Preliminary Considerations for the Defense of Baptism In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ
Postmodern tendencies away from distinctive doctrinal, and thus competitive, views in the arena of theological ideas must be confronted with a renaissance of fresh affirmation and defense of New Testament baptism rooted in the conviction that Scripture alone, and thus the Apostle’s doctrine, is the sole rule of faith. Oneness Pentecostals have been consistent and “thoroughgoing restorationists” in this regard, insisting that Apostolic practice be followed, regardless of later formulations. Indeed, at times, the Oneness movement is caricatured for this as exclusivistic and sectarian, not so much for insisting upon the originality of the Jesus’ name form, but for the insistence that it matters.
Of course, the Oneness position on baptism, the contention that the name of Jesus in baptism fulfills the Lord’s commission, is also an emphatic substantiation of the doctrine of the absolute Oneness of God and Jesus’ full, unshared Deity. Evidence of the unwarranted alteration in the formula of baptism, in order to accommodate Triune distinctions, is further indication that original doctrinal positions were modified.
But, while such distinctions currently matter to Oneness Pentecostals, perhaps the greatest challenge of our times is the formidable task of transferring a sincere passion for the truth to the next generation of Apostolics. Amidst the prevailing “who cares?” cultural and religious mentality, with its dominance of relative thought and the equality of all belief(s), the Oneness movement must not fail to stir anew that intense love for the name which has been its most distinguishing, promising, and resolute characteristic.
New Testament Significance of the Name
The postmodern shift in theological ideology intensifies the issue over baptism in varied and subtle ways. Historically, for example, attempts have been championed to separate the use or speaking, of the name, from the authority and person of the one named. Such a view is without biblical support and reflects a minimizing of the import of the recurrent New Testament form, and use, of the name. An alleged lack of precise baptismal form is sometimes said to substantiate an assumption that “the name of Jesus” was merely an idiomatic way of speaking of one’s person or authority. But to indicate that form was an imprecise variable, and thus unimportant, or even nonexistent, shifts the debate considerably.
It is true that the erroneous assumption—that, as long as the one named is intended as the authority of an act, it makes little or no difference what one says—would necessarily apply also to the Triune form. The subtle and increasingly accepted implication is that either no formula whatsoever existed, or that there was no set formula that mattered. This goes far beyond the creedal debate as to which is original, but ignores as irrelevant, or eradicates, any Apostolic precedent and practice, the basis of the Oneness contention.
But it also ignores the historical reality. A rigorous exception should be made to the rejection of the significance of the New Testament use of the phrase “in the name” with reference to baptism and the working of miracles as unique to the name of Jesus and Christian practice. These are core, not peripheral, issues to Jesus’ name theology. As such, the Oneness position takes strong issue with the assertion that the expression “in the name” has no actual reference to a name, but only to an authority.
The overwhelming sense is that the New Testament church was very literally a people of the name, who used Jesus’ name uniquely, prominently, and powerfully, and of whom God said: “upon whom my name is called.” The use of “this name” was a prominent aspect of their “doctrine.” The issue was a specific name, unapologetically and boldly preached, for which they “hazarded their lives,” and for which they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer.” To magnify His name was to magnify Jesus.
The emphasis on the name makes no sense, theologically or historically, apart from the corresponding use of the name Jesus itself. It is not as though you can disregard the use of the name in baptism or elsewhere, and maintain the theological cohesion of the Apostolic intention and truth. Nor is it hair-splitting to insist upon the distinctive Apostolic doctrine and practice and resistance to the casual dismissal of Apostolic precedence. There is simply no legitimacy to the assumption that the Apostles needed to speak the name, baptize in the name, and suffer for the name, but that others are exempt, superior, and without need of the same necessity.
