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We are grateful to the UFC for permission to publish the following paper in full.  We believe readers will find it an immensely valuable theological and practical document.  It was prepared for their General Assembly in 2001.

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In view of the fact that Baptism has its immediate origin in the command of Christ as found in Matthew's Gospel it seemed appropriate to begin there: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded"(28.19,20).

An important matter reflecting on the authenticity and therefore the authority of these words should be noted. Some scholars regard "the direct institution of Baptism through Jesus a it is recounted in Matthew 28, (as) historically untenable". The arguments put forward are mostly of a subjective nature. We are satisfied that the command to baptise is authentic and has its origin in Jesus. Certainly there is no textual evidence against the verses in question. 

Because the traditional understanding of the Commission has been questioned and various interpretations have been given, it will be helpful to take a more careful look at the Commission in so far as it relates to baptism.

1. Disciples

Baptism has to do with the making of disciples. Precisely what the relationship is between baptism and the making of disciples has been much debated.  Do we make disciples through baptism?  Do we baptise those who have become disciples? This raises an even more fundamental question. What is a disciple?

Originally, in the Greek world, a disciple was a man who bound himself to someone else to acquire practical and theoretical knowledge. In the Hebrew world a disciple was a man who bound himself to the Torah with the Jewish rabbi as his teacher of the Torah. This gave rise to a variety of Rabbinic schools and to rival groups of disciples, each centred upon a teacher. Within the New Testament the word 'disciples' is used of (a) the disciples of John the Baptist (Matt 11.2), (b) the disciples of Moses (John 9.28), (c) the disciples of the Pharisees (Mark 2.18) and (d) the disciples of Jesus. With respect to this latter group the word is used to describe both an inner group of disciples, i.e. the Twelve and, in a much looser sense, of a larger group which followed him during part of his earthly ministry.

It is important to establish that there was a radical difference between discipleship as it related to Jesus and discipleship as it operated in either the Greek world or the world of the Rabbis: "there is a marked difference between a life dedicated to study at the feet of a Rabbi, in which the aim was an increasing knowledge of the Law, which would eventually 'qualify' a student himself to become a rabbi, and the life of the Christian disciple (often not markedly studious by nature!) called to personal loyalty to Jesus in His way" (WD Davies). The Sermon on the Mount, Cambridge 1966, p 133.   IH Marshall says much the same when he observes that discipleship "involved personal allegiance (to Jesus) expressed in following him and giving him an exclusive loyalty… Such an attitude went well beyond the normal pupil/teacher relationship and gave the word 'disciple' a new sense. "The Illustrated Bible Dictionary vol 1, IVP 1980. The disciple of Jesus not only learns from Jesus he learns about Jesus. Whereas in the world of the Jewish rabbi prospective disciples sought out a teacher, Jesus called his disciples. Becoming a disciple committed a man not only to a learning process but also to a life of unconditional sacrifice (Matt 10.37; Luke 14.26f) for the whole of life (Matt 10.24f; John11.16).Nowhere is this more clear than in Matt 16.24f where Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." It is well to remember that Jesus warned of the need for a man or woman to sit down and count the cost before becoming a disciple.

Too often the word 'disciple' has been defined solely in terms of its Greek or rabbinic background. The result has been an over-simplistic equation, i.e. disciple = learner. This has provided a basis for some to advocate a wholly indiscriminate baptism, both of adults and children, the only requirement being a willingness to learn and not a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus. There is a failure here to recognise that Jesus poured a whole new meaning into discipleship in so far as it related to him –as he did with everything he touched. If indiscriminate baptism is to be a possibility, biblically, we must seek grounds other than the equation, disciple equals learner.

Of course, there are spurious disciples as there is spurious faith (John 2.23-25) but there can be no question as to the kind of disciples Jesus had in mind when he gave the command to "make disciples…baptising them…".

