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Re: [ematthew] the mission to the gentiles - PANTA TA EQNH

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  • Munachi E. Ezeogu
    Larry Swain wrote: a) if Mt. 28:19ff relates to the making of leaders in the community and not to the rank and file, 1) how do interpret the participle
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 5, 2002
      Larry Swain wrote:

      a) if Mt. 28:19ff relates to the making of leaders in the community and not to
      the rank and file, 1)
      how do interpret the participle "going"? 2) the mountain top experience? 3) how
      do you
      grammatically make sense of PANTA TA EQNH--it clearly isn't a genitive, so it
      can't be
      partitive or source. It says, "Disciplize all nations", not "make disciples
      FROM all nations" even
      if we restrict "ethnh" to Galilee. b) how do you picture the baptism? Were not
      all members of
      the community baptized? And if so, were those not in leadership only baptized
      into the F ather,
      not the Son or Spirit? Or some other formula? If on the other hand you take
      baptiX-Mozilla-Status: 0009r all members of the community, how do you claim that
      disciples...baptizing them; is any different on a leadership level and indicates
      that this pertains
      only to leadership? c) similarly how do you take the "teaching them" to be
      different on this
      level....aren't all Christians, even the rank and file, to be taught all that
      Jesus instructed and
      observe it? Or do we have a division, and the gospel rather than written for
      the community, is
      really written only for the leadership since it contains all the things that
      Jesus instructed, to be
      observed by the leadership but not the rank and file?

      My Response:

      Larry, you must have done some detailed work on this subject because you are
      touching on the
      key issues in this pericope. To respond adequately to your questions you would
      need to read my
      entire dissertation, which I am yet in the process of writing. I will contact
      you off list because I
      really need someone like you to keep me focussed on the real issues.

      Before I go to EQNH, let me touch on two related issues you raised. First, no
      matter how one
      understands MAQHTEUSATE, there is no way disciple or baptize "nations" as such.
      PANTA TA EQNH has to be understood as concrete, individual persons belonging to

      The second question you raised is also on target - if it has to do with
      admission to leadership,
      why then talk of baptizing them. In my thesis, I argue that the BAPTISANTES is a
      better reading
      than BAPTIZoNTES which is by far the majority attestation in the manuscripts.
      Here is my

      In place of the widely attested present participle BAPTIZONTES AUTOUS "baptizing
      two important manuscripts have the aorist participle BAPTISANTES AUTOUS "having
      (already) baptized them." These are the 4th century Codex Vaticanus (B) and the
      6th century
      Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis (D). The present participle BAPTIZONTES indicates
      that the
      action of baptizing is in the relative present or future, meaning that the
      prospective disciples are
      as yet unbaptized. The aorist participle BAPTISANTES, on the other hand,
      suggests that the
      action is in the relative past, [ F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of
      the New
      Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, translated and edited by Robert
      W. Funk
      (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1964), n. 339.] meaning
      that the
      candidates for discipleship are already baptized members of the community. Which
      of these did
      Matthew write?

      External criteria weigh heavily in favour of the present tense, since most
      manuscripts have
      BAPTIZONTES. Internal criteria, however, seem to favour the aorist, since it is
      decidedly the
      more difficult reading. [Lectio difficilior lectio potior "the more difficult
      reading is the better
      reading," is one of the key principles of textual criticism.] Given the
      traditional assumption that
      "disciples" refers to new members or converts, it raises the problem of how to
      make disciples, i.e.
      converts, of the already baptized. [The problem disappears when we read the text
      as primarily a
      pastoral document within Matthew's church, in which case discipleship refers to
      a leadership or
      service position in the community that is available only to already baptized
      members.] It is easier
      to explain a change from the aorist to the present tense since that would make
      baptism the
      effective means of "making disciples." It is hard to imagine any reason why a
      later editor would
      want to change the present tense into the aorist. Not even the practice of
      instruction, "a practice well known during the apostolic period" could be cited
      as justifying such
      a change since either variant is consonant with the practice.

      Alexander Balman Bruce suggests that the present participle BAPTIZONTES of the
      Receptus "is probably a conformation to DIDASKONTES in (the) next cause,"
      Balman Bruce, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1 (London: Hodder and
      Stoughton, 1912),
      340.] thereby arguing in favour of the originality of the aorist participle
      BAPTISANTES. These
      considerations persuade me to endorse the Vaticanus and the Bezae as having
      preserved the
      original wording of the text. [Karl Barth examines and accepts the implication
      BAPTISANTES being the correct reading, namely, that baptism would be seen as a
      task in relation to teaching. Nevertheless, he speaks of the aorist reading as a
      mere possibility.
      Karl Barth, "An Exegetical Study of Matthew 28:16-20," in The Theology of the
      Mission, edited by Gerald H. Anderson (New York/Toronto/London: McGraw Hill Book
      Company, 1961), 67.]


