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Is there anything in the text of Matthew 28:19 that teaches we should speak a baptismal formula before baptizing someone? While I think it's good practice, is a spoken formula taught anywhere in the text itself? If so, I assume it would come from the phrase "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (NKJV). However, if "in the name of" involves a spoken formula, then wouldn't Acts 2:38 ("in the name of Jesus Christ," NKJV) and Acts 8:16 ("in the name of the Lord Jesus," NKJV) also teach spoken formulas due to having the same wording? If so, we'd have conflicting formulas (e.g., "the Son" vs. "Jesus Christ" vs. "the Lord Jesus").

Rather than understand "in the name of" as "speaking the names," should we instead understand "in the name of" as being "into the ownership of" or "by the authority of"? Thanks!

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Let us be very clear about what Matt 28:19 does say and what it does NOT say.

The NT has frequent references to being "baptized in the name of ...", for example:

  • Acts 2:28 - Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • Acts 8:16 - they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
  • Acts 19:5 - On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Note the overtones that are present in all of these as indicated by Luke 19:38:

"Blessed is the king [ie, Jesus] who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" See also Matt 21:9.

We see this idea repeatedly in the NT -

  • Col 3:17 - And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
  • Acts 3:16 - By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
  • 2 Thess 1:12 - We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is, doing anything "in the name of Jesus" is to invoke the power, authority, and "mindset" or spirit of the entire Godhead. This is made explicit in Matt 28:19 by comparing the above comments on baptism with those in Matt 28:19.

What the Baptism Text does NOT say

As with every Christian rite instructed by the NT, there is no "procedure" for doing them. Therefore, we are not instructed about how a person is to be immersed, specifically:

  • not told whether it is forwards or backwards or otherwise
  • not told what words to pronounce (nothing about speaking even)
  • not told what type of water to use (whether sea water, fresh water, blessed water or running water such as river)
  • not told what to wear
  • not told who may or may not administer baptism

... and so forth. [The same is also true of the communion service!! despite centuries of arguments about this.]

The important point about baptism is what we ARE told about baptism, namely,

  • The word baptism comes from the Greek verb, baptizo, meaning to dip or immerse and “was used among the Greeks to signify the dying of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc.” Thus, when a person is baptised, it indicated a complete immersion. See below and 2 Kings 5:14 in the Septuagint. [The word had expanded idiomatic meanings including: “wash the hands” (by dipping them) Matt 15:1, 2, Luke 11:38; “go through a difficult trial” Mark 10:38, 39, Luke 12:50.] This immersion signified being buried with Christ. Rom 6:4. When a cloth was “baptised” to dye it, a complete change was effected.
  • Baptism, expanding on the above idea, is sometimes expressed as a “death” (and burial) to the old way of life and a resurrection to a new way of life in Christ. Rom 6:4-9, 1 Cor 10:2, 12:13, 14, Gal 3:27, Col 2:12, 13, 1 Peter 3:21. Thus baptism was used as an outward symbol of inner conversion or “Sanctification”, which see.
  • Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River. Matt 3:6, 13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21, 22; and Philip baptised the Ethiopian in another way-side river, Acts 8:36-38, but there is no description of exactly how the rite was administered.
  • The apostles and disciples practised the rite of Baptism. John 3:22, 23, 4:1, Acts 8:36, 38, 1 Cor 1:14, 16.
  • Baptism symbolised repentance (ie, a change of life direction, ie, conversion) and was accompanied by confession and a “washing” away of (ie, turning away from) sin. Mark 1:4, 5, Luke 3:3, 7-12, 7:29, 30, Acts 2:38, 13:24, 16:15, 33, 19:4, 5, 22:16, Rom 6:4, Gal 3:27. (See also 1 Cor 6:11.)
  • Thus, baptism is necessarily associated with teaching about Christ in order to learn about the rights and responsibilities of baptism and the completely new Christian life as a disciple, imitating Christ. Matt 28:19, 20, Acts 2:38, 41, 8:26-39, 16:15, 18:8.
  • Baptism also symbolised the reception of the gift(s) of the Holy Spirit, Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, Acts 1:5, 2:38, 8:12-16, 10:47, 48, 11:16, 19:4, 5.
  • The New Testament is silent about who should, and how to administer the rite of Baptism other than the example of the disciples. However, we note that all Christians are to be Disciples of Christ, and all are instructed to baptize (Matt 28:19, 20).
  • On occasions, the early church practised rebaptism, Acts 19:1-7.
  • There is no evidence that baptism was a sacrament in the sense of being essential to salvation and imparting grace. Baptism appears to have been an outward symbol of the inner change of life which should have already occurred at conversion.

