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

Could this mean, ”while you are going out and about or while you are on your way do these things”, or ”while you’re just living your life in the daily grind, do these things.” If so, does it make a difference?

Verb, Participle, [Case], [Number], [Gender], [Tense], [Voice]

[Go] is: (VPNPMAD) Verb, Participle, Nominative, Plural, Masculine, Aorist, Deponent

Verb, Finite, [Person], [Number], [Tense], [Mood], [Voice]

[make disciples] is: (VF2PAVA) Verb, Finite, 2nd Person, Plural, Aorist, ImperatiVe, Active

Verb, Participle, [Case], [Number], [Gender], [Tense], [Voice]

[baptizing] is: (VPNPMPA) Verb, Participle, Nominative, Plural, Masculine, Present, Active

Koine Greek Translation: Verb Tenses in verse 19 = Aorist, Aorist and then Present.

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    Directive : Having the quality or function of directing, authoritatively guiding, or ruling Oxford English Dictionary. A directive is the same thing as a command.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 20:02
  • Mood is distinct from grammatical tense or grammatical aspect. The same word patterns are used for expressing more than one of these meanings at the same time in many languages Wikipedia. Thus an argument based on mood cannot be proved merely from the grammatical inflections of tense and aspect. Mood (imperative or indicative) cannot be proved from the text. It is a matter of implied linguistics.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 8:45
  • Is your question about all the verbs or just "going"?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 14:12
  • “The baptizing mentioned in Matthew 28 is not so much as a command as a part of a command. The sentence structure here in the greek has one verb which is 'go'. Everything else modifies how we should go. We should go discipling, we should go baptizing, we should go teaching.” Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 21:38
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    It is more like an exhortation than a directive. It’s called “The Great Commission” not the Great Commandment. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 23:30

5 Answers 5


Frankly, I admire folks who can expatiate on the finer points of the Greek text. Sometimes, however, in their occasional wrangling over relatively arcane points and minutiae, they can perhaps have difficulty seeing the forest for the trees! God bless them if they are able to do both in perfect equipoise.

I've heard some reliable Bible teachers suggest that Jesus's "Great Commission" can be expressed in English in the following way (and without doing violence to the text):

In your going, make disciples of all people groups, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will surely be with you until the end of the age.

In other words, in Matthew 28, Jesus is assuming some of his disciples--the number of whom is not recorded in the Gospels or in Acts--will be leaving Jerusalem to return to their homes in other parts of Judea, in Samaria, and even, eventually, to the ends of the earth.

If there is indeed an imperative (or a commission) in Matthew 28:19-20, it is "make disciples," not "go."

In short, the imperative in the Great Commission is to make disciples, and as Jesus's disciples return to their homes from Jerusalem, the discipling process with which they have been tasked consists of baptizing and teaching disciples.

Am I being too simplistic? Probably, but I think there just might be some accuracy in my hermeneutic.

  • You are 100% correct that the main point is making disciples. . The only issue is the "in your going." Think of it this way. You can't baptize someone while your walking. Phillip baptized on the road but he had to stop to do it. They didn't do it while going to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. It was after they went to those places that they baptized and taught so as to make disciples. That's why every major English translation says "go" not "while going" or "in going." It is commonly preached as "while going" to simplify it but logically it doesn't make sense
    – Ken Banks
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 7:58
  • Good points, Ken. I think I'll leave my answer as it is, however, since your parsing of my English paraphrase may be putting too fine a point on your observation that going involves baptizing--as though the early disciples could do both at the same time. Still, I appreciate your comments. Don Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 17:41

OK Here goes:

First of all some general principles. Understanding Participles are perhaps the most difficult part of learning New Testament Greek. There are parts of them that are made easier by the presence of the article but in the case of Matthew 28:19 the participle Πορευθέντες does not have the article so it is either adjectival or adverbial. The context determines which one. In this case nearly everyone is in agreement that this is an attendant circumstance participle. More on two other participles later.

This then makes it important to consider how the participle modifies the main verb, which in this case is the verb μαθητεύσατε (make disciples). There is a textual issue here when comparing the Byzantine text to the Critical text but it doesn't make a great deal of impact on the contact. The critical text inserts the conjunction οὖν (therefore) which connects the actions of verse 19 to the statement Jesus made in verse 18.

A few Key facts:

  1. The Participle Πορευθέντες is in the aorist tense and the Nominative case
  2. The Main Verb is also in the aorist tense and imperative mood.

what then is the function of the participle Πορευθέντες (going)?

Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics says there are five rules for identifying a type of participle known as "attendant circumstance:"

  1. The tense of the participle is usually aorist.
  2. The tense of the main verb is usually aorist.
  3. The mood of the main verb is usually imperative or indicative.
  4. The participle will precede the main verb-both in word order and time of event (though usually there is a very close proximity).
  5. Attendant circumstance participles occur frequently in narrative literature, infrequently elsewhere

All five of the rules fit for the participle Πορευθέντες. Dean Deppe and James Boyer also suggested that Πορευθέντες is functioning as an attendant circumstance participle.

What does that mean for this context?

First, Wallace (643) stated the following:

The relative semantic weight in such constructions is that a greater emphasis is placed on the action of the main verb than on the participle. That is, the participle is something of a prerequisite before the action of the main verb can occur.

Wallace (646) specifically addressed this passage and the insistence that this is an attendant circumstance participle:

Several observations are in order. First, notice that the first participle, πορευθέντες , fits the structural pattern for the attendant circumstance participle: aorist participle preceding an aorist main verb (in this case, imperative).

Second, there is no good grammatical ground for giving the participle a mere temporal idea. To turn πορευθέντες into an adverbial participle is to turn the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion! Virtually all instances in narrative literature of aorist participle + aorist imperative involve an attendant circumstance participle. In Matthew, in particular, every other instance of the aorist participle of πορεύομαι followed by an aorist main verb (either indicative or imperative) is clearly attendant circumstance.

Third, we must first read this commission in its historical context, not from the perspective of a late twentieth-century reader. These apostles of the soon-to-be inaugurated church did not move from Jerusalem until after the martyrdom of Stephen. The reason for this reticence was due, in part at least, to their Jewish background. As Jews, they were ethnocentric in their evangelism (bringing prospective proselytes to Jerusalem); now as Christians, they were to be ektocentric, bringing the gospel to those who were non-Jews. In many ways, the book of Acts is a detailed account of how these apostles accomplished the command of Matt 28:19-20.

Finally, the other two participles ( βαπτίζοντες , διδάσκοντες ) should not be taken at attendant circumstance. First, they do not fit the normal pattern for attendant circumstance participles (they are present tense and follow the main verb). And second, they obviously make good sense as participles of means; i.e., the means by which the disciples were to make disciples was to baptize and then to teach. [bold added]

This picture of going as a prerequisite also fits the context. Many people make the mistake of starting the Great commission at the wrong place. The context begins in verse 16 where the disciples had first been told to go to a mountain in Galilee. Remember the entire upper room discourse with all of its commands had already taken place by this time. As you can easily imagine these 12 men are weighed down with the task that is before them as Jesus prepared to leave them. That is what they doubted in verse 17, not the person of Christ. They had already worshiped Jesus in verse 17 so the doubt was something else. Jesus has compassion on them because He states that He has all power, and by implication they will have the power to complete the task before them. That is where the conjunction οὖν (therefore) comes in.

Finally, the two remaining participles are adverbial participles of means. They explain how we are to make disciples -- by baptizing them and teaching them to observe everything that Jesus had taught them.

One theological point too: What is not talked about specifically is about getting them saved. Here is the order: (1) salvation by grace through faith, (2) Baptizing them in believers baptism, (3) teaching them to observe those things that that are needed in following Jesus.

Every disciple is a Christian but not every Christian is a disciple. This passages specifically states that disciples are made by means of baptizing and teaching. Reversing the order is a serious blow to the gospel of grace.

Two links

Wallace on Participles

James Boyer's articles and other Advanced Greek materials

Greek has a verbal structure that involves exhortations, they are called subjunctives and hortatory subjunctives. If Jesus had intended to mean an exhortation then He would have used a subjunctive or a hortatory subjunctive that carries more force in the exhortation.

A serious question is to whom is Jesus giving the command? Certainly it was directed at the apostles as they prepared to follow through on what they had been tasked with as apostles.

There is also the certainty that this was to be carried on by the churches but that comes from a combination of other passages. Taking the second means of making disciples first is the easy part. The apostles taught others various doctrines that Jude calls the apostles doctrine. Paul taught Timothy and many others what had been taught to him, then Timothy was to teach it to faithful men who could teach others also. So on and so as it was taught from from faith to faith. That was at least the plan until various practices and doctrines over Church history corrupted the apostles doctrine.

2 Tim 2:1-2 (KJV) 1 Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

Remember it is by teaching them to observe all things Jesus taught disciples are made. How does the New Testament portray the teaching function within the Church. It is through the office of pastor/teacher. I argue that the other terms, Bishop, Elder, overseer, and Presbyter are all describing the same office and Paul was describing the process of selecting pastors in 2 Tim. 2:1-2.

