A Baptismal Formula At Variance With NT
The Trinitarian Baptismal Formula appears in only one place in the New Testament: in the canonical Greek Matthew at 28:19. The parallel in Mark 16:15 is otherwise identical except it lacks any trinitarian baptismal formula.
Indeed, every surviving Greek manuscript of Matthew 28:19 has the trinitarian formula. The only non-Greek texts which have a variant that omits it are the Shem-Tob Hebrew Matthew and some old Latin and Syriac texts. Is it possible Matthew 28:19 was fraudulently changed to vindicate trinitarianism because very conveniently every surviving Greek text of Matthew [28:19] dates from 340 AD or later? It clearly could be modified and no one would be the wiser. Only quotes by the church fathers from an earlier time could betray the truth, as indeed seventeen such quotes exist and do so—each one omitting the trinitarian baptismal formula in their direct quotes from Matthew 28:19. [See Footnote 1 at end.]
So how strong is the evidence? The consensus of even the most conservative scholars is that the trinitarian formula at Matthew 28:19 was added to the original Matthew at a very late point in time: after the adoption of the trinity doctrine. The book of Acts and Paul’s epistles repeatedly show the original baptismal formula was to baptize into only Jesus’ name. See Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:43; 19:5; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 1:13-15. The Protestant authority The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Funk & Wagnalls, 1908) at 435 agrees that Matthew 28:19’s trinity formula is a false addition:
Jesus, however, cannot have given His disciples this Trinitarian order of baptism after His resurrection; for the New Testament knows only one baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:43; 19:5; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 1:13-15), which still occurs even in the second and third centuries, while the Trinitarian formula occurs only in Matt. 28:19, and then only again (in the) Didache 7:1 and Justin, Apol. 1:61...Finally, the distinctly liturgical character of the formula...is strange; it was not the way of Jesus to make such formulas... [T]he formal authenticity of Matt. 28:19 must be disputed....
An equally important Protestant authority agrees. In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed. James Orr)(1915) Vol. 4 at 2637, under “Baptism,” it says:
Matthew 28:19 in particular only canonizes a later ecclesiastical situation,...and its Trinitarian formula (is) foreign to the mouth of Jesus.
Even Roman Catholicism’s Jerusalem Bible (N.Y.: 1966), a scholarly Catholic work, confesses at page 64 note g:
It may be that this formula, [i.e., the Trinitarian Baptismal Formula of Matthew 28:19] so far as the fullness of its expression is concerned, is a reflection of the liturgical usage established later in the primitive community. It will be remembered that Acts speaks of baptizing ‘in the name of Jesus,’....
Similarly, a Catholic scholar, Bernard Henry Cuneo, in his The Lord’s Command To Baptize: An Historical Critical Investigation (Catholic University:1923) says at page 27:
The passages in Acts and the Letters of St. Paul... seem to point to the earliest form as baptism in the name of the Lord....Had Christ given such a command, it is urged, the Apostolic Church would have followed him, and we should have some trace of this obedience in the New Testament. No such trace can be found.
Likewise, the Encyclopedia Brittanica (1911) Vol. 26 explains Matthew 28:19 clearly did not originally have the trinitarian baptismal formula which we see today. It says:
There are traces in the New Testament of a baptismal confession simply of the name of Christ (1 Cor 1:13, 15; Rom 6:2; cf. even the late verse Acts 8:37), not of the threefold name. Moreover, textual criticism points to an early type of reading in Matt 28:19 without the threefold formula. Id. at 774.
How far back can we find the trinitarian baptismal formula in Scripture sources? It can only be found in those dated after the church in the 300s first adopted the trinity doctrine. We can trace an earlier different reading through the patristic writers until that same period in the 300s. As the Methodist Review (January 1906) Vol. 88 at 148 points out:
And there is reason to believe that originally the commandment in Matthew referred only to baptism in the name of Christ. This reading [i.e., lacking a trinitarian formula], which can be traced down as far as the fourth century, would correspond with the fact that in the apostolic age and beyond baptism was administered in the name of Christ.
Canney in Encyclopedia of Religion (Routledge, 1921) at 53 explains that the change to Matt 28:19 followed rather than preceded changes in doctrine:
Persons were baptized at first in the ‘name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 2:38, 48) or in the ‘name of the Lord Jesus.’ (Acts 8:16;19:5.) Afterwards, with the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, they were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
There is no earlier surviving Greek text of Matthew than post-325 AD at this verse. From prior to the 300s, only fragments of papyri of the Greek Matthew survived. [See footnote 2 at bottom.]
In addition to Shem-Tob, two old orthodox Latin and Syriac texts corroborate 28:19 did not have the trinitarian formula. We read in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics: “In all extant [Greek] versions the text is found in the traditional form, though it must be remembered that the African old Latin and of the old Syriac versions are defective at this point,” i.e., ‘defective’ meaning this African old Latin and old Syriac omit the trinitarian baptismal formula.
Likewise, Mark 16:15 omits it.
Finally, Eusebius in the 320s referenced the Gospel of the Hebrews—GATHM—as stating likewise: “They went to all nations, teaching their message in the power of Christ, for He had commanded, saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations in My name.” (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., 3.5.2.)
Hence, the fact this Shem-Tob lacks an obvious adulteration—the trinitarian baptismal formula—enhances the likely antiquity and veracity of the Hebrew Matthew of Shem-Tob.