Willis: A Narrative starting with Baptism – An Introduction and Matthew 28

A Long Narrative

Over the next few weeks I will be publishing what essentially is my Master’s Thesis. My Thesis deals with the issues of Baptism. However, I intend to provide our readers with a long narrative that leads and connects the topic of Baptism to the topics of infant Baptism, mental and physical illness, and even sexuality. It may not be clear how these topics connect with each other, but it will be made clear over time. For now, I think it is important to identify what Baptism is. Therefore, I am proud to introduce the first piece of my narrative. 

Introduction to the Topic of Baptism

The Christian doctrine of Baptism is perhaps one of the most popular and divisive subjects of discussion, debate, and discourse, as Armstrong states, “…nothing more quickly leads to disagreement among otherwise agreeable Christians than a discussion about… Christian baptism.”1 Ever since the time of the Reformation, multiple Christian denominations have sought and fought to find the answer to the question: What is Baptism?

For the purpose of this essay, I will be following in the footsteps of those who have attempted to answer this question. However, I will be asking a much more specific question: Does Baptism efficaciously work salvation? And who is the one at work in the act of Baptism? Operating under the belief of Sola Scriptura, I will answer these two questions by diving into Scripture and exegeting the various texts in Scripture that deal with Baptism.

Before I begin this process, we must first find the answer to the question of: Why? Why is it important to find the answer to these questions? The answer to this is found in Scripture, Matthew 15:8-9, where Jesus said, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” How does this connect? If we are to teach that either Baptism brings about salvation or that Baptism is a mere outward symbol, we must make sure these doctrines are not the doctrines of men, but rather the revealed doctrines of God. So, if Scripture reveals Baptism is something that saves, we ought to teach just that and not insert our own doctrines. The reverse is equally true, if Scripture reveals Baptism is a mere symbol, then we ought not insert our own doctrines into it. The answer to our questions ultimately comes down to God’s Word versus man’s opinion. And we must always seek God’s Word in order for it to reign supreme over man’s opinion.

By answering our two questions, via Sola Scriptura, we allow ourselves to cut through philosophical conjecture, denominational dogma, and the opinion of men. Thus, we go to the Scriptures, in their original context, original language, and original meaning in order to answer our primary questions: Does Baptism efficaciously work salvation? And is God the one who is working in Baptism? Most importantly, by coming to a conclusion based on the Holy Scriptures, we not only achieve the aforementioned goal of cutting through conjecture and opinion, but we also allow ourselves to find unity and comfort in the Holy Gifts of God, His promises, and ultimately the blessed embrace of the Gospel.

Matthew 28:19-20

Though the subject of Baptism is mentioned by Jesus Christ prior to this (John 3:5, which is discussed below), it is appropriate to start our discussion with the Christian commission of Baptism. The text reads:

πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμὶ πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.2

Here, Christ commands  His disciples are to go to all the ἔθνη, that is, all the nations. When we see πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, we know this is referring to everyone or all within a nation or people group. David P. Scaer writes, “Certainly here there is no distinction in regard to ethnicity, race, or age!”3 But is this an accurate claim when one considers the original text? Or is there reason to think that the τὰ ἔθνη is more restricted than what Scaer claims?

R.C.H. Lenski seems to agree with Scaer on the basis of the Greek, stating, “The Universality of the commission is made plain by τὰ ἔθνη, ‘all nations’ of the earth,”4 and also, “The contention that the Lord did not think of little children in this… that τὰ ἔθνη and αὐτοὺς… cannot include children, is untenable.”5 The implication here being that all nations includes all peoples of all types. Take, for example, the use of πᾶν ἔθνος in Acts 17:26. It should be noted first, πᾶν implies everything that is a part of something or that which applies to a something, that which is composed to make that thing.6 Therefore, when used in this context along with ἔθνος, it means every part of the nations of men (ἀνθρώπων). That being men, women, children. All within the nation. The πάντα τὰ ἔθνη of Matthew 28:19 carries a similarly inclusive tone. The main difference being that ἀνθρώπων is present in Acts 17:26, where here in the Gospel, Matthew simply lets that role be played by the plural nature of ἔθνη. Lenski writes in further detail concerning this topic when discussing the nature of how nations are to be made, saying:

[The] two participles of means state how all nations are to be made into disciples: by baptizing [βαπτίζοντες] them and by teaching [διδάσκοντες] them. The order in which those two participles appear is not accidental. Jesus sees beyond the first missionary stage of the Gospel work when adults must be taught before Baptism can be administered to them, he sees his church being established among the nations and children thus entering it in infancy, and this means baptism.7 By this Lenski is suggesting that the ἔθνη clearly includes everyone from the young and the old.

