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Most translations of Matthew 28:19 begin with:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them …

What "of" means here is ambiguous:

  • All people from all nations should be baptized. (Proselytize)
  • A few people from each nation should be baptized. (Evangelize)

It is often (e.g. the recent How do non-Catholics understand the Catholics fulfillment of the Great Commission? - Christianity Stack Exchange) assumed to have the first meaning, a mission to convert the entire world.

But it could instead mean to spread the word as far as possible, baptizing those few converts that God calls, to provide Christian examples throughout the world, even though the vast majority of each nation will remain unconverted.

Does the original Greek help resolve this ambiguity?

(Just to confuse things, I notice that the Greek word for "them" is masculine, even though "all" and "nations" are neuter.)

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All people from all nations should be baptized. (Proselytize)
A few people from each nation should be baptized. (Evangelize)

Baptizing and making disciples of all nations; or making all nations disciples and baptizing them means the same thing. Disciple all nations means make all nations disciples. The preposition "of" and Greek is unrelated to your confusion, there is no linguistic ambiguity. You are misunderstanding the instruction that every single man has to be converted. Preaching and converting is the same mission. We preach to convert/baptize others into our religion. It is a general statement "preach/convert all the nations". It doesn't mean to force, annoy, and badger everyone who refuses to believe. Jesus explicitly instructed to move on and shake the dust of your feet (Matt 10:14) from those who reject, and not to give pearls to pigs, as it trivializes the value/purpose of the message. Nobody likes the salesman pitch evangelism like Jahowa's Witness (and the Western Evangelical Christians) are famous for. It is imperative never to read the Bible, or any text with a superficial twisted absolutist lens. It is obvious that not all will convert. Preach to only those who need it. God can reveal himself personally to the seekers and guide them to the believing man. Those who seek shall find him.

I must add that this obsession to convert all men is rooted in the doctrine of original sin which assumes that the un-baptized necessarily go to hell/Gehenna, ignoring the fact that God judges all men impartially according to their deeds, and the Gentile nations (unbelievers) are not created as fuel for hell fire.

As for autous "them" for baptizing being masculine, it refers to the implied "men". They are to convert all man, as in mankind of course, as they are fishers or men.

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  • Yes, I asked because Catholics do interpret it as making disciples of every individual in every nation ("The Great Commission"), whereas I would interpret it as some individuals in every nation (to set an example and to receive those few that are called by God). Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 14:30
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μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη means 'disciple all the nations' (Englishman's Greek New Testament and Young's Literal Translation).

The eleven are therefore to 'disciple', to 'baptise' and to 'teach'.

All the nations, every nation, none excluded.

But not 'all' from within 'the nations' will be willing for this.

Yet, they are to try.

Some will receive. Some will be saved. Some will become disciples (of the eleven disciples) and will be baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; will be gathered together ; and thus will further submit to be instructed of all that Jesus conveyed in his earthly ministry.

Thence shall be formed the Body of Christ, the Church, the House of God.

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The Greek of Matt 28:19 reads:

πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος = "Therefore having gone, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit ..." (BLB)

Note that Jesus' instruction does not contain the genitive "of" or anything like it. Jesus simply instructs the disciples to make more disciples of all nations. If we couple with this the next verse, V20, we obtain the several verbs that Jesus commands His disciples to do, to "all the nations" in order to disciple them:

  • baptizing in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  • teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you

Thus, Matt 28:19, 20 contains a single imperative verb: μαθητεύσατε = "disciple"; and this is to be accomplished by "baptizing", "teaching".

The other significant place that "all the nations" occurs in in Matt 24:14 -

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole earth, for a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. (BLB)

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