• "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen." (Matthew 28:19).

  • "Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 2:38).

  • "For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 8:16).

  • "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." (Acts 10:48).

  • "When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 19:5).

John Steuart Curry, Baptism in Kansas

How did the apostles baptize?

In my own name Into what then
Witchcraft Power
Didache Justin Martyr
Tertullian Hippolytus
Luke's Intent John's Baptism
Two Formulas Albertus Magnus
Shenoute Anointed One
Marcion James 2:7
Return to Answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

In my own name

What words did the apostles speak when they baptized a new Christian? We can't assume the answer from the phrase, 'baptize in the name of...', because the way that phrase is used in the New Testament shows that it need not recapitulate the words spoken by the baptizer.  Example: "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name." (1 Corinthians 1:14-15).  Could even Paul's worst enemies have accused him of baptizing converts while intoning, 'I baptize you in the name of Paul'?  Not likely!  Yet, speaking hypothetically, Paul says that folks would have been going around saying, 'I was baptized in the name of Paul', if he had baptized many people.  Evidently here the phrase 'baptize in the name of...' means, 'baptize in the authority of...', or 'according to the teachings of...'  If Luke's baptismal references operate at this 'level', then baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ" means precisely baptism as commanded by the risen Lord in Matthew 28:19, not something different.

Into what then

Can we tease a clue out of the New Testament as to what words the apostles spoke when they baptized?  No baptismal service is recorded; there is no report stating, 'Then he baptized him, saying, I baptize you, etc....'  It just isn't there. Yet here's a tantalizing clue: "And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' So they said to him, 'We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.' And he said to them, 'Into what then were you baptized?' So they said, 'Into John’s baptism.'" (Acts 19:1-3).

Without making any too-hasty assumptions about what Luke means by his phrase, baptism 'in the name of the Lord Jesus', one can show that it's possible to be so baptized without receiving the Holy Spirit: "Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14-17).

So Paul, in asking "Into what then were you baptized?", is not skipping over the Ephesian disciples' blurted admission that they had not "so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." What sparks Paul's question is precisely their remarkable confession of ignorance: "So they said to him, 'We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.'" If Paul had been a 'Oneness' Pentecostal and had expected them to have been baptized under the popular contemporary verbal formula, 'I baptize you in the name of [the Lord] Jesus [Christ]', his question "Into what then were you baptized" would become a complete non-sequitur! The truth is that Paul can't fathom how someone could have heard the baptizor say, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19), yet never even have heard of the Holy Ghost!

Who could these slow learners have been? 'Disciples' is not used in the New Testament exclusively of those in receipt of the full Christian revelation; John's followers were also called "disciples": "Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, 'Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?" (Matthew 9:14). 'Oneness' Pentecostals dispose of Acts 19:2 by scoffing at it, laughing at the idea that disciples who had personally been baptized by John were ignorant of the Holy Spirit. But there is no reason to suppose these Ephesians had personally sat at the feet of John the Baptist, as Ephesus is a good 600 miles as the crow flies from Jerusalem, nor is there record in either the New Testament or Josephus of John the Baptist making missionary journeys abroad. The edict of Claudius mentioned in Acts 18:2, also mentioned by the pagan historian Suetonius, may be dated 49 or 50 A.D., several decades after John's death.

They may not have been Jews.  Had there been a strong nucleus of twelve Jewish founders around which the Ephesian church was built, it is hard to see why Paul, ignoring them, would address the Ephesian church as "Gentiles":

"Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh -- who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands -- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." (Ephesians 2:11-12);

"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles..." (Ephesians 3:1);

"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind..." (Ephesians 4:17).

If the 'Oneness' Pentecostals are correct in theorizing that the Ephesian church was built around a nucleus of twelve Palestinian Jews who had personally sat at the feet of John the Baptist, Paul's manner of address to them is incomprehensible.

It would appear that the Ephesian mission to the Jews was somewhat disappointing (Acts 19:8), while that to the Gentiles was quite successful: "Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands." (Acts 19:26).  The predictable result of this disparity is that Paul found himself addressing an overwhelmingly Gentile church, not one privileged to include personal disciples of John the Baptist.

Although Luke's narration brings Paul to the synagogue after he has interacted with these twelve (Acts 19:8), they may have been attached to the synagogue as God-fearers.  It is possible these disciples had been taught by Apollos, still stuck in the time-warp of a similarly defective gospel, knowing "only the baptism of John" (Acts 18:25).  Not all followers of John made the leap aboard the rising Jesus movement; some, disillusioned by the crucifixion, looked elsewhere.  As late at the twentieth century, there existed a gnostic sect, the Mandaeans, who accepted the baptism of John, yet without acknowledging Jesus as Messiah. Some renegade followers of John even proclaimed their own teacher as the Christ: "Yea, some even of the disciples of John, who seemed to be great ones, have separated themselves from the people, and proclaimed their own master as the Christ." (Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, Book I, Chapter 54). So there is no a priori reason to deny the possible existence of these disciples.

Even those proclaiming the Christian gospel baptized believers immediately upon profession of faith, not waiting, as would later be the case, for catechumens to complete a period of Bible study.  Neither the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36) nor the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33) received any course of instruction prior to baptism.  There is no reason to expect otherwise of the aberrant Messianic movement then represented by Apollos, before he was perfectly instructed (Acts 18:26).  So even given these disciples' evident lack of grounding in scripture, there is no reason to look for any but the literal sense of Acts 19:2.


God treasures obedience, not lip-service nor clever excuses for why one need not obey: "So Samuel said: 'Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.'" (1 Samuel 15:22-23). Thus it cannot be surprising to realize, on the basis of Acts 19:1-3, that the apostles obeyed the command of the risen Lord recorded in Matthew 28:19. As Paul realized in his questioning of the Ephesian disciples in Acts 19:3,"Into what then were you baptized?", Christians baptized according to the Lord's command cannot fail to know that the One God into whose name they are baptized is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

From the earliest ages of the church, Christians have heard the words of Matthew 28:19 recited in baptism. I would suggest that Matthew 28:19 is intended as a baptismal formula, not because the language used constrains it so to be, but given its occasion and audience. Since Matthew 28:19 is the only place in the Bible where the Lord instructs those who will be administering Christian baptism, versus exhortations to those who would receive it, where else would one look for a 'how-to' if not here?

Does the phrase, 'in the name of...', prescribe what words are to be spoken? At times, yes:

"And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD. Then he distributed to everyone of Israel, both man and woman, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins." (1 Chronicles 16:2-3).

What would it mean to 'bless the people in the name of the LORD,' other than that, at some point, David said, 'I bless you in the name of the LORD,' or words to that effect? Yet there are also cases where performing a task 'in the name of...' need not imply this particular formula of words be spoken at any time:

"David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, 'Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name. And thus you shall say to him who lives in prosperity: "Peace be to you, peace to your house, and peace to all that you have!...So when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in the name of David, and waited." (1 Samuel 25:5-9).

The ten young men need not have said, 'We greet you in the name of David,' to have accomplished their errand; that they spoke "in the name of David" means that they were David's emissaries, acting under his authority. So the instruction to baptize "in the name of...", may, but need not, require the baptizor to repeat those very words.

As is discussed more fully below, the phrase 'the name of...' may be either self-referential: "And moreover the king’s servants have gone to bless our lord King David, saying, ‘May God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and may He make his throne greater than your throne.’ Then the king bowed himself on the bed." (1 Kings 1:47), or not: "And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel." (Deuteronomy 25:6). The "name of his dead brother" isn't "dead brother," yet "the name of Solomon" is...nothing other than "Solomon."

If Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 both require verbal recitation on the pattern, 'I baptize you in the name of...', then these two verses of the Bible would conflict. So 'Oneness' Pentecostals deny that Matthew 28:19 requires verbal recitation, but insist that Acts 2:38 does so. I would reverse their conclusion, pleading context.

But in Matthew 28:19, what is the "name"?: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19). It seems to me the "name" is none other than that referenced, 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit.'

Grammarians distinguish between 'names' and 'titles,' but the Bible makes no such distinction, nor does the Bible disallow compound names: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6).


"And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, 'By what power or by what name have you done this?'" (Acts 4:7).

The phrase "In the name..." often invokes the power or authority by which a thing is done. Realizing this, it's apparent there need not be any conflict between the baptismal references in Acts and Matthew 28:19, given that either, or both, may refer Christian baptism back to its founding authority,-- the Lord's command,-- rather than prescribe a phrase to be spoken.


