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#58 - Mat 28:19 - Was the trinitarian formula in this verse a corruption?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer (expanded version 188.8.131.52)
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
I am emailing from Finland, to ask some questions about one verse in the gospel of Matthew. Please give me some textual evidences as to which of the readings of Matthew 28:19 is the original New Testament reading. This questions arose from some 'small circle' Christians, which have started to be skeptical about Matthew 28:19. They say that this verse is corrupted, as we read it in Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece:
Poreuthentes oun matheteusate panta ta ethen, baptizontes autous eis to onoma tou patros kai tou huiou kai tou hagiou pneumatos.
Especially, their evidence is based on the textual form which has been found in a book of the church history of the Eusebius. Eusebius quoted this verse (Matt.28:19), but in a different form. The text form which has been used by Eusebius goes this way:
Poreuthentes matheteusate panta ta ethne en to onomati mou didaskontes autous terein panta hosa eneteilamen humin .
In that Eusebius form of the verse, the participle baptizontes (?) (Nestle) has been cut off. Also the doctrinal basement [basis] of the baptism in the name on the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit has been taken away. These evidences have started to be very high on some Christians minds in Finland -- believing that Matt.28:19 is really corrupted. Well, I didn't find any other sources where this kind of Matthew form is found, and I didn't find any NT manuscript where this kind of reading exists. So, my question is to ask some help from you, if you can give me some textual evidences as to which of these readings is the original New Testament reading.
I have to also mentioned that the Didache include, in chapter 7, the sentence which has the same doctrinal teaching about the baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, which also can be found in Nestle's reading of Matt.28:19. Didache is older than the book of church history by Eusebius.
If you have some helps to give me, I would be very happy about it. This verse, if I can say so, is some sort of a way a very important, specially when this kind of arguments starts doubts as to the doctrinal basement [basis] of a trinity of Deity.
Greetings, my brother!
The definitive United Bible Society's Greek New Testament, 4th Revised Edition, (UBS4), which is identical with the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition (NA27), has the following reading of Mat 28:19-20:
19 Poreuthentes oun matheteusate panta ta ethne, baptizontes autous eis to onoma tou patros kai tou huiou kai tou hagiou pneumatos 20 didaskontes autous terein panta hosa eneteilamen humin.
BibleTexts.com word-by-word Greek-English translation with Strong's numbers: 19 Poreuthentes [go <4198>] oun [therefore <3767>] matheteusate [make disciples <3100>] panta [of all <3956>] ta [the <3588>] ethne [nations <1484>] baptizontes [baptizing <907>] autous [them] eis [in <1519>] to [the <3588>] onoma [name <3686>] tou [of the <3588>] patros [Father <3962>] kai [and] tou [of the <3588>] huiou [Son <5207>] kai [and] tou [of the <3588>] hagiou [Holy <40>] pneumatos [Spirit <4151>] 20 didaskontes [teaching <1321>] autous [them] terein [to watch, guard <5083>] panta [all <3956>] hosa [that <3745>] eneteilamen [I command , enjoin <1781>] humin [you <4771>].
NRSV English translation with Strong's numbers added by BibleTexts.com: 19 Go <4198> therefore <3767> and make <3100> disciples <3100> of all <3956> the nations <1484>, baptizing <907> them in the name <3686> of the Father <3962> and the Son <5207> and the Holy <40> Spirit <4151>] 20 and teaching <1321> them to obey <5083> everything <3956> that <3745> I have commanded <1781> you <4771>.
Eusebius' shortened, modified text of Mat 28:19 reads as follows:
Poreuthentes matheteusate panta ta ethne en to onomati mou
BibleTexts.com word-by-word Greek-English translation with Strong's numbers: Poreuthentes [go <4198>] matheteusate [make disciples <3100>] panta [of all <3956>] ta [the <3588>] ethne [nations <1484>] en [in] to [the <3588>] onomati [name <3686>] mou [of me, my <3450>]
[BibleTexts.com translation: Go <4198> make <3100> disciples <3100> of all <3956> the nations <1484> in my name <3686>
Eusebius' then continues on with the first part of Mat 28:20, which is identical to that found in virtually all Greek New Testament manuscripts:
didaskontes autous terein panta hosa eneteilamen humin.
BibleTexts.com word-by-word Greek-English translation with Strong's numbers: didaskontes [teaching <1321>] autous [them] terein [to obey, watch, guard <5083>] panta [all <3956>] hosa [that <3745>] eneteilamen [I command , enjoin <1781>] humin [you <4771>].
NRSV English translation with Strong's numbers added by BibleTexts.com: teaching <1321> them to obey <5083> everything <3956> that <3745> I have commanded <1781> you <4771>.