  1. make disciples

We must now ask what it means to     make disciples. A number of alternative approaches have been suggested. According to some we make disciples either by baptising and teaching them, or by baptising them (with the teaching following). By that is meant that baptism is the effective instrument in the making of disciples. The person baptised is a disciple, the person not baptised is not a disciple. Baptism becomes the crucial thing. Others have argued that while baptism is not the effective instrument in the making of a disciple it does have a role to play. The role it plays will depend partly on whether baptism is primarily an expression of grace or faith. According to Beasley-Murray "it is when a hearer believes and is baptised that he becomes a full disciple; which is the same as saying that a disciple is made such in baptism by faith." The emphasis here seems to be on baptism as an expression of faith. Moreover baptism seems to be essential for full   discipleship, which raises the question as to whether it is legitimate to make a distinction between full and partial discipleship. This would not appear to be the case according to Jesus' teaching on discipleship which is not at all conditional on baptism. If on the other hand baptism is primarily an expression of grace it is not difficult to see how baptism may have a role to play as a means of grace. We are not made disciples through baptism but we are assisted in our discipleship through baptism.             

      There is another approach possible. Those who have embraced a strong doctrine of the grace of God may struggle a little in coming to terms with a commission which lays upon them the responsibility of making disciples. It would be difficult to quibble with such people when they insist that it is God and not man who makes disciples. We can however respond in two ways. In the first place we can point out that we are "workers together with God" (1 Cor 3.9; 2 Cor 6.1). There is a strong element of mystery in so many aspects of our labouring for God, e.g. in the ministry of preaching. So, at the very least, we can say that God uses his people in the making of disciples. In the second place we can point out that for the Reformers our contribution to the making of disciples was in fact through the preaching of the Gospel. John Calvin states, "The Lord, when he sent out the apostles, gave them the command to preach the Gospel and to baptise those who believe unto forgiveness of sins (Matt 28.19)." Institutes of the Christian Religion IV 6, Westminster Press 1977, Vol 2, p1058. See also JM Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith , IVP 1986, p 653: "Jesus not only commands us to evangelise, he also tells us how to do it. First, we are to make disciples of all nations. We are to preach the Gospel to them so that through the power of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit they are converted from sin to Christ and there after follow him as their Lord…"      

On this basis it is simply assumed in the Great Commission that disciples are made through the proclamation of the Gospel which is received through faith. As Beasley-Murray rightly observes: "the kerygma precedes the didache, the offer of grace before the ethics of discipleship, and it is when the gospel of grace is received that the ethics of gratitude may be learned and applied. "Baptism in the New Testament, Paternoster 1962, pp 89f. So, those who become disciples, through the proclamation of the gospel, are then baptised, and after they are baptised they devote themselves to the teaching of the apostles. That is precisely the pattern we find on the very first occasion that the Great Commission was put into operation, as recorded in the Book of Acts: the preaching of the Gospel, the response of faith, baptism, devotion to the apostles' teaching (2.14-47). Unless we adopt the position that the apostles misunderstood Jesus and got it wrong we must conclude that the correct exegesis of Matthew 28.19 is to be found in Acts 2. The apostles were certainly in a better position to rightly understand Jesus' meaning than we are two thousand years later!

What was true on the Day of Pentecost was true throughout the New Testament era. How did the apostles make disciples of the Gentiles (i.e. the nations)? They did so by preaching the Gospel. The Lord told Ananias concerning Saul, "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…and before the people of Israel"(Acts9.15).It was this same man, Saul become Paul, who subsequently cried out, "Woe tome if I do not preach the Gospel" and who also informs us that he hardly baptised anyone (1 Cor 1.14). That is not to detract from the importance of baptism but to emphasise that in Paul's view it was not the essential thing in making disciples.