      How exactly to understand and translate PANTA TA EQNH in Matt 28:19 has
      remained a hotly
      contested issue in Matthean scholarship. For Karl Barth this issue constitutes
      "the great problem
      of our text." [Barth, "Matthew 28:16-20," 64.] The question - and the
      missiological and
      ideological presuppositions undergirding it - has been succinctly articulated by
      Donald Senior:

      "Does the term "all nations" include Israel as one among many peoples, and
      therefore mean that,
      along with the continuing mission to Israel, Matthew's community is also to
      reach out to
      Gentiles? Or does the term "nations" refer exclusively to Gentiles and therefore
      imply that the
      mission to Israel has ceased and now Matthew's community will go only to
      Gentiles?" [Donald
      Senior, Matthew, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon Press,

      Our research identified four scholarly views on how PANTA TA EQNH is to be
      deriving evenly from two schools of thought. From the school of thought that
      reads Matt 28:16-20 as a missionary mandate, there are the two views that: (a)
      "all nations"
      literally means all nations including the Jewish people, and (b) "all nations"
      refers to Gentile
      nations and excludes the Jewish people. From the school of thought that does not
      read Matt 28:16-20 as a missionary text, we have the views that: (c) "all
      nations" refers to the
      Jewish Diaspora residing in different nations, and (d) "all nations" refers to
      Gentiles living
      within the Jewish province of Matthew's church.

      Given the fact that the Great Commission has traditionally been read as a
      mandate, it is esay to imagine that scholarly debate has mainly been a question
      of deciding
      between the first two options. Theodor Zahn set the stage for the modern debate
      on the issue
      when he wrote at the beginning of the 20th century that just as hol h oikoumen
      does not mean
      the world minus Palestine, so too panta ta ethn does not mean mankind minus
      Israel. [Theodor
      Zahn, Das Evangelium Des Matthäus (Leipzig: Deichert, 1903), 655 n. 7.] But it
      was Wolfgang
      Trilling who, according to Hare-Harrington, made "the most extensive recent
      defense of panta ta
      ethn in Mt 28:19 as including Israel." [Hare and Harrington, "Make Disciples of
      All the
      Gentiles," 364.] Trilling achieved this by examining the four occurrences of
      panta ta ethn in
      Matthew's Gospel (24:9, 14; 25:32; 28:19). He arrived at the conclusion that,
      even though for
      Matthew ethn generally means non-Jews and sometimes pagans, when ethn is
      combined with
      panta it changes its connotation and becomes a designation for all humankind,
      Jews as well as
      Gentiles. John Meier sought to improve on Trilling's methodology by examining
      all the
      occurences of ethnos/ethn in Matthew. Nevertheless, he arrives at the same
      conclusions as
      Trilling, namely, that the use of panta ta ethn in Matthew, and especially in
      Matt 28:19 is
      all-inclusive, embracing Jews and Gentiles alike. [Meier, "Nations or Gentiles
      in Matthew

      The main challenge to Trilling's position came from Douglas R.A. Hare and
      Daniel J.
      Harrington. [Hare and Harrington, "Make Disciples of All the Gentiles."] Hare
      and Harrington
      examined the use of ethnos/ethn in the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint, in
      early rabbinical and
      Christian literature and especially in Matthew's Gospel. Their conclusion is
      that ethn was
      generally used as a designation for non-Jews or Gentiles. Then they analysed the
      occurrences in Matthew's Gospel of the phrase panta ta ethn which Trilling had
      studied earlier
      and concluded that an "examination of all the instances of panta ta ethn in
      Matthew's Gospel
      apart from 28:19 reveals that in no case can it be persuasively argued that the
      phrase includes
      Israel. Rather, panta ta ethn designates non-Jewish mankind in its entirety
      (with or without
      Gentile Christians)." [p. 366] From this they concluded "that math teusate panta
      ta ethn means
      "make disciples of all the Gentiles" and that panta ta ethn in Matt 28:19 does
      not include the
      nation of Israel." [p. 359] The non-inclusive understanding of panta ta ethn
      has gained the
      support of many contemporay Matthean scholars and has been defended by Schuyler
      Brown and
      Stephen Hre Kio. [Schuyler Brown, "The Matthean Community and the Gentile
      Novum Testamentum 22, no. 3 (July 1980): 193-221; Kio, "Understanding and
      'Nations' in Mt 28:19."]

