Go Make Disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)

I have struggled the past couple of weeks to understand The Commission of God. God’s Commission is simple in theory yet hard in practice. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all I have commanded you and behold, I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the commission I have had memorized since I was a young child. It was one of those “memorize this verse and get a gold star next to your name” verses (for those of you who know what I am talking about).

To me, The Commission of God was important. Apparently too many pastors I had heard throughout my life, they also thought this passage were important. I can’t think of one situation where I attended a church that a pastor did not, at least once, teach on this verse. Their message basically went like this:

“Folks. Jesus told us to go. We need to go out and make disciples of all nations. We need to spread ourselves thin and reach the world for Jesus. This is after all, The Commission of God, is it not?”

Over the past couple of years, I have had the extreme joy and challenge to study biblical Greek at Lancaster Bible College and now at Biblical Theological Seminary. It was just a few weeks ago; I was challenged to write a paper for a class I am currently taking on the missional church. It was a broad assignment that left the door open for anything concerning the missional church and/or postmodernism. I began to consider what I would write on and thought a great idea would be to understand the differences in how we deduce positive growth in a Church in today’s culture. Still, as I considered the topic, I thought it was too broad of a thesis. It was then, in my Greek class, we began to look at participles. My mind went back to Matthew 28: 19-20 and asked how we should ultimately translate this passage in light the adverbial participles and the imperatives within the verse. Based on my understanding of the verbs listed within the passage, I would parse them this way:

: to go
verb, aorist, passive, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

: to make a disciple
verb, aorist, active, imperative, second person, plural

: to baptize
verb, present, active, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

: to teach
verb, present, active, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

: to obey
verb, present, active, infinitive

: to command
verb, aorist, middle, indicative, first person, singular

In Greek, participles are verbal substantives (or verbal adjectives), meaning that participles can be used either as verbs or adjectives (The Basics of Biblical Greek, Mounce, 329).

As I have noted already, the aorist imperative of this verse is “μαθητεύσατε” (”make disciples”), making it the main verb. In many sermons I had heard before, the main thrust of the sentence seemed to fall on the “Go!” rather than “make disciples.” I have come to realize that the imparative is “make disciples” and therefore is the direct command Jesus is calling His disciples to do. The word “Go!” or “Πορευθέντες” fits into the “Attendant Circumstance” category of participles (Greek NT Insert, Chapman-shogren, 33). Attendant Circumstance participles normally are: aorist participles, aorist main verb, indicative or imperative main verb, and precede the main verb. Ultimately, it is impossible to make disciples if you are not going. Since the go is needed in order to make disciples, we need the participle “Go!” “Go!” is the driving force of the imperative. So, in essence, it would not be wrong to say, “Go make disciples of all nations.” This might seem like a small difference but it holds a great importance to the passage and ultimately The Commission of God.

Finally, we have to ask how we are to “make disciples.” Jesus tells us to do it through the means of baptizing and teaching these new disciples all that Jesus had taught them. The responsibility on those who accept The Commission of God is enormous. It is no small deal.

“Therefore, go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you and behold! I am with you, even till the end of the age.”

Thanks to “Grasping the Cross” for the insight and parsing which has made this passage more meaningful to me.  Thanks also to Scot McKnight for his quick response to an email I sent him regarding this verse.  I totally agree with you, brother.


12 Responses to “Go Make Disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)”

  1. Things I didn’t know about the Great Commission (Part 1) Says:

    […] some more information on the context and language of this verse: Site 1 Site 2 Site […]

  2. Eric Waldo Says:

    What I have been wrestling with is the “Who?”

    Who is supposed to be making disciples?
    1) Each believer under the authority of their local church
    2) Each local church as a group (each person participating in some aspect of making disciples– going, baptizing, teaching)
    3) The pastor(s) of each local church

    The implications of each beleiver needing to go, baptize, and teach in order to be obedient to the command to make disciples are enormous. (Should my wife be teaching disciples to obey Christ’s commands? Should me or my children be baptizing those we are making disciples of?)

    Bottom line, if the command is personal to each believer, how can each believer be obedient to this command? (I have never been in a church where I could reserve the baptismal so I could baptize people I was discipling.) It would seem the easiest, and most often applied, approach would be to say the command is not to the individual but to the church as a whole with the majority of the command to be performed by the pastor(s).

    Part (maybe all) of the answer is in the Greek text. Can it be definitively shown that the command is to the individual (you singular) or to the group (you plural)? If to the individual, can it be shown that the command was a) only to those disciples present or 2) only to church leaders/pastors (ie- those called specifically to preach/teach/baptize?)

    I look forward to hearing other people’s understanding of how this passage should be translated and applied.

  3. Michael D Says:

    Dear Eric: I have some thoughts on your question. From what you wrote, I believe we agree that Mt. 28:18-20 describes at least the main focus of the work of Christian ministry. I’d like, then, to look at a pertinent passage of scripture. Paul writes in Ephesians Ch. 4 concerning the ministry giftings for the church, including Pastors, as follows:

    11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

    In v. 16, we see that the ministry is accomplished largely through personal relationships among the members. Notice that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are gifts to the Body of Christ, not as much for the actual doing of “the work of the ministry” as much as “for the equipping of the saints;” for the purpose, then, of “the saints” doing the work of the ministry!

    “Huh?!!” It shocked me, too, but there it is in black and white, and now I have been seeing that “fleshed out” in the lives of churches and individual believers for over thirty years. It does require the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through the lives of individual members, of course (Acts 1:8; 2:38).

