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German theological circles have lately been agitated by a controversy that concerns the doctrine of the Trinity. The debate was started by representatives of the new and radical "historico-religious" school, who claim that this doctrine did not constitute a part of Christ's original teaching, but was introduced by later religious speculations, chiefly through Paul. The conservatives, on their side, lay stress on the baptismal command in Matthew (28:19) as proof absolute that Christ himself actually taught the doctrine. The Church historian of Giessen, Prof. Gustav Krtiger, has published a special work on the subject,* in which he argues as follows:
The literary history of the baptismal command is by no means settled. The linking together of the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is found only in the passage in Matthew in the entire literature of Christianity up to the middle of the second century, a single exception in the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" being copied from Matthew. Mark and Luke contain no such command. The present conclusion of Mark, which is not even genuine, contains nothing Trinitarian. Indeed, there are excellent reasons for believing that originally the command in Matthew did not read as it does now. Up to the fourth century there are traces of a simpler form, according to which Christians were baptized only in the name of Christ.
This would be in perfect agreement with the Apostolic practise of baptizing in the name of Christ only. Such was the method of Peter from the outset (see Acts 2, 38). That baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit did not necessarily go together is clear from such passages as Acts 8. 16 and 10, 18. In Ephesus Paul baptizes only in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19, 5); and his own words at the beginning of his Epistle to the Corinthians (1, 13) admit of no other interpretation. The same doctrine is clearly taught in Rom. 6, 31.
The reason for baptism in the name of Christ becomes all the clearer when the significance of this formula is understood. Recent researches have shown that the Jews, who had believed strongly in the power of demons, came to believe that the name of God as such would have the power to heal diseases and effect other good results. In other words, the formula was used as a form of incantation and almost sorcery. Passages in the New Testament in which this spirit is reflected abound, e. g., Mark 16, 17-18; Luke 10, 17; Mark 9, 38-39; Mark 7, 22.
That such incantation in the name of Jesus was common in the early church is attested by Justin Martyr, who declares, in his Apology, that the Christians of his day, merely by the appeal to the name of Jesus, expelled many demons, which other sorcerers and magic physicians had been unable to influence. The same church father, in his Dialogue with Trypho, says that through the name of Christ Christians had power to make the demons tremble.
The old custom of baptizing in the name of Christ disappeared only slowly from the usages of the church. In the "Shepherd of Hermas," which dates from about 100 A. D., mention is repeatedly made of baptism in the one name, but there is not a trace of any baptism in the name of the Trinity. And even a century later lively discussions were carried on in the church as to whether baptism in the one name of Christ should be recognized by the church or not.
At what time the enlarged formula of baptism in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was introduced, it cannot be definitely determined; but probably it was about the period when the doctrine of the Trinity became the subject of debate in the churches. At any rate, it is more than probable that this Trinitarian formula is not a part of original Christianity, but a later development.
["The Church of the first days did not observe this world-wide command, even if they knew it. The command to baptise into the threefold name is a late doctrinal expansion, in place of the words 'baptizing . . . Spirit' we should probably read simply 'into my name.'" ~Arthur S. Peake's Bible Commentary 1920; See also Gospel Fictions By Randel Helms]
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