As seen above, the apostles employed the risen Lord's words recorded in Matthew 28:19 as a baptismal formula.  The early church followed their precedent. The earliest extra-Biblical record of Christian baptism, the first century Didache, gives testimony to the same practice: "Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times 'in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.'" (The Didache, 7:1-3).

Justin Martyr

Another early witness is Justin Martyr, martyred in the mid-second century. He also reports the triune formula commanded by the risen Lord in Matthew 28:19:

"Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water....there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name...And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed." (The First Apology of Justin, Chapter LXI).


"Thus, too, does the angel, the witness of baptism, 'make the paths straight' for the Holy Spirit, who is about to come upon us, by the washing away of sins, which faith, sealed in (the name of) the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, obtains.  For if 'in the mouth of three witnesses every word shall stand:' - while, through the benediction, we have the same (three) as witnesses of our faith whom we have as sureties of our salvation too - how much more does the number of the divine names suffice for the assurance of our hope likewise!" (Tertullian, On Baptism, Chapter 6, circa 200 A.D.).


Here's one early record, circa 215 A.D., showing an interesting 'take' on how 'baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,' was understood by some:

"When the one being baptized goes down into the water, the one baptizing him shall put his hand on him and speak thus:
"'Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?'
"And he that is being baptized shall say:
"'I believe.'
"Then, having his hand imposed upon the head of the one to be baptized, he shall baptize him once. And then he shall say:
"'Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit, of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate and died and was buried, and rose up again on the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right of the Father, about to come to judge the living and the dead?'
"And when he says: 'I believe,' he is baptized again.
"And again he shall say:

"'Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh?'

"The one being baptized then says: 'I believe.' And so he is baptized a third time." (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 394i, pp. 169-170,
The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume I, William A. Jurgens)

Baptismal Font

Luke's intent

The 'Oneness' Pentecostal reading of the baptismal references in Acts assumes it was Luke's intent to record verbatim the verbal formula used in baptism.  But wait a minute - if it was Luke's intention to do any such thing, how come he can't say it the same way twice?:

"Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38);
"And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord..." (Acts 10:48);
"When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 19:5);
"...They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 8:16).

If it had been Luke's intent to recapitulate a set liturgical formula, would he not have said it the same way every time? 

John's Baptism

"And he said to them, Into what then were you baptized? And they said, Into John’s baptism." (Acts 19:3).

Could anyone seriously suggest that the phrase 'baptism of John' meant that John the Baptist and his disciples baptized while reciting, 'I baptize you in the name of John'?

There were a variety of baptisms being practiced in first century Israel. Proselytes to Judaism were baptized, and the Essenes practiced baptism as well. These rival forms of baptism were differentiated from each other by thumb-nail descriptions, like "John's baptism."  The thumb-nail designation need not recapitulate the words spoken by the baptizor. Followers of John the Baptist surely did not say, 'I baptize you in the name of John' -- yet that's what that form of baptism was called, 'John's baptism.' In the case of Christian baptism, the catch-phrase describing it refers to the meaning and significance of the baptism: those who call upon His name in faith come into the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Two Formulas

The pioneer of the 'two formula' theory is Cyprian, a third century North African bishop. Cyprian opined that the Lord's baptismal instruction in Matthew 28:19 was for the nations, i.e., Gentiles, while the baptismal scenes recounted in Acts involved Jewish believers:

"For the case of the Jews under the apostles was one, but the condition of the Gentiles is another. The former, because they had already gained the most ancient baptism of the law and Moses, were to be baptized also in the name of Jesus Christ, in conformity with what Peter tells them in the Acts of the Apostles, saying, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For this 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.” Peter makes mention of Jesus Christ, not as though the Father should be omitted, but that the Son also might be joined to the Father.
"Finally, when, after the resurrection, the apostles are sent by the Lord to the heathens, they are bidden to baptize the Gentiles “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” How, then, do some say, that a Gentile baptized without, outside the Church, yea, and in opposition to the Church, so that it be only in the name of Jesus Christ, everywhere, and in whatever manner, can obtain remission of sin, when Christ Himself commands the heathen to be baptized in the full and united Trinity?" (Cyprian, Epistle 72, 17-18).

This is not, as is sometimes stated, an antisemitic position, but rather a philosemitic position, which presupposes that the filthy heathen need require more cleansing that the Jews already consecrated to the Father and Holy Spirit.

Contra Cyprian, I do not think it correct to say that the Lord's instruction in Matthew 28:19 refers only to the Gentiles, although it is true the word 'nations' is most often translated 'Gentiles': "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations ['ethnos'], baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost..." (Matthew 28:19). Israel is referred to as a 'nation' in Luke 7:5: "For he loveth our nation ['ethnos'], and he hath built us a synagogue."

"Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation ['ethnos'] perish not." John 11:50).
"And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation ['ethnos'] of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee." (Acts 10:22)
"But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation ['ethnos'] of." (Acts 28:19).

Though 'nations' most commonly means other nations, in need not always do so. Moreover, if Jews under the law do not require baptism except in the name of Jesus Christ, then what was the point of John the Baptist's activity?

The evidence upon which Cyprian draws is the same as the evidence upon which the 'Jesus Seminar' types also draw: the set of Biblical quotations listed above. Unfortunately there is not much more evidence than this available.

Albertus Magnus

Medieval scholastics Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas also opined that that the baptismal references in Acts represent a rival baptismal formula to Matthew 28:19. They theorized that the Lord had given the apostles a special dispensation to employ a different baptismal formula. This theory arises from the assumption:

'That the phrase 'baptize in the name of...' recapitulates the words spoken by the baptizor.'

Why did they make this assumption? As will be seen below, 'in the name of' need imply no more than a citation of authority without reference to any literal proper name: "The General...thanked them in the name of the Emperor and the country for their gallant service..." (Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, p. 311). This does not imply that there is any such set of syllables as "the [singular!] name of the Emperor and the country," nor that anyone proposes to recite such. While this minimalist sense is certainly not the whole story, its availability makes any conflict unnecessary. Did they think, as goes Matthew 28:19, so goes Acts 2:38? These authors understood Matthew 28:19 to specify a baptismal formula, and this does seem to have been the Lord's intent. The new religious movements display the same tendency. But it is quite wrong to say, 'Whatever 'in the name' means in one verse of scripture, it must mean just that in every other verse of scripture.' That is not how language works! When an inspired author sits down to write, all the resources of the chosen language are at his disposal. How could it be that, if one inspired author has already used an idiomatic phrase in one sense, our author is barred from using it in a common and otherwise available sense? And there is another reason.

When we look to an actual record of a Christian baptism in Acts, we do hear the name of Jesus Christ being called out -- not by the baptizor, but by the candidate for baptism: "And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" (Acts 8:37).  This is the confession of faith which has always been part of Christian baptism, wherein the candidate for baptism calls upon the name of the Lord: "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16).  I do not know whether Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas had ever witnessed a Christian baptism where the baptizee said anything other than 'Waaahhhhh!' The confession of faith was given in those days by proxy; infant baptism was the rule. Martin Luther follows these two authors in his understanding that Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 describe two different baptismal formulas.

Of all theories advanced, this theory seems to me the worst. How likely is it that the disciples, having heard the risen Lord command them to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," would scratch their heads and chirp up, 'I have a better idea?' Nevertheless the 'two-formula' theory is popular with modern secular scholars, who describe Matthew 28:19 as a "late interpolation" presenting a baptismal formula that came into vogue after the period recounted in Acts. As we shall see, the 'Oneness' Pentecostals quote these scholars as witnesses for their side...then coolly claim to be Bible believers!


The first author, to my knowledge, to make the argument that 'Jesus' is the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was a fifth century Egyptian monophysite monk named Shenoute: "Be praised, O God, you and your blessed Son, whose name together with yours are one and the same in the mouth of the one who struggles against those who support this new ungodliness. For this is his wealth and his hope:

'when entering to say: God,
and when leaving: Jesus,
and when resting: God,
and when rising: Jesus,
and when blessing: God,
and when petitioning: Jesus.'

