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All the verbs in the Great Commission are participles except for μαθητεύσατε ("make disciples). For example, πορευθέντες (going) is often translated as an imperative although it is a participle. What is the best way to translate the participles to reflect what Jesus was saying?

 πορευθέντες ⸀οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, ⸁βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν·* καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ⸉μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμι⸊ πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος. ⸆ (Matt. 28:19–20, NA28)

The following is the grammar related to the participle. These participles are anarthrous and form dependent clauses to the clause μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη.

Participle

(declinable verbal adjective)

    I.      Adjectival Participles: adjectival nature is emphasized over verbal; if the participle is articular, it must be adjectival; if anarthrous, it may be adjectival (617–21)

         A.      Adjectival Proper (Dependent) (617–19)

             1.      Attributive Participles: who, which; functions like an attributive adjective, in any standard attributive position (618)
             2.      Predicate Participles: functions like a predicate adjective in predicate position (though usually in predicate position, the participle is adverbial) (618–19)

         B.      Substantival (Independent): the one who, the thing which; functions in the place of a substantive; can perform virtually any function a noun can; verbal aspect usually retained (619–21)


    II.      Verbal Participles: verbal nature is emphasized over adjectival; only with anarthrous participles, usually nominative and dependent on main verb (621–53)

         A.      Dependent Verbal Participles (622–50)

             1.      Adverbial (or Circumstantial): modifies the verb, answering the question When? (temporal), How? (means, manner), Why? (purpose, cause), etc. (622–40)

                  a.      Temporal: answers the question When? May be antecedent (after doing, after he did), contemporaneous (while doing), or subsequent (before doing, before he does) (623–27)
                  b.      Manner: answers the question, How? by + participle of emotion or attitude (easily confused with means) (627–28)
                  c.      Means: by means of (answering the question, How?); indicates the means by which the action of a finite verb is accomplished; defines or explains the controlling verb; usually follows the verb (628–30)
                  d.      Cause: because (answers the question, Why?); indicates the cause or reason or ground of the action of the finite verb; usually precedes its verb (631–32)
                  e.      Condition: if (implies a condition on which the fulfillment of the idea indicated by the main verb depends) (632–33)
                  f.      Concession: although (implies that the state or action of the main verb is true in spite of the state or action of the participle) (634–35)
                  g.      Purpose (Telic): translate like an infinitive or with the purpose of (indicates the purpose/intent of the action of the finite verb); usually follows main verb (635–37)
                  h.      Result: with the result of (indicates the actual outcome or result of the action of the main verb); can be internal (logical) or external (temporal); follows main verb (637–39)

             2.      Attendant Circumstance: translate as finite verb + and (it describes an action that, in some sense, is coordinate with the finite verb; “piggy-backs” on mood of main verb); five structural clues usually found:

                  •      tense of participle: aorist
                  •      tense of main verb: aorist
                  •      mood of main verb: imperative or indicative
                  •      participle precedes the main verb (both in word order and time of event)
                  •      frequent in narrative, infrequent elsewhere (640–45)

             3.      Indirect Discourse: anarthrous participle in the accusative case, in conjunction with an accusative noun or pronoun, sometimes indicates indirect discourse after a verb of perception or communication; retains tense of direct discourse
             4.      Complementary: completes the thought of another verb; e.g., “I do not cease praying for you” (646)
             5.      Periphrastic: anarthrous participle used with a verb of being to form a finite verbal idea; see table below for various combinations (647–49):

             6.      Redundant (Pleonastic): verb of saying (or thinking) used with a participle with basically the same meaning (as in ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν) (649–50)

         B.      Independent Verbal Participles (650–53)

             1.      As an Imperative (Imperatival): functions just like an imperative; participle not to be attached to any verb in the context, grammatically independent (650–52)
             2.      As an Indicative (Independent Proper or Absolute): functions like declarative indicative; participle stands alone in a declarative sense as the only verb in a clause or sentence (653)


