In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus instructs His apostles to go and make disciples, and then says this: “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Since this is the statement that immediately follows the main command to “make disciples” people assume this means that the first step in making a disciple is getting them baptized.
But now that we have learned something about the meaning of the word “baptism,” is this really what Jesus is saying? Remember, whenever we see the word “baptism” in Scripture, we must not immediately think about dunking somebody under water, but must first remember what the word means, namely, “to be immersed, overcome, or fully identified with” something or somebody else. Then with this definition in mind, we must read the verse again.
In the case of Matthew 28:19-20, we end up with this:
Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, immersing them and fully identifying them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you…
With such a reading, water baptism may not be in view at all!
To the contrary, the phrase “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” may just be another way of saying, “teaching them fully about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, helping them understand Who God is and live more like God in our lives.”
With this reading, someone who is “baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” has become fully identified with the Trinitarian God, so that when people see us, they see God. In other words, since Jesus revealed God to us, a fully trained disciple is someone who looks and acts like Jesus to others. Such a person could be said to have been “baptized” or “immersed” or “fully identified with” Jesus.
When read this way, the first part of verse 20 where Jesus talks about teaching others is not a “second step” to discipleship, so that first you get baptized, and secondly you get taught. Instead, the two parts are simply two different ways of saying the same thing. The phrase “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is another way of saying “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
In this reading, Matthew 28:19-20 is a classic case of Hebrew parallelism. The second statement does not follow the other sequentially, but amplifies and further explains the first statement. Such a way of teaching is somewhat foreign to our logic-driven, outline-focused, step-centered Western way of thinking, but was one of the primary ways Middle Eastern teachers and thinkers taught in Biblical times. And lest we forget, Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi.
Still not convinced? I have one final piece of evidence for this view tomorrow….