, dwelling in us. So rather than teaching the personage of the Holy Spirit, Matt. 28:19 teaches how God makes it possible, through His Spirit in us, to become a part of the Family of God.”

The point here is, we are not the property of a man. We are the property, or possession, of Jesus Christ who has purchased us with His own blood, as Acts 20:28 states, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

With these introductory comments, let us begin to show why we do not use Matthew 28:19 as a “formula,” by reviewing how the early apostles baptized the disciples.

The following are selected quotes from our free booklet, “Baptism—a Requirement for Salvation?”: (We recommend, however, that you read the entire booklet for a complete understanding.)

“One of the early baptisms is described in Acts 8:14–17. This passage… summarizes for us the exact ceremony of baptism leading to the gift of the Holy Spirit… ‘Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He [better: it—the Holy Spirit] had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

“Notice carefully that they first received or accepted the word of God. They heard the message, accepted it, believed it and repented of their sins. They were then baptized ‘in the name of the Lord.’ Following their baptism, the ministers prayed for them and laid their hands on them to set them apart for the holy purpose of following God and His way of life. It was THEN that they received the Holy Spirit. So we see that baptism in the name of Christ was sufficient. Some have said that this passage just describes the fact that the apostles baptized the people with Christ’s authority. Although certainly included, the Scriptural meaning is more encompassing.

“We must realize that in the phrase, ‘in the name of the Lord,’ the Greek word for ‘in’ is ‘eis,’ and the Greek word for ‘name’ is ‘onoma.’ The Greek word ‘eis’ can mean ‘in’ or ‘into,’ depending on the context. Scriptures such as Matthew 2:23; 18:6; Mark 2:1; 13:16, translate the Greek word ‘eis’ correctly as ‘in.’ Other passages, such as Matthew 2:11, 12 and 13 (AV), correctly translate the Greek word ‘eis’ as ‘into.’

“Additionally, the Greek word for ‘name,’ ‘onoma,’ can also mean, ‘possession.’ It would therefore be accurate to render the phrase, ‘baptism in the name of Christ,’ as ‘baptism into the possession of Christ.’ This phrase not only describes the fact that baptism must be done with Christ’s authority, it also shows the result of baptism—we become Christ’s property because He died for us and bought us with His blood (compare Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1).

“Now notice another revealing passage in Acts 19:1–6: ‘And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “INTO what then were you baptized?” So they said, “INTO John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.’

“These disciples had been baptized into the baptism of John. That baptism was not sufficient to receive the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism was an outward sign of inner repentance, but it did not include the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Another baptism—baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ—was necessary to receive the Holy Spirit. This passage implies that Christ’s baptism, which He accomplished through His apostles, was different from John’s baptism (compare again John 3:22; 4:1–3). Paul seemed to have known this distinction and that is why he asked the disciples, ‘Into WHAT [baptism] then were you baptized?’

“Let’s notice again the distinction. The disciples were baptized ‘into John’s baptism.’ The Greek word for ‘into’ is ‘eis.’ After they learned of the need of another baptism to receive the Holy Spirit, they were baptized ‘in [or into] the name of the Lord.’ In the Greek, the word for ‘in’ is also ‘eis,’ which can also mean ‘into.’ As they were baptized into John’s baptism, they were now baptized into the name or possession (‘onoma’ in Greek) of Christ, that is, into Christ’s baptism. This passage shows that baptism in, or into, the name of Christ is not only necessary, but is also sufficient, so that the Father will forgive our sins and give us His Holy Spirit.”

Later in the booklet, we point out the following:

“… there is no recorded biblical incident where the early apostles baptized people other than in, or into, the name of Jesus Christ. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, explained this very well in Romans 6:1–4:… ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.’

“Paul says that we are baptized into (Greek, ‘eis’) Christ and into His death. As Christ died a physical death, so we die spiritually in baptism. As Christ was literally resurrected from the dead, so we, too, are raised by the Father from the spiritually dead to live in newness of life. This part of the symbolism of baptism—death in the watery grave—clearly compares symbolically only with the death of Christ. Neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit—God’s power—died in any way. Only Christ, as a human being, died. Further, it is Christ’s death that is not only sufficient, but also necessary, for our forgiveness (Matthew 1:21). That is the reason why baptism into any other human being, be it Paul or Moses or John, would not have the effect of granting forgiveness and receiving God’s Holy Spirit. Their death did not, and could not, accomplish what Christ’s death accomplished…

“Let us also read… Colossians 2:11–13: ‘In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.’ When we are baptized into Christ—into His death—our old man dies, and we ‘put on’ Christ—the new man of God. Notice Galatians 3:27, ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’ Compare, too, Romans 13:14.

