In the first part of this series, we examined the Scriptural evidence on this question. It is also important to consider the historical evidence.
Let us now take a little time to examine the evidence of early historians, mainly Christian writers for the first few centuries after Christ.
Justin Martyr – Dialog with Trypho[i] (Written c. 147 AD – c. 161 AD)
In Chapter XXXIX, p.573 he wrote: “Therefore, just as God did not inflict His anger on account of those seven thousand men, even so He has now neither yet inflicted judgment, nor does inflict it, knowing that daily some [of you] are becoming disciples in the name of Christ, and quitting the path of error;’”
Justin Martyr – First Apology
Here, however, in Chapter LXI (61) we find, “For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water.”[ii]
There is no evidence in any writings before Justin Martyr, (around 150 AD.) of anyone being baptized or the practice being that someone be baptized, in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is also highly likely that this text in the First Apology could either be reflecting the practice of some Christians at that time or a later alteration of the text.
Evidence from De Rebaptismate[iii] (a Tract: On Rebaptism) circa 254 AD. (Writer: anonymous)
Chapter 1 “The point is whether, according to the most ancient custom and ecclesiastical tradition, it would suffice, after that baptism which they have received outside the Church indeed, but still in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, that only hands should be laid upon them by the bishop for their reception of the Holy Spirit, and this imposition of hands would afford them the renewed and perfected seal of faith; or whether, indeed, a repetition of baptism would be necessary for them, as if they should receive nothing if they had not obtained baptism afresh, just as if they were never baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”.
Chapter 3 “for as yet the Holy Spirit had not descended upon any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”. (This was referring to Acts 8 in discussing the baptism of the Samaritans)
Chapter 4 “because baptism in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ has gone before it—may the Holy Spirit also be given to another man who repents and believes. Because the Holy Scripture has affirmed that they who should believe in Christ, must needs be baptized in the Spirit; so that these also may not seem to have anything less than those who are perfectly Christians; lest it should be needful to ask what sort of a thing was that baptism which they have attained in the name of Jesus Christ. Unless, perchance, in that former discussion also, about those who should only have been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, thou shouldst decide that they can be saved even without the Holy Spirit, “.
Chapter 5: ”Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.””. (This is referring to the account of the baptism of Cornelius and his household.)
Chapter 6: “Nor, as I think, was it for any other reason that the apostles had charged those whom they addressed in the Holy Spirit, that they should be baptized in the name of Christ Jesus, except that the power of the name of Jesus invoked upon any man by baptism might afford to him who should be baptized no slight advantage for the attainment of salvation, as Peter relates in the Acts of the Apostles, saying: “For there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”(4) As also the Apostle Paul unfolds, showing that God hath exalted our Lord Jesus, and “given Him a name, that it may be above every name, that in the name of Jesus all should bow the knee, of things heavenly and earthly, and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord in the glory of God the Father.”
Chapter 6: “although they were baptized in the name of Jesus, yet, if they had been able to rescind their error in some interval of time,”.
Chapter 6: “although they were baptized with water in the name of the Lord, might have had a faith somewhat imperfect. Because it is of great importance whether a man is not baptized at all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,”.
Chapter 7 “Neither must you esteem what our Lord said as being contrary to this treatment: “Go ye, teach the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
This clearly indicates that being baptized in the name of Jesus was the practice and what had Jesus said, as the unknown writer of De Baptismate argues that the practice to “baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” should not be considered to contradict Christ’s command.
Conclusion: In the mid-3rd Century, the practice was to baptize in the name of Jesus. However, some were beginning to argue in favor of baptizing “them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. This was before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD which affirmed the Trinity doctrine.
Didache[iv] (Written: unknown, estimates from circa 100 AD. to 250 AD., Writer: unknown)
The writer(s) is\are unknown, the date of writing is uncertain though it existed in some form by around 250 AD. However, significantly Eusebius of the late 3rd, early 4th Century includes the Didache (a.k.a. the Teachings of the Apostles) in his list of non-canonical, spurious works. (See Historia Ecclesiastica – Church History. Book III, 25, 1-7).[v]
Didache 7:2-5 reads, “7:2 Having first taught all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. 7:3 But if you have not living water, then baptize in other water; 7:4 and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. 7:5 But if you have neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Didache 9:10 reads, “9:10 But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord;”
Wikipaedia[vi] states “The Didache is a relatively short text with only some 2,300 words. The contents may be divided into four parts, which most scholars agree were combined from separate sources by a later redactor: the first is the Two Ways, the Way of Life and the Way of Death (chapters 1–6); the second part is a ritual dealing with baptism, fasting, and Communion (chapters 7–10); the third speaks of the ministry and how to treat apostles, prophets, bishops, and deacons (chapters 11–15); and the final section (chapter 16) is a prophecy of the Antichrist and the Second Coming.”.
