By Ron Halbrook
From time to time, discussions have occurred over whether baptism is “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” or is “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38). It is both!
“In the Name of”: Authority, Power, the Right to Command
“In the name of” does not prescribe a ritualistic formula of words to be called out while baptizing a person, but explains by what right or authority baptism is commanded. The Jewish leaders asked Jesus concerning the things he taught and practiced, which included baptism, “By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority?” Jesus said their question about authority would be answered if they answered an equivalent question: “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men?” They refused to answer the question (Matt. 21:23-27). In this debate over the issue of authority, the Jewish leaders and Jesus were not discussing what ritualistic formulas were in order but whether the things taught and practiced were divinely authorized. We do not know what John or Jesus or the Apostles said during the act of baptizing anyone, but we know they all had divine authority for what they preached and practiced regarding baptism.
This same word translated “authority” in Matthew 21 is translated “power” in Matthew 28:18. In giving the Great Commission, Jesus said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” That statement affirmed his deity, for only God can possess all power or authority. His divinity or Godhood had just been proven by his conquering death. Therefore, whatever he commands is the command of the Godhead — it is of God, not of mere man.
There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Word or the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Godhead works in perfect harmony because each person fully shares the same divine nature. All three members of the Godhead were active in the creation of the universe (Gen. 1:1-2, 26; John 1:1-3). The miracles of Jesus were the deeds of deity, proving, “I and my Father are one . . . I am the Son of God . . . the Father is in me, and I in him.” The Jews properly understood that Jesus was claiming to be God in the flesh (John 10:22-38).
The perfect unity and absolute authority of the three persons in the Godhead are to be affirmed in the preaching of the gospel. “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). The gospel, including the command of baptism, is to be preached and practiced in the name of God, deity, or the Godhead. “Name” is singular, representing the unity or oneness of the divine nature shared by three persons. It is exactly like our expression, “in the name of the law.” “Name” is singular, representing the united authority of the many arms and departments of civil government. The “name” of God — his being, nature, power, and authority — represents his right to command. Men are to be taught and baptized by the authority of the one true God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Baptism “In the Name of Jesus Christ”
On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter preached, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” or in other words, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (vv. 21, 38). If “name” here refers to a formula of words, it must be spoken by the one being baptized, not by the baptizer. The formula must be called out at least twice: once when the sinner repents and again when he is baptized. Also, the formula does not match in the two verses: “the name of the Lord” and “the name of Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, since we are to do “all things in the name of the Lord Jesus,” this ritual must be performed for everything we do for the rest of our lives — someone must walk beside us calling out the formula over our every deed seven days a week, 24 hours a day (Col. 3:17).
Peter was not preaching a formula to be called out but was affirming that the message he preached is commanded by the Lord — that is, by Jesus Christ — that is, as Jesus himself put it, by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. When King David sent someone on a mission “in the name of David,” did someone else stand and call the name of David over the messenger when he did David’s bidding (1 Sam. 25:5, 9)? If not, then one may do a thing “in the name of” another without repeating a formula of words. Further, David opposed Goliath “in the name of the Lord” (1 Sam. 17:45). David was by himself, so who orally called the Lord’s name over him? No one did! David came against Goliath in the name of, by the authority of, the Lord, and he did so without anyone reciting a formula of words over him. Therefore, one may act “in the name of the Lord” — “in the name of Jesus Christ” — “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” — without having to repeat a formula of words.
There is perfect harmony in the Godhead as to what men must believe and obey in order to be saved. To obey the gospel is to seek and to receive salvation from the Lord, from Jesus Christ, or, to say it another way, from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Healing “In the Name of Jesus Christ”
In Acts 3 Peter healed a man “in the name of Jesus Christ” and explained that through his name all men may be saved from their sins (vv. 6, 19, 26). This does not mean someone called out a formula of words over Peter as he healed the man. As the Apostles continued to preach “through Jesus the resurrection from the dead,” the Jewish leaders demanded to know “by what power, or by what name” they preached and performed miracles. To clarify “by what means” these things were done, Peter said it was “by the name of Jesus Christ . . . , even by him . . . Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name given among men, whereby we must be saved.” After the Apostles were threatened and released, they reported these things to the brethren, who noted that Christ himself had been similarly abused: “The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ” (Acts 4:1-12, 26). The “name” is equivalent to the “power” or “means” by which something is done. These things were done by “the Lord” and “his Christ,” and when men resisted the Son they resisted the Father.
Harmony in the Godhead
Because of the harmony in the Godhead, what may be attributed to one may be attributed to the other, even though each member may perform some distinct part of the work spoken of. For instance, since each acted in the creation, we may properly recognize each as our Creator. Since each acted in providing our salvation, we may ascribe our salvation to each. Since each was involved in the origin and provision of the gospel, including the command of baptism, it may be properly said that we preach and practice baptism “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” To accept or reject baptism is to accept or reject “the counsel of God” because he commanded it (Luke 7:30). Also, Christ commanded it: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Also, the Holy Spirit revealed and commanded it, so that we are “born of the water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5). Truly, since baptism is in the name of Jesus Christ, it is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Before, during or after baptizing someone, we may use the words of Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 3:5, Acts 2:21, Acts 2:38, Colossians 2:12, Titus 3:5, or any other passage appropriate to the occasion. Insisting on the language of any such passage to the exclusion of another is “doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth.” We are to teach “wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and that includes the words of Matthew 28:19 (1 Tim. 6:3-5).
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