“IN or INTO?” Which is the Right Preposition for the Baptismal Formula?

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IN or INTO?” Which is the Right Preposition for the Baptismal Formula?

Rev. Dr. Walter L. Taylor, Pastor, Oak Island Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Throughout the course of my ministry, whenever I have administered baptism, I have not done so “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” but rather “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Does it really make a difference? What’s more, is it right and proper?

The text from which the Church receives the baptismal formula from our Lord is Matthew 28:19, in which Jesus commands that his disciples baptize, as a part of what is often called his “Great Commission.” From the days of William Tyndale’s first translation of New Testament from Greek into English, the typical way in which the formula has been translated is “in the name” of the Triune God. Yet, the Greek preposition that appears in that text is not the word εν (“en”), but the preposition εις (“eis”). This preposition is better translated into English as the word “into” rather than simply “in.” The expression “in the name of” carries the sense of “by the authority” of. Thus, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” tends to sound as if we are baptizing on the authority of God. While it is true that we are, this is not the primary sense of what the words in Matthew 28:19 mean.

The Greek preposition εις (“into”) in the context of Mt. 28:19 carries the sense of movement into, of an entrance into relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The words of baptism signify more than simply one is baptized by the authority of God. Mt. 28:19 denotes a change of relationship with God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, the language is covenantal. Where the word εις (“into”) is used in the context of baptism, it denotes a change, a movement of the one baptized (cf. Romans 6:3: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” ESV). “Into the name” thus states that the person being baptized is entering into a covenantal relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It denotes our union in Christ and our union with the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

While early English translations of the Bible (including the Geneva Bible and the King James Version) stuck with Tyndale’s use of “in” for εις in translating Mt. 28:19, there have been some notable exceptions. The first major revision of the KJV, the English Revised Version (RV) of 1881, translates Mt. 28:19 in terms of “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Likewise, the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 (which was the English Revised Version printed with the revisions preferred by the American scholars who participated in the 1881 translation) likewise translates it as “into the name…” Both the RV and the ASV are remembered for their more literal rending of the Greek text of the New Testament (sometimes to a fault!). The Revised Standard Version (1952, 1972) New Testament returned to the use of “in the name”. Most translation have followed suit. However, the argument for “into” has not disappeared in the world of Bible translations. The New International Version (NIV), while a less literal translation than the RV/ASV tradition, nonetheless puts “Or into” in a footnote on Mt. 28:19. More recently, the English Standard Version, a revision of the RSV, also places “Or into” in a footnote for the passage.

Has there been any liturgical use or acknowledgment of “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”? Indeed, there has, especially among Reformed/Presbyterian churches. In 1898, A New Directory for the Public Worship of God published for the Free Church of Scotland uses “into the name” in its two orders for baptism (one for infants and another for adults).[1] The following year, the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland (the denomination of “Seceder” Presbyterians) likewise gave “into the name” as the formula for baptism in all of its orders.[2] When the majority of congregations in these two denominations later went into union with one another to form the United Free Church of Scotland, the service book produced by the united denomination likewise enjoined the use of “into the name” in the baptismal formula.[3]

The United Free Church went back to printing “in the name” in its subsequent service book, produced one year before the vast majority of their denomination reunited with the Church of Scotland.[4] The Church of Scotland never made use of “into” in any of their unofficial worship resources during the period that both the Free Church and the United Presbyterians did, nor did they use it in any of their official publications later. One wonders whether this had any influence on the United Free Church decision to use “in the name” in their publication just before the reunion of 1929.

In more recent times, at least two Dutch Reformed denominations in North America have made use of “into the name” in their official services of baptism. The Christian Reformed Church of North America, up until its most recent revised liturgy of baptism (2013) used the formula “into the name” in its officially proscribed services.[5] The smaller and more conservative Canadian Reformed Churches uses “into the name” in their orders for baptism.[6]

Given the closer accuracy of “into the name” with the Greek text of Matthew 28:19, and given that it better states the relational and covenantal nature of baptism as expressed in the original Greek, and given that it is not without precedent among Christian churches, this is the form used in this service.

[1] A New Directory for the Public Worship of God (Edinburgh: Macniven & Wallace, 1898), pp. 103 and 123.

[2] Presbyterian Forms of Service (Edinburgh: Macniven & Wallace, 1899), pp. 132, 137, and 144.

[3] Directory and Forms for Public Worship (Edinburgh: Macniven & Wallace, 1909), pp. 101and 110.

[4] Book of Common Order (London: Oxford University Press, 1928), pp. 41 and 45.

[5] These services are available in the Psalter/Hymnal (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1987, 1988). The 2013 order is available at www.crcna.org.

[6] Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter (Winnipeg: Premier Printing Ltd., 2014), pp. 599 and 606.

2 thoughts on ““IN or INTO?” Which is the Right Preposition for the Baptismal Formula?

  1. I read this as a long term English teacher who loves grammar. I taught the difference between using the preposition in and into. Into grammatically is more appropriate as it refers to going from one space into another. In meant you were already present in the space. Unfortunately, modern usage fails to enjoy this differentiation. I found you because of the outstanding article on grief Sara had published in Theology matters.

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