    III.      The Participle Absolute (653–55)

         A.      Nominative Absolute: substantival participle that fits the case description of nominativus pendens—logical rather than syntactical subject at beginning of a sentence (654)

         B.      Genitive Absolute: anarthrous genitive participle with genitive substantive, functioning adverbially (usually temporal), but grammatically independent of verb in main clause (654–55)


Wallace, D. B. (1996). Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (pp. 758–760). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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Here I consider what I think are the relative merits of 4 translations:

  1. Coverdale Bible. "Go ye youre waye". i.e. don't change direction, but as ye go about your normal buisness preach the gospel. This then is not so much an instruction to forsake all and become a missionary; you already are one with your usual contact with the world.

  2. Berean Literal bible. "Therefore having gone". This must need some interpretation otherwise we have to travel before we can teach the Gospel.

  3. NIV "Therefore go". Here "go" is easily heard as a command. Personally I think "As you go" or "Going" makes the emphasis of the Great Commission "make disciples" not "going". I think that a special sort of going was/is not meant to be a prerequisite to teaching, or, making disciples.

  4. From this reasoning I hope I am clear why my preference is Douay-Rheims. "Going therefore make disciples". We are all going somewhere, be it shops, work, hospital or simply home.

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  • Very valuable analysis. Sometimes it takes someone to voice the apparent before it actually registers.
    – Austin
    Aug 25 at 15:24
  • +1 Aside from your excellent main point about translating πορευθέντες, it seems you think the emphasis of the great commission is on the "telling". It seems to me that the emphasis on the "telling" is subordinate to the main emphasis which is on the imperative to disciple.
    – Austin
    Aug 25 at 15:46
  • @Austin Thanks for comment. I was thinking KJB "Go ye therefore, and teach".
    – C. Stroud
    Aug 25 at 15:55
  • @Austin I have edited.
    – C. Stroud
    Aug 25 at 16:11
  • Insightful and humble. Much obliged.
    – Austin
    Aug 26 at 4:52
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A complete list of verbs/participles for Matt 28:19, 20 is as follows:

V19

  • πορευθέντες = having gone = aorist passive participle
  • μαθητεύσατε = disciple = verb, aorist imperative active
  • βαπτίζοντες = baptizing = present active participle

V20a

  • διδάσκοντες = teaching = present active participle
  • τηρεῖν = to observe = verb, present infinitive active
  • ἐνετειλάμην = commanded = verb, aorist indicative middle

V20b

  • ἰδοὺ = behold = verb, aorist imperative active
  • εἰμι = am = verb, present indicative active

Thus, there are five verbs and three participles. Let us concentrate on V19 & 20a.

In the case of V19, the participles are used in conjunction with the main verb as per classical Greek, but in Koine Greek, the participle often stands alone. However, if we associate the participle with the "main verb", then in V19, the only verb is the imperative to "make disciples", but this is only possible, having gone and baptizing.

Thus, at a stretch, we might translate (if we are pedantic about these fine points of grammar)

having gone out, make disciples by baptizing ...

If we continue this, V20a becomes interesting:

Observe what I commanded you by teaching ...

But I would not press the point too strongly.

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  • +1 Dependent means clauses do fit the pattern of following the main clause. The first participle which has traditionally been translated as an imperative is where people vary most.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 19 at 12:28
  • 1
    Why isn't v20a "by teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" for consistency's sake?
    – Austin
    Aug 20 at 15:24
  • @Austin - that would make the "teaching" participle subservient to the previous verb not the "observe" verb.
    – Dottard
    Aug 20 at 21:35
  • 1
    *** that would make the "teaching" participle subservient to the previous verb not the "observe" verb.*** What's wrong with that? Also, why don't you translate the infinitive construction of the Greek word for observe? Since it is in infinitive form should that verb be subordinate to some other verb such as teaching?
    – Austin
    Aug 21 at 21:03

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