  1. in the name of (eis to onoma)

      While there is nothing explicit in Matthew's Great Commission which adds decisively to our understanding of the essential meaning of baptism we have   discovered that   baptism is inseparably bound up with costly  discipleship. It is for those who are committed, without reserve, to the lordship of Christ. We have also considered the commission as it was understood and implemented by the Twelve in the Book of Acts, i.e. the pattern in Acts anticipated by this commission: the proclamation of the Gospel, the response of faith, baptism, forgiveness, the gift of the Spirit, and devotion to the apostles' teaching. Baptism is inseparable from these ingredients. Moreover it is clear that the making and baptising of disciplesis unaffected by distinctions of race or nationality, and that the inclusion of 'all nations' is the fulfillment God's promise to Abraham and the outworkingof his covenant purposes.      

We can now go one step further and consider the significance of baptism "in the name of". The first thing for consideration is the use of the phrase in Rabbinic literature. Beasley-Murray gives three illustrations taken from Strack-Billerbeck .Baptism inthe New Testament , Paternoster 1972, pp 90f; Strack-Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testamentaus Talmud  und Midrasch, vol. 1, 1922, pp 1054f. (1) Heathen slaves on entry into a Jewish house were compelled to receive a baptism "in the name of slavery", i.e. to become slaves. Slaves being set free were to be immersed "in the name of freedom", i.e. to become free. On this analogy baptism in the name of God "sets the baptised in a definite relation to God; Father Son and Holy Spirit become to the baptised what their name signifies".(2)An offering is slaughtered in the name of six things, i.e. with respect to its intention, e.g. for the benefit of the offerer, for the sake of God, with regard to the altar fires, in view of the sweet savour. Hence a person is baptised "for the sake of God, to make the baptised over to God". Hence 'in the name of' equals 'with respect to, for the benefit of, for the sake of'.(3) A Samaritan must not circumcise an Israelite because the Samaritans circumcise" in the name of Mount Gerizim", with the obligation of venerating the God of the Samaritans who is worshipped there.

It is worth extrapolating from this Rabbinic understanding that circumcision in the name of 'Mount Gerizim' points to 'obligation'  and that an offering slaughtered in the name of signifies 'for the sake of'. According to these parallels baptism in the name of the Trinity signifies 'obligation to' and 'for the sake of' the Trinity in whose name the disciple is baptised. Perhaps, however, the most significant lesson is to be learned from the freeing of a slave through circumcision in the name of freedom. By this parallel the Trinity becomes to the person baptised all that is signified by the name of the Trinity. Baptism then represents the deepest, most intimate and most profound relationship between the disciple and God. We shall return to this shortly under the heading 'the Father, the on and the Holy Spirit'.

The second thing for consideration has to do with the use of the preposition 'in'. This translates the Greek word       eis which basically means "into". Luke in his Book of Acts uses this same phrase ("in the name") four times in connection with baptism, but uses three different prepositions (eis, into; en, in; epi, upon) all of which are translated "in". There is another important difference. hereas Luke seems to use his three prepositions synonymously, Matthew seems never to confuse them. Prepositions and Theology inthe Greek New Testament, Paternoster's Dictionary of Dictionary of New Testament TheologyNew Testament Carson comments: 


"Those who become disciples are to be baptised       eis ('into', NIV margin) the name of the Trinity. Matthew, unlike some NT writers, apparently avoids the confusion of eis (strictly 'into') and en (strictly 'in'…) common in Hellenistic Greek ; and if so, the preposition 'into' strongly suggests a coming-into-relationship-with or a coming-under-the Lordship-of (cf. Allen; Albright and Mann)…It is a sign both of entrance nto Messiah's covenant community and of pledged submission to his lordship."The Expositor's Bible Commentary 


This understanding of eis confirms, therefore, a parallel with ideas present in Rabbinical literature, especially the idea of a deep and profound relationship into which a person enters when he or she becomes a disciple.      