"In order not to stop any longer here: it is clear that we are naming the consubstantial Trinity when we say Jesus...Thus it is clear: when we name Jesus, we name the holy Trinity, yet the Father as Father, the Son as Son and the Holy Spirit as Holy Spirit." (Shenoute, quoted p. 186, Christ in Christian Tradition, Volume 2, Part Four, Aloys Grillmeier SJ). The editor goes on to explain, "This is attested by the commandment to baptize (Mt 28,19), Paul's words about baptism in Christ..." (p. 186, Grillmeier).

Shenoute was no modalist, nor can he be suspected of any secret sympathy for Nestorius, the arch-heretic in the eyes of the monophysites: "He, however, whom the prince of darkness shackled with his thoughts, Nestorius, this fox, who could never tolerate anything right...And this other: 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani' [Mt. 27,46], [on this] he said: 'It is the flesh that cries to the divinity: Why have you forsaken me?'...Numerous, by the way, are the blasphemies [that I do not cite], because I destest it and hate to repeat the words of this unclean one..." (Shenoute, quoted p. 209, Grillmeier).

When you stop to think about it, Shenoute's equation 'Jesus'=name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit no more requires God to be unipersonal than the more familiar trinitarian equation, 'Jehovah'=name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If one insists on the logic of one name, one person, then don't the three names Father, Son and Holy Spirit imply three persons? What the theory lacks, though, is convincing Bible testimony. If the apostles understood 'Jesus' to be the name of the Father and Holy Spirit as well as of the Son, why don't we read about 'Jesus the Holy Spirit' and 'Jesus the Father'? If something can happen, it will happen. Where does Jesus ever address His Father as 'Jesus'?

Anointed One

As we've seen, Shenoute's conjecture suffers from a lack of affirmative evidence, namely, instances where God the Father or the Holy Spirit is addressed as 'Jesus.' Is there evidence against it? Yes, Acts 2:38 itself disproves the theory. Acts 2:38 is advertised as supplying the missing "name" of Matthew 28:19. But Acts 2:38 supplies the name, not of 'Jesus' only, but of "Jesus Christ" - Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One:

"Christos, 'anointed,' translates, in the Septuagint, the word 'Messiah,' a term applied to the priests who were anointed with the holy oil, particularly the high priest...The prophets are called hoi christoi Theou, 'the anointed of God'...A king of Israel was described upon occasion as christos tou Kuriou, 'the anointed of the Lord'...In the NT the word is frequently used with the article, of the Lord Jesus, as an appellative rather than a title...Three times the title was expressly accepted by the Lord Himself..." (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary).

The Son is called "anointed" in scripture:

"But to the Son He says: 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.'" (Hebrews 1:8-9).
"And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.'" (Luke 4:17-19).

But since it's God the Father who anoints Him, it's far from obvious how the Father also can be named as 'Christ,' the Anointed One. And the Holy Spirit is not the Anointed One, but the Anointing:

" God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. " (Acts 10:38).

God the Father anointed the Son:

"So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You.'" (Hebrews 5:5).

So Acts 2:38, advanced as proof-text for the theory that 'Jesus' is the "name" of Matthew 28:19, explodes with a bang; if it is possible for 'Jesus' to be a name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is it not possible for 'Christ,' i.e., Messiah, so to be.


Did anyone employ 'in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ' as a baptismal formula in ancient times? It would seem so: Marcion. Cyprian writes about baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ" in settings which suggest this phrase was in use as a baptismal formula:

"Certainly, since I found in the letter the copy of which you transmitted to me, that it was written, 'That it should not be asked who baptized, since he who is baptized might receive remission of sins according to what he believed,' I thought that this topic was not to be passed by, especially since I observed in the same epistle that mention was also made of Marcion, saying that 'even those that came from him did not need to be baptized, because they seemed to have been already baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.'" (Cyprian, Letter 72, 4).

One need not look far to see why Marcion did not use Matthew's baptismal formula: he did not accept Matthew as scripture! Marcion's Bible was a slim one, containing a heavily edited version of Luke's gospel and Paul's letters. No Old Testament, because the gnostic Marcion thought the God of the Old Testament was not the true God. He is scarcely an encouraging precedent!

James 2:7

Some modern translations make of James 2:7 a 'proof-text' for the 'Jesus name' baptismal formula:

"Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?" (James 2:7 NRSV)

A more conventional translation understands the "name" to be that by which the believers are called...namely, 'Christians':

"Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?" (James 2:7).

Christians baptized by the Spirit are incorporated into the body of Christ: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free - and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:13). Accordingly they come to be known by the name of the Lord, as 'Christians.' It's not recorded who first decided to call the Lord's followers by this name, only where: "And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." (Acts 11:26).  It's a word formed on the same pattern as words like 'Herodian,' for a follower of Herod.  Whether it was the disciples themselves or the local folks who first hit upon the term, the apostles realized it was a name of great honor of which they should strive to be worthy: "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you...Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter." (1 Peter 4:14-16).

Return to answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

'Oneness' Pentecostal Hall of Shame

Denial of Matthew 28:19
God's Word Authority Figures
Interpolation Is the Bible Trustworthy?
Ipsissima Verba Tom Harpur
Catholic Encyclopedia Jesus Seminar
Frederick C. Conybeare
Return to Answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

"The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." (Psalm 12:6-7).

God's Word

What is the Bible's own testimony about itself: that it is a patch-work of 'interpolations' and 'later insertions'? As we shall see, this is what the 'Oneness' Pentecostals assert. To the contrary: "Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it." (Psalm 119:40). "Pure" means 'unmixed' with alien material: "pure...Free from all heterogeneous or extraneous matter..." (Webster's International 1965); i.e., no 'interpolations,' no 'later additions.' You can either believe God on this, or the 'Oneness' Pentecostals.

Authority Figures

"The New Testament knows only baptism in the name of Jesus . . . , which still occurs even in the second and third centuries." - The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, I, page 435.

Those who follow 'Oneness' Pentecostalism are familiar with a bulky list of quotations offered in support of this group's teachings. Does Schaff-Herzog really say that? Yes, to be sure. Why? Because the authors don't believe the risen Lord actually spoke the words Matthew puts in His mouth in Matthew 28:19:

I. Biblical Doctrine.
1. Origin and Practise:
"...Jesus, however, can not have given his disciples this Trinitarian order of baptism after his resurrection; for the New Testament knows only baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts ii, 38; viii, 16; xix, 5; Gal. iii, 27; Rom. vi, 3; I Cor. i, 13-15), which still occurs even in the second and third centuries, while the Trinitarian formula occurs only in Matt. xxviii, 19 and then only again Didache vii, 1 and Justin, Apol., i, 61. It is unthinkable that the Apostolic Church thus disobeyed the express command of the Lord, which it otherwise considered the highest authority. Occurrences like those of Acts xix, 1-7 ought to have shown that the prescribed formula of baptism could not have been shortened to "the name of the Lord Jesus," if the character of baptism was to be retained as commanded. Judging from I Cor. i, 14-17, Paul did, not know Matt. xxviii, 19; otherwise he could not have written that Christ had sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel...Finally, the distinctly liturgical character of the formula Matt. xxviii, 19 is strange; it was not the way of Jesus to make such formulas. Nevertheless this baptismal command contains the elements which constitute Christian baptism; for the activity of the Son in baptism implies the immediate cooperation of the Father; and from the beginning Christian baptism has been considered the mediating agency of the Holy Spirit. Therefore while the formal authenticity of Matt. xxviii, 19 must be disputed, it must still be assumed that the later congregations recognized as the will of their Lord that which they experienced as the effect of baptism and traced it back to a direct word of Jesus."

While Schaff-Herzog freely concedes that the trinitarian baptismal formula occurs in Matthew 28:19, they deny the risen Lord actually spoke those words: "Jesus, however, can not have given his disciples this Trinitarian order of baptism after his resurrection; for the New Testament knows only baptism in the name of Jesus...while the Trinitarian formula occurs only in Matt. xxviii, 19 and then only again Didache vii, 1 and Justin, Apol., i, 61... Therefore while the formal authenticity of Matt. xxviii, 19 must be disputed, it must still be assumed that the later congregations recognized as the will of their Lord that which they experienced as the effect of baptism and traced it back to a direct word of Jesus."

The 'Oneness' Pentecostals claim to believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. Yet here they are quoting an authority that disputes the "formal authenticity" of words which Matthew quotes Him as having said. Yet Matthew says that He did!: "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying..." (Matthew 28:18).


