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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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  • "I'm not interested in the theological positions, but is this a valid claim from an exegetical perspective" - I think what you mean here is that you are not interested in exegesis based on any theological hermeneutic.
    – user33515
    Feb 14, 2018 at 15:40
  • “All nations” was new. Earlier Salvation was just for Jews. Now people of all nationalities were to be grafted into the “Holy tree”, the sacred congregation. Jesus opened the missionary scope of the enlightened. Dec 27, 2020 at 7:25

5 Answers 5

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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, 2012 at 4:01
  • I sense we're in the same boat, @Mallioch
    – swasheck
    Apr 17, 2012 at 16:13
  • It does look that way :)
    – Mallioch
    Apr 18, 2012 at 18:27
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The first answer is good, and I have voted for it. The following comments are intended to complement it.

I too have had conversations with people who use this verse to argue against infant baptism. In my case the argument was that baptism required people being taught, therefore baptism was only for people above a certain intellectual level. Of course this is only valid if one brings a prior world view to words such as teaching. Is it not the case that from birth parents teach their children by example, teach them to smile, to say their first words, to take their first wobbly steps? I say this as a reminder to all of us that we need to be careful of our own unconscious belief systems. It is so easy to read our own ideas into a text.

I agree with the exegetical reading in the previous answer. The original Greek has only one command, to make disciples. Then there are three participles, one before the command and two following. A wooden English translation following the Greek word order would look like this:

Going therefore, disciple all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you.

If we take the participles as instrumental, which to me seems the natural reading, this is the process by which the command will be fulfilled. We could bring this sense to light with a paraphrase like this:

Jesus said, "… Make disciples of all nations. Do this by (1) going to the nations; (2) baptising them in the name of the father, the Son, the Holy Spirit; (3) teaching them everything I have commanded."

When read this way, to talk about infant baptism completely misses the point. Baptism here has a different focus. It is the nations that are to be baptised. Jesus' words here are to be understood in the sense of bringing in a harvest, an image that he uses elsewhere (see eg Matthew 9.35-38). The harvest of the nations is reaped by going to the nations, by bringing them into the church (baptism) and by teaching them Jesus' commands so they may continue the harvest. Obviously there will be individual baptisms, but how the church carries out those baptisms in particular cases is simply not addressed.

This reading also controls the question of timing. These are generic processes which have a logical order loosely related to chronology. But the more important idea is that all three processes will continue for as long as the church is engaged in mission. As a supporter of infant baptism I think it's possible to create an argument for infant baptism based on the strict chronology of this command. The argument would go like this: We are commanded to baptise, then to teach. Teaching is therefore for those who are already within the church on other grounds. This pattern fits infant baptism, but it doesn't fit believer's baptism in which you have to be taught sufficiently to provide a foundation of understanding for the baptismal response. But again, I'm saying that such an argument would be wrong because chronology is not the main focus of this passage.

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Since Jesus was speaking in Hebrew or possibly Aramaic, it is relevant to understand a basic principle of Semitic thought pattern. [1] The principle is that you first give a brief overview or basic statement and then give the details. It is similar to modern TV news where you first get the headline and later the details.

In this case, the basic and important statement is: Go out and make disciples in all ethnic groups. What does that mean? There are steps involved: 1. You preach the Gospel. 2. Someone accepts and believes 3. That person is baptized and 4. That person is taught further.

It is worth pointing out that the object for baptizing is a masculine plural pronoun, referring to people who have accepted the message and want to follow Jesus so they can be called disciples. It is not a neuter pronoun and therefore does not refer to the nations as a whole. And how would one baptize a nation anyway?

The text can hardly refer to infant baptism, since that was an unknown concept at this time and never mentioned in the Bible.

[1] Robert B. Kaplan: Cultural Thought Patterns in Inter-cultural Education. http://wikifoundryattachments.com/oPtoGcKakFcaYqHzEWQNhw%3D%3D661967

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  • Iver Larsen: An accurate and correct answer. +1 Dec 25, 2020 at 20:07
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This passage is not a passage that proves that people should be taught before they are baptized.

The main verb is "to make disciples" (μαθητεύω). There are two participles that are subordinated to this main verb and describe the context in which this happens:

  • βαπτίζοντες (vs. 19)
  • διδάσκοντες (vs. 20)

The overall category of this usage of participles is called "circumstantial" or "adverbial." For general explanations of this use of the participle the standard grammars are quite adequate:

  • (F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), 215.)
  • (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 622.)
  • iBiblio's Lesson 58: Adverbial Clauses/The Circumstantial Participle

They basically boil down to the following uses:

  • Time
  • Cause
  • Means
  • Concession
  • Condition
  • Manner
  • Preliminary
  • Attendant Circumstance

Here the best fit might manner/means: How do you make disciples? You teach and baptize. But there is no time aspect in the participles with respect to each other. If we expected one action to take place first, we would expect an aorist (preliminary usage), followed by a present. Here we just have two present participles.

So, there is nothing in the participles which would subordinate one action underneath the other (e.g. teaching, then baptizing). Either could come first.

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I believe we look at the word "baptizing" as the form of water baptism John did instead of the way Jesus will... with Fire and Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). Could the text suggest that we fully immerse a person into the Trinity of God by teaching all that our Lord commanded? And that we do this in the power of the Holy Spirit and our walk in Christ... you may want to remove the premise of what you are suggesting "baptizing" refers to. the passage suggests to a Disciplemaker that baptizing is a descriptive word used for immersing a Disciple into the fullness of God - vs. 18-21 are disciple making verses and not works or deeds (or any action) of a Disciple, yet the discipler.

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  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – agarza
    Sep 28, 2023 at 18:33
  • I believe it does answer the question... it is removing the premise of what they are suggesting "baptizing" refers to. It suggests that baptizing is a descriptive word used for immersing a Disciple into the fullness of God - vs. 18-21 are disciple making verses and not works or deeds (or any action) of a Disciple, yet the discipler
    – James Reid
    Sep 28, 2023 at 19:34

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