Friday, October 8, 2010

Trellis, vines, baptism and making disciples

"Jesus told his apostles to disciple all the nations. The way his words are often translated, “to make disciples of all nations”, allows for a misconception to arise. It is the nations that are to be discipled, baptized and taught, not merely individuals out of the nations. The gospel will heal the nations and in the book of Revelation the nations shall walk in the light of the glory of God and bring their treasures to the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 21:24, 26; 22:2). This glorious result of the exaltation of the Messiah had been prophesied in the Old Testament (Isa 11:10, 12; 25:7; 49:6, 7; 52:15). All the nations, that is the peoples and their cultures, are to be Christianized by the knowledge of the triune God. Christ’s commission to his followers is to baptize the nations, to bring them under his leadership, as their Lord and their teacher."
D B Knox
“D.Broughton Knox Selected Works Volume II - Church and Ministry”; ed. K. Birkett; Matthias Media 2003; p277-282.

Knox isn't arguing against the practice of water baptism here, simply arguing against applying the commission to individuals, and hence their individual baptism. Though individual baptism, discipling and teaching may be good ways to achieve the 'baptism of the nations' the individuals are not the goal of the commission. Jesus' use of the terms 'baptize', 'disciple' and 'teach' is metaphorical.

Now, baptism isn't a huge issue for us in Sydney anymore, but 'disciple-making' is.

In a more recent Matthais release, Col Marshal and Tony Payne use the great commission to argue that the chief goal of the church is to 'make disciples'. By this they mean individual followers of Jesus, and put great emphasis on one-to-one Bible reading with personal application. Yet the great goal of the church is to bring the nations in line with Jesus their Lord, not just individuals. Tony and Col fall into the misunderstanding that Knox points out, interpreting the verse as 'make disciples from all the nations'. The only problem is that there is no 'from' in the verse. (neither is there a genitive 'of'). They have missed the metaphorical (or at least stretched) use of the words. Just as the nations wont be 'baptized' the way individuals are, they wont be 'discipled' in exactly the same way either. The original disciples were NOT commanded simply to repeat the experience they had had under Jesus.
What does this mean for Tony and Col's claim that all disciples are to be 'disciple makers'?
Well, if it means that all christians are to be part of bringing the knowledge of the Triune God to bear on every aspect of the world, to call it to faithfulness and praise of as Jesus the Lord, in personal and political and economical and social realms, in their homes, in their work, in their time with others, in their time alone, in their actions as well as their words, in their practice of accounting and maintenance, as part of their lives within those nations, as citizens or sojourners, as mechanics or orators, as homeless or as presidents, as large institutional organizations and as bare individuals, then, ok.
But if they mean that every christian should take on a quasi-pastoral role, should be speakers, should do one-on-one Bible study with someone. Well, I don't know. They are still good things...but...

The terrible irony in all this is that Tony and Col have a go at another bunch of people, Missionaries, for their use of this verse.
According to Payne and Marshall, the missionaries are wrong to use this verse to promote overseas mission.
Payne and Marshal note that the main verb of the sentence is not 'go' but 'make disciples'. The other three verb forms (go, baptize and teach) are participles.
So far, so good.
But Payne and Marshall then argue that this means that the best way to translate 'go' is 'when you go' or ' as you go..make disciples'. You might go, but you might not.
The only problem is, this isn't the best way to translate it.
The participle is an aorist, before an aorist imperative. It is a participle of attendant circumstance. This participle construction takes the mood of the main verb. Yes, the emphasis is on the main verb, but, as Dan Wallace says (in a second year greek text)
"there is no good grammatical ground for giving the participle a mere temporal idea...Virtually all instances in narrative literature of aorist participle+ aorist imperative involve attendant circumstance participle. In Matthew in particular, every other instance of the aorist participle of 'go' followed by a main verb..is clearly attendant circumstance."
D B Wallace 'Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics' 645

So, the missionaries were right, going is part of the command. Which is no surprise really, since the disciples are commanded to disciple all nations. It would be tricky to do that without a little travel.