I also hold that Eph 4:11 which describes the single office of pastor/teacher is tasked with the same thing Jesus was commanding in the Great Commission:

Eph 4:11-13 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come ind the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

As far as the baptizing part it is one of the areas where corruption came in very early in Church history. In the New Testament you have a deacon, Phillip, baptizing someone on the side of the road. Yet by the second century it is something that only the elders were doing. Baptismal regeneration also appears very early but it is against the teachings of Scripture, instead, being an early tradition apart from the Scriptures that continues in some places today.

Just because it is typically the pastor who baptizes some one based on tradition does not mean that Matthew 28 is not a command. Grammatically, the imperative of making disciples fits no other function in this sentence.

  • Thank you, however, no one has put forth the argument that it’s a “Temporal” suggestion. Of course it’s not a temporal exhortation. Second, it’s called “The Great Commission” not the Great Commandment. Thirdly, “Virtually all” does not equate to ALL. There are exceptions and we don’t get to throw them out because we don’t fit the narrative were putting forth. The definition of “Commission” is as follows: An Instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people. I tend to lean toward the two key words in this definition of “Instruction and Duty”. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 23:24
  • We live in the Age of Geace. I see Christ as exhorting us to do these things so that we see them as a primary duty of our Christian walk through life. My definition of commandment, is that you have no choice in the matter. Everything else becomes secondary. If this were a commandment, then too many other scriptures would be in direct contradiction. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 23:28
  • You realize that you said it not a commandment and then proceeded to define a commission (your term) as a command. By your own terminology you are defining it is as temporal even though you have not used those specific words. Greek has a verbal structure that involves exhortations, they are called subjunctives and hortatory subjunctives. If Jesus had intended to mean an exhortation then He would have used a subjunctive or a hortatory subjunctive that carries more force in the exhortation. What Scriptures does it contradict if it is a command?
    – Ken Banks
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 14:56
  • A better example of a commission might as a Verb (en verb) To send or officially charge someone or some group to do something. To place an order for (often piece of art); as, commission a portrait. He commissioned a replica of the Mona Lisa for his living room, but the painter gave up after six months. To put into active service; as, commission a ship. The aircraft carrier was commissioned in 1944, during WWII. Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 22:15
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    Again, your idea violates the grammar of the passage as it would have to be a a subjunctive or hortatory subjunctive to make this an exhortation. Your picture of the grammar cannot be supported by the aorist imperative that is in this passage. Even though it was not his primary purpose Paul did in fact baptize people, and he certainly taught them to observe the apostles doctrine, which included baptism. You are employing 1 cor 12 as a crux interpretum, which is the idea of forcing one passage to overrule another, even if violates the grammar and meaning of the second passage.
    – Ken Banks
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 7:31

Imperative is a morphological label which shows directives. It doesn't have to be a command, it can be an exhortation (hortatory), invitation, demand or a request. The social rank between participants determines whether the verb is a command or a request. If the speaker is lower, then it is a request. The verbs in the Lord's prayer are all imperatives. Thus, it is a matter of overall perspective on the need to evangelism decides whether to take it as a command or exhortation. Basically, everything the Lord directs his servants is a command. It was a command at least to his disciples.

There is no need to consider the great commission a universal command obligatory upon all believers, violation of which will result in punishment. As the apostle Paul explains not everyone is given the role of an evangelist or an apostle etc in 1Cor 12. We cannot impose the function of apostles upon all. Commandment is a word used especially for the most essential commands such as the ten commandments.

Examples of imperatives:
Matt 2:20 "Get up and take the child and his mother and go to Israel"
John 5:11 "Take up your stretcher and walk".

As for the quote of Daniel Wallace that Ken Banks shared, stating that translating the participle as an adverbial participle (going), reduces it into a suggestion. His argument is misleading. Stanley Porter has written a chapter on this verse, Grammar of obedience in his book Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament, and he addressed Wallace's mistakes:

In his explanation of 28:19–20, Wallace appeals to the notion that classifying the initial aorist participle as an adverbial participle (rather than an attendant circumstance participle) turns the Great Commission into “the Great Suggestion.”26 There are several problems with this explanation. One is that it makes a particular theological explanation determinative for grammar, but it also further reinforces a particular view of the aorist imperative. However, this is an unnecessary explanation. The command is to make disciples of all nations. It is difficult to know what is lost or tempered by not having the participle understood as imperatival as well, especially since the word for “going” is still there (surely Wallace cannot mean that the use of only a single imperative means that the command is less pertinent).27 His third supporting point is even less germane, when he states that this passage must be interpreted in its historical context. He observes that the disciples did not leave Jerusalem and fulfill the Great Commission until after Stephen’s martyrdom.28 In other words, even with the two commands, as Wallace sees it, the disciples took it as a suggestion until further motivation was provided. In other words, syntax alone does not determine motivational or human results.

