Matthew 28:19 and the Trinity
Once More, Matthew 28:19 and the Trinity — Summary
This paper is a response to the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the subject of the Trinity, focusing on Matthew 28:19, which literally says, “baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” No one verse of the Bible tells us everything about the Trinity (or even uses the word Trinity), but Matthew 28:19 does reveal some important truths that relate to the doctrine.
The paper begins by explaining that to be baptized “into the name of” someone means to get baptized as a sign of one’s religious commitment to that person. That means that baptism is a declaration of faith in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. This makes it clear that to be baptized into the name of the Holy Spirit assumes that the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim. This conclusion is confirmed by other elements of the statement in Matthew 28:19: the series of three names, “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” in which of course the first two are persons; the fact that “spirit” in biblical language often refers to nonphysical persons or beings (God, angels, demons, etc.); and the use of the term “name” in reference to the term “Holy Spirit,” especially in the expression “into the name of,” which always refers to an act done with regard to a person.
Jehovah’s Witnesses try to answer part of this argument by pointing out that “the Spirit and the water and the blood” in 1 John 5:8 refers to two things that clearly are not persons (water and blood). They also point out that the word “name” might refer to something other than a person, and that Paul once wrote about being baptized into Christ’s death. These answers (which have some weaknesses even taken one at a time) don’t take into consideration how all of the things that work together in Matthew 28:19 combine to refer to the Holy Spirit as a person. To be baptized into the name of (fill in the blank) is, in the way the Bible uses this expression, to make a religious commitment to follow the person who has that name. To be baptized into the name of the Father and the Son obviously has this meaning, and so it must also have this meaning for being baptized into the name of the Holy Spirit.
The paper concludes by explaining that although Matthew 28:19 does not by itself prove everything about the doctrine of the Trinity, it does show us that the Holy Spirit is a person and in context implies a basically Trinitarian way of thinking about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It shows us that the Holy Spirit is a divine person distinct from the Father and the Son. It also shows us that in baptism Christians make a religious commitment to all three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew also affirms that there is only one God to whom we owe religious commitment (Matthew 22:37), his statement in Matthew 28:19 strongly supports a basic form of belief in the Trinity.
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