I'm sure the rest of the book has some good ideas for evangelism and nurturing people. It may have some strategies that are helpful.
But it's use of the great commission is theologically and exegetically naive. Since this interpretation of the Great Commission forms the basis of the books claims about the true goal of everything the church should be doing, the whole book should be read with a grain of salt.

31 comments:

Matt Bales said...
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Matt Bales said...
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Seumas Macdonald said...

Thanks for this brother. I'm working on a review of T&V at the moment. Your material from DBK is right on the money, though I wonder if we don't need to do more thinking about how πάντα τὰ ἔθνη carries freight that 'the nations' doesn't.

That participle thing bugged me incessantly. I don't have much patience for Wallace, but he's saying what I'm saying. Mt 2:13 has the same construction and you'd definitely treat the participle as imperative there.

The book deserves a fair reading though. I almost didn't read it due to some negative publicity.

Mike W said...

i think it deserves to be read too. I quite like it. It has to be read as some good ideas for some parts of the church. But instead it sets itself up as the benchmark against which all church and ministry should be judged. I feel like the theology of church is missing something. I worry that this may be like the ESV debate. (which is where the 'theologically naive' jibe comes from). There is a big difference between saying 'this is good' and 'this is the only good'
As for Wallace, well, yeah, I just couldn't be bothered looking up the real guys, but I'm pretty sure he is right on this one.
What kind of freight are you thinking for panta ta ethe (how did you do greek in comments!)
Looking forward to your comprehensive review.

Seumas Macdonald said...

No doubt that Wallace is right. I simply meant that his multiplication of categories approach doesn't tell us what a text means, only how to categorise it once you do know what it means.

re: Greek in comments. In this case I simply cut and paste from Logos, but I use Tavultesoft Keyman more regularly to type in Greek unicode, which works fine on websites. I suppose I mean that τὰ ἔθνη plays into a broader Jew/Gentile-> one new humanity aspect of the Gospel, which can be underplayed when we simply talk about reaching the nations as foreign peoples, places, and (worst of all) nation-states.

Matthew said...

Like! Like like like!

Mike W said...

yes, nations then aint the same as nations now. We do tend to use these verses as, 'god likes multiculturalism' rather than the one new humanity thing.

Mike Bull said...

Funny thing is, this kind of evangelism is going on around the world -- just not in western countries. We've become fallow ground and need breaking up again.

Tony Payne said...

Hi guys,

Payne here. (Since we seem to be on last-name terms these days!). I confess to being at a loss to think the instance you're referring to Matt (re claiming that missionaries misuse the Bible, or that you don't have to go anywhere, or going on the attack on this subject.) Maybe you've got me confused with someone else, since I can't see how I could have ever been minister at any church you've attended (on account of not having been on a church staff anywhere since 1987).

Anyway, that's as maybe. I wanted to thank you guys for pointing me towards a better translation of poreuthentes. My Greek is a bit rusty these days, and I wasn't aware of (or had forgotten) the 'attendant circumstance' usage you refer to. Mind you, I probably should have picked it up in context from verse 7, where the same construction (aorist participle + imperative) clearly has the sense of 'go and do this'. I'll chase this up further, but if you're right (and I suspect you are), I'll make sure I correct this in the next edition of the book.

I suspect it doesn't alter the grammatical emphasis of the verse (leaning a little harder on the 'making disciples' rather than the 'going'), but I certainly don't want to exclude the 'going'. In fact, in the part of 'Trellis and Vine' where we discuss this, the point we were wanting to make is summed up thus: "We would not ever want to stop sending out missionaries to preach the gospel in places where it is yet to be heard, but we must also see disciple-making as our central task in our homes and neighbourhoods and churches" (p. 13).

Which brings me to the main point of your post Mike. I understand and agree that v. 19 is about 'discipling the nations' (that's what it says), but I'm struggling to see any basis in the passage for taking this to be a 'corporate' as opposed to an 'individual' task -- as if the commission is to Christianize cultures or societies in a way that is somehow different from or in opposition to the making of individual disciples. I'm particularly noticing the masculine plural autous in verse 19 and again in 20 as the object of the baptizing and teaching. If a kind of corporate/societal baptizing and teaching of the nations as nations was on view, would we not have expected the neuter plural (if it was ta ethne that was being baptized and taught)?

