In the previous installment, we discussed the fact that Matthew 28:19 does not set forth a “formula,” which must be used when baptizing a person, and that the teaching 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 Ghost or Holy Spirit,” is erroneous and unbiblical. At the same time, we pointed out that “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.” We did not address the question in the previous installment whether the Scripture itself is genuine or not.
Before addressing this intriguing issue, let us point out that it would not be beyond possibility or comprehension that a “passage” was added by translators or copyists which was not in the original text—or, that a passage which was in the original text was subsequently deleted. God would allow this as He has given His people discerning minds, through His Holy Spirit, to note such rare occasions and to point them out to those who have willing and receptive hearts.
For instance, we explained in the previous installment that a passage in 1 John 5:7-8 WAS added, which should not be in the Bible. The words, “there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one,” are clearly a later addition to “prove” the Trinity. As we mentioned, the wording in Matthew 28:19 has also been used as proof for the unbiblical concept of the Trinity, and it is therefore only natural to ask the question whether this passage might also have been added.
Before exploring this question more deeply, let us address a situation as described in our free booklet, “Jesus Christ—a Great Mystery!,” where we pointed out that an important passage has been OMITTED from the original text, but which should BE in the Bible. In the box with the article titled, “How Did Christ Die?”, on pages 78 and 79, we explained:
“When we read Matthew’s account, in the New King James Bible, we will not find exactly how Christ died. The reason is that this translation omits a crucial verse, at the end of Matthew 27:49. Several translations, as well as many old manuscripts, have retained this missing verse. For instance, verses 49 and 50 read in the Moffat translation: ‘But the others said, “Stop, let us see if Elijah does come to save him!” (Seizing a lance, another pricked [better, pierced] his side, and out came water and blood.) Jesus again uttered a loud scream, and gave up his spirit.’”
We then quoted several translations which either contain this missing verse in the text, or in a footnote.
In a subsequent Q&A, elaborating on this issue, we stated the following:
“Do we know WHY the inspired passage in Matthew 27:49 was deleted from the sacred text? The deletion occurred when a spurious version of the book of Matthew, which was allegedly written by Barnabas, was found, which did not include the passage in Matthew 27:49. Note the following excerpts from Westcott and Hort:
“‘In a letter partially preserved in Syriac… [Severus] mentions the reading [of the missing passage] as having been vigorously debated at Constantinople in connexion with the matter of the patriarch Macedonius, when the… [spurious] copy of… Matthew’s Gospel said to have been discovered in Cyprus with the body of… Barnabas in the reign of Zeno (?477) was consulted and found not to contain the sentence in question … at Constantinople the holy Gospels were by command of the emperor censored,’ and the passage in question was deleted from the sacred text of the gospel according to Matthew.
“Of course, no emperor–nor ANY MAN, for that purpose–has any divine authority to add to or delete from the Word of God. And so, God saw to it that the missing passage WAS preserved–and anyone with an open mind can read it today in its original form.”
With this introduction, let us now explore the question as to whether or not it is possible that the passage in Matthew 28:19 might have been added and that it was not in the original inspired writings.
First, we want to cite quotes from commentaries and other sources advocating the authenticity of Matthew 28:19.
James Hastings, The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, art. “Baptism,” pp. 376, 380, 389, writes:
“There is no real ground for doubting the authenticity of Mt. 28:19 as part of Mt’s Gospel in its final form. But this is far from settling its historicity as a word of Jesus Himself… If it were undisputed, this would, of course, be decisive, but its trustworthiness is impugned on the grounds of textual criticism, literary criticism, and historical criticism…In connection with the name (which may mean one or more names) the question of formula arises. The earliest known formula is ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus,’ or some similar phrase; this is found in the Acts, and was perhaps still used by Hermas, but by the time of Justin Martyr [c. A.D. 100 –165] the triune formula had become general… In all extent versions the text is found in the traditional form, though it must be remembered that the African old Latin and… old Syriac versions are defective at this point.”
Please note several points:
First, Hastings says that the passage in Matthew 28:19 is clearly authentic, but confirms that we cannot say that these are words from Jesus Himself. But if Jesus did not utter those words, then the passage in Matthew 28:19 could clearly not be authentic. Then, Hastings admits that the phrase was not used as a formula by the early New Testament Church; that those who used it later understood it to be a “triune formula”; and that some versions do NOT contain this phrase (we will address this point later).
Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed., pp. 624-625, states:
“It is not necessary to assume that, when Jesus employed these words [i.e., “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”], He intended them as a formula to be used ever after. He merely used them as descriptive of the character of the baptism which He instituted… [The apostles] did not understand the words of Jesus in the great commission as prescribing a definite formula.”
Even though Berkhof concludes or at least does not question the authenticity of the passage, he likewise feels confident that it is not describing a baptismal formula.
Then, there are authors who conclude that the passage in Matthew 28:19 is authentic and a trinitarian formula for the reason that, as they point out, the concept of a trinitarian baptism is mentioned in early “Christian” writings.
