asyndeton in Matthew 28:19

dhwarren at dhwarren at
Sat Mar 9 16:14:03 EST 2002

Rev. Charles R. Schulz of Concordia Unversity in Ann Arbor, Mich., has
raised an important question for us to consider:

« Dear respected collegues [sic],

« The discussion last week of Matthew 28:19, reminded me of an
question I have about that passage. The participles occur without a
conjunction. What are the possibilities we can explore for such an
asyndeton? I
found the following passages in Smyth suggestive. Might we think of
as an intensification of “baptizing” (furthering “illumination”) or as
essential to the very definition of baptizing? . . . »

Rev. Schulz's question is a good one, and I think that it points the way
to how the two participles BAPTIZONTES and DIDASKONTES relate to one
another, and how the two of them combined then relate to the previous
imperative MAQHTEUSATE. In explaining the function of a circumstantial
participle, Herbert W. Smyth explains,

« The circumstantial participle is added, without the article, to a noun
or pronoun to set forth some circumstance under which an action,
generally the main action, takes place »  (Smyth, _Greek Grammar_,
§2054).  Again,  « The circumstantial participle thus qualifies the
principal verb of the sentence like an adverbial clause or supplementary
predicate » (Smyth §2054a). While it is true that  « The logical
relation of the circumstantial participle to the rest of the sentence is
not expressed by the participle itself (apart from the future
participle), but is to be deduced from the context »  (Blass, Debrunner,
& Funk, _Greek Grammar_, §417), it is nevertheless also true that  « The
action set forth by the present participle is generally coincident
(rarely antecedent or subsequent) to that of the leading verb »  (Smyth
§1872a), and he elsewhere explains that the nuance of "means" is « often
» expressed by the present participle (Smyth §2063).

The present participles BAPTIZONTES and DIDASKONTES modify the subject
of MAQHTEUSATE. I agree with those who see these participles as
expressing "means" or the "manner" in which disciples are made. Examples
of a similar relation between the imperative and two or more following
present participles occur in Eph 5:19-20 and Col 3:16. Those who are
reluctant to agree perhaps betray their bias against the bogeymen of
sacramentalism and baptismal regeneration.

Question: Does Robertson in the following comment understand the
participles here as modal participles describing the manner in which
disciples are made?

« But it is easy to split hairs over the various circumstantial
participles and to read into them much more than is there. Cf. 2 Cor.
4:1 f. See BAPTIZONTES and DIDASKONTES in Mt. 28:19 f. as modal
participles. So AGNOWN in 1 Tim 1:13. Cf. KATA AGNOIAN in Ac. 3:17 »
(Robertson, his large _Grammar_, p. 1128).

Does Robertson here intend to say that he understands these participles
as expressing manner or means: "Go, make disciples . . . , by baptizing
. . . by teaching"? This is how Robert Hanna understands him (_A
Grammatical Aid to the Greek New Testament_ [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983],
p. 58). But such an understanding places Robertson in direct
contradiction with his master (John A. Broadus, _Commentary on the
Gospel of Matthew_ [An American Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 1;
Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1886], p. 594).
Perhaps Robertson is citing examples where he thinks that some have
"read into them much more than is there." With all his wordiness,
Robertson is still unclear to me at times.

Be that as it may, I regard the participles as expressing the means or
manner in which disciples are made, and I think that the very question
which Rev. Schulz raises about the asyndeton in the two participles
points clearly in this direction. « The participles are asyndetic if
they do not have equal value in the sentence » (Blass, Debrunner, & Funk
§421; see again the quotation from Smyth §2147g furnished for us by Rev.

How would DIDASKONTES be subordinated to BAPTIZONTES? I think that the
minor variant making the latter an aorist is too poorly attested (B  D)
for our serious consideration. If DIDASKONTES is subordinated in thought
to BAPTIZONTES, then it would imply tht the teaching would have to take
place during the baptizing. One must understand that there is a fine but
important difference in meaning between "teaching them to keep
everything" and "teaching them everything to keep." Jesus does not say
PANTA. Jesus is not telling his disciples here that after baptizing
people that they are then to instruct them about all the individual
items that they are now to obey. Being asyndetic, the two participles do
not have equal value. DIDASKONTES is subordinate to BAPTIZONTES in
thought. Jesus is telling his disciples to go and make other disciples
by baptizing them, and at their baptism to instruct them that they are
to obey his commands. What commands? Why, the very same commands that he
first gave to them; they in turn are to enjoin on the new disciples. How
many of these commands should the new disciples keep? Why, all of them!
They are to keep "everything," not just 50% of them, or 75% of them, or
even 90% of them. The new disciples are to keep ALL of the commands of
Jesus, for that is what a disciple is, according to Jesus. At his
baptism the new disciple commits to obeying--on the front end--ALL of
what Jesus has commanded. He then spends the rest of his life learning
what all those commands are. But the commitment is there already on the
front end.

Before someone jumps to objecting that I am preaching now and have made
too much of the grammar, I want to point to a similar practice in Jewish
proselyte baptism. Since Matthew's Gospel seems to have a Jewish mileu,
perhaps the Jewish practice of proselyte baptism illumines the meaning
of Matt 28:19. According to the Talmud (b. Yebam. 47b [Epstein's trans.,
pp. 311-13]), those attending the baptism of a gentile would instruct
him as he stood in the water. And in the tractate Gerim, we have the
following the statement:

« After he [i.e., the proselyte] has taken upon himself to accept
Judaism, he is taken to the immersion-house. Having covered his
nakedness with water, they instruct him in some of the details of the
commands, with specific reference to the laws concerning gleanings, the
forgotten sheaf, the corner of the field, and the tithes » (Gerim 1.1,
p. 47 in _Seven Minor Treatises_ [trans. Michael Higger; New York: Block
Publishing Co., 1930]).

At the baptism of a proselyte, rabbis would instruct the convert about
his new faith. Perhaps this was done to ensure that the proselyte could
not claim later that he did not understand fully what he was getting
into, a counting of the cost, if you please. This would also explain the
importance of having three witnesses present at the baptism (b. Yebam.
47b [Epstein's trans., p. 314]).

I know that this is not the venue for debating the similarities and
differences between Jewish proselyte baptism and the Christian ordinance
of baptism. It is true that the former was self-administered, and not
the latter. But then Christians saw the person to be baptized as being
dead, and so he was buried (passive voice) in baptism, and then being
raised up in imitation of Christ (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12). If Jewish
proselyte baptism were antecedent to Christian baptism, I would not be
surprised if Christians changed the act in order to convey this
important nuance and to distinguish it from its rival. But then there is
the consideration of John's baptism, and I am now taking the discussion
too far afield.

But the relation of the two participles to one another and to the
imperative seems rather clear to me, unless one's theological bias
interferes. And the apparent parallel with Jewish practice at proselyte
baptism would seem to answer well Rev. Schulz's query about the
asyndeton. This explanation makes the grammar "fit" together. But if we
reject this explanation, then we can all continue to speculate here and
there about what is going on, and we can look in grammars everywhere for
another plausible explanation. But the curious puzzle of the present
participles in asyndeton with each other and their relation to the prior
aorist imperative will remain for us an inexplicable mystery.

David H. Warren
former professor
Freed-Hardeman Unversity
Henderson, Tenn.

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