    As to the question of who baptizes the new believers, that is of no consequence. We are not baptized into the name of the pastor, are we (I Cor. 1:11-15)? But the making of disciples, in the biblical sense, is something for which virtually all believers may be equipped. You and your wife, for example, are already involved in making disciples. You are farther along in life and in learning than your children, right? And you are, by example, by precept, and by a measure of accountability, helping them to learn not merely facts, but application, obedience, character; life-change. Perhaps you will be, or have been, blessed to lead your own children to faith in Christ. If so, can you not lead another with whom you already have a personal relationship? And, if you can win one to Christ, can you not continue to pray for, love, encourage, challenge and lead him by example so that he grows in his walk with God, and learns to lead others…? That, Eric, is fulfilling the Great Commission. The pastor has his part, which must include equipping you to do your part; but you as an individual believer can do what he can never do: influence the people you rub elbows with every day.

    A book that has inspired me: “Organic Disciplemaking” by Dennis McCallum and Jessica Lowery. I’ve never been to their church, but I understand it is quite large, and yet is built entirely on personal discipleship. Blessings!

  4. Dr. Kermit P. Soileau Says:

    The participle “as you are going” was an expectation of Jesus. He expected that the disciples/believers would be going to work, market, temple…every day. As they were going along life’s way, they were to follow the command to make disciples. He did NOT command them to go because He knew they WOULD be going…somewhere. It was what Jesus Himself did…as he went along life’s roads, He introduced people He met on the road to the Father. We are to follow this simple example and thus contact many more people than if we set a time and place to obey a non-existent command to “Go!”

  5. Things I didn't know about the Great Commission (Part 1) | Childrens Ministry Online Says:

    […] some more information on the context and language of this verse: Site 1 Site 2 Site […]

  6. DD Says:

    Dr. Kermit,
    It sounds like you either did not read this blog entry. If you did, then you are not truly responding to it. Please go back and read about why the participle is one of “Attendant Circumstance” and thus takes the force of the imperative main verb. I would like to hear your response to that.
    Participles of attendant circumstance are a well-known Greek construction, and πορευθέντες (and other aorist forms) in the sense of “go and do something” is a common use of it. I’ll give you several examples from Matthew and one from Mark:
    Matt 2:8 — go and search
    Mat 9:13 — go and learn
    Mat 11:4 — go and tell
    Matt 17:27 — go and throw and take
    Mat 28:7 — go and tell
    Mark 16:15 — go and preach
    None of these makes sense as simple adverbial participles meaning “as you go along life’s way.” They are translated as imperatives in English because they fit the grammatical structure of participles of attendant circumstance.

    It is true that “make disciples” is the central command of the sentence on which the rest hangs, but it would be a serious error to then think that there is not accompanying it a command to “go”. Like in these examples, the commission doesn’t make sense without an imperative to go. He is telling them to make disciples of all nations. Going out is a crucial part of that (see Rom 10:5).
    Also, if He didn’t tell them to go, Mark 3:14 and Acts 1:8 wouldn’t make sense (nor Rom 1:5 or Rom 10:5 among others). And since we’re talking about Greek, the word apostle means “one who is sent with a message” (see Mark 3:14).

    As for whom is this command for, it is for the church which was pretty much all there with Jesus when He spoke these words. It was not just for those hearing Jesus that day, for if the they were sent, and they were to teach all that Jesus commanded, and he commanded them to go, then they must teach the new disciples (and churches) to go also ad infinitum. Does that means everyone has to leave their homes and travel to a foreign nation? No. We see a model in the Bible of churches sending out those appointed by the Holy Spirit and supporting them in their ministry. This does mean that we all have to be a part of this sending initiative, this Great Commission, in some way, by praying, supporting, going, or sending from our churches.

    Of course we are also expected to share Jesus where we are in life, but my point is that that is not what the Great Commission is talking about. This is a very common error that comes from knowing just enough Greek to be dangerous.

  7. Tom Young Says:

    I am late to the party based on the original date of this post. I do have a question about the interpetation/meaning of the “GO” and do something aspect of this mandate. I am not questioning what you have stated in your post or in your response, I am seeking clarification. The word “go” (πορευθέντες) Has been interpeted as ” as you are going.” I saw your comments about the word having more than a passive meaning. That there is a deliberate action associated with this going. Would I be stretching the meaning, or would I be totalling misconstuing the meaning, of this word by suggesting that instead of just being a literal “going” word, that it may be interpeteted as a transformational action as well? As I am going and growing and becoming more like Christ (Luke 6:40), as I am living the life that Christ has called me to, following his message and mrthod, that the command to follow is to make disciples and disclemakers. This would mean then that as I am “in Christ”, I will need to obey and make disciples of the nations here and abroad and in my travels (everyday life), Baptizing them and teaching them all that Christ has taught me, all the while resting in the promise of His presence due to my being a “disciple” and a “disciple maker.” Does this make sense?

  8. prince Says:

    So my question is what is Matthew 28 significant to the church

  9. Bitter Truth Says:

    Jesus never verified what Paul wrote thus indicating any made up stories can be present in the New Testament.

    None of the Church Father ever quote Matthew 28:19 or 1John5:7 in their early days, however in the 4th century concept of ‘three gods in oneness’ were added to the original texts of Matthew 28:19 and 1John 5:7 thus showing how twisted were the minds of men inventing lies.

    Early Church Fathers believed that there is only One Father the creator, creating all including God Son and Holy Spirit.

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