Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Great Commission, continued

Historically, the “as you go” interpretation is not born out, either. When you read Acts, is the picture of a group of disciples just going about their daily lives and as people come across them they make them into disciples? At first, maybe. But eventually, they intentionally “go” out and disciple the known world. It took them a while to understand this teaching by Jesus since their Jewish roots would resist this “going out.” Therefore, whether or not “go” is an imperative (a command) depends on the main verb, which in this verse is “make disciples.” Since “make disciples” is an imperative, then “go” functions like an imperative. This DOES NOT mean that “go” IS an imperative, just that it functions like an imperative.
In Matthew 2:8, the magi are told to “go and search” for Jesus. They were unable to “search” until they had “gone.” While only “search” is an imperative, “go” is an “implied imperative” because they had to “go” in order to “search.” In Matthew 17:27, Peter is told to “go to the sea and throw in a hook.” The only command is “throw,” but he can’t “throw” until he “goes.” Therefore, he must first “go” in order to “throw.” “Go” is, again, an implied command. It must be done in order for what follows it to be obeyed. So, back to Matthew 28:19: “Therefore, go and make disciples …” Using the logic derived from the other verses in Matthew that contain this construction, the disciples were not able to “make disciples” until they “go.” In other words, they must “go.”
So, if you are of the mind that the Great Commission applies to us and not just the disciples, then we must “go” in order to make disciples. However, the “go” is NOT the emphasis of the command. The emphasis is on “make disciples.” If someone was teaching or preaching on this passage, they should spend very little time on “go” and a lot of time on “make disciples.” It is saying too much to say that because the word “go” functions imperatively that we have a command for missions or evangelism; it is saying too little to say that it is a suggestion, as in “as you go” or “when you go.” What should be the focus? The two other participles that follow “make disciples” are means, or as I like to call them, adverbial instrumental participles. The construction is not the same as above as they are present participles, not aorist participles.
Remember that participles cannot stand on their own; they need a main verb, which in this verse is “make disciples.” These participles are the instruments whereby disciples are made. So, “by baptizing,” and “by teaching.” Therefore, the translation “go and make disciples” is the best way to translate the verse. The emphasis is on making disciples utilizing two tools: baptism and teaching. These are the two tools of discipleship and are, therefore, extremely important for the church to carry out and do correctly.Three other thoughts: First, there is a category of adverbial participles called “imperatival participles.” It is possible that all of the “go” participles in Matthew are imperatival participles. However, these participles are extremely rare in the New Testament and hardly any New Testament scholar recognizes these participles as imperatival, though it is possible. Second, I should add that D. A. Carson in his Matthew commentary in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary says that the participles “baptizing” and“teaching” “cannot” be instrumental/means. He says the connection between the participles (teaching, baptizing) and the main verb (make disciples) is inconclusive or non-specific. I still think the instrumental/means connection is correct. Daniel Wallace (mentioned above) does think they are participles of means.

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