Last night I was perusing L. Ray Smith’s Bible-Truths web site as I tend to do from time to time and I came across a paper entitled Which Bible Translation is Best?. For all of you who are not familiar with L. Ray Smith, he is a universalist (as well as an anti-Trinitarian) whom I have corresponded with here.
In this paper he made a claim that I have heard from Muslim apologists (see here) concerning Matthew 28:19. He said:
Also there is a mountain of historical evidence that this portion of the so-called “Great Commission” found in Matt. 28:19 is also not in any Scripture found in the first few centuries of both manuscripts or translations.
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost”
In fact, it is an obvious and blatant contradiction of how the Apostles actually did baptize. They NEVER baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but always in the Name of Jesus ONLY. The Scriptures do not contradict; but some Bibles do.
Now I immediately asked myself what exactly this ‘mountain of historical evidence’ consisted of. I checked my UBS4 GNT and found no variant listed in the textual apparatus. I checked Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. and found no mention of Matthew 28:19 as being an addition or having any textual variants.
So I began to search further and I did come across the following in Wieland Willker’s Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels (Vol. 1: Matthew) where he noted some variants that exist in the writings of 4th century historian Eusebius of Caeasarea (pp. 484-86).
Willker quotes W. Peterson on the TC List (Jan. 2003) as saying:
In the absence of any textual evidence, but in view of the strong anachronistic character of Matt 28:19 – anachronistic when compared with the rest of the NT – it seems to me one can comfortably state that (1) the words were never spoken by Jesus; (2) the *logion* was unknown as late as the composition of Acts (in the 80s?); (3) one cannot determine whether it was – or was not – part of the earliest version of Matthew (80s? 90s?). [p. 485]
So I decided to contact a couple of textual critics and see their response to this. I first contacted Bart D. Ehrman author of the NY Times Bestseller Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why as well as the more scholarly treatment entitled The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. Now Dr. Ehrman describes himself as a ‘happy agnostic’ and he is certainly no advocate of Trinitarian theology. But he is especially qualified to address this question given his field of expertise. His response to me was:
thanks for your note. The reasons people like Petersen have suspected that Matthew 28:19-20 were ont [sic] original are (1) the verses sound like they embrace the later doctrine of the trinity and (2) they are not found in Eusebius’s quotations. Most scholars have not been convinced, however, primarily because the verses are found in every solitary manuscript of Matthew, whether Greek, Latin, or …. any other ancient language, and are cited by yet other church fathers. Most interpreters think that the later doctrine of the trinity is not necessarily implied by the verses, but that they are simply read that way by people who know about the trinity. But in any event, most textual scholars think that the verses are almost certainly original to matthew. Hope this helps,
— Bart Ehrman
I also contacted Peter M. Head who is the Sir Kirby Laing Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Tyndale House (as well as Affiliated Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Cambridge) who is also especially qualified to answer the inquiry seeing that his field of expertise is NT textual criticism and he has held PhD seminars on Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.
His reponse to me was:
There is obviously an issue here, but only evidence for the shorter text of Matthew 28.19 is found only in Eusebius, and may well be the product of his loose quotation and harmonising. Here is what I wrote in my book (Christology and the Synoptic Problem, CUP, 1997), 212f:
We follow here the longer reading of UBS4=NA27 for Matt 28.19. Eusebius’ shorter reading (otherwise unattested): πορευθέντες μαθητεύσατε πάντα τά έθνη έν τω όνόματι μου, διδάσκοντες… [Demonstratio 3.6, 7(bis); 9.11; Hist. Eccl. III.5.2; Psalms 65.6; 67.34; 76.20 (59.9 not the same reading); Isaiah 18.2; 34.16 (v.l.); Theophania 4.16; 5.17; 5.46; 5.49; Oratio 16.8] is not to be regarded as original (despite Conybeare, ‘The Eusebian Form of the Text Matth. 28, 19’; ‘Three Early Doctrinal Modifications of the Text of the Gospels’, pp. 102-108; History of New Testament Criticism, pp. 74-77; Lohmeyer, Matthäus, p. 412; Vermes, Jesus the Jew, p. 200; Green, ‘The Command to Baptize and Other Matthean Interpolations’, pp. 60-62; ‘Matthew 28:19, Eusebius, and the lex orandi’).The omission of the phrase can be explained as due to Eusebius’ tendency to abbreviate, as Eusebius elsewhere often cites the longer form [Contra Marcellum I.1.9; I.1.36; Theologia III. 5.22; EpCaesarea 3 (Socrates, Eccl.Hist 1.8); Psalms 117.1-4; Theophania 4.8]. The shorter reading ‘in my name’ could have been formed as a result of harmonising Luke 24.47 and Mark 16.17 (as seems to occur in Psalms 59.9). Note that Eusebius also alludes to this passage without using either ‘in my name’ or the full clause [Demonstratio 1.3, 4, 6; Psalms 46.4; 95.3; 144.9; Isaiah 41.10; Theophania 3.4; Theologia III.3]. See further Hubbard, The Matthean Redaction of a Primitive Apostolic Commissioning, pp. 151-175; Schaberg, The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, pp. 27-29 (who refer to earlier studies).
So the scholarly concensus is that Matthew 28:19 as it appears in ALL MSS that contain Matthew 28:19 is original. It seems that Mr. Smith has made a ‘mountain’ out of a mole-hill.