  1. Baptism into "the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"

One of the reasons why some scholars question the authenticity of Jesus' commission in Matthew is because it represents a developed understanding of the Trinity, an understanding that must have been lacking so soon after the resurrection. It is argued that "Matthew is reflecting the life of the later church in which he lived". When, however, we speak of an understanding that must have been lacking we must also ask, "Lacking to whom?" Lacking to the disciples, certainly; but lacking to Jesus? Presumably our glorified Lord fully understood what he was saying. He said many hard (to understand) things during his earthly ministry on the basis that after the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, and given time for reflection and further revelation to the apostles and prophets, his redeemed and enlightened followers would enter into the truths which earlier they had been taught. Whether or not these words of Jesus are authentic is determined not by the understanding of the disciples (who, for example, persistently failed to grasp his teaching about the cross) but by the understanding of Jesus.

We may also take into account that we have very little record of Jesus' conversation with his disciples during the period between the resurrection and the ascension. It is difficult to believe that they learned nothing new from the Master. He may have had things to say to them which prepared the way for some understanding of this great commission. Of course, that is an argument from silence. It is equally an argument from silence to insist that they had no understanding. We cannot know. But it is of little consequence. What we can be sure of is that further reflection and further revelation enabled the early Christians to enter into something of the truth of Jesus words.

In the light of this it would be appropriate at this point to bring to bear on our studies those elements of the apostolic teaching which are relevant. We do so on the basis that the apostolic teaching as we have it in the New Testament represents the mind of Christ. To discover at least some hints as to what is meant by baptism in the name of the Trinity we may safely consult the New Testament letters. Indeed, that is what Christ intended we should do, the Christ who promised his apostles that when the Holy Spirit was given he would lead them into all truth.

Before we look at the significance of baptism into the name of the three persons of the Trinity it may be helpful to start with a statement which is normally accepted by Christians generally as well as by Christian scholars. The statement is this. Whatever else baptism does or does not signify it does signify the grace of God. It points to God's action in Christ and through the Holy Spirit. Wayne Grudem, himself a Baptist, has stated, "Even the most conscientious Baptist would not object to calling baptism 'a testament to inner grace'. "Systematic Theology Not only is that important for the definition ofa sacrament as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace" Bo it is also an interpretation of baptism as a divine ordinance, even within the Gospels. It signifies the grace of God which enables the repentance and forgiveness of sinners.

One further observation. Several exegetes have drawn attention to the fact that the word 'name' here is singular. Baptism as Jesus presents it is baptism into the one name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, i.e. into the name of the Triune God. This will have some significance when we look at the terminology as we have it in the Book of Acts. i.e. baptism in the name of Jesus. The Son of God does not act independently of the Father and the Spirit but on behalf of and in the closest and most intimate co-operation and in complete harmony with the Father and the Spirit. The Father is in Christ and Christ is in the Father (John 17.21) and both are made real to us through the Spirit. Baptism in the name of Jesus is   baptism in the name of the Trinity. According to Calvin, "There is good reason here for the explicit mention of Father, Son, and Spirit, for the force of baptism cannot otherwise be appreciated unless it begin from the free mercy of the Father who reconciles us to Himself through the only-begotten Son. Then Christ himself advances into the midst, with the sacrifice of His death, and at last there comes the Holy Spirit also, through whom He cleanses and regenerates us all, and finally makes us partakers of all His benefits. So we see that God is not truly known, unless our faith distinctly conceives three Persons in one Essence; and the efficacy and fruit of Baptism flow from thence: God the Father adopts us in His Son, and through the Spirit reforms us into righteousness, once we are cleansed from the stains of our flesh. "A Harmony of the Gospels, Matthew-Luke      

  1. Baptism as it relates to the Father

Baptism as it relates to the Father is: (a) an affirmation of the love which the Father had for the world whereby he sent his one and only Son for our redemption (John 3,16); (b) an affirmation of that salvation which the Father had determined from all eternity (Eph1.3f); (c) an affirmation that the Father has chosen us in Christ, that he should be our God and we should be his people. Moreover, it is not only an affirmation of the covenant which the Father has entered into with us, it is a sign and seal of that covenant and of its fulfilment. It is an affirmation, sign and seal not only of the covenant which the Father has established (the objective aspect) it is also an affirmation, sign and seal that we have been brought personally into the covenant (the subjective aspect). It is an affirmation that the covenant is a reality and that it is a reality for me.      

