Home > Doctrinal Studies
> Oneness Pentecostal
& Baptism >
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus gave a specific command to His Apostles to baptize new converts from the nations "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." This is the usual formula for baptism today by most Christian denominations who are Trinitarian. However, Oneness Pentecostals counter the Trinitarian formula by claiming that the "name" of each of these is "Jesus." Therefore, it is necessary to speak the name "Jesus" and only that name (no titles) when baptizing, rather than "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
This solution may appear reasonable if one is inclined to accept a modalist view of the Godhead. And in the English text, it may appear to be correct. However, the Greek text is not nearly as comfortable with that claim. The Greek indicates distinct persons in this verse, not three titles for the same person. Baptizing "in the name of" the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, indicates baptism "in the name of" each distinct one, (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). Jesus did not use the words "in the name" in the sense that Oneness Pentecostals use the term. It does not necessarily mean to actually speak a proper name while baptizing. It is a metaphor for "by the authority of..." or "in behalf of." In other words, "I am baptizing you by the authority of the Father, the authority of the Son, and the authority of the Holy Spirit." Or, "I am baptizing you in behalf of the Father, in behalf of the Son, and in behalf of the Holy Spirit."
Here is A.T. Robertson's comment on "name" in Matt. 28:19.
"The use of name (|onoma|) here is a common one in the Septuagint and the papyri for power or authority. For the use of |eis| with |onoma| in the sense here employed, not meaning _into_, see #Mt 10:41ff. (cf. also #12:41)."
An ambassador is sent to a foreign nation to represent our government. He goes "in the name of" the President of the United States. He carries the message of the President, and has the authority to act on his behalf. What he says is what the president wants conveyed to the foreign leaders. He has the authority to act, make decisions, speak and explain the purpose for which he was sent, and to in every way act as though he was the president himself. However, it is understood that everything he does comes from the authority granted him by the President. So, our imaginary ambassador can say that he comes "in the name of the President of the United States." But, this doesn't mean that he calls himself the "President." Nor does it mean that he speaks the words, "I do this in the name of the President" every time he does something. He simply acts by the authority granted him, and it is made known to all where his authority comes from.
This is how the term is used in the Bible. Here are a few examples. In none of the following cases does it mean someone necessarily spoke the proper name, only that they were speaking or acting in behalf, and by the authority, of another.
1 Cor 1:13-15
II Thess 3:6
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus was saying to baptize "by the authority of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
That "authority" is what Jesus meant is clear from the context as well.
Jesus' point here is that He had full authority of the Godhead to send out the Apostles. He was not sending them out based on His sole authority as the Son of God. By sending them out by the authority of the entire Godhead, He was passing this full authority to the disciples to baptize by the authority of, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In other words, He was saying; "I have been given full authority in heaven and earth." Or, "you can be sure that I have the full authority to send you out to the nations." So, when they baptized someone, they had the full authority of the entire Godhead behind them. They could baptize by the authority of the Father, by the authority of the Son, and by the authority of the Holy Ghost. Yet, this full authority was passed on to them by Jesus Himself (they heard it from Him only). So, technically speaking, they were to baptize by the authority of Jesus Christ (who had been authorized by the Father and the Holy Spirit).
Under the Law, the sons of Aaron were to administer the things of God to the people. They were authorized by God THROUGH Moses. But, here, the Disciples were authorized by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit THROUGH Jesus. They needed this authority just as much as the priests needed God's authority through Moses. This is why Jesus was questioned about His authority to do the things He did.
The chief priests who were challenging Jesus' authority had the Law of Moses behind them. As duly authorized representatives of God, via the Law of Moses, their authority was without question. Yet, it appeared to them that Jesus had no authority to preach, or do miracles. However, in other places we are told where Jesus' authority came from.
That Jesus passed this authority given to Him along to His disciples is clear from the following verse.
What we have in Matt. 28:19 is Jesus, as the ambassador of the Godhead to earth, sending out more ambassadors to all the nations. The authority originated with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But, since Jesus was fully authorized to speak and act on behalf of the Trinity, he had full authority to send out the Disciples to act with the same authority.
You can clearly see the transfer of authority here, from the Father, to the Son, and to those whom the Son sends (Apostles).
The disciples understood this plainly. They baptized Jewish converts "in the name of Jesus." That is, by the authority given them by Jesus, and identifying the converts with Jesus Christ the Messiah. Implicit in this authority is the full authority of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Also, that the recipient of baptism was submitting to that authority.
The actual words spoken over someone when baptizing them is not crucial. Submission to the proper authority by the candidate, and expression of the proper authority by the one baptizing, is what is important. To say, "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," is to proclaim the proper authority provided we have a proper understanding of the Godhead. To say, "in the name of Jesus" is also to proclaim the same authority, because Jesus Himself was fully authorized by the Father and the Holy Ghost to act on their behalf. Remember, Jesus said "all power in heaven and earth has been given unto me." This begs the question, given to Him by whom? That question can never be resolved in a Oneness theology.