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We know that Jesus gave this command.

Matthew 28:19 (NIV)

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

But later, we find a statement made by Peter.

Acts 2:38 (NIV)

Peter replied, “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.

Are these two words contradicting each other?

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@DavidStratton I changed my question :) –  Mawia Feb 11 '13 at 12:48
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Much better. Thank you! The site won't let me retract the vote to close, but if it does get closed, I'll vote to reopen. This is answerable objectively now, and perfectly within scope. –  David Stratton Feb 11 '13 at 12:51
    
I am surpised nobody has asked this one yet. Good question. –  Mike Feb 11 '13 at 16:50
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

There has been a theological controversy over the question as to whether baptism in the name of Christ only was ever held valid. Certain texts in the New Testament have given rise to this difficulty. Thus St. Paul (Acts 19) commands some disciples at Ephesus to be baptized in Christ's name: "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." In Acts 10, we read that St. Peter ordered others to be baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ". Those who were converted by Philip. (Acts 8) "were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ", and above all we have the explicit command of the Prince of the Apostles: "Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins (Acts 2).

Owing to these texts some theologians have held that the Apostles baptized in the name of Christ only. St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and Albertus Magnus are invoked as authorities for this opinion, they declaring that the Apostles so acted by special dispensation. Other writers, as Peter Lombard and Hugh of St. Victor, hold also that such baptism would be valid, but say nothing of a dispensation for the Apostles. The most probable opinion, however, seems to be that the terms "in the name of Jesus", "in the name of Christ", either refer to baptism in the faith taught by Christ, or are employed to distinguish Christian baptism from that of John the Precursor. It seems altogether unlikely that immediately after Christ had solemnly promulgated the trinitarian formula of baptism, the Apostles themselves would have substituted another. In fact, the words of St. Paul (Acts 19) imply quite plainly that they did not. For, when some Christians at Ephesus declared that they had never heard of the Holy Ghost, the Apostle asks: "In whom then were you baptized?" This text certainly seems to declare that St. Paul took it for granted that the Ephesians must have heard the name of the Holy Ghost when the sacramental formula of baptism was pronounced over them. (Baptism: Form)

In other words, the predominating opinion states baptism in the name of Christ alone is against Christ's command and is therefor unlikely. Rather, "in the name of Jesus Christ" refers to performing the baptism at Christ's command or for Christ's purpose, much like you might claim a piece of land in the name of the Queen. Acts 19 clarifies the ambiguous language, supporting this opinion, by suggesting that baptized people know of the Holy Ghost from having been baptized in Him.

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In Matthew 16:19 Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom: the revelation required to enter into the spiritual kingdom that Jesus came to introduce.

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

See also Isaiah 22:22

And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

In Acts Chapter 2, when the people from all around the world were pricked in their hearts by the power of Peter's speech, they wanted to know what they should do to enter the kingdom.

Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

Peter, by the Holy Ghost, gave to them his revelation that "Father", "Son", and "Holy Ghost" were titles of one person, the Lord (Father) Jesus (Son) Christ (Holy Ghost). By baptizing in the name (singular) of the Lord Jesus Christ, you would be fulfilling Jesus' commission in Matthew 28:19. His commission was to baptize them in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" is not a name, it is a phrase. I am a "father" to my children, a "husband" to my wife, a "son" to my father, but none of those are my name.

Not one time was anyone ever recorded to be baptized other than the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

  • The Jews, "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).

  • The Samaritans. "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus' (Acts 8:16).

  • The Gentiles. "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). (The earliest Greek manuscripts that we have say, "In the name of Jesus Christ," as do most versions today.)

  • The disciples of John (rebaptized). "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5).

  • The Apostles Paul. "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

  • Moreover, the Epistles contain a number of references or allusions to baptism in Jesus' name. See Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 1:13; 6:11; Galatians 3:27 ; Colossians 2:12; James 2:7.

Zechariah 14:9 And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.

Other References

  • Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1951). II, 384, 389: "The formula used was "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" or some synonymous phrase; there is no evidence for the use of the triune name. The earliest form, represented in the Acts, was simple immersion. in water, the use of the name of the Lord, and the laying on of hands. To these were added, at various times and places which cannot be safely identified, (a) the triune name (Justin)."

  • Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (1962), I 351: "The evidence. suggests that baptism in early Christianity was administered, not in the threefold name, but 'in the name of Jesus Christ' or 'in the name of the Lord Jesus.'"

  • Otto Heick, A History of Christian Thought (1965), I, 53: "At first baptism was administered in the name of Jesus, but gradually in the name of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  • Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (1898). I, 241: "[One explanation is that] the original form of words was "into the name of Jesus Christ" or 'the Lord Jesus,' Baptism into the name of the Trinity was a later development."

  • Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church (1947), page 58: "The trinitarian baptismal formula, was displacing the older baptism in the name of Christ."

  • The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1957), I, 435: "The New Testament knows only baptism in the name of Jesus, which still occurs even in the second and third centuries."

  • Canney's Encyclopedia of Religions (1970), page 53: "Persons were baptized at first 'in the name of Jesus Christ' or 'in the name of the Lord Jesus'. Afterwards, with the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, they were baptized 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.'"

