Letters to the Editor – February 2024
On, "We All Love Bible Schools" and "In Whose Name".
WE ALL LOVE BIBLE SCHOOLS
I quite enjoyed the Bible School article (We All Love Bible Schools, November 2023), and of course, the author mentioned it was not comprehensive. I should mention that after Arkansas Bible School, the idea was next repeated not amongst the Amended ecclesias but the Ontario Unamended ecclesias, which became the Canadian Christadelphian Bible School. It has its origins in the Toronto Ossington and Hamilton West Ave. ecclesias.
Members of these meetings already had cottages up in Muskoka, and it made sense to start a Bible School up in Muskoka. It eventually moved to Haliburton, Ontario, where it remained until we had to leave due to us not drinking alcohol (the resorts were short of cash and needed the money that came from alcohol sales).
At one point in the 1960s, the Bible School rented out three resorts and a campsite, as there were so many attendees. No member of any ecclesia was required to stay at home if they didn’t have enough money. Plenty of members had their fees paid for out of ecclesial accounts, including my family. We had many wealthy members, which got us the connections to these resorts but also the money to pay for attendees short of cash.
It was life-changing for so many of our young people. At the time, no Central ecclesia in Ontario had anything like it.
IN WHOSE NAME?
Given Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Tim 3:16 that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” as well as the warning in Rev 22:19, “if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life,” I think it’s important that we take great care when we propose that words be removed from Scripture because they seem to conflict with our understanding of the Word.
we need to seek to understand what Christ was saying
I read with some interest, then, the recent article “In Whose Name?” (November 2023) and was motivated to do some further research on the subject. In the first paragraph, the article calls the words, “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” the Trinity formula. If they are the words of Christ, they are not the Trinity formula and rather than trying to remove wording that we are uncomfortable with, we need to seek to understand what Christ was saying.
The article rightly notes that there are no examples of the use of this wording in the baptisms recorded in the New Testament, but it doesn’t seem that we have exact quotes of what the one performing the baptism said on any of these occasions.
A good example is found in Acts 19. Here Luke records one of Paul’s visits to Ephesus where he finds disciples. He asks if they have received the Holy Spirit and they respond that they haven’t even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit. This prompts Paul to question their baptism and they respond that they had received John’s baptism.
Something about these disciples not knowing about the Holy Spirit prompts Paul to question their baptism. Could it be Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19? The record goes on to record that they were then baptized, “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” That doesn’t mean, however, that those were the exact words spoken by the one performing the baptism.
Much (all?) of what we have in the New Testament record is just a brief summary of what occurred. Going back to our example from Acts 19, do we think that Paul’s words in verse 4 are the complete record of what he said to them between verses 3 and 5, or do we think he elaborated on this topic?
Could it also be that “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” is shorthand that differentiated the baptism that the apostles performed from John’s baptism or from the ritual bathing of the Jews? So, the fact that this wording isn’t found elsewhere in the New Testament isn’t proof that the wording in Matt 28:19 is spurious.
The article goes on to say that the “parallel accounts” don’t mention baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is true, but the Mark account doesn’t mention baptism into any name, the Luke account doesn’t mention baptism at all, and the quote from John is not a parallel account (and doesn’t mention baptism either). So, these quotes give no support for questioning the wording of Matthew 28:19.
In the next section of the article, the author finds it curious that not a single Greek manuscript from the first 300 years after Christ contains the “in his name” wording, and that “the entire last pages of every existing copy are missing.” Again, this is true, but in fact, there are only 15 extant papyri fragments of Matthew’s gospel that have been dated prior to AD 300 and most contain only a couple of verses. (Wikipedia, List of New Testament Papyri, October 18, 2023, wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Testament_papyri)
It’s true that none of these fragments include any portion of the last pages of Matthew’s gospel, but they contain no portion of chapters 6-9, 15-18, 21, 27 or 28 and, all together, they contain less than 10% of Matthew’s gospel, so the omission of the “in his name” phrase isn’t curious at all.
