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Note of the Day – May 31

Luke 24:47-49 and the Great Commission

Having discussed Matthew 28:18-20 (and especially the baptism formula of verse 19) in the previous notes, today I will look briefly at the ‘parallel’ Commission passages in the other Gospels—Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; and [Mark 16:15-16ff]. It is clear that all four post-resurrection Commissions by Jesus to his followers stem from separate traditions, and yet, interestingly, they contain certain common elements. I would isolate these common features as follows:

  • Jesus sends out his disciples, as he is recorded doing earlier in his ministry (Mk 6:7-13 par; Lk 10:1-12)—that is, they become his apostles in the basic meaning of the word:
    • Matthew—”you are (to be) going/traveling (forth) [poreuqe/nte$]…”
    • [Mark]—”you are (to be) going/traveling (forth) [poreuqe/nte$] into the world…”
    • Luke—”to be preached… into all the nations, beginning from Yerushalaim {Jerusalem}”
    • John—”even as the Father has set me forth [a)pe/stalken, i.e. sent me], I also (am) send(ing) [pe/mpw] you”
  • Jesus gives to his disciples power/authority, which he received (from the Father):
    • Matthew—”all authority [e)cousi/a] in heaven and upon earth is given to me..” (it must be inferred that the same authority is given to the disciples, cf. Matt 9:35; 10:7-8)
    • [Mark]—”these signs will follow along… in my name”
    • Luke—”to be proclaimed upon his [i.e. my] name…. See, I set forth [i.e. send] the announcement/promise of the Father upon you”
    • John—”as the Father set me forth, so I send you…. For whomever you release…it will be released for them…”
  • There is an emphasis on repentance and release (forgiveness) of sin:
    • Matthew (also [Mark])—”dunking/baptizing them…”, i.e. the fundamental association of baptism with repentance and forgiveness (Matt 3:11 par)
    • Luke—”repentance [lit. change-of-mind] (is) to be proclaimed upon my name unto release of sins unto all the nations…”
    • John—”(For) whomever you release the(ir) sins, they have been released for them…”
  • Finally, there is an association with the Spirit:
    • Matthew—”dunking/baptizing them in the name of…the holy Spirit”
    • [Mark]—”…trusting and being dunked/baptized…these signs will follow along for the ones trusting…”; cf. the manifestation of the Spirit following (or in connection with) baptism in the book of Acts
    • Luke—”…the announcement/promise of the Father upon you”, clearly a reference to the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4, etc)
    • John—”he breathed in/on (them) and said to them, ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit'”

This strongly suggests an underlying historical tradition regarding Jesus’ (final) instruction to his followers, which, it would seem, came to be preserved in two strands of the Gospel Tradition—one set in Galilee (Matthew/Mark) and one set in Jerusalem (Luke/John), with the Markan ‘Appendix’ (or long ending) apparently combining both. With regard to the Commission specifically, the versions in Matthew and the Markan ‘Appendix’ are clearly related—compare, in particular, Matt 28:19 with Mark 16:15-16. Similarly, it is clear that, in the resurrection (and post-resurrection) narratives, Luke and John have certain traditions in common. The accounts of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem in Lk 24:36-43 and John 20:19-20 are quite close, especially if one accepts the Alexandrian/Majority readings rather than the shorter ‘Western’ text of Luke 24. Though less obvious on the surface, the “Commission” accounts in Lk 24:47-49 and John 20:21-23 have a good deal in common as well:

  • The disciples as Jesus’ representatives (witnesses/’apostles’) whom he is sending out from Jerusalem into the wider world—Lk 24:47-48 / Jn 20:21
  • Mention of the Father in connection with Jesus’ “sending”—Lk 24:49a / Jn 20:21
  • The coming of the Spirit on/upon the disciples, with Jesus himself as the source—Lk 24:49a / Jn 20:22 (“I [am] send[ing]…” / “he breathed…”)
  • Reference to the release (i.e. forgiveness) of sins in connection with the work and preaching of the disciples—Lk 24:47 / Jn 20:23

By way of comparison with Matt 28:19, it is interesting that Luke/John also bring together Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The “Son” is implied by the presence of Jesus:

  • In Luke, compare verse 45 in context (referring to Jesus as the “Anointed” [Christ/Messiah]) with the earlier formulae using the expression “Son of Man” (24:7, also 9:22, 44; 18:31; 22:22).
  • The Gospel of John gives special emphasis to the idea of Jesus as “the Son”, in relation to God the Father—Jn 1:14; 3:35; 5:19-27; 6:27, 40; 8:28; 10:36; 14:31; 17:1ff; 20:17.

In many ways, the account in Lk 24:47-49 is closer to Matt 28:18-20 than the other Commission passages; note especially the parallels between verse 47 and Matt 28:19:

  • The disciples are to preach/proclaim the Gospel “into all the nations”—cp. Matt 28:19a (“make all the nations to be learners [i.e. disciples]”)
  • The wording and syntax also matches formulae related to baptism; cp. especially with Acts 2:38:
    “…repentance (is) to be proclaimed upon his name unto (the) release of sins unto all the nations” (Lk)
    “Repent and be dunked/baptized…upon the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed unto (the) release of your sins” (Acts)
  • In each, the Commission concludes with a promise by Jesus using the emphatic pronoun “I” (e)gw/) and beginning with the exclamation “see!” [i)dou/]:
    “and see! I set forth [i.e. send] the announcement/promise of my Father upon you…” (Lk 24:49 [some MSS omit i)dou])
    “and see! I am with you every day until the (full) completion of the Age” (Matt 28:20b)

Concluding note (on Matthew 28:19)

Returning for a moment to the question of the authenticity of the trinitarian baptismal formula in Matt 28:19, I would here note several arguments in favor of authenticity (on objective grounds):

  • The instruction regarding baptism itself, as well as most of Matt 28:18-20 in context, is fully compatible with the sayings and teaching of the historical Jesus, based on an entirely objective analysis of the Gospel Tradition. For a number of examples and references illustrating this, cf. the prior notes.
  • The common elements and parallels between the various post-resurrection Commission passages in the Gospels (cf. above), which surely represent separate strands of tradition (given their differences), strongly suggest an underlying historical core.
  • Luke 24:47-49 provides independent attestation for the inclusion of a baptismal ‘formula’ as part of the Commission, which is also associated with the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 2:38) and the Father. The other points of similarity between Lk 24:47-49 and Matt 28:18-20 were noted above.

On the contrary, one must be willing to admit that:

  • Many of the parallels and similarities cited above are relatively loose, and could be said to be outweighed by the significant differences in detail. On the basis of traditional-conservative desire to harmonize, it would actually prove quite difficult to piece together all of these details (and separate Commission passages) into a genuinely convincing whole (judged honestly and objectively).
  • Assuming that Matt 28:19 is authentic, it is most strange that there really is no evidence for it (or its influence) anywhere else in the New Testament. By all accounts, based on the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, early believers were only ever baptized “in the name of Jesus“. If the apostles and early Christians were following Jesus’ example and instruction, then it is likely that Jesus’ original saying would have been something along the lines of: “baptizing them in my name…” (cf. Lk 24:47 / Acts 2:38)
  • The earliest attestation for the saying/instruction of Matt 28:19 is found in Didache 7:1, 3, which is typically dated from the early 2nd (or late 1st) century A.D. A fair date for the traditions in the Didache might be c. 70-80 A.D., which likely coincides with the completed form of the Gospel of Matthew. The trinitarian form (and formula) of baptism is attested in the second and third centuries, but, as far as we know, not earlier than c. 70 A.D.

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