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Last updated: Sep 23, 2013
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Question: Why do you believe the "Great Commission" in Matthew 28:19-20 should begin "As you go", instead of as a command "Go ye"?
I wish I could just say that the answer is a simple application of the Greek grammar, but I believe this passage is one of the most difficult to correctly translate, and yet, the thrust of the words of Jesus are very simple - "make disciples".
The main thrust is simple, but, how the "Great Commission" applies to us, is a different matter.
Matthew 28:18-20 in the KJV states "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (the consummation of the Age). Amen".
"Therefore" of verse 19 is very important, because it gives us the "basis" for the "Great Commission". "Therefore" refers to the statement of Jesus in verse 18, that He has been given all authority in heaven and earth.
As far as we know, this commission was only given to the eleven disciples: Matt 28:16 "Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them". (To the "eleven disciples" in Mark's account also, in Mark 16:14). It is the statement of Jesus in verse 20, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the Age" which indicates that the "Ekklesia", or "called out ones", which are the gifted and diverse "Body of Christ", are to continue to carry out this "Great Commission" throughout the Church Age.
The "Great Commission" of Matthew 28:19-20 only contains one verb, and that is to "teach", in verse 19, which is the Aorist, Active, Imperative form of "matheteuo", a command to "teach, instruct, to make disciples."
"Go ye" is an "aorist, passive, participle", and "baptize", and "teaching" are "present, active, participles" whose action is concomitant with the aorist action of the verb "matheteuo". The command is to "teach, instruct, to make disciples." .
The Koine Greek "aorist" tense is generally "punctiliar", or "at one point in time", and generally in "time past", but specifically, the aorist tense describes the action "as a whole" and "divorced from time". There is no "time element" inherent in the Greek "aorist" tense, and it can be a "point in time", past, present, or future, and can even be a broad expanse of time, encompassing past, present, AND future.
The "Aorist Active Imperative" verb of command in Matt. 28:19, to "make disciples", is not a simple "one time" action at a "point in time", but all the action is FUTURE to the command given by Jesus and encompasses the evangelistic efforts of the whole Body of Christ - functioning in their particular part of the Body - as they are led by the Holy Spirit, throughout the entire Church Age!
Not every member of the body of Christ has the "teaching" gift, not all will "baptize", not all will "go" specifically to "make disciples", but, the entire Body of Christ, as they are led by the Holy Spirit, will carry out the Great Commission - throughout the entire Church Age.
The term "aorist" tense comes from the Greek word "horistos", the Greek word for "horizon", prefixed with the "a" negative to become "ahoristos", translated "aorist", meaning "undefined", or "without a horizon". Without a "horizon", we have no "dividing line", or "reference point", and we don't know where we are, or even what is up and what is down. If you have flown in an aircraft over the ocean on a hazy day, with the sun at your back, you have probably experienced "ahoristos" and all you see through the windshield is white, and without a "horizon", ships on the ocean's surface seem to be below you when the aircraft is level or in a "nose high" attitude, but the same ships seem to be suspended above you when the aircraft is "nose down". "Ahoristos", in Greek grammar, leaves "time" "undefined", and with no "reference point".
A. T. Robertson, on page 829 of his big Grammar, "A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research", terms the timeless "panoramic" type of action, where the emphasis is on the "conclusion", the "effective aorist".
On page 824, Robertson states that "The aorist stem represents action in its simplest form", and that "This action is timeless". We really don't know whether the action of the aorist is past, present, or future, a "point" in time, or a "vast expanse" of time, except by the context.
And, on page 1114, Robertson states that "the timelessness of the aorist participle is well shown by John 16:2" "They shall put (Fut, Act, Indic) you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh (Pres, M/P, Indic), that whosoever "killeth" (Aor, Act, Participle) you will think (Aor, Act, Subj) that he doeth (Pres, Act, Infin) God service". The "aorist" action of the participle here can be any "point in time" throughout the future life of the hearer, and spoken to the disciples of Christ, encompasses the future martyrdom of many, if not all, of them. All of the action of this aorist participle is future to the hearers and it encompasses the martyrdom of all who will be martyred.
Examples of the "Effective" Aorist:
1. Heb 2:10 "For it became (Imperf, Act, Indic) him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing (2 Aorist, Act, Participle) many sons unto glory, to make (Aor, Act, Infin) the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings". The verb here is "imperfect indicative" - past completed action, and the aorist participle expresses the "effective" action of "bringing" many sons unto glory! In this case, the aorist participle encompasses a panorama of past, present, and future time!
2. Luke 12:47 "And that servant, which knew (2 Aor, Act, Participle) his lord's will, and prepared (Aor, Act, Participle) not himself, neither did (Aor, Act, Participle) according to his will, shall be beaten (2 Fut, Act, Indicative) with many stripes". The aorist participles encompass the "effective" action of a lifetime of knowing, but not preparing, and not doing.
3. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 "For if we believe (Pres, Act, Indicative) that Jesus died (2 Aor, Act, Indicative) and rose (2 Aor, Act, Indicative) again, even so them also which sleep (Aor, Pass, Participle) in Jesus will God bring (Fut, Act, Indicative) with him". The "aorist participle" here expresses the "effective action" of millions of people believing in Jesus throughout the Church Age and encompasses the death of each of the Church Age saints, past, present, and future, and their return with Jesus to "catch away" those who are "alive and remain", at the end of the Church Age.
