Thursday, June 4, 2020

Galilean Rendezvous

Galilean Rendezvous

The following is a rough translation and some initial comments on Matthew 28:16-20, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the Sunday after Pentecost, also called “Trinity Sunday.”
Matthew follows Mark in saying that Jesus had – before his death - planned a meeting with the disciples at a specific place in Galilee. In Mark’s original ending, the women at the tomb are to tell Peter and the disciples to meet Jesus there, but they say nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Later Markan scribes added to the story, presumably because that is such an unsatisfying ending. Matthew has a different ending, with the eleven meeting Jesus as they had planned.
The context of c.28 seems important to me. Verses 1-10 have the resurrection story, ending with Jesus telling Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to go and tell the disciples to meet him as they planned. Verses 11-15 have (IMHO) an interlude, to deal with the matter of the soldiers’ lie that the disciples had removed Jesus’ body. Verse 15 shows that the rumor continued to be an issue for Matthew’s community many years later. Then, verses 16-20 tell of the meeting itself. My point is that vv. 16-20 read in continuity with vv.1-10.

For a sermon based on vv. 11-20, emphasizing this text's connection with Easter, you can read what I preached in 2013 here

16 Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ 
ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς  Ἰησοῦς,
Yet the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus appointed to them,
ἐπορεύθησαν: API 3p, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey
ἐτάξατο: AMI 3s, τάσσω, 1) to put in order, to station 1a) to place in a certain order, to arrange, to assign a  place, to appoint.      
1. The verb τάσσω (appointed) suggests that this place and meeting is a rendezvous. Verse 7 and verse 10 have an angel then Jesus telling the women to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee. All of this seems pre-arranged.
2. The verb πορεύομαι (went) here is the root of the participle in v.19 (having gone) that I will reference below.

 17 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν, οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν.
and having seen [him] they worshiped [him], yet they doubted.
ἰδόντες: AAPart npm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes 2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
προσεκύνησαν: AAI 3p, προσκυνέω, 1) to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence 
ἐδίστασαν: AAI 3p, διστάζω, 1) to doubt, waiver
1. Of which verb is αὐτὸν (him) the object, ἰδόντες (having seen) or προσεκύνησαν (worshiped) or both? Obviously in the meaning of the verse the ‘him’ is the object of both the seeing and the worshiping. My question has to do with the more strict translation question of where to place the ‘him’ or whether to duplicate it.
2. Many translations make this “they saw” and “but some doubted.” The “they” is the implied subject of the 3rd person plural verb προσεκύνησαν (worshipped). The “some” is the curious translation. There is a pronoun here and it is οἱ, which is an extremely common substantive pronoun, the antecedent of which is ‘the eleven disciples’ of v.16. It seems like a bit of a stretch to reduce the pronoun and its fairly clear antecedent to “some.” Kudos to the New American Bible (translated by the US Council of Bishops), which renders: “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” That, to me, seems to be the meaning, not that some of them were all in and some of them were not.
3. Worship and doubt are coexistent in this verse. Again I say, worship and doubt are coexistent in this verse.

 18 καὶ προσελθὼν  Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς.
And having approached, Jesus spoke to them while saying, “All authority in heaven and on [the] earth was given to me.
προσελθὼν: AAPart nsm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach  2) draw near to  3) to assent to
ἐλάλησεν: AAI 3s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak  2a) to use the tongue or the faculty of speech 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain  1b) to teach  1c) to exhort, advise, to command, direct
Ἐδόθη: API 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone  2a) of one's own accord to give one something, to his advantage
Mt 28:18 - ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς; Mt. 6:10 ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς·
1. The two aorist participles followed by aorist verbs in vv.17-18 seem to be staging the story: “Having seen him, they worshiped and doubted” then “Having approached, he said.” It could be that in v.17, they see Jesus ascending the path up to their rendezvous spot and that is when they worship and doubt. Then, in v.18 Jesus gets to the spot and speaks.
2. I’m not sure why the simple aorist passive Ἐδόθη (was given) gets translated as if it were in the perfect tense (has been given) in many translations. Perhaps it just reads more smoothly that way.

