Baptism in the Name of Jesus Only
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 3:11pm
TODAY I HAD A QUERY about baptism in the name of “Jesus only.” The inquirer asked me to “cite some resources regarding baptism in Jesus’ name (only),” since “recently there have been quite a few folks who have been asking about it.” In fact, “three of our folks recently went to a [Oneness Pentecostal] service…, were taught baptism in Jesus’ name, accepted rebaptism, and now claim tongues and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” The following is my answer:
WHAT’S WRONG WITH this picture? Three things.
FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT, those who teach “Jesus only” baptism deny the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. The “baptism in the name of” issue is minor alongside this. These folks are called “Oneness Pentecostals” because they deny the THREENESS of God. They usually accept an heretical notion of the Trinity called modalism. This is the idea that God is eternally just one person, but reveals himself to us human beings in three main modes or forms. Those who align themselves with such a group are guilty of endorsing and promoting this anti-trinitarian doctrine. I refer to this briefly in my book, “The Faith Once for All,” on p. 73; and I deal with it in more detail in “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer,” ch. 3, “The Trinity,” pp. 141-146. Here are three books that deal specifically with this problem: (1) E. Calvin Beisner, “Jesus Only Churches” (Zondervan Guide to Cult and Religious Movements series), Zondervan 1998; (2) Gregory A. Boyd, “Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity: A Worldwide Movement Assessed by a Former Oneness Pentecostal,” Baker 1992; (3) Carl Brumback, “God in Three Persons,” Pathway Press (Cleveland, TN), 1959.
THE SECOND PROBLEM is a misunderstanding of Jesus’ command that we should be “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (NASB). This is indeed an affirmation of the Trinity, and all three persons of the Trinity are involved in baptism. However, this command is not intended to present us with a technical formula that must be used every time someone is baptized. The key is the Greek phrase translated “in the name of,” namely, EIS TO ONOMA. The literal translation is “into the name of.” Among the rabbis this phrase took the meaning of “into a relationship with.” Thus Jesus commissioned us to baptize people into a specific relationship with the Trinity. Even more significant is the fact that this phrase was used in the world of Greek business and commerce to indicate the entry of a sum of money or an item of property into the account bearing the name of its owner. In Matt. 28:19 it thus indicates that the purpose of baptism is to unite us with the Triune God in an OWNERSHIP relation; we become his property in a special, intimate way. As one writer says, since the phrase denotes transference of ownership, in Matt. 28:19 it means that “the person being baptized passes into the possession of the Triune God.” (Murray Harris, “Appendix: Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown [Zondervan 1978], III:1209.) Other New Testament teaching shows why it is appropriate to think of our relation to God as an ownership relation: God the Father paid the price to acquire us as his property, namely, the blood of God the Son (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). He also applies the seal which marks us as his very own property, namely, God the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). All of this comes into focus in baptism, where the purchase price is applied to us (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12) and the mark of ownership is given to us (Acts 2:38). Thus it trivializes Jesus’ command to think of it merely as a formulaic set of words to be pronounced over the candidate in preparation for baptism. I believe it is appropriate to use these words, and I advise that we should always do so; but it is acceptable to use other words too: “upon (epi) the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38); “in (en) the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48), or just “into (eis) the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). (Some of the above was taken from my book, “Baptism: A Biblical Study” ch. 1.) There is absolutely no contradiction between these latter texts and a Trinitarian understanding of Matt. 28:19.
THE THIRD PROBLEM is the acceptance of the validity of miraculous gifts as a normal part of the Christian life in the church age. It seems to be incidental that the main groups that teach the anti-trinitarian “Jesus only” doctrine happen to be Pentecostals. Whether within a “Jesus only” context or not, the Pentecostal (and Charismatic) doctrines must be opposed; and Christians need to be warned not to become involved with alleged miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (such as tongue-speaking) today. See my recent books on the Holy Spirit: (1) the small paperback, “The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study,” chs. 8-10: “The Holy Spirit and Miracles Today”; “The Holy Spirit and 1 Cor. 13:8-13”; “The Holy Spirit and Demonic Counterfeits”; and (2) the large (506pp.), comprehensive study, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit,” ch. 11, “Does the Holy Spirit Give Miraculous Gifts Today?”