There is only one full copy of the Didache, found in 1873, which dates back only to 1056. Eusebius of the late 3rd, early 4th Century includes the Didache (the Teachings of the Apostles) in his list of non-canonical, spurious works. (See Historia Ecclesiastica – Church History. Book III, 25). [vii]
Athanasius (367) and Rufinus (c. 380) list the Didache among Apocrypha. (Rufinus gives the curious alternative title Judicium Petri, “Judgment of Peter”.) It is rejected by Nicephorus (c. 810), Pseudo-Anastasius, and Pseudo-Athanasius in Synopsis and the 60 Books canon. It is accepted by the Apostolic Constitutions Canon 85, John of Damascus, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Conclusion: The Teachings of the Apostles or Didache was already commonly considered spurious in the early 4th century. Given that Didache 9:10 agrees with the scriptures examined at the beginning of this article and hence contradicts Didache 7:2-5, in the author’s view Didache 9:10 represents the original text as quoted extensively in the writings of Eusebius in the early 4th Century rather than the version of Matthew 28:19 as we have it today.
Crucial Evidence from the writings of Eusebius Pamphili of Caesarea (c. 260 AD to c. 339 AD)
Eusebius was a historian and became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima about 314 AD. He left many writings and commentaries. His writings date from the end of the 3rd Century into the mid-4th Century AD, both before and after the Council of Nicaea.
What did he write about how baptism was performed?
Eusebius made numerous quotes particularly from Matthew 28:19 as follows:
- Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical \ Church History), Book 3 Chapter 5:2 “went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them, “Go and make disciples of all the nations in my name.””. [viii]
- Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel), Chapter 6, 132 “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,” [[Matt. xxviii. 19.]] and He joined the effect to His Word;” [ix]
- Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel), Chapter 7, Paragraph 4 “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 (c) triumph “In MY NAME.” For He did not bid them simply and indefinitely make disciples of all nations, but with the necessary addition of ” In my Name.” And the power of His Name being so great, that the apostle says: “God has given him a name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth,” [[Phil. ii. 9.]] He shewed the virtue of the power in His Name concealed (d) from the crowd when He said to His disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all nations in my Name.” He also most accurately forecasts the future when He says: “For this gospel must first be preached to all the world, for a witness to all nations.” [[Matt.xxiv.14.]]”. [x]
- Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel), Chapter 7, Paragraph 9 “… am irresistibly forced to retrace my steps, and search for their cause, and to confess that they could only have succeeded in their daring venture, by a power more divine, and more strong than man’s, and by the co-operation of Him Who said to them: “Make disciples of all the nations in my Name.” And when He said this He appended a promise, that would ensure their courage and readiness to devote themselves to carrying out His commands. For He said to them: “And lo! I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the world.” [xi]
- Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel), Book 9, Chapter 11, Paragraph 4 “And He bids His own disciples after their rejection, “Go ye and make disciples of all nations in my name.”[xii]
- Theophania – Book 4, Paragraph (16): “Our Saviour said to them therefore, after His resurrection, “Go ye and make Disciples of all nations in my name,“”.[xiii]
- Theophania – Book 5, Paragraph (17): “He (the Saviour) said in one word and enouncement to His Disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations in my name, and teach ye them every thing that I have commanded you.” [xiv]
- Theophania – Book 5, Paragraph (49): “and by the assistance of Him who said to them, “Go, and make Disciples of all nations in my name.”And, when He had said this to them, He attached to it the promise, by which they should be so encouraged, as readily to give themselves up to the things commanded. For He said to them, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” It is stated, moreover, that He breathed into them the Holy Ghost with the Divine power; (thus) giving them the power to work miracles, saying at one time, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost;” and at another, commanding them, to “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out Demons:—freely ye have received, freely give.”” [xv]
- Commentary on Isaiah –91 “But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and : “Go and make disciples of all nations in my name”. [xvi]
