Today I had a friend send me a link to a post written on the blog of Oneness Pentecostal theologian Jason Dulle. It is titled “Arguing from Silence“. In this post Dulle addresses two arguments from silence that he still feels make a strong case for his views. (1) That Matthew 28:19 may not have originally said “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” because Justin Martyr does not reference this passage when arguing for “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as an “appropriate baptismal formula”. (2) The the Father-Son distinction may not be based in an eternal relationship between two persons of the Trinity because the “Father-Son terminology is mysteriously absent from the OT”. Let us consider these two issues.

“The Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” in Matthew 28:19

Dulle writes,

“…in discussing whether Matthew 28:19 originally read “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or “in my name,” some Trinitarian scholars argue that the latter is original.  “In my name” does not appear in any extant manuscript, so what is there basis?  One reason is Justin Martyr’s silence on the passage.  In one of Justin’s work he was arguing for “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as the appropriate baptismal formula, and yet he never once appealed to Matthew 28:19 for support as we would expect for him to have done if Matthew 28:19 originally read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Since he did not, it stands to reason that Matthew 28:19 did not read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” in Justin’s day (or at least in the manuscripts he had access to), but rather “in my name.”  While this is an argument from silence, it is a strong argument nonetheless.”

There is a reason why Dulle preferences these statements by acknowledging that an “arguing from silence is a logical fallacy”. There is simply no textual evidence, at all, anywhere that “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is not original. There is not a single manuscript that reads “in my name”.

The translation committee of the NET Bible places this footnote after Matthew 28:19:

Although some scholars have denied that the trinitarian baptismal formula in the Great Commission was a part of the original text of Matthew, there is no ms support for their contention. 1

While it may be peculiar that Justin Martyr did not reference Matthew 28:19 it says very little about the MSS history of The Gospel of Matthew.

Another very early Christian document, The Didache, in 7:1 reads, “Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then baptize in living water, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I am well aware that there are some who either date this part of the Didache as later than the rest of the document or who argue that the words have been changed, but it must be noted that these arguments are from silence, like that of Dulle.  Even if it is a bit later, which some of the second half may very well be, it is likely that the baptismal formula of The Didache is dependent upon The Gospel of Matthew.

I find it interesting that Bart D. Ehrman–one who is well known for joyfully pointing out textual variants that may cause some problems for orthodox Christianity–gives special attention in his book Misquoting Jesus 2 to the fact that the phrase “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one” are not original in 1 John 5:7 yet he doesn’t appear willing to go as far as Dulle does by attacking a unanimous reading of Matthew 28:19. Nor does he join in with those who argue that the words “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” are not part of The Didache (though he does think that the second part of The Didache is not drawn from an “earlier source” and therefore is not as old as the first part). 3

Why would Dulle even suggest that the phase “in my name” could be the original reading of Matthew 28:19? There is a commission of sorts in the long ending of The Gospel of Mark that includes the words “in my name” (16:17), but while we are discussing textual criticism we should note that it is fairly unanimous that vv. 9-20 were not a part of the original text. In Luke 24:47 there is a statement that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name”, referring to Jesus. It may be somewhat fair to attach this to Acts 2:38 which says “Repent, and be baptized in the name of the Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” since it was likely the same author who wrote both texts. But all this proves is that there was a Lukan emphasis on the “name of Jesus” that is not necessarily canonical nor necessary for church practice nor a commentary on Matthew 28:19. I cannot recall a Johannine equivalent to these texts.

So what do we have left at this point? We have a historical, doctrinal reference supporting baptism “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” in Matthew-Didache and we have a historical, doctrinal reference supporting “in the name of Jesus Christ” from Luke-Acts. It is likely that both are legitimate baptismal “formulas” with historical roots in the early church. Those who baptized “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” knew this was the God revealed through Jesus Christ. Those who baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ” knew this was into the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The proto-orthodox Trinitarian position may not have been as fully developed as the later councils would develop it in the face of several different doctrinal challenges, but it is there and the wording of Matthew 28:19 is proof. This is one reason I assume Dulle wants to cast doubt on this matter.

(Update: Read Nick Norelli’s interaction with Ehrman on the authenticity on Matthew 28:19 here.)

Father-Son Terminology in the Old Testament

Let us hear from Dulle again:

“Trinitarians argue that God is eternally Father and eternally Son—two distinct persons in a triune Godhead.  I observe from the Biblical data, however, that the Father-Son terminology is mysteriously absent from the OT (“father” appears a handful of times, but is used in a different sense than we find in the NT, and is never used to describe God’s relationship to another divine person; “son” is only used prophetically a few times in the OT, referring to the future Messiah, not a preexistent divine person), beginning to appear only in the NT.  Why is this?  If God is eternally Father and eternally Son, we would expect to read about the Son in the OT, or expect to see dialogues between Father and Son as we see in the NT.  And yet we don’t.”

First of all it should be noted that there is Father-Son terminology in the Old Testament. In Psalm 2:7 the Father tells the Son, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (ESV, NASB) or “You are my Son; This very day I have become your Father” (a looser translation in the NET, NIV). This passage is about the Davidic king, it is fully fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus.

Second, do we not expect the incarnation of the Son of God to further expound ideas that were only seedlings in the OT? Since when do we limit NT revelation to the OT? The Oneness position doesn’t do this either in that it at least acknowledges that the incarnation is something new about God.

Third, as Larry Hurtado’s scholarship has shown, as well as a reading through some of the DSS, there was an inter-testament development regarding the monotheistic nature of God. There are even some who argue that the Jews of OT times did not have as strict a monotheism as modern Jews do. Nevertheless, Christianity was not the first to see there as some sort of go-between being for God and the world. Christianity is not the first to develop some sort of Logos doctrine or personification of wisdom that was understood to be the same, yet distinct from God. I will let others more familiar to this subject speak to it if they wish, but I think my simple response is that Dulle’s argument from silence is too unwilling to acknowledge that there is a lot leading toward NT Christology and Trinitarianism. It was not developed in a vacuum.

As Oneness scholars come I appreciate Dulle. On the other hand, it is these types of arguments that make you wonder why someone would need to take such a shot in the dark to defend one’s position. Unfortunately for Oneness adherents this occurs all too often.


[1] NET Notes, Mt. 28:19

[2] Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (pp. 81-82).

[3] See Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (p. 413) and The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader (p. 313, 315).