On our sister site I asked a question about what the correct grammatical interpretation of Matthew 28:19 is with relation to baptism.

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,

My question here is, is the Great Commission trying to make a doctrinal point about baptism? On Biblical Hermeneutics I asked if baptizing really came after "making disciples" in the Greek. Turns out it does, but it's not really supposed to be read as subsequent.

Is there anything being said about baptism, particularly infant baptism? Does the Great Commission support Believer's Baptism since "making disciples" comes first?

What are the doctrinal implications here, if any?

  • 4
    quick comment because I don't have time for a whole answer here at midnight. Yes it's saying something about baptism, but it's not excluding infant baptism (particularly IMO in light of apparent family baptisms later in acts). Remember that scripture interprets scripture :). This is like Abraham circumcising his whole household in the old covenant, every man no matter the age was circumcised, baptism being (in the presbyterian doctrinal tradition) the fulfillment of circumcision works in much the same way. – wax eagle May 4 '12 at 4:07
  • @waxeagle I tend to ask my questions at ungodly hours of the night, haha - only time I can get my thoughts together :) good points! – Thomas Shields May 4 '12 at 4:08
  • @waxeagle It is an interesting point you make about the later baptisms in Acts another point would be at Acts 8:12 Where is says they first believed then were baptised. – user1611 May 4 '12 at 4:47

The baptizing mentioned in Matthew 28 is not so much as a command as a part of a command. The sentence structure here in the greek has one verb which is 'go'. Everything else modifies how we should go. We should go discipling, we should go baptizing, we should go teaching.

Those commenting on the order of the words are, I believe, correct. The order is not significant. Also note that the 'them' that are to be baptized here refers to the 'nations' that have been discipled. God calls the people who are called by His name to receive the covenant sign of inclusion (baptism in the New Testament circumcision in the Old Testament).

It is true that those who are outside the covenant should convert to the Christian faith before receiving baptism (Acts 8:12) but that still leaves the question about those who grow up in the Christian Faith. Paul clearly states that the children of one believing parent are somehow set aside and different. I believe that the difference here is that the children are part of the covenant community.


Going along with this answer from the other site, I think that saying that this supports "believers' baptism only" is a long stretch grammatically. Rather, the doctrinal point is that the two should be held together. "If you are baptized, then you are a disciple" along with "if you are a disciple, then you are baptized."

As another thought: if it is saying that "believer's baptism is the only way," then that implies that it is possible to be a proper disciple without being baptized. Personally, I see that as a hard sell.


As some commercial on Relevant Radio always says, if you're baptized, you're a missionary

1270 "Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church" and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God.

CCC 1270

So, if an infant is baptized, does that infuse some sort of missionary zeal? No not really , that's what faith formation is for and that's what one professes when one is confirmed and receives the Holy Eucharist. There are three sacraments of initiation, not just one Baptism. There is also a lifetime learning and praying and good works to be done.

But, I have to say, that was an astute and awesome observation you made there. I don't know if it's ever been used as a justification for infant baptism or a test to prove the necessity of post-baptismal confirmation, but both these things exist and they certainly do so in accord with your reading of scripture. Unless the Holy Spirit infused knowledge to the thousand baptized after Pentecost Himself, this has to be the same Baptism Jeaus is talking about. Baptize into discipleship, afterwords the Apostles (who later became the Bishops) would come to seal you with the Holy Spirit like what St. Paul did in Acts 19:4-6 where he baptized followers of John into Christ's baptism and he laid his hands on them as a sin of confirmation, for they were alereadly formed spiritually.

P.S. I know this is an unapologetically Catholic answer and potentially not what you're looking for at all, but I figured I'd put my two cents in as the other answers take for grante that infant baptism is done in error.

  • This is very interesting, but I might be a little confused on what you're saying. If I understand you correctly, you're agreeing that, when tied in to the Acts passage, Matt 28 could be used in support of infant baptism? It's crazy late so I'm hitting the sack but I look forward to any clarification/confirmation you might have. thanks! :) – Thomas Shields May 5 '12 at 5:14

UPDATE - I am restructuring my answer to better conform to the OP questions as suggested.

From the OP,

My question here is, is the Great Commission trying to make a doctrinal point about baptism?

No, this verse is not making a "complete" doctrinal statement on Baptism. Although, it does conform and support the doctrine of believers baptism found elsewhere in scripture.

Is there anything being said about baptism, particularly infant baptism?

No. First, this verse isn't sufficient alone to make doctrinal statements about Baptism. Only doctrine you can draw from this verse about baptism is to support more detailed verses on baptism elsewhere. This verse does logically support believers baptism but when compared to other verses, one cannot make the leap from this verse to support infant baptism.

Does the Great Commission support Believer's Baptism since "making disciples" comes first?

Yes. As I have stated above, even if the Greek translates to a seemingly concurrent act, it still mentions "making disciples" first, then baptism, you can be sure of the doctrine by comparing to other scripture.

For example, believer's baptism is shown very clearly in Acts 8:35-38

35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

This is very clear that belief in Christ has to come before baptism. Baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It is a public profession of the inward change of the believer.

Thus, if the order for baptism in Mathew 28 can be seen and checked from other scripture, then you can easily have your answer to:

What are the doctrinal implications here, if any?

The answer is the verse alone cannot be used to form a complete doctrinal position on baptism but at the same time does not allow for infant baptism but does support believer's baptism.

  • 4
    I'm asking what Matthew 28 has to say about Baptism, not asking for support for Believer's Baptism. – Thomas Shields May 4 '12 at 22:14
  • You asked about the order of baptism unless I am mistaken. So the order is clear in the passage I quoted therefore you can be sure of the doctrinal implications of Mathew 28. – Jim May 5 '12 at 3:44
  • 1
    Hey Jim -- even though I agree with using scripture to interpret scripture (although I disagree with your interpretation) using this passage in Acts to make a statement about baptism is a valid thing to do on this site -- just not on this question. This question specifically asks if Mat 28 informs our doctrines in any way. This question just isn't the place to make a case on a doctrinal issue. Perhaps the answer you need to give instead of this is "No, this scripture is not clear enough to draw order implications from." or something like that. – Caleb May 5 '12 at 7:53
  • @Caleb - I restructured my answer to better answer the OP's questions. – Jim May 7 '12 at 14:07
  • @DoubtingThomas - please see my revised answer. – Jim May 7 '12 at 14:08

It seems that there are two distinct things that we are commanded to do to those whom we are making disciples--baptize them and teach them obedience to what God has commanded.

It should be noted that the mark of a disciple is obedience to what God has commanded (in addition to obeying the Lord in baptism). It almost seems that there are two distinct things we ought to be doing in order to make disciples. If we are to disciple someone, we should baptize them and we should teach them obedience to Christ.

It does not seem feasible that the intent is that we make disciples, then baptize them and teach them to obey. A disciple without obedience is not a disciple. By the same token, a disciple without baptism is not a disciple, since that is a basic commandment of God that we are to obey.

So, with regard to baptism and what this verse is teaching about it, it seems that it is part of the discipleship process to be performed in conjunction with the teaching of obedience to Christ.

We would not be able to teach an infant obedience to Christ until perhaps the age of 3 or so. That would not mean we could not baptize them. The bigger issue there is the involuntary nature of an infant's baptism.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.