Monday, February 26, 2007

Third thoughts about Matthew 28:19—a command, or not?

In what is popularly called the Great Commission, our Lord says:
πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος.... (Matthew 28:19)
Probably the KJV is still the most familiar rendering: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

A number of facets of this translation cry out for comment, but I will focus only on one: "Go ye therefore, and teach." Clearly to the English reader's eye, there are two commands here: (1) go, and (2) teach. On the first of these rest countless missionary conferences and sermons.

But when you start learning Greek, you notice that the verbal form of πορευθέντες is not imperative at all. It is an aorist participle. The imperative aorist would have been πορεύθητι. So you think, "Hm. Jesus assumes the going, and solely commands the making of disciples. There is only one command, one commission. The commission isn't to go, but to disciple."

The bare grammatical observation, of course, this is true. The inference, not so much. While I have taught it that way in years past, I've come to have third thoughts about the verse.

NOTE: this will illustrate the fact that there is no substitute for reading Greek. Wooden reference to lexicons and/or parsing tools—let alone interlinears—would not tell you what we're about to see together.

Repeated readings of Matthew in Greek highlighted a facet of Matthew's style of writing. The man loved his aorist participles. In making my own rough translation, I was constantly saying, "Having X," or "after doing X." In fact, Matthew used this exact construction many times, with the semantic force not of "after doing X, do Y," but simply of "do X and Y."

For instance, take Matthew 2:20, where the angel tells Joseph ἐγερθεὶς παράλαβε τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ· Now, is he saying, "I don't care when or even whether you get up; but when you get around to rolling out of bed, what I really want you to do is..."? Or is he not saying "get up, and go!"

Or again, in Matthew 21:2 the Lord says of the donkey, λύσαντες ἀγάγετέ μοι. Is this, "Whenever you get around to untying the donkey, here's what I want you to do"? Or is it not "Untie him, and lead him to Me"?

Check out a couple more:
Matthew 22:13 τότε ὁ βασιλεὺς εἶπεν τοῖς διακόνοις· δήσαντες αὐτοῦ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ἐκβάλετε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον· ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

Matthew 28:7 καὶ ταχὺ πορευθεῖσαι εἴπατε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ὅτι ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἰδοὺ προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε· ἰδοὺ εἶπον ὑμῖν.
Now, what I wish to stress for your edification and exhortation is that I noticed this all simply by reading Matthew in Greek, over and over again, for years. I didn't get it from studying grammars (though I have done, and we all should do). If a dim bulb like me can notice such a thing, so can you.

Now, having noticed this, I check and note that Dan Wallace comments on the same phenomenon, referring to this as an "attendant circumstance participle" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 640). Wallace explains:
The attendant circumstance participle is used to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinate with the finite verb. In this respect it is not dependent, for it is translated like a verb. Yet it is still dependent semanti­cally, because it cannot exist without the main verb. It is translated as a finite verb connected to the main verb by and. The participle then, in effect, “piggy-backs” on the mood of the main verb. This usage is relatively com­mon, but widely misunderstood.
Use tools, use grammars. But there is no substitute for tolle, lege.

And now... you know that!

14 comments:

Matt Harmon said...

Dan,

Good post. I think the aorist participle is used instead of the imperative to make sure that the attention is focused on the one true imperative "make disciples." Also, poreuthentes is distinguished from the other two participles "baptizing" and "teaching" that clearly describe what it means to make disciples by (1) difference in tense [poreuthentes is aorist, while baptizontes and didaskontes are present] and (2) placement [poreuthentes comes before the imperative mathateusate, while the other two participles come after].

Therefore I do think there is some imperatival force to poreuthentes (picked up from the main verb), but it is not the central thrust of the commission, as you have noted.

Leo said...

sorry, so as a lay person just starting to learn Greek, how would you translate this to English? What is the "third" way?

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Dan,

Matt. 28:19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ...

Can you read the above in IE7?

S. Levinsohn notes that " anarthrous participle clauses that preceded their nuclear clause present information that is backgrounded." The information provided by the participle is of secondary importance to that found in the main verb that follows. Levinsohn cites Matt. 28:19 as an example.

Levinsohn, Stephen Discourse Features of New Testament Greek,2nd Ed.
SIL2000 page 183n.

DJP said...

CSB, I don't have IE7 where I am now; it has boxes on IE6, but shows fine in Firefox.

So, do you think he'd differ from Wallace? Or is he saying, in different words, what Matt says, above — which would agree with my understanding as well? In other words, while the finite verb conveys the main command, the aorist participle is sort of a subordinated command?

And if this latter, it pretty well would have to be preached/explained rather than translated, right? The "having gone" or "after you go" would be misleading; two imperatives would not communicate subordination. So perhaps best to translate with two imperatives ("Go therefore and make disciples..."), and explain?

He is telling them to go, but the going is for the purpose of making disciples—which is the main (and, grammatically, only) imperative.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Dan,

It is difficult to answer this since Wallace and Levinsohn are not approaching the text with the same methodology. Levinsohn cites Wallace in support of his contention that a participle clause in the preverbal slot is pragmatically marked as backgrounded. This is his main point. Wallace does not address pragmatic marking.

Levinsohn cites Wallace's comment that the participle "piggy backs" on the mood of the main verb but he doesn't really comment on the notion that participle takes on imperatival color from the verb. I suspect that he would have reservations about that but only Levinsohn or Randall Buth could answer that.

It is interesting to note that Levinsohn's notion that the fronted participle clause is backgrounded appears to fly in the face of Iver Larsen's thesis that the preverbal slot is empathic.

