Jesus was talking to His disciples when He said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20). Did Jesus want His disciples to recite this formula at baptisms and teach people that God is a trinity?
Peter, who was a disciple of Jesus, was obviously present when Jesus gave this command. If we want to know what Jesus meant by this command, we can trust Peter to give us the proper understanding. Let us turn to the text of Scripture where this command of Jesus was obeyed for the first time. In Acts chapter two Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Here Peter instructed these people to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, rather than in three separate names. But, supposing Peter temporarily forgot the command of Jesus. Let us find more evidence.
In Acts chapter 10, Peter “commanded [Cornelius and his brethren] to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). From these verses it is plain that Peter must have understood the command of Jesus differently than most Trinitarians understand it today. However, maybe Peter was alone in his understanding of this command.
When Peter and John came to Samaria they found a group of people who had been “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16). Obviously, Peter was not alone in his understanding of the command of Jesus.
What about Paul? Keep in mind that Paul said of the gospel he preached, “I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). How did Jesus teach Paul to baptize?
When Paul visited Ephesus he met certain brethren there who had only been baptized by John’s baptism. Paul instructed them about Christ, and “when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).
There is no record in the Bible of anyone baptizing in three separate names of three individual persons. Now, there are three possibilities that could explain this. 1) The disciples were in direct rebellion against Jesus and purposely disobeyed His commandment. 2) The disciples understood the command of Jesus differently than most Trinitarians understand it today. 3) Jesus never gave the command to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
The most reasonable of these possibilities is choice number two. The disciples obviously understood the command of Jesus differently than most Trinitarians understand it today. The word baptize does not always mean, “to submerse in literal water.”
Let us look at it in another way. Jesus commissioned us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (πνευμα – pneuma). Was Jesus, by making this commission, trying to teach the idea of a trinity? If so, He would have been contradicting other statements He made, and many statements made by other Bible writers. There is nothing in the verse that says there are three persons in the Godhead. There is nothing in the verse that says who is God. The word “God” is completely missing from the verse. We learn elsewhere in the Bible that the “one God” of the Bible is the Father. Paul wrote, “To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Corinthians 8:6). The Bible uses the phrase, “God the Father” thirteen times, but it never says, “God the Son,” or “God the Holy Spirit.”
Notice also that the verse says we are to baptize “in the name of…” Why is it singular if there are supposed to be three persons? The word name in the Bible often refers to a person’s character. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel because his character had changed. If we believe this verse to be referring to actual names of three individuals, as most Trinitarians suppose, then it would be impossible to fulfill the command. The text says to baptize “in the name of…” Simply reciting the statement, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” is not fulfilling the command. To baptize someone in the name of a person we must know the person’s name. It would be possible for us to baptize in the literal name of the Father, for we know His name: Yahweh or Jehovah. It would also be possible for us to baptize in the literal name of the Son, for we know His name: Jesus or Yahshua in Hebrew. But it is not possible for us to baptize someone in the literal name of the Holy Spirit, for nobody knows that name, if it exists.
The Father anointed His Son with His own Spirit. God said to His Son, “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Hebrews 1:9). “For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34). As plainly shown, the Father has given His Son His Spirit. What type of spirit did He give? Surely, it is a Holy Spirit. The Bible mentions several different types of spirit. We read in the Bible about “foul spirit,” “evil spirit,” “unclean spirit,” “dumb spirit,” “excellent spirit,” “humble spirit,” “wounded spirit,” “broken spirit,” “haughty spirit,” “faithful spirit,” and “good spirit.” All these spirits are distinguishable by the adjective that describes them. We know that God, the Father, has a spirit (Matthew 10:20), and can that spirit be anything else, or anything less, than Holy? The word “Holy” is an adjective in every case, whether in English or in Greek. “Holy Spirit” is not a name, but a description of the Spirit of God.
Jesus was not giving a specific formula of words for the preacher to recite at a baptism. We know this because:
1) There is no record in the Bible of anyone using that formula at a baptism.
2) All the recorded examples of people baptizing after this command was given show that it was done in the name of Jesus. (See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5.)
3) The word name is singular, indicating that it has reference to the character rather than to proper names of individuals.
4) It would not be possible to literally baptize in the proper name of the Holy Spirit, because we have not been given that name, if such a name exists.
Once we realize that Christ was commissioning His disciples to baptize into the character of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it is easier for us to understand His words. Several times in the Bible the word baptize refers to something other than literally immersing in water. For example:
Long after Christ’s literal baptism in water He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). Here it is obvious that Jesus was not referring to being literally immersed in water, but rather to an experience He would encounter. This experience was to be so intense that it could be described by using the word baptize, which literally means, “to immerse, submerge; to make overwhelmed” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary).
