Biblical Understanding of The Great Commission

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This is the paper I presented at United Theological College, Bangalore, Annual Refresher Course for the Alumni of the College, held on October 27-29, 2015

Biblical Understanding of the Great Commission

Metropolitan Yuhanon Mor Meletius

(Presented at the Annual Refresher Course for the Alumni at the United Theological College, Bangalore, held from October 27-29, 2015)



In Hector Babenco movie “At Play with the Fields of the Lord”, Wolf the Indian (played by Tom Waits), who got stranded in Mãe de Deus (meaning Mother of God in Portuguese) after his plane ran out of fuel, had a conversation in the local bar with Martin Quarrier (played by Aidan Quinn), a born again Christian Evangelist who came to spread the Christian gospel to the primitive Niaruna indigenous people. At the end of the conversation Wolf asked Quarrier, “The Lord made Indians the way they are, why you people make them different?”

I will come back to this a bit later. But for now, I am reminded of my good old days at UTC when professors would ask us to submit term papers and set a dead line. We will spend days and nights at the library and then in the room after 11 till the early hours of the following day to finish the paper. Finally when it was over, would slip it through the front door of the concerned teacher’s house just one minute before midnight of the dead line day. Then take a long sleep to wake up in the morning just before 8 am with enough time to wash our faces and brush our teeth, provided there was water in the tap, and also to escape the frustration of having what Ramachandran in the kitchen called “uppuma”, to go for the morning class.

I never thought I would have to go through the same drill all over again since I left UTC with my MTh certificate in 1984. However, now Rev Dr Santhosh S Kumar called me back to go through the same process! On a serious note, I of course thank Dr Santhosh for giving me this opportunity to be with you today and also for helping me do some serious study on the topic. I also thank Dr Dexter S Maben for the generous introduction and for moderating this session.

There were several challenges before me. First of all a bishop in normal case doesn’t do this sort of things. When I visited UTC in March 1991 few months after I was consecrated a bishop, Dr EC John, then Principal, introduced me to the community in the Chapel after the morning worship. I replied to his hearty welcome saying, “I am happy to introduce myself as a successful pastor after having received the training at UTC, or should I say a successful politician after having spent six long years in UTC campus. I was elected to the office when I was in US doing my graduate studies at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) and hence was absent in India where the election was held.” You got the point, I suppose. We bishops seldom do brain storming, but do remote manuring quite well. Now Dr Santhosh has done it back on me, a term paper through remote control. It is really hard to do such a thing in my kind of job.

Again I am a Hebrew Scripture student and haven’t done any serious work on a New Testament passage lately. The most recent one was “A Sociological Study of the Book of Revelations” done for Prof Dr David Rhoads at LSTC in 1990. You can imagine how poorly equipped I am to deal with a serious topic like “The Great Commission: Biblical Perspective”!

Further, the volume of literature produced on the subject is so much and to make a select bibliography itself is a Herculean task. Finally, to get the right ones at hand in Thrissur where I live was also not that easy. I stated all these, to make an anticipatory bail plea. I don’t think I have done justice to the subject in this paper, but I have tried to raise a few questions in relation to the subject that I think are important in the given socio-political situation in our country. 

We live in a world that is constantly evolving. In the process, the challenges posed are quite significant considering the fact that any evolution in the created world should take God’s creation to the ultimate goal of freeing it from all slavish and oppressive situations. It is to fulfil this goal that we are asked to “go”. This imperative comes from none other than the creator of “all the nations” Himself (cf. John 1:3) who has chosen to ‘go’ in front as a model, as a guide, as a participant, as a herald and as one who empowers. He himself walked that path first and then has passed the baton to his disciples for them to walk it further. He has also shown them how to walk that road.

Time moves forward in clockwise mode. We cannot go backward at any cost. The challenges are new and hence the need to revise the methodology to make it relevant and ‘current’ always. Those were times when people accepted and believed things as it appeared to be or were told to be. People call it pre-scientific days or pre-modern era. In such times the powerful and the educated had their time and say. But then came the modern era with the backdrop of renaissance and industrial revolution. People took the liberty to ask questions. But still a lot of things were accepted as they were explained by others. The one who said, ‘earth is a globe’, had to submit an apology for saying what he saw through the lens of his telescope. But then came post-modern age where every corner of the whole socio-cultural arena was put to question. They talked about de-construction of multiple voices, rejection of meta-narratives which said, ‘truth is relative’ and rejected the absolute and ultimate claims of reason. This put the emphasis on the reader instead of on the text itself. Further, that age gave way to what is called as ‘pseudo-modern’ era. According to Alan Kirby, this age is marked by, ‘phones, clicks, presses, surfs, chooses and moves’.[1] We are now brought to this current world to which Christ asks us to “go”. It becomes our responsibility to analyse, study and make viable methodology to ‘go’, ‘make disciples’, ‘baptize’ and ‘teach’.


