The Reliable Gospel Record

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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez

Is the phrase “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” a later addition to Matthew 28:19?

Anti-Trinitarians use this argument to neutralize a damaging piece of biblical evidence that goes against their position. The short answer to your question is that this phrase is part of the original Greek text of Matthew. The argument is not historically reliable, making it difficult to understand why they still use it.

1. Greek Evidence:  We have many Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew. The textual evidence is unquestionable: all the Greek manuscripts of Matthew include the phrase you quoted. In other words, it is part of the original text of the Gospel. Besides, all ancient translations of the New Testament also preserve the Greek reading. In order to question this evidence some have argued that the Greek quotations of Matthew 28:19 found in the Church Fathers, specifically in the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 263-339), do not include the Trinitarian phrase.

The truth is that Eusebius quotes Matthew in different ways. It has been shown that in nine cases he writes, “Go and make disciples of all the nations”; 16 times, “Go and make disciples of all the nations in my name”; and five times he quotes the biblical text as we have it now in Matthew. The obvious conclusion is that Eusebius knew the long original Greek text of Matthew and occasionally omitted parts of the passage that were irrelevant to the point he was making. This was his common practice when quoting Scriptures.

2. Hebrew Evidence: In order to argue that the Trinitarian formula is not original, reference is made to a Hebrew translation of Matthew that does not include the formula. It reads “Jesus drew near to them and said to them: To me has been given all power in heaven and earth. Go and (teach) them to carry out all the things which I have commanded you forever.”

Several things ought to be said about this reading. First, this translation is a Jewish apologetic work, not a Christian one interspersed with anti-Catholic comments. Second, it is called Eben Bohan (“The Touchstone”), authored by Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut in 1380. Its reading of Matthew 28:19 is not supported by any Greek manuscript. Third, the translation omits many other sections of Matthew. Finally, notice that it also omits the Gospel Commission. In other words, it is not a reliable witness to the original text of Matthew.

3. Critical Interpretation: Critical scholarship argues that the baptismal formula found in our passage is not original in the sense that it did not come from Jesus Himself. The higher-critical approach to the Gospels seeks to find in the text the original words of Jesus and differentiate them from what Matthew put in His mouth. Since, according to them, in Matthew Jesus never addresses the question of baptism and evangelizing the world, and that there is not much in the Gospel about the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus would not have said what Matthew claims He said. They infer that the baptismal formula was not what Jesus taught the disciples to do, but what the Matthean community was practicing. Matthew simply legitimized the practice of the church by placing it in the words of Jesus.

This interpretation, based on the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, is inconsistent with what the biblical text explicitly states and is fundamentally based on speculations impossible to prove. The canonical form of Matthew 28:19 is totally reliable and belongs to the original text of Matthew.