Matthew 28:19 Is Genuine

We were asked to have a look at an online version of a 1961 pamphlet titled "A Collection of the Evidence For and Against the Traditional Wording of the Baptismal Phrase in Matthew 28:19," by one A. Ploughman. The point of this little pamphlet was apparently to take an argument out of the traditional Trinitarian arsenal by suggesting that this verse was altered, and originally referred to baptizing in the name of Jesus (as found in other parts of the NT).

I would begin by noting that our own study of the Trinity makes absolutely no use of Matthew 28:19. This verse is not particularly useful for Trinitarian defense as it theoretically could support any view -- modalism, even tritheism, could be permitted from this verse, for it only lists the members of the Triune Godhead with absolutely no explanation as to their exact relationship.

Verse 18 would indicate that the Father is in a functionally superior relationship to the Son, but that says nothing about an ontological relationship; though one may justly argue that it is very unlikely (but not impossible) that all three would be named together if there were not an ontological equality, lest God's glory somehow be compromised.

So in a real sense, arguments about the authenticity of Matthew 28:19 don't serve much of a purpose in this context. However, we have been asked to look at these arguments and offer comment, so we will do so.

Ploughman's work is filled with quoted opinions lacking elaboration, and closes with a number of threats against those who dare to rupture the pure Word of God. The biggest issue for Ploughman, though, was that this, again, is the only verse that relates the triune baptismal formula.

Now we have addressed this briefly elsewhere, saying: " worst this is merely a case where the apostles, on their own initiative, compressed the baptismal formula. But why should this be a problem? Are we bound by ritual constraints this way? To baptize in a name means to baptize in the authority of the named; the Son derives his authority from the Father, who also has authority over the Spirit." Ploughman adds the implication that it is inconceivable that the disciples would disobey this "command" from Jesus to baptize in the Triune Godhead and immediately move to the "Jesus only" formula.

I would now add that one may question whether the triune composition was intended to be a "formula" at all in the sense supposed. To be sure it has a certain structure, but it offers no instructions saying, "This is a formula to be used over baptism." At most it tells the disciples what authority they have to teach and to baptize. As Gundry puts it -- Matthew commentary, 546 -- the meaning is essentially, to baptize in fundamental reference to the three, and is placed in contrast to the authority for baptism placed in John the Baptist; cf. 3:16, 12:28.

That baptizing in the name of Jesus alone was practiced means nothing and has no relation at all to the commission as it stands. The disciples still went forward doing things -- teaching and baptizing -- with Triune authority; but that does not mean the same thing as someone being baptized into Jesus, with his authority implied as the mediator of the new covenant.

Now all of that aside, Ploughman apparently thinks that Matthew 28:19 was worked over to make Jesus and the Spirit equal in prominence to the Father, but really, aside from other considerations in the article linked above, the "Jesus only" baptismal formula does that all on its own. The theology of baptism, and the "name of Jesus" reference in Acts 2:21, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved," hearkens back to a prophecy in Joel 2:32, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered..." Jesus is no more or no less divine when named alone in this context than he is when paired with Father and Spirit; and of course we have the Triune collection in other contexts (1 Cor. 12:4-6, 2 Cor. 13:13, 1 Pet. 1:2, etc), and the formula as Matthew offers it is also found in the Didache (7:1-3), which some date prior to 70 (though Ploughman dismisses it in one paragraph as a later product, 80-150 AD, full of "gross errors" that would later be abused by the Catholic church).

Nevertheless, what Ploughman thinks may have been created to support an "emerging doctrine" was actually far from needed. His comment that "the entire weight of proving the Trinity has of late come to rest on Matthew 28:19" reveals a patent error -- and at best suggests that those using Matthew 28:19 as such a bedrock were no more qualified to do so than Ploughman.

Ploughman next takes up the gauntlet of textual criticism, and in that arena is obliged to admit that no manuscript lacks Matt. 28:19 as it stands, then resort to speculating that we don't have manuscripts old enough, and that maybe scribes added it later:

"If Greek Manuscripts of Matthew's gospel were our only source for establishing a reading of the text, then there would be no need for further study, as all extant manuscripts contain the name-phrase 'baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.'...However, it must be remembered that we have no extant (currently known to exist) manuscripts that were written in the first, second or even third centuries. There is a gap of over three hundred years between the actual writing of Matthew and our earliest manuscript copies."

Skeptics and critics like Bart Ehrman use the same reasoning to suppose that the NT used to not have other doctrines as well. If Ploughman isn't careful, he'll open the door to the same arguments that would take away more than he bargained for, "textually criticizing" Jesus himself right out of saviorhood and turning him into a Cynic sage or a mere teacher.