For example, the power of God was manifest in the actual words–“in the name of Jesus”—as they were spoken. They did not just act in Christ’s authority, for in what other authority would they be acting? But they said: Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: in () the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And, note, that is used, not imprecisely, but interchangeably here with “by what name” in Acts 4:7. In awe and “joy” they recognized that “the devils are subject unto us through () Thy name,” for their understanding of its power came from the Lord Himself. “Ye shall be hated of all nations,” Jesus said, “for (, because of) my name’s sake.”
The Hebraic Influence Upon the Greek
The Jewish emphasis upon the name of the Lord, with all of its ramifications and usage, anticipated the New Testament invocation of the name of Jesus characteristic of the Book of Acts and the early church. Certainly, the Hebraic reverence for the name exceeded mere reference to authority: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” has to do with the use of the name, etc. Such an emphasis, upon the use of the name, is intensified in the dynamic of New Testament name theology.
Perhaps it was the theological move away from single formula baptism that hindered the recognition of the obvious—the Apostolic use of the name followed the familiar Hebraic pattern regarding the name of God. This Jewish Christian usage of the Greek, had a determinative effect upon the Greek, the forms, the cases, and the varied prepositions when used with (in the name), as well as the almost interchangeable use of and .
The New Testament Greek paralleled the Septuagint, which in turn reflected the Hebrew. Due to this influence, as Bauer notes regarding the use of , for example, “no corresponding use has been found in secular Greek.” And note the use of in the dative, which represents a unique Greek usage, as Bauer suggests, a use “only of the name of Jesus.” That usage is the actual invoking of the name Jesus – “in the name.”
The Hebraic, Old Testament influence upon the important issue of the name is seen, not only with respect to “in the name of,” “naming,” etc., but in “calling upon the name” – , or varied compounds. “Call” is used “Hebraistically… to call upon by pronouncing the name Jehovah.” In the LXX, it is “used very often for .” The New Testament usage of the expression “calling on the name” is often an exact parallel to the Hebraic Old Testament sense of calling out the sacred name – “O, Lord my God.”
“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon () God, and saying, Lord Jesus,” Acts 7:59. To “call upon the name of the Lord” often meant to literally call, or speak, or say the name Yahweh, in spite of the fact that centuries later Jews came to regard the name as ineffable. For example, God “proclaimed the name of the Lord” by invoking it over Moses: “The Lord passed by him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God.” “Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech Thee.”
The Hebraic Influence in Key Elements Relative to Baptism
The Apostles’ use of “in the name,” with the varied prepositional constructions, reflects the signifying of the actual words and the name spoken in baptism. Thus, “in the name” signified the invoking of the name:
“in () the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38); “in () the name of the Lord Jesus (8:16); “in () the name of the Lord” (10:48); “in () the name of the Lord Jesus” (19:5).
Whether in baptism or works of miraculous power, the recurrent use of “in the name” signified both the means by which they used the name, actual invocation and the power and authority of the One named.
…some influence: ‘while naming’ or ‘calling on my name’…. An additional factor, to a degree, may be… ‘with mention of the name’…. of God or Jesus means in the great majority of cases with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name (LXX no corresponding use has been found in secular Gk.) … , and the dat. …when someone’s name is mentioned or called upon, or mentioning someone’s name…. in the NT only of the name of Jesus.
Baptism “In The Name” and the Question of Formula
The Oneness contention is that New Testament baptism was administered exclusively in the name of Jesus—signifying the original and the fixed formula and that any alteration in the Apostolic mode and form of baptism for any reason is unwarranted and without biblical justification. Quite telling is the fact that the common recurrence of the “in the name” is used with respect to baptism, but without a single reference substituting “in the authority of.” This attests to the fact that “in the name of Jesus” signifies the words of the actual form (or formula) used in the waters of baptism, always and exclusively with reference to the singular name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The history of creedal development also suggests the originality of the single-name form as over against the tripartite form. Of course, the use of “in the name” in Matthew 28:19 reflects the singular form, but not the later claim to the originality of repeating the Matthean words. Calvin’s claim that the tripartite form is original, rejecting the preponderance of single form passages, represents the classic belief in the superiority of a Triune form: I maintain that Peter is not speaking in this passage [Acts 2:38] of the form of baptism. . . It is not a fixed formula of baptism that is being dealt with here.