No one knows for sure who actually named this passage “The Great Commission”. However, it is generally considered that a Dutch missionary by name Justinian von Welz (1621-88) first coined the phrase and later Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) made it popular.[2] People like Edward Riggenbach (“Trinitarische Taufbefehl” - 1903) and J H Oldham, et. al. (“The Missionary Motive” - 1913) ‘asserts that this concept did not exist until after 1650. Traditionally it was considered as a commission directed to the first audience of 500 only and never thought of having continued relevance.[3]

Even though there are five commissioning passages in the New Testament (Matthew 28: 16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23 and Act. 1:6-8) the one in Matthew which is called “The Great Commission” will be the passage for our consideration. Questions have been raised about the authenticity of this passage to the effect that doubts its validity whether this was exactly what Jesus told his disciples or not.  R Funk suggests, “These commissions have little in common, which indicates that they have been created by the individual evangelists to express their conception of the future of the Jesus movement. As a consequence they cannot be traced back to Jesus”[4]. To Hubbard, ‘even the proto-commission on which all the commission passages were based did not come from Jesus’[5]  There are also people who consider it as coming from ‘post-Jesus theological statements’[6]. FF Bruce concludes, “Matthew’s record of the commission is unique and cannot be compared with any other record of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus”[7]. To Hal Freeman, “It only tells us that Jesus wanted his disciples to continue the mission he began”[8]. The writers of the Gospel of Matthew commentary affirm, “Through these words, Mathew looks forward to the continuing work of the Messianic Community, making it explicit what has already been hinted elsewhere about a mission to those outside the Old Covenant community, Israel”.[9] As far as we are concerned, it is enough to say that this is Matthew’s version of what Jesus wanted his disciples to do after his ascension and hence has to be taken seriously.

According to Matthew, Galilee was the location of the event. Jesus started his ministry in Galilee (Matt. 4:15) and the end also happens there. In Mark no precise geographical location is given. It only says, that the event happened inside a house and they were dining (Mk. 16: 14ff.). For Luke they were in Jerusalem in a house and many were there in a perplexed mood (Luke 24: 33ff.). Jesus appeared to them while those who returned from Emmaus were narrating their experience with the Lord before others including the eleven and “those who were with them”. Then Jesus led ‘them’ to Bethany and was lifted up. In John again it did not happen in a mountain. The ‘mountain’ in Matthew suggests that Jesus was higher in status than Moses, a theme Mathew had already introduced.[10] But to Grand, the mountain points to “a place of divine revelation” and has nothing to do with Moses.[11]

The number of people present at the event varies in the Gospels. In Matthew and Mark only 11 were present. In Luke the number is not limited as there were the eleven with those who returned from Emmaus along with ‘those others’. In John it is not clear who all were there. All that we can say is, the word ‘disciple’ in John may imply many more than ten apostles (Thomas was not present at that moment and Judas had died). Acts talks about “they” without specifying the number. Lenski thinks that the number was larger than eleven as those ‘doubted’ cannot be those worshipped’.[12] He quotes 1 Cor. 15:6 to support his point. But Matthew doesn’t give us any room for guesswork about the number as he says “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee” (v.16).

It is quite clear in Matthew that there were no women present during the “Great Commission”. But Luke certainly thought women were also there when Jesus commissioned. As already seen, John does not give definite number leaving space for doubt. Even though, according to Matthew, women were not present during the event he narrates at the mountain, their role as commissioned disciples cannot be ignored. They were the ones who first received commission to take the news of the Lord’s resurrection to the disciples from the Lord himself (Matt. 28:8-10. It should also be noted that when the women saw Jesus they did not doubt as the disciples did but only ‘took hold of his feet and worshipped him’!). A Boyd Luter Jr.,[13] after a detailed exegetical study of all the five commission passages concludes that “By now, it should be sufficiently clear from the exegetical/ literary angles discussed that such women as Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Salome, a number of unnamed women at the Cross (mark 15:41; Luke 23:49, 55), as well as others like Joanna and Susanna (Luke 8:1-3), should all be considered as much full-fledged disciples as the eleven.”  He affirms, “Though often painted in somewhat subtle literary hues, their commitment as disciples (Luke 14:26-33) of the Lord Jesus does shine through and should be emulated by growing disciples today”.[14]

Though the passage from verses 16-20 is called “the Great Commission”, actual commission is in verses 19-20a. Verse 16 talks about the geographical location; verse 17 is about the response of the disciples at the sight of Jesus and in v. 18 Jesus’ authority statement is given. Verse 20b gives Jesus’ assurance of His presence with the disciples.



