Go and Make Disciples


“Therefore go and make disciples from all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20a)

We were talking about this verse in Greek class today so I thought I would spend some time walking through its translation (mainly for my own benefit – the final is coming up!). This will be a bit technical, so I’ll put the interpretation first, and then if you want to read more to find out why I said what I said, you are more than welcome.

It is wrong to emphasis “Go” as the main thrust of this passage because in fact “make disciples” is the main verb.  Another fallacy would be to translate the participle in this way: “as you are going…” In reality the main thing Jesus wants to happen is that we would “go and make disciples” – attendant circumstances, meaning that Jesus is commanding us not only to go but also to make disciples – both are part of the command – they function sort of like a unit (a clear example of this is Matthew 2:13 “Rise and take…and go…”).

So, Jesus commands us to go and make disciples. How? By baptizing them, and by teaching them.

Making a disciple does not just mean they are converted, or that they got baptized. A disciple is made also by teaching them everything that Jesus has commanded us.

I think as Christians we have heavily ignored the teaching part of the process – we convert people or they get baptized and we think we’re done. But there is more to be done – we must teach them.

“Father, help me to remember all that is entailed in making disciples. May I not neglect those you have placed in my care, may I not neglect this great command you have given through your Son. Jesus I thank you for your work on the cross, for the forgiveness of sins, for the gift of eternal life that you give to all those who believe in your name. Thank you for giving us your Spirit, for giving us power to do what you have called us to. You command with all authority, and you promise to be with us – may I be reminded of these truths, and may they drive me to go and make disciples.”

And now for the Greek stuff – the reasons why I said what I said (with some repetition of the application):

In Greek the verse goes like this:

πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν

Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (With Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993; 2006), Mt 28:19-20a.

 

The verbs in these verses are:

Πορευθέντες
πορεύομαι
: to go
verb, aorist, passive, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

μαθητεύσατε
μαθητεύω
: to make a disciple
verb, aorist, active, imperative, second person, plural

βαπτίζοντες
βαπτίζω
: to baptize
verb, present, active, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

διδάσκοντες
διδάσκω
: to teach
verb, present, active, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

τηρεῖν
τηρέω
: to obey
verb, present, active, infinitive

ἐνετειλάμην
ἐντέλλω
: to command
verb, aorist, middle, indicative, first person, singular

In Greek, participles are verbal substantives (or verbal adjectives), meaning that participles can be used either as verbs or adjectives. Based on the context, the function of the participle changes, though its internal structure does not.

In this passage we have one aorist imparative with a bunch of different participles. This right away tells us we need to take a closer look at the context in order to find how the participles should be translated and how they function within the sentence.

The first item interesting to note is that the aorist imperative is “μαθητεύσατε” (“make disciples”), making it the main verb. So, if you’ve ever heard this passage used where the emphasis was placed on “Go”, well, that wasn’t exactly all that Jesus was saying here. Rather, the participle “Πορευθέντες” fits into the “Attendant Circumstance” category of participles. Attendant Circumstance participles normally are: aorist participles, aorist main verb, indicative or imperative main verb, and precede the main verb.

“Πορευθέντες” fits these characteristics, as does “μαθητεύσατε” – therefore it is wrong to emphasis “Go” because in fact “make disciples” is the main verb – the imperative from which the participle “go” derives its nuance. So the main thing Jesus wants to happen is that we would “go and make disciples” – attendant circumstance means that both verbs are coordinate and therefore the participle is connected to the main verb by the English conjunction “and”. Jesus is commanding us not only to go but also to make disciples – both are part of the command – they function sort of like a unit (a clear example of this is Matthew 2:13 “Rise and take…and go…”).

Since the next two participles do not precede the main verb, it is most likely best to view them as participles of means. They answer the question of how the main verb is to be accomplished. This is a purely interpretive matter – a matter of syntax.

So, Jesus commands us to go and make disciples. How? By baptizing them, and by teaching them.

Making a disciple does not just mean they are converted, or that they got baptized. A disciple is made also by teaching them everything that Jesus has commanded us.

I think as Christians we have heavily ignored the teaching part of the process – we convert people or they get baptized and we think we’re done. But there is more to be done – we must teach them.

“Father, help me to remember all that is entailed in making disciples. May I not neglect those you have placed in my care, may I not neglect this great command you have given through your Son. Jesus I thank you for your work on the cross, for the forgiveness of sins, for the gift of eternal life that you give to all those who believe in your name. Thank you for giving us your Spirit, for giving us power to do what you have called us to. You command with all authority, and you promise to be with us – may I be reminded of these truths, and may they drive me to go and make disciples.”

5 Responses to Go and Make Disciples

  1. […] 8th, 2007 by seminarian Thanks to Nathan for writing this, so I didn’t have to! “Therefore go and make disciples from all nations, […]

  2. Tato says:

    Dallas Willard talks about this idea a lot in his collection of articles called, The Great Omission. The whole title is conceived from the idea that the great omission to the Great Commission is the neglect of “teaching them to do all that they have commanded”. It was an interesting read, but since it is a collection of essays it is sometimes repetitive.

  3. Justin Taylor says:

    Some excellent thoughts here. Another reminder of the imperative of the gospel to make disciples. Too many miss the importance of this; disciples are more than converts. Thank you for a great exegesis.

  4. btmone says:

    Thanks for writing this – I appreciate the greek break down. Thanks for taking the time to explain the construction of this important commandment to us all. Take care…

  5. tm says:

    being a disciple is being a Christian (acts 11:26).
    CHRIST’s command is the make a 24/7 , “total attachment to the Lord Jesus”…night and day. Don’t you just love the precision of the WORD OF GOD.

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