- Commentary on Isaiah – p.174 “For he who told them to “go and make disciples of all nations in my name” commanded them not to spend their lives as they always had done …”. [xvii]
- Oration in Praise of Constantine – Chapter 16:8 “after his victory over death, he spoke the word to his followers, and fulfilled it by the event, saying to them, Go, and make disciples of all nations in my name.” [xviii]
According to the book Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume 2, p.380-381[xix] there are a total of 21 examples in the writings of Eusebius quoting Matthew 28:19, and they all either omit everything between ‘all nations’ and ‘teaching them’ or are in the form ‘make disciples of all nations in my name’. The majority of the ten examples not shown and cited above are to be found in his Commentary on Psalms, which the author has been unable to source online.[xx]
There also 4 examples in the last writings assigned to him which quote Matthew 28:19 as known today. They are the Syriac Theophania, Contra Marcellum, Ecclesiasticus Theologia, and a Letter to the Church at Caesarea. However, it is understood that it is likely that the Syriac translator used the version of Matthew 28:19 he knew then, (see the quotes from Theophania above) and the authorship of the other writings actually being Eusebius is considered very doubtful.
It should also be borne in mind that even if these 3 writings were indeed written by Eusebius, they all postdate the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. when the Trinity Doctrine was accepted.
Conclusion: The copy of Matthew 28:19 Eusebius was familiar with, was “Go, and make disciples of all nations in my name.”. He did not have the text we have today.
Examining Matthew 28:19-20
At the conclusion of the book of Matthew, the risen Jesus appears to the remaining 11 disciples in Galilee. There he gives them final instructions. The account reads:
“And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in my name,[xxi] 20 teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded YOU. And, look! I am with YOU all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.””
This passage of Matthew is in harmony with everything we have examined so far in this article.
However, you may be thinking that although it reads naturally and as we expect from the rest of the Bible accounts, there is something that seems to read slightly differently in the reading given above compared with the Bible(s) you are familiar with. If so, you would be right.
In all 29 English translations the author examined on Biblehub, this passage reads: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded YOU. And, look! I am with YOU all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.””.
It is also important to note that the Greek “in the name” here is in the singular. This would add weight to the thought that the phrase “of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is an insertion because one would naturally expect this to be prefaced by the plural “in the names”. It is also relevant that Trinitarians point to this singular “in the name” as supporting the 3 in 1 and 1 in 3 nature of the Trinity.
What could account for the difference?
How did this come about?
The Apostle Paul warned Timothy about what would happen in the near future. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, he wrote, “For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the wholesome teaching, but according to their own desires, they will surround themselves with teachers to have their ears tickled. 4 They will turn away from listening to the truth and give attention to false stories.”.
The Gnostic group of Christians that developed in the early 2nd century are a good example of what the Apostle Paul warned about.[xxii]
Problems with Manuscript fragments of Matthew
The oldest manuscripts containing Matthew 28 only date from the late 4th century unlike other passages of Matthew and the other Bible books. In all extant versions, the text is found in the traditional form that we read. However, it is also important to know that the two manuscripts we have, the African Old Latin, and the Old Syriac versions, which are both older than the earliest Greek manuscripts we have of Matthew 28 (Vaticanus, Alexandrian) are both ‘defective at this point’, the last page alone of Matthew (containing Matthew 28:19-20) having disappeared, likely destroyed, at some time in antiquity. This alone is suspicious in itself.
Changes to Original Manuscripts and Poor Translation
In places, the texts of Early Church Fathers were later altered to conform with the then prevailing doctrinal views, or in translations, some scripture quotations have had the original text revised or substituted to the currently known scripture text, rather than rendered as a translation of the original text.