APPENDIX - Historical Note:

The early Christian document, “Didache”, (about 150 AD?) describes the process of baptism of a neophyte as done after instruction and preferably by immersion, but where a river or pool is unavailable, poring was permissible. See Didache 7:1-3.

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  • "Philip was baptised in another way-side river, Acts 8:36-38" Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't that the Ethiopian eunuch that got baptized? – agarza Feb 23 at 21:35
  • @agarza - you are quite correct. I will correct this. – Dottard Feb 23 at 21:38
  • As you hinted, the Greek βαπτίζω does not always mean complete immersion. (Another classical text refers to a soldier βαπτίζοντ his spear in an enemy's blood.) Whether its use in biblical texts implies complete immersion is debated. – aschepler Feb 24 at 0:51
  • That's a lot of information! Thanks for the thorough response! Your point that Matthew 28:19 doesn't mention speaking or what to say seems to make sense, especially in light of Acts. (I'm certainly willing to hear another side if anyone has such, though.) Interestingly enough, I actually believe passages like Acts 2:38 DO place baptism before the forgiveness of sins--not as a means of earning salvation or making salvation works-based, though. – The Editor Feb 26 at 0:29
  • I was on board with most of what you said (a lot of good info) until the last bulleted point. "No evidence... of being essential to salvation"? What about 1 Peter 3:21, "baptism... now saves you". "No evidence... of... imparting grace"? What about remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), being incorporated into the one body and drinking of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), being clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27) and raised to walk with Him (Rom. 6:4)? The bible doesn't call baptism a sacrament or a symbol; it is a divider between the lost and the saved just as were the waters of Noah's flood. – Caleb George Jun 2 at 21:22
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This is a very essential answer. I will avoid the task of trying to reconcile the “Trinitarian Baptismal Formula” at Matthew 28:19 with passages from Acts and Paul.

Here is the thing:

  • To be baptized "into the name of the Lord Jesus" (see Acts, e.g. Acts 19:5) means to chose him as Lord of one's life. This must be seen, in particular, in the context of the baptism of heathens, who, through baptism, renounced all allegiance to demons, and chose Jesus instead.
  • Nowhere in the NT do we find any example of application of the "trinitarian baptismal formula" ("baptizing them in the name [eis to onoma] of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" - Matt 28:19).
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  • In summary, would your answer be that, no, a spoken baptismal formula is not bound; rather, the phrases "in the name of 'Christ'" or "'the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit'" simply means being baptized to begin following Him/Them (c.f., Moses in 1 Cor. 10:2)? Thanks! – The Editor Jun 7 at 15:04
  • @TheEditor ... would your answer be that, no, a spoken baptismal formula is not bound ... Before I attempt to answer, could you please clarify which of the several acceptations of "bound" are you using here? – Miguel de Servet Jun 7 at 15:13
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Matthew 28:19 is most likely a corruption of the original text. Nobody used that "formula" in the 4 accounts of our Lord, in the book of Acts or anywhere else for that matter.

To be baptized "in" or "into" is to associate the person being baptized with whatever or whoever they are being baptized "in" or "into." Christians are "baptized into one body" which associates them with the body of Christ, and thus Christ himself who is head of his body.

So my answer to your question, "Is there anything in the text of Matthew 28:19 that teaches we should speak a baptismal formula before baptizing someone?" is the text has been corrupted. You can view an entire list of respected scholars and clergymen who take this position here:

https://u.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=XZLar9XZLM3RbWedh0mON9zdbKnsHuAeiQaX

[I believe it is ok to link to articles as I have seen dozens of them here on various Stack Exchange posts. If not please let me know and I will delete the link(s).]

Your observations about the obvious disconnect between this verse and the baptisms recorded in the Word are correct.

But if I may explain further, this verse in Matthew 28:19, called "The Great Commission" is taught to be our "marching orders" after Jesus' resurrection. In truth, this commissioning has nothing to do with the body of Christ which was, at that time, still unrevealed and thus unknown (see the "mysteries" in Ephesians 1 and 3). It is actually "The Second Kingdom Commission" which you can read more about in this article: https://u.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=XZhar9XZttbayQwoisVOS2bGYOoUDjAtYzrV

The article goes into detail but I will summarize its major points here.

  1. Jesus spoke this from up on a mountain. Note his addresses from mountains (referenced in the article) and you will see that when he spoke from a mountain he was speaking about his coming Millennial Kingdom. For example the "Sermon on the Mount" outlines the Kingdom Law that will be in effect during that Kingdom.

  2. "And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." It is not until Jesus returns that this power is given unto him. Currently the "god of this eon" is Satan.