A discrepancy does not exist between the Matthean text and the preponderance of texts relative to the Jesus’ name formula or between Jesus and His Apostles (Mt 16:13-20; Jn 17:30; Acts 2:37, 4). The Apostles, in full agreement, invoked the name in baptism intended by the Matthean phrase—by invoking the name Jesus. Signifying a single reference (Mt 28:19) as the solitary formula—on the basis of divine titles or a corroboration of Triune dogma—ignores the preponderance of texts evidencing the single form.
A Triune form was simply not in use in the early church. Any later development, the alteration of the baptismal practice of the Apostles, and the supplanting and excluding the Jesus’ name formula, constitute unwarranted violations of Apostolic authority and cannot stand on par with Scriptural baptism.
Historical Evidence for the Originality of the Jesus’ Name Formula
Indeed, strong evidence and wide support for the acknowledgment of the originality of Jesus’ name baptism include the exclusive reference to Jesus in the earliest creeds, or kerygma, as noted by historians such as C. H. Dodd, J. N. D. Kelly, and others. The earliest creeds were clearly non-Triune, such as , “Jesus is Lord.”
It will be noticed that the confessions which crop up most frequently in the New Testament are the single-clause christological ones. On the basis of this, it has been argued that the single-clause creeds represent the authentic faith of the primitive Church.
In 1520, Luther wrote: Others, again, pedantic triflers, condemn the use of the words, ‘I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ’ —Although it is certain that the Apostles used this formula in baptizing.
This is precisely the crux of the matter: “It is certain that the Apostles used this formula.” Why, then, any debate, why any other mode or formula? “There is little doubt,” writes Lars Hartman, “that baptism was practiced by the first Christians… given ‘into the name of Jesus… If this be so, then the combination of baptism and the formula just quoted brings us down to a very primitive phase of the life of the early church.”
And, in his A History of Christian Thought, Heich stated: While this perfectly Trinitarian faith may be taken as a matrix from which a recognized formula . . . eventually issued, it does not mean that baptism was being administered in the name of the triune God at that time. At first, baptism was in the name of Christ.
A Consideration of the Textual Construction of Some Key Passages (The Name Above Every Name: Phil 2:9-10)
One of the most significant passages concerning the name is Philippians 2:9-10. Some, including my own Greek language degree advisor, Gerald Hawthorne, have taken issue with “Jesus” being the name “above every name,” due to the use of the genitive. “At () the name of Jesus” (2:10) renders as a typical possessive genitive, implying that Jesus possesses an exalted name, other than “Jesus” itself, most probably “lord”().
But the Hebraic influence prevailed, so that “in the name of,” without the need for a specific dative, borrowing from the Hebrew sense, carried the force of the Greek dative. Therefore, Jesus is used in the identical construction in which the name of Yahweh, or Lord, often meant the name Yahweh itself. This is apparent, for example, in the matter of fact usage of the genitive with the names Jesus , Lord , and Christ , with no possessive intent. This is the obvious understanding in the Acts accounts of the name Jesus. If the dative were required, as with “for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (each genitive), the implication would be that He possessed yet another name than Jesus, Lord, or Christ—for which they hazarded their lives!
The exalted name is Jesus, and not His title Lord or Christ . “Lord” is Who He is, but Jesus is His name. His name was so exalted, honored, and specific, that it could even be referred to simply as “the name” or “that worthy name.”
The tremendous Oneness implications should be noted in the fact that every knee bows to the Lord (Yahweh, Isa 45:23) God Himself “at the name of Jesus,” which is “to the glory of” the Father. The theology of the name was in direct keeping with the Old Testament: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name; O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth,” (Psalm 8:1; 103:1). And, indeed, the name upon the lips of the impassioned first church was not Buddha, nor Allah, nor any other name than—the name Jesus itself.
