In Whose Name?
It appears the arguments for baptism in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are weak and insubstantial.
Every Christadelphian baptism I’ve attended, including mine, has ended with the pronouncement: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” For some time, I’ve been puzzled about why we use the Trinity formula at this most important occasion in a believer’s life. After all, it’s a doctrine we reject.
Whenever I’ve posed this question to others, the answer has generally been along the lines of: “Well, it’s in the Bible, and it was okay with Bro. Robert Roberts.” And, indeed, it is. It’s in The Ecclesial Guide1 and here in what we call The Great Commission, given by Jesus to his disciples:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Matt 28:19).2
WDJS—What Did Jesus Say?
But is this really what Jesus said? Is this wording consistent with other evidence we can turn to in Scripture? Did Jesus really instruct the disciples to teach and baptize in the Trinity? If so, they certainly disobeyed parts of this instruction. No instances in the New Testament describe a baptism in the name of a Triune God. But many passages describe how the early apostles baptized solely “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Here is just a sample:
Moreover, the parallel accounts about The Great Commission contain no hint of baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A Mystery… a Forgery?
So, where do we turn for an explanation of this apparent contradiction? This situation has all the hallmarks of the convoluted scheme in Dan Brown’s thriller, The Da Vinci Code. My research has taken me down an elaborate series of rabbit holes, beginning on a mountain in Galilee, where Jesus gave the Great Commission, and ending in Turkey, where a man sat in a position of honor on the dais beside Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicaea.
In between, we need to look at extra-Biblical accounts of and by early Church Fathers who lived and wrote in the first few centuries after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.
How curious is it that not a single Greek manuscript from the first 300 years after Christ contains the last pages of the Gospel of Matthew nor the “in his name” wording? It’s just not there, anywhere. Not only is the wording missing, but the entire last pages of every existing copy are missing.
Not until manuscripts dated after AD 340 do we all of a sudden see the Matthew 28:19 wording currently in our Bibles regarding Trinitarian baptism. Was this a marginal note that somehow became incorporated in the text? Or was a deliberate fraud committed to suppress the original Great Commission and insert the threefold name as a later doctrinal expansion? If so, how could something so significant be accomplished without discovery? Because no evidence has survived to preserve and support an older reading, we can’t prove that someone or a group of someones perpetrated a scam to protect the idea of the Trinity.
Or Can We?
Well, there may be a few firsthand witnesses we can consult—those early Church Fathers.
The first step in a search such as this is to investigate what scholars know about the ancient manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew. Many people believe the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek. However, an early Christian Father, Papias (AD 60-135), wrote that Matthew “compiled the sayings [of the Lord] in the Aramaic language, and everyone translated them as well as he could.”4
And Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 263-339), known as the “Father of Church History,” declared that “Matthew had begun by preaching to the Hebrews, and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own Gospel to writing in his native tongue [Aramaic].”5
Eusebius was a student of another early church leader, Pamphilius of Caesarea (b. unknown d. AD 309). Pamphilius was a dedicated collector of theological writings. His school, library, and scriptorium were considered second only to the ones in Alexandria. At his death, Eusebius inherited Pamphilius’s extensive library and scriptorium. (More about this later.)
In addition, a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, dated in the 14th century, was preserved in a work called Eben Bohan (The Touchstone) by Spanish-Jewish rabbi Shem Tov ben Isacc ben Shaprut. Despite its late date, some, but not all, scholars believe the Jews preserved the Hebrew wording from the first century, as was their meticulous habit regarding Scripture. The Great Commission to the Disciples in Shem Tov’s book reads: “Go and teach them to carry out all the things which I have commanded you forever.”6
It wasn’t until the 16th century that the Greek scholar and translator Erasmus argued that Matthew was originally written in Greek, based on the lack of any extant manuscripts in Aramaic or Hebrew.
What Was in the Rare Book Section?
It is estimated there were 30,000 books in the library at Caesarea, curated by Pamphilius and Eusebius. Historians guess the library remained more or less intact until it was destroyed in the 6th century by Muslim warriors. There is no catalog of the actual contents. However, Jerome (AD 345-420), the translator of the Latin Vulgate, wrote about the original Hebrew copy of the Gospel of Matthew:
Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and a foretimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek, though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Berœa, a city of Syria, who use it.7
So, the question is: Did Eusebius have Matthew’s original manuscript at his disposal? He doesn’t say so, but he does cite Matthew 28:19 many times using “in my name” or something similar. A few examples:
Demonstratio Evangelica, (The Proof of the Gospel) Book 3, 1. 3:6 With one word and voice He said to His disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all the nations in My Name, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” And He joined the effect to His Word;
Demonstratio Evangelica, Book 3, 1. 3:7 Whereas He, who conceived nothing human or mortal, see how truly He speaks with the voice of God, saying in these very words to those disciples of His, the poorest of the poor: “Go forth, and make disciples of all the nations.” “But how,” the disciples might reasonably have answered the Master… But while the disciples of Jesus were most likely either saying thus, or thinking thus, the Master solved their difficulties by the addition of one phrase, saying they should triumph: “In my name.”
Theophania, Book 4, 24. 4:9 On one occasion indeed, He said that “in His Name should be preached repentance to all nations.”
Church History, Book 3, 13. 5:2 But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them,—”Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in My Name.”