It’s just that there are very few fragments of text that exist from this period. What we do know is that every existing Greek manuscript that contains Matthew 28:19 contains the standard wording. (Sean Finnegan, Restitutio.org, Is Matthew 28.19 a Forgery?, April 25, 2018, restitutio.org/2018/04/25/is-matthew-28-19-a-forgery/)
The next argument is that early sources reference the existence of Aramaic copies of Matthew that may have been preserved in Shem Tov’s work Eben Bohan. It’s important to note that Shem Tov was anti-Christian and wrote his work specifically to argue against the trinitarian belief that Jesus is God and also argues against recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.
Giving his translation of 1380 AD more weight than the thousands of Greek manuscripts dating as far back as the 300s seems a little dubious. In fact, it wasn’t until 1987 that George Howard first argued that Shem Tov’s Hebrew Gospel of Matthew long predates the 14th century, and may better represent the original text.
He argues that it is based on the record mentioned by Papias in the 2nd century. Other scholars reject Howard’s opinion, noting that it contains late Hebrew idioms rather than early Hebrew and shows signs of Greek textual influence. (David Bivin, Jerusalem Perspective, Has a Hebrew Gospel Been Found, Oct 9, 2006, online version with comments. See comment dated Jun 22, 2021, www.jerusalemperspective.com/4067)
One scholar, José-Vicente Nicolas Albarracin, has proposed a process for the creation of Shem Tov’s translation starting with the Latin text of the Vulgate, not ancient Hebrew or Aramaic. (José-Vicente NICLÓS ALBARRACÍN, The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew in Shem Tob’s Eben Boḥan, Particular Features and Medieval Sources, Revue des Études Juives, pp.137-157).
The article also mentions that Eusebius, an early church historian, only uses the standard wording of Matthew 28:19 after the council of Nicaea, in 325 AD. However, the council of Nicaea didn’t settle the trinity question. It deified Christ but the Creed of Nicaea did not mention the Holy Spirit as God.
It wasn’t until the creed was revised at the council of Constantinople in 380 that the Holy Spirit was defined as God. In the 60 years between these two councils, a debate raged about whether the Holy Spirit was God. If Matthew’s text had been changed at this time to insert, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” it would have provided great ammunition for the anti-trinitarians, but there doesn’t seem to be any argument raised by them during this period that Matthew 28:19 had been altered.
The final argument raised in support of Matthew 28:19 having been changed is an admission by the Catholic church that it had done so. The article presents a quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, Volume 2, pages 263 and 265. This quote, however, doesn’t exist. This edition of the Catholic encyclopedia is available online archive.org/details/catholicencyclop02herbuoft/page/262/mode/2up) and nowhere does it even suggest that the Pope changed the wording of Matthew 28:19.
The section on baptism runs from page 258 through 274 and the subsection starting on page 262 is about the form of words used in performing the baptism. It states that the wording, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” is the form of words given by Christ in Matthew 28:19.
It goes on to say, “This is the command of Christ to His Disciples, and as the sacrament has its efficacy from Him Who instituted it, we cannot omit anything that He has prescribed. Nothing is more certain than that this has been the general understanding and practice of the Church.” Far from claiming that a Pope changed the wording, the article argues that the wording “in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost” came from Christ.
In the end, it seems that the argument for Matthew 28:19 being a forgery is weak and insubstantial. In the closing comments the article asks why we, as Christadelphians, “reference a God we don’t believe in” and, “Why would Jesus endorse a Triune God?” The simple answers are we don’t, and he didn’t.
When we say those words, we’re not referring to a Trinity, and Jesus wasn’t endorsing a Triune God any more than he was endorsing a belief in a supernatural devil when he said, “I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” Simply having the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the same sentence doesn’t imply a belief in the Trinity, an idea that didn’t even exist when Jesus spoke these words.
So why would Jesus say this and why would we use this wording in our baptisms? Brother Roger Lewis gave a wonderful exposition of the phrase in Matthew 28:19 in a class about our hymns at the Mid-Atlantic Bible School to which the reader is commended. It can be found online at christadelphianbibletalks.com/studies/1920/ (click on Roger Lewis) – Highlights from the Hymn Book (MACBS) – class 1 – Highlights from the Hymn Book (How to Sing with Understanding).mp3 and the relevant section starts about 12 minutes in.
Bro. Robert Roberts also comments on the passage in the Ecclesial Guide.