But as I said, my Greek is a little rusty.

TP

Tony Payne said...

Hi guys,

Payne here. (Since we seem to be on last-name terms these days!). I confess to being at a loss to think the instance you're referring to Matt (re claiming that missionaries misuse the Bible, or that you don't have to go anywhere, or going on the attack on this subject.) Maybe you've got me confused with someone else, since I can't see how I could have ever been minister at any church you've attended (on account of not having been on a church staff anywhere since 1987).

Anyway, that's as maybe. I wanted to thank you guys for pointing me towards a better translation of poreuthentes. My Greek is a bit rusty these days, and I wasn't aware of (or had forgotten) the 'attendant circumstance' usage you refer to. Mind you, I probably should have picked it up in context from verse 7, where the same construction (aorist participle + imperative) clearly has the sense of 'go and do this'. I'll chase this up further, but if you're right (and I suspect you are), I'll make sure I correct this in the next edition of the book.

I suspect it doesn't alter the grammatical emphasis of the verse (leaning a little harder on the 'making disciples' rather than the 'going'), but I certainly don't want to exclude the 'going'. In fact, in the part of 'Trellis and Vine' where we discuss this, the point we were wanting to make is summed up thus: "We would not ever want to stop sending out missionaries to preach the gospel in places where it is yet to be heard, but we must also see disciple-making as our central task in our homes and neighbourhoods and churches" (p. 13).

Which brings me to the main point of your post Mike. I understand and agree that v. 19 is about 'discipling the nations' (that's what it says), but I'm struggling to see any basis in the passage for taking this to be a 'corporate' as opposed to an 'individual' task -- as if the commission is to Christianize cultures or societies in a way that is somehow different from or in opposition to the making of individual disciples. I'm particularly noticing the masculine plural autous in verse 19 and again in 20 as the object of the baptizing and teaching. If a kind of corporate/societal baptizing and teaching of the nations as nations was on view, would we not have expected the neuter plural (if it was ta ethne that was being baptized and taught)?

But as I said, my Greek is a little rusty.

TP

Mike Bull said...

Hey, Mike, Doug Wilson must read your blog!

http://www.dougwils.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8079:just-getting-started&catid=136:dualism-is-bad-juju

Matt Bales said...

Tony, you weren't on staff but I do remember you preaching and being involved in the ministry I sat under.

My point was simply (but badly put) the particular exegesis of Mt 28 was repeated every time the passage was brought up.

As I said, sore point and I apologise for offense.

Matt Bales said...

Tony. I don't understand the need to be negative about missionaries using Mt28 to encourage people to think about going. Rather, mission pushes us to believe in the value of local churches both here and abroad. Not in competition.

There is an imperatival force to going. And its part of the new testament's understanding of where we belong. When encouraging people to not go, its very hard not to hear a subtle implication in the value of belonging to Sydney, Autstralia over our heavenly citizenship.

Tony Payne said...

No worries Matt. I understand the soreness of the point.

No offense taken.

Tony Payne said...

Matt, you're right that the interpretation of Matt 28 as not being so much about 'going' as disciple-making (wherever) was common at Unichurch over the past 20 years( I assume that's the church you're talking about). But it has been common among Sydney evangelicals more generally in that time. It would be interesting to check which popular commentaries take that line. It's one of those commonplaces of exegesis, based on a particular understanding of the grammar, that just gains currency.

It was not arrived at out of some perceived 'need' to discourage people 'going'; it was just a bit of exegesis that you guys are now challenging (and I have no problem with you doing so).

It certainly wasn't part of an anti-mission stance. Unichurch was (and is) a very pro-mission, pro-'going' church. In fact, I have no doubt that the Unichurch congregation has sent more missionaries onto the field through CMS over the past 30 years than any other congregation in Australia (by some margin).

Wouldn't you say?

Matt Bales said...

Tony I've withdrawn my comment. I'm not interested in working this through here. Sometime though.

Tony Payne said...