The best Ploughman can offer otherwise is comments from specialists stating that some mss. of Matthew are missing the last pages (which is what we would expect to be lost in any event from any ancient document, and thus proves nothing at all).

Ploughman next shifts to patristic evidence (though in the manner of Mormons, says that this was a time of "rampant apostasy"), beginning with Eusebius. He begins by quoting "the editor of the Christadelphian Monatshefte" as saying that "Eusebius among his many other writings compiled a collection of the corrupted texts of the Holy Scriptures, and 'the most serious of all the falsifications denounced by him, is without doubt the traditional reading of Matthew 28:19.' "

Now this would be quite helpful and astonishing, if Eusebius really did this; may we see it? Er, no:

Further inquiry has failed to pinpoint the exact compilation referred to, as Ludwig Knupfer, the Editor, has since written, "through events of war I have lost all of my files and other materials connected with the magazine." But various authorities mention a work entitled 'Discrepancies in the Gospels,' and another work entitled 'The Concluding Sections of the Gospels.'

Well, isn't that convenient.

Such is the inside story; what of the outside story? Here Ploughman thought to have unearthed gold, for he found a study by F. C. Conybeare back in 1902 declaring as follows:

Eusebius cites this text (Matt. 28:19) again and again in works written between 300 and 336, namely in his long commentaries on the Psalms, on Isaiah, his Demonstratio Evangelica, his Theophany his famous history of the Church, and in his panegyric of the emperor Constantine. I have, after a moderate search in these works of Eusebius, found eighteen citations of Matthew 28:19, and always in the following form: 'Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I commanded you.'... Eusebius is not content merely to cite the verse in this form, but he more than once comments on it in such a way as to show how much he set store by the words 'in my name'. Thus, in his Demonstratio Evangelica he writes thus (col. 240, p. 136): 'For he did not enjoin them "to make disciples of all the nations" simply and without qualification, but with the essential addition "in his name". For so great was the virtue attaching to his appellation that the Apostle says, "God bestowed on him the name above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth." It was right therefore that he should emphasize the virtue of the power residing in his name but hidden from the many, and therefore say to his Apostles, "Go ye, and make disciples of all the nations in my name".

Impressive? Not really, and this is an excellent example of why textual critics will only give ground when the internal evidence alerts their noses. Conybeare was clearly unaware that quotation methods in antiquity were rather looser than they were even in 1902. Does Matthew 28:19 seems amiss? So does Phil. 2:9, which is also "quoted" above, though not 100% "accurately," to wit:

God bestowed on him the name above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth...
God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth...

So before one gets too excited, it might be best to, say, do a comparison of how well Eusebius and others do their other quotes. As it is Conybeare admits that Eusebius did quote the passage "right" in three very late and "controversial" works (why they are "controversial" and how that particularly affects Matt. 28:19 is not stated, but another source claims that their authorship is disputed), which makes the evidence rather equivocal unless we beg the question of a conspiracy to begin with.

Other than Eusebius, a document titled De Rebaptismate is cited, but it is not clear that it is alluding Matthew or one of the "name of Jesus" only verses, and so hardly constitutes any evidence. Origen is cited as doing this by Conybeare:

In Origen's works, as preserved in the Greek, the first part of the verse is cited three times, but his citation always stops short at the words 'the nations'; and that in itself suggests that his text has been censored, and the words which followed, 'in my name', struck out.

How this "suggests" any such thing is one of those mysteries of liberal scholarship, but one might point out that the message to "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations", stopped at just that point, is hardly inappropos for a teacher like Origen, and surely enough served his purposes whereas the rest (whether it was Triune or not) would not necessarily have been useful.

It is then noted, "In the pages of Clement of Alexandria a text somewhat similar to Matthew 28:19 is once cited, but from a gnostic heretic named Theodotus, and not as from the canonical text, but as follows: 'And to the Apostles he gives the command: Going around preach ye and baptize those who believe in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.'"

Well, that is rather interesting, for had Elaine Pagels been around, she'd have objected to Conybeare for hinting that there was any problem with quoting a Gnostic. As it is, this may or may not be another case of loose quotation.

But finally we have the, er, evidence of Justin Martyr:

Justin...quotes a saying of a proof of the necessity or regeneration, but falls back upon the use of Isaiah and apostolic tradition to justify the practice of baptism and the use of the triune formula. This certainly suggests that Justin did not know the traditional text of Matthew 28:19.

Here we are not offered the saying referenced for our own inspection, but are offered a quote where Justin used the "name of Jesus" part only -- which as above makes no impact on the authenticity of Matt. 28:19.