There has been quite a lot of discussion in the scholarly world with regard to the grammatical structure of the passage. The first verb πορευθέντες (Poreutentes - go) is an aorist participle. The other verbs - μαθητεύσατε (matheteusate of matheteuo- make disciples) is an aorist imperative, βαπτιζ́οντες (baptizontes - baptize) and διδάσκοντες (didaskontes - teach) are present nominative plural participles. There are two opinions about the way we should translate the aorist imperative and aorist participle verbs in the sentence and about their mutual relationship.[15]

Robert D. Culver argues that the first verb poreutentes has to be translated as “as ye go …” to mean “where ever you may go…”.[16]  Whereas Nigel Turner,[17] would argue that even though, in general case, the participle verb will not have a standing by itself, here in this case the context decides the meaning. Hence the verb ‘go’ has to be given an imperative tone to say “go and ...” There are several examples in Matthew that would support this argument. In Matt. 2:8a where “go and search…” is preferred instead of ‘when you go, search out …’. In Matt. 2:20 (“Rise take the child…”); in 5:24 (“come and offer…) and in many other occasions (see 6:6; 11:4; 17:221:27; 28:7 etc.) this principle is followed in translating the text. If we take Culver’s argument, it will make the going ‘optional’ and since there was no earlier direction to go, making of disciples will become optional and consequently ‘no great commission’ in effect. 

Cleon quotes (p261), Adolf Schlatter whose opinion he thinks right as, “When two actions are connected with one process, the aorist participle which prepares for the actions is placed before the aorist of the main verb. This sentence structure occurs so often in Matthew that it characterizes the style of Matthew.”[18]  For Cleon, Matthew got this style from the Septuagint where aorist participle verb can carry the weight of aorist imperative when the other verb is imperative.[19] So it is well on our part to conclude that the direction is to “go … and make disciples...” Without the going, the making of disciples is not possible, and especially when “all nations” is the object”.[20] It cannot be a casual act as suggested by the translation “as you go…”



Further on the question of ‘doubt’, K Grayston argues that the answer to this question depends of how hoi de is translated. According to him, a similar case is seen in Matthew 2:5 where hoi de is not translated in a “partisan style”.[21] L. Morris says, “It can scarcely mean that the hesitaters were among the worshipers; Matthew is saying that there were those who worshiped and there were those who hesitated.”[22] But Don Fanning contents that the ‘verb distaze can mean waver or be of two minds.’[23] Ellis argues that, ‘Matthew wanted to express the mixed feelings of the eleven and there was no need for more people.’[24]  The use of the term distaze in Matt. 14:31 (“Oh man of little faith why did you doubt?”) supports this argument. To C. H. Dodd, ‘doubt is only the sign of seeking further assurance that Jesus is truly resurrected’.[25] As said earlier, it is to be said that since Matthew has a clear statement about the number of people who went to Galilee to receive the commission and to receive the assurance of Jesus’ continued presence with (v.15), we have no other option but accept the fact that there were only eleven present at the time of “the Great Commission.”



In his statement on Matt 28:18, Albright suggests that the phrase pasa exousia en ourano (all authority is given to me in heaven) seems to be a reflection of what we see in Dan. 7:14 in line with the powers of the “Son of Man”.[26] But, we do not see any sign of vengeance in this passage as seen in Daniel. Robert Gundry rules out the possibility of any relation between Matthew’s statement and what we see in the Daniel passage.[27] Jesus through this statement provided confidence in the mind of the disciples that they didn’t have to be perplexed or confused, but be assured that he was the one who had power over them and also over those whom they will meet when they go.

