Is There a Baptismal Formula?

By Weldon E. Warnock

Has the Lord prescribed a formula that is to be said when one is baptized? Some say “yes” and quote Matthew 28:19 for scriptural proof. The passage states, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” However, in analyzing the passage we observe that it tells us what to do, not what to say.

The American Standard Version translates the verse, “baptizing them into (emphasis mine) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The preposition translated “in” (KJV) and “into” (ASV) is from the Greek word eis. The ASV is the more correct rendition.

A footnote on Matthew 28:19 in Williams’ translation says of the preposition “into” that it “expresses transfer of relationship.” Hence, in scriptural baptism we are baptized into a relationship with the Godhead – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Arndt-Gingrich say “the one who is baptized becomes the possession of and comes under the protection of the one whose name he bears” (A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 575).

Vincent states, “Baptizing into the name has a twofold meaning. 1. Unto denoting objector purpose. . . . 2. Into denoting union or communion with, as Rom. 6:3, ‘baptized into Christ Jesus; into his death;’ i.e. we are brought by baptism into fellowship with his death” (Word Studies, Vol. 1, p. 149). Foy E. Wallace said, “Into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost denote the state, or relationship, the baptized person enters. This condescension of God to put the name of the Godhead on the act of baptism imparts to the institution the importance and the solemnity of the name it bears” (Bulwarks of the Faith, Part 2, p. 28).

The “name” into which we are baptized in Matthew 28:19 is not a designation, but is the expression of the sum total of the divine Being, namely, his characteristics and attributes. Such meaning is seen in the model prayer, “Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9). A. Lukyn Williams wrote, “So being baptized into the Name of God implies being placed in subjection to and communion with God himself, admitted into covenant with him. It is to be observed that the term is ‘name,’ not ‘names,’ thus denoting the unity of the Godhead in the trinity of Persons” (Pulpit Commentary, Matthew, p. 645).

To insist that “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is to be said over a person’s head just before baptism is to treat the expression as a charm and adds another prerequisite to baptism. Admittedly, we can say what we are doing, and I generally do, but I also recognize that in so doing I am following a customary practice that is arbitrary and optional. Whether we do what Matthew 28:19 teaches is not discretionary, but whether we say it or not, is!

Brother R.L. Whiteside wrote, “Any one who reads the Bible should know that the power of life and death is not in the mouth of the administrator of baptism. . . . The one who is being baptized may be thoroughly prepared in heart to render acceptable obedience; but if the preacher does not say the right words, the baptism is useless! Can any thoughtful person believe it? It is putting as much power in the preacher as any Roman Catholic ever placed in his priest” (Reflections, pp. 244-245).

In the book of Acts baptism is “in” and “into” the name of Christ. We notice:

Acts 2:38. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” The preposition “in” is from the Greek word epi, meaning “upon; on the ground of.” Thayer comments on epi in Acts 2:38, “so as to repose your hope and confidence in his Messianic authority” (Greek-English Lexicon, p. 232). Hence, Peter says to repent and be baptized on the ground of Jesus’ Messianic authority.

Acts 8:16. “. . . only they were baptized in the name of Lord Jesus.” The Greek word for “in” here is eis. It is translated “into” in many other versions. It suggests relationship. The same is true in Acts 19:5 where “in the name of the Lord Jesus” is “into the name of the Lord Jesus.” This same concept of relationship is set forth in 1 Corinthians 1:13 where Paul said, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in (eis, into) the name of Paul?”

J.W. McGarvey said that “into the name of the Lord Jesus” is but an abbreviation for ‘into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'” (Acts, Vol. 2, p. 151). R.L. Whiteside wrote, “This (into the name of the Lord Jesus, wew) is the same as saying that they were baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Reflections, p. 247). Obviously, when we baptize into the name of Jesus we are baptizing into the name of the Godhead.

Acts 10:48. At the household of Cornelius we read that Peter “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Here, the preposition “in” is from the Greek word en. It denoted “in the name” or “by the authority” of the Lord.

Observe there is no uniform pattern of expression in these passages in Acts. Acts 2:38 has “in (upon) the name of Jesus Christ,” Acts 8:16 and 19:5 have “in (into) the name of the Lord Jesus,” while Acts 10:48 has “in the name of the Lord.” Therefore, when we are baptizing a person in the name of the Lord, we are baptizing him into the name or relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Parenthetically, the “Jesus only” people make Acts 2:38 a necessary formula for baptism, totally missing the point of what “in the name of Jesus Christ” means.

Actually, to be baptized “in the name of the Lord” is the authority for baptism and “into the name of the Lord Jesus” or “into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is the result of baptism.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 21, pp. 654-655
November 1, 1990