Some Definitions  

1. As an affirmation baptism is asserting the fact of the covenant. It is stating that the covenant is a reality. It is a declaration that the covenant is true, and that it is true for the person baptised. 

2. As a sign baptism is a permanent, spiritual indicator or mark which cannot be erased and which publicly indicates that the person so baptised is within the covenant of God.

3. As a seal baptism is God's mark of authority and authenticity whereby he declares, "This is my possession."  

      Baptism as it relates to the Father represents the initiative of the Father in our salvation, as Paul puts it in Rom 9.16: "It does not depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. "It represents the grace of God the Father as well as that of the Son and the Spirit. It represents the salvation that is by grace through faith, where even faith is a gift. It represents the truth that from beginning to end salvation is of God and not of man. There is not a single element in our salvation whereby we can say, "That was my contribution." We are co-workers with God once weave been brought into a saving relationship with him, but not before. Before his great salvation has been wrought in our lives we are without God and without hope; we are enemies of God, children of his wrath, dead in trespasses and sins and there is nothing we can do to please him (Eph 2.1-3; Rom 5.6-11;8.8). We have no part to play in effecting our own salvation: "Thou must save and Thou alone" (Toplady).     

It is generally accepted that baptism is an affirmation, a sign and a seal of the grace of God the Father.  In case it is thought that we have extended the meaning of baptism to cover the Father's initiative and the Father's covenant in addition to the Father's grace it is important to make the point that both the initiative and the covenant are essential elements of grace. The covenant whereby God brings men and women into a relationship with himself, making them his people, is an activity of grace. And such an activity of grace is dependant upon the divine initiative. God in his grace necessarily takes the initiative. In both the divine initiative and the divine covenant we see God the Father in his grace working out his saving purposes. Such an initiative and such a covenant are not extra to grace they are integral to grace, of which baptism is the sign and seal.

It may be helpful to point out here that in the New Testament the Father is most frequently referred to as 'God' ,e.g. the blessing of 2 Cor 13.14 speaks of "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit".

  1. Baptism as it relates to the Son

Baptism as it relates to the Son is: (a) an affirmation that all the Father's gracious promises for the purposes of redemption have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ his Son;

(b) an affirmation of the centrality of Christ in redemption, i.e. that "there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts4.12); (c) an affirmation that the sinlessness, obedience, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the means by which men and women are rescued from sin and reconciled to God; (d) an affirmation that through the death and resurrection of Christ the power of sin is destroyed and the believer raised to new life in Christ.

Baptism as it relates to the Son represents the grace of Christ in his coming for our sakes, his dying for our sakes and his rising for our sakes, together with all other aspects of his redeeming activity. He was not an unwilling partner in the work of redemption. It is not as though an uncaring Father sent him irrespective of his own will in the matter. The Father loved his Son and suffered the pain of his Son ,the Son loved his Father and suffered the pain of his Father. They were in total harmony as to what had to be done in order to achieve the divine purpose for fallen man. It was the Son of God who loved us and gave himself up for us (Gal 2.20), the Son of God who loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5.25), the Son of God who laid down his life for us thereby showing the true nature of love (1 John 3.16). Just as the Father's action was sheer grace, grace upon grace; so the Son's action was sheer grace, grace upon grace. Baptism in the name of Christ signifies this grace.