 19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς 
εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος,
Therefore, having gone, disciple all the nations, while baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit,   
πορευθέντες: APPart, nmpl, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey  1b) to depart from life  1c) to follow one, that is: become his adherent  1c1) to lead or order one's life  
μαθητεύσατε: AAImp 2p, μαθητεύω, 1) to be a disciple of one  1a) to follow his precepts and instructions  2) to make a disciple
βαπτίζοντες: PAPart npm, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk) 
1. “Disciple” (aorist active imperative, μαθητεύσατε) is the only imperative in this verse. The word “Go” is not an imperative, but another aorist participle followed by an aorist verb, the same pattern as in vv.17-18. Young’s Literal Translation is the only one I know of that follows this pattern over these three verses.
2. Matthew uses the verbal form of “to disciple” three times: 13:52 (“every scribe having been discipled into the reign of God”), 27:57 (Joseph of Arimathea, who was also himself disciple to Jesus”), and here. The only other instance of the verb in the NT is in Acts 14:21.

 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ 
μεθ' ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος. 
while teaching them to attend to all that I commanded to you; and behold I am with you all the days even to the completion of the age.
διδάσκοντες : PAPart npm, διδάσκω, 1) to teach  1a) to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them,  deliver didactic discourses
τηρεῖν: PAInf, τηρέω, 1) to attend to carefully, take care of  1a) to guard  1b) metaph. to keep, one in the state in which he is  1c) to observe  1d) to reserve: to undergo something
ἐνετειλάμην: AMI 1s, ἐντέλλομαι, 1) to order, command to be done, enjoin  
συντελείας: gsf, συντέλεια, 1) completion, consummation, end; 2) a bringing to one end together; the combination of parts to one end, marking the unity, perfection, and accomplishment of a scheme
1. If the disciples are to teach all that Jesus had commanded them, the question arises: What has Jesus “commanded” (ἐντέλλομαι) them?  Mt. 17:9 is only use of Jesus ‘commanding’: “And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.” My suggestion would be that this is a reference to the teaching on the mountain in chapters 5-7 (the so-called Sermon on the Mount). That setting on a mountain, in cc.5-7 and in this text, places Jesus in a similar position to Moses, who went up onto the mountain to receive instruction from God that was given in the law.
2. The infinitive “to attend to” (τηρέω) is the same word used to describe the work of the guards who were watching over Jesus’ tomb (28:4). The NIV has “obey.”

I don’t know why this text gets privileged as “the Great Commission.” It is captivating as Jesus’ last words to the disciples in Matthew’s gospel, but for three reasons I think it is best not to refer to it as the Great Commission.

1. Almost every translation makes the verb “go” in v.19 into the command or the imperative of this “commission.” The problem, per the translation of v.19 above, is that the verb there appears as a participle, not an imperative. It should read, “As you go …” or better “Having gone …” (since it is an aorist participle). Throughout this chapter the verb πορεύω (to go) appears in vv. 7 (2x - “having gone,” aorist participle and “he goes” active indicative), 11 (“as they were going”, present participle), 16 (“they went,” aroist), and here. If it is translated as if it were an imperative, “Go …” then this indeed sounds like a commission. The imperative of v.18, however, is not “go” but the verb “disciple.” For a longer argument on this point, see my book Talking About Evangelism, c.2.

2. I believe that the way Matthew tells of this event points to the priority of the “Sermon on the Mount” as the text that ought to be privileged. The very intentional meeting place, set on the mountain, seems to reinforce the priority of that teaching, to me. Otherwise, if the point of discipleship is simply to make more disciples – without the radical vision of a new way of life as described in the Sermon on the Mount – then there is no ‘there’ there. The zeal of evangelism would simply be to accumulate the largest team, or to simply ensure life in heaven after death. That would be completely contrary to the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

3. By calling this “the Great Commission,” I think we miss what this text about Jesus. The words “All authority in heaven and on [the] earth was given to me” and “behold I am with you all the days even to the completion of the age” bracket the words to the disciples. It raises what I hope is a meaningful question: Is the primary point here that we are commissioned and, therefore, Jesus’ words about himself are encouraging for us? Or, is the primary point here that Jesus even now has all authority in heaven and earth and even now is with us to the end of the age, so that to disciple others by perpetuating his teachings is how we respond to his authority and presence? I think calling this text “the Great Commission” shows a preference for the first alternative, while I think the second is preferred. 


  1. Hi Mark,

    I've been trying to post comments for a few weeks - so far unsuccessfully. So, I'm going to try something different (brilliant, I know), and see if that works.

