'Oh Hey… And While You're Out, Make Some Disciples.'

blog-go-graphicI had another one of those discussions about the ‘Great Commission’ yesterday where the well intended, but erroneous assumption that The “GO” in Matthew 28:19 really means ‘as you go,’ and should be translated something like this:

“As you go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Or maybe this:

“Having gone, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

I like the second one better, but here’s how I would translate it:

“Go, and having gone (while you’re out), make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

For not so geeky Greek students, the “GO” in Matthew 28:19 is an Aorist Participle in Passive voice. What does that mean? Well, if it stood by itself it WOULD mean ‘having gone’ or maybe  ‘as you go,’ or even ‘while you’re out.’  🙄

In any of these cases, a critical component is missing. The imperative to “Go,” or to state it more clearly, “ALL MUST GO.”

I don’t think we get to choose which concept, ‘must be going,’ or ‘as you are going’ (having already gone), we get to keep and which one we can lose. Those who tend to over-reach and have a habit of telling others when, where, and how they should be going andfall on the side of the imperative or insistent assuming that ‘EVERYONE’ must GO. This going, in their minds means that one must move outward from their geographic location as in the case of the over-quoted and misapplied “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

But, I’m pretty sure that when pressed, the same people would allow for moving out of comfort zones, paradigms, entrenched ministry philosophies and the like. However you interpret “Go” in Matthew 28:19, there is motion. There is movement towards, movement away from, and often movement back to.

Those that tend towards under-reaching, non-movement, and fear of proclaiming the gospel are happy to interpret the ‘GO’ in Mathew 28:19 in a less demanding and more passive way. They over-state their case when they say things like; “Well, you know that the “GO” in the Great Commission really means ‘as you go,’ and so we don’t have to actually go anywhere. We just have to make disciples ‘as we go’ about our normal day-to-day lives, just let Jesus’ light shine through, and ‘be’ good examples.”

That’s half right.

You see, there’s this sneaky little rule in Ancient Greek. It’s called the rule of attendant circumstance. Yeah, I know… sounds too complicated. In principle this rule says that the participle, in our case “Go” piggy-backs off of the main verb of its context. In the case of Matthew 28:19, that main verb is mathēteusate (Disciple or Make Disciples). That main verb is imperative. It’s a must. So “Go,” while passive by itself gets piggy-backed with “Make Disciples” and becomes coordinate with it. The Greek rule says that the passive participle picks up the characteristics of the imperative verb.

So, those who say that “Go” is a command and that we must all do it, are correct. AND, those who say we should disciple other ethnicities “as we go” about our daily lives are also correct. Regardless of which side you fall on more strongly, there can be no doubt that the discipling of others MUST happen.

Grammarian Daniel Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basic), says that;


“. . . there is no good grammatical ground for giving the participle “go” a mere temperal idea. To turn πορευθέντες into an adverbial participle is to turn the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion! Virtually all instances in narrative literature of aorist participle + aorist imperative involve an attendant circumstance participle. In Matthew, in particular, every other instance of the aorist participle of πορευθέντες followed by an aorist main verb (either indicative or imperative) is clearly attendant circumstance.”


I know, again too complicated. he’s just saying that there are virtually no examples in the New Testament Scripture where the piggy-back rule doesn’t apply.

Just an observation… I have rarely, if ever, heard the ‘as you are going’ translation from someone who was already going. I only hear it from people who tend towards sitting still, or for one reason or another, don’t like to venture out with the messenger (Jesus) and His message (The Gospel). That stillness, or resistance to ‘go’ can be apostasy. Check out this short article to see why.

One more thought.  Whether it’s ‘having gone,’ ‘while we’re going,’ ‘while you’re out,’ or just plain ‘GO,’ we carry a message. While each believer is capable of exuding Jesus, being salt & light amongst people, and being a good example, it is the message of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation for those that believe. (Romans 1:16). And again, it is THAT message (Logos) which is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) There is no scenario, in either having gone or going which doesn’t include communicating that message to the unbeliever and believer alike. “How blessed are those that bring, publish, transmit, relay, communicate, announce, and move the Gospel.” (Isaiah 52:7)  Yes, by all means, BE people of peace and grace and hope and kindness and patience, but don’t jettison the message or discount the POWER of the same.