It goes without saying that Matthew 28:19 has always been a 'difficult' verse for unitarians. Not everyone agrees with what we Bible-believers say: 'He said it, I believe it, that settles it.' The authors the 'Oneness' Pentecostals like to quote prefer to eject inconvenient scriptures from the Bible. It must be emphasized, there is no manuscript evidence against Matthew 28:19; the only 'difficulty' with this verse is the theological difficulty it presents to unitarians. Another quote of a similar vein, gleaned from a 'Oneness' Pentecostal web-site:

Hastings Dictionary of the Bible 1963, page 1015:
"The chief Trinitarian text in the NT is the baptismal formula in Mt 28:19...This late post-resurrection saying, not found in any other Gospel or anywhere else in the NT, has been viewed by some scholars as an interpolation into Matthew. It has also been pointed out that the idea of making disciples is continued in teaching them, so that the intervening reference to baptism with its Trinitarian formula was perhaps a later insertion into the saying..."

Is the Bible Trustworthy?

Another 'Oneness' Pentecostal quote:

The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics:
"If it [Matthew 28:19] were undisputed, this would, of course, be decisive, but its trustworthiness is impugned on grounds of textual criticism, literary criticism and historical criticism...The obvious explanation of the silence of the New Testament on the triune name, and the use of another formula in Acts and Paul, is that this other formula was the earlier, and the triune formula is a later addition."

God's children trust in His word: "So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word." (Psalm 119:42). Other folks just don't.

Ipsissima Verba

The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, I, 275:
"It is often affirmed that the words in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost are not the ipsissima verba [very words] of Jesus, but...a later liturgical addition."

In denying that Matthew 28:19 represents the "ipsissima verba" of the risen Lord, these authors are saying, quite frankly and openly, that He never said it. This is what "ipsissima verba" means: 'very words.' Yet the Bible says He did say it! How much clearer can it be that the 'Oneness' Pentecostals deny the integrity and inspiration of the Bible? God's word must be treated with greater respect:

Tom Harpur

The 'Oneness' Pentecostals have recently updated their Hall of Shame of deniers of Matthew 28:19 with the addition of New Age Guru Tom Harpur, the well known Canadian TV personality and author of 'The Pagan Christ:'

Tom Harpur:
Tom Harpur, former Religion Editor of the Toronto Star in his "For Christ's sake," page 103 informs us of these facts: "All but the most conservative scholars agree that at least the latter part of this command [Triune part of Matthew 28:19] was inserted later. The [Trinitarian] formula occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and we know from the only evidence available [the rest of the New Testament] that the earliest Church did not baptize people using these words ("in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost") baptism was "into" or "in" the name of Jesus alone. Thus it is argued that the verse originally read "baptizing them in My Name" and then was expanded [changed] to work in the [later Catholic Trinitarian] dogma. In fact, the first view put forward by German critical scholars as well as the Unitarians in the nineteenth century, was stated as the accepted position of mainline scholarship as long ago as 1919, when Peake's commentary was first published: "The Church of the first days (AD 33) did not observe this world-wide (Trinitarian) commandment, even if they knew it. The command to baptize into the threefold [Trinity] name is a late doctrinal expansion."

Once again, the 'Oneness' Pentecostals are asserting that Matthew 28:19 "was inserted later" and is not a genuine part of the Bible text.

The author, who has showered the world with such pearls of wisdom as, "Christianity began as a cult with almost wholly Pagan origins and motivations in the first century," maintains a web-site:

Since this author doubts the historic existence of Jesus of Nazareth, he can scarcely be expected to defend Matthew 28:19 as genuine. I would strongly urge any readers who continue to believe the 'Oneness' Pentecostals admit the inspiration of the Bible to visit this author's web-site. Realize, this is their idea of a Bible scholar.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Another familiar quote:

"1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 2, page 263 - Here the authors acknowledge that the baptismal formula was changed by their church."

But is this just exactly what the Catholic Encyclopedia says? Well, no.  Fortunately, the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia is on the web.

What does the Catholic Encyclopedia really say about where the Christian baptismal formula comes from?  From Matthew 28:19, of course: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost..."

Catholic Encyclopedia: BAPTISM
"That Christ instituted the Sacrament of Baptism is unquestionable. Rationalists, like Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, I, 68), dispute it, only by arbitrarily ruling out the texts which prove it.  Christ not only commands His Disciples (Matthew 28:19) to baptize and gives them the form to be used, but He also declares explicitly the absolute necessity of baptism (John 3): "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God."...
"The requisite and sole valid form of baptism is: "I baptize thee (or This person is baptized) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." This was the form given by Christ to His Disciples in the twenty-eighth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, as far, at least, as there is question of the invocation of the separate Persons of the Trinity and the expression of the nature of the action performed....
"In addition to the necessary word "baptize", or its equivalent, it is also obligatory to mention the separate persons of the Holy Trinity.  This is the command of Christ to His Disciples, and as the sacrament has its efficacy from Him Who instituted it, we can not omit anything that He has prescribed. Nothing is more certain than that this has been the general understanding and practice of the Church. Tertullian tells us (De Bapt., xiii): "The law of baptism (tingendi) has been imposed and the form prescribed: Go, teach the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." St. Justin Martyr (Apol., I) testifies to the practice in his time."

The article on the Trinity also describes the triune baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 as 'primitive', having been given to the church by the risen Lord:

"We may notice first the baptismal formula, which all acknowledge to be primitive.  It has already been shown that the words as prescribed by Christ (Matthew 28:19) clearly express the Godhead of the Three Persons as well as their distinction, but another consideration may here be added.  Baptism, with its formal renunciation of Satan and his works, was understood to be the rejection of the idolatry of paganism and the solemn consecration of the baptised to the one true God (Tert., 'De spect.', iv; Justin, 'Apol.', I, iv).  The act of consecration was the invocation over them of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 Edition, Article on the Trinity).

Since many 'Oneness' Pentecostals are of Roman Catholic background, this quote is important to them -- and, shamefully, it's pure fiction.

Jesus Seminar

Originally this 'Oneness' Pentecostal standard spam consisted of quotes from old-line 'Higher Critics,' but as we've seen they've been willing to update it with quotes from Pagan Guru Tom Harpur. I don't know why they don't add the Jesus Seminar as well, who also deny that the risen Lord spoke the words Matthew records Him as saying:

"And Jesus approached them and spoke these words: 'All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. You are to go and make followers of all peoples. You are to baptize them in the name of the Father and the son and the holy spirit.'" (Matthew 28:18-19, The Five Gospels, Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar).

These words appear in black, meaning, in the opinion of the august fellows of the Jesus Seminar, the risen Lord did not speak these words. Of course, most practitioners of this school of Bible interpretation do not believe Jesus either rose from the dead or said anything subsequently, so this is a 'gimme.' They explain, "...they have been created by the individual evangelists to express their conception of the future of the Jesus movement. As a consequence, they cannot be traced back to Jesus. . .Jesus probably had no idea of launching a world mission and certainly was not an institution builder." (The Five Gospels, Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, p. 270).

So the Jesus Seminar translates, "And Jesus. . .spoke these words," then explains that He did not speak those words. This is the crux of the matter.

Bible-believing readers will be struck by the freedom the 'Oneness' Pentecostals' favored authors feel to reconfigure the sacred text to conform to their presuppositions about the world. Where did this mentality come from? Must Christians submit without protest to all this hacking and re-arranging of God's composition? Do these authors occupy the high road of scholarship, as they claim? Not at all. The tendency these authors represent is addressed at length on this web-site:

Frederick C. Conybeare

The author who articulated the line of attack against Matthew 28:19 which inspires this oft-seen 'Oneness' spam was named Frederick C. Conybeare. His stated reason for hostility to this verse was doctrinal:

"Until the middle of the nineteenth century the text of the three witnesses, 1 John 5:7-8, shared with Matthew 28:19 the onerous task of furnishing scriptural evidence of the Trinity. The words italicised are now abandoned are now abandoned by all authorities except the Pope of Rome. . .By consequence, the entire weight of proving the Trinity has of late come to rest on Matthew 28:19. . .In the course of my reading, I have been able to substantiate these doubts of the authenticity of the text Matthew 28:19 by adducing patristic evidence against it so weighty, that in future the most conservative of divines will shrink from resting on it any dogmatic fabric at all, while the more enlightened will discard it as completely as they have its fellow-text of the three witnesses." (F. Conybeare, Hibbert Jouranl (quoted from an anti-trinity web-site).