“Baptism pictures our death and burial in a watery grave in the same way that Christ died and was buried in a tomb. Baptism also pictures our resurrection from the dead and our leaving the watery grave, just as Christ was resurrected from the dead and left the tomb. Finally, it pictures walking in newness of life as we put on Christ, who is now living in us through His Holy Spirit…

“We read in Acts 2:38 that we must be baptized IN the name of Christ. Peter tells us to ‘Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ The Greek word for ‘in’ in this clause (‘in the name of Christ’) is ‘epi.’ The Greek word for ‘name’ is again, ‘onoma.’ Peter tells us, then, that we must be baptized ‘in’ the name, or possession, of Christ and then we will receive the Holy Spirit. After all, it is Christ who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, as Matthew 3:11 tells us: ‘[Christ] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ (Compare, too, Matthew 3:14.)

“We also read in Acts 10:48 that Peter commanded them ‘to be baptized in the name of the Lord.’ The Greek word for ‘in’ within the phrase, ‘in the name of the Lord’ is ‘en.’ We find here a biblical command, through the mouth of Peter, to be baptized ‘in the name of the Lord.’ In the passages in Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:48, discussed above, the additional thought is conveyed that baptism must be done with Christ’s authority. Only then, the Father—through Jesus Christ—will bestow on us the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; Titus 3:5–6).”

We continue to explain that Matthew 28:19, assuming the passage is genuine, does not, in any event, teach a mandatory “baptismal formula”:

“We have seen from the biblical record that the disciples were baptized in, or into, the name, or possession, of Jesus Christ. There is no biblical example where someone was actually baptized in, or into, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We read consistently that disciples were baptized in, or into, Christ, or in, or into, the name of Jesus Christ ONLY.

“We discussed Acts 8:14–17 and Acts 19:1–6 as proof of this assertion. Note that in those passages, the Greek term for ‘in the name of’ reads, ‘eis to onoma tou,’ exactly as it does in Matthew 28:19… The occasional claim that the expression “eis to onoma” only appears in Matthew 28:19, is therefore incorrect…

“If Christ had given His apostles a command in Matthew 28:19 to use a particular ‘formula’ during baptism, then His disciples would have been in flagrant violation of His command, as they never used that ‘formula.’ At least, there is no biblical record that they ever used it. Rather, we find that Paul told the disciples to be baptized in, or into, the name of Christ (compare Acts 19:1–6), not, in or into, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Remember, though, what happened after the persons came out of the watery grave. The baptizing apostles prayed over them, and they laid hands upon them (compare Acts 8:14–17). We pray to the Father, as Christ instructed us to do (compare Matthew 6:9), so in laying hands on the persons and praying over them, the apostles asked the Father to give those people the Holy Spirit to set them aside from the rest of the world…

“When a minister baptizes us in, or into, the name, or possession, of Jesus Christ, we recognize that we are baptized into Christ’s death. Note that the Bible nowhere states we are baptized into the death of the Father or the Holy Spirit. Such an analogy simply does not fit. It was ONLY Christ who died, and it was ONLY Christ who was resurrected, by the Fatherthrough the Holy Spirit. (Compare again Romans 6:1–13.)

“At the same time, it is also recognized that the Father gave Christ, His only begotten Son, to die for us; that the Father resurrected Christ; that the Father raises us up, spiritually speaking; and that the Father gives us the Holy Spirit. When we come out of the watery grave, God’s minister places his hands on our head and asks God the Father for the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit that emanates from both the Father and the Son. It is this Spirit of God flowing into us that enables us to walk in newness of life. We also recognize that, at that very moment, we enter into the Family of God as begotten—not yet born again—children of God the Father, and brothers and sisters of our elder Brother, Jesus Christ. In that sense, we become the possession, or the ‘property,’ of the God Family (Whatever Christ owns, the Father owns too, and vice versa; compare John 16:15). All of this is made possible, then, through God’s Holy Spirit. So, rather than teaching a particular baptismal formula, Matthew 28:19 teaches how God makes it possible for us, through the Holy Spirit in us, to become part of the Family of God.”

Genuine or not, the concept stated in Matthew 28:19, in referring during the entire baptism ceremony to the role and function of the Father and Jesus Christ, bestowing on the baptized person the gift of the Holy Spirit, is accurate and biblical. On the other hand, to teach that the baptizing minister must say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” is erroneous and unbiblical.  Note, too, that the wording in Matthew 28:19, “baptizing them,” is describing a process during the entire baptismal ceremony, not a particular one-time rendered “formula.”  Christ did NOT say; “You must baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” which is quite in contrast with the requirement stated in passages such as Acts 2:38, where we read, …“let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…”

Continuing from our booklet, “Baptism—a Requirement for Salvation?”:

“Notice Christ’s words in the parallel account in Mark 16:15–16: ‘And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe [and is not baptized] will be condemned [better translated: judged].”’ There is not even a hint of a baptismal formula here.”

We should also note that Mark 16:15-16 does not include the concept of baptizing someone “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost [or Spirit].” In the following installments, we will explain why this might be the case.

(To Be Continued)

Lead Writer: Norbert Link