Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. [Matthew 28:16 KJV]

The eleven had a specific appointment and at that appointment they were instructed :

And Jesus came and spake unto them [Matthew 28:18 KJV]

Jesus spake unto them, that is to say, to the eleven.

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. [Matthew 28:18 KJ]

Because all power in heaven and in earth has been given to Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, therefore he says to the eleven :

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: [Matthew 28:19 KJV]

These words were uttered to the eleven and later another was called, specifically and particularly, by Jesus Christ's audible words, namely Saul of Tarsus, thereafter called Paul.

To him was also given like commandment 'he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel'.

Thereafter a ministry became evident, such as John Mark, Silvanus, Epaphras, Timothy and Titus. Not of the eleven but marked out as a ministry sent to the whole church (not to any specific location) and to propagate the gospel throughout the known world. Paul writes three epistles to this ongoing, next-generation ministry, instructing them in doctrine and in church government. These men, and only these men, may appoint elders.

Here is a definite structure dependent upon the calling, directly, of Jesus Christ. Without that calling, generation by generation, there will be none to 'teach and baptise' among the nations.

One cannot self-appoint oneself to the vocation or to the task.

I can see no evidence here for a 'Great Commission' uttered to the entire church as though the congregations themselves had a 'commandment' as such from the risen and all-powerful Christ.

Quite the opposite, the content of the epistles conveys a godly humility, household-centred Christianity and a very local influence among the parochial populace.

To say 'the Great Commission' is to the entire body of the congregations, to my mind belittles the Ministry - that of teaching and preaching (to the assemblies and also to the whole earth) as a definite vocation to singularly called persons.

Where did this idea come from of a 'Great Commission' which is generic to the entire body of Christ ? I cannot find such words in my bible.

I am asking this question specifically of Trinitarian Protestants as it seems to me that the concept has generated from within that part of Christendom.

The other matter which complicates this issue is what J N Darby called 'the notion of a clergyman ; sin against the Holy Spirit' that is to say the denial of a ministry sent to the entire church and the notion that each local assembly should have its own, private, appointed, salaried clergyman.

But I shall ask another question on that second complication.


I suggest that there are two aspects. One's local life, home life, church life; and there is the gospel being preached to all creation which is beyond the abilities or capacities of common believers and is the province of the especially called.

Both are true. Both are immediate. Both are essential. Neither should be neglected.

And one should not diminish the other.

  • 1
    @NigelJ I wish it was not so, but unfortunately it is perfectly possible to be a "believer" (one who believes) without being a "disciple" (one who follows and puts into practice the teachings of Jesus). There can be people who have been taught about Christ's death and resurrection but not his teaching; there can be people (including those I have met personally) who have been told that Jesus' teaching does not apply to the present age; there can be people who know and believe in Jesus but don't actually want to do the work of following him. Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 17:32
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    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 9:02

3 Answers 3


While it is certain that teaching, preaching, pastoring, evangelizing, etc., in an 'ordained' ongoing fashion are gifts of the Spirit within individuals particularly called from within local bodies of believers for the perfecting and unity of the saints:

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: - Ephesians 4:7-12

And, while it is also certain that God is able to specially gift a believer for a single circumstance (Stephen for instance Acts 7) when and if they are taken before authority:

But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. And the gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. - Mark 13:9-11

Yet none are excepted from the call to testify of the Gospel through singular devotion to Christ in word and deed wherever we may find ourselves and in all circumstances:

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. - Colossians 3:12-17

We are to go about our lives ("As you go" says the Commission) walking in the Spirit in imitation of the Lord Jesus, often in contradiction to the world around us, speaking truth and doing good amongst the wicked and, rather than repaying evil for evil, repaying good for evil (Romans 12:9-21). As we engage in this process of dying to self and living for Christ the Holy Spirit convinces the world around us of sin and righteousness and judgement and so the soil of a heart is either tilled for or hardened against the sowing of the good seed:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. - 1 Peter 3:15

In this way, every child born of God by grace through faith has his part in the "Great Commission". Rather than feeling compelled, through misunderstanding the Scriptures and poor instruction, to GO here or there and preach the gospel under the auspices of some para-church missionary organization, each of us is called to make disciples (the only command in the verse) as we go wherever we go. Saul, in ravaging the Church at Jerusalem, scattered all believers except the apostles and the gospel was thus spread through Judea and Samaria:

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. - Acts 8:1-4

Phillip is recorded as having baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8 and he is a man who was appointed by the Apostles to "wait tables"; that is, to mediate disputes within the church over things such as provision for widows. There is no record of any special authority to teach, make disciples, and baptize given to Phillip by the Apostles through the laying on of hands.