The statements about his authority in the beginning and the assurance of his presence at the end are well placed on either side of his commission to go, make disciples, baptize and teach. This makes the proclamation even more fruitful and effective.[28] We have already seen that the verb “go”, though an aorist participle, is to be taken as the primary command from Jesus. However, the aorist imperative verb “make disciples’ also has to be given equal weight since both are inseparably linked. The meaning implied becomes go (with an implied urgency of the aorist imperative) and immediately begin to make disciples of all nations.[29]



The phrase “make disciple” (Μαθητευω - matheteno) is essentially a Matthean phrase. According to Matt. 13:52 a disciple is the one who has been trained. Matt. 27:57 talks about Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple. Hence for Mathew, a disciple is to be both trained and has to follow the master. A relevant question at this point would be, has discipleship got anything to do with becoming a member of a denomination? All along the history of the Church, in most cases, denominations have been baptizing and making disciples as if disciples should, by virtue of it, become member of an organized Church or denomination. Of course, disciple will always seek a community for fellowship. But the question whether the nature of that fellowship need to be like that of an established denomination is crucial.


The literal meaning of the word baptize is ‘dyeing’ (a cloth). But here the verb is used to describe the “act of initiation into the Messianic Community”.[30] One who is baptized gets a new colour, that of the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. “Mathew believed that Jesus’ unique status with the Father was essential to the mission. Thus the passage is both Christological and missiological”[31]



Questions have been raised regarding the Trinitarian formula used in the passage. Lack of this formula in the Book of Acts when baptism is referred to raises doubts about its authenticity. J Schaberg is of the opinion that ‘this formula was introduced in to the community only after Jesus.’[32] Even what is said of the Spirit in Romans 8:9-11 cannot be taken as proof for its early use either.[33] But it has to be remembered that this phrase cannot be considered as very late since we have reference to it in Didache 7:1-3. Albright argues that “This formula doesn’t need to be seen as retrojected in to the text from post-Nicene orthodoxy as the concept of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is as old as the Messianic community”[34] He further states that “even if it is not taken as a liturgical formula, which is a later one, it could be seen as what baptism accomplished, fellowship and participation with the Messianic community.”[35] According to FF Bruce,[36] The textual evidence for the words “baptizing them… Holy Ghost” is quite remarkable. All the available manuscripts and version have this formula. Only Eusebius among the Christian Fathers has mentioned one without. It is doubtful whether we can trust that over against all the other testimonies. To John McKenzie, “The Trinitarian formula in the baptism in Matthew “represents a more mature practice.”[37] He further states that there is no mention of baptism but ‘in the name of’ and ‘all nations’ are only present in Luke 24:47 which was taken by Eusebius as proof.[38]  He continues to say that, ‘though these three persons are not mentioned together in Matthew, we have Father and Son in Matt. 11:27 and Son and Holy Spirit in Matt. 12:32.’[39] Bruce concludes: “This particular usage is relevant to the Gentile converts. The words of Matthew xxviii are concerned with Gentiles, those without the knowledge of God, who had to learn what Jews knew already of the God of revelation, as well as the Good News of the New Covenant. They, therefore, are to be baptized “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”; and the universal Church has acted rightly in using the full Trinitarian formula in the rite of baptism”[40] As far as we are concerned, beyond the precise way a particular Christian community may understand and practice baptism, it should refer to a thorough washing and filling as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 2:22. By these two, a steady and continuous change to the better of a person and communities is implied. Baptism, like any other act in Christ’s community cannot be a onetime event; rather an event started at a given point of time and continues eternally renewing the effect and purpose.



The phrase panta ta ethne (all the nations) brings a universalistic goal to the mission. Hare and Harrington have raised question about whether this would include Jews or not.[41] To them ethnos and ethne always mean “gentile/s” in Matthew. They think that Gospel according to Matthew was written after Christians parted with Jews.[42] This was questioned by J. Miller to whom, Mathew may have never thought that the mission for Jews had ended.[43] At least that is not the impression we get from Matthew 10:23. To Hal Freeman, what Matthew means is “conversion has to be keeping the ethnic identity intact”.[44]



Boyd Luter comments that ‘teaching’ the baptized disciples “is for them to grow through obedience to the Lord’s standards.”[45] In the Rabbinical teaching context the teacher and the student enter into a close fellowship with each other. The students would submit completely to the teacher and would follow him where ever he would go. The submission and devotion of the students to the teacher is phenomenal. The students will be at the service of the teacher always and even the relation to the father and mother would come only next to this.[46] Jesus was “a good teacher” in the eyes of many and particularly to his close followers (Matt. 8:19; 12:38; 19:16; 22:16, 24, 36). The question is, was Jesus asking his disciples to bring those who were baptized to the same level of the disciples themselves? When we compare the two words disciples (v. 16) and teaching (v. 20), this is the conclusion we can derive at.

