The Scope of This Essay

Baptism, as instituted by Christ for the New Covenant church, may be addressed Baptism, as instituted by Christ for the New Covenant church, may be addressed from a variety of angles. With regard to the nature of baptism, we must decide whether it is an ordinance or a sacrament. With regard to the recipient of baptism, we must decide whether children of believers have a right to the waters. With regards to the administration of baptism, we must decide who has the right to appropriately administrator baptism. With regards to the mode of baptism, we must decide what method should be used to baptized the recipient. With regards to the medium of baptism, we must decide what object is to be applied to the recipient by which baptism may be constituted. With regards to the jurisdiction of baptism, we must decide whose business it is to commission baptism. With regards to the meaning of baptism, we must decide how baptism is to be rightly interpreted. With regards to the dictum of baptism, we must decide whether and what verbiage is utilized in baptismal ceremony.

This essay focusses upon the eight angle: the dictum of baptism. By “dictum,” I mean the appropriate verbiage in which baptism must be administered. What should the administrator of baptism say amidst the ceremony of baptism? I will be arguing for a Trinitarian baptismal dictum, as opposed to a “Jesus only” baptismal dictum. Other dictum are conceivable, but the scope of this essay will be limited to these two.

In the Name of the Triune God

Christ explains the Trinitarian baptismal dictum in Matthew 28:18-20.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Baptizing” and “teaching” explain how the making of disciples is to be accomplished. Christ’s absolute authority is the context in which the disciples are to fulfill this commission. “Go” could be seen as a separate command or in conjunction with “make disciples” (i.e. “As you go, make disciples”). Either way, the expectation is for the ends of the earth to be brought into (“baptizing”) and nurtured within (“teaching”) the covenant community.

Baptism is to be framed as εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος (“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). Three are named: “Father” (patros), “Son” (huiou), and “Holy Spirit” (hagiou pneumatos). However, “name” (onoma) itself is singular, which clarifies the unity of this trinity. There is one identity in which the nations must be baptized.

The preposition eis appears to be used in a relatively similar way that the English “in” is used. The nations should be baptized into the name of this triune God. By means of their baptism, they are branded with the name of the living God. This is the most articulate charge the church receives as pertaining to baptismal dictum. Because baptism marks the beginning of a saint’s bearing the triune name, the administrator of baptism must articulate that this is so. Otherwise, nothing distinguishes this ceremony from a public outing to the swimming pool. It must be clarified that this person is being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It may be suggested that “in the name” means “by the authority.” This is not an inconceivable notion, as onomacertainly can carry this implication. However, because a context of authority has already explicitly been established, it is highly unlikely that verse 19 would introduce another. The baptism is already to be done under the authority of Jesus(v.18). Therefore, I conclude that verse 18 explains baptismal jurisdiction (i.e. by the authority of Jesus Christ), and verse 19 explains baptismal dictum (i.e. in the name of the Triune God).

That Christ would command a triune baptismal dictum should seem natural to any alert reader of the Gospels. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus was baptized and immediately identified as the Son of God by a “voice from Heaven,” while the Holy Spirit descended on Him “like a dove” (3:13-17). All four Gospels bear witness to this event, emphasizing its importance.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)

Though John the Baptist was not administering New Covenant baptism on that day, Christ’s baptism served as a precursor to what would later be the sign of the New Covenant. God Himself provided the baptismal dictum, and thereby acted as a second administrator: John as an Old Covenant minister, the living God as a New Covenant minister. God the Son stood, having been baptized, and God the Holy Spirit manifested Himself in the form of a dove, and God the Father appropriated sound waves to create speech, in which He explicitly distinguished Himself from the Son. God provided the Triune pronouncement in Christ’s baptism, and it makes sense that Christ would command His disciples to baptism in like manner (28:19).

“In the Name of Jesus”

Proponents of “Jesus only” baptism argue that Matthew 28:19 should be interpreted in light of the rest of the New Testament, where we see the disciples carrying-out Christ’s commission. How the disciples obeyed Christ informs our understanding of what Christ commanded. Although I find Oneness advocates lacking in their approach to the Great Commission and baptism of Jesus, I do heartily agree that this matter necessitates the witness of all Scripture. We want the testimony of the full counsel of God, that He has revealed to us.