Nowhere in either the critical apparatus footnotes of the Greek text nor in Bruce Metzger's definitive A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, is there any mention of variants of this text that do not have "eis to onoma tou patros kai tou huiou kai tou hagiou pneumatos" ["in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"]. None of the many editions of the Greek New Testament that I have in my library even mentions a possible alternate rendering. Even members of the often skeptical "Jesus Seminar" (Robert J. Miller, Editor, The Complete Gospels, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994, p. 114) have unconditionally noted:
28:19 The Father and the son and the holy spirit is the earliest Trinitarian formula in the New Testament.
The only references that I could find to any alternative views on the subject are the following:
The HarperCollins Study Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (edited by Wayne Meeks and the Society of Biblical Liberature, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993, page 1914):
The Father and ... the Son and ... the Holy Spirit. This explicit trinitarian formula is rare in the NT and probably derives from early Christian worship.
The International Critical Commentary: St. Matthew, Third Edition (by Willoughby C. Allen, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d., pages 307-308):
The evidence of Eusebius must be regarded as indecisive, in view of the fact that all Greek MSS. and all extant VSS., contain the clause (S1 S2 are unhappily wanting). The Eusebian quotation: poreuthentes matheteusate panta ta ethen en to onomati mou may be Eusebius' way of abbreviating, for whatever reason, the following clause. On the other hand, Eusebius cites in this short form so often that it is easier to suppose that he is definitely quoting the words of the Gospel, than it is to invent possible reasons which have caused him so frequently to paraphrase it. And if we once suppose his short form to have been current in MSS. of the Gospel, there is much probability in the conjecture that it is the original text of the Gospel, and that in the second century the clause baptizontes autous eis to onoma, k.t.l., supplanted the shorter en tow onomati mou. An insertion of this kind derived from liturgical use would very rapidly be adopted by copyists and translators. The Didache has, chapter 7: baptisate eis to onoma tou patros kai ton uiou kai tou hagiou pneumatos. but the passage need not be dependent on our canonical Gospel, and the Didache elsewhere has a liturgical addition to the texts of the Gospels in the doxology attached to the Lord's Prayer. But Irenaeus and Tertullian already have the longer clause.
New Testament manuscript evidence completely supports Mat 28:19 as having originally included the Trinitarian formula, which is found in the New Testament only in this verse. Yet this verse has not survived in any New Testament Greek text prior to the fourth century, which is also when Eusebius (263-339 A.D.) quoted Mat 28:19. Eusebius' writings are older than any of the surviving manuscripts of Mat 28:19, and he was a staunchly orthodox Christian writing under the direction of Constantine. This makes Allen's commentary above even more intriguing:
Eusebius cites in this short form so often that it is easier to suppose that he is definitely quoting the words of the Gospel, than it is to invent possible reasons which have caused him so frequently to paraphrase it. And if we once suppose his short form to have been current in MSS. of the Gospel, there is much probability in the conjecture that it is the original text of the Gospel, and that in the second century the clause baptizontes autous eis to onoma, k.t.l., supplanted the shorter en tow onomati mou.
Whatever readings could be used to support the theology of the liturgy would be immensely influential in the fourth century A.D., as it still is today. (Take for example the ending of the Lord's Prayer. The original text certainly did not include, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever," as is included in any Textus Receptus based New Testament (KJV, Young's, Webster, NKJV, and some others), but to many clergy and many congregations, omitting that wording is an egregious omission of part of the genuine Lord's Prayer.) It is, therefore, easy to believe that Eusebius' wording was closer to the original text than what we find in all New Testaments since the fourth century A.D. It is much more difficult to believe that Eusebius or someone else changed the text contrary to liturgy; rather, liturgy certainly could have exerted its influence under Constantinian Christianity to change the original wording to better suit the very politically charged Nicene creed of 325 A.D. and the liturgy that was based on that Nicene creed. However, a very strong argument for the reading found in all Greek New Testaments today is in Allen's last comment:
But Irenaeus and Tertullian already have the longer clause.
Though readings of Mat 28:19 have not been found in surviving ante-nicene New Testament manuscripts, according to the Ante-Nicene Fathers collection of writings, Ignatius (35-110 A.D.), Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.), Tertullian (155-250 A.D.), Hippolytus (170-245 A.D.), Cyprian (?-258 A.D.), and others already were quoting the longer version of Mat 28:19, with the trinitarian formula, many years before Eusebius quoted a shorter version, without the trinitarian formula. The overwhelming evidence is in support of the longer reading, and as Allen commented, "The evidence of Eusebius must be regarded as indecisive."
It still should be noted that the Mat 28:19 trinitarian formula only lists togather the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It does not equate them as comprising one God as does the Nicene Creed. For more info on the Trinity, see http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/trinity.htm.
Copyright 1996-2005 Robert Nguyen Cramer