“The present tense “to observe” (τηρειν͂, “to be keeping, observing, fulfilling”) indicates that the teaching must involve not just what is taught but also the resultant life-long committal to obey the message. The Christian teaching being imparted is expected henceforth to control and mould the entire life and character of the believer.”[47] What Jesus commanded can be seen in Matthew 5. On the one hand, a correction of what has been taught in the past and on the other what is to be done in and through the new community (5:21-48). We may also consider the content of Jesus’ first message in the Synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 18-19) in this context.

Teaching also should involve teaching of the ways of the world, its influence and how to face those challenges in the world (John 17:15). There is a radical demand for a changed life. “Panta would therefore refer to the totality of Jesus’ teaching, especially as presented in the first gospel, centring on the coming kingdom of heaven and man’s relation to it as well as on the Person of Jesus”.[48] In the present socio-political atmosphere emerging in our country with the neo-colonial tendencies, divination of market and corporate enthusiasm with a culture of greed in the loose, people need to be taught of self-esteem, freedom and self-respect which are given by God in creation. God asked Moses to bring people out of Egypt not because they had no better life there (Ex. 16:3), but because they did not know God and were not free to know. Relation to God decides the identity of human. They were not as much slave to Pharaoh as to the deprivation of knowing God and relating to Him in worship.



The commission ends with Jesus’ promise of his presence with the disciples “until the close of ages” and that makes the end of the Gospel also. We have a fitting conclusion with an assurance not only for those who were with him, but for all generations to come. This assurance certainly agrees with the name ‘Immanuel’ which Matthew gave Jesus at the very beginning of the Gospel.[49]The phrase “To the end of the ages” represents an old sectarian formula that testifies to the fact that the passage belongs to the earliest stages of the tradition.[50]

We might raise a question whether the presence of Christ is ‘with the Church’ or with ‘those who follow the commandments’. It all depends on what a Church is. Church basically has to be people who follow the path of Christ rather than an established and structured organization, unless that organization becomes true to its calling and creates a true fellowship of disciples of Jesus transcending all barriers and discriminative tendencies.

The continuing presence of Jesus with the disciples made them share the authority Jesus was talking about at the beginning of the commissioning. That is why Peter and John were able to say, “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”, to the question from the Sanhedrin “By what power, or in what name did you do this” when they had healed a lame man (Acts 4:7 ff.). This is why Bruce commented, “The commission was no ‘dead letter’ to them, but in fact with life-giving spirit! Not only had they His authority, but His very presence”.[51]



Being a student of Hebrew Scripture, I should also look in to the past history of God and His works with His people to find if something similar can be seen there.

What happened in the Garden of Eden was not seen by God as an act against God only. It was also seen as an act against the identity and integrity of nature and everything in it (Gen. 2:15). God saw the aggression against the fruit of a tree so grave a matter that he had to pronounce that relationship of human with God, with nature and with humans were affected adversely by that act (I do not see the passage in Gen. 3:24 the way it has been interpreted traditionally as God casting human out of the Garden. On the contrary God was just pronouncing the effect of human conduct). This should tell us about how God would be looking at our ecological miss-management and our ill-treating of nature which was entrusted upon humans to ‘keep and cultivate’. It was the lack of readiness on the part of humans to participate with God in His attempt to make the seventh day effect ever and everlasting.


To re-establish the broken relationship, humans had to be brought in to fellowship with God first. God who has been working in the history of His creation always sought the participation of humans to re-establish the broken relationship between God and human and between human and everything else including fellow humans. God’s readiness to take participation of humans in the life of everything else is displayed through God bringing all animals He made before human to be named (Gen. 2:19). Even after the fall, God did not give up on that. This is what we see in the calling of Abraham and asking him to go that he may become a blessing to all (Gen. 12: 3b - “… and in you all families of the earth will be blessed”. Also see 46:1-5a). C. Westermann finds a pattern in God’s involvement in the life of people.[52] The promise Abraham received was carried through to the future history of Israel. It was this presence that sheltered and accompanied Abraham and which continued through the period of monarchy in Israel, and beyond this closed community, hoped to be extended to all the families of the earth.[53] Incarnation was necessitated as the children of Abraham too failed in carrying out the mission entrusted. Now the call comes again to those who followed the ‘Immanuel’.


