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What does ονομα mean in Matthew 28:19?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (ονομα) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19 NRSV).

The Greek word ονομα means a lot of things. It could refer to proper or personal name, authority, repute etc. (source: https://biblehub.com/greek/3686.htm).

What does ονομα mean in Matthew 28:19 in its (i) original context as well as in the (ii) early church? Does it refer to a proper name, or authority or reputation?

Note

I am seeking an answer with a scholarly source as well as a patristic source at least from the second century up to the seventh century C.E.

  • 'Name, authority, cause' is the gloss of the biblehub lexicon. The more authoritative source is Thayer (further down the page referenced) who gives the primary meaning as 'name' and the secondary meaning of 'all that the name covers'. – Nigel J Jun 29 at 19:33
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    According to BDAG, it is a proper name in combination with attributes; and with prepositions. They also make the comment that "εἰς τὸ ὄνομα = with the mention of the name", and then quotes numerous extra-biblical references. Useful data there! – Dottard Jun 30 at 0:41
  • I wonder if the original word was dynamis (power). It fits the context better – R. Emery Sep 26 at 15:55
  • Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the power (dynamis) of the water and of the sun (fire water) and of the Holy Spirit (fire air). Note that this leaves one out (the air) – R. Emery Sep 26 at 16:54
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I do not know about patristic sources, perhaps someone else may, but Daniel Wallace, in his book "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics," offers a very good explanation of the use of the term in the original language using this text as an example.

Since I do not have Wallace on hand, I am not going to try to quote him. I will just give the sense of his explanation. In the classical style of the first century language, the phrase "εἰς τὸ ὄνομα" - "into the name of" was often used as a legal term. This expression is found among ancient legal documents that recorded the transfer of property. If one purchased a section of land or a dwelling for example, a title transfer would be drawn up to show that this property was now εἰς τὸ ὄνομα - in the name of - the new owner.

When Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the gospel to every creature and "baptize them into the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit," he was commanding them to baptize them into the possession of God. Christians are thus the objects of a property transfer - "out of the kingdom of darkness and into his marvelous light." Baptism then is a property transfer. This same language is used in Acts 2:38 when Peter commanded those present to be baptized ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι - into the name of - thus into the possession of Jesus Christ. This was for a two-fold purpose 1. For the removal of sin - Spiritual circumcision, Colossians 2:9-13. 2. To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the seal of the transfer of property, Ephesians 4:30, 1Corinthians 6:19-20. He is the seal of ownership to show that we have been bought with a price.

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  • in that case, ονομα in Matthew 28:19 refers to personal name/proper name of the owner of the property? – Radz Matthew C. Brown Jun 30 at 5:21
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    The only designation Jesus gives is "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." All three are one God. All three are Jehovah. In this text, and the one in Acts2, name seems to refer to possession/ownership. – oldhermit Jun 30 at 11:43
  • +1 for ονομα as referring to possession/ownership – Radz Matthew C. Brown Jun 30 at 13:32
  • Aren't such examples cherry-picked, though ? I mean, there are many actions, official or otherwise, that one can do in someone's name, not necessarily related to either commerce or property. I've also seen Protestant sources relating Christ's last word (it-is-accomplished) to such financial concepts (since that Greek term also appears in many legal documents, with the meaning of finalizing payment), but I highly doubt that the word's meaning is reduced to the legal or economical sphere of human activity. – Lucian Jun 30 at 15:03
  • @oldhermit. "The only designation Jesus gives is "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." All three are one God. All three are Jehovah". Can you substantiate this please.Did the speaker or writer expressly conveyed, or even clearly implied, the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Jehovah? Is there a record in Scripture showing that Jesus or any of his apostles perceived God in this way? – user35499 Jul 1 at 4:08
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According to Moulton & Milligan,

The phrase εἰς (τὸ) ὄνομά τινος is frequent in the papyri with reference to payments made “to the account of any one”.... The usage is of interest in connexion with Mt 28:19, where the meaning would seem to be “baptized into the possession of the Father, etc.”1

This is corroborated by BDAG, which also notes that this could be a Semitic idiom for לְשֵׁם:

[With] εἰς: somet[hing] evidently as rendering of rabb[inical] לְשֵׁם with regard to, in thinking of.... for his sake, or we have here the frequently attested formula of Hellenistic legal and commercial language.... εἰς (τὸ) ὄν. τινος to the name=to the account (over which the name stands). Then the deeds of love, although shown to humans, are dedicated to God.—The concept of dedication is also highly significant, in all probability, for the understanding of the expr[ession] βαπτίζειν εἰς (τὸ) ὄν[ομα] τινος. Through baptism εἰς (τὸ) ὄν[ομα] τ[ινος] those who are baptized become the possession of and come under the dedicated protection of the one whose name they bear.2

These lexical resources cite a 1903 work by Wilhelm Heitmüller entitled Im Namen Jesu. His position (and that of a number of scholars) has been summarized as follows:

[T]he person baptized was dedicated to Jesus, having become his property.... [In the papyri, Heitmüller] found 'into the name' used in Graeco-Hellenistic banking terminology, the 'name' being that of a person to whose account something was credited. These observations naturally led to the interpretation that Jesus is the heavenly Kurios to whose ownership the baptized person was transferred.3

Heitmüller (among others) has been criticized for assuming that this banking context should be inferred every time this construction is used.4 Lars Hartman contended for the first sense represented by BDAG above (i.e., that it is a Semitic idiom translating לְשֵׁם), noting it would have both "positive content as well as a negatively demarcating meaning," the former uniquely identifying the rite of Christian baptism and the latter differentiating it from John's baptism. He also noted that it could also have been understood differently in various regions.5

Given this information, I believe that in the context of Matthew 28:19, εἰς τὸ ὄνομα likely carried some or all of these connotations for early Christian readers (depending on whether they primarily spoke Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic). The phrase εἰς τὸ ὄνομα

  • uniquely identifies this as the rite of Christian baptism when invoked with the Trinitarian formula,
  • demarcates it from John's baptism,
  • refers to being baptized into the possession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and
  • implies coming under God's dedicated protection.

Footnotes

1 James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930), 451. Read online.

2 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 713.

3 Lars Hartman, "Into the name of Jesus: a suggestion concerning the earliest meaning of the phrase," New Testament Studies 20, no. 4 (July 1974): 432. https://doi.org/10.1017/S002868850001225X

4 Ibid., 433.

5 Ibid., 435, 440.

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