Baptizing Disciples

Posted: November 14, 2008 by cthoward in Doctrinal Question, Scriptural Question
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In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says to make disciples and then to baptize those disciples…
So my question is: what must a disciple be “made” to know & practice before he is ready to become a baptized believer? (question from Brian King)

  1. cthoward says:

    I had the understanding that the Greek language here indicates that disciples are made by baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded. “Make disciples” is the primary verb defined by the secondary verbs “baptize” and “teach.”

    If this is true, then they are not disciples until they are baptized…so they must know why and how to be saved prior to being baptized…and the rest of Jesus’ teaching comes later.

  2. Brian King says:

    I really need to further my Greek capabilities at the collegiate level.

  3. cthoward says:

    Well, I am really only going by what I have been told…I certainly am no Greek scholar…

    But, take a look at the Greek (there is an excellent free resource called Interlinear Scripture Analyzer that you can download…just search for it in Google)…
    Anyway, the verbs “baptize” and “teach” are present active participles. According to Summers’ “Essentials of New Testament Greek, Revised,” a present participle may have a verbal use…in which case it indicates that the action of the participle takes place simultaneously with the main verb (in this case, “make disciples”)….OR, it may have an adjectival/adverbial function, which describes the “when, how, why, on what condition, by what means, or under what circumstances” the main verb took place. See pages 96-99 for more information.

    So, that’s all I know about it…but it seems that “baptize” and “teach” describe the circumstances involved with “making disciples.” Let me know what you find out if you do any more research.

  4. npulpit says:

    The question I have is “Does a person need to be baptized in order to be a disciple?” The answer rests upon the definition of the word “disciple.” A disciple is simply a follower, an apprentice. One who seeks to imitate the grand master they are learning under. And a person can follow the teaching of Jesus without being baptized. Said another way: a person can be a disciple prior to the time when they are saved (which is at baptism, see Mark 16.16).

    Further, look at the langauge of Jesus: make disciples and baptize them. Them who? The disciples you made. So, clearly, one can be a disciple, a follower of Jesus prior to their baptism. Then the question becomes: How must do they have to know?

    Think about this: when Jesus said to the apostles “make disciples,” do you think they knew what a disciple was? Sure they did, each one of them was a disciple himself. So it was a command to repeat the process, make a copy of themself in another person. But the process is a lifelong process: teach, baptize, teach. The education of the disciple is never complete. How much must they know? I think enough that they are ready and willing to make a commitment to Jesus for the rest of their lives.

  5. cthoward says:


    I still question the following conclusion:
    “Further, look at the language of Jesus: make disciples and baptize them. Them who? The disciples you made.”

    This is the point I was getting at with my previous comments…that the Greek does not indicate a series of events (except perhaps from “baptize” to “teach”), but, rather, a statement of command, “make disciples,” followed by a description of how this is done, “baptize” and “teach” them. Yes, discipleship is certainly a lifelong process (hence the teaching to observe all that Jesus commanded), but the language seems to indicate that it begins with baptism and continues with teaching. (see my previous comment for why.)

    To rephrase in a clearer way, Jesus seems to be saying this:
    “Go make disciples by baptizing and teaching them.” In other words, a disciple is not made just by teaching, but by teaching and baptism.

    There is an exception to this…in Acts 19 we are told that Paul came across some “disciples,” but they had not been baptized into Jesus’ name. Was Luke calling them disciples based on