Salvation Is In The Name: Ac 4:12; Eph 1:21; 1 Pet 3:20-21
The Acts account places enormous emphasis upon the saving implications of the name, using a rare triple negative for stress: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other.” This is hardly soft-peddling their stress on Jesus’ name. Rather, it precludes any name or salvation apart from Jesus, for His name is “above” all, and “far above” “every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” The use of the neuter, , emphasizes that reference is to the name itself, which is stressed twice, “none other name” . And “whereby” shows the agency of the name, or ‘by which’ salvation “must” come . Literally, ‘by which it is necessary for us to be saved.”
Strong language indeed, especially when taken with the baptismal references in Acts and the stress, elsewhere, upon the essentiality of the water. Peter places such strong emphasis upon the saving aspect of baptism that he refers to the “water,” not the Ark, as the element by which “eight souls were saved.” And the Flood and baptism are not both figures or types, but only one is a “like figure” , or, literally, ‘which is even a figure.’ Noah’s salvation prefigured the reality that “baptism doth also now save us.”
Remission Of Sins Is In The Name: 1 Pet 3:20-21; Ac 2:38; Jn 3:5
The parallel elsewhere concerning the washing, cleansing, and remitting elements of baptism is consistent with Peter’s parenthetical statement that baptism is not an outward “putting away of the filth of the flesh” (contrasted with the inward washing). Rather than outwardly removing , or dirt, baptism affects the inward man, as the “answer of a good conscience toward God.” Literally, ‘a plea to God for a good conscience,’ with the objective genitive.
Baptism, therefore, is not merely some outward symbol, but is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), and, thus, an integral element in the New Birth experience of salvation. The use of the Greek preposition conjoined with remission, , is the strongest statement as to the efficacy of baptism in the name of Jesus. “For” (), with its forward directional implications, such as ‘to, into, toward,’ means ‘in order to (access)’ remission (i.e. the blood was shed “for the remission of sins,” Mt 26:28). But never means ‘because of’ remission already received.
Jesus stated: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” And, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The lack of the article (or anarthrous use, ) with either “water” or “Spirit” is consistent with reference to one new birth, with related elements of water and Spirit. The typical manner of indicating separate items joined with , that is, two separate, unrelated births, one flesh, and the other Spirit, would be articular.
Invoking the Name of Jesus In Baptism: Ac 22:16 and Ja 2:7
Every significant element regarding the relationship of baptism and the name of Jesus are highlighted in Acts 22:16: “Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Most significant is the use of in the specific aorist middle participle : invoke, call upon, call by name, appeal to, etc. The use of the middle, rather than the usual passive, parallels the two prior middles, and , both aorist middle imperatives. The middles stress here the subject’s participatory role: not ‘baptize yourself,’ or ‘wash your own sins away,’ but ‘get yourself baptized and have your sins washed away.’ Therefore, the participle follows similarly: ‘have the name called over yourself!” Powerful wording in any language.
Clearly, “calling on the name,” has reference to the actual name used in baptism, in parallel to calling and invoking the name of God in the Old Testament. The power of the name rests in the power of the One so named. James could simply refer to it as “that worthy name,” even as Paul knew his hearers would know Who was crucified for them, and, thus, in Whose name they were baptized. Interestingly, unbelievers even tried to imitate calling of “the name of the Lord Jesus” overpeople.
James’ reference to “that worthy name,” certainly, is with respect to the name of Jesus, honored and reverenced, as well as invoked in water baptism. “Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” Again, the use of , call or invoke, in the aorist passive participle form signifies the naming or speaking the actual name. But James adds , actually stressing the idea of the invoking as being over or upon someone.