Some theologians argue that the Triune language in Matthew 24:19 is the correct wording. They question how a conspiracy to substitute the former language could be pulled off. They also depend on finding the wording in old Matthew manuscripts. However, these are dated only from the fourth century on. While some references in other early church writings mention the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, these are not Scripture. In addition, the Trinity wording appears in a few copies of Eusebius’s writings, but only those dated around his death in 339 and after the Council of Nicea.
This circumstance is not too remarkable, as we know many cultures worshipped a threefold godhead, elaborately detailed in Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons.8 Threefold washings were a ritual used by these pagan religions long before Christ. This idea may have been introduced into the false church established by the Samaritan, Simon Magus, probably the “Simon” who became the Catholic Church’s first Pope, not Simon Peter, as they claim.9
Even the Catholic Church, which adopted many pagan Babylonian ideas, admits it changed the wording in Matthew 28:19:
So, it appears the arguments for baptism in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are weak and insubstantial.
The development of the Doctrine of the Trinity evolved over time.
The Age of Shadows
The development of the Doctrine of the Trinity evolved over time. It was complex, and there were many players. Jesse Hurlbut, a historian, describes that era:
We name the last generation of the first century, from 68 to AD 100, “The Age of Shadows,” partly because the gloom of persecution was over the church, but more especially because of all the periods in the [church’s] history, it is the one about which we know the least. We have no longer the clear light of the Book of Acts to guide us; and no author of that age has filled the blank in the history.11
Just a few decades after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, some of the false teachers predicted by the New Testament authors arose.
During the first years of the Christian age, the true believers were scattered far and wide because of persecution by Roman authorities. The early Christian writings were filled with questions about the nature of Christ. Was he God? Was he a man? Was he a man who changed into a god? Was he a chimera (an illusion)?
There were also debates about the Holy Spirit. All this activity occurred in an environment of pagan Babylonian, Greek, and Roman ideas, some of which were attractive to these scholars. Eventually, by the mid-4th century, the disagreement settled down to two main camps, the followers of Arius (non-trinitarian) and those of Athanasius (trinitarian). The debate was fraught with violence. The Trinity dogma required many councils, threats, deceit, and blood before its consolidation; thousands were put to death during this time. (Many more deaths were to follow during the 1600-year history of Papal reign—millions of Trinity deniers have been found worthy of death.)
An Old Man at the Council of Nicaea
The Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, was alarmed by the violence of the nature of God debate, a challenge to keeping his empire unified. In AD 325, for political reasons, not religious, he called for all the premier bishops to convene in Nicaea, in modern-day Turkey. Eusebius was one of them.
Indeed, he was privileged with a seat on the dais beside Constantine and gave the opening oratory. Even though he leaned toward Arianism, he and the other bishops were cowed by the grandeur of the Emperor into going along with his choice. Constantine did not care what the outcome would be; he just wanted closure and unity.
Constantine chose to support the Athanasian position. Eusebius, who, by now, was quite elderly and perhaps not his usual forceful self, reluctantly went along. We know his thoughts because he wrote a letter to his congregation in Caesarea:
This we have been forced to transmit to you, Beloved, as making clear to you the deliberation of our inquiry and assent, and how reasonably we resisted even to the last minute as long as we were offended at statements which differed from our own, but received without contention what no longer pained us, as soon as, on a candid examination of the sense of the words, they appeared to us to coincide with what we ourselves have professed in the faith which we have already published.12
The result of the conference was the Nicene Creed, which forms the basis of understanding about God in most of today’s Christian religions.13 Matthew 28:19 is prime proof for believers of the Trinity. What if that language has been changed? How do we rationalize some Bible passages as original and others as not? This question is the elephant in the room, a most difficult question.
We encounter it when modern translations use newly discovered and earlier-dated documents. When scholars find wording deviations, both omissions, and additions, they note them in the margins of our Bibles. The length to which we trust in the inclusion of this recently discovered language in modern Bibles is one for further individual study.
What does it matter that Christadelphians baptize using the Trinity Formula? Does it make the baptism invalid? No. Does it mean we think Jesus is God? Absolutely not. Is God a three-person entity? Again, no! However, some brothers and sisters may be more sensitive to this issue than others and ask why we reference a God we don’t believe in. This is a doctrine we take great pains to reject. We make sure our baptism candidates don’t espouse the Trinity. It is one of the major differences between our community and other religions. Why would Jesus endorse the Triune God?
If using the Trinitarian Baptism Formula is bothersome, it may be worthwhile to turn to the language used in other baptism scenarios in the New Testament. Why not perform your next baptism with “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Pittsburgh Ecclesia, PA
- Roberts, Robert, The Ecclesial Guide, Birmingham, The Christadelphian, (1989), p. 7.
- All Scriptural citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible, unless specifically noted.
- Some scholars believe Mark 16:9-20 might not be in the original. There are pros and cons to this question. See thegospelcoalition.org/article/was-mark-16-9-20-originally-mark-gospel/. In any event, the Triune Formula is not present.
- Eusebius, History of the Church, Book III, Chap. 39.16.
- Ibid. Chap. 24.6.
- Howard, George, The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, Mercer University Press, 2005.
- Jerome, De Viris Illustreibus, (On Illustrious Men), #3
- Hislop, Alexander, The Two Babylons, Partridge, London, 1926.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 (vol. II, pp. 263 and 265).
- Hurlbut, Jesse, The Story of the Christian Church, 1970. p. 33.
- Newman, John Henry, Library of the Fathers, vol. 8, pp. 59-72.