“In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or “In the Name of Jesus Christ?”
The Scribe’s attempt to resolve the controversy over which words to use at baptism.
By E. J. Malone, JD.
Shortly before Jesus ascended into Heaven after being raised from the dead, He instructed His apostles to “[g]o ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).
But throughout the Book of Acts, the apostles and other disciples are recorded as baptizing converts, “in the name of the Lord” or in the name of “Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:12-16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5).
This perceived contradiction has been the source of disagreement among professing Christians for centuries, even among some within the Churches of God. Some contend that when a candidate for baptism is baptized, the officiant must strictly use the phrase “. . . in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Others contend that the officiant ought to use the phrase “. . . in the name of Jesus Christ.”
But is there really a mandatory phrase that we must recite when baptizing a new member into God’s family?
When a President of the United States takes his or her affirmation to office, the officiant asks the incoming President to recite a pre- written pledge, the words of which are prescribed in Article Two of the United States Constitution. According to Article II:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:— ”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
As we can see, the exact phrasing of the Presidential affirmation is spelled out right in the U.S. Constitution. In fact, when Supreme Court Justice John Roberts misplaced a few phrases in administering the affirmation to President Barack Obama in 2009, Roberts administered a corrected oath to Obama a few hours later to ensure that they had complied with the Article Two mandate.
But does the Bible require this same specificity in baptizing a follower of Christ? No, for the following reasons:
When our Savior commissioned his disciples to baptize new disciples, he did not order them to use a certain phrase. He did not say, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them reciting the following affirmation. . . “; he simply told them that baptizing new disciples is what they were to do.
In fact, if Jesus was introducing a mandatory baptism formula in Matthew 28, to the exclusion of all others, then all those baptisms his disciples administered prior to that time would have been no good (John 4:1-2).
It is even more important to note that it is the faith of the baptizee rather than the exact phrase used by the baptizer that is the operating force in a disciple’s conversion. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” And in 1 Samuel 16:7, God said, “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Yahweh looketh on the heart.”
The apostle Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 that our competence comes not from man, but from God, “who hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” Those in the Church of God picking fights over which words to recite at baptism should be careful to remember this declaration.
But is there a contradiction between baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as found in Matthew 28 and baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ as found in the book of Acts? No.
Political philosopher Ayn Rand once said, “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” Rand was certainly no believer in the Bible, but her observation is true as it pertains to God’s word. When you ever start to think that scripture contradicts itself, you should check your premises and you will find that one or more of them is wrong.
In Matthew 28, the Greek word translated “in” is eis, and it means into, unto, or toward. Thus, the immersion into water of a person who truly believes in Jesus Christ and has repented of his or her sins symbolizes an immersion into or toward a relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit which comes from God. (Psalm 2:7; Micah 6:8; John 1:12; Romans 6:1-18; Romans 8:29 Galatians 3:27; Galatians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Hebrews 5:5; Galatians 3:26; 1 John 2:6; 1 John 1:5-10).
In the book of Acts and elsewhere, the word translated “in” — as it pertains to being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ — is epi and it means “on” or “upon,” often meaning upon some foundation or authority. It is the same word Jesus used when proclaiming that His church would be built upon “this Rock” and in the lesson about building one’s house upon a rock or upon sand (Matthew 7:24-28; Matthew 16:18). Thus, any officiant who baptizes a new disciple is baptizing that person upon the foundation or authority of Jesus Christ. In other words, it is Jesus who is authorizing the baptism (Luke 24:44-48; John 4:1-12; Acts 2:38).
People who desire to enter into human relationships such as friendships and marriages do not need to recite a specific or rigid formula to do so. The intent and actions of the parties determine whether the relationship has been formed. Friendships form all the time without regard to the specific words which invoke the friendship. The same is true with a believer who is baptized into the name of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
People who act as agents upon the authority of others do not need to recite a specific or rigid formula to do so. The intent and actions of the parties determine whether the agency has been formed. Mothers send their children to the grocery store as agents to buy things on their behalf all the time without requiring their children to recite a specific or rigid formula to do so. The same is true with an officiant who baptizes a new believer on behalf of Jesus Christ. Of course, no minister claiming to be a follower of Christ ought to baptize a new convert in the name of Baal or Tammuz. And no believer in Christ ought to allow himself or herself to be baptized this way. Let us not get ridiculous.
The point of this essay is to illustrate that a baptism is valid as long as the intent of the baptizer is to immerse the candidate upon Jesus’ authority and the intent of the baptizee is to enter into a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Let us be thankful for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which made this all possible.
Scribe’s Square is the copyright of Edward Malone and Death to Life Ministries, Inc.