52. An Intrinsic Peculiarity

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52. An Intrinsic Peculiarity

Third thoughts about Matthew 28:19

This week we have a guest post by Dan Phillips. Even if you are not interested in the Greek, do read through this post to understand Dan’s reasoning.

When Mark or John describe two equally important actions to take place, they would use similar imperative forms of the verbs. Yet Matthew goes another way.

What is important to me is that Dan Phillips clearly illustrates this specific peculiarity of Matthew as writer. This is an illustration of two important aspects mentioned on my blog. 1) God did not reduce the authors of the Bible to merely writing machines, but inspired them by the Holy Spirit from within. Thereby He allowed each to retain their own character, expertise and peculiarities. 2) This is one of the intrinsic criteria to help us identify the author of a book of the Bible. Enjoy!

A guest post by Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs. (http://teampyro.blogspot.com/ )

Dan says: “This post may not equally be for everyone, though I think any believer can get something from it.”

In what is popularly called the Great Commission, our Lord says: “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,”

Probably the KJV is still the most familiar rendering: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

A number of facets of this translation cry out for comment, but I will focus only on one: “Go ye therefore, and teach.” Clearly to the English reader’s eye, there are two commands here: (1) go ye, and (2) teach. On the first of these rest countless missionary conferences and sermons.

But when you start learning Greek, you notice that the verbal form of πορευθέντες (poreuthentes) is not imperative at all, as “Go ye” would lead one to expect. Nor, in fact, is it a finite verb of any sort. It is an aorist participle, of which the primer-form translation is “having {verb}ed.” So luō is “I loose,” and lusas would be “having loosed,” and so forth.  The imperative aorist in this case would have been πορεύθητι (poreuthēti). So a woodenly literal, first-year-primer translation of the text as it stands would be, “Having gone, therefore, disciple the nations.”

So you think, “Well, I’ll be. So Jesus assumes the going, and solely commands the making of disciples. There is only one command, one commission. The commission isn’t to go, but to disciple.”

The bare grammatical observation, of course, is true. The inference, not so much. That is, the form of the verb is undeniably that of an aorist participle… but the rest does not follow. While I have taught it that way (i.e. only one command) in years past, I’ve come to have third thoughts about the verse.
Repeated readings of Matthew in Greek highlighted to me a facet of Matthew’s style of writing. That brother loved his aorist participles! In making my own rough translation, I was constantly writing, “Having X,” or “after doing X.” In fact, Matthew used this exact construction many times, but with the semantic force of ”do X and Y,” and not of “after doing X, do Y.”

For instance, take Matthew 2:20, where the angel tells Joseph, ”Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” The word translated by the command “Rise” is not grammatically an imperative, but is another aorist participle (γερθεςegertheis).

If one were to be as woodenly literal with this text as I once proposed regarding Matthew 28:19, he would have to render: “After you get up, take the Child and His mother and go into the land of Israel.” How likely is that? Is the angel really saying, “I don’t care when or even whether you get up; but whenever you do get around to rolling out of bed, what I really want you to do is…”? Or is he not instead saying “get up, and go!”

Or again, in Matthew 21:2 the Lord says of the donkey and colt, “Untie them and bring them to me.” But the command “Untie” translates the aorist participle λύσαντες (lusantes). Too literally, once again, it is “After loosing, lead to Me.” But is that really His intent — “Whenever you get around to untying the donkey, here’s what I want you to do”? Or is it not “Untie him, and lead him to Me”?

Check out a couple more, with the word translating an aorist articiple bolded:

Matthew 22:13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him [δήσαντες αὐτοῦ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ἐκβάλετε αὐτὸν ] into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 28:7 Then go quickly and tell [καὶ ταχὺ πορευθεσαι εἴπατε] his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

That last one is very significant for this study, because (A) it comes just shortly before our target-verse, and (B) the form is very similar. If we are going to insist that v. 19 carries no imperative to “go,” then we must say the same of v. 7. (Other examples are found in Matt. 9:18 and 11:14.)

Now, having noticed this, I then checked The Experts. Indeed, Greek Jedi-master Dan Wallace comments on the same phenomenon, referring to this as an “attendant circumstance participle” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 640). Wallace explains:

“The attendant circumstance participle is used to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinate with the finite verb. In this respect it is not dependent, for it is translated like a verb. Yet it is still dependent semanti­cally, because it cannot exist without the main verb. It is translated as a finite verb connected to the main verb by and. The participle then, in effect, ‘piggy-backs’ on the mood of the main verb. This usage is relatively com­mon, but widely misunderstood.”

So in sum, it is true that disciple is the principle command in Matthew 28:19, but the discipling necessitates going. Both are encompassed. After all, the direct object is the nations, and they are principally located elsewhere. The apostles are to disciple the nations and, to do that, they must go. Why must they? Because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, and not merely in Israel (v. 18). He owns it all, He has rights to all of it; therefore, His church must bring the Gospel and His commands through all of it.

And now… you know that!

Dan Phillips.

Dan Phillips!

May I accentuate again that 1) God allowed each author to retain his own character, expertise and peculiarities. 2) This unique character is one of the intrinsic criteria to help us identify the author of a book, or a certain portion of the Bible.

God Bless,


About Herman of bibledifferences.net

The reasons for the differences between older Bibles like the King James Version and newer Bibles like the New International Version have fascinated me ever since my studies in Theology at the University of Pretoria in the seventies. I have great respect for scribes through the ages as well as Bible translators, so there must be good reasons for the differences. With more than 5600 Greek manuscripts and more than 19000 manuscripts of ancient translations to our disposal, the original autographs of the New Testament can be established without doubt. I investigate the reasons behind the differences and publish the facts in a post on my blogs www.bibledifferences.net (Afrikaans: www.bybelverskille.wordpress.com) to enable my readers to judge for themselves. Personally I love to make an informed decision based of facts. That is why I endeavor to provide that same privilege to the readers of my blogs. Since 1973 I am married to my dear wife and greatest friend, Leah Page, founder director of Act-Up Support (www.actup.co.za) a prayer ministry for families struggling with drug-, occult- and other dependencies. We are blessed with two daughters and two sons, four grand sons and two grand daughters. God is alive and omnipotent! Glory to His Name! Herman Grobler.
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