Larsen, Buth and Levinsohn are former colleagues well known linguists. They don't always agree.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Dan,

I can see the logic in your claim and Wallace's point but I have some doubts.

This looks like a counter example

Matt. 6:7 Προσευχόμενοι δὲ μὴ βατταλογήσητε ὥσπερ οἱ ἐθνικοί, δοκοῦσιν γὰρ ὅτι ἐν τῇ πολυλογίᾳ αὐτῶν εἰσακουσθήσονται.

In what sense does the participle inherit the mood of the finite verb?

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Dan,

One more remark and then I am off to some other place.

Levinsohn agrees with Wallace that going is a necessary attendant circumstance for making disciples. However that is a somewhat different concept from saying that going is a second command. I think if you study the counter example the difference will become clear. Praying is assumed, not commanded, and the following prohibition assumes that praying will take place but it does not command to pray.

I think this is precisely what is taking place in your text. Going is assumed, making disciples is commanded. You can't do one and ignore the other but only one command is made.

Levinsohn is extremely subtle and figuring out what he means is difficult and sometimes very difficult.

interesting question.

Matt Harmon said...

CSB,

I’m not persuaded that Matt 6:7 is a true counterexample. If you look at 6:6, it begins σὺ δὲ ὅταν προσεύχῃ … Thus, the idea of praying has already been introduced into the context, which allows one to assume it is happening rather than needing an imperatival force in 6:7. That is not the case in 28:19. I (nor Dan, nor Wallace for that matter) am not making a categorical statement that this mood attraction occurs in ALL such cases, but rather that it can and does happen. The question, then, is whether it is in fact happening in 28:19. I think the context, the word order, and the tenses of the participles in 28:19-20 indicate such mood attraction has occurred.

I’ll need to check out Levinson; it sounds interesting.

Thanks for the substantive interaction,

Matt

DJP said...

CSB, your example doesn't actually fit the focus of my post.

Yours is a present participle followed by an imperative. What I said several times is how fond I've noticed that Matthew is of aorist participles. Every example I gave is of an aorist participle followed by an imperative.

For his part, Wallace says, "First, notice that the first participle, [poreuthentes], fits the structural pattern for the attendant circumstance participle: aorist participle preceding an aorist main verb (in this case, imperative)" (p. 645).

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Dan and Matt,

I think we are somewhat talking past one another. Levinsohn calls into question the validity of the semantic categories (e.g. attendant circumstance) used by Wallace and others. He points out that A. T. Robertson (1124f) long ago stated that the semantic coloring of a participle clause is contextual and has nothing what so ever to do with the participle itself. Carl Conrad has often pointed out that Wallace is driven by English "translation strategies" in his propagation of grammatical categories. So my main point is Levinsohn groups the text in question under anarthrous participial clauses (p.183) and he simultaneously casts a withering glance at the subcategories; time, cause, means ... attendant circumstances and concludes that they do not exist, within his frame work.

No one, not I, not Levinsohn, is questioning that Jesus wanted his disciples to both go and make more disciples. It really boils down to a question of methodology, how you understand the connection between semantics and syntax and keep them distinct in your analysis.

Thanks for the stimulating discussion.

Carl W. Conrad said...

For what it's worth, it's standard practice in most phases of ancient Greek to indicate actions preceding that of the main verb by aorist participles usually (but not always) placed ahead of the main verb. I think that's the same thing that Clay, with reference to Levinsohn, calls "backgrounding."

SDG said...

I remember (many years ago now) writing a paper on this verse and validating the attendant circumstance participle.

I found a number of examples in the Septuagint that followed the form in Mt 28:19 (aorist participle + imperative) that translated a double imperative in the Hebrew. They seemed to have the force of "step-goal". The first was a requisite step to achieving the goal. It seems that this construction in Greek was understood to adequately convey that meaning.
Here "Go" really does have the weight of a command, but it is only the first step of achieving the goal of "Make disciples". Thanks for reminding me of the joy of studying Greek.

Ken said...

And don't forget the Direct object of the main verb - all the nations.

"disciple all the nations" (the ethne; Panta Ta ethna) cannot be done without the "going" as the first step.

Wallace is right - the attendant circumstance participle carries imperitival force; that is why those aorist participles are translated as commands, because, as SDG rightly comments, "it really does have the weight of a command".

It is always frustrating to hear preachers say it means a sort of passive thing "as you are going".

Thanks for a good discussion.

Ken said...

An anonymous commenter made the comment (didn't go thru here, but I got an email of it)

he (or she) wrote

"None of the Church Father ever quote Matthew 28:19 . . . "

That is not true - the Didache, (and many others, see below) a very important early church writing, dating somewhere between 70 - 150 AD very clearly uses Matthew 28:19 when speaking about baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Didache is one of the oldest records outside the canonical Scriptures, written as early as 60-80 A.D. J.B Lightfoot states that the internal evidence proves this early date. It is possible that the Didache was as late as 100 AD. (some liberals push it to 120 and 150 AD) It is a very important document, for it was used as a church manual.

The Didache (60-100 AD) says “As regards baptism, baptize in this manner, having first given all the preceding instruction baptize in the name of the father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit and immerse 3 times in running water”. (Didache 7)

Justin Martyr (martyred, around 150 AD) in his apology “I shall now explain our method of dedicating ourselves to God after we have been created anew through Christ…for they make their ablution in the water in the name of God the Father and Lord of all, and of our savior Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit.” (First Apology 61.3.)


Tertullian, c. 200 AD (in On Baptism, Chapter XIII: "For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: "Go," He saith, "teach the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

and in Against Praxeas, chapter 2 says, "After His resurrection ..He commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost".

Ken Temple