      It will be seen from the above that baptism is intimately bound up with the death and resurrection of Christ. Now here is that made more clear than in Rom 6.3f where we are told by Paul that baptism is baptism into his death in order that, as he was raised from the dead, we also might live a new life. The real baptism is Christ's death and resurrection. Water baptism is but the outward sign of which Christ's death and resurrection are the reality. The metaphorical use in Mark 10.37ff 37ff where he speaks of his own baptism, i.e. "the baptism I am baptised with", and in Luke 12.49f when he tells the disciples, "I have a baptism to undergo" is the primary use.      

Water baptism signifies Christ's   death and resurrection and it signifies our death and resurrection. It signifies our identification with his death and resurrection. Through baptism we are baptised into his death, and through his resurrection we are raised to new life. It is well to remember that here also there is a primary and a secondary signification. Of primary importance is that water baptism signifies the death and resurrection of Christ. Of secondary importance is that water baptism signifies our death and resurrection; the second is entirely dependent upon the first. Bromiley puts this particularly well.

  "It is an unfortunate reversal of the gospel message, or at least of the gospel emphasis, if in baptism we allow our own dying and rising again to occupy centre stage and push the dying and rising of Christ out into the wings. We are not to think that ours is the real baptism, and then apply the term in a transferred or figurative sense to the reconciling work of the Son. The ruth is that the reconciling work of the Son is the original baptism and our own dying and rising again with Christ is the copy and reflection. The proper baptism declared in every baptism is the vicarious dying and rising again of Christ in which expiation is made for sin, reconciliation is effected, new life is inaugurated, the covenant of God with man is restored, the election of the Father is fulfilled, and the divine purpose of grace is thus realised in spite of man's sin and fall." Children of Promise      

  1. Baptism as it relates to the Holy Spirit

Baptism as it relates to the Holy Spirit is: (a) an affirmation that what the Son has achieved, supremely through his death and resurrection, the Spirit applies through his power and presence; (b) an affirmation of the cleansing and regeneration of those who believe in the Son by the Spirit;  (c) an affirmation of the Spirit's baptism of the believer into Christ and his body (1 Cor 12. 13).

The work of redemption and reconciliation which is at the heart of the covenant of grace is as much the work of the Spirit as it is of the Son and the Father. Wherever we cut the cake we find the same harmony, the same unity of purpose, and the same interpersonal involvement. Father, Son and Spirit each had their equally   important role to play in creation, and each had their equally important role to play in redemption. Jesus was   conceived by the Spirit (Matt 1.18,20);during his ministry he was empowered by the Spirit (Luke 4.1,18; Matt 12.28);through the Spirit he offered himself as a sacrifice without spot to God (Heb 9.14); by the Spirit he was raised from the dead (Rom 8.11).And it is only in so far as the preaching of the good news of Christ is empowered by the Spirit that it is effective in the minds and hearts of the hearers ( 1 Cor2.4; 1 Thess1.5).

We have already distinguished between the primary, objective work of Christ for the believer and the secondary, subjective work of Christ in the believer. This secondary, subjective work is the particular responsibility of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who applies the work of Christ so that it becomes real and relevant to the individual. As Bromiley says, "Baptism is not just any baptism; it is my   baptism. It is my own entry by the word and Spirit into Christ's victorious work. It is my own identification with him, so that I can now say with the apostle: 'He loved me and gave himself for me.' (Gal 2.20)" Children of Promise   Yet even here the subjective depends on the objective. It is only through the regenerative work of God the Holy Spirit that we are able to enjoy the benefits of Christ's death, and it is this regenerative work of the Spirit that is signified in water baptism.

One last thing. If it is the Father who is the initiator of the covenant and the Son who is the mediator of the covenant, it is the Spirit who seals God's people as his own within the covenant (2 Cor 2.22; Eph 1.13f). All this is contained within the Bible's understanding of baptism.

  1. In the name of the Trinity (Matthew 28.19) or in the name of Jesus (Acts 2.38)

At first sight it does seem strange that shortly before his ascension Jesus commissioned his apostles to baptise "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"  whereas days later Peter is found exhorting his audience to be baptised "in the name of Jesus Christ". Throughout Acts it is Peter's example that is followed. Cornelius was also baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, and the Samaritans(8.16)andthe Ephesians (19.5) in the name of the Lord Jesus. Saul was to be baptised" calling on his name" (22.16).

