"Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit"-(New World Translation.)
This passage from
Matthew is often cited to show that the trinity was taught or
believed in by the 1st century Christians. James White even
styles it as "The Great Trinitarian Passage"!-The
Forgotten Trinity, p.174. But does it? Is it?
The trinity doctrine teaches that there are three co-equal, co-eternal persons in a co-substantial being, God. Do we honestly see that in the above scripture?
(In the above publication White gives his readers a " basic, fundamental definition" of the Trinity: "Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons..." We note here White's use of the word "Being" for God. However, the scriptures consistently show that God, this "one being," is a person. Hence, is White's "basic, fundamental definition" of the Trinity, which he says is "accurate" informing us that there exists in the one person, namely, God, three persons? How many persons is this? He gives the above definition because, as he states "..we are not saying that there are three beings that are one Being, or three persons that are one person. Such would be self-contradictory." However, the Bible itself does indeed show that this "one Being," God, is a person! Here we have an unintentional admission on White's part that the definition of the Trinity he gives his readers contradicts what we read in the Bible!- ibid, pp.26, 27)
But are those who
contend that this is a 'proof text' for the trinity doctrine
guilty of reading that doctrine into that passage? Where
in this scripture are we told that the "Father, Son and Holy
Spirit" are the "one God" of the christians? We do
If part of the great commission, as given to his early disciples here and placed upon all future Christians, who were to proclaim this very doctrine, which would be the most important of all teachings, who and what God is, where is the evidence in the historical book of Acts do we ever read of them doing so? We don't! Do we read of this teaching in the epistles of Paul to the congregations? No! Or the letters of Peter or that of James or that of Jude do we ever meet this teaching, which to the Jews who were strict monotheists, would have needed much explaining and expounding to get them to accept it? We do not ever see this happening! Are these three, the Father, Son and holy spirit "three[equal] divine persons" who make up the "one God"? And the Jews who believed in the one God YHWH(Jehovah) accepted that these "three divine persons" were this God? Yet when we are told who the "One God" is it is always the Father and the Father only, neither the Son nor the holy spirit. (See John 17:3; 1 Cor.8:6; Eph.4:6; 1 Thess 1:9,10, which _distinguishes between "the living and true God" and "his Son"(cp.2 Chron.15:3 and Jeremiah 10:10)and Jude 25.) These scriptures are in total harmony with the rest of the Bible, including the O.T. part where God is not only presented as one being but always as one person.
Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states plainly: "The N[ew] T[estament] does not actually speak of triunity. We seek this in vain in the triadic formulae[such as Matthew 28:19 and 2 Cor.13:14]of the NT."(words in square brackets ours)
McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, though advocating the Trinity doctrine, acknowledges regarding Matthew 28:18-20: "This text, however, taken by itself, would not prove decisively either the personality of the three subjects mentioned, or their equality or divinity." (1981 reprint, Vol. X, p. 552)
"As the Trintarian Michaelis said: "It is impossible to understand from this passage, whether the Holy Spirit is a person. The meaning of Jesus may have been this: Those who were baptized should, upon their baptism, confess that they believed in the Father and the Son, and in all the doctrines inculcated by the Holy Spirit."-Taken from "The Doctrine of the Trinity, Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound," Buzzard and Hunting, p.226 who were quoting from "The Burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ," 325-327 as cited in Concessions, p.281.
As for those who see Trinitarian implications at Matthew 28:19, 20 in the use of "name" in the singular for the Father, Son, and holy spirit, please compare the use of "name," singular, for Abraham and Isaac at Genesis 48:16. Just as this does not indicate that these have the same "name" nor does the use of "name" in the singular mean that at Matthew 28:19. "In the name of" means ' in recognition of.' The disciples who were to be baptized were to be baptised 'in recognition of' the three subjects mentioned.
"The fact that baptizing is to be done in
the "name" of the holy spirit does not in itself
establish that the spirit is a person. Even Trinitarians
recognize that the word "name" at Matthew 28:19 does
not mean a personal name. Says Greek scholar A. T. Robertson Word
Pictures in the New Testament, (Vol. I, p. 245): "The
use of name ([Greek] onoma ) here is a common one in the
Septuagint and the papyri for power or authority." That the
term "name" so used does not necessarily imply the
existence of a person might be illustrated with the English
expression "in the name of the law." No one familiar
with the English language would conclude therefrom that the law
is a person. The expression simply means 'in recognition of what
the law represents,' its authority. Similarly, baptism "in
the name of the spirit" signifies a recognition of that
spirit and its source and functions."
-w74 7/15 422 Is the Holy Spirit Really a Person?
It should be noted that the above is not to be thought of making an "anachronistic" arguement. The above was not "reading the modern idiom "in the name of the law"" into Matthew 28:19. If ever a person thinks this then they misundertood the reasons why this modern English idiom was given. It was given so to illustrate in what way the first century hearers of Jesus' words "in the name of" could understand it and that expression would not always indicate that it would refer to a literal name of a person but could refer to an impersonal thing.
Bowman(Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, p.115)takes issue with the Trinity brochure's use of Robertson's remarks(Should You Believe in the Trinity?, p.22) by argueing that "That is true...but it stands for the power and authority of someone, never some impersonal force."
