BY WHOSE AUTHORITY
T. PIERCE BROWN
All of my life I have heard gospel preachers emphasize that when the Bible uses the expression, “in the name of,” it means “by the authority of.” My study suggests that it is not always so. The error may be so insignificant as to be unworthy of extensive comment, but any error, no matter how small, may cause subsequent errors that may be exceedingly dangerous.
As a case in point, the Bible teaches that baptism saves us (1 Peter3:21). It may have seemed a slight error to teach that baptism saves us because it is a meritorious or sacramental act, but it was not slight or insignificant. If one teaches the wrong thing about how, when or why baptism saves us, he may undermine the whole plan of salvation.
Our subject today may not be that important, but truth is always better than error. Even proper emphasis of a truth is better than improper emphasis, though it may not be vital to salvation. Let us therefore examine the subject in more detail.
The expression “in the name” is found at least 28 times in the King James Version of the New Testament. In about 18 of these it means “by the authority.” In the other ten, it means something slightly different. When the expression is from the Greek “en onomati” in seems always to have reference to the authority. This is the expression in Acts 10:48 when Peter commanded the household of Cornelius to be baptized. They needed to know that it was by the authority of Jesus and not of Moses or Peter. This is the expression in Colossians 3:17 when Paul says, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” If we do not have the authority of Jesus, either specific or generic, in all our religious activity, we sin. When James5:10mentions that the prophets spoke in the name of the Lord, he is emphasizing that it was by His authority. I find no case of the use of “en onomati” that does not involve the idea of “by the authority.”
However, when Jesus gave the great commission in Matthew 28:19, He did not say, “en onomati,” but “eis to onoma,” or “into the name.” This does not mean “by the authority of.” The authority is specified in the preceding verse, when Jesus says, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye, therefore–.” The expression here means that by His authority we are to baptize a person into a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The name of a person stands for what that person is.
The first time the expression “eis onoma” is used in the New Testament is in Matthew10:41, when Jesus says, “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.” He does not mean that one receives a prophet by the authority of a prophet, although that act would not necessarily be improper. He means, “He that receives a prophet into a position that his name signified.” That is, he recognized that the prophet was a true prophet, and deserved the honor and respect of one who spoke for God.
The same sort of expression is in Matthew10:42, when He says, “And whosoever shall give a drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple.” He does not mean that a disciple gives authority for that. He means that when you give one of Christ’s followers a cup of cold water because you hold him to be a disciple, you will be rewarded. That is, you have, in your mind, and by your actions, placed him into a position of a disciple, or into the name of a disciple, and have honored him as such.
It is commonly taught that when Peter said in Acts2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” that he is saying for them to be baptized by the authority of Christ. This does no real damage to the truth, for they were to be baptized by His authority, inasmuch as He had commanded it. However, the expression is “epi to onomati.” Although it ultimately leads to doing the act by the authority of Christ, since Christ commanded it and has all authority, the expression does not directly mean “by the authority of.” It means, in general, “on the basis of.”
What Peter is saying is, “On the basis of what I have told you about Christ, you need to be baptized for the remission of your sins.” Of course, since he had taught them that Christ has all authority as the Son of God, in this case it involves doing it by the authority of Christ. We can conceive of no case in which a person does something on the basis of the name of Christ that does not include his doing it by the authority of Christ. The point here is that the expression, does not mean “by the authority of” but involves far more than that.
If you hear all the facts about Jesus that are revealed, including His infinite love for you, and you obey Him on the basis of all those facts, it is far more significant than doing it merely because He said to do it. The implications of this principle are far deeper than we have ever heard anyone express. If a child obeys his father, or does something “en to onomati” of his father, he does it simply because his father says so. He recognizes the authority of his father, and may realize that if he does not submit to it, he may get a spanking. If he obeys his father “epi to onomati” of his father, he does it with reference to all that is involved in his relationship with his father. It may include his father’s need for something; his father’s love for him; his awareness of his father’s concern for his neighbors, or other factors. In any case, it will involve not just the authority of the father, but on the basis of his complete relationship with his father. If this helps you to realize more clearly that God uses the words He wants to use to get you to see deeper truths than you would otherwise see, it may be of value.