For example: In the book Patristic Evidence and the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger stated “Of the three kinds of evidence which are used in ascertaining the text of the New Testament – namely, evidence supplied by Greek manuscripts, by early versions, and by scriptural quotations preserved in the writings of the Church Fathers – it is the last which involves the greatest diffculties and the most problems. There are difficulties, first of all, in obtaining the evidence, not only because of the labour of combing through the very extensive literary remains of the Fathers in search of quotations from the New Testament, but also because satisfactory editions of the works of many of the Fathers have not yet been produced. More than once in earlier centuries an otherwise well-meaning editor accommodated the biblical quotations contained in a given patristic document to the current text of the New Testament against the authority of the manuscripts of the document. One part of the problem, more-over, is that exactly the same thing took place prior to the invention of printing. As Hort [of Westcott and Hort Bible Translation] pointed out, ‘Whenever a transcriber of a patristic treatise was copying a quotation differing from the text to which he was accustomed, he had virtually two originals before him, one present to his eyes, the other to his mind; and if the difference struck him, he was not unlikely to treat the written examplar as having blundered.’” [xxiii]
Hebrew Gospel of Matthew [xxiv]
This is an old Hebrew Text of the book of Matthew, the oldest present copy of which dates back to the fourteenth century where it is found in a Jewish polemical treatise entitled Even Bohan – The Touchstone, authored by Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut (1380). It appears that the basis of his text is much older. His text varies to the received Greek text with Matthew 28:18-20 reading as follows “Jesus drew near to them and said to them: To me has been given all power in heaven and earth. 19 Go 20 and (teach) them to carry out all the things which I have commanded you forever.” Note how all but “Go” is missing here compared with the verse 19 we are familiar with in Bibles today. This whole text of Matthew bears no relationship to the Greek texts of the 14th Century, or any Greek text known today, so it was not a translation of them. It has some slight resemblances to Q, Codex Sinaiticus, the Old Syriac version, and the Coptic Gospel of Thomas which Shem-Tob did not have access to, those texts being lost in antiquity and rediscovered after the 14th century. Very interestingly for a non-Christian Jew it also includes the divine name some 19 times where we have Kyrios (Lord) today.[xxv] Perhaps Matthew 28:19 is like the missing Old Syriac version in this verse. While it is not possible use this information and be definitive about Matthew 28:19, it is certainly relevant to the discussion.
Writings of Ignatius (35 AD to 108 AD)
Examples of what happened to writings include:
Epistle to Philadelphians – The trinitarian version of Matthew 28:19 only exists in the Long recension text. The Long recension text is understood to be a late 4th-century expansion on the original Middle recension, which was expanded to support the trinitarian view. This text linked contains the Middle recension followed by the Long recension.[xxvi]
Epistle to Philippians – (Chapter II) This text is accepted as spurious, i.e. not written by Ignatius. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Antioch . Furthermore, while this spurious text reads, “Wherefore also the Lord, when He sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,”[xxvii]
the original Greek text of the Epistle to Philippians in this place here has “baptize in the name of his Christ”. Modern translators have substituted the original Greek rendering in the text with the Matthew 28:19 trinitarian text we are familiar with today.
Quotations from well-known Scholars
Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, 1929, page 723
Regarding the current reading of Matthew 28:19, it says, “The Church of the first days did not observe this world-wide command, even if they knew it. The command to baptize into the threefold name is a late doctrinal expansion. In place of the words “baptizing… Spirit” we should probably read simply “into my name, i.e. (turn the nations) to Christianity, or “in my name” … ” ().”[xxviii]
James Moffatt – The Historical New Testament (1901) stated on p648, (681 online pdf)
Here the Bible translator James Moffatt stated regarding the trinitarian formula version of Matthew 28:19, “The use of the baptismal formula belongs to an age subsequent to that of the apostles, who employed the simple phrase of baptism in to the name of Jesus. Had this phrase been in existence and use, it is incredible that some trace of it should not have survived; where the earliest reference to it, outside this passage, is in Clem. Rom. and the Didache (Justin Martyr, Apol. i 61).”[xxix]
There are numerous other scholars which write similarly worded comments with the same conclusion which are omitted here for brevity.[xxx]
- The overwhelming scriptural evidence is that early Christians were baptized in the name of Jesus, and nothing else.
- There is no documented reliable occurrence of the current Trinitarian formula for baptism before the mid-second century and even then, not as a quote of Matthew 28:19. Any such occurrences in documents classified as Early Church Fathers Writings are in spurious documents of dubious origin and (later) dating.
- Up to at least around the time of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the available version of Matthew 28:19 contained only the words “in my name” as quoted extensively by Eusebius.