Some have 'solved' this seeming discrepancy by arguing that Matthew's account of the Commission represents a later development, i.e. it represents the practice of the church at a subsequent period in time. According to this approach there was no reference to a Trinitarian baptism by Jesus before his ascension. The Trinitarian 'formula' came to be used increasingly as the church developed its theology. If, as some have argued (e.g. Lewis An ), Jesus commissioned his disciples to baptise in his name and not in the name of the Trinity, the change represents a later departure by the church from Jesus' express instruction, a departure so radical that it not only requires but demands a satisfactory explanation. In fact there is no evidence either that the initial commission required baptism in the nameof Jesus, or that the initial commission was not in the name of the Trinity. It is simply supposition.

It is significant that those who see a discrepancy frequently speak of  'the Trinitarian formula' and contrast it with the 'formula 'as we have it on the lips of Peter at Pentecost and in connection with other references to baptism in the Book of Acts. But the word' formula' seems to be particularly inappropriate to describe either words used by Jesus or words used by the Apostles in those very early days of the church. It is a loaded word the very use of which has the effect of pre-empting discussion. It predetermines the outcome. Carson comments, "The term 'formula' is tripping us up. There is no evidence…that the church regarded Jesus' command as a baptismal formula, a liturgical form the ignoring of which was a breach of canon law. The problem has too often been cast in anachronistic terms. E Riggenbach (Der Trinitarische Taufbefehl Matt 28.19 [Gütersloh:C Bertelsmann, 1901]) points out that as late as the Didache, baptism in the name of Jesus and baptism in the name of the Trinity coexisted side by side: the church was not bound by precise 'formulas' and felt no embarrassment at a multiplicity of them…"The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Whereas Carson is commenting on the Trinitarian 'formula' Calvin makes a similar point commenting on the 'formula' in Acts. He asks the question, "was Peter entitled to change the form prescribed by Christ?" In answer he says, "In the first place we must hold that Christ did not give the apostles magic words to be used for incantation… Then again I maintain that Peter is not speaking in this passage of the form of baptism but simply declaring that the whole efficacy of baptism is contained in Christ; although Christ cannot be grasped by faith without the Father by whom He was given to us and the Spirit by whom he renews and sanctifies us… The answer consists simply in this ,that it is not a fixed formula that is being dealt with here, but the recalling of the faithful to Christ, in whom alone we obtain all that baptism prefigures to us." The Acts of the Apostles 1-13Expositor's Bible Commentary Expositor's Bible

It is an assumption that either Jesus or Peter or Paul were giving precise words to be used at baptism. We cannot be sure. But it is just as likely that they were indicating the significance of baptism. Christian baptism signifies, on the one hand, the redemption which is the work of all three Persons of the Trinity and, on the other hand, that Jesus Christ is the door through which the believer passes to enter into that redemption. Father, Son and Spirit have decreed that it is through the name of Jesus that salvation is bestowed upon men and women.

Presumably the same can be said of theLord's Supper. We are told, for example that Jesus "took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, 'Drink from it all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins '"(Matt 26.27f). Are Jesus' words here a 'formula' which must be used prior to the distribution of wine at the Lord's Supper? If when distributing the wine we do not use the phrase "blood of the covenant" – a crucial explanatory element of the meal – is there a conflict? The word 'formula' is inappropriate.    


Other Sections of the Report an be reached by clicking on the following Chapter headings:   

Origins of Water Baptism

The Baptism of Children: Old Testament Evidence

The Baptism of Children: New Testament Evidence 

The Baptism of Children: Extra-Biblical Evidence

The Proper Subjects for Baptism 

The Mode of Baptism 

The Way Forward


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