There is a slight divide within Christendom about minor issues such as the baptismal formula. When I say the baptismal formula, I mean the words that one recites just before they baptize a person. The super-majority of Christians will argue that when a person is water baptized, the baptizer must recite the words of Matthew 28:19, that is, baptism “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Less than one percent of Christendom, namely the Oneness Pentecostal movement, will argue that according to Acts 2:38, we must recite the words, “in the name of Jesus.” So, does Matthew 28:19 contradict Acts 2:38?
Why bother writing about such an issue? What is the big deal? Who really cares what the baptizer recites just before baptizing somebody? The answer is: some people. Some people really do care. Some people say that unless the baptizer recites the words, “in the name of Jesus,” over the baptismal tank, the baptism is illegitimate, and you cannot be saved. Of course, this is a completely foreign concept to the apostles of the early church.
Of course there is a great deal of reconciling when it comes to these two verses. Some people will say that they need to recite the very words of Matthew 28:19. Other people will say that they need to recite the very words of Acts 2:38. Who is right? My answer: both can be right.
“In the name of…” The fundamental error of thinking that these words literally need to be recited is misunderstanding what it means to do act in the name of some authority. Any dictionary will reveal that the phrase “in the name of,” is an idiom. It is a figure of speech. It is an indication of authority. If somebody acts in the name of a king, they are traveling on behalf of the king and under the authority of the king. A police officer will arrest somebody in the name of the law.
This is precisely how the Jews understood this phrase as well. That is why in Acts 4:7 asked the apostles, “by what name, or in what power, have you done this?” To act in the name of a person is to act under the authority of a certain figure. Thus, when one says that they are acting or doing something in the name of Jesus, they are indicating that they are acting under his authority. They baptize people under the authority of Jesus Christ, who is the Son.
Of course, this does not preclude them being baptized also under the authority, or in the name of, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If one is baptized under the authority of the Son, they are also baptized under the authority of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because all who honor the Son, honor the Father (John 5:23). Does Matthew 28:19 contradict Acts 2:38? Not at all. When somebody is baptized in the name of Jesus, they are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
What about the words that you recite? What about the words that you recite? Do they really matter? I am not really tempted to think that Matthew 28:19, or Acts 2:38 were meant to serve as a baptismal formula, even though they could be applied as a baptismal formula. But the apostles demonstrated that it did not really matter what words one recited when they baptized somebody.
Indeed, throughout the book of Acts, the apostles use a variety of different baptismal formulas. They called on men to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:16, 19:5) and in some cases, did not even bother to recite the name Jesus, but just used the title, Lord (Acts 10:48, 22:16). In doing so, the apostles demonstrated that the words one recites do not really matter. They could have said nothing at all. To act in the name of Jesus is an idiom for the authority of Jesus.
What about the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? There is a lot of confusion about what it means to act in the name of a person. Some will want to ask the bizarre question, “what is the Father’s name? What is the Holy Spirit’s name? What is the Son’s name?” They reason that since the name of all three are Jesus, that therefore it is appropriate to recite the words “in the name of Jesus,” only.
Let’s suppose we grant that for charity. The name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is Jesus. If that were the case, then what is the problem with reciting Matthew 28:19 in the same manner that Jesus did? If Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all titles for Jesus, and we say “the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” what is the problem? After all, the apostles baptized “in the name of the Lord,” (Acts 10:48) only using a title rather than the specific name.
Further, the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit is not Jesus. Jesus made that abundantly clear. He said things like, “The Father and I are one,” (John 10:30) which is to say that one person (Jesus) is one with another person (the Father). He went on to say in his prayer to the Father that he wants his disciples to be one even as he and the Father are one (John 17:11). Unless the disciples are the same person, we can reasonably conclude that Jesus and the Father are not the same person.
So, does Matthew 28:19 contradict Acts 2:38? Whether we recite “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” as Jesus did, or if we recite, “in the name of Jesus,” or “in the name of the Lord,” we are saying the same thing. We are declaring that we are being baptized in the name of, or under the authority of Jesus.
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