- Therefore, while it cannot be proven beyond doubt, it is highly likely it was not until the late 4th Century that the passage in Matthew 28:19 was amended to fit the, by then prevailing teaching of the Trinity. This time period and later is also likely the time when some earlier Christian writings were also altered to conform with the new text of Matthew 28:19.
In summary, therefore Matthew 28:19 should read as follows:
“And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in my name,[xxxi] 20 teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded YOU. And, look! I am with YOU all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.””.
to be continued …
In Part 3, we will examine questions these conclusions raise about the attitude of the Organization and its view of baptism over the years.
[v] “Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books.”
https://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0265-0339,_Eusebius_Caesariensis,_Historia_ecclesiastica_%5bSchaff%5d,_EN.pdf p.275 Book page number
[vii] “Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books.”
https://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0265-0339,_Eusebius_Caesariensis,_Historia_ecclesiastica_%5bSchaff%5d,_EN.pdf p.275 Book page number
[xix] https://ia902906.us.archive.org/22/items/encyclopediaofreligionandethicsvolume02artbunjameshastings_709_K/Encyclopedia%20of%20Religion%20and%20Ethics%20Volume%2002%20Art-Bun%20%20James%20Hastings%20.pdf Scroll around 40% of the whole book downwards to heading “Baptism (Early Christian)”
[xx] https://www.earlychristiancommentary.com/eusebius-texts/ Contains the Church History, Chronicon, Contra Hieroclem, Demonstratio Evangelica, Theophania and a number of other smaller texts.
[xxi] Or “in the name of Jesus Christ”
[xxiii] Metzger, B. (1972). Patristic Evidence and the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. New Testament Studies, 18(4), 379-400. doi:10.1017/S0028688500023705
[xxx] Available on request from the author.
[xxxi] Or “in the name of Jesus Christ”
Thanks for this well-researched article. I would like to point out that your comments about the Council of Nicea in 325 CE give the wrong impression that at that Council the whole Trinity Doctrine was formulated and accepted. (“…the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD which affirmed the Trinity doctrine,” “…the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD when the Trinity Doctrine was accepted.”) However, this did not happen till 381 CE. The Council of Nicea 325 did not affirm the three members of the Trinity Doctrine. It was only the divinity of Jesus and his unity with the Father that… Read more »
Quasblint, Thank you so much for your comments. I will check out the points you have made re the trinity and amend the wording of the article as appropriate. I was aware of Catholic encyclopaedia’s themselves stating that the church changed the baptismal formula, but none of the ones I found had any references to early church writings to support that conclusion, so I omitted them until I could verify their statement. I will check out those you mention here. The last two items are good points I was unaware of. I will look to add them to the article… Read more »
Subject: Reply to the letter from the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Netherlands Dear Brothers With this I would like to make one more comment regarding the answer regarding my question about the baptismal commission of Jesus in Matthew 28:19. You say that in Nestle Aland’s Greek text, it says “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit. However, it is overlooked that I wrote in my letter of September 25, 2017: The Greek text of Nestle and Aland indicates in the text-critical part that there was another text up to and including Eusebius… Read more »
Hello I am no longer a Jehovah’s Witnes because I discover many thins that is not the truth. Sorry for my English because I am a dutchman with no many education in English. Here by I send my correspondation with the dutch office of the Watchtower. To: Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, September 25, 2017 Subject: Baptism formula Matthew 28:19 L.S. A householder in the field ministry asked me the following question: “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How then declare Matthew 28:19. I answered him that there is a suspicion that this… Read more »
Hello Tadua: Following what you are relating in Parts 1 and 2. I was baptized as an infant and reconfirmed as a teenagers in the Roman Catholic faith. This was all done in the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The question that arises in my mind is, does that mean it doesn’t count and I’m considered not baptized?
Hi Elpida This is a question we each need to answer for ourselves. Points that might help with this decision are : Cornelius and his family were baptized by Holy Spirit, before having water baptism. True, it was a special event, but it shows God and Jesus had accepted them without water baptism. By Christian religions today Matthew 28:19 has been turned into a ‘rite’ where the words themselves take on special meaning. That was not the way Jesus intended nor the way he ever taught anything. He taught principles, not rules. As discussed briefly in part 1, “in the… Read more »