How did the disciples (and the early church) carry-out Christ’s baptismal command? Oneness theology argues that they obeyed the command of Christ by adopting a “Jesus only” baptismal dictum. Texts given in support of this claim include the following:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

For he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (8:16)

And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:48)

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:5)

The assertion, pertaining to these texts, is that here we have clear examples of the disciples obeying Christ’s command by using a “Jesus only” baptismal dictum. First, notice that none of these examples provide historical data on what dictum was used. For example, in the baptismal account of Matthew 3:13-17, the Triune name is clearly invoked (by God Himself). The examples from Acts and 1 Corinthians do not give accounts of baptism in such a manner. We are never told that Peter raised his hand and pronounced, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus.” This is a simple but important point to clarify.

Second, it is not necessary to interpret these texts as pertaining to dictum, in the sense that we are considering in this essay. What does “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48; cf. 2:38; 8:16; 19:5) mean? Only looking at these verses, it could refer to baptismal dictum. It also could refer to baptismal jurisdiction – that is, in whose authority this baptism is being done. It could also refer to the meaning of baptism: these people are baptized into Christ.

Being baptized “into Christ” is a Biblical concept, but I will dismiss it from the outset on the basis of the use of onoma (“name”). We may be baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27), but not typically into the name of Christ. “The name” changes the meaning of what is being communicated. Therefore, let us consider the first two options: jurisdiction and dictum.

First, consider the labors Christ and the Disciples shared before His ascension. “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee” (John 4:1-3). In this text, we should first notice the historical situation. Jesus was making (poiei) and baptizing (baptizeidisciples (i.e. adding to their number more than John). Jesus then learned that the Pharisees caught wind of the growing count, so He left for Galilee.

Now take note of John’s interpretation of what Jesus was up to. Jesus was the one making and baptizing more disciples, but He was not doing this by literally conducting the baptisms (“Jesus himself did not baptize” [v.2]). Rather, He was conducting baptisms by proxy: His disciples were doing the work on His behalf. This is how John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, interprets their activity. When the disciples baptized new disciples, they were baptizing under the jurisdiction of the Messiah. Though this particular passage does not use this phrase, we may readily say that they were baptizing new converts in the name of Jesus.

An example of this outside the context of baptism may be found in the Gospel of Luke:[1]

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (10:17-20).

The demons probably did not subject themselves to the seventy-two by crying out the name of Jesus. Rather, it was the jurisdiction or authority of Jesus, the Lord, that compelled the demons to obey. Jesus explicitly acknowledges that this is the case in verse 19: “I have given you authority.” The jurisdiction of the Messiah gave them the authority to perform wonderous signs for a time. Today, the jurisdiction of the Messiah gives the church authority to perform the ceremony of baptism.[2]

Second, consider the context in which Luke frames the book of Acts. At the end of his Gospel, Luke again returns to a use of Christ’s “name” in the context of authority.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

The disciples are to be proclaimers, fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), in the name of Christ (Luke 24:47). This does not mean they must verbally invoke His name every time they commit an act of obedience to this mission. Rather, it means that every step they take from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, is taken in the authority of Christ.

The principle we have just articulated from Luke 10:17-20 and 24:44-49 helps us proceed forward into the book of Acts, which may be considered “part two” to the Gospel of Luke. Already, we have seen Jesus usher in the Kingdom of God through miraculous signs, a sacrificial death, and a glorious resurrection. He has also given His disciples certain authority to exercise in the fulfillment of certain activities, which they fulfilled in His name (i.e. jurisdiction) (Acts 1:1-3).

Before Christ’s ascension, Luke again draws our attention back to the baptism: “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (vv.4-5). Jesus speaks in true Trinitarian form, and He commands them to wait. This clarifies that, after Christ’s ascension, the disciples are still under the jurisdiction of Christ. The book of Acts does not explain what the church does once she is out from under the commands of Christ. Rather, Acts details how the church fulfills the commands of Christ. Everything she is doing in this book is framed in the context of Christ’s authority.

Immediately before His ascension, Jesus explained again to the disciples that they will be His diplomats, His representatives, His witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (v.8). The mission of Christ was to be fulfilled by the disciples of Christ as they operated as the proxies of Christ in the world. The jurisdiction of King Jesus surrounds every passage in the book of Acts.