The problem with 1 John 5:7-8 is that the disputed text is missing from all early Greek manuscripts. By contrast, all early Greek manuscripts of the ending of Matthew give the text just as we have it. How can this troublesome text be excised from scripture, when there is no manuscript evidence against it at all? Some see ammunition in the baptismal references of Acts. This is a bit of a 'cheat,' because readers who approach these texts from a neutral context need not see their language as recital of a baptismal formula, but once attention has been focused on the baptismal formula, readers will read all baptismal passages through a formula filter, and find a baptismal formula where perhaps there is none. Conybeare finds ammunition in fourth-century historian Eusebius, who, he asserts, is not paraphrasing, not summarizing, not combining, but quoting verbatim the authentic text.

In the face of the lack of documentary evidence against Matthew 28:19, no reader who accepts God's inspiration and preservation of the Bible text will join in Conybeare's deconstruction of it on doctrinal grounds. The argument can be more fairly evaluated by reading it in the original than picking up pieces here and there from liberal Bible dictionaries which summarize it. So let us try to follow the 'Oneness' Pentecostals down Conybeare's rabbit hole. Here is the greater part of the Hibbert Journal article, as given by an anti-trinity web-site, clearly laying out the argument:


II. MATTHEW, ch. xxviii. Verse 19.

No other text has counted for so much in the dogmatic development of the Church as the text at the end of Matthew, ch. xxviii. verse 19:

"Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you."

Prof. Swete, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, in his book on the Apostles' creed (London, 1894), points out that the triple formula "forms the framework" of the so-called Apostles' creed. He writes: "Thus the Baptismal creed is seen to rest on the Baptismal words. It was the answer of the Church to the Lord's final revelation of the Name of God."

And Prof. Moberly of Oxford in a recent work refers to the verse as a 'solemn precept to baptise in the of the holy Trinity, which fell from the divine lips of the newly risen Lord.' I quote his words from memory.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century the test of the three witnesses 1 John v. 7, 8, shared with Matthew xxviii. 19 the onerous task of furnishing scriptural evidence of the doctrine of the Trinity. This text ran thus: "Three there are that bear witness in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the holy Spirit. And these three are one. And three are there that bear witness on earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood, and the three are in the one."

The words italicised are now abandoned by all authorities except the Pope of Rome, and are not admitted even marginally into the English revised version. By consequence the entire weight of proving the Trinity has of late come to rest on Matthew xxviii. 19. This is also the sole saying of the Lord in which the duty of baptism is enforced; and divines have also found in it scriptural authority for the innovation of infant baptism. . .

There has been no general inclination on the part of divines to inquire soberly into the authenticity of a text on which they builded superstructures so huge. Nevertheless, an enlightened minority had their doubts. . .

Harnack in his History of Dogma (German edit., i. 69), dismisses the text almost contemptuously as being "no word of the Lord." Lastly, Canon Armitage Robinson, a cautious critic, in his article on Baptism in the Encyclopedia Biblica, inclines to the view that Matthew "does not here report the ipissima verba of Jesus, but transfers to him the familiar language of the church of the Evangelist's own time and locality."

In the course of my reading I have been able to substantiate these doubts of the authenticity of the text, Matthew xxviii. 19, by adducing patristic evidence against it so weighty that in future the most conservative of divines will shrink from resting on it any dogmatic fabric at all, while the more enlightened will discard it as completely as they have its fellow-text of the three witnesses.

Of the patristic witnesses to the text of the New Testament as it stood in the Greek MSS, from about 300-340, none is so important as Eusebius of Caesarea, for he lived in the greatest Christian library of that age, that namely which Origen and Pamphilus had collected.. .I have, after a moderate search in these works of Eusebius, found eighteen citations of Matthew xxviii. 19, and always in the following form:

"Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I commanded you.". . .

It is evident that this was the text found by Eusebius in the very ancient codices collected fifty to a hundred and fifty years before his birth by his great predecessors. Of any other form of text he had never heard, and knew nothing until he had visited Constantinople and attended the Council of Nice. Then in two controversial works written in his extreme old age, and entitled, the one, "Against Marcellus of Ancyra," the other "About the Theology of the Church," he used the common reading. . .

In the last half of the fourth century the text "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Ghost" was used as a battle-cry by the orthodox against the adherents of Macedonius, who were called pneumato-machi or fighters against the Holy Spirit, because they declined to include the Spirit in a trinity of persons as co-equal, consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father and Son. They also stoutly denied that any text of the N.T. authorised such a co-ordination of the Spirit with the Father and Son. Whence we infer that their texts agreed with that of Eusebius.

. . .In the only codices which would be even likely to preserve an older reading, namely the Sinaitic Syriac and the oldest Latin MS., the pages are gone which contained the end of Matthew. But in any case the conversion of Eusebius to the longer text after the council of Nice indicates that it was at that time being introduced as a Shibboleth of orthodoxy into all codices. We have no codex older than the year 400, if so old; and long before that time the question of the inclusion of the holy Spirit on equal terms in the Trinity had been threshed out, and a text so invaluable to the dominate party could not but make its way into every codex, irrespectively of its textual affinities.

Vol. I., No. 1 OCTOBER 1902, PAGES 102-108

One cannot imagine a worse method of argumentation than this author employs. The very text of the Bible is made dependent upon the vagaries of heretics. The Bible text cannot have included the disputed words of Matthew 28:19 when the pneumatomachian heresy flared up. . .because otherwise these heretics could never have denied the Spirit's co-equality! Yet the modern Jehovah's Witnesses do not confess the Spirit's co-equality, and their Bible includes Matthew 28:19. This methodology would reduce the Bible to a blank sheet of paper, because there is nothing in it, no matter how plain, which heretics cannot deny.

Notice Conybeare's double standard: the disputed text in 1 John 5:7-8 cannot be salvaged because, although Cyprian and Tertullian quote this verse in the third century, it is absent from early Greek manuscripts in our possession. Because it is missing from the manuscripts, patristic testimony cannot save it. Yet in the case of Matthew 28:19, even though all our manuscripts include the text as quoted, and most early witnesses quote it in the familiar form, testimony by one fourth century writer is sufficient to eject it. This double standard shows Conybeare to be pursuing no objective scholarly procedure, but conducting a religious inquisition, which views trinitarian texts like Matthew 28:19 as suspect on doctrinal grounds. This essay forms the entire basis of the 'Oneness' Pentecostals' pretended exemption from the Lord's command to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," and it is no more than unitarian special pleading.

In the early years of the twentieth century, fundamentalism arose to contest the 'Higher Criticism' which was hollowing out the churches' beliefs. This great dispute divided congregations and split denominations. Anti-trinity sects line up on both sides of this great divide. The Jehovah's Witnesses read the Bible much the way fundamentalists do, though admittedly, it must be their Bible. When Unitarians arose in the midst of the radical Reformation, they claimed to find their doctrine in the very pages of scripture; however, many lost Bible debates later, they admitted they did not really hew to the letter of God's word, but preferred their doctrine in spite of the Bible. Today's Unitarian Universalists will scarcely venture to describe themselves as 'Christian,' much less do they confess the inspiration of the Bible. On which side of this great debate do the 'Oneness' Pentecostals line up?

As we have seen, 'Oneness' Pentecostals defend their beliefs with a long list of citations of liberal Bible dictionaries citing the views of Conybeare and Adolf von Harnack, who denied that the risen Lord spoke the words 'Matthew' puts in His mouth. Yet there is no manuscript evidence against Matthew 28:19; the Higher Critics' problem with the text was purely doctrinal. When challenged, they rarely will defend their claim that Matthew 28:19 is an "interpolation" or "later insertion." Yet they never stop circulating the list. Consequently, they must be classed on the Unitarian Universalist side of the Bible divide.

Thriceholy Radio


“Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).

How tightly does grammar constrain our interpretation of this verse? What are the possible meanings for the phrase 'in the name of...', in the Bible and in common usage?

Grammar Quiz

In the name of the law Onoma
Newspaper Clippings Declaration of Independence
Zeus and Company Distributed Plural
Mahlon and Chilion Self-Reference
Do all Person, place or thing
Return to Answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

In the name of the law

If a burglar alarm were to start shrieking as you sauntered by, and a big old cop came lumbering down the street hollering 'Stop in the name of the law!', would you expect him to invoke the [singular!] name once he stopped huffing and puffing? And what is the [singular!] name of the law, anyway? Thurgood? Earl?