    I'm interested in the idea of baptizing in this passage. Jesus suggesting that the 11 "disciple" people while baptizing seems odd given the relatively small role baptism played in Jesus' own ministry. He never baptized people, except possibly with the holy spirit as John said he would.

    It seems so clear to me that this is an interest of Matthew's, not Jesus'. Yet it became (and has remained) so central to Christians. And presumably the baptism of which Matthew and the early Christians spoke was akin to the baptism John offered…not Jesus (with the addition, I guess, of doing it in the name of the F, S, and HS).

    This concerns me mostly because of the role baptism has played over the years in conversion - especially when coupled with making disciples of all the nations. Anyway, I'm curious about the move from baptism being relatively unimportant in Jesus' ministry here on earth to being extremely important to the early Christians.


  2. Hi Kirsten,

    Whatever you did has worked. It's great to hear from you.

    I've always assumed that, because of the trinitarian formula, the baptism part of this commission reflected the practice of the Matthean community, rather than Jesus' own preaching and teaching. For Matthew's text, baptism is mentioned in c.3 with respect to John's baptism and his baptizing Jesus. Then, it's mentioned in c.20 metaphorically (vv.22-23) with respect to Jesus' "baptism" (and "cup") in which the disciples must share. The metaphor seems to be a reference to Jesus' forthcoming suffering, not water itself or wine itself. And, as you pointed out, throughout the gospels and Acts the difference between John and Jesus is the difference between baptism of water and baptism of the Spirit, with the latter being the greater.

    Then, there's this reference. What are we to make of it? And what are we to make of baptizing in the name of the one who did not baptize?

    My only way of making sense of it is to see it as a later development in the Matthean community, which is not directly connected to what Jesus taught the disciples or practiced himself. Paul speaks of being baptized as a way of participating in the life and death of Jesus (Rm.6). I think Matthew's community saw the activity of baptizing itself as a way of participating in the teachings and ministry of Jesus. (Obviously one needs a baptizing community in order for people to be baptized, so this is not an either/or but difference emphases. Curiously, Paul also did not baptize with any regularity. )

    My suspicion is that any time we see a reference to the sacraments in the NT, we are seeing a theology and practice that is in process - its practice is taken for granted, but its specific meaning is being negotiated.

    Hope you are well.

  3. One more thought. I don't know how Matthew fits in here, but I've often thought there was a substantial difference between John's practice of baptism and Paul's theology of baptism. For John, it was baptism for the remission of sins, replete with repentance. For Paul, it seems to have a larger meaning, a way of participating in the death and resurrection of Christ. Again, those are not necessarily exclusive of one another, but they are different. I don't know how Matthew sees it, but I suspect it is different from both John and Paul in some ways.

  4. Mark-

    Regarding "some doubted." I noted the same thing in my translation, but think the decision on the part of the NRSV translators and many others relates to it being a predicate nominative. A predicate nominative is considered a subset of the subject nominative (Wallace). I think if they were meant equally, the phrasing would have been different. The notion that they all worshiped and they all doubted is tantalizing though. Lisa P.

  5. Lisa,
    Yes, that's a tough one. There is a fine article by P.W. van der Horst entitled, “Once More: The Translation of oi δέ in Matthew 28:17” where he makes the following observations about how this is translated:

    Existing translations divide roughly into three categories: 1. 'When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted'; in this translation (the most usual one) oi δέ refers to some of the disciples. AV, RSV, NEB, NIV, GNB, JB, etc., and many commentaries.

    2. 'When they saw him, they worshipped him, but they doubted; in this translation oi δέ refers to all of the disciples. K. Grayston, 'The Translation of Matthew 28.17', JSNT 21 (1984), , and the commentaries of Lohmeyer, Grandmami, Bonnard, and others noted by Grayston; also A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York, 1919) p. 694

    3. 'When they saw him, they worshipped him, but others doubted; in this translation oi δέ refers to persons other than the disciples. Some mss. of the Vetus Latina; also F. Blass-A. Debrunner-F.
    Rehkopfj Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch (Göttingen, 1976), p. 201 (S250).

