Tuesday, September 30, 2014


"All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  So go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all things that I've commanded you, and see,
I am with you always until the end of the age!"
Matthew 28:19, 20

This familiar passage, given by Jesus to His disciples at some time in between His resurrection and His ascension, is known to most of His followers as "The Great Commission."  It is repeated in a number of different forms in all four Gospels and the Book of Acts.  It is recognized by most as the imperative for the Christian mission and seems to be recognized as having a sense of urgency, even though it's been nagging us for nearly 2,000 years.
Every so often, however, we hear its urgent tone softened by the translation of the word "Go" as "As you go" or as "Going."  While those who claim these to be accurate translations of the Greek text may mean well, I fear it can bring a relief to our slowness to obey. We can easily understand the new rendering as "When you get around to it,"  so it fits well with our 21st century Christianity, but I cannot find this wording in any English translations; it is merely something that some teachers and/or preachers say, sometimes off the cuff and occasionally with apparent authority.
So then, what exactly was Jesus' command?  While Jesus undoubtedly spoke in Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, our New Testament texts are written in Greek.  So we are obligated to seek out as precisely as possible, the meaning of the Greek text.
There are four verb forms:  "Go," "disciple," "baptizing" and "teaching."
The main verb, usually translated "disciple" or "make disciples of" is matheteuo; the form given in the text is the aorist imperative plural, matheteusate.  It is an imperative, i.e., a command, and the aorist tense gives it immediacy:  "just do it"  or "start to do it."  This is the only finite verb form.  The other three are participles.
"Baptizing" (baptizontes) and "teaching" (didaskontes) are both present participles and speak of continuing action.  They describe the means to be used or the manner in making disciples.
The word we are especially concerned with is the word "Go."  Can it, or should it, be translated by "As you go"?  While it is usually best to be cautious in matters of grammar and syntax, I'll be dogmatic here and give a definite NO!
The word "go" translates the Greek verb form poreuthentes.  This is the aorist masculine plural participle form of the word poreuomai.  Unlike the words "baptizing" and "teaching," it precedes the main verb.
The word is used as a participle of attendant circumstance.  It is in the same tense (aorist) as the main verb and so picks up the mood of the verb and is thus to be understood as itself an imperative.  (See:  Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Dan Wallace, pages 640-645.)  It is not to be understood as the other two participles and used adjectivally.  It actually lends even more urgency to the command.
If we look at its other uses in the Gospels this becomes obvious.
Matthew 2:8:  Herod tells the Magi, "Go (poreuthentes) and search diligently (exetasate - aorist imperative) for the Child."
Matthew 9:13:  "Go and learn what this means ... "
Matthew 11:4:  "Jesus said to them, 'Go and report to John ...'"
Matthew 17:27:  "Go (poreutheis - aorist masculine singular participle) to the lake and cast in your hook ...'
Matthew 28:7:  "Quickly, go (poreutheisai - aorist feminine plural participle) and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead ..."
See also:  Mark 16:15; Luke 7:22; 13:32; 14:10; 17:14; 22:8.
The only place I can find "as you go" or "going" with an imperative is Matthew 10:6, 7, but there both the participle and the verb are in the present tense.  "Go (poreuesthe, present plural imperative) rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and as you go (poreuomenoi, present masculine participle)  preach (kerussete, present plural imperative) ... "
In all of the commands cited, the "go" in the aorist participle form adds urgency or haste to the command.  There is no sense of "whenever."  As Dan Wallace says in his Grammar cited above, "To turn poreuthentes into an adverbial participle is to turn the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion!"  (page 645)
Unfortunately, whether or not we do this with our grammar we may be guilty of doing it with our behavior.
Or to quote (out of context) the great American philosopher, Larry the Cable Guy, we need to just, "Git er done!"

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