The Great Commission and the New Testament: An Exegesis of Matthew 28:16–20 -- By: Hal Freeman

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 01:4 (Winter 1997)
Article: The Great Commission and the New Testament: An Exegesis of Matthew 28:16–20
Author: Hal Freeman

The Great Commission and the New Testament:
An Exegesis of Matthew 28:16–20

Hal Freeman

Hal Freeman is Chair of the Department of Religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina. A graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he is the author of several scholarly publications addressing New Testament themes and is in demand as a preacher and Bible teacher.


The seal of the Baptist university where I teach has the Greek text of a portion of Matthew 28:19, which translates into English as, “Make disciples of all nations.” The founders of the school, like many of our spiritual ancestors, wanted to emphasize that this commission is essential to the Christian faith. The importance many believers attach to this passage is consistent with the prominent place it occupies in Matthew’s gospel. That the commission provides the climactic conclusion of Matthew’s account of the ministry and message of Jesus indicates that this is a charge he wanted the reader to remember. Not only does the position of the commission indicate its significance, but scholars have frequently noted that this passage summarizes the major themes of Matthew. As Donald Hagner says, “For these words, perhaps more than any others, distill the outlook and various emphases of the Gospel.”1 This exegetical study focuses on what is perhaps the most important teaching of our Lord concerning the mission of his people.


A survey of the literature on the Great Commission indicates that many scholars are unconvinced that Jesus ever actually gave this commission. The recent Jesus Seminar, for example, contends that Jesus gave no “missionary” mandate at all. The contributors reject the authenticity of the whole passage for two reasons. First, the commission in Matthew differs significantly from the other “commissions” found in Luke 24:47–48 (cf. Ac 1:8) and John 20:22–23. Robert Funk argues, “These commissions have little in common, which indicates that they have been created by the individual evangelists to express their conception of the future of the Jesus movement. As a consequence they cannot be traced back to Jesus.”2

B. Hubbard has shown, however, that the different commissionings share important characteristics. In fact, he concludes that a “proto-commission” predates the canonical gospels.3

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