I’ve been giving some additional thought to the traditional OP interpretation of Matthew 28:19, particularly our emphasis on the importance of the singular nature of “name.” We argue that if Jesus meant for us to actually invoke three names over the baptizee (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), He should have used the plural form, “names.” Instead, He used the singular form, “name,” which is grammatically incorrect. Why did He do so? Because He only had one name in view. The disciples properly discerned that name to be His name-Jesus-and used His name exclusively in their baptismal formula. They obeyed, rather than repeated Jesus’ words.
I’m not so sure our emphasis on the singular form of “name” is justified. The use of the singular “name” is grammatically justifiable. “Of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is a string of three genitival phrases modifying “name.” It could be argued that the prepositional phrase, “in the name,” is implied for both the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that the intended sense of the verse is, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and [in the name] of the Son, and [in the name] of the Holy Spirit.” It would be similar to my saying, “Arrest them in the name of the king, and the queen, and the motherland.” Here, the singular use of “name” is justified because “in the name of” is implied for both the queen and the motherland. The sentence should really read, “Arrest them in the name of the king, and [the name of] the queen, and [the name of] the motherland.” If the same is true of Matthew 28:19, then the singular “name” is being applied to each of the three appellations individually, and hence the singular use of name is grammatically justified.
If I am right, then making an ado over the singular use of “name” as an obvious signal that Jesus meant for the disciples to pick up on some deeper meaning is misguided, and irrelevant to understanding how Matthew 28:19 squares with the baptismal formula used by the apostles in Acts.
If I am right, how should we understand what Jesus said against what the apostles did? Why did they baptize in Jesus’ name? What clued them in to the fact that Jesus did not mean for them to literally repeat His words? If it wasn’t His singular use of “name,” maybe it was what Jesus said before speaking those controversial words. He prefaced His command to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the F/S/HS by saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore…” (28:18). After He issued His command He continued to speak exclusively of Himself: “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always” (28:20). The emphasis was on Christ alone. Together with the disciples recognition that Jesus encapsulates our experience of God, they understood His words to mean that they were to baptize in His name. The authority (name) in which we are baptized is the same as the one who just claimed all authority in heaven and earth: Jesus Christ. It is for that reason that we are baptized in His name.
Whether it was due to the singular use of “name,” or the context of Jesus’ command, the fact remains that the apostles understood Jesus to mean they were to baptize in His name, and we should follow their lead.
Any thoughts? Any grammatical or theological insights?
UPDATE: Someone emailed me a link to an article by a Oneness Pentecostal making the same points I made here, but in expanded form. The author, Mark Kennicott, also exegetes some of the key passages cited in support of the conclusion that Jesus is the singular name of the Father and Spirit. Check it out.