J.R. Dummelow, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, writes on page 721:
“Although the Trinitarian formula in this passage is found in all manuscripts and versions, some recent critics regard it as an interpolation, or at least as an unauthentic utterance of Jesus. They argue that all the baptisms described in the N.T. are into the name of Jesus, not into the name of the Trinity (Ac 2:28; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5)… the formula, whether spoken by Jesus or not, dates certainly from the apostolic age. It was known to Clement of Rome (90 A.D.), who has three Trinitarian statements, mentioning Father, Son and Holy Spirit thrice in that order; it forms the basis of the earliest form of the Apostles’ Creed (cir. 100 A.D.); it is expressly quoted in the Didache (c. 100 A.D.); and is … alluded to by Justin Martyr (150 A.D.). It may be doubted whether any other single text of the N.T. has such early and satisfactory attention.”
The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. I, art. “The First Apology of Justin,” p. 183, quote Justin Martyr [A.D. 100-165] as saying: “For, in the name of God the Father and God of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water.”
Regarding the Apostles’ Creed, we state this in our free booklet, “The Authority of the Bible,” in chapter 10:
“We do not consider the ‘Apostles’ Creed’ as inspired—neither in the form used by the Roman Catholic Church, nor in its numerous variations used by Protestant churches. Some claim that the ‘Apostles’ Creed’ is the oldest of all the Christian creeds. It is considered the basis of all other creeds in non-Catholic churches. As fairy tales would have it, some allege that each of the apostles supplied one article to the Creed. This claim is totally without merit. The apostles had nothing to do with formulating this Creed.”
Later, we say in our booklet:
“The doctrinal problems with the ‘Apostles’ Creed’ are numerous.
“First of all, it clearly suggests the belief in the Trinity—a belief which is a human invention and which cannot be found in the Holy Scriptures… It also suggests that Christ went to ‘hell,’ while He was dead and in the grave for three days and three nights, apparently, so it is said, to preach to demons. This concept is false—Christ had NO CONSCIOUSNESS while in the grave, and He did not go anywhere.”
So, the fact that the wording in question might be found in the spurious and uninspired Apostles’ Creed is of no convincing evidentiary value. We will address the reference to Justin Martyr later. In any event, they describe what allegedly took place in certain “Christian” communities, without stating that this procedure was based on the passage in Matthew 28:19.
James Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II, art. “God”, “Distinction in the Godhead,” writes:
“This [command to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost] belongs to a comparatively late and suspected part of the Gospel… Now, the Didache shows us that we no sooner cross the frontier of the apostolic age than we find baptism into the Threefold Name in full possession of the field (Did. Vii 1,3). The tradition is continuous. It is taken up by Justin (Apol. 1.61), and Tertullian expressly tells us that the person baptized was dipped three times in recognition of the Threefold Name (Prax. 26). The practice, then, is at least very old.”
A person being “dipped” three times in recognition of the Trinity (others say, that according to the Didache, water may be poured three times on the head of the person if otherwise, not enough water was available) would most certainly not have experienced a proper baptism. The Didache is another spurious text which includes many false teachings. For instance, it teaches Sunday observation (which it wrongly calls the “Lord’s Day”) and “fasting” on Wednesday and Friday. Followers had to say the “Lord’s Prayer” three times a day (even though Jesus forbids such practice in Matthew 6:7).
The Apostolic Fathers, “Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians,” Longer Version, pp. 85-86, point out that Ignatius (who died about A.D. 107) quotes Jesus as having said, “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
We should state that Ignatius was a heretic. He advocated the keeping of Sunday, calling it the Lord’s Day, and he stated, not to keep the Sabbath “after the Jewish manner”, to “rejoice in the days of idleness.”
Irenaeus, who died in A.D. 202, wrote in his work, Against Heresies, Book III, chapter xvii:
“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 Ghost.’”
He also wrote in ch. 61, “Christian Baptism”: “For in the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water.”
To summarize at this point, none of the authors argue that the “trinitarian baptismal formula” was adopted from the wording in Matthew 28, as a passage being in existence; they only claim that it was the practice by certain Christian communities to use those words for baptism, while admitting the possibility that they were NOT said by Jesus Himself. That the practice of baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost might have been in existence as early as the second century is immaterial. Many teachings and practices had developed by that time which were not biblical.
That some authors or works, many of them of a heretical or spurious character themselves, quote Jesus as having said those words, or claim that the practice was based on Christ’s teachings, is also immaterial. Nowhere is a direct quote from Matthew 28:19 given. Nowhere do we read that an author by the end of the first or the beginning of the second century said: “Jesus said in the book of Matthew, at the end of the book, that we are to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Those who allude to the wording of the threefold trinitarian baptism, claiming that Jesus said those words, without quoting and directly referring to the book of Matthew as evidence for their claim, might as well have just referred to some “human tradition,” according to which Jesus allegedly stated these words. The suspicion, then, that these words were later added in order to confirm the “Christian” practice and belief, as did happen in the case of 1 John 5:7-8, ought to be addressed.
In the next installment, we will discuss the concerns authors and commentaries have raised as to the genuineness of Matthew 28:19.
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link