Proper Translation

If the “go” of the Great Commission is a participle (πορευθεντες), why do the major translations treat it as an imperative? Only Young’s Literal Translation does the participle justice: “having gone, then, disciple all the nations, (baptizing them — to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all, whatever I did command you,) and lo, I am with you all the days — till the full end of the age.'”

The main command of Christ’s commission is “make disciples” (matheteusate). Too much and too little have often been made of this observation. Too much is made of it when the disciples’ “going” is overly subordinated, so that Jesus’ charge is to proselytize merely where one is. Matthew frequently uses “go” as an introductory circumstantial participle that is rightly translated as coordinate to the main verb—here “Go and make” (cf. 2:8; 9:13; 11:4; 17:27; 28:7). Too little is made of it when all attention is centered on the command to “go,” as in countless appeals for missionary candidates, so that foreign missions are elevated to a higher status of Christian service than other forms of spiritual activity. To “make disciples of all nations” does require many people to leave their homelands, but Jesus’ main focus remains on the task of all believers to duplicate themselves wherever they may be. The verb “make disciples” also commands a kind of evangelism that does not stop after someone makes a profession of faith.

Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 431.

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One thought on “Proper Translation

  1. Dan Greenfield

    Participles can have many different syntactical functions in sentences, and their function depends on a number of factors.

    In the case of Matt 28:19, it seems best to understand poreuthentes as functioning as attendant circumstance. Not sure if you’ve got it or not, but check Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics p. 645.

    Thus the translation among English versions, recognizing that – from the disciples’ perspective, combined with the other Great Commission passages, esp Lk 24:47 (“to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”) and Acts 1:8 (“to the remotest part of the earth”) – the action of making disciples necessarily involved going.

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