When Abraham was called he was commanded to abandon radically his natural roots and to go to an unknown world.[54] Abraham was assigned the role of a mediator of blessing in God’s saving plan for all the families of the earth.[55]


The verb “go” has the implication of self-denial. “To belong to the apostolic community is to be involved in the complex act of giving away, to be at the disposal of God’s will, to give away the life which we have, so that God’s life can be given through us”[56] “It cannot be said that the Church has a mission of salvation to fulfil in the world. It is the mission of the Trinity that invites the Church to participate in”[57]

The nature of the commission to “go” entrusted with the disciples of Jesus carries the same command as that given to Abraham. Paul exhorts his readers to follow the model of Jesus’ in self-emptying (Phil. 2:5-8). This is what we see in the making of a disciple who received the commission. Leave aside everything that is supposed to be holding them back. Kenosis, used often in the Christian thought circles need to be what is seen here. The disciple has to leave even the pride of being a disciple. A  Christian has to leave the ‘Christian pride’ in that person. In the Indian context even the claims of minority rights need to be given up. There shall not be any special privilege claim, except that of a citizen of the country that is offered and open to everyone else, to become a witnessing community in this ancient culture[58].

“Immanuel” was the message that came from God to His creation. Authority is not a theory. It becomes effective only in participation. God’s authority was and continues to be displayed in creation and salvation. Both were combined in Christ event as a new creation was made and a new liberative act was performed.

Christ’s authority over the people in their need was not effectively displayed when Jesus went to his home town (Mark 6:1-6). Even with Jesus’ claim of all authority he was given, still our lack of participation with him and with one another will make that authority ineffective. Hence our participation with humans and nature is the only way, as his disciples, through which we can make the authority of Jesus working in and through. This calls us for a participatory life style in going out, making disciples and teaching. The Trinitarian formula becomes a model for our participation. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are together and in participation bring about transformation in a person. So being baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit creates a binding effect on each disciple to the fellow being after the model seen in the mutual relationship between the three persons in the Holy Trinity. Jesus’ words “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), “I know that you hear me always” (John 11:42) etc. talk about a participatory kind of relationship between the Father and the Son. Again Jesus talked clearly about the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Spirit of Truth (John 14 and16). Same should happen in the mission of Jesus’ disciples today, I believe.

In and through participation, everyone and everything around us should reflect Christ’s mission model/style. Participate with everyone to create a world that is of God where everyone can live and grow in peace and harmony. Jesus is calling his disciples to make ‘the Nazareth Manifesto’ our own manifesto in the mission he has entrusted with us. I earnestly and sincerely think that the “Great Commission” is all about this. We are commissioned to involve ourselves in the struggle of others, even risking our own safety, in making their lives better in terms of quality and identity. To Rev Jeevan Babu, “Mission is not what we want to do. Mission is what others expect from us. Mission is relational and not one sided. Therefore mission should be other-oriented, commitment-oriented, call-oriented and pro-life oriented. The questions of children, especially children deprived of basic education but have to work in factories and other sectors, women who are deprived of freedom and womanhood, the outcasts, poor and the marginalized are to be our concern”.[59] We are called to “go” and participate with these ones in their struggle for a life with quality, identity, self-respect and freedom.

Effective participation can happen only if there is mutual understanding. Mutual knowing can happen only through dialogue. As renowned ecumenist M. M. Thomas has pointed out, ‘we cannot ever say that one culture is superior to another since we live in a culturally pluralistic world but each need to become better in some way or other.[60] We need to approach the other without prejudice and any kind of superiority complex, but as God’s gift to the created world.

Discipling has gone through several stages in the past, says Anthoniraj Tumma.[61]  Thumma lists the stages as given by Raymond Panikkar. They are, witness (until Avius), conversion (until the impact of Islam), crusade (until the discovery of America) and Mission (until the end of the colonial era). To Panikkar today is the time of dialogue.[62] Dialogue helps understand each other with their myths, cultures and concepts. Even the understanding of God and God’s ways of working can only be understood through dialogue. In the movie I mentioned earlier, there is a reference to the name Jesus as understood by the people of the land as a deity of death. Without understanding each other no discipleship is possible in the Indian context (same should be the case in any other given context).


Jesus who was able to work effectively and freely across various communities in and around the geographical area of his ministry is calling us, without judging or condemning any of the cultures and communities around us, to go and make disciples, not to increase the number in a particular denomination or a group, but to teach them the ways of Jesus, the way of involvement in the life of the other in order to liberate them from bondage and to help them transform or to be baptized and to be taught. Here the whole idea of ‘baptising’ gets a new meaning. It is not adding people to a denomination or a different group, but to help them become transformed, wherever they may be.