Jesus used the word baptize in the same way in the following verses: He said to James and John who had asked for high positions in heaven, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father” (Matthew 20:22,_ 23).
In these verses Jesus used the word baptize to signify passing through an overwhelming experience. Paul used the word in this way when he wrote, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Being baptized into Christ is more than just being immersed in water, but rather indicates a complete dedication to Christ.
We could look at Christ’s words in Matthew 28:19 in this way: “Go ye, therefore, and disciple all the nations, Immersing them into the name [character] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19 Rotherham Version). This command is closely connected with the command to teach. Christ wants His disciples to understand the truth about God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit of God.
Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Right before and immediately following His command to baptize, Jesus told us to teach all nations. What are we to teach them? Jesus said, “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” We are to teach people the same things that Jesus taught when He was here. Did Jesus ever teach that God is a trinity? Who is God, according to Jesus? Jesus said His Father is “the Lord of heaven and earth” (Luke 10:21), “greater than all” (John 10:29), and “the only true God” (John 17:3).
When talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told her, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:22-24). Jesus identified God as His Father, and referred to Him using the singular pronoun “Him,” and the singular Greek word θεος (Theos—God). According to Jesus, God is His Father.
He also said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). Here Jesus spoke of God as someone other than Himself, as the one who sent Him into the world. Unquestionably, Jesus was referring to His Father.
Jesus said to His accusers, “Ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham” (John 8:40). He continued, “If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me” (John 8:42). He also stated, “If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God” (John 8:54). Jesus recognized that the God of the Jews is His Father. He never offered any correction to the Jews on this point, but rather re-enforced their understanding by every one of His statements about God.
Jesus admonished, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). Again, Jesus speaks of God as someone other than Himself. In His final prayer with His disciples, Jesus said to His Father, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Jesus made it abundantly clear that there is only one God, who is His Father. Jesus did not just call Him “God” not even “true God”; but “the only true God.” This leaves no room for anyone else being the true God. Nor does this allow for Jesus Himself to be part of “the only true God.” He speaks of Himself as separate and distinct from the only true God. Notice also that His language completely leaves out any necessity for knowing a third being. There are only two Persons that it is necessary to know, God, the Father, and His only begotten Son.
After His resurrection, His understanding about who God is did not change. He said to Mary, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17).
Consistently, throughout His life, Jesus taught that God is His Father, and nobody else. Forty days after His resurrection Jesus made a statement that many take to mean something opposite of what He taught His whole life. Jesus told His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Some people take these words as evidence that Jesus was teaching that God is not one Person, but three. Yet, this would make Jesus’ teaching in His last words on earth, something contrary to what He taught His whole life. If we are to identify who God is in this verse, by comparing it with other Scriptures, we would have to conclude that God is “the Father” in this verse.
If Jesus was trying to teach us that God is a trinity of three persons in Matthew 28:19, what are we to conclude from this? Did Jesus change His mind about who God is? Did He surprise His disciples with a new concept about God in His last conversation with them? If so, His disciples did not seem to get the message. Inseparably linked with Jesus’ command concerning baptism is His command to teach people “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” We are to teach people the same thing that Jesus taught. Jesus taught, without exception, that God is His Father. To take Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:19 to mean something completely opposite of His teaching throughout His life is to disobey His command to teach people as He taught.
In Acts 2:38 we see the principles of the great commission demonstrated. On the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38). The Father calls or draws (John 6:44) us to Christ, we are literally baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and the Father gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our Christian lives.
Baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It only makes sense to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, for He is the one who died, not the Father or a third person called the Holy Spirit.
Some have enquired, “If Jesus did not want us to think that the Holy Spirit is a separate person, why did He mention the Holy Spirit in this commission?” This is a good question. In Peter’s instruction he mentions repentance towards God, baptism in the name of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus mentioned all three because it is imperitive that His disciples understand what He taught about God, the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. If Jesus left out the Holy Spirit in His commission, then people would likely have been left without the knowledge that Christ lives in us through His Spirit. People could be left without knowing that there is a Holy Spirit. This would be terrible! There were some disciples in the Bible who were left in this condition.
When Paul was in Ephesus he met some brethren and asked them, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (Acts 19:2). Paul taught them about the Holy Spirit, and “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). It is interesting that even though Paul taught these disciples specifically about the Holy Spirit as the element they were missing, he still baptized them in the name of Jesus Christ rather than in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus wants His church to benefit from the entire gospel, including the rich gift of His Spirit. It would be dangerous to leave people without the knowledge of the wonderful gift of God’s Spirit.
Matthew 28:19 certainly does not prove a trinity, nor does it prove that the Holy Spirit is a separate being from the Father and His Son. If we are to find proof of these doctrines in the Bible we must look elsewhere.