'Oneness' Pentecostals assert that, if you were baptized in the 'titles' of Matthew 28:19, your baptism didn't 'count' and consequently you're eternally lost. They understand the 'name' of Matthew 28:19 to serve as a marker for a proper name: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost..." (Matthew 28:19). The theory that this singular, personal 'name' is 'Jesus Christ' is the founding dogma of 'Oneness' Pentecostalism.

However, it's less than obvious that, in most instances of this common idiom, 'name' is intended to serve as a marker for a proper name at all. When our cop comes lumbering down the street hollering, 'Stop in the name of the law!', it's less than obvious he means by the 'name of the law' a proper name like 'Thurgood' or 'Earl'. Usually the idiom 'do x in the name of y' just means 'do x by authority of, or for the sake of, y'. Likewise, when the Supremes crooned 'Stop in the name of love', it's less than obvious the 'name of love' was intended to place-hold for a proper name, like 'Monica' or 'Bubbles'.

Asked to state the name of the law, 'Oneness' Pentecostals temporize with tall tales about how, once upon a time, the "name of the law" actually was some guy's name. This swims against the tide of millenia of legal history; the ancient Greeks understood perfectly well the concept of the rule of law, not of men: "First, you now live among Greeks and not barbarians, and you understand justice and the rule of law, with no concession to force." (Euripides, Medea, Line 535, from Perseus Project).


How was the idiom, 'in the name of...', used in New Testament times? Familiar Bible meanings like, 'by authority of...', or 'for the sake of...' are well documented. So, for that matter, are many others. Those discussing this issue from both sides are prone to start with the a priori assumption that, whatever 'in the name' means in Matthew 28:19, it must also mean the same thing in Acts 2:38, but this assumption is groundless:


(Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, 3686 onoma).

As for uses like "of my property standing in your name", we say similar things in English: 'When Grandma entered the nursing home, her house was put in her children's name.'  We also talk about somebody transacting business 'in the name of' another party.  This does not mean they go around chanting the 'personal' name of that other party, but rather that they act under authority of that party.

Newspaper Clippings

The idiom, 'in the name of...', is alive and kicking in contemporary English. Let's stop by to see how it's doing.  We can find an abundant examples of the phrase 'in the name of...' in any searchable database.  Let's see what results the 'Oneness' exegesis of 'in the name...' yields with these examples, which I got off the Christian Science Monitor's on-line archive,

October 02, 1997
Religious Persecution In the Global Balance
Pat M. Holt
"Indeed, it was the abuse of human rights by governments in Brazil and Chile in the 1960s in the name of anti-communism that led Congress to create an assistant secretary of state for human rights."

What is the 'personal, singular' name of "anti-communism"? 'Zbigniew', or 'J. Edgar'?

August 10, 1994
Latin American leaders shift toward going along with US...
George Moffett
"On one hand, Latin American leaders have lost patience with the Haitian junta, whose subversion of democracy sets a bad precedent in the hemisphere. On the other hand, few Latin governments wish to see a precedent for later US intervention, even in the name of preserving democracy and human rights."

A two-fer! Note that 'name' remains singular, even with a plural referent. This is actually correct grammar, though it seems counter-intuitive.

February 08, 1994
Army's `Harmless' Tests
Page: EDITORIAL, Page 18"But the United States Army's biological warfare experiments with unsuspecting civilian populations are even more repugnant and indefensible. Clearly, the hubris that disregarded human rights in the name of national security or scientific knowledge in the radiation experiments was not an aberration."
June 09, 1993
Don't Relax Basic Rights
Page: EDITORIAL, page 18
"As a result, the United States and other leading democracies face a tough diplomatic fight in reaffirming basic principles. Certainly there are times when Western countries do not live up to their own human rights standards. Yet universal rights must not be compromised -- in the name of culture, or Realpolitik, or because 'everyone else does.'"
November 12, 1993
Is Tunisia Reversing Fabled Human Rights Record?
Neil Hicks
"Ben Ali's proclaimed commitment to human rights, however, has foundered on the government's hostility to all manifestations of political Islam. In the name of saving the country from Islamist rule, the Tunisian government has violated its own legal limits on pre-trial detention to hold thousands of prisoners without charge or trial on suspicion of sympathizing with the government's opponents."

What is the personal, singular "name of saving the country from Islamist rule..."? Hussein? Abdul? Omar? In none of these examples does the 'Oneness' exegesis of the phrase 'in the name of...' yield any coherent or usable results.  Nor do the 'Oneness' Pentecostals even apply their grammatical principles consistently.  They chide mainstream Christians for not taking references in Acts to baptize 'in the name of...' as baptismal formulae.  Yet they themselves do not take the words after 'in the name' in Matthew 28:19 as a quote of a baptismal formula.  A little consistency, please? More:

December 11, 1992
Uzbek Leaders Pick Stability Over Reform
Justin Burke, Special to The Christian Science Monitor
"President Karimov's opponents say the government, in the name of stability, is running roughshod over the population's human rights. The president's only desire, they add, is to retain total control."

The 'name of stability' must be something unexciting like 'Norman' or 'Elmer'.

July 13, 1992
Amnesty International Criticizes Amnesty Laws
Peter Grier, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
"A significant factor behind this continued repression, says the just-released report, is that those who commit the deeds have little fear of reprisal. The problem isn't just that government leaders don't care to take action or let investigations drag on for years. When reformers take power, they often pass amnesty laws in the name of healing or unity, preventing prosecutions for past human rights crimes."
June 01, 1990
Residents Band Together to Ban Annoying Airport Noise
Lucia Mouat, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
"She bought her home in 1978, something she says she wouldn't have done if she had known what was coming. In her view, the FAA action is the moral equivalent of someone dumping toxic waste in her backyard at midnight in the name of progress."
February 09, 1990
Yugoslav President Calls for Talks
Klas Bergman, Special to The Christian Science Monitor
"The speech was given in the name of the collective eight-man state presidency, representing each of the country's six republics and two semiautonomous provinces."

Gasp, rank polytheism! Each of these eight guys must surely have had his own 'singular, personal' name. But notice 'name' is still singular.

February 29, 1988
S. Korea critics push for more action on human rights
Daniel Sneider, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
"In his inaugural address Thursday, Mr. Roh declared that 'the day when freedoms and human rights could be slighted in the name of economic growth and national security has ended.'"

So our old newspaper clippings don't substantiate the way 'Oneness' Pentecostals claim the idiom 'in the name of...' works.  This phrase does not appear to be, in many cases, a marker for a personal name at all, nor a proposal to recite that name. 'By authority of' or 'for the sake of' are rough synonyms.

Broadening our search, here are a few more:

"The next speaker was Cardinal Rugambwa, speaking in the name 'of all the bishops of all Africa, Madagascar, and other islands.'" (Michael Novak, The Open Church, p. 225)
"It was a surprise, then, when on October 23, for the first time in either session of the Council, Archbishop Lawrence Shehan, of Baltimore, arose to speak in the name of all the bishops of the United States." (Michael Novak, The Open Church, p. 160).
FORT WORTH, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--July 6, 2000--21st Century Technologies Inc. (Pink Sheets:TEXN), formerly (OTCBB:TEXN), today announced that its wholly owned subsidiary Trident Technologies Inc. has filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent Office...Leading the technology innovations at Trident are Douglas Spring, its president, and Buren Palmer, its chief technology officer. The patent application is in the name of the inventors Spring and Palmer, who in turn have assigned the patent to Trident, including any future design innovations."
"CAIRO, July 6 (Reuters) - ...A group of human rights activists, intellectuals and professionals expressed concern late on Wednesday over the closure of Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Social and Development Studies and the arrest of its director Saadeddin Ibrahim...On Thursday the Cairo Appeals Court allowed the prosecutors' office to check bank accounts held in the name of Ibrahim and the centre, court sources said. Ibrahim was accused of receiving about $220,000..."
"BOSTON, June 30 /PRNewswire/ --...The indictment charges that from May 5, 1997 through at least the end of December 1998, DORSAINVIL abused his position as an NEMC administrative assistant by submitting without authorization fraudulent expense and travel vouchers in the name of unsuspecting payees."
"Friday June 9 8:33 PM ET Pensioner Dies Trying to Prove He Is Alive
"BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombian bureaucracy proved fatal for an 87-year-old man who died of a heart attack as he waited in line to collect a government certificate to prove he was still alive...Local authorities in central Cundinamarca province, which includes Bogota, introduced the certificate in a move to crack down on cheats who were receiving pensions issued in the name of dead people."