A reader recently noted that Ploughman apparently missed some probable allusions to this text in patristic writers:

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians, in Chapter 2 (see here) says, Wherefore also the Lord, when He sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to "baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost....".

Tertullian, c. 200 AD (see here writes in On Baptism, Chapter XIII: "For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: "Go," He saith, "teach the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." and in Against Praxeas, chapter 2 says, "After His resurrection ..He commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost".

Hippolytus (170-236 AD says in Fragments: Part II.-Dogmatical and Historical.--Against the Heresy of One Noetus, "gave this charge to the disciples after He rose from the dead: Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

Cyprian (200-258AD) in The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian says, And again, after His resurrection, sending His apostles, He gave them charge, saying, "All power is given unto me, in heaven and in earth. Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." and alludes to the same passage in other places as well.

Gregory Thaumaturgus (205-265 AD) in A Sectional Confession of Faith, XIII (see here says, "....the Lord sends forth His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?"

There are several other allusions from anonymous works which we will not include.

From here we are given the opinions of people as late as the seventh century, and a long list of opinions that the verse is a forgery, which makes it clear we without better recourse. Indeed, these opinions take up far more space than the data offered, which tells us enough of what sort of case Ploughman actually had.

Finally Ploughman applies a series of "tests" to see how well Matt. 28:19 fits in its context. Some of these make sense, but others are clearly matters of begged questions in action. Let's have a look:

The Test of Context. Examining the context, we find that the traditional name-phrase lacks syntactic quality, that is, the true sense of the verse is hindered by a failure of the linguistic patterns to agree. If however, we read as follows, the whole context fits together and the tenor of the instruction is complete: (Matt. 28:18-20) "All power is given unto me...go therefore...make disciples in my name, teaching them...whatsoever I have commanded ...I am with you..."

It appears that Ploughman is arguing that because Jesus referred to himself alone three times, it makes more sense that he did so the fourth time as well. How that works out is a mystery; at best it is a hugely begged question. We would hardly expect the text to read, "All power is given unto the three of us in heaven and in earth (the Father already had power, and the Spirit has a different mission). Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever the three of us have commanded you (neither Father nor Spirit were on earth giving commands): and, lo, we are with you alway, even unto the end of the world (a special emphasis needed since Jesus is about to ascend to Heaven).

2. The Test of Frequency. Is the phrase "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit/Ghost" used elsewhere in the scripture? Not once. Did Jesus use the phrase "in my name" on other occasions? Yes, 17 times actually....

As noted far above, there are nevertheless triune formulations elsewhere, and if this is any relevant sort of test, then over 90% of all literature is to be discarded. It's ineffectual.

3. The Test of Argument. Is any argument in scripture based on the fact of a threefold name, or of baptism in the threefold name? None whatsoever. Is any argument in scripture based on the fact of baptism in the name of Jesus? Yes! This argument is made in 1 Cor. 1:13...

Other than points made above about the actual nature of Matt. 28:19, we may add: Despite Ploughman's contortions, 1 Cor. 1:13 is not "based on" baptism in the name of Jesus at all; it isn't even an argument in the sense that Ploughman thinks it is. Even so, all Ploughman would have is one argument versus none, and that's hardly sufficient data to draw a conclusion in this context.

4. The Test of Analogy. Is there anything in scripture analogous to baptism in the triune name? No. Is there anything analogous to baptism in the name of Jesus? Yes! The Father baptized the disciples with the gift of the Holy Ghost, a promise that came according to Jesus 'in His name.' (John 14:26)

Various triune formulas, noted above, are analogous; that they do not involve baptism is beside the point. Ploughman has created an artificial category ("triune formulas about baptism"), then argued about the lack of other members, when he needs to look at a broader category ("triune formulas, for whatever purpose"). Indeed John 14:26 amounts to such a formula, though like Matt. 28:19 it does not offer any clear description of the ontological relationship inside the Trinity.

5. The Test of Consequence. In being baptized, do we 'put on' the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost? No. Do we put on the name of Jesus? Yes. When we are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, according to all early Church baptisms recorded in scripture, were are quite literally being baptized 'into' the name of Jesus Christ.
6. The Test of Practice. Did the disciples, after receiving the 'Great Commission' ever once baptize in the threefold name? Never! Did they baptize in the name of Jesus? Always!
7. The Test of Significance. What significance is attributed in scripture to baptizing believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost? None.

