The Great Commission in the New Testament -- By: Robert L. Plummer

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 09:4 (Winter 2005)
Article: The Great Commission in the New Testament
Author: Robert L. Plummer

The Great Commission in the New Testament1

Robert L. Plummer

Robert L. Plummer is Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served as a missionary in East Asia and has completed several shorter assignments in Israel, Trinidad, Malaysia, Turkey, and Ghana. Dr. Plummer has written several scholarly articles and is the author of the forthcoming book Paul’s Understanding of the Church’s Mission (Paternoster).

In this article, our goal is to survey the theme of the Great Commission in the New Testament. While the phrase “Great Commission” is often applied to Jesus’ specific command to make disciples in Matt 28:19, in this chapter, we will use the term “Great Commission” more generally to mean all those passages which contain explicit or implicit commissions to evangelize. In other words, we will be asking: What does the New Testament teach about Christians’ obligation to share the gospel with non-believers?

The Gospels and Acts

Since the beginning of the modern missionary movement, the “Great Commission” in Matt 28:16–20 has often proved a rallying cry to missions-committed persons of various backgrounds.2 We will take some time to focus on this text before looking more broadly at the Great Commission theme in the Gospels and Acts. In Matt 28:19, Jesus instructs the apostles to “make disciples of all nations.”3 That is, the apostles are to make mature followers of Jesus Christ from people of every ethnicity.4 During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he focused his message on the Jews (Matt 10:6). But, now a new age in salvation history has dawned and the gospel is to go to all nations. How is it that the apostles are to make disciples of all nations? Jesus presents a three-step method:

(1) The apostles must take the initiative to go (Matt 28:19).5 To obey Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations, the apostles must first put themselves in direct contact with persons of different nationalities. As both intentional and unintentional contacts with non-believers continue, the disciples are to view these evangelistic encounters from a divine perspective.

(2) The apostles must bring persons to the point where they know...

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