An example from history:

In the name of the House, and of all the Commons of England, we impeach Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, of high-treason, and ask his arrest.” (Coffin, Charles Carleton. Sweet Land of Liberty: Old Times in the Colonies (Kindle Locations 2277-2278). Johnsonian Publications.)

Is the name of the House "House"? Or something else? And the House of Commons, hmmm. . .they don't all have the same name, do they? So the mechnanical application of the 'Oneness' Pentecostal grammatical analysis of this idiom does not always achieve happy results. Just saying.

Declaration of Independence

It would be a mistake to conclude, from the circumstance that the Declaration of Independence was promulgated "in the name...of the good people of these colonies," that the colonialists of that day all shared a singular, personal name:

"We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do." (Declaration of Independence, July 5, 1776).

The grammar, it would seem, simply doesn't work that way.

Zeus and Company

Trinitarian theologians draw a lesson from Matthew 28:19, of the One God who eternally subsists in three persons:

"Indeed, there is no doubt that Christ willed by this solemn pronouncement to testify that the perfect light of faith was manifested when he said, 'Baptize them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ' [Matt. 28:19]. For this means precisely to be baptized into the name of the one God who has shown himself with complete clarity in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Hence it is quite clear that in God's essence reside three persons in whom one God is known." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter XIII, 'Oneness' 16).

But there seems to be an element of over-interpretation here. Surprisingly, even if, God forbid, the Mormons were right and Father, Son and Holy Spirit were three separate beings, "the name [singular]" would still be grammatically correct. Some examples:

"In the name of Zeus and all the gods, men of Athens, ask yourselves how a man could more clearly show his goodwill towards you,or how he could be less deserving of an ill return than if, being first an eye-witness of that national disaster..."
(Demosthenes Against Leptines 20.43).
"Oh! cruel fate! My friends! in the name of the gods, what possess you?
Your dancing will wreck the success of a fine undertaking."
(Aristophanes, Peace 320)
"But if you have no cause for wishing this unhappy man to be afflicted with such a grievous calamity; if he has given up to you every-thing but his life, and has reserved to himself nothing of his paternal property, not even as a memorial of his father--then, in the name of the gods, what is the meaning of this cruelty, of this savage and inhuman disposition?"
(Cicero For Sextus Roscius of Ameria 146).
"But, in the name of the immortal gods! for while 1 look upon you, O Dolabella, who are most dear to me, it is impossible for me to keep silence respecting the error into which you are both falling..."
(Cicero Philippics phil. 1.29).
"What then, are we to do? In the name of the immortal gods, can you interpret these facts, and see what is their purport?
(Cicero Philippics phil. 1.38).
"Now then that this opportunity is afforded to you, O conscript fathers, I entreat you in the name of the immortal gods, seize upon it; and recollect at last that you are the chief men of the most honorable council on the whole face of the earth."
(Cicero Philippics phil. 3, chap 14).
"What is the difference in the name of the immortal gods, whether he attacks this city itself or whether he attacks an outpost of this city a colony of the Roman people established for the sake of its being a bulwark and protection to us?"
(Cicero Philippics phil. 5.27).
"For what, in the name of the immortal gods! what good can our embassy do to the republic? What good, do I say? What will you say if it will even do us harm? Will do us harm?"
(Cicero Philippics phil. 12, chap 3).

These English translators find the singular 'name' works just fine.  Surprising as it may seem, this is actually correct grammar.

(Texts at Perseus Project, Tufts University:

Distributed Plural

Is this sentence correct as written?: 'The mis-hit golf ball sailed wildly into the area cordoned off for spectators, striking the head of Mike, of Joe, of Charles, and of Bill.' Yes! '[H]eads' might imply that these named worthies had multiple heads.  It's the same with the sentence,

'The children were told to bring an umbrella to the class outing, in case of rain.'

'Oneness' grammarians insist this means all the children were expected to huddle beneath one solitary umbrella. Do they understand also all the disciples share one face?: "And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid." (Matthew 17:6 KJV).


'The registrar called out the name of each and every member of the class.'

Is each and every member of the class named 'John Smith'? Rather, 'the name of each and every member of the class' means, 'the name of the first member of the class (Joe), the name of the second member of the class (Sally), and so on.' This usage, which I'm calling 'distributed plural,' is how Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses understand 'the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,' versus the trinitarian understanding: three names versus one name. Grammar cannot decide this question, because 'name' (singular) is correct in either case.

The Bible is grammar-compliant in this respect: "And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth." (Exodus 23:13).

"But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die." (Deuteronomy 18:20).

"You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, but you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day." (Joshua 23:7-8).

"'Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.' So all the people answered and said, 'It is well spoken.'" (1 Kings 18:24).

In these examples, 'name' is singular, even though the 'gods' under discussion do not all share the same name, Baal or Thor or Athena.  This is no esoteric point of polytheistic theology, it's just proper grammar.

Mahlon and Chilion

"And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there." (Ruth 1:2 KJV). Notice that "name" is singular, even though Mahlon and Chilion are two.

Self Reference

a.) 'The nations tremble at the name of Genghis Khan.'
b.) 'Tell me, if you would, the name of that man over there.'

Both a.) and b.) reference a name; in a.) the name is just as stated, 'Genghis Khan.' In b.), the name referenced is not 'that man over there,' rather 'that man over there' identifies the party whose name is sought. A.) is self-referential, in b.) 'name' serves as a marker. The Bible provides examples of both usages:

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." (Exodus 20:7)

The 'name of Jehovah' is just that, 'Jehovah,' whereas the name of the man is not 'the man' but 'Nabal': "Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail..." (1 Samuel 25:3).

'Jehovah' is surely a name, but is 'God?': "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving." (Psalm 69:30); "Daniel answered and said: 'Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His.'" (Daniel 2:20). In these two cases 'name of God' could conceivably serve as a marker for 'Jehovah.' But not likely here: "For 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written." (Romans 2:24), given that the Gentiles did not know this name.  Observant Jews like Josephus refused to disclose the Divine Name: "Whereupon God declared to him [Moses] his holy name, which had never been discovered to men before; concerning which it is not lawful for me to say any more." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter XII, 4.)

A familiar trinitarian interpretation of Matthew 28:19 takes the 'name' as self-referential; the name of God referenced is just as stated, 'Father, Son and Holy Ghost:'

"But why should I maintain the unity of the Name by arguments, when there is the plain testimony of the Divine Voice that the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one? For it is written: “Go, baptize all nations in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He said, “in the Name,” not “in the Names.” So, then, the Name of the Father is not one, that of the Son another, and that of the Holy Spirit another, for God is one; the Names are not more than one, for there are not two Gods, or three Gods." (Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, Book 1, Chapter 13, Section 131).

'Oneness' Pentecostals insist the 'name' in Matthew 28:19 serves as a marker for a name not stated. But as we shall see, the Bible knows nothing of the grammarians' distinction between 'names' and 'titles,' and the presence of 'and' is no obstacle to a Bible-qualified 'name': "And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." (Revelation 19:16). Grammar cannot decide this dispute.

Do all

We are instructed to do "all" in the name of Jesus:

"And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." (Colossians 3:17).

Does this mean one should recite, 'I wash this car in the name of Jesus,' 'I make this sandwich in the name of Jesus,' etc.? Are we to keep up a low hum of 'Jesus-Jesus-Jesus' all day long, like Buddhist monks chanting? Does this language mandate a verbal formula to be employed at each occasion, or does it rather instruct us to do all for the sake of Jesus?

Person, place or thing

The Greek word 'onoma' was used much like the English word 'name'; it could be the name of a person, place or thing:

"[1.19] Furthermore, as a result of their possessions abroad and the tenure of magistracies which take them abroad, both they and their associates have imperceptibly learned to row; for of necessity a man who is often at sea takes up an oar, as does his slave, and they learn naval terminology [kai onomata mathein ta en têi nautikêi]..."
(Old Oligarch Constitution of the Athenians 1.19, available at Perseus Project.)

The translator efficiently renders the 'names' of naval things as "naval terminology". The 'names' of naval things refer to words like 'port' and 'starboard', not like 'Jacques-Yves' or 'Bluebeard'.

