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 (KJV)
In the name of – Names are a big deal in the Hebrew culture during Biblical times.
Everyone knew people’s names and what they meant. And names weren’t necessarily given because they sounded good, but rather there was a purpose behind the name.
Abram was changed to Abraham. The first meaning ‘High Father’ while the latter means ‘Father of many’.
Sarai was changed to Sarah. The former meant ‘my princess’ while the latter means both ‘princess’ and ‘noblewoman’.
Isaac means ‘to laugh’, because Sarah laughed at the thought of having a child at her age. (Genesis 18:12)
Jacob, which means ‘supplanter’ or ‘deceiver’, was changed to Israel meaning ‘God contended’.
The list goes on wherein names are given for special reasons. Eve names Seth (Genesis 4:25) because God appointed her another child. Adam means the ‘earth’ because he was created from the dirt of the ground. In the book of Hosea, God names Gomer’s (Hosea’s wife) children; Jezreel and Loruhamah for specific reasons. And the list goes on and on.
So names were a big deal. They were almost a prophecy of your life and definitely a reflection of your character. Today we pick names we like and might even do some historical research into the meanings. Often times they are names of family members, etc. But in Hebrew/Eastern culture names were how people recognized who you really were. In the Russian culture, your middle name is your father’s because people want to know your lineage, and then use that info to discern your character.
And so now we come to the verse above from Matthew. In the name of the FATHER, we know His name: YHVH. In the name of the SON, we know His name: Yeshua. In the name of the Holy Spirit… wait, what’s this one’s name? I can declare the name of YHVH and Yeshua wherever I go, but how do baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is a descriptive title, not a name. This is a simple question. To the Hebrew, this verse would obviously mean to declare these names verbally so everyone who heard knew which god was being called upon. And in the Greek culture, even declaring the son’s name was important because their gods also had sons. So stating Yeshua as the Son of YHVH would be the defining declaration. But there is no Hebrew name for the Holy Spirit given in Scripture.
It’s quite easy to just remove ourselves from the culture and true intention of Scripture by claiming that it’s just a saying to use. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” becomes just words that hold no real literal meaning. But the culture, as I’ve argued, would not have viewed it that way. A name was something to be declared so all would know exactly which god was being called upon, which son, etc.
So while this is just a study of how Matthew’s gospel would be understood by the culture of the time, it should cause us to think deeper. There’s a lot of controversy around the ending of Matthew in general. The Hebrew version of Matthew (Shem Tov’s writing) doesn’t contain these words, nor does the chapter from Luke 24:47 include these words (this verse in Matthew is the only place wherein these words appear). While there does remain some textual proof of these words being commonly used by early church fathers, does that mean they were there from the beginning, or was it a paradigm that needed support and thus added in later? Does it make sense to baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit when there is no name for the Holy Spirit? I’m not entirely sure. But I’m interested in digging deeper. Are you?