Here again we have a body of believers who are good, upstanding, well- motivated people. It might well be asked, “If they are Christians and want to do what’s right, how can they go so far wrong in their doctrine?” The answer, of course, is that even the best motivated of hearts can stumble when the head leads it down an errant path. I believe their motivation is right, while their performance is in error. Should we chance divisiveness by discussing the doctrinal misconceptions they promote? While I shun argument for the sake of argument, I feel in this case we should. This is not a simple matter of “to each his own.” The Word of God is given to us to be our staff against the world, our strength, and our guide to proper doctrine. The Word tells us to rightly divide the Word (II Timothy 3:16).
God gave us His Word so we could, through study and application, develop sound doctrine. Admittedly, all fall short of complete knowledge of God’s intent for us in this day. I believe God deliberately left some fine points obscured so we would\have\to study His Word as an ongoing and perpetual component of our Christian life. I do feel, however, that there is a difference between freedom to search out God’s meaning from His Word, and license to promote doctrines which are barely suggested within the Word.
The “New Issue” erupted within the Pentecostal movement about 1914. While it started as a friendly debate over the question of the correct method for water baptism, it quickly developed into a fierce controversy over the nature of the Godhead. The argument in those early days was basically over the effort to reconcile the words of the Lord in Matthew 28:19 and Peter’s words in Acts 2:38. Suddenly the thing exploded. Those who practiced baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (Jesus Only) claimed a special revelation from the Lord which would result in the correct manner of water baptism. And, you might ask, what was this tremendous, tradition-defying revelation?
In effect it was this: Peter introduced the new baptismal method at Pentecost because, supposedly, the Holy Ghost had revealed unto him that the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is Jesus Christ. In other words, their “revelation” was that there is only one person in the Godhead and that is Jesus Christ. They also vehemently opposed the doctrine of the Trinity, claiming it was of human origin.
The argument became more heated, the controversy more explosive, and the split grew wider.
1. THREE GODS OR ONE?
We teach there is one God manifest in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Jesus Only people teach that Christ is the Father, He is the Son and He is the Holy Ghost. Hence the name, Jesus Only. I believe we can provide proper evidence from the Word of God that this is not the case and that the teaching advanced by these people is erroneous and does not accord proper due and honor to the Godhead.
The Scripture does state there is one God. But the word “one” relates to unity as well as number. I John 5:7 clearly means one in unity, as does St. John 17:11-21. And yet there are three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The three are spoken of as one in number and yet treated individually in Scripture. There is one God the Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, and one Holy Ghost (I Corinthians 8:6; Ehpesians 4:3-6). Thus there are three separate persons in divine individuality and divine plurality. The Father is called God (I Corinthians 8:6), the Son is called God (Isaiah 9:6-7; Hebrews 1:8; John 1:1-2) and the Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3- 4). Individually, each is called God; collectively, they can be spoken of as one God because of their perfect unity. The word “God” can be used either in the singular or in the plural, like sheep. Everything that could pertain to God collectively could also apply equally to each member of the Godhead as individuals. However, there are some particulars which relate to each individual person of the deity as to position, office, and work that could not be attributed to either of the other members of the Godhead. For instance, the Father is the head of Christ (I Corinthians 11:3). The Son is the only begotten of the Father (II John 1:3). The Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son (John 14:16; Acts 2:3-4).
The names of God prove plurality of persons. The Hebrew word Elohim, translated “God” in Genesis 1:1 and also in more than 2,700 other places in the Old Testament, is a uniplural noun which means “more than one.” Had the sacred writer been led to use the singular El, then there would have been no indication of a divine plurality. But in this initial reference to God, he was led of the Holy Ghost to pen the Word Elohim (Genesis 1:1). Also when one considers that the word Elohim is used about ten to one over the word El, we would have to conclude that this preference for the plural over the singular indicates a definite sign of plurality in the Godhead.
PLURALITY IN SCRIPTURES
Genesis 3:22, where it says, “the man has become as one of us,” proves plurality of persons by the use of the pronoun “us.” Two Lords are mentioned in Genesis 19:24–one on earth and one in heaven. Two Lords sit side by side in Psalms 110:1-5, in Matthew 22:44, and in Acts 2:33-34, 36. Two and three Persons are mentioned in the introductions to many New Testament books: Romans, James, I Corinthians, I Peter, to name a few.
JESUS IS NOT THE FATHER
Only one Scripture in the Word of God states that Jesus is the Father. This is found in Isaiah, chapter 9, and it is a Hebrew idiom concerning the terminology of the Jews. And we know from the Word of God that while Jesus was on earth the Father was in heaven (Matthew 5:16-48). We also know (from Scripture) that Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus said He would confess men before His Father which was in heaven, proving He (Jesus) is not Himself the Father (Matthew 10:32; Revelation 3:5). Jesus always prayed to the Father as a separate person (Matthew 11:25). Both Jesus and Satan refer to God apart from Jesus (Matthew 4:6-10). Jesus was the only begotten Son of the Father. Hence, Jesus could not be the Father, nor could He beget Himself (John 1:14). Over 80 times in the Word f God Jesus affirmed that He was not the Father, nor was He the only person in the Godhead.
