Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Great Commission

Many times sermons been preached on Matthew 28:18-20 and I've been asked on my take on this much (ab)used passage. I will try to explain this somewhat complex and controversial construction in the simplest way I can . . . but unfortunately, it will take longer to do so. For those who know Greek: please be patient. For those who do not know Greek: I only promise that I’ll try to put it on the bottom shelf.
The participle “go” is considered an attendant circumstance participle, meaning it “is used to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinatewith the finite verb” (see Wallace's Greek Grammar, 640). The formula for an attendant circumstance participle (I know this sounds technical, but keep reading) is as follows: aorist participle + aorist main verb (typically an indicative or imperative). The aorist participle needs to come first. In Matthew 28:19, “go” is an aorist participle that comes before the aorist main verb: “make disciples” (which is one word in the Greek). There are five examples in Matthew of an aorist participle of the same verb for “go” in Matthew 28:19 (in Greek, “poreuomai”) followed by aorist imperatives … this is every example of this construction that I could find inMatthew. 2:8, “And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come andworship Him.'” 9:13, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 11:4, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and report to John what you hear and see'. 17:27, “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” 28:7, “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” Realize that a participle cannot stand on its own … it needs a main verb. For example, the following is not a complete sentence: “running to the store.” But, add a main verb, “I am,” and it is a complete sentence: “I am running to the store.” The word “running” is like the Greek participle; participles need main verbs; they are connected to them syntactically. When someone interprets “go” as “as you are going” or “when you go,” they are interpreting “go” as an adverbial temporal participle (there are three main categories of participles in Greek: substantival, adjectival, adverbial [there are many sub-categories of adverbial participles]). While many participles are adverbial, let’s see what happens when we insert “as you are going” or “when you go” into two of the examples of this particular construction in Matthew. Matthew 11:4 would then read: Jesus answered and said to them, “As you go, report to John …” That seems possible, but doesn’t the context of Matthew 11:4 sound more like a command? Is Jesus saying that the disciples should just go about their daily lives and if they happen to run into John then to give him a report? The context is decidedly against this. That makes it sound more like a suggestion. But the context of Matthew 11:4, and particularly Matthew 28:7, is of a command: “And as you go quickly, tell His disciples.” Surely the inclusion of the adverb “quickly” demonstrates the urgency of what is said (the context is a resurrection appearance of Jesus). The context is definitely against the temporal idea (“as you go”) and strongly supports the attendant circumstance idea: an implied command to “go.” To be continued …