Baptism “Into the Name Of”
A STUDY of the thousands of ancient secular papyrus documents found in the sands of Egypt at the beginning of this century often throws interesting light on the Christian Greek Scriptures. How? By considering the way in which certain words were used, we are guided to a more precise understanding of the same words in their Scriptural setting.
One example is Jesus’ use of “in the name of” when he commanded his disciples before he ascended to heaven: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.” What did Jesus mean?—Matthew 28:19.
Scholars have discovered that in secular writings the expression “in the name of,” or “into the name of” (Kingdom Interlinear), is used with reference to payments “to the account of any one.” Theology professor Dr. G. Adolf Deissmann believed that in view of the evidence from the papyri, “the idea underlying . . . the expressions to baptise into the name of the Lord, or to believe into the name of the Son of God, is that baptism or faith constitutes the belonging to God or to the Son of God.”—Deissmann’s italics.
Interestingly, a similar expression was used by the Jews of Jesus’ day, as explained in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: “The circumcision of a proselyte is done . . . ‘in the name of the proselyte,’ to receive him into Judaism. This circumcision takes place . . . ‘in the name of the covenant,’ to receive him into the covenant.” A relationship is thereby established and the non-Jew becomes a proselyte under the covenant’s authority.
So for the Christian, baptism following dedication establishes an intimate relationship with Jehovah God, his Son Jesus Christ, and the holy spirit. The convert recognizes their respective authority in his new way of life. Consider how this is true for each of the three named.
By recognizing God’s authority, we draw close to him and enter into a relationship with him. (Hebrews 12:9; James 4:7, 8) We become God’s property as his slaves, bought with the price of Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice. (1 Corinthians 3:23; 6:20) The apostle Paul also told first-century Christians that they belonged to Jesus Christ, not to any men who might have taken the truth to them. (1 Corinthians 1:12, 13; 7:23; compare Matthew 16:24.) Baptism in the name of the Son implies recognizing this fact, accepting Jesus as “the way and the truth and the life.”—John 14:6.
The holy spirit is also essential to our right relationship with Jehovah and Jesus Christ. Baptism in the name of the holy spirit shows that we recognize the role of the spirit in God’s dealings with us. We intend to follow its guidance, not disregarding it or acting contrary to it, blocking its working through us. (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19) The spirit’s impersonal nature creates no difficulty as to usage or meaning, any more than the usage “in the name of the covenant” did in Judaism.
At the time of dedication and baptism, therefore, we need to reflect prayerfully on what is involved in our new relationship. It requires submission to the will of God, demonstrated in the example and ransom provision of Jesus Christ, to be carried out through holy spirit as it directs all of God’s servants in love and unity worldwide.