Admittedly, we do not understand everything about the Trinity. However, it does become somewhat less confusing and mysterious if we don’t try to force two or more separate Persons into becoming only one Person, simply because we choose not to recognize that the true meaning of the word “one” actually refers to unity. So what we have is, only one Scripture (easily explained) in the Old Testament stating that Jesus is the Father, and so very, very many confirming that He is not the Father.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT JESUS OR THE FATHER
The Holy Spirit is another and He is from both the Father and the Son (John 5:32). So that the Holy Spirit could come, it was necessary that Jesus go away (John 16:5-15). Even then, though, He could not be sent from God until Christ was glorified. But at that time He would be sent from both the Father and the Son (John 7:37-39). The Holy Spirit was sent from the Father to endue Jesus with power. This clearly requires three persons–the One who sent Him, and the One being sent, and the One who received Him!
A clear distinction is made between the Son who prays, the Father to whom He prays, and the Holy Spirit for whom (which) He prays (John 14:16).
The descent of the Holy Spirit acknowledged the arrival of Jesus in heaven to sit at the right hand of God, thus proving three separate and distinct persons (Acts 2:33-34; John 7:39).
So, what do we have? Jesus is God; the Holy Ghost is God; the Father is God. But Jesus is not the Holy Spirit; Jesus is not the Father. And neither is the Father the Lord Jesus Christ; nor is the Father the Holy Spirit.
The scriptural passages which provide the basis for the Trinitarian doctrine cannot be reconciled to the Jesus Only position without totally disregarding the meaning of language and without totally ignoring many contrary Scriptures. On the other hand, the favorite Jesus Only passages can be reconciled without strain or contradiction to the Trinitarian position.
2. THE FORMULA FOR WATER BAPTISM (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38)
The Trinitarians baptize according to Matthew 28:19, using the words of the Lord Jesus Christ where He said that we should baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. We do this for many reasons, and I will go into many of the details concerning the differences between the two baptismal formulas.
The Jesus Only people affirm that the Matthew 28:19 method is not once found in the book of Acts and was unknown in the early church, but was introduced centuries later by apostates in total disregard of apostolic practice. Trinitarians are, therefore, admonished to conform to the scriptural pattern and to follow the example of those who had the true “revelation” of the name.
The Jesus Only people claim that the words Father and Son do not constitute names. We maintain they do. We believe that Matthew 28:19 definitely confirms that “Father” is a name, that “Son” is a name, that “Holy Ghost” is a name, simply because we are not generalizing just any father or just any son. We are talking about God the Father, and God the Son; and most anyone in Christendom today would readily recognize and know Who is being spoken of.
In Isaiah 9:6 the Bible says His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Each one of these appellations would be labeled a title by Jesus Only interpreters, but Isaiah’s text calls each one a name. This is also the one verse of Scripture in the entirety of God’s Word where Jesus Christ is called the Father; and still, somehow, these people are blinded to the fact that the verse actually disproves their theory concerning titles and names, simply because it gives the name of “Father” to Jesus.
So I simply ask a question. According to Isaiah, isn’t “Wonderful” a name? Isn’t “Prince of Peace” a name? Isaiah uses five different names here and yet, under divine inspiration, he specifically chose the singular when he said, “And His name shall be called….” So what more needs to be said in answer to this strange insistence that if “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” are names (plural), then Matthew 28:19 should read in the names of? The writers, under divine inspiraton, used the singular instead of the plural. They did it for a divine reason.
THE BOOK OF ACTS AND THE BAPTISMAL FORMULA
There is not a single incident in the book of Acts where any particular baptismal method is given. There is no record of the dialogue of the baptizer while standing in the water with the convert. You can look in vain for any Scripture which would state, “I baptize thee in the name of Jesus Christ” (or any other variation of the precious name of our Lord). If one could produce such an explicit procedure, I would be thrilled to admit that we have a scriptural right to baptize thus, but it cannot be produced. It doesn’t exist.
This immeasurably weakens the Jesus Only position. They have read into the record that which is not there. They have taken the words of Peter, assumed that they were the properly expressed formula, and placed them onto the lips of those who baptized in water–without a shred of evidence to support their action. The Jesus Only proponents claim that Acts 2:38 is the baptismal formula. And yet Acts 8:16 and Acts 19:5 simply state they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And if you will notice, in these two latter verses the word “Christ” was omitted altogther.
