The various accounts of the Great Commission offer so many rich perspectives and principles that they deserve frequent study and reflection. One phrase of one verse of in Matthew’s narrative stands out, including what it says about the Holy Spirit.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28.19.
I. Baptism for relationship
The phrase “in the name of” does not reflect accurately the sense of the original, since English has some difficulty with the combination of terms. Literally, it means baptizing into the name. Since this phrasing is not a pleasant English expression, most Bible translations fall back on a known phrase, which actually conveys another idea.
The ASV, however, is exactly on spot here: “baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The first edition of the Amplified Version also retains this preposition, “into,” as do a number of minor versions. It is interesting that the 1971 Living Bible also retains the preposition. (It was a paraphrase of the ASV.)
All this to say that in some manner Bible versions should show that the original preposition introduces the candidate into a relationship with God — “name” represents God’s person and nature.
The true meaning of this phrase indicates then the purpose of baptism, and ought to be commonly used to demonstrate the effective nature of the act. It also removes the phrase from the idea that it is to be recited as a formula during baptism. I often use it when I baptize, but Jesus is not commanding it to be said over the candidate. He is explaining to us what baptism does.
II. Separate Spirit but one Name
The construction of the phrase shows that baptism puts one into relationship with the Name, which represents the entire Godhead. We sustain a relationship with the Holy Spirit, as much as we do with the Father and the Son. He is involved in our conversion, our perseverance, and our service.
The repetition of the article “the” reflects the original language. It makes the Holy Spirit distinct from the Father and the Son, at the same time that the Name brings them all together under the same nature.
In this way, Jesus is revealing to us a great truth about the Godhead. The Three are separate but one. They are one in purpose, each with a function to fulfill.
III. Teaching means one must understand
The verb behind “make disciples” implies that people must be taught. Teaching then is the key activity to disciple making and to disciple growth. Jesus’ instruction shows that people must understand the demands of following him and the way to become a follower. People must know what baptism is for. Otherwise, it becomes a sacrament, having efficacy independently of the candidate’s understanding. This is why denominational baptism is wrong, because often the form, the candidate and — almost always — the purpose of baptism is taught wrongly. Doing it just because Jesus said to do it misses the truth that we must do it for the reason he said to do it. Motives matter.
And where do we get the subject matter for teaching? From the Holy Spirit, of course, who inspired the apostles and prophets and guaranteed the preservation and collections on the inspired writings.
In one way or another, the person must understand that baptism puts one in a relationship with God. (Without baptism, a person does not know God.) Baptism does this by removing sin, Acts 2.38; 22.16; 1 Peter 3.16. Salvation, redemption, and reconciliation come through the forgiveness of sin, by the blood of Christ, Luke 1.77; Ephesians 1.7; Romans 5.9-10. Baptism puts us into contact with the cleansing blood and we are thus put into relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
God’s plan is beautiful in every detail. His salvation is a marvelous thing. We rejoice to have heard the gospel and give thanks that we have been given the opportunity to understand, respond, and serve.