Last Sunday as I was preparing to teach GD I noticed an odd footnote associated with the word “teaching” in Mt 28:20. This verse is part of a larger passage, the Great Commission of the First Gospel. The speaker is the resurrected Jesus and the occasion is his departure. This is the text in the AV:
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsover I have command you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
This is one of the most theologically dense passages in the entire Gospel so I was not surprised to find various footnotes. But I was surprised to find this particular footnote, associated with the second occurrence of the word “teaching” in v. 20:
The Greek text suggest this would be post-baptismal teaching.
Weird, eh? That’s definitely not an answer to any of the first ten or so questions that spring to mind when reading the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel! So what gives?
Now I am not sure I have all the parts to this puzzle but I have turned up a few interesting things. These points suggest that the author of that footnote is carrying on an intertextual dialogue in a larger debate over missionary efforts in the Protestant world.
Notice that the verb “to teach” occurs twice in this passage. The second occurrence reflects a translation of dida,skontej which is the usual word translated “teaching.” The Greek behind the first word, however, is maqhteu,sate which is transitive and should be translated as “make disciples.” So a better translation reads:
19Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you:
Now I have always understood that this injunction was leveled on Christians regardless of the era in which they live but I have learned that this is not universal. In fact, at the end of the 18th century the marjority opinion seems to have been that it was not a binding command. The name associated with the sea change in this state of mind is William Carey. When he spoke on this subject at a meeting of Baptist ministers in 1787, the presiding officer, Dr. John Ryland, is reported to have said “Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen nations he will do it without your help or mine.” Some years later, however, Dr. Rylands became one of Carey’s supporters.
Another facet of this debate over missionary work in the Protestant world apparently has (had) to do with what exactly was required to “make disciples.” Specifically, the questions posed had to do with whether the person being evangelized had to be joined to a local church or if the Commission was fulfilled by lesser efforts such as street preaching, the distribution of tracts, or an accepted invitation to prayer. This seems to be at least part of what stands behind the Protestant terms “churched” and “unchurched.”
So it would appear that the author of that footnote has taken a position in the Protestant debate. The Commission to make disciples is fulfilled by baptism, which joins a proselyte to a local church, and then by a period of post-baptismal instruction in which the new member is taught the demands of discipleship by the leaders of his or her local church.
And that, FWIW, seems to be what is behind the odd footnote associated with the word “teaching” in Mt 28:20. If you can fill in more of the details, however, please do so!