Why did the Apostles Baptize in the Name of Jesus?

 Why did the Apostles Baptize in the Name of Jesus?

Jesus' Command to the Apostles

Baptisms today are almost always done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I'm so used to it, I went years without giving it a second thought. And it makes sense. In the Great Commission, Jesus seems to give his Apostles instructions to do exactly that:

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth."Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
But then, if you keep reading, something strange happens. The book of the Acts of the Apostles records them going throughout the known world, making disciples, and baptizing them, just like Jesus said. But they don't baptize in the name of the Trinity; they baptize in the name of Jesus. In fact, the only place in all of scripture we find the trinitarian formula is the passage above. Every other time baptism is mentioned in the Bible, it’s either done in the name of Jesus, or it’s silent on the details.

So why did the Apostles baptize in the name of Jesus? Is it more Biblical to baptize in the name of the Trinity as Jesus commanded, or in the name of Jesus, as is the example from the very beginnings of the Assembly? I want to share the understanding that God has given me on these questions, and I pray that you will find it useful in your own ministry.

What is Baptism?

To understand what is going on here, we need to understand what baptism is. Much of what is said about baptism in many churches today is simply not biblical. The idea that baptism is a symbol, or a public statement to follow the Christ is a modern day fabrication. Foundations for those teachings are simply nowhere in scripture. I think the theological motivation for making up this teaching is to support the idea that Christians are saved by faith alone. In fact, scripture is very clear that salvation and baptism are closely linked:

In the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark... eight persons were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:20-21)
In my last post, we spoke of the tangible power of the gospel. This power comes from Jesus actually paying for our sin with his death. It follows that if he paid for our sin, he took the debt of our sin upon himself. If he took our sin upon himself, our sin actually died with him on the cross.

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

But clearly, this doesn't apply to everyone. There's still lots of sin going on out there in the world. Most people haven't died to their sin. So what separates those who have died to their sin from those who have not? What is the key to crucifying one's sin on the cross with Jesus? Baptism!

How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:2-4, 7)

So if our sin died with Jesus on the cross, we died with Jesus on the cross!

[You have] been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)

And if we died with Jesus on the cross through baptism, we have actually been joined together with Jesus through baptism. So baptism actually unites us together with Jesus!

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27) 
For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  (Romans 6:5-6)

The idea that baptism sets us free from our old lives of slavery to sin is further developed in 1 Corinthians 10:2, where we read about how even Israel was baptized in the Red Sea when they left their old life of slavery to Egypt behind. Calling on the name of Jesus in baptism not only kills the sin, but washes away the sin.

"Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name." (Acts 22:16)

Freedom from Sin

Many Christians know that overcoming sin is not straightforward. Sin can be a real struggle, even after hearing the gospel. Maybe you've said a prayer and invited Jesus into your life. Maybe you've confessed your sin, but you keep going back to it. Maybe you've even been told that you will continue to struggle with sin for the rest of your life until you're in Heaven. But that is NOT the gospel! The gospel of Jesus is that you can be free from slavery, die to your sin, and be joined to Jesus!

But you can't do it on your own. Trying to believe it isn't enough if that belief doesn't result in action. And saying a prayer isn't going to help either. That's because God already answered your prayer. He gave you access to the power of the gospel through baptism.

Is this too good to be true? I have personally witnessed the power of baptism in my own life. I'm far from perfect, but I have had so much freedom from since since I was baptized in Jesus' name. And I've had the privileged of baptizing other sinners who have been set free as well. The results are nothing short of miraculous. I've seen people walk away from alcoholism, freed from anxiety, healed from childhood abuse, cured of homosexuality, and delivered from demons through baptism. 

Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  (1 Peter 4:1-2) 
"But wait," you might say. "I've been baptized! And life is still exactly the same as it always has been." I would ask you, did you repent from your sin with the intention of leaving your old life behind? Were you baptized with faith in its power, or just as a symbol? Were you baptized with the expectation of being united with Jesus? Were you baptized in the name of Jesus? As a teenager, I was baptized without repentance, in the name of the Trinity, as a symbolic statement of my faith, and it was one of the most anticlimactic experiences of my life. I remember hoping for power, and being so disappointing. We find a very similar story in scripture:

[Paul] said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:2-6)

John's baptism changes your attitude through repentance and God's attitude toward you through forgiveness. But it doesn't change you. It's the same thing as saying baptism is a symbol but it has no power. Whose name you're baptized in really matters. Because the name you're baptized in determines what kind of baptism you receive. Being baptized in the name of Jesus means that your receiving a baptism that has power from the death and resurrection of Jesus and unites you to Jesus.

Jesus' Authority

So we arrive back at our first question -- if Jesus’ name is so important to baptism, why did Jesus seem to instruct his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? The answer may simply require a more detailed examination of Jesus’ command. Let’s take a closer look at the wording Jesus used.

The first thing we should notice is that Jesus did not say to baptize in three names. He said to baptize in the singular name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? It seems as though the early disciples thought that “Jesus” was the best answer. Jesus is the revelation of the Father and he brought the Holy Spirit to his followers. So his name is the one that summarizes all three.

More importantly, think about what the phrase “In the name of” means. The police might yell at a criminal, “Stop, in the name of the law!” A royal official might tell someone to “pay your taxes in the name of the Queen!” This phrase is used to give a command to someone using the authority of someone greater. 

Indeed, the passage in question is all about authority. But it’s not about the authority of the Trinity. Jesus said, "All authority has been given to me." His baptism instructions come right in the middle of Jesus confirming his authority over Heaven and Earth. Jesus wouldn’t say that he had been given all authority, only to tell his apostles to baptize in someone else’s name -- that doesn't make sense!

We can look at the parallel passage in the Gospel of John for more insight:

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." (John 20:21-23)
This is probably a record of the same conversation, only written by someone else with a different perspective. But notice the similarities too. Jesus still refers to the Farther, himself, and the Holy Spirit. And this one passage is all about authority as well. Here, Jesus established an authoritative hierarchy: The Father sent Jesus, and Jesus sent the Apostles. He also sent the Holy Spirit to work along with his Apostles.

It's interesting that Apostle literally means "one who is sent off". And one of these Apostles sent off by Jesus with the Holy Spirit wrote another part scripture. And I think it's significant he established his authority in exactly the same way Jesus did, by mentioning the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens... according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood (1 Peter 1:1-2)
You see here that, just like Jesus, Peter is using the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to establish his authority as an Apostle to write this letter. It seems to me that every time in scripture we find talk of Jesus along with the Father or Holy Spirit, it's about establishing authority. Take a look at a few examples:

"But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish -the very works that I do -testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. (John 5:36-37)

"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning." (John 15:26-27)

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:15)

Also check out John 8:13-18. Over and over again, Jesus established his identity as the Son of God by the testimony of the Father and Holy Spirit. He was sent by the Father, and he brought the Holy Spirit. He established his authority by acting in their names.

Baptism in whose Name?

I've always read the great commission passage in Matthew thinking that Jesus was telling his Apostles to baptize using the authority of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But recently, as I look more closely, I don't think Jesus used that phrase is to establish the authority of the Apostles. I think Jesus used that phrase to establish his own authority. The Father sent the Son. The Son is Jesus. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. And therefore, Jesus' authority over Heaven and Earth had been established. The Apostles had reason to obey their Lord. And having been sent by by someone with such authority, it makes sense that the Apostles carried out Jesus' command using his authority in his name. 

The debate about whose name to use in baptism has been going on almost ever since then. I don't have a full understanding, but I think I'm starting to understand more. And I hope it helps you too. I believe that as disciples of Jesus, we should follow in the footsteps of the first disciples by baptising in the name of Jesus. It is Jesus who gives baptism meaning and power. It was him who told us to do it. And so it's in his name that we obey.

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