Matthew 28:19, the "Great Commission":
If, Matthew is trying to communicate a command for each child of God to "go", why didn't Matthew use the "imperative verb form" of "poreuomai"? Instead, both Matthew and Mark used a simple participle in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 15:16, - going therefore, or when you go, or as you go.
Matthew certainly knew the imperative VERB form of "poreuomai", because he used it 6 times in his Gospel:
--- Matt 8:9 "For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go (Aor, Pass, Imperative of "poreuomai"), and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it".
--- Matthew 2:20 "Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go (Pres, Mid/Pass, Imperative of "poreuomai") into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life".
--- Matthew 10:6 "But go (Pres, Mid/Pass, Imperative of "poreuomai") rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel".
--- Matthew 22:9 "Go ye (Pres, Mid/Pass, Imperative of "poreuomai") therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage".
--- Matthew 25:9 "But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye (Pres, Mid/Pass, Imperative of "poreuomai") rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves".
--- Matthew 25:41 "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart (Pres, Mid/Pass, Imperative of "poreuomai") from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels".
I believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, therefore I believe both Matthew and Mark used the word and form they MEANT to use and said what they were "TRYING" to say.
A "command to go" always requires a stated destination or direction. If there was an aorist (one time) command to "GO" in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 15:16, I would have to ask, where should each child of God "go", only once, and at what "point in time" should they "go"?
The action of the Greek aorist tense is not "continual", or "linear", or "start, stop, start, stop", but "punctiliar" - the action being completely summed up in the statement. We know Matthew is not commanding every born again child of God to "go" "somewhere", "one time" and make disciples "one time" at a point in time!
As a matter of fact, Paul commanded the new believers in Corinth to stay in the same "calling" when they were called, in 1 Cor 7:20-24: "Let every man abide (Pres, Act, Imperative) in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God". In this passage Paul even commands new believers who are slaves not to seek their freedom - don't worry about it - because a Godly slave - who could "go" nowhere - could serve God as well as a freeman!
Also, in 1 Cor. 12:29, the Apostle Paul states that not all members of the Body of Christ have a "teaching" gift. Now, if NOT all are teachers, and Paul commands slaves not to seek their freedom, and obviously not all will baptize others, then the "Great Commission" can not apply equally, across the board, to every individual member of the body of Christ, but, must be considered as a whole, and must apply to the body of Christ - as a whole - each member having its own special function in "going", "making disciples", "baptizing", and "teaching"!
This is why I believe the "timeless aorist" participle "poreuthentes", "to go" in Matt 28:19 means "as you go", wherever the members of the Body of Christ go - a timeless panorama of Christian service - by the Body of Christ - throughout the Church Age.
The organized Church has paid great attention to the "participle" "go ye" part of Matt. 28:19, in order to recruit members, as if it actually was a divine command, but we have paid very little attention to the actual VERB of "command", to make authentic "disciples" for Christ, and then to "keep on teaching them all things whatsoever I have commanded you". I am afraid we tend to pay more attention to those things which "appear" to produce the most "success", instead of obeying the entire Great Commission.
How did the early Church respond to the "Great Commission"? The first seven chapters of Acts state that the Church was a witness of Jesus in Jerusalem and Judea. It was not until the persecution led by Saul, and the resultant scattering of the Church, that the witness of Christ was extended to Samaria in Acts 8:1.
It is not until Acts 11:19 that the witness of God's people extended beyond Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. And they did not travel to these places to preach the Gospel, the witness was extended due to persecution which forced Christians to flee Jerusalem.
In Acts 8:1 & 4, and 11:19, and in James 1:1 and 1 Peter 1:1, we find that the saints were "scattered" "diaspeiro" abroad, due to persecution. "Diaspeiro", means to "plant seeds". In Matt. 13:37-38, in explaining the parable of the "wheat and tares" Jesus said "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom". Now, a farmer does not just "scatter" seeds when he plants a crop, he carefully plants each variety of seeds right where he want them! There is no doubt in my mind that when God's people are "scattered", God "places" each saint in a new location - right where He wants them! No doubt either, from human viewpoint, it appeared that the saints were randomly "scattered". The Gospel was spread wherever believers were "planted" - right where God wanted them!
The Church proclaimed the Word "as they went" wherever they went.
Prior to Acts Chapter 11, we only find Philip being divinely and supernaturally sent to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts chapter 8, and the Apostle Peter being divinely and supernaturally sent to Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. This covers approximately the first 8 years of the Church Age.
Some members of the Body of Christ are called by the Lord into missionary service. I have observed two types of missionaries, one looks at all the openings and options and rejects the open fields until they find the one they want. The other type feels a calling from the Lord to a particular destination and they will do what it takes to go there - with or without the help of the Board - and despite every obstacle!
The bottom line, to me, is that the participle "poreuthentes", translated "go" in Matt. 28:19 and Mark 16:15 is "passive voice", and that indicates to me that we are all to depend on the leading and motivation of the Holy Spirit as we function in the Body of Christ.
If the Church is busy "going", to make converts to fill the churches, but does not "keep on teaching them all the things whatsoever I have commanded you", we miss the point of the Great Commission and all we produce is massive turnovers of Church attendees.
Therefore, I believe we are to "wait on the Lord", and to keep on growing in Grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, to stay "in fellowship" and to depend on the Lord's leading concerning when and where to "go", and when to "stay", and "as we, the Body of Christ, function in our gift(s), and as we go" along life's path, we are to "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and to "keep on teaching" them to observe, as Jesus stated "all things whatsoever I have commanded you" - the "whole council of God".
Thank you for asking this question concerning the "Great Commission"!