The idea is weakened and misses the point of the prepositional construction if the supposition is that one is named ‘by’ the name ‘Christ,’ as when called a Christian. Not ‘by you,’ but ‘over or upon you.’ The name “by the which ye are called” (Ja 2:7) is, literally, “which has been called over you!” Of course, a Christianity which no longer invoked the name over believers, nor was attentive to the significance of the name of Jesus, especially regarding baptism, would have missed the significance of James’ statement as well.
From “A Response to Ockham’s Razor With A Vengeance”
The Significance of ‘In the Name of Jesus’ As a Formula. “Ockham’s Razor” indicts Oneness Pentecostals for accepting the formula for baptism ‘in the name of Jesus’ by con-tending that, undoubtedly, there is no formula for baptism, or at least not a fixed formula. In order to sustain this conclusion two crucial assertions are advanced: (1) the form ‘in the name’ does not represent an invoking of the name ‘Jesus’ and (2) the term ‘in the name’ is to be comprehended as merely idiomatic. The Greek text, it is asserted, validates both propositions.
First, the essence of the meaning of ‘formula’, if it can be applied to baptism (and in-deed it has been and is so applied), implies a fixity. That is to say, if baptism has a form, that essential form is therefore not open to alteration. And, scholarship concerning creedal development indicates, decidedly, that the form of baptism with reference to Jesus, ‘in the name of Jesus,’ came to be replaced by baptism in the name of the Trinity.
Therefore, it appears that the shift occurred toward a Trinitarian emphasis and away from the christological emphasis. The evidence of the patristics and the long history of Christianity itself reveal considerable development of dogma and creed. But what is fundamental here is the development of baptismal formulae, and especially the tripartite formula. Schlink suggests that the triune development was “an important supplement to the name of Jesus” and “this unfolding of the name of Jesus became all the more necessary with the more the Gospel advanced beyond Palestine to other areas where faith in the one God was unknown.”
“Most probably Baptism was originally performed upon (in) the name of Christ and this was later expanded, as in the expansion of the Christological confession into the tripartite creeds.” Bousset, in Kyrios Christos, and H. A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, state concurring conclusions, with Wolfson adding: “Undoubtedly then the baptismal formula originally consisted of one part and it gradually developed into its tripartite form.”
As to the question of the Greek text relevant to baptism ‘in the name’ and the invoking of the name Jesus, again, the issue is two-fold. First, does the use of ‘in the name’ in the baptism statements intend to represent instructions for the actual words that were to be called over the baptismal candidate? Or, does it represent only idiomatic phraseology referring to authority, a synecdoche simply meaning Jesus Himself ownership, and/or other linguistic meanings?
The idiomatic significance and connotation apropos to the understanding and translation of the text is very important, allowing insight into meanings and nuances intended by the original writer. And Oneness writers adequately take this into consideration, for a wealth of scholarship exists with respect to the Greek language, idiomatic aspects included. But idiomatic nuances with respect to the baptismal statements are neither sufficient explanations of the repeated use of the form ‘in the name,’ nor are they taken to represent the primary meaning of the use of ‘in the name’.
Idiomatic understanding of the phrase is inadequate to explain the total import of the baptism rite as described in the New Testament. Rather, the significant, primary understanding of ‘in the name’ is that it represents the form of that which was spoken in the rite of baptism. Such a conclusion is consistent with the witness of the New Testament.
This article originally appeared in the Journal of the Apostolic Theological Forum published by the Apostolic Theological Forum in 2006, click here if you would like to purchase the journal. The article in its original form contains a wealth of footnotes, far too complicated and numerous for this blog’s format. I am happy to pass those on to anyone who is interested. My father, Dr. Talmadge French, has also written a wonderfully helpful, best-selling, and concise tract on Jesus’ name baptism as well as several other great works. I have included a link for those here. Please note, if you Greek scholars find any discrepancies in the Greek text it is likely an error on my part, transitioning the text into this blog format was tedious to say the least.