Third, this being an integral part of the context of Acts, consider again that nowhere in these passages (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5) is the name of Jesus invoked in baptismal ceremony. The natural exegetical assumption when coming to such verses should be to understand the phrases ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι (Acts 2:38), εἰς τὸ ὄνομα (8:16; 19:5), and ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι (10:48) (all of these Greek prepositional phrases translate to the English “in the name”) as referring to baptismal jurisdiction, not baptismal dictum.

Fourth, consider the continuity that a jurisdictional understanding of these texts gives to the larger corpus of the New Testament. When Paul spoke implicitly of being baptized in the name of Christ, he spoke in the context of baptismal jurisdiction.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

The name of Christ not only grants jurisdiction for obedience to the New Covenant, it also gives one the right to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation (Acts 4:12; 8:12; 22:16; Romans 10:8-13). Christ stands as an advocate for His people before the Father (1 John 2:1-2). He operates as the true and greater High Priest of His church, constantly interceding on the elect’s behalf (Hebrews 9:11ff). This is simply one example of how the Gospel is Trinitarian.

Abandoning the Trinitarian baptismal dictum for a Oneness baptismal dictum means abandoning any meaningful invocation of the name of Jesus as High Priest. Whereas, when we pronounce the name of the Triune God over the ceremony of baptism, we implore the recipient and witnesses towards the grace of a Father Who eternally decrees, a Son Who once-for-all procures, and a Spirit Who infallibly applies redemption to all of those who call upon His name.

Practical Considerations

A rebuttal may be issued that, even if baptismal jurisdiction is primarily in view in the Lukan examples, the name of Jesus may still be invoked in the ceremony of Baptism. To this I reply, “Certainly.” The only explicit commands we have concerning the verbiage used in baptismal ceremony, is that baptism be issued in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). If an administer of baptism desires to articulate more, concerning what is being done, I think it would be appropriate.

For example, an administer of baptism may state, “By the authority of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Or perhaps, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father…” The latter verbiage seems a bit cluttered because the term “name” is being utilized twice in difference senses, but given the distinction it is theologically correct. What would be incorrect is if an administer of baptism only said, “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ,” for in this case he leaves the baptismal ceremony void of the Triune name.

A final distinction should be made in Matthew 28:18-20, which I hope will anchor the weight of this Trinitarian baptismal formula. Notice the particular names which A final distinction should be made in Matthew 28:18-20, which I hope will anchor the weight of this Trinitarian baptismal dictum. Notice the particular names which are to be spoken: Father, Son, Holy Spirit (v.19). Now, with this in mind, consider Who it is that issues the baptismal command: Jesus (v.18). Jesus is God the Son, this true – and I have no qualification to add therein. He is no less or more God the son in Matthew 28 than He was in Isaiah 1. However, something is different pertaining to Him at the time of His issuing the Great Commission.

The difference is that, whereas in eternity past He has been God the Son, now He is God the Son incarnate and resurrected. This difference is not ontological, as if God has undergone some morphoses in the body of Jesus. Rather, the difference is eschatological. Paul makes this point in Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

After becoming obedient to the point of death (v.8), Christ Jesus was exalted and given the highest name (v.9; Paul likely has the name Yahweh in mind). What is different for God the Son now? Before, he was in the form of God and was equal with God. He has been God for all eternity, so what possible exaltation could God the Son receive that He did not already possess?

The answer concerns His incarnation. God the Son incarnate as the Messiah was exalted. This is an eschatological event. Never before, in all eternity past, had a man sat upon the throne and been exalted to the position of Yahweh. Yet here, in the person of Jesus Christ, God the Son is given that privilege. Jesus Christ is Lord (v.11), and it is Jesus Who gives us the Great Commission (Matthew 29:18-20). The incarnate Messiah grants His church the authority to baptize. The jurisdiction is eschatological in nature.

Therefore, to invoke the name “Jesus” upon baptism means something distinct from invoking the name of the Triune God. When we declare, “I baptize you by the authority of Jesus Christ,” we make known that this covenantal sign is administered at command of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Who has all authority in these latter days. When we declare, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we make known that this covenantal sign is binding the recipient to the eternal God, our Creator.


[1] Another example we could examine is John 14:11-13.

[2] It is important to note that this jurisdiction does not extend merely to whomever invokes the name of Jesus (e.g. Acts 19:13-16). It only extends to those unto whom Christ has given authority to perform the particular task.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s