The Great Commission

OK - This is a silly and brief thought (brief because I am using a computer in a library and have few minutes left in which to write).

I always took the great commission in Matthew 28:19 to be Jesus telling the whole church (which included me) to go and convert everyone in the world. You know - the standard evangelical reading (not, I hasten to add the classical Christian reading - on which see the brilliant reception history study of the text by David Parris in Reading the Bible with Giants).

The more that I read the NT in the light of the OT the more crazy interpretations I keep coming up with.

So here is something I was wondering about (and I am no Matthew scholar) - What if we read the commission in the light of the OT story accoring to which God will restore Israel and then, through Israel, he will draw the nations to worship him? There is a strong case for seeing such restoration-of-Israel and mission-to-the-nations stuff going on in Matthew (see esp. Joel Willitts book on Israel's Shepherd King in Matthew - cannot recall exact title).

If we do this then Jesus is commissioning his disciples, as representatives of restored Israel, to take the good news of Israel's resotration and salvation for the world to the nations of the world.

I have always read it as a call to the church to go to the world. But if Jesus was calling restored Israel to go to the nations then the text's relevance for a mission by Gentile Christians to other Gentile Christians is one or two steps away from what Jesus was getting at. I am not wanting to say that the text is of no relevance for such contexts but simply that it may be of more indirect relevance than we may have thought.

I guess that I will now get lots of replies saying, "Everyone knew that anyway! You're slow off the mark" Yes I am. Better late than never.

So I guess my question is - what is Jesus commanding in Matt 28? Who is he commanding? How does it apply today?


Anonymous said…
Certainly an interesting idea. And one that I had not heard before.

I interpret the verse(s) as follows. "Go" is a Hebrew idiom translated into Greek used to emphasize the verb that follows. So the first part of the verse I understand as "Make Disciples!" How is this done? By baptizing and teaching.

Understanding the text in this way, really reduces the directional element. There is no real need to discuss who is going, or where they are going. Instead, the emphasis is on making disciples where ever you might be.

So, while I think the verse has an evangelistic emphasis in "Make disciples!", I don't think that a missionary emphasis (which we usually hear), or drawing nations to a restored Israel, can necessary be inferred from the text.

Mike Bell
Anonymous said…
Im afraid Im not ahead of you there, thats the first time someone has cracked the eggshell of that particular evangelical interpretation. I dont have any greek, and somehow in my undergrad I managed to almost completely bypass NT and end up straight into systematics and ethics. Are there any overview texts that enquire into this scripture I could read?
Anonymous said…
Interesting thoughts. My next question would be what is restored Israel? What does it mean for us?
Joel said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel said…
I would say that what you have suggested here is closer to the heart of what Jesus had in mind when extending this command to his disciples.
Robin Parry said…

I would recommend the relevant chapter in David Parris' "Reading the Bible with Giants". It surveys the history of interpretation of the text and is very helpful (more so than most commentaries).

But as far as the interpretation I am suggesting - I don't know what you could read. Joel Willitts will know (he blogs on blogspot with Mike Bird so hunt him down and ask)
Robin Parry said…

On restored Israel see the posts I wrote a few months back on 'the gospel of Israel' - I overview my thinking there.

Robin Parry said…

Thanks. What further reading would you recommend?

SATheologies said…
Hi Robin,

The post is intriguing. Personally I am asking questions over our (local) current practice of evangelism and exhortation for evangelism through reference to Matt 28.

It seems that Gentile Christians' evangelism is being conducted through a manner along the course like spreading the disease and then provide the medicine. We preach and condemn the audience with sin and God's wrath before we submit the redemption proposal to them.

But if E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright & others are right that the 1st century Jews and Jewish believers were not concern so much over sin as there was the sacrificial system to take care of them, then it is questionable whether is our reading of evangelism as described above make sense to Matthew's Jewish audiences?

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