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Matthew 28:19 (ESV) reads:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

In the Greek, (according to Blue Letter Bible) that's:

πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος

I recently heard the argument that, because "baptizing" comes after "making disciples" here, infant baptism is an incorrect view. Now, I'm not interested in the theological positions, but is this a valid claim from an exegetical perspective?

The argument also stated that baptizing is a participle, whereas "making disciples" is the main verb. From context, Greek technicalities, or simply apparent intent, does the order matter here? Is there an implied process?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

This argument is incorrect. Participles have a wide range of interpretive possibilities and sometimes choosing the correct one is difficult. Here is a resource that may help as I go along.

The argument that since βαπτίζοντες follows μαθητεύσατε it must mean that it is a later action is a grammar myth along the lines of the abused aorist.

So, it is true that the governing verb in this is μαθητεύσατε ... an 2nd person, active, aorist, imperative. These are commonly used ingressively, meaning that there is an urge to start an action ... "start making disciples." πορευθέντες is an aorist passive participle. Aorist participles, when the precede the main verb usually indicate action simultaneous to that of the main verb, and only rarely indicate previous action. I'd probably argue that πορευθέντες is a temporal participle and indicates simultaneous action. "While being made to go, make disciples."

Finally, we have βαπτίζοντες. This is the only occurrence that I see in the NT (SBLGNT). It is a present, active participle. These match the tense of the main verb, which is aorist, which is simply punctiliar - it happens at a point in time. It's fairly generic and standard. The main thing is that this participle most naturally fits into an instrumental/adverbial-participle-of-means category, meaning that the way a disciple was "made" was through baptism.

This doesn't necessarily indicate that the only way one could be made a disciple was through baptism, but that through baptism, one could be assure that a disciple was made.

Perhaps another translation could be "When having gone, make disciples ..." but that loses the simultaneous sense.

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Even as someone who is not a fan of the practice of infant baptism, whoever made this original argument clearly knows just enough Greek to be dangerous. +1 for a good response. – Mallioch Apr 17 '12 at 4:01
I sense we're in the same boat, @Mallioch – swasheck Apr 17 '12 at 16:13
It does look that way :) – Mallioch Apr 18 '12 at 18:27

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