If Peter, on the day of Pentecost, received a baptism “revelation” which the Jesus Only proponents claim is “in the name of Jesus Christ,” why, we ask, is this later variation produced? You see, there is no fixed wording to follow, and there is no regular or prescribed usage of certain words. So the question has to be asked, should we baptize in the name of Jesus Christ, or in Christ Jesus, or in the Lord, or in the Lord Jesus, or in the Lord Jesus Christ? Which would be correct? Was Peter right? Or Philip? Or Paul?
Jesus Only exponents say they are sticklers (fanatics) for the exact words of Scripture, and that they use the identical words of the apostles; yet their demands are not accompanied by quotations from God’s Word of the words themselves. Even in those passages where their purported words are found, their full formula is lacking. One of their chief proponents some years ago stated that the following formula should be used: “I baptize you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” When this particular brother was asked to cite chapter and verse for this formula, he was speechless. Apparently it had not ever occurred to him that the formula he had conjured up had no scriptural connotation whatsoever.
So the question still must be asked. Which is the right way to baptize and what was the meaning of Peter’s or Paul’s words in the book of Acts?
There is no way one can take the passages in the book of Acts to be intended as a baptismal formula. The words should be regarded as a compendious description of the entire rite. In Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, and 19:15, the details of the baptismal ceremony are not set forth. What is set forth is a condensed, brief, abridged reference to the sacred experience. The words describe the sphere, the foundation or ground of baptism, rather than the prescribed words of the formula.
Every Trinitarian using the Matthew 28:19 formula refers to water baptism as “Christian baptism” and this is as it should be, for Christ is assuredly the central figure in water baptism. Jesus Christ is the One who died and rose again; not the Father and not the Holy Ghost. It is into His death that we are symbolically buried, and in the likeness of His resurrection we are raised to walk in newness of life; therefore, belief in, and confession of, the Lord Jesus Christ, is a central part of our baptismal ceremony.
THIS IS THE REASON WE ACCEPT THE MATTHEW 28:19 BAPTISMAL FORMULA
A. Both the minister and the believer render obedience to the Master’s own explicit command whenever the words are used, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
B. Matthew 28:19 fits the definition of a formula. It is an orderly statement of faith or doctrine. It is the prescribed words of a ceremony or rite. The words of the Lord Himself are all contained in one concise declaration. It is not necessary, as in the Jesus Only formula, to combine it with other Scriptures in order to get the complete name. It is complete within itself.
C. Matthew 28:19 incorporates an orderly statement of faith. It summarizes the scattered and unsystemized thought and language of the entire New Testament concerning the nature of the Godhead. He who spoke these words desired their use as the formula, for they were purposely designed to set forth the doctrine of the Trinity in this initiatory Christian rite. The Master’s own baptism by John was a vivid precedent for associating the Trinity with baptism. Jesus was there in person. God spoke from heaven and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Him.
D. Matthew 28:19 is the only command in the entire Bible given specifically to those performing the rite of baptism. If you will examine all the passages in Acts dealing with baptism, you will discover that the commands there are to the believers themselves and not to the baptizer, or the minister. Matthew 28:19 is a direct order to those who administer the ordinance informing them to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
E. It is unthinkable that the disciples disobeyed the express command of their Lord. The only logical and scriptural conclusion is that the apostles and other leaders not only obeyed His command to baptize but also obeyed His command to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
F. The Matthew 28:19 baptismal formula is abundantly confirmed by the earliest Christian writings while the Jesus Only formula has no historical support at all. Justin’s first apology was written in A.D. 153 about ninety years after the death of Peter and Paul. It was about sixty years after the death of John the apostle. Justin was a contemporary of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John himself, and he stated that Matthew 28:19 was the correct formula.
There is another book called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and it is the oldest book outside the New Testament. It is also known as the Didache and is dated by most authorities between the years A.D. 70 and 100. Although the author of the book is unknown, it is a compilation of the teachings of the apostles which he had apparently learned either by personal instruction, oral tradition, or through their (the apostles’) own writings or other New Testament writings then in circulation. While it does not possess the inspiration of the Scriptures, the Didache is an authentic record of primitive Christianity. It includes as instructions for baptizing that we ought to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and also that we ought to baptize in running or living water. There again, the Matthew 28:19 formula is used. And, lest we forget, I would remind you that there is not a single recorded incident in the Bible or any other genuine first-century book where any other formula was ever used in the first one hundred years of the Christian era.
G. Matthew 28:19 can be used as the formula and the baptism still be in the name of Jesus Christ because the Son is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the sphere, the foundation, and the ground for Trinitarian baptism. Belief in, and confession of, Christ is the very heart of our baptism. Consequently, the words spoken by most ministers of the Gospel, baptizing according th Matthew 28:19, follow this pattern: “On the confession of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”