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.