Wallace treats the participle in relation to the main verb in an inconsistent way that attempts to deal only with tense and mood. He fails to explain the use of the participle in relation to the main verb and in respect to how a syntactically embedded structure (participle) functions in relation to a primary clause structure (based around a finite verb)—in other words, in terms of the discourse-shaping use of syntax. Carson also confuses the issue when he says that he finds it “difficult to believe that ‘go’ has lost all imperatival force,”29 when the participle as a participle never had any imperatival force to lose. Wallace is right to observe the syntax, in which the participle precedes the finite verb. He also notes that there is an inevitable sense in which the actions are coordinated, and the action of the participle is antecedent to that of the main verb. He is also correct to note that, in this instance, the two verbs are aorist tense-forms. What Wallace fails to draw is a conclusion from this regarding the linear ordering of Greek, the proper understanding of the relation of translation to syntax, and how tense-forms function in discourse. The aorist tense-form as the perfective aspect of πορευθέντες is used to establish the circumstance for the action of the finite verb of the primary clause, μαθητεύσατε. This circumstance is one of “going.” Within the secondary embedded structure forming an Adjunct, placed before the Predicator of the primary clause, it logically indicates background information to the command: going is background to the making of disciples. There is nothing here that minimizes the Great Commission to a suggestion. To the contrary, the syntactical structure retains the focus upon the making of disciples, which is at the syntactical heart of this command because it identifies the lexis of the finite verb of the Predicator.

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    (Ken and Michael) "Iron sharpens iron." and "In the multitude of counselors there is safety." Combined, the two previous answers underscored this need for community involvement! Ken ushered the research into the room of Greek syntax...and Michael turned on the lights!
    – ray grant
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 22:08

The syntax of this passage with its use of three participles surrounding "disciple" was intended by Jesus to keep the Apostles' (and modern ministers') focus on a discipleship that would keep "new born babes" (converts, John 3:7) from languishing in the gutter of decadent culture, or wandering in the dark forest of doubts, or starving for lack of the "sincere milk of the Word."

This discipling is a word packed full of connotations : mentoring, teaching, warning, etc.; everything that the Lord had commanded them previously for three and a half years (verse 20). The use of the word, "command," by Jesus raises this speaking far above an exhortation. And it is to be remembered that is was the modern Bible publishers who interposed the wording, The Great Commission, into the Bible. It is not in the original Greek. It could just as well read, The Great Commandment!


Disclaimer: I have no formal training in the biblical languages.

There are imperatives in the sentence but the opening clause regarding “going” does seem to imply that the “going” is not being commanded but rather provides the circumstances of the other activities being commanded. And I think I know why.

In the LORD’s covenant with Abraham he makes this amazing prophetic promise:

[Gen 28:14 NLT] (14) Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread in all directions--to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.

That is, the “going” of Abraham was a covenant promise and was the means by which “all the families of the earth will be blessed”:

In the Old Testament Abraham presents the type of a simple Bedouin sheik who wanders from place to place in search of pasture for his herds, a kindhearted, righteous, and God-fearing man whom God chose on account of his faithful and righteous character to be the father of a nation peculiarly favored by Him in the possession of the coveted land of Canaan. Once he is spoken of as a "prophet" (Gen. xx. 7). Incidentally we learn that his father, Terah, was an idolater, like the rest of the Chaldeans (Josh. xxiv. 2); but how Abraham became a worshiper of the Lord, or why God singled him out and led him forth to Canaan, is left to surmise. ****No sooner, however, did the Jewish people come into closer contact with nations of higher culture, especially with the Greeks in Alexandria, than the figure of Abraham became the prototype of a nation sent forth to proclaim the monotheistic faith to the world while wandering from land to land. Accordingly, the divine promise (Gen. xii. 3, xxii. 18) is understood to mean: " . . . in thee [instead of "with thee"] shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (see LXX. ad loc.)…*** Men are not always so much “sent out” as “pushed out”, such as in times of persecution, as we see in Acts:

[Act 5:36 NKJV] (36) "For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.

Contrast that with:

[Act 8:4 NKJV] (4) Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.

[Act 11:19 NKJV] (19) Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.

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