What Is The Church’s Commission? Some Exegetical Issues In Matthew 28:16-20 -- By: Robert D. Culver
BETS 10:2 (Spring 1967) p. 115
What Is The Church’s Commission?
Some Exegetical Issues In Matthew 28:16-20
The final paragraph of Matthew, in which the so-called “Great Commission” falls, actually begins at verse 16, even though the commission itself is contained in verse 19 and the first part of verse 20. This is indicated in the paragraph division of Westcott and Hort (The New Testament), of Nestle (Novum Testamentum Graece), of Alford (The Greek Testament), and in most of the commentaries which concern themselves with such matters.
This paragraph furnishes: 1) the historical setting for the commission (vv. 16–18). Herein there is a. notice of a pre-arranged meeting of the disciples with the risen Christ in Galilee (v. 16), b. the mixed re-actions of the disciples to the meeting (v. 17), and c. the consummation of the meeting in Christ’s declaration of universal power (v. 18). Then follows 2) the presentation of the actual elements of the commission itself (vv. 19, 20a). Herein, although many things are exceeding plain, there are important nuances that escape the reader of the English versions, some of which are immediately plain to one versed in the Greek usages of mood and tense. Others provide a field of controversy for the experts, with the denominational polemicists joining heartily in the fray. What is plain to everyone is that the Church in the world has been committed to a task of world-wide evangelism. Whether the church is already deployed upon the field of activity or its members must go somewhere to be deployed is one of the main interests of this paper. The paragraph closes with 3) Christ’s personal encouragement furnished with the commission—his abiding presence in every place and “through all time to be.”
In order not to be distracted by them later, we call attention to some problems of interpretation subsidiary to the main problem which we shall introduce later. These have been amply discussed by the older exegetes, whom for the larger part we shall cite and quote at this stage of the discussion.
I. Minor Problems
1. Who were in attendance at the meeting in Galilee? J. P. Lange (uncorrected by his far-from-timid American translator and editor, Philip Schaff) wrote of the phrase “Then the eleven disciples”: “They come forward here as representatives of the entire...
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