By Neal Cushman, Projects Coordinator
In the last post on our CGO blog, Mark Vowels explained why the Great Commission is crucial to every follower of Christ. It’s not just for missionaries, nor is it part of a list of various things that Christians do if they have time or particular talents. Jesus commands all believers to reach out to people and disciple them. I especially appreciated Mark’s point that we have all received a commission, just like a soldier would receive in the military. It’s a big deal.
I would like to expand on a couple of these ideas in today’s post and perhaps makes some connections that are frequently omitted in this type of discussion. As in all of our CGO blog posts, good people may disagree on some of the points that we make.
First, many discussions on the Great Commission rightly assert the primacy of making disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, but they frequently misunderstand the syntax of this passage. Jesus’ Great Commission is made up of three sentences. In the first sentence, he assures his followers that he has been given all the authority necessary in heaven and on earth for them to fulfill his Commission. The third sentence, located in 28:20, provides further encouragement that whatever his disciples face as they carry out the Commission, he will be with them, even when the world comes to its final end. Few controversies occur in sentences one and three, but this is not the case in the second sentence.
The second sentence of the Great Commission may be structured as follows:
Make disciples of all nations
By means of
Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Teaching them whatever I have commanded you.
There is one finite verb (“make disciples”) in this sentence, and three participles (going, baptizing, and teaching). The finite verb is the controlling verb in the sentence, so “going”, “baptizing”, and “teaching” modify “make disciples” (an imperative) in some way. Some have suggested, therefore, that the main thing in this text is making disciples (which I would agree with), but have minimized the other actions. This has led to a lack of clarity on the relationship between these three actions and the main verb, “make disciples.” Since Greek grammar requires that each of the participles must modify the main verb in some way, it is important that we identify the probable relationship.
I apologize for a discussion on Greek grammar and syntax on this blog, but it is necessary to the topic. Let’s start with the first participle (going). If you identify the relationship between the participle and the main verb as “time”, you would translate, “As you go, make disciples.” But this would not be the best choice. Rather, the participle “going” is best related to the main verb in a position called “attendant circumstance” (see the footnote above for a source for further discussion). This relationship means that the participle takes on the force of the main verb, so essentially we should translate this text “Go and make disciples.” It is important to recognize that the participle, “go,” has no less force than the imperative, “make disciples.” It makes sense, then, that out of the 26 English translations that are included in my version of BibleWorks®, only two of them avoid using an imperative for “go” in this passage.
This view is further supported by several contextual features: (1) the followers of Christ were commanded to make disciples of “all nations.” Since it is unlikely that any of them had ever stepped out of Palestine, “going” would be an absolute necessity. A “wherever you go” approach would not be sufficient; (2) judging from the different settings and chronology, there are at least five post-resurrection occasions in which Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples. On what was the final giving of the Great Commission, just prior to his ascension, Jesus spelled out the geographic dimensions of this Commission (Acts 1:8). It begins with Jerusalem, and it ends with the outermost parts of the earth. Surely “going” is a crucial part of the Commission.
Second, what is the relationship between “make disciples” and the ideas of “baptizing” and “teaching” people to observe all things that Jesus has commanded? These participles tell Jesus’ followers exactly how to make disciples. Baptism is a crucial part of the process, for it openly expresses one’s identification with Christ in His death and resurrection. It brings one into fellowship with all believers in God’s wonderful plan of the ages—the church. However, teaching is absolutely necessary in the process of discipleship, so each believer should be exposed to the teaching of the word of God, which presumes a nexus of edification—the church.
So this text answers the question of how one makes disciples. It is accomplished by means of baptizing (publicly identifying the believer as a follower of Christ) and a thorough teaching program that covers everything that a believer needs to know to walk with God and successfully serve him.
To be continued…
 Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 645.
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.