Jesus’ “Great Commission” – the charge to preach the gospel to every person in the world, included instructions about baptism. According to Jesus, water baptism is carried out by humans (Matthew 28:19), it is for those who have heard and believe the gospel (Mark 16:15,16), and it results in salvation for the believer (Mark 16:16).
In whose name must a person be immersed? What specific words must be spoken at the time of the baptism in order for it to be scriptural? When it comes to baptism, man’s ideas often are not in harmony with the Lord’s teaching. For baptism, just as it is the case with any other biblical topic, we must not require more than the Lord Himself does, nor may we reduce or loosen His requirements.
In whose name did the Christ tell His apostles to immerse people? “. . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Those words of Jesus should settle the matter, right? Yes and no. Please read on.
The ASV (American Standard Version, 1901) reading in Matthew 28:19 is, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice the wording “into the name of.” What does that literally mean? The Greek words of this phrase “into the name of” (“είς το όνομα”) mean to become the possession of another, or to come under the protection of another [Arndt-Gingrich, p. 575]. So, Great Commission baptism results in one becoming the possession of the Spirit, Son, and Father.
Let us ask another question. Jesus commanded His apostles to go and baptize (Matthew 28:19). Did they do so? And if they did, did they do it in the way which He instructed them – did they do it in/into the name of the Father, Son and Spirit? Let us see.
In the book of Acts, we read about people being baptized “in the name of” someone. How is it worded in the text of the Bible? Consider these examples:
Acts 2:38 – “. . . be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Acts 8:16 – “They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (cf. 19:5).
Acts 10:48 – “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
The wording in these three instances is not the same. Close, yes; exactly the same, no (one has “Lord,” one has “Lord Jesus,” and one has “Jesus Christ”). The wording of these three verses, though, is far different from Matthew 28:19 (“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). So, which of those four ways of saying it is correct? Which one of these passages shows the words that must be spoken before or during a baptism?
The truth is, brethren, those three verses in the book of Acts (2:38; 8:16; 10:48) tell what people did, not what they said. No “formula” for what they said before or during an immersion is recorded in the Bible. “But Matthew 28:19 says to do it ‘in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit.’” Yes, and we already noted that those words mean to be baptized into the possession of the Godhead. Question: Can something be done in Jesus’ name without saying the name “Jesus?” Yes, it can. “In My name” – that is how Jesus said that believers would do miracles (Mark 16:17). Does that mean that each time a sign was done that the miracle worker had to say, “I do this miracle in the name of Jesus?” Surely not. Coming back to baptism, to immerse someone in Jesus’ name simply means to do it by His authority.
Some Charismatics groups falsely claim that for a baptism to be valid, it must be done “only in the name of the Lord Jesus” [Wallace-Vaughn Debate proposition]. Such a claim fails to see that baptizing “in the name of” the Godhead has nothing to do with words that are spoken before or during an immersion.
If your conclusion is that the words “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” must be spoken orally in order for a baptism to be valid, what would your reasoning be on the following questions?
(1) Exactly when must those words be spoken? Do they have to be spoken before the actual immersion begins? Must they be spoken while the actual immersion is in progress? Or, could the baptizer begin saying them before he starts immersing the candidate and then complete his statement while the person is under water?
(2) Who has to say those words? Does it have to be the immerser? Could one person do the immersing and one standing nearby say the words “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”
(3) What if the word order is altered? What if one says, “I baptize you in the name of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit,” or some other variation that is not verbatim what is written in Matthew 28:19? Would such a change be acceptable?
There is no precise “formula” of words which must be spoken prior to, during, or after a baptism. “Well, I just feel like we ought to say it the way that it reads in Matthew 28:19.” Hold on, brother. What you prefer to do and what the Lord requires you and me to do are two different matters. Please do not try and bind your personal preference on the rest of God’s people. In the same way, if you want to raise your right hand in the air just before you immerse a person, we know of no scriptural reason to oppose such. We also know of no Bible reason why one would want to insist that everyone must do it that way.
— Roger D. Campbell