PMW 2022-077 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
An interested reader sent me a question regarding the Great Commission. The question was two pages long, but I will edit it down to a manageable size. He wrote:
I have a question about a certain verse that I believe you use in a certain way…. The Verse is Matthew 28:19…. My question is this: In what sense do you understand Jesus telling His disciples to “make disciples of all nations?” Can you break that down for me and clarify? I know in the KJV it says to “teach” and that has been discovered by many to be wrong and it seems the better translation is “to make disciples of all nations” I always thought that you believed it meant each particular nation would be through the “preaching of the gospel” would be Christianized. Each nation in a universal but limited sense. Not all but the majority of the people of each nation would be made disciples of Christ through the “things that Jesus taught the disciples”….
[The reader cites a scholarly article he has read on the matter. He notes:] The Aorist Imperative form of this verb lends itself to the expression of a simple activity, like the calling to the commitment to follow Jesus, which each one of the disciples who was listening to this commission had previously done. “Baptizing them” would also be understood by these same disciples as being similar to the individual commitment each of them had to make before they were baptized by John the Baptist (cp. Mark 1:5)….
There is another issue in Matt 28:19-20, and that is how to take the participles – “baptizing and teaching” in relation to the main verb “make disciples”. The commentary you quoted interpreted them as participles of means… “Make disciples of all nations BY baptism and BY instruction.” But the word “by” is added for interpretation and is not in the text.
I hope I have saved the relevant portions of his extended question. And I believe I have. So now, to work!
Thanks for reading and thinking through the issues. I recommend your reading my book The Greatness of the Great Commission for a fuller answer.
Regarding the cultural implications of the Great Commission, I would note:
First, it is significant that Jesus chose the word ethnos in his command, rather than basileia (which suggests political kingdoms, national entities) or anthropos (which suggest individual men). My understanding of “nations” (Gk. ethnos) is that it means “men in their cultural [ethnic] relations.” A “culture” is the sum deposit of the normative exercises of men, i.e., it is what results from the normative activities of men in their surroundings. Blomberg (Matthew: The New American Commentary , p. 431) notes of the word that it is “somewhat equivalent to ethnic groups.”
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Second, this understanding is allowed by Jesus’ use of the word ethnos and it is actually encouraged by his addition of the means of the discipling: by “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Jesus did not teach stray thoughts on personal spiritual matters, but instruction involving a holistic integration of every thought regarding related matters that create a distinctive worldview orientation (cp. 2 Cor. 10:4–5).
Third, this understanding of ethnos well supplements Jesus’ statement in John 3:17: “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” The kosmos as “a system of men and things” is the goal of the saving work of God in Christ. God did not intend to pluck brands from the fire, but to apply his universal authority (Matt. 28:18) over the whole world. We should note with John Nolland (The Gospel of Matthew: New International Greek Testament Commentary , p. 1270) that “Matthew shares the general Jewish impulse to view true religion as involving a way of life and not simply a pattern of beliefs. So what is to be taught is to keep … what has been commanded.” This is culture-creating.
Thus, I believe all cultures as cultures are to be “discipled,” i.e., brought under Christian instruction and influence. The cultures and the world will be discipled one person at a time, to be sure, but they will be discipled as cultures in all their defining implications.
In the Apostolic church we see the problem of the tendency of Jewish culture (with its ceremonial demands and distinctive social markers) attempting to restrict and govern the gospel (Acts 15; Galatians). This must be overcome — through discipling. The gospel must produce not simply individual converts, but converts governed in all their life relations by the universal authority of Christ.
Regarding the question of the significance of the participles and their functioning as “means,” I believe that these participles are in fact examples of the “participle of means.” As Daniel Wallace notes in his Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (p. 629) the “participle of means could be called an epexegetical [explanatory] participle in that it defines or explains the action of the controlling verb.” He adds that “the participle of means is almost always contemporaneous with the main verb.” Thus, the making of disciples is to be done by baptizing and teaching them. He lists Matt. 28:19–20 as examples of the participle of means (p. 630).
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Later on p. 645, Wallace observes regarding the Great Commission participles (baptizing; teaching) that “they obviously make good sense as participles of means; i.e., the means by which the disciples were to make disciples was to baptize and the to teach.” Charles Quarles (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament , p. 352) sees these participles as either participles of means or attendance circumstances (i.e., coordinate with the main verb). R. T. France agrees (The Gospel of Matthew: NICNT , p. 1115), noting that these participles “spell out the process of making disciples.” Davies and Allison (Matthew: International Critical Commentary , p. 686) agree, noting that the “general imperative … is filled out … by what follows: baptism and instruction in obedience.” David L. Turner (Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament , p. 689) concurs, noting that the participles explain “how disciples are made.”
As Craig Keener (The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary , p. 718) puts it: “one should make disciples for Jesus by going, baptizing, and ‘teaching.’” Craig Blomberg (Matthew: The New American Commentary , p. 431) agrees: “The verb ‘make disciples’ also commands a kind of evangelism that does not stop after someone makes a profession of faith. The truly subordinate participles in v. 19 explain what making disciples involves: ‘baptizing’ them and ‘teaching” them obedience to all of Jesus’ commandments.”
According to Charles Quarles (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Matthew ), the aorist imperative of matheteuo “expresses urgency” (p. 351). He also notes that the participles “baptizing” and “teaching” are expressed by the “ptc. of means,” thus implying the understanding of “by.” Though it is not crucial to add “by” to the translation because the statement could be read literally as: “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them, etc.”
Regarding the statement that the “Aorist imperative form of this verb lends itself to the expression of a simple activity, consider the following (very briefly!). Charles Quarles (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Matthew ), notes instead that the presence of the aorist imperative of matheteuo “expresses urgency” (p. 351).
Though he was not postmillennial, A. T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1:245) speaks of the Great Commission as “the campaign for world conquest.” I believe he has captured the sense of Jesus’ command.
I hope this has been helpful. Keep studying!
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