The world is evolving and we are to be on the move because we were asked to “go”. “No part of any culture can continue unchanged; all elements of a culture must be re-patterned in the light of the demand of Christ, to enable them to express the message of Christ, and the dignity and justice conferred on men (human) by Christ”.[63] The call is to “go” to all nations to make disciples. Here we need to take the context where Jesus grew up in Galilee which had a mixed ethnic population and people were more open without any exclusivist or extremist attitude. This pluralistic society may have had quite an influence on Jesus.[64] This was a model atmosphere for Jesus to consider when he coined his mission statement for all peoples. So when disciples of Jesus, then or in the present day situation we, are asked to go out to present what Jesus taught among the peoples, it is not for us to change the way they live their life, but help them grow in their own environment as God’s children. Hence we need to take seriously the cultural context existing in each given society without changing or judging it as pagan or satanic, but proclaiming only the Gospel. It is in this context the question presented by Wolf of the movie, which I talked about in the beginning, becomes relevant, “The Lord made Indians the way they are, why you people make them different?” Michael Patton, who writes on “Representing Christ to the Postmodern World”,[65] concludes his article by saying, “We understand that tolerance is a mandate within the Church. We also understand that the Bible teaches that there are many situations in which truth is relative.”[66] This approach is vital to the effectiveness of our going and making disciples in the postmodern or pseudo-modern world.



Jesus initiated a mission, a mission to bring God’s message of “the year of God’s favour” to all creatures. Of course that was a mission that God started at the very beginning. Jesus worked out that mission through his life, death and resurrection. He proved on himself beyond doubt that he had authority over everything, even upon death. That was a strong message to everyone and hence there should be no hurdle in this world that cannot be faced with him to make things better and perfect. His name is ‘Immanuel’ and hence his empowering presence is assured. He has commissioned his disciples to take this initiated message of outliving ‘to all nations’ by ‘going’ and ‘making disciples.’ He has entrusted with those who have already got that message to invite on his behalf every people and cultures to be taught. His disciples are called to “go” to involve and participate in the life of people and cultures to transform it that it shall become “baptized” and “taught” so that they be made “disciples”.


[1] Alan  Kirby, "The Death of Post-Modernism and Beyond," Philosophy Now: A Magazine of Ideas., no. Oct-Nov (2015).

[2] Robbie F Castleman, "The Last Word: The Great Commission: Ecclesiology," Themelios 32, no. 3 (2007). P.68

[3] "Great Commission", Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia; (Wikimedia Foundation Inc., (accessed 20 October 2015).

[4] Robert W et al  Funk, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: New Translation and Commentary (San Francisco: Harper Collings, 1997). P. 270

[5] B Hubbard, The Matthean Redaction of a Primitive Apostolic Commissioning: An Exegesis of Matthew 28:16-20 (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1974). Pp. 116-128

[6] J Meier, "Two Disputed Questions in Matt 28:16-20," Journal of Biblical Literature 96, no. 3 (1977). Pp.422-424

[7] Frederick F Bruce, "The End of the First Gospel," The Evangelical Quarterly 12, (1940). P.204

[8] Hal  Freeman, "The Great Commission and the New Testament: An Exegesis of Matthew 28:16-20," Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 1:4, no. Winter (1997). P.15

[9] William F  Albright, ed. The Anchor Bible.  Matthew: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, ed. C S Mann, vol. 26 (Garden City. New York: Doubleday & Company. Inc. , 1979). P.361

[10] Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, (1994) 593, 594

[11] Grand R Osborne, "Redaction Criticism and the Great Commission: A Case Study toward a Biblical Understanding of Inerrancy

" JETS 19/2, no. Spring (1976). Pp.76-77


[12] Culver Lenski, "Commentary: The Book of Matthew," JETS 10/2, no. Spring (1967). P.555

[13] A. Boyd Luter Jr., "Women Disciples and the Great Commission," Trinity Journal 16:2, no. Fall (1995). P 185

[14] Ibid.

[15] Cleon Rogers, "The Great Commission," BSAC 130:519, no. July (1973). Pp.258-259

[16] D Culver, "What Is the Church’s Commission? Some Exegetical Issues in Matthew 28:16-20," Bibliotheca Sacra CXXV, no. July- September (1968). P. 253

See also Roy B Zuck, "Greek Words for Teach," Bibliotheca Sacra CXXI, no. April-June (1965). P.163

[17] James Hope and et al  Moulton, Syntax” Vol. Iii. A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1963).

