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Matthew 28:19 In Original Gospel of Matthew:

Trinitarian Formula or Not?

A recent comment at Apostolic Friends Forum of June 12, 2015, noted Rives' Original Gospel of Matthew provides another example where Matthew 28:19 has been restored to an original version that lacks the trinitarian baptismal formula.

OGM on Matt28 19

Here is an excerpt from Standford Rives' volume 2 of the Original Gospel of Matthew (2014 version, purchaseable in our store) which discusses the reason why a repair is justified to this passage:

Appendix J: The Trinitarian Baptismal Formula

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 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 28:19.1 [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.2 [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.


1. Incidentally, the command to baptize in “my name” is omitted in the Shem-Tob. Here, Eusebius trumps the Shem-Tob because Eusebius is quoting how GATHM and the Greek version earlier read.

2. Koester, The Ancient Christian Gospels (1990) at 314.

Pages 44-45 of Vol. 2 of Original Gospel of Matthew

Rives discusses the trinitarian formula also on pages 44-45 in OGM volume 2 with more proof on the original reading.

Shem-Tob Confirms The Correct Name To Baptize In

There is no variant in the Greek text tradition that predates 325 AD which covers Matthew 28:19. This is the verse that tells us to baptize in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

However, all scholars insist, even Roman Catholic ones, that the RCC tampered with the verse and added a trinitarian formula.1 [See Footnote 1 at end.] 

This is bolstered by the fact that in Acts, the baptismal formula is consistently different than in the Greek version of Matthew 28:19. First, Acts 19:3-5 teaches: “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” Likewise in Acts 2:39, Peter teaches: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 8:16 “because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” In Acts 10:48, we read: “So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” In Acts 22:16, we read: “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Thus, the Greek-Matthew 28:19 has Jesus command use of a trinitarian formula which, if valid, would implausibly mean the apostles and early church disobeyed Jesus and improperly baptized in only Jesus’ name. Hence, the trinitarian formula is highly doubtful.

Further proof is we have the parallel passage in Mark that also lacks the trinitarian formula. Thus, both the Shem-Tob Matthew and the parallel Marcan text lack a trinitarian baptismal formula. We find Matthew 28:19 in the Shem-Tob reads simply—just as simply as Mark’s Gospel reads:


Thus, the Shem-Tob allows us to confidently tell our brothers and sisters in Christ that the name in which to baptize is simply the name of the Lord Jesus Christ: Yahshua.

1. Eusebius pre-325 AD seventeen times fully quoted this passage, and every time it did not have the trinitarian baptismal formula. However, his post-325 AD / Nicea quotes all contained the trinitarian formula. Professor Tabor comments: “Lack of Trinitarian formula for baptism in Matt 28:19-20 is unique [to Shem-Tob] but seems to be in codices that Eusebius found in Caesarea: he quotes (H.E. 3.5.2): ‘They went on their way to all the nations teaching their message in the power of Christ for he had said to them, “Go make disciples of all the nations in my name.’” (Tabor, supra.) See also et seq infra.

2. Mark 16:15 says: “Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”

Rives' Supplemental Notes 9/3/2015

In addition, Eusebius apparently was relying upon the original Hebrew Matthew either directly or indirectly when his first 17 quotes from Matthew's ending omitted the Trinitarian formula. For Eusebius lived in Caesarea, and Eusebius mentions one Pamphilus as his source for Matthew. Then when we compare that fact against a contemporary writing from Jerome ca 400 AD about the original Hebrew Matthew that "most believe" was written by Matthew, we read that Jerome said it was in the Library at Caesarea, and one Pamphilus had carefully "collected it" -- apparently meaning made well-known extracts from it. These sources below prove these facts. Hence, most likely Eusebius was reading Pamphilus' extract from the Hebrew Matthew written by Apostle Matthew, and hence Matthew 28 originally lacked the trinitarian formula.

Here are the 2 key facts that when tied together prove this:

First, Conybeare in Hibbert Journal in 1902 said that Eusebius said he relied upon for his quote from Matthew 28 (without the trinitarian formula) on the manuscript of Origen and Pamphilus.

Second, Jerome says in De viris inlustribus /  Illustrious Men ch. III that Pamphilus was one who carefully "collected" quotes from the original Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew by Apostle Matthew which was kept at the Library of Caesarea:

“Moreover, the Hebrew itself  IS PRESERVED TO THIS DAY IN THE LIBRARY AT CAESAREA,which the martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected…..”  

The full quote is that Jerome said that Matthew "composed a Gospel of Christ  in Judaea in the Hebrew language and characters for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed. . . . Moreover, the Hebrew itself  IS PRESERVED TO THIS DAY IN THE LIBRARY AT CAESAREA, which the martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected. I also WAS ALLOWED by Nazarenes who use this volume in the Syrian city of Beroea TO COPY IT.”

This is the translation from Jerome's Latin text which can be found in Ernest C. Richardson's portion of the series Texte ind Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur (Leipzig, 1896) Vol. 14, at pages 8-9.

The Latin from Jerome is: 

Porro ipsum Hebraicum habetur usque hodie in Cæsariensi bibliotheca, quam Pamphilus martyr studiosissime confecit. Mihi quoque a Nazarenis, qui in Beroea, urbe Syriæ, hoc volumine utuntur, describendi facultas fuit.