I 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…
- Why do you think that the ‘As you go Make Disciples’ translation is still so popular?
- Can discipleship be passive?
- Can discipleship happen without the gospel?