Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) Quotes

The "Great Commission" is Jesus' command to go into all the world, make disciples, baptize them in the name of the Trinity, and teach them to obey everything he commanded. It is found in Matthew 28:19-20.

These quotes address several questions about the Great Commission.

  • Was the Great Commission addressed to just the apostles?
  • Was the Great Commission the general concern of the churches after the apostles?
  • Was the Great Commission addressed to all Christians?

Finally, since these are all the quotes I could find from pre-Nicene, post-apostolic Christianity (AD 75-325), they also address the claim, made by some, that Matthew 28:19 originally prescribed baptism in the name of Jesus rather than in the name of "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

Notes:

  • See my discussion of the application of the Great Comission to modern Christians here.
  • I have converted the word "teach" the nations, used in the Ante-Nicene Fathers series to the more accurate "disciple" the nations.

The Didache, AD 80-160

And concerning baptism, thus baptize: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in flowing water. But if you do not have flowing water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot in cold, in warm. But if you do not have either, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whichever others can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before. (ch. 7)

Irenaeus, c. A.D. 185

And again, giving to the disciples the power of regeneration into God, he said to them, "e;Go and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Against Heresies III:17:1)

Tertullian, c. A.D. 200

In the next quote, the argument being addressed is that while Christians should seek and study within the faith, it is inappropriate to research outside the teachings of the apostles. That teaching was given from God to Jesus to the apostles to the church by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, not by research. It was an argument against gnosticism and its bizarre doctrines.

It is only at the last that he instructs [the apostles] to "go and disciple all nations, and baptize them," when they were so soon to receive "the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who would guide them into all the truth" [Jn. 16:13]. And this, too, leads to the same conclusion. If the apostles, who were ordained to be teachers to the Gentiles, were themselves to have the Comforter for their teacher, far more needless was it to say to us, "Seek, and ye shall find," to whom was to come, without research, our instruction by the apostles, and to the apostles themselves by the Holy Spirit. (Prescription Against Heretics 8)

Christ Jesus our Lord ... did, while he lived on earth, himself declare what he was, what he had been, what the Father’s will was which he was administering, [and] what the duty of man was which he was prescribing, either openly to the people or privately to his disciples, of whom He had chosen the twelve chief ones to be at His side, and whom he destined to be the teachers of the nations. Accordingly, after one of these had been struck off [Judas], he commanded the eleven others, on his departure to the Father, to "go and disciple all nations," who were to be baptized into "the Father, and into the Son, and into the Holy Spirit." Immediately, therefore, that is what the apostles did, whom this designation ["apostle"] indicates as "the sent." (Prescription Against Heretics 20)

We have set forth Jesus Christ as none other than the Christ of the Creator. Our proofs we have drawn from his doctrines, maxims, affections, feelings, miracles, sufferings, and even resurrection—as foretold by the prophets. Even to the last he taught us, when he sent forth His apostles to preach his gospel "among all nations," for he thus fulfilled the Psalm: "Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world" [19:4] (Against Marcion IV:43.)

For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: "Go," he says, "disciple the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The comparison with this law of that definition, "Unless a man have been reborn of water and Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens" (Jn. 3:5) has tied faith to the necessity of baptism. (On Baptism 13)

Hippolytus, c. A.D. 225

The Father’s Word, therefore, knowing the economy [the "order" or "plan"] and the will of the Father, to wit, that the Father seeks to be worshipped in none other way than this, gave this charge to the disciples after He rose from the dead: "Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." And by this He showed, that whosoever omitted any one of these, failed in glorifying God perfectly. For it is through this Trinity that the Father is glorified. For the Father willed, the Son did, the Spirit manifested. ("Against the Heresy of One Noetus." par. 14. In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

Cyprian, AD 249-258

The Lord, when, after his resurrection, he sent forth His apostles, charges them, saying, AAll power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." And the Apostle John, remembering this charge, subsequently lays it down in his epistle: "Hereby," says he, "we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that says he knows him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" [1 Jn. 2:3-4]. You prompt the keeping of these precepts; you observe the divine and heavenly commands. This is to be a confessor of the Lord; this is to be a martyr of Christ,—to keep the firmness of one’s profession inviolate among all evils, and secure. ("To Moyses and Maximus and the Rest of the Confessors." Epistle 24:2. In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

Lest therefore we should walk in darkness, we ought to follow Christ, and to observe his precepts, because he himself told his apostles in another place, as he sent them forth, All power is given to me in heaven and earth. Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Therefore, if we wish to walk in the light of Christ, let us not depart from his precepts and admonitions, giving thanks that, while he instructs for the future what we ought to do, he pardons for the past where we in our simplicity have erred. ("Caecilius, on the Sacrament of the Cup of the Lord." Epistles of Cyprian 62:18. In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

For the Lord after his resurrection, sending his disciples, instructed and taught them in what manner they ought to baptize, saying, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." He suggests the Trinity, in whose sacrament the nations were to be baptized. ("To Jubaianus, Concerning the Baptism of Heretics." Epistles of Cyprian 72:5. In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

Lucius of Castra Galbae, A.D. 257

And again, after his resurrection, sending his apostles, he charged them, saying, "All power is given to me, in heaven and in earth. Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Since, therefore, it is obvious that heretics—that is, the enemies of Christ—have not the sound confession of the sacrament; moreover, that schismatics cannot season others with spiritual wisdom, since they themselves, by departing from the Church, which is one, having lost the savor, have become contrary to it,—let it be done as it is written, "The house of those that are contrary to the law owes a cleansing" [Prov. 14:9. LXX.]. And it is a consequence that those who, having been baptized by people who are contrary to the Church, are polluted, must first be cleansed, and then at length be baptized. ("The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian." In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

Vincentius of Thibaris, AD 257

We know that heretics are worse than Gentiles. If, therefore, being converted, they should wish to come to the Lord, we have assuredly the rule of truth which the Lord by his divine precept commanded to His apostles, saying, "Go, lay on hands in my name, expel demons" [Mk. 16:17-18]. And in another place: "Go and teach the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Therefore first of all by imposition of hands in exorcism, secondly by the regeneration of baptism, they may then come to the promise of Christ. ("The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian." In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

Anonymous, c. AD 255

Whence also the Lord Christ charges upon Peter, and moreover also upon the rest of His disciples, "Go and preach the Gospel to the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That is, that that same Trinity which operated figuratively in Noah’s days through the dove, now operates in the Church spiritually through the disciples. ("A Treatise Against the Heretic Novatian by an Anonymous Bishop." In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

Anonymous, c. A.D. 255-260

He calls the apostles his feet, who, being wrought by suffering, preached his word in the whole world; for he rightly named those by whose means the preaching went forth, "feet." Whence also the prophet anticipated this, and said: "We will worship in the place where His feet have stood" [Ps. 132:7]. Because where they first of all stood and confirmed the Church, that is, in Judea, all the saints shall assemble together, and will worship their Lord. ... The many waters are understood to be many peoples, or the gift of baptism that he sent forth by the apostles, saying: "Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." ("Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John." In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

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