The Hebrew 'shem' is also so used: "And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof." (Genesis 2:19). The idea is not for Adam to call the creatures 'Fluffy' and 'Rover,' but 'dog' and 'cat,' which are thus 'names.' It should not be necessary to stress this point except that 'Oneness' grammarians sometimes insist 'name' in the Bible can only be a personal name. This is not the case; a thing, a town, even a 'day' can be 'named': "Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day." (Ezekiel 24:2).

In fact many usages are similar to our use of the English 'name'. 'Name' to mean 'reputation' was also in use: "And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; these things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name [onoma] that thou livest, and art dead." (Revelation 3:1).


The Bible shows no special concern for the grammarians' distinction between 'titles' versus 'names', employing the word 'onoma', 'name', of 'Christ', which is undoubtedly a 'title', meaning the Anointed, the Messiah: "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified." (1 Peter 4:14); "...Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." (2 Timothy 2:19).

Far from identifying 'Father' as a common 'title' formed by analogy with human fathers, the Bible teaches that it's earthly families who are named after the exemplar of the heavenly Father: "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named..." (Ephesians 3:14-15).

By the Bible's reckoning, "The Word of God" is a "name": "He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God." (Revelation 19:13). "Jealous" and "Wonderful" are names.

The name 'Israel' is compounded with the Divine Name 'El':-- so 'El' is a "name" of God, by the Bible's own reckoning: "Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you." (Deuteronomy 28:10); "When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).

'Oneness' Pentecostals are ever quoting Isaiah 9:6 without ever noticing all the titles summed up under a [SINGULAR!] name: "For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  Wow, look at all those names -- pardon me, "name" -- or are they 'titles'?  The Bible holds this minute point of grammar in slight regard, a point to be borne in mind in understanding a Bible 'name.'

As seen thus far there is a great deal that 'in the name of Jesus Christ' need not mean. As shown, it need not suggest a baptismal formula in competition with Matthew 28:19. But what does it mean? What did Luke seek to communicate in referring to Christian baptism in this manner? Several dimensions of the answer:

In the name

Corporate Personality Into the Name
Arise By What Right
Theophany How To
Riddler gods The Road not Taken
Return to Answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

Corporate Personality

'Israel' is both a man and a nation:

"And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." (Genesis 32:28).
"But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine." (Isaiah 43:1).

All the children of Israel are in Israel. On a higher plane believers are in Christ. We, too, are born into this body: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." (1 Peter 1:23).

Just as the children in the desert were baptized into Moses:

"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea..." (1 Corinthians 10:1) believers are baptized into Christ. It is not a question of the words spoken by the administrant, but the significance of the act itself.

Into His Name

Believers are baptized into the death of the Lord:

"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." (Romans 6:3-6).

In baptism believers re-enact the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord:

"Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2:12).

It is not the Father who died nor the Holy Spirit, but Christ Jesus. Thus baptism signifies that believers have put on Christ:

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27).

Again, though the church never meets for any purpose without naming the name of Jesus Christ, it is not the words spoken by the minister which are at issue.


"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16).  'Oneness' Pentecostals use this passage in defense of their novel baptismal formula, even though the grammar of the passage requires it be the candidate for baptism, not the one administering baptism, who is "calling on the name of the Lord." Belief in and confession of faith in the Son of God has been part and parcel of Christian baptism from the very beginning: "...And the eunuch said, 'See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized? Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" (Acts 8:36-37).

It's this confession of faith on the part of the candidate for baptism which saves: "...that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved...For 'whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.'" (Romans 10:9-13).  There were many competing baptisms being carried out in Palestine and its environs during the first century, identified by tag-lines like "John's baptism" (Acts 19:3).  Might this distinctive feature of Christian baptism, the confession of faith, have helped popularize phraseology linking Christian baptism with "the name of Jesus Christ."

By What Right

Baptism was commanded by the Lord Himself. 'Name' is often used in the Bible as a synonym for power or authority: "And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, 'By what power or by what name have you done this?'" (Acts 4:7). Thus we do not baptize in Jesus' name, but rather in defiance of His name, when we do one jot or tittle otherwise than as He commanded!: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19).


The Master's baptism enacted a three-fold theophany: "When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, 'You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.'" (Luke 3:21-22). In its small way, our own baptism imitates that exemplar.

How To

Matthew 28:19 is the only command in the entire Bible addressed specifically to those administering baptism. Examining all the passages in Acts dealing with baptism, we find commands addressed to believers seeking baptism, not to the baptizer.  Matthew 28:19 is a direct order to those who administer the ordinance; thus, Matthew 28:19 is the Lord's marching orders for Christian baptism, the only command given to those who would be performing Christian baptism versus exhortations to those who would receive it.

Riddler gods: What religion?

The 'Oneness' Pentecostal reading of Matthew 28:19 turns the Christian quest for salvation into a frantic race to solve a riddle...and, tragically, virtually all of those who have loved the Lord down through the centuries have guessed 'wrong', believing in all sincerity that Matthew 28:19 was supposed to be the Christian baptismal formula.

The pagans could have swallowed that. The Sphinx posed a riddle to the inhabitants of Thebes, devouring those who could not solve it: "What goes on four feet, on two feet, and three, But the more feet it goes on the weaker it be?" Oedipus was clever enough to solve her riddle and deliver Thebes (the answer is 'man', who crawls on all fours as a baby, then hobbles with a cane in dotage). The Sphinx was so distraught at this development that she did away with herself.  The pagans were quite familiar with the idea of riddler-gods and trickster-gods.  Christians are not. Christians are more familiar with the father of the prodigal, running to meet His son: "...But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him." (Luke 15:20).

The Prodigal Son, John Everett Millais

The 'Oneness' revised version: 'But when he still a great way off, his father screeched to halt and demanded, Solve my puzzle or you can't come home!' A similar paradigm is expressed in the proto-gnostic 'Gospel of Thomas,' so highly respected by the 'Jesus Seminar:' "And he said, 'Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.'" (Gospel of Thomas, 1). If salvation is granted on the basis of solving a riddle, the clever will precede the dull into the kingdom.

God's children know He is no trickster. We can rest secure in His plain and unadorned word, not scrambling to 'decode' it:

"The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple." (Psalm 19:7).

The Road not Taken

"For whatever the apostle and all the scriptures say is true, even though it is taken in a different sense by unbelievers and those who misunderstand it...for he says, 'Go, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.' [Baptize, that is], in the name of the divine Trinity, for the name admits of no distinction; God is preached and proclaimed to us as one in the Law, the Prophets, the Gospels and the Apostles, in the Old and New Testaments, and is believed in as one--Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (Epiphanius, De Fide, 18,3).

It might surprise 'Oneness' Pentecostals to discover that Matthew 28:19 is a familiar trinitarian proof-text. The trinitarian interpretation starts by taking the same fork in the road as does the 'Oneness' Pentecostal interpretation:

  1. First fork: Is 'in the name' an idiomatic way of identifying the authorization for an action: 'in the name of the law' -- or is an actual 'name' referenced? Fork taken: an actual name is referenced, though grammar does not so constrain.
  2. Second fork: Is the 'name' a marker for a name not named, or self-referential? Here the two paths diverge: trinitarians say, self-referential.
  3. Third fork: Are these three 'names' strung together, or one name? As noted above, what I've called the 'distributive plural' is grammatically unobjectionable. Here the trinitarian says, ONE name.
  4. Fourth fork: What is the one name? 'Father, Son and Holy Ghost,' here revealed as a name of the one true and living God.

For each fork in the road that was taken to arrive at this point, grammar allowed the other to be taken. Thus the grammar of the passage does not compel this interpretation, absent theological input. So when Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses -- not to mention 'Oneness' Pentecostals -- remain unmoved, it is not grammar which can move them. As seen above, the 'Oneness' track: starting fork, that 'name' is not an idiom for authority but an actual name, second fork, that 'name' is a marker and not self-referential, third, that the 'name' must be singular, and that the name is 'Jesus Christ,' thus revealed as the singular personal name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost -- crashes upon the rock that 'Christ', meaning 'the Anointed One,' cannot be a name of the Father or of the Holy Spirit. But this, again, is a Bible consideration, not a grammatical one. Grammatically, this passage does not present one straight path but a range of possibilities.

Return to answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

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