Lenski’s quote above also addresses a dispute that commonly arises concerning the nature of making disciples and the order that is presented. An example of this dispute can be found from Thomas A. Nettles who states:

The participles take the force of the command to make disciples: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. The order is informative as it previews the obedient work of the apostles in Acts. First they made disciples; next they baptized; then they taught and provided a means for perpetuity of instruction in the churches thus established. Jesus’ command gives an explicit order that his disciples have no right to alter.8

Nettles suggests, as the quote above reads, that there is a step by step process that must be followed and that the making of disciples is not what is being done by baptizing and teaching but rather the first step that must occur prior to Baptism and teaching.9 However, Robert Kolb replies that “Christ’s command… does not prescribe a chronological order…”10 Lenski supports Kolb here by exegeting the Greek more in depth, writing:

This imperative [μαθητεύσατε], of course means, ‘to turn into disciples,’ and its aorist form conveys the thought that this is actually to be done. The verb… does not indicate how disciples are to be made, it designates only an activity that will result in disciples… Those who draw the conclusion that we must always teach first and use this passage as proof against infant baptism are basing their conclusion on a mistranslation.11

This is to say that to make μαθητεύσατε is not a part of the process but rather it is the result of the Command to Baptize and teach. μαθητεύσατε comes about by the Baptism and teaching of the whole world, the πάντα τὰ ἔθνη.

Lenski further expands his breakdown of the Greek text by explaining that βαπτίζοντες and διδάσκοντες are parallel, but do not have a connective to join them in sequence temporally.12 Therefore, Lenski concludes, we are meant to understand that each is to be applied as needed, which connects back to the first quote from Lenski, where adults should receive teaching first then Baptism, and that children should receive Baptism then teaching.13

Andrew Das, like Lenski, handles the issue brought up by Nettles, and just like Lenski, Das turns to the Greek text to find the solution, explaining:

‘Make disciples’ (matheteusate) is followed by the participles ‘baptizing’ (baptidsontes) and ‘teaching’ (didaskontes). Hence: ‘make disciples by baptizing and teaching.’ Had Jesus meant to say ‘Having made disciples, baptize and teach’ (thereby separating the baptizing from the making disciples of), the imperative ‘make disciples’ would rather have been the participle ‘having made disciples’ (mathateusantes). The participles ‘baptizing’ (baptidsontes) and ‘teaching’ (didaskontes) would have been the imperatives ‘baptize’ (baptidsete) and ‘teach’ (didaskete). Rather the two modal participles ‘baptizing’ and ‘teaching’ are subordinated to ‘make disciples’14

Das hits the point home in saying all of this, making it clear that the verse is clearly about making disciples via the process of baptizing and teaching everyone in the world.

Thus, what can we conclude that we can know about Baptism from these verses alone? We conclude that Baptism is a divine command, as Christ Himself commanded it, that Baptism is for all people everywhere regardless of age or race, and that it is Baptism and teaching that creates and makes disciples.15

1 John H. Armstrong and Paul E. Engle, eds., Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007) 11.

2 Eberhard et Erwin Nestle and Barbara et Kurt Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece (Peabody, MA: Hendricksons Publishers, 2006), 87.

3 David P. Scaer, Baptism (Saint Louis, MO: The Luther Academy, 1999) 141.

4 R.C.H Lenski, The Interpretation of Matthews Gospel (Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1943) 1173.

5 Lenski, Matthew, 1179.

6 Strong’s Concordance, 3956. pas. http://biblehub.com/greek/3956.htm. Accessed April 20th, 2017.
Also see James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009) 56.

7 Lenski, Matthew, 1173.

8 Armstrong, Four Views, 33.

It is important to note the lack of clarity in what Nettles states here. He insists upon what seems to be a legalistic order to things. Yet if taken as Nettles would have it, how are we to know what it takes to make a disciple? If one is to make disciples, then baptize, then teach all that Christ has commanded, how does one even begin? There is no answer found in the given text of what makes one a disciple.

9 Ibid, 32-34.

10 Armstrong, Understanding Four Views on Baptism, 104.

11 Lenski, Matthew, 1172-1173.

12 Ibid, 1178-1179.

13 Ibid, 1173.

14 A. Andrew Das, Baptized into God’s Family: The Doctrine of Infant Baptism for Today (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 2008) 153-154. Footnote 10.

15 At this point it is good to ask the question: Is anyone excluded from the command that Christ gave? Meaning: Is anyone to be excluded either from the Baptism that is commanded or the teaching? The answer is found in Lenski above, in that for adults, as a matter of dealing with their grown stubborn natures which have developed over years of sin, teaching is required before Baptism. This is done for the purpose of breaking them down and bringing them to repentance with the Law, and then taking them to the waters of Baptism, where the Gospel is found. If repentance, such as that of the crowd at Pentecost is lacking, then Baptism does not occur in the face of hardened hearts. For infants, exclusion would only likely be found in cases where the child would not be raised in the faith, that is that they would not receive the teaching that follows Baptism. These examples would be the children of atheists or other non-believers. This would result in the throwing of pearls to swine, or throwing good seed on bad ground. It is not that Baptism would lack efficacy, but that full disciples would not be created as a result due to lack of teaching.

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