    The problem is, of course for, (1) that there is no corresponding oi μέν in the first half of the sentence, (2) that the following verses do not give any indication of doubt on the part of the disciples, (3) that nowhere in the context is there any indication that persons other than the disciples (who are mentioned in v. 16 and are unambiguously the grammatical subject of προσεκόνησαν in v. 17) are involved.

    Eventually van der Horst opts for #1, but I don't find his arguments to be ultimately persuasive.

    For me, it's an open question. At the most, I want to recognize that the interpreters face a choice and opt for a resolution, but cannot fully rule out other possibilities.

    Good to hear from you,

  6. Greetings,
    I'm reading this in light of my recent work reading scholars studying of the political consequences of being a Christian in the time of Tiberius Caesar and then Nero, when belonging to a Christian ekklesia meant not being part of the "ekkelsia" endorsed by Rome. There was a real cost to be born to worship a Son of God who'd died on a cross, the symbol of Roman power and supremacy. I'm therefore struck the idea that in verse 17, it can be translated as that "all of them saw, worshipped and doubted," at the same time. Why wouldn't you have doubts about who to worship in that world? Paul in his own story had more than doubt as he was violently hostile to those who saw and worshipped Jesus. And then in verse 18 Jesus speaks of having "All authority in heaven and on earth." Hello? Was Caesar listening in to this passage? As the closing of Matthew's gospel, I think implies, at least in part, those being discipled (in its verbal context) were exchanging the authority of one King for another. (And if they weren't making a complete exchange of one Lord for the other, then they were making compromises, which may be at the core of what Paul was dealing with when he was writing to the Galatians. I think there are also clear echoes of Monotheism in this passage, meaning it's rootedness in the Mosaic traditions, as it finds its echoes in the concluding concepts of "teaching", "obedience", and "command." Once more the question faced as a disciple is "Whose law (nomos) do you follow?"
    The Rev. Dr. George Martin, Pacific Palisades CA

  7. Thanks, George, this is marvelous work and a lot to consider in the translation and preaching of this text.
    Thanks again,

  8. Mark,
    Although my NT Greek classes were many years ago, your thoughtful and careful exegesis awakens me and excited me to plow through the text once more. All of the way back in college in the 70's, an NT professor asked us to always be suspicious whenever we read references to the Trinity or baptism is the gospels. They are most likely not Jesus' words, but doctrines that had arisen in the early church. That does not mean they are not valid, but it helps to remember that when some groups on my campus say that they cannot adhere to our guidelines against proselytizing for religious groups because Jesus told them to make disciples everywhere. They still disagree but I feel as if I am standing on somewhat firmer ground.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for your note. I think one of the worst things one can do with the Scriptures is to take a single verse as the 'end all' answer to a complex question. When it comes to proselytizing, for example, why isn't the preferred text Jesus' encounter with the Syro-Phonoecian woman who schools him that there is enough bread for the children as well as the dogs? That would make our approach to other faiths/cultures/etc. an opportunity to see God more expansively, rather than a battle ground for 'winning souls.'
      You sound as if you serve in a position where a thoughtful approach to evangelism would serve well. I believe such an approach begins with calling into question some of the assumptions that are widely perpetuated - such as calling this text the Great Commission. But it is an uphill climb, to be sure.
      Thanks again for your note.

    2. Another take: discipling has nothing to do with getting people to adopt a specific symbol system or a tribalized boundary definition. It does have to do with mentoring forgiveness, compassion, and responsibility. That gets done across boundary lines because it's authentic. Of course, as a deep Calvinist, if God WANTS you to be a Presbyterian, you are!

    3. Um, in case folk don't know - last line was intended as humor...

    4. Thanks for the comments, William/Bill/Will. And the last comment created the chuckle that was intended. "Deep Calvinist" indeed.

  9. I really enjoy reading your interpretations as I always find a new way of looking at the passage. Hadn't thought to question the importance or lack of importance of baptism nor reflect on the great commission quite like this before. It makes much more sense they way you've written the passge. Thanks for your work.

  10. Mark, question for you about bible geek detail. How do I get in touch?

    1. Hi Josh,
      In order to keep robots from harvesting our direct info, why don't you go to St Mark Presbyterian [dot] org (no spaces) - the site of the church I serve. You'll find my contact info there. Send me a note and I'll be very happy to talk with you. I read your blog about the interesting conversation about evangelism that interrupted your trip to the bathroom. You and I have some history and concerns in common, it would seem. I look forward to hearing from you.


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