by Rayola Kelley
Q: I have come across a camp here, “Jesus Only” people, who teach that water baptism should be in the name of Jesus only, not as ascribed in Matthew 28:19-20. Can you tell me what their foundation is for advocating such a belief?
A: I have encountered both this question before as well as the people who maintain this teaching. You can find this teaching in two camps: Those who deny the trinity of the Godhead and those who literally consider a few teachings and examples in Acts as the ultimate authority as to how a matter must be done. For example, it is mentioned in four places in Acts that people were baptized in the name of Jesus. Such people believe that these examples abrogate the instructions our Lord clearly left in Matthew 28:19-20.
I approach this subject from three perspectives: The final instruction left by the One who serves as our example, head, Savior, and Lord of the Church, the cultural history of the day, and the creed that was clearly established by the apostles.
When it comes to Jesus, we have example along with teaching as to the proper and acceptable way it must be done. At Jesus’ baptismal, obviously He was physically present, but so was the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Father spoke and the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove. Since baptism points to salvation and a new life in Christ, we must recognize that all three Persons of the Godhead are actively involved in our salvation and bringing forth a new life. Why would they not be acknowledged in water baptism as well?
Jesus set forth the instruction as to how water baptism was to be carried out before He ascended into heaven. He is the head, Savior and Lord of the Church. His words are to be the final authority to any matter. There may be explanations for why something appeared to have changed, but such changes would not prove contrary to His instructions. Jesus’ words are eternal and will remain our final authority and ultimate judge when all has been said and done regardless of what appears to be discrepancies.
On an historical note, baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost has been traced back to the very days of the apostles. Our early fathers made mention of it in their writings and it can be found in the Apostles’ Creed dating as far back as 100 A.D. According to the information I have, the rite established by Christ was also written in a document called the “Didache,” which also dates back to 100, A.D. It speaks of baptisms in Jesus’ name, but was referring to the ordinance in detail saying that it was actually performed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost
There could be a couple of explanations as to why it was stated that people were baptized in the name of Jesus in Acts. To do something in the name of Jesus, whether it be prayer or baptism, is to do it with His authority. Without the proper authority of the One who is the head or Lord of something, there will be no real merit behind what we do.
Another reason Jesus’ name could have been emphasized at that time is that the Jewish people were quite familiar with the Father and the Holy Ghost, but needed to recognize the authority Jesus was to have in their life as their Messiah. Therefore, there was more emphasis put on Jesus to ensure these people understood the significance of the ordinance of water baptism. However, when it was actually carried out, it was in all likelihood done in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
I do hope this sufficiently answers your question.