  • Encyclopedia Biblica (1899), I, 473: "It is natural to conclude that baptism was administered in the earliest times 'in the name of Jesus Christ,' or in that 'of the Lord Jesus.' This view is confirmed by the fact that the earliest forms of the baptismal confession appear to have been single-not triple, as was the later creed."

  • Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed. (1920), II 365: "The trinitarian formula and triune immersion were not uniformly used from the beginning. Baptism into the name of the Lord [was] the normal formula of the New Testament. In the 3rd century baptism in the name of Christ was still so widespread that Pope Stephen, in opposition to Cyprian of Carthage, declared it to be valid."

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While I'im not quite sure we can (or should) disect "Lord Jesus Christ" to specifically apply to different persons of the trinity, I like this answer in general - the "name" of the Father, Son, and Spirit (the trinity) is the name at which every knee shall bow: "Jesus" –  Thomas Shields Feb 11 '13 at 18:42
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We have lost something on the subject of Baptism due to the early apostasy of the church by which it started to elevate the external forms of religion above its internal truth. Worrying about which words should be used, and trying to argue them from scriptures, is much like the woman asking Jesus on what mountain should people worship God. (John 4:20). In reply, Jesus said:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, ESV)

(Note: I realize the question is not worrying about the words but is merely a question. It is the potential undue nervousness in choosing a supposed 'correct answer' that is not scriptural.)

A better concept about Baptism is reflected on Paul’s own:

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 1:17, ESV)

Charles Hodge has some very apt comments on this verse:

For indicates the connection. ‘I baptized few, for I was not sent to baptize, but to preach.’ The commission was, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” This does not mean that baptism was not included, but it does mean that baptizing was very inferior to preaching. It is subordinated in the very form of the commission, “Go ye therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them,” &c. The main thing was to make disciples; recognizing them as such by baptism was subordinate, though commanded. Baptism was a work which the apostles seem to have generally left to others, Acts 10:48. During the apostolic age, and in the apostolic form of religion, truth stood immeasurably above external rites. The apostasy of the church consisted in making rites more important than truth. The apostle’s manner of speaking of baptism in this connection as subordinate to preaching is, therefore, a wonder to those who are disposed unduly to exalt the sacraments. (Exposition on 1 Corinthians, Charles Hodge, verse 17-31)

The fact is the actuals words that might be spoken during baptism are not prescribed in the Bible, but what baptism means is explained. The same is true of the Lord’s Supper, exact words that are to be said when eating the bread and drinking the wine are not defined in the Bible. The truth of the matter is baptism is principally something one does to say communicate that they personally identify with the death and resurrection of Christ, taking Christ as their redeemer. That they believe and accept Jesus as their Messiah and Lord, in public display and confession -- that is what is established by external baptism. The external rite is about being submerged into water to reflect what has already occurred inwardly. It is not about any specific words to be spoken.

What happens in the inner version of Baptism? Well, a sinner by faith in Christ is united to him. This mystical union punishes his sins in Christ, and Christ's perfection and righteousness is charged and imputed upon the sinner, making him have eternal life, apart from any work. This righteous state brings reconciliation with the Father; therefore the Father gives the Spirit to enjoy forever.

Now in the times of Acts mention is only made of being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Of course this is the principle meaning for when one receives Christ as the Messiah, they are baptized into the humanity of Christ and therefore reconciled with God. The description of what it means to be baptized (not the words that must be said) simply expands the reconciliation with God to be reconciliation with the Triune God. Therefore there is no difference between baptism in Mathew 28 and all the other references to Baptism in the Bible where the triune aspect is not focused on, such as Acts 1:5, 2:38, 3:41, 8:12-16, 8:36-38, 9:18, 11:16, 16:15, 16:33, 18:8, 19:3-5, 22:16, Romans 6:3, 1 Corinthians 1:13, 1:14-16, 10:2, 12:13, 15:29 & Galatians 3:27.

With regard to the illogical exegesis of scripture used by the Catholic Encyclopedia one can hardly follow. For it was usual in those times, that upon the baptizing of persons, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and endowed them with extraordinary gifts, peculiar to the days of the gospel. Sometimes people received the Holy Spirit before Baptism also, but it became normal afterwards for this reception to occur during baptism. When Paul found some that had not publically received Christ but had only undergone the Baptism of John before and during the very early part of Christ’s ministry he knew they needed to be baptized as followers of Christ, not of John. This would ensure the receive Christ and the Spirit as all other Christian’s had done. This had nothing to do with the words being spoken. Nobody ever received the Spirit in the Bible by having the word ‘Spirit’ spoken, but by having faith in Christ. The whole notion of attributing power to words is a kind of superstition unknown in scripture.

If I had to take a wild guess I would imagine that, if words were used during Baptism, something to the effect of ‘in the name of Christ’ would have been the most direct and logical, and therefore probable. On the other hand the earliest extra biblical record of actual words spoken under a forming tradition are probably found in the Didache (mid to late first century), which uses a Trinitarian formula.

Conclusion: What words did Peter use? As the exact words are not recorded, I confess I do not know, nor are exact words to be used commanded in any place from scripture. The same is true about words to be spoken during the Lord’s supper.

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+1 for pointing out that substance matters, not form. I think "apostasy" is unjustified here though. Maybe a little legalism or traditions of men. Later maybe there was apostasy, but I don't think there was in the mainline churches in the first two or three centuries. –  disciple Jun 4 at 1:18
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