Yesterday I suggested that Matthew 28:19-20 is not talking about water baptism at all, but is instead talking about being immersed into and fully identified with the teaching about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This is a shocking idea to some.
Baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
But let us assume then that the “traditional” reading is right, and that Jesus was teaching to the apostles how new converts should be immersed under water as soon as possible, and that this baptism should be done in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
This is an easy assumption, since this is how most baptisms are performed today. When I was baptized as a teenager, my father (who is a pastor), before he plunged me under the water, said these words: “Jeremy, based on your confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Sploosh!
When I was a pastor, this is how I baptized everybody as well. It is a common formula and most of us are familiar with it.
How the Apostles Baptized
And yet, I think that if one of the apostles were present at such a baptism, they would tilt their head quizzically and say, “I know I’ve been dead for almost 2000 years, so please forgive my ignorance… But why are you baptizing someone in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? The Son, Jesus, I understand. He died and rose for us, and baptism represents that. But why the Father and the Holy Spirit? Neither one died or rose. Why are you baptizing in their name also?”
We would stare back at them and say, “Weren’t you there when Jesus told you to do it this way? Isn’t this how you baptized also?”
And this apostle would respond, “Of course not. Haven’t you read the book of Acts?”
Baptized in the Name of Jesus
Then we would begin to mentally go through the book of Acts, and much to our surprise, we would discover that of all the instances of people getting water baptized in Acts, in not a single case does an apostle baptize someone “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Every single time, without fail, the person is baptized into Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:12, 16; 10:48; 19:5).
Isn’t this odd? If Jesus was truly talking about water baptism in Matthew 28:19-20, then why is it that there is not a single example in all of Scripture where someone was water baptized according to the “formula” of Matthew 28:19?
Instead, all baptisms in the New Testament are done in the name of Jesus Christ, because identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is what water baptism truly represents.
My belief is that this is because Matthew 28:19 is not a baptismal formula at all. When Jesus instructs the disciples to go and make other disciples, they already knew what discipleship meant, because they had just been with Jesus for three years, and had learned first-hand how to make disciples. And remember, Jesus did not “baptize” a single one of them (cf. John 4:1-2). But Jesus did teach them, show them, and help them how to shower love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy upon all.
And now, before Jesus leaves, He tells them to pick up where He has left off, and do for others what He has done for them. In the same way He taught them, they must now teach others. They should train disciples in the way that He trained them. They should teach, and show, and help others to understand what God is like, what Jesus is like, and what the Holy Spirit is like, and how to live in the power and presence of all three members of the Trinity, revealing God to the world, just as Jesus has revealed God to them.
This is the message of Matthew 28:19-20, and there is not a drop of water in sight.