As regards the form of words, it is better to say, “baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, than simply “baptized into the Lord Jesus”, for this reason: the first form of words keeps the truth concerning Christ in the foreground—that he is the manifestation of the Father by the Holy Spirit and that what he did, he did not of himself as a man; whereas the latter leaves the way open for the idea to grow up that Jesus came in his own name (which he expressly says he did not), and not in his Father’s name (which he expressly says he did). (The Ecclesial Guide, Section 9. Baptismal Formula)
On the other hand, one could also argue that the standard wording leaves the door open for the idea to grow up that Jesus is part of a triune godhead and so the shorter wording is better. That seems to be the viewpoint that the author is concerned with in the article, but if we properly instruct candidates before baptism, we guard against both of these errors without seeking to remove from Scripture words that we may find difficult or uncomfortable.
Pittsburgh Ecclesia, PA
The question of the authenticity of the wording in Matthew 28:19 has been around for hundreds of years, featuring discussions by scholars such as Isaac Newton, Tyndale, Martin Luther, Coverdale, Conybeare and many more modern authors. There are two camps of thought: the one considered in the article “In Whose Name?” and the one described by Bro. David Pommer in his letter. Which is the more credible baptism formula we should use? The one mentioned numerous times in the New Testament or the Trinty-slanted wording found only once?
The article did not question the inspiration of the Scriptures. We did not propose taking an exacto knife to the passage. The aim was to find an explanation for the evident disparate baptism formulae wordings. A hallmark of study practices espoused by Christadelphians is to use the whole Scriptures to conclude a doctrinal point.
“In the name of Christ” appears at least a dozen times in the New Testament, the Matthew 28 language only once. So, where there is an outlier verse, such as Matthew 28:19, we must carefully research to find an explanation. That is taking an uncomfortable feeling and using it to further our understanding of God’s mind, as revealed in the Scriptures.
Currently, students of the Word have many new tools. One of which is the benefit of newly discovered manuscripts and fresh analyses of the language. Thus, there are many documented deviations from the texts of the first English iterations of the Scriptures found in the 1611 King James Version.
These modern findings are generally annotated in the margins or footnotes of newer translations. Some variations are simply copyist errors of spelling and grammar. Others are more substantial in missing or added wording. Reading the translation philosophy in the preface of a Bible version is a worthwhile exercise. For more details on this subject, please Internet search for “New Testament Verses not included in modern English translations.” It is up to the Bible student to make their own determination about their validity.
Bro. David is correct in saying we do not consider Matthew 28:19 to be the Trinity. It does not say that these three elements are co-equal, co-substantial and co-eternal as a part of the Godhead. However, Trinitarians do think this passage is about the Trinity. That is why we suggested using “in Christs’ name” for baptisms.
Christadelphians don’t believe in the Trinity, but others outside the ecclesia or young people might think so and be confused. As for teaching our children and outsiders, it doesn’t make sense to instruct them that God is one, but their baptism will be performed in “the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” Let’s just skip that step and go for “in Christs’ name.”
Unfortunately, the material quoted in the article regarding the Catholic Church’s changing of Mathew 28:19 was erroneously attributed to The Catholic Encyclopedia. It, however, was actually an opinion obtained by a review of material in pages of that work. In discussing the history of the baptism formula, it is stated that certain sects of Catholicism were permitted to still use the older form of baptism, in Christ’s name, in a ruling by Bishop Stephen (Pope AD 254-257).
Saying they deliberately changed the text of Matthew 28 was not entirely correct. But we can say that they changed the formula they practiced. When or how it came to appear in the Scriptural manuscripts, all of which date after the fourth century, we cannot tell. Neither can we tell which wording was in the earlier documents because they are missing many pages, as Bro. David wrote.
As additional validation of the change in baptismal wording, Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) made this statement in Introduction to Christianity: 1968 edition, pp. 82, 83:
The basic form of our (Matthew 28:19 Trinitarian) profession of faith took shape during the course of the second and third centuries in connection with the ceremony of baptism. As far as its place of origin is concerned, the text (Matthew 28:19) came from the city of Rome.”
We thank Bro. David for his comments and for the addition to the discussion of this topic. It is commendable for us, like the Bereans, to eagerly search the Scriptures.
Pittsburgh Ecclesia, PA