This is not to say there is no place for missionary ventures within the church and no individual calling from God to venture into far off places: History has demonstrated the Gospel making inroads into strongly hostile environments through such callings. History has also demonstrated that "missionary organizations" and indeed entire church movements, can easily become self propagating "big business" all the while the very environment within which we live our day to day lives is a field, white unto harvest: We must lift up our eyes right where the sovereign Lord has us now.

When our focus is on going to unreached people groups and our participation in such endeavors (through monetary or personal support) impresses us that we have satisfied the calling of God we may be tempted to ignore the "mission field" of our homes, workplaces, day to day lives, etc. The universal calling of the "Great Commission" is to make disciples as we go and the primary means of doing so is by being a disciple wherever and whenever the Lord may lead.

My answer is that the Great Commission does apply to every believer but in a much more organic sense than a coordinated Church effort. We should talk about Him in our homes and to our children, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise. We should let Him be bound to all that we think and say and do everywhere we go. Deuteronomy 6


Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20 go make disciple…..teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.

The primary thing Jesus had commanded them to do was make disciples. So all those that were taught by these disciples became teachers of the gospel as well. This should continue from teacher to student until the end. Every person who learns the good news is thus compelled to share it with others.

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    You beat me to it. v19 is included in the commands mentioned in v20. Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 17:25

The KJV obscures something here, by translating both διδάσκω and μαθητεύω as “teach”. Jesus is speaking to the “eleven disciples” (ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ), and commands them to “disciple” or “make disciples of all the nations” (μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη).

Two parts of this process are identified: “baptising them” (βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς) and “teaching them” (διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς). Note that “to disciple” and “to teach” are distinguished from each other, both by the choice of words and by the sentence structure.

When people who have just been identified as disciples are told that it is their job to make more disciples—and not just a few of them, but of all nations—it is reasonable to conclude that this is intended to also be part of the role of these new-made disciples.

The case for this is strengthened even more by what it is that Jesus tells them to teach these new disciples: “to obey all things, whatever I commanded you” (τηρεῖν πάντα, ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν). One can imagine a question coming from one of the eleven: “Everything you commanded us? Including this command you’re giving us right now?”

Does μαθητεύω “disciple” (verb, transitive) mean “make disciples”? Well, in my mind, it’s tautological that it does. But I can see how someone coming at the question with connotations or preconceptions in mind might want to draw a distinction between them.

As an analogy, compare “teach” and “be a teacher”. On the face of it, these would seem to be simply synonymous. But one could distinguish them, with the former bearing the plain meaning of “give teaching, impart knowledge”, and the latter taking on all of the baggage and ancillary roles involved in working in the education sector. (Fair disclaimer: I’m a teacher by trade, and I wish it involved more of the former and less of the latter.)

But such connotations had, and have, no part in my answer. I don’t think this interpretation says anything at all about how these disciples are to be governed, and it certainly doesn’t suggest that the only purpose of a disciple is to make more disciples. (It used to be part of the role of a master of any trade or profession to pass on their knowledge to others. But you wouldn’t say that carpenters only existed to make more carpenters!)

No, my only intention was to answer the question you asked: “Where did this idea come from?” It is, as I said, reasonable to conclude that the command extends to the new-made disciples, based on the parallel of “disciples” (noun) and “disciple” (verb), and on “obey all that I commanded”. It isn’t (and needn’t be) the only conclusion.

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    @NigelJ Not at all! I don’t envisage any such thing. To my mind, it is tautological to say that “to disciple” (transitive) means “to make disciples”. What kind of governance structure these disciples are then under is quite absent from my thinking. (I do wonder whether the connotations of “orderly, hierarchical” inherent in the relation of disciple/discipline are at all present in the Greek, where μαθητής shares a root with μανθάνω “learn” and μάθημα “a lesson, learning”. But I don’t know and I make no such assumption.) Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 15:00
  • 1/2 FWIW, the most widely used Spanish translation, Reina Valera 1960, says "make disciples". The older version says something like "doctrinate all the gentiles, baptizing... and teaching them...". Un-regenerated people are not subject to the body of teaching and governance of Jesus, which is why I think that these (teaching and governance) are included in the second "teaching". Those outside are taught the gospel, then upon receiving it are baptized, then taught the life and structure of the church.
    – Conrado
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 15:48
  • 2/2 This closely follows Acts 2:40-42. Peter preached, those who received his words were baptized, then they were added to the church, and then they continued in the doctrine of the apostles (among other things)
    – Conrado
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 15:50

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