Relationship of Participles to Imperatives in the Gospel of Matthew: Participles that Follow Imperatives in Matthew
If the participle that precedes the imperative in Matthew 28:19–20 adopts the imperatival force of “make disciples,” then it is reasonable to ask if the following two adverbial participles do the same. A search in the Gospel of Matthew reveals three instances other than Matthew 28:19–20 where an adverbial participle directly follows an imperative (Matt 10:7; 20:8; 26:36).
The first instance of an adverbial participle directly following an imperative is found in Matthew 10:7. It is noteworthy that Matthew 10:7 follows the same pattern as Matthew 28:19–20: participle–imperative–participle. It was determined above, that the first participle “going” did not take on imperatival force. The second participle is “saying” and it is preceded by the imperative “preach.” The participle “saying” does not take on the imperatival force of “preach” because it is introducing the content of what is to be preached as reflected in most English translations. Thus, Matthew 10:7 should be translated “as you go, preach, saying….”
The second instance of an adverbial participle directly following an imperative is found in Matthew 20:8, which is part of the parable about the labourers’ wages (Matt 20:1–16). The participle that follows the imperative is part of the owner’s command to the foreman to pay the labourers their wages. The owner issues the imperative “pay them the wages” followed by the participle “beginning with the last.” The participle most likely does not take on the force of the imperative here. Rather, context suggests the adverbial participle modifies “pay” for the purpose of stating how the payment should be made for a translation of “pay them the wages by beginning with the last and ending with the first.” Most English translations translate “beginning” as modifying “pay,” but they do not indicate that the participle is one of manner, stating how the payment should be made.
The final instance of an adverbial participle directly following an imperative is found in Matthew 26:36. While in Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal, Jesus commands his disciples with the imperative “sit,” followed by the participle “going.” It should be noted that the Greek participle “going” (ἀπέρχομαι) in Matthew 26:36 is a different word than “going” (πορεύω) used in Matthew 28:19 and the other “going” participles analysed in the previous post. The participle “going” in 26:36 is definitely a temporal adverbial participle modifying the imperative “sit” because the temporal particle “while” (ἕως) is inserted between the imperative and the participle “going,” telling the reader exactly how to interpret the participle.
The above analysis of adverbial participles following imperatives has revealed that they all retain their adverbial function and modify the preceding imperative. Thus, it can be concluded that the two participles “baptizing” and “teaching” in Matthew 28:19–20 are also adverbial participles modifying the preceding imperative “make disciples.”
Based on the above analysis of participles in relation to an imperative throughout the Gospel of Matthew, it is concluded that the first participle “going” adopts the imperatival force of the following imperative and the second and third participles retain their adverbial function and modify the imperative “make disciples.” Thus, the Great Commission can be diagrammed as follows:
make disciples of all nations
baptizing them in the name of …
teaching them to observe everything I commanded you.
The final question that needs to be answered for a correct interpretation of the Great Commission is in what sense the adverbial participles “baptizing” and “teaching” modify “make disciples.” In other words, we need to discern what type the adverbial participles are that follow “make disciples.”
Relationship of “Baptizing” and “Teaching” to “Make Disciples”
As noted above, the two participles “baptizing” and “teaching” are adverbial participles that modify the imperative “make disciples.” The concern at this point is discerning the more nuanced relationship between the participles and the imperative, something that most English translations of Matthew 28:19–20 neglect as evidenced by their translation of the participles simply with “baptizing” and “teaching” without any helping words to indicate the relationship to the imperative “make disciples.” Unfortunately, Matthew 28:19–20 does not provide any grammatical or syntactical cues or clues to help determine the precise relationship between the adverbial participles and the imperative “make disciples” (this is quite common in koine Greek). Fortunately, Greek scholars such as Daniel Wallace have categorized the various ways adverbial participles in koine Greek modify indicative and imperative verbs. At this stage, plausibility and logic must take over. The two most likely grammatical options for understanding the adverbial participles “baptizing” and “teaching,” then, are manner or result.
If “baptizing” and “teaching” convey manner, then the participles are instructing on how to make disciples, that is, the way one makes disciples. The apostles are to make disciples by baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit and by teaching people to observe everything that Jesus has commanded. Thus, the way the apostles make disciples is by baptizing and teaching.
If, however, “baptizing” and “teaching” convey result, then, the participles are instructing on the expected results of making disciples. After the apostles make a disciple, they should baptize that person and then instruct that person to observe everything that Jesus has commanded. Thus, as a result of making a disciple, the apostles will baptize and teach the disciple.
Although it is possible to understand the two participles that follow “make disciples” as either manner or result, interpreting them as participles of manner makes the most sense. As noted in Part I of this series, the central concern of Matthew 28:19–20 is the imperative “make disciples.” As such, it makes more sense if the subsequent two participles indicate manner, telling the apostles how to make disciples, because they elaborate and expand the central concern of making disciples. If “baptizing” and “teaching” convey result, then the apostles and the readers are left wondering how they are to accomplish Jesus’ command to make disciples, which leaves ambiguity in Jesus’ final words. However, understanding “baptizing” and “teaching” as conveying manner answers the key piece of information needed to fulfill Jesus’ command—the how. Thus, one makes a disciple by baptizing a person into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and by teaching that person to observe everything that Jesus commanded the apostles. Having identified the function of the three participles “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching,” Matthew 28:19–20 can be more accurately translated and diagrammed as follows:
make disciples of all nations
by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
by teaching them to observe everything I commanded you.
Adam Robinson holds a PhD in New Testament with a minor in Old Testament. He is the Instructor of Biblical Studies at NewLife College located in Queensland, Australia. Adam’s goal in teaching is to help develop mature disciples of Jesus.