Which is it? Baptism in Jesus’ name OR the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit?

Watch this study instead of reading it.

Three questions:

  1. Is there a difference between being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and being baptized in the name of Jesus?
  2. Is it important what the baptizer says when performing a baptism?
  3. What exactly does it mean to be baptized in the name of the Lord?

What’s the difference?

Matthew 28 contains what is frequently referred to as the Great Commission. Jesus told the apostles:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:19

A few days later, the apostles are equipped with the Holy Spirit and begin preaching the gospel. When the audience asks, “What shall we do?” in Acts 2:37, Peter says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). 

Wait a minute. I thought they were supposed to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Yet now Peter says baptism should be done in the name of Jesus Christ just a few days later. Are he and the rest of the apostles disobeying the Lord? Not only does this happen in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, but Peter also commands Cornelius’ household in Acts 10 “to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (v. 48). And again, after the apostle Paul teaches a dozen guys in Ephesus about baptism in Acts 19, Luke tells us: “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5).

Are the apostles now ignoring Jesus’ commandment? What’s the difference between being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and being baptized in the name of Jesus?

No, and none.

First, let’s briefly see what it means to do something in someone’s name. In Acts 4:7, the council is questioning how the apostles were able to perform miracles. They ask, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” To do something in someone’s name means to do it with their power, authority, or permission. (Yes, this is foreshadowing the answer to question #2.) A police officer may say, “Open up in the name of the law!” No, he’s not claiming the law has a name. He is claiming to act with the authority of the law. He himself is not the law; but his words that are uttered “in the name of the law” become law. It’s not by his authority, but by the law’s authority. 

In the same way, when Jesus sent His disciples to perform miracles or baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, He was giving them God’s authority to baptize. They had no power or authority in themselves. The power came from their sender Himself.

The most famous iteration of the Great Commission is Matthew 28 where Jesus says baptism is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, in Luke’s account, Jesus says that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). 

According to Jesus Himself, the authority of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit do not contradict. They are the same. Jesus is one with the Father (see John 10:30). The Holy Spirit never taught or directed anything against the Father’s or Jesus’ will. So to do something by the Father’s authority, the Son’s authority, and/or the Holy Spirit’s authority, you are doing it by God’s authority—in God’s name.

Before Jesus told them to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28, Jesus told them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (v. 18). How does that work out? To prepare them for His departure, Jesus had told the same men:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

John 14:26

When the Holy Spirit worked through the apostles, He did so by the authority of Jesus, who further explained:

All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He [the Holy Spirit] will take of Mine and declare it to you.

John 16:15

So to believe baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is different from baptism in the name of Jesus is to commit the same fallacy of believing the red letters of the Bible are more valuable than the black ones (which we have a study on too). 

So, if baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the same thing as baptism in the name of Jesus, what should the baptizer say at the baptism? What formula of words should be used?

What must be said?

Thinking back, I believe every baptism I have ever witnessed involved the baptizer saying something “official” sounding before dunking the person under water. Usually it was something like, “Based on your confession that you believe Jesus is the Son of God, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of your sins.” What that does for everyone involved, including the witnesses, is it reminds them of the various Scriptures that are being obeyed in that moment, and more importantly, the things Jesus has promised to do for the penitent person at baptism.

But what if the baptizer gets it wrong? What if the wrong words are said? This may surprise you, but the baptizer doesn’t have to say anything at baptism. Out of all the examples of baptism in the New Testament, we are not told anything that was ever said in the moment. For example, Jesus’ baptism:

And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water… 

Matthew 3:14–16

And the Ethiopian man’s baptism:

Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

Acts 8:36–38

Did Philip say, “I baptize you in the name of…” before he baptized this man? We don’t know. So long as the baptizee understands the gospel and has repented, it doesn’t matter if anything is verbally said at the moment of baptism for two reasons.

  1. You do not have to announce God’s authority to actually do it by His authority. Truly everything we do should be by the authority or in name of Jesus (see Colossians 3:17). So if I sing, give to the poor, push record on my camera, or baptize someone, I should be sure my faith and understanding of the Scriptures instructs me that I have God’s authority to do it. Although everything I do should be in Jesus’ name, I don’t need to say, “in Jesus’ name…” or “in the name of Jesus…” every time I do each action.
  2. There is no power in saying something is in the name of Jesus. If Jesus hasn’t given His authority, simply saying it’s by His authority won’t change that. For example, in Acts 19, the apostle Paul does some amazing miracles truly in the name of Jesus. Some charlatans try to ride this wave by invoking Jesus’ name, as if just saying “in the name of Jesus” equips you with His power. Let’s see how it works out for them:

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Acts 19:13–16

If you trust in a formula of words as your power, that’s sorcery and idolatry, and clearly your faith is in the wrong thing. So, what should the baptizer say? So long as the person being baptized knows the gospel and is appealing to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus, nothing has to be said, although it’s fine to announce the baptism is with God’s authority (or “in His name”).

What does it mean?

Finally, and perhaps the most important question of this study: What does it actually mean to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus?

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus told Peter and the apostles to baptize all nations with God’s authority. The first time they obey this commandment, Peter says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Some time later, when Peter preaches the same gospel to Cornelius and his household, Peter says:

“Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.

Acts 10:47–48

The same evangelist teaches about the same baptism in both cases. In Acts 2, we learn it’s for the remission (or forgiveness) of sins. In Acts 10, we learn it requires water. And this is the same baptism all other prophets and apostles speak of for the rest of the New Testament.

The Great Commission is the first time Jesus sent His disciples to baptize people into His death and resurrection. And since Jesus’ promise to be with the apostles till the end of the age is connected with this baptism, this is the baptism that would span all of the Christian age. This baptism applies to “every creature” (Mark 16:15–16) and “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It is the one baptism mentioned in Ephesians 4.

Baptism in the name of God—in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—is the only one commanded of you, me, and all people. It requires someone to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins, which is when God unites someone with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:3–5.
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