In all of these it is merely assumed that Matt. 28:19 serves the purpose of a baptismal formula, when it probably does not, as noted above. #7 especially is grounded in such a false supposition. Ploughman goes on to say, "Baptism in the threefold name can be said only to express faith in the Trinitarian doctrine itself, and the man made creeds that support it." Actually, again, it does not serve to "express faith in" Trinitarianism at all, since it doesn't offer any explanation regarding the ontological relationship within the Trinity.

8. The Test of Parallel Accounts. As God's providence would have it, Matthew 28 is not the sole record in the gospels of the 'Great Commission' of our Lord. Luke also records this event with great detail. In Luke 24:46-47, he writes Jesus speaking in the third person, "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations." This passage alone restores the correct text to Matthew 28:19, where Jesus speaks in the first person, "in my name."

Apparently Luke 24 is not a parallel to Matt. 28:19; it takes place in Jerusalem, whereas Matthew's event takes place in Galilee. Furthermore, Luke refers only to the preaching of repentance and the remission of sins, a specific duty; Matthew refers to discipling of nations and baptizing, which are other, broader duties. Repentance and remission of sin are tied intimately to Jesus and his atoning sacrifice -- discipling (enacted via teaching and baptizing) is a triune work of Jesus in redemption, the Spirit in regeneration, and the Father as the source of both.

Indeed, this explains handily enough why baptism was actually performed in the name of Jesus, even as its aspect as a discipling tool was not.

Ploughman also appeals to the spurious addition of Mark 16:9-20 for his case, but as there is textual evidence against that whereas there is none against Matthew, this sems rather inconsistent.

9. The Test of Complimentary Citation. While there is no text that offers a complimentary citation of the triune name-phrase, there is a striking resemblance between Matthew 28:18-20 (with the correction) and Romans 1:4-5. The former contains the Commission of Christ to His Apostles, while the latter is Paul's understanding and acceptance of his own commission as an apostle.

This only serves to prove the points we have made above: Matt. 28:19 is focused on a general apostolic commission, enacted via teaching and baptizing, to disciple the nations. If anything the Romans parallel only serves to verify the authenticity of Matt. 28:19.

10. The Test of Principle. It is written: "whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus..." (Colossians 3:17). In this principle laid down by Paul, the implication is clear. The word "whatsoever" is all inclusive, and certainly therefore includes baptism, which is a rite involving both word and deed.

As in other contexts, we would note that if "all" is "all inclusive" then we have a host of oddities, such as Jesus teaching the disciples "all things" (Mark 4:34), therefore necessarily meaning, including the natural habits of sea slugs. Moreover, one is hardly pressed, especially, to take the comment in Colossians, made as it is in an exhortational context directed to persons who, as a rule, aren't going around baptizing people but are just living everyday lives, to be read as a literal prescription.

If it were, one may ask whether we are, for example, also to blow our noses in the name of Jesus. It does say "whatsoever" and blowing one's nose is a "deed".

And that's what the Ploughman has to say. Has he emasculated Matthew 28:19 from our texts? Frankly, I don't think so. If Ploughman really wants to debunk the Trinity, he has started in the wrong place.

And now an update. While Googling I found a "reply" to this item, written back in 2001. Written by a professed friend of Ploughman's named "Pastor G. Reckart", it is little more than a shrill cry in the wilderness. My arguments are called every name in the book ("juvemile and novice"; "unscholarly"; "mocking and ridicule") but in the end Reckart declines to engage directly the bulk of it, opting for essentially two forms of retort. The first:

[Holding] claims the text is not needed for the existence of the trinity doctrine, BUT IT IS! It puts the trinity on the lips of Jesus which CANNOT be found in any other statements of our Lord Christ.

All this aside, I linked directly to material that defended the Trinity (based on Jewish Wisdom theology), and this included some material from the very lips of Jesus in which he identified himself with hypostatic Wisdom. Matt. 28:19 is of little use in this context, and Reckart offers no answer (or even a quote) concerning why I said so.

But Reckart declines to "do a line by line refutation" of the article (even though it "would be easy to do"), and offers instead "quotations about Matthew 28:19 that Pastor Ploughman did not avail himself in 1962 when he published his great and unrefuted theological work."

In other words, argument by assertion. Regrettably these is little of substance or actual argument in these quotes; Ploughman did much better himself. Moreover only a couple are of any recent provenance; the latest, from 1992, is itself a mere summary, with no argumentation:

"The historical riddle is not solved by Matthew 28:19, since, according to a wide scholarly consensus, it is not an authentic saying of Jesus, not even an elaboration of a Jesus-saying on baptism" (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, 1992, page 585).

That sure proved me wrong, did it? Just appeal to "consensus" and be done with it? How about dealing with the details?