Cheers Matt.

Mike W said...

Hi Tony, thanks for the response. i dare say your greek is alot better than mine! (seamus is the man though)
I don't see the division between individual and corporate s being so necessary either. But the book does seem to be quite 'anti institutional', or at least, 'anti institutional except where it is helping make individual disciples'.
I just dont think this can be justified from Matt28.
Like I said, I like the book, as a kick up the pants, to actually have all sorts of people having all sorts of other people encourage each other with the word. But some people are picking it up as a theology of church, taking a fairly narrow view of 'make disciples', and despising all sorts of good institutional 'discipling' that goes on too.
Thanks for bothering to engage with a lowly blog though, I'll have to go and read the book again more carefully.

Mike W said...
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Mike W said...

Hi Tony, thanks for the response. i dare say your greek is alot better than mine! (seamus is the man though)
I don't see the division between individual and corporate s being so necessary either. But the book does seem to be quite 'anti institutional', or at least, 'anti institutional except where it is helping make individual disciples'.
I just dont think this can be justified from Matt28.
Like I said, I like the book, as a kick up the pants, to actually have all sorts of people having all sorts of other people encourage each other with the word. But some people are picking it up as a theology of church, taking a fairly narrow view of 'make disciples', and despising all sorts of good institutional 'discipling' that goes on too.
Thanks for bothering to engage with a lowly blog though, I'll have to go and read the book again more carefully.

Tony Payne said...

Hi Mike. If you do read it again, you might notice that we actually avoid getting very far into a doctrine of church. That's a subject for another book!

Speaking of which, I'd better get back to what I'm supposed to be doing now ... Thanks for the feedback and interaction.

TP

Mike W said...

Hi Tony,
any further thoughts on 'anti institutionalism'? Is obedience always alone? Is obedience always simply speaking the word? And if not, how do we manage our group obedience except by some kind of institution? (understand if you dont have time for this one)



As for the neuter/masculine thing, it happens again in Matt 25:32 and Acts 15:17 (and the LXX seems to be happy to to do it in Amos 9:12). To be fair, each of these would be open to some kind of individual in larger group interpretation, but the larger 'nations' is still important.
It seems to happen a bit with plural neuter nouns, Matt 19:13 does it with the children coming to Jesus for example.

Mike W said...

Rev 13:8 is again a singular accusative masculine pronoun referring to a neuter subject(the beast).

Mike W said...

Same deal for the beast in Revelation 17:11

Mike W said...

though that pronoun could be forward referring to 'king' I guess

Mike Bull said...

Isn't this a false dichotomy?

Sure, we start with individuals, but by the end of the process all the nations will be like gems lined up on Jesus' breastplate.

OT typology holds more answers on things like this than NT Greek word studies. Where in the OT does the Lord say "I am with you?" And what was He expecting?

Mike W said...

the neuter/masculine thing happens with 'nations again in Rev 20:8

Mike W said...

and rev 19:15

Mike W said...

Acts 21:25 too

Mike W said...

and the LXX of Joshua 23:5.

I tend to agree with you here Bully. But since we are talking greek, lets talk greek

Mike W said...

We also have the strange split from neuter to masculine with the demons and judges in Matt 12:27; Samaria hearing the word in Acts 8:14; the gentiles who keep themselves from idolatry in Acts 21:25; the nations to which Paul is being sent in Acts 26:; the nations in Acts 28:28, the gentiles in Rom 2:4; the children Paul suffers childbirth for again in Gal 4:19; the generation that rejects God in Hebrews 3:10 (well, this is feminine to masculine); the unbearable words of Heb 12:19 (where the pronoun does double duty for the neuter and the masculine form of 'word'); the elect lady (feminine) and her children (neuter) in 2 John 1 both get a masculine pronoun; the residents of Thyatira in Rev 2:24; the ten horns and the beast (both neuter) of Rev 17:16; the nations at Rev 20:8.

All these have some kind of gender bending when it comes to the pronoun. So Matt 28 isn't a huge surprise. It seems especially when speaking of locations and families, the neuter noun can quite easily take a masculine pronoun