      The arguments in favour of limiting the literal meaning in Matthew of panta
      ta ethn to
      Gentiles or non-Jews are persuasive. Not so, however, the conclusion that Jews
      are thereby
      excluded from discipleship. The one conclusion does not necessarily imply the
      other. [See
      Douglas R.A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and
      (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 333: "This interpretation [that panta ta
      ethn in Matt 28:19
      literally refers only to Gentiles] does not necessarily exclude Jews as
      prospective disciples."] Our
      reading of Matt 28:16-20 indicates that it is a communication in which both
      addresser and
      addressees are all Jewish. Hence the consistent reference to the Gentiles in the
      third person as
      "they" (28:19b-20a) as distinct from the second person of the addressees
      (28:19a, 20b). The
      discipling of the Jews is not in question here, it is taken for granted. A
      similar position was
      argued by Karl Barth, albeit from a different perspective: "'All nations'
      means . people from
      Gentile lands, from the goyim. This does not exclude Israel. Her right of the
      first-born, her
      dignitas primogeniturae, as Calvin called it, remains unimpaired." [Barth,
      "Matthew 28:16-20,"

      We now come to the third and fouth views regarding the meaning of panta ta ethn
      in Matt
      28:19. The view that "all nations" could refer to Jews of the Diaspora scattered
      among the
      Gentile nations was suggested by Peter O'Brien in an article that questioned
      whether the Great
      Commission was a mission mandate or not. [. Peter O'Brien, "The Great Commission
      Matthew 28:16-20: A Missionary Mandate or Not?" Reformed Theological Review 35,
      no. 3
      (September-December 1976): 73.] O'Brien did not follow up or develop the idea.
      his suggestion has not been picked up by subsequent scholars. It is possible,
      however, to read the
      Lucan account of the Pentecost in which "devout Jews from every nation"APO
      EQNOUS (Acts 2:5) assembled in Jerusalem heard the gospel and three thousand
      turned to the
      Lord and were baptized as a proleptic fulfilment of the Great Commission, given
      the fact that
      Luke uses "disciples" in a more generic sense than Matthew. That, however, would
      be a Lucan
      and not a Matthean tradition.

      The fourth and final view, that "all nations" refers to Gentiles living within
      the Jewish milieu
      seems to be more appropriate for the Matthean context. Without denying the
      missionary or
      universalistic import of the mandate "to all the nations," James LaGrand points
      out that its initial
      reference was to "Galilee of the Goyim." [LaGrand, The Earliest Christian
      Mission, 239.] In a
      monograph devoted to reconciling the apparent contradiction between the mission
      (Matt 10:5, 35) and the Great Commission (Matt 28:19), T.W. Manson makes the
      observation that "It was the incorporation of Gentiles into the Christian body,
      not the inculcation
      of Christian ideas into Gentile minds, that was the living issue in the middle
      of the first century."
      [T.W. Manson, Only to the House of Israel? Facet Books Biblical Series
      (Philadelphia: Fortress
      Press, 1964), 5-6] In other words, the issue was how and to what extent Gentile
      within the Matthean church are to be admitted to membership, not proactive
      mission to persuade
      Gentiles to accept the Christian faith. Our research gives an edge to that
      observation: the issue in
      the Great Commission pericope was the admission of Gentiles into the ministerial
      order of
      disciples and not to ordinary membership which many of them had already attained
      "since they
      have been baptized," BAPTSANTES AUTOU.

      We, therefore, subscribe to the view that panta ta ethn in Matt 28:19 refers,
      literally and in the
      context of Matthew and his first readers, to Gentiles living within the domain
      of Matthew's
      church. Even though panta ta ethn seems to refers to collectives
      (nations/Gentiles) it is clear that
      individuals are meant, since, as Hare points out, "it is not possible to baptize
      a nation but only the
      individuals who comprise it." Matthew is trying to open the service order of
      discipleship which
      has been an exclusive Jewish club to Gentile candidates. Thus, against the
      geographical understanding of ethn as nation-states we propose a demographical
      one in which it
      refers to ethnic foreigners or aliens of diverse nationalities domiciling among
      the Jews.
      With this understanding, how then are we to translate panta ta ethn in Matt
      28:19? Its
      immediate, literal reference is to Gentiles, i.e., non-Jews. The inclusion of
      the Jews is, however,
      taken for granted. In effect, therefore, what we have here is a universalization
      of discipleship. If
      translating ethn as "all the Gentiles" would give the wrong impression that
      Jews were out of it, it
      would then be safer to translate it as "all the nations." This would be a
      concession to the
      sensitivities of the receiving language and a departure from the literal sense,
      strictly speaking.
      Minear is of the very same view, namely, that while the phrase refers to
      "Gentiles," it should be
      translated as "nations" to avoid misunderstanding. [Minear, Good News, 118].
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