A few questions…

  1. Why do you think that the ‘As you go Make Disciples’ translation is still so popular?
  2. Can discipleship be passive?
  3. Can discipleship happen without the gospel?



0 thoughts on “'Oh Hey… And While You're Out, Make Some Disciples.'

  1. Marshall says:

    the aorist participle is fine, and as it assumes the audience will in fact be “going” (traversing) out from that place and to other points. It is “making learners” that carries the imperative form (which some may see as a command, while others being filled in Christ find this more to be their joy). If you can, by the mercies of God, make learners/disciples from a single location (ref: at the school of Tyrannus), there seems no prohibition.

  2. These are two blog posts from my website. This view is just awful, that it could ever mean “as you are going”. I hope that the reason for this is just sloppy exegesis. But but discipleship cannot be passive- Jesus clearly commanded us to do it here. And without the gospel what are we discipling anyone toward? Ourselves, our church- it must be to Jesus. http://urpeoples.net/2015/05/23/correcting-a-terrible-interpretationtranslation-of-the-great-commission/ . The second one here has links to work by Dr Daniel Wallace, a better scholar than myself. Hope this is helpful to this. http://urpeoples.net/2015/05/23/correcting-a-terrible-view-of-the-great-commission-part-2-the-professional/

  3. Peter says:

    “Go, and having gone (while you’re out), make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

    How it should be:

    19 “Go, and having gone (while you’re out), and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    That is a comma after the word Holy Spirit

    The difference is VERY IMPORTANT.

  4. 1.Why do you think that the ‘As you go Make Disciples’ translation is still so popular?

    I see a couple of possibilities. It could be that the bulk of scholarship on the Gospel according to Matthew over the centuries has been sloppy and that we are just now figuring out that “go” is a sort of passive imperative (emphasis on the imperative). Or it could be that the bulk of scholarship on this passage is correct that it is indeed proper to see “go” as “as you are going”.

    From my perspective, I don’t see how this matters even a tiny bit. If “go” is assumed, then we must assume that it will happen; that it is normative; that to sit home and do nothing is nowhere near and obedient stance. My own layman’s review of a dozen or so writers and professors on this lines up with this:

    1. “Go” is an aorist participle.
    2. “Make Disciples” is an aorist main verb.
    3. #1 being in the same sentence as #2 changes the impact of #1 so that it is assumed to happen as opposed an option.

    Therefore, “as you go” is an assumption that “going” is going to take place and that rest of the commission is not going to happen without going.

    So, “Go”, “As you go”, “As you are going”, “As you have gone”…yawn…are all difference in search of distinction when we have the clear command to “make disciples” and to do so among every ethno-linguistic peoples (“nation’).

    2.Can discipleship be passive?

    It is intentional. Can I live to the glory of God and positively impact someone’s sanctification by how I am enjoying and living out the grace that I have been given…and can I do so without even knowing that I’m having an impact? Sure. But that’s a sideline thing; a supporting role kind of thing. Making disciples takes work and it exacts a cost (to the disciple maker and the one being made into a disciple maker).

    3.Can discipleship happen without the gospel?

    Sure it can. Of course, without the gospel one is being made into a disciple of something other than gospel or of someone other than Jesus. 2 Corinthians 3:18 refers to what happens when we spend significant time in observation of something or someone: we become what we behold. A child who is adopted into a family tends to take on the tastes and accents of that family over time. The dominant culture in a particular area is considered “dominant” because it bends all other resident cultures to itself over time.

    • Marshall says:

      excellent response, Jonathan.

      (somehow I missed Miguel’s questions 2&3 earlier)

      2) have been regarding all the effort to make learners of Christ that is not consciously intentioned to be “passive”. This includes the surprises when & where someone recounts things learned on-to Christ with me of which I had no former knowledge in the doing (while with them).

      3) I am witness to the evangel (gospel) as the invitation to becoming a learner/disciple of Christ. However, there are examples of men following after the teachings of Christ without yet realizing the depth of “good news” He is. Do hope to remain alert, as some have yet only heard a fraction-of-gospel or even a “different gospel”.

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