  3. "Go you therefore, and teach [disciple] all nations" -- those risen at the Resurrection of the Just (the former resurrection in Revelation) are to be "priests and kings" unto the nations. Christ will send his own kings (Israeli's) to head the nations during His Millennial Kingdom. The "priests" will baptize and disciple (discipline) the nations according to Kingdom Law.

  4. lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world [Greek, "aion," "eon"]. Amen. Jesus is not with us now other than inside us in a spiritual sense. During the Millennial Kingdom he will literally be with them unto the end of that eon (world is not the normal word for world, "kosmos" but is "aion" transliterated into English as "eon" (a period of time with a beginning and an ending). The Millennial Kingdom will end and the New Heaven and Earth will follow. There is no discipleship on the perfected New Earth, only during the Millennial Kingdom.

This commission is to be carried out by those risen from the dead at the start of the Millennial eon; the first fruits of Israel will be used to reach and to discipline the nations during that period of time. It cannot be "to the Christian church" because the church did not yet exist at that point. Further more the Word being preached regards the Kingdom, not the body of Christ and our heavenly, celestial inheritance (Ephesians 1-3).

Matthew 24:40 -- And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

Christians do not preach "the gospel of the kingdom." That is the "Gospel of the Circumcision" Paul speaks about in Galatians, given to the 12; but Paul, "the apostle to the Gentiles" was given the "Gospel of the Uncircumcision." There are two different gospels for two different classes or groups of people. The Gospel of the Circumcision has been held in abeyance until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in (Romans 11:25).

Now one final point is necessary.

Ephesians 4:4-6 -- There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

There is only "one baptism" in the period of time during which we live. This baptism is into the one body of Christ (associating us with Christ through his church body) and by (the element) Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1:13,14 -- In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,

14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

The moment someone believes Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3,4), that person is instantly "sealed with the Holy Spirit" -- nothing can add to that or take away from it. Therefore any fleshly ritual or observance is just that. In other words, there is no water baptism today.

Before Acts there was one baptism: water. During the Acts period there were two baptisms: water followed by Holy Spirit which was poured "upon" them (they were not "sealed" with Holy Spirit as Christians are today which is a very significant truth) After Acts, during our administration there is only one baptism: Holy Spirit.

The transition from flesh to spirit occurred during Acts.

Those who persist in the "shadow" of things to come (e.g. water baptism) are falling back into the fleshly worship of the Old Covenant which only symbolized truths that were fulfilled in Christ. We are today baptized with Holy Spirit into the one body of Christ the moment we believe. Let's not put anyone back under the yoke of the physical when God wants us to worship Him "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).

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  • Respectfully, the Kingdom was inaugurated on Pentecost in the 1st century. You can only become a citizen upon baptism. Yes, all the lost are ruled by the god of this age. "[T]here is no water baptism today." Wow. 1) Acts 2:38: "Peter said [each] of you be baptized [in Christ] for the forgiveness of your sins;'" 2) Acts 22:16: "[Ananias to Saul] Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’" 3) Mk. 16:16: "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved;" 4) 1 Pet. 3:21: "[Baptism] now saves you..." Sorry, I'm a bit lost for words. – Xeno Jun 2 at 20:19
  • The Kingdom has not yet been inaugurated -- the King has to return to do so. Peter is a minister of the Circumcision not the joint-body of Christ we are part of. The body of Christ did not begin until Acts 13:1,2 after Israel rejected the testimony of the Holy Spirit -- it was not "born" on Pentecost. Acts is the reoffering of the Kingdom to Israel; they rejected it so God started his work among Gentiles with Paul in Acts 13:1,2. None of the 12 went outside the land of Palestine in Acts. One baptism in Ephesians, and it's not water my friend! – Christian Doulos Jun 2 at 20:24
  • I hate to say this but your theology is all over the map. You seem captive to Revelation 20 and "the Millennium". You don't appear to appreciate symbolic language in that volume. Anyone baptized, is baptized into Christ's Kingdom now, today. I'm afraid we will simply never agree on these subjects. – Xeno Jun 2 at 20:31
  • Xeno, you said, "You don't appear to appreciate symbolic language in that volume..." I don't "spiritualize" the Scriptures. God cannot go back on His promises to Israel and the coming Kingdom of God on earth is the entire subject of Israeli prophecy. To say it won't happen literally is "theology all over the map." Christ will return to earth to set up his Kingdom; the number 1000 is used six times to emphasize the reality of the literal 1000 years; it is followed by an event where a mass of people try to overthrow Christ, but fire comes down out of heaven to destroy them. That is also literal. – Christian Doulos Jun 3 at 13:41
  • OK. As I said, both of us will strenuously disagree. Apologies if I came across a bit disrespectfully. – Xeno Jun 3 at 17:46

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