[18] Schlatter. Adolph, Der Evangelist Matthäus (Stuttgart: 1948). P.23

[19] Ibid. P, 260-262

[20] Ibid. P.260

[21] Grayston, "The Translation of Matthew 28.17," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 21, (1984). P.105

See also  R Kwik, "Some Doubted," Expository Times 77, (1965-66).  P.181

[22] L Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992). P745

[23] Don Fanning, "The Great Commission," JLBTS 1:2 no. Article 2 (2014). P. 3

[24] I P Ellis, "But Some Doubted," New Testament Studies 14, (1967-68). P.576

[25] C H Dodd, "The Appearances of the Risen Christ: An Essay in Form Criticism," in More New Testament Studies(London.: 1968). P. 12

[26] Albright, ed. P.362

[27] Robert  Gundry, P. 595. See also H M Teeple, "The Origin of the Son of Man Christology," JBL, Sept, (1965).

[28] Fanning, "The Great Commission." P.4

[29] Wallace Arthur Alcon, "The Great Commission: Disciples. Basic Greek Grammar," CENQ 2:4, no. Winter (1959). P.645

[30] Albright, ed. P.362

[31] Freeman, "The Great Commission and the New Testament: An Exegesis of Matthew 28:16-20." P.19

[32] J Schaberg, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: The Triadic Phrase in Matthew 28:19b (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980). Pp. 9, 14, 24–26

[33] Gordon D Fee, ed. Christology and Pneumatology in Romans 8:9-11 (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1996). Also see Joel B and Max Turner Green, ed. Elsewhere: Some Reflections on Paul as a Trinitarian,” Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994). Pp. 312-331.


[34] Albright, ed. P.362.  He quotes Biblical passages like 1Cor. 12:4-6; 2Cor.13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1John 3:23-24 to establish his point.


[35] Ibid. P.363

[36] Bruce, "The End of the First Gospel." P.204

[37] John L. McKenzie, "The Gospel According to Matthew," in The Jerome Biblical Commentary Ii: The New Testament and Topical Articles, ed. Raymond E. Brown and others(Bangalore: St. Peter’s Seminary, 1972). P.114

[38] Bruce, "The End of the First Gospel." P.204

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid. Pp.205-206

[41] D and D. Harrington Hare, "Make Disciples of All the Nations," CBQ 37, (1975). Pp 359-369

[42] Ibid. P.363

[43] J Miller, "Nations or Gentiles in Matthew 28:19?," CBQ 39, (1977). Pp. 94-102

[44] Freeman, "The Great Commission and the New Testament: An Exegesis of Matthew 28:16-20." P.18

[45] Luter Jr., "Women Disciples and the Great Commission." P.174

[46] Rogers, "The Great Commission." P.262

[47] D Edmond Hiebert, "An Expository Study of Matthew 28:16-20," BSAC 149/595, no. July (1992). P.352

[48] Osborne, "Redaction Criticism and the Great Commission: A Case Study toward a Biblical Understanding of Inerrancy

". P81

[49] Albright, ed. P. 363. Matt. 1:23. Also 18:20.


[50] Ibid.

[51] Bruce, "The End of the First Gospel." P.211

[52] Claus  Westermann, Genesis 12-36: A Commentary., ed. John J. Scullion, vol. Vol. 2 (Mimmeapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985). Pp. 146-147 (I am skipping everything narrated in terms of mission entrusting in the patriarchal history for brevity of the presentation)

[53] Ibid. P.147

[54] Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary. Otl (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973). P.159

[55] Ibid. P.160

[56] R Williams, Open to Judgement (London: DLT, 1994). P.257

[57] Lynne J. Wall, "The Great Commission: Biblical Perspective"

 . Quoted from Jurgen Moltmann on the difference between 1910 and 2010 World Missionary Conferences

[58] Of course this doesn’t mean that those privileges offered by the constitution to Dalits, Tribes and economically backward communities are to be disregarded.

[59] Jeevan Babu, Mission Hermeneutics: Ncci Resource Series (Nagpur: 1996.). P.2

[60] M M Thomas, Some Theological Dialogue ( Madras: CISRS & CLS, 1977). P.140ff

[61] Anthoniraj  Tumma, Breaking Barriers: Liberation of Dialogue and Dialogue of Liberation, the Quest of R. Panikkar and Beyond (Delhi,: ISPCK, 2000).

[62] Ibid. P.4

[63] Thomas. P.147

[64] Albright, ed. P. 359, 362 Cf. “Galilee of the nations” in Isa. 8:23.


[65] Michael Patton, "Representing Christ to a Postmodern World" (accessed Oct 2015).

[66] Ibid.





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