However, the Watchtower magazine of 1992, 10/15, page 19 in an article "Baptism "Into the Name Of"" notes: "Scholars have discovered that in secular writings the expression "in the name of," or "into the name of" (Kingdom Interlinear), is used with reference to payments "to the account of any one." Theology professor Dr. G. Adolf Deissmann believed that in view of the evidence from the papyri, "the idea underlying . . . the expressions baptise into the name of the Lord, or to believe into the name of the Son of God, is that baptism or faith constitutes the belonging to God or to the Son of God."- Deissmann's italics. Interestingly, a similar expression was used by the Jews of Jesus' day, as explained in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: "The circumcision of a proselyte is done . . . 'in the name of the proselyte,' to receive him into Judaism. This circumcision takes place 'in the name of the covenant,' to receive him into the covenant." A relationship is thereby established and the non-Jew becomes a proselyte under the covenants authority. So for the Christian, baptism following dedication establishes an intimate relationship with Jehovah God, his Son Jesus Christ, and the holy spirit. The convert recognizes their respective authority in his new way of life."(bold ours)
Note that here we have a similar use of ONOMA
and yet not "in the name of" a person but "into
the name" of something impersonal "the
covenant." As the same Watchtower issue went on to
expound: "The holy spirit is also essential to our right
relationship with Jehovah and Jesus Christ. Baptism in the name
of the holy spirit shows that we recognize the role of the spirit
in God's dealings with us. We intend to follow its guidance, not
disregarding it or acting contrary to it, blocking its working
through us. (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19) The spirit's
impersonal nature creates no difficulty as to usage or meaning,
any more than the usage "in the name of the covenant"
did in Judaism."
This then obviates Bowman's erroneous criticism of the reasons why M'Clintok and Strong denies that Matthew 28:19 is speaking of three persons. It was indeed possible to have the expression "in the name of" in reference to something not a person. Of course, Bowman should understand that God's holy spirit, his active force, maybe an impersonal force but it is not "some impersonal force"! It is the unique force of Jehovah God Himself.
ONOMA occurs twice, together, in Rev.3:12. Once
to the name of a person, namely God, and also the name of the city
"new Jerusalem." Obviously, the city "new
Jerusalem" is not a person and so neither can it be argued
that the use of the word ONOMA in reference to the "holy
spirit" this indicates that Jesus considered the holy spirit
to be a person. To argue that the word ONOMA occurs 231 times in
the Greek N.T. and almost always in reference to a person does
suggest the personality of the holy spirit in this passage but
only suggests it not proves it. The passage in Matthew might suggest
that the holy spirit is a person and that is as far as one
could argue. (Similiarly, it could be argued that when we
read "I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus and
the chosen angels"(1.Tim.5:21) that this suggests
that all three are 'equal.' However, just because a
passage might suggest something does not mean that that
suggestion has a basis in truth, a basis in scripture. And in
fact, no one will argue this. We know from the rest of the
scriptures that the three are not equal.) There are other
passages that refer to the holy spirit not as a person but as an impersonal
subject. It is the case many times that an impersonal thing
can be 'personified' but rarely that a person is spoken of as if
not a person. For example: The holy spirit is said to have been
"poured out" on those disciples in Jerusalem as
reported at Acts 2:,17,33. Can a person itself(not the 'lifeforce'
of a person), who is God Himself, be "poured out"? Or
is it more fitting here to think of the spirit as a 'force' that
the Father used? The latter surely? (Bowman does not
mention this 'pouring' out of the spirit but when he does mention
Acts 2:33 on p.128 he strangely omits the scriptural phrase
"pour out" and instead states that that "he[Jesus]
sends the promised holy spirit from the Father(Acts 2:33.)."
Yet the scriptures says that Jesus "poured"
out the holy spirit!) We also see the spirit sandwiched between
numerous impersonal subjects at 2Cor.6: 3-10. Would that be
because Paul also considered the spirit to be, not the Almighty
God, but an impersonal subject too? So, taking all the data
together shows that such a passage as Matthew 28:19 certainly
does not prove or even suggest the trinity doctrine nor proves
personality of the holy spirit but only could suggest this.
Advocates of these beliefs would have to go elsewhere to show
these before they can read such into Matthew 28:19.
The word ONOMA, "name,"can refer to a literal "name" of a person(and almost always does)or a place, but in this text it refers to the baptism into the "name of", that is 'in recognition of' these ones, namely, the Father and the Son and that of the holy spirit, no, not into "according to the Witnesses....the created angelic inferior god Jesus and the impersonal active force that God somehow uses,"(Bowman, p.115), which appears to be a disparaging attempt to cast doubt on the Witnesses understanding of this passage and also does not accurately reflect the Witnesses interpretation(yet which Bowman states it is the Witnesses "interpretation"!), but rather that "those baptized recognize Jehovah as the Life-Giver and Almighty God, to whom they dedicate their life. They accept Jesus as the Messiah and the one through whom God provided a ransom for believing mankind. And they realize that the holy spirit is God's active force, to which they must submit."
Certainly, Matthew 28:19 is not such a "great trinitarian passage" after all!
On the quoting of A.T.Robertson from his Word Pictures in the New Testament see here(No.1)