On the side, Reckart it seems is one of those who thinks that the Trinity is a pagan doctrine. A "wide scholarly consensus" would vastly disagree with that these days; so can I just say so, and will Reckart admit his error? I didn't think so.

As a whole, the quotes provided are much the same in content. Some repeat the error of reading this as a baptismal formula, when it is not, as we have shown. Others merely say, "it's a late doctrinal expanasion" and that's all, end of "argument". Most of the quotes come from even before Ploughman's time (1929, 1946, 1912, 1905). Here's one that says anything that directly replies to us:

"On the text, see Conybeare, Zeitsch. Fur die Neutest. Wissensch. 1901, 275 ff.; Hibbert Journal, October 1902; Lake, Inaugural Lecture; Riggenbach, Der Trinitarische Taufbefehl; Chase, Journal Theo. Stud. Vi. 481 ff. The evidence of Eusebius must be regarded as indecisive, in view of the fact that all Greek MSS. and all extant VSS., contain the clause (S1 and S2 are unhappily wanting). The Eusebian quotation: "Go disciple ye all the nations in my name," can not be taken as decisive proof that the clause "Baptizing...Spirit" was lacking in copies known to Eusebius, because "in my name" may be Eusebius' way of abbreviating, for whatever reason, the following clause. On the other hand, Eusebius cites in this short form so often that it is easier to suppose that he is definitely quoting the words of the Gospel, than to invent possible reasons which may have caused him so frequently to have paraphrased it. And if we once suppose his short form to have been current in MSS. of the Gospel, there is much probability in the conjecture that it is the original text of the Gospel, and that in the later centuries the clause "baptizing...Spirit" supplanted the shorter "in my name." And insertion of this kind derived from liturgical use would very rapidly be adopted by copyists and translators. The Didache has ch. 7: "Baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit": but the passage need not be dependent on our canonical Gospel, and the Didache elsewhere has a liturgical addition to the text of the Gospels in the doxology attached to the Lord's Prayer. But Irenaeus and Tertullian already have the longer clause" (The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament; S. Driver, A. Plummer, C. Briggs; A Critical & Exegetical Commentary of St. Matthew Third Edition, 1912, pages 307-308).

That's a lot of "may bes" and "need not bes" and conspiracies by copyists and translators contrived for the simplest, most plausible, and most likely explanation: the text was written as it stands. I wonder if Reckart knows that this is how some atheists do their business when they argue against Christianity.

As for the rest, they are nothing but re-assertions of arguments we have already refuted, and Reckart will just have to learn that you answer A against B with C, not by saying "B" over and over again in large, colorful fonts. But in another place we find that Reckart does try to force out a "positive" case for corruption, and in so doing, shows that he is not a critical student of the subject. It is claimed:

We now have absolute proof the Catholic Church fathers perverted the text in Matthew 28:19. We now have the Hebrew Matthew Gospel, a manuscript that was preserved by the Jews from the first century. In this Shem Tov MSS, the text at Matthew 28:19 does not contain the trinitarian statement. Of course the Catholic Church and other trinitarian denominations who have defended the triune baptismal text, claim the Hebrew Matthew is false and a fraud. This is self-serving so they can continue to practice a false baptism and deceive even more generations to believe Jesus said something HE DID NOT SAY! We now have the Hebrew text in English thanks to Dr. George Howard, a Southern Baptist scholar. You can buy the Hebrew Matthew at many Bible book stores. If they do not have it in stock (which they will not stock for obvious reasons), they will order it for you.

Reckart purposely obscures the fact that this manuscript dates from 1380 AD. In other words, it is practically useless for textual criticism on this point. Indeed Howard clearly asserts that it "reflects contamination by Jewish scribes in the Middle Ages," and you might guess that in such an instance any text supporting or seeming to report Trinitarianism would be one of the first to go.

Reckart thinks that the Trinitarian world is in for a "shaking" but the fact is that anyone who is up on the scholarship of late (Witherington, Hurtado, Dunn, etc.) knows good and well that this is merely bravado. Reckart is putting so many locks on the front door that he doesn't see what's coming in the back door, through the windows, and down the chimney.

In close, it might be noted that this "Pastor Reckart" appears rather to be something of a cult leader. On his website found here, it says:

The internet ministry of Pastor Gary Reckart of Tampa, Florida reaches around the world. There are men and women in nearly every country on earth who have been saved or brought to a better understanding of the Bible by Pastor Reckart's ministry. If you are seeking the Truth as Jesus and the Apostles taught it, you are at the right place. The Bible studies on this web site and others created by Pastor Reckart are your source of Biblical understanding. You do not need another web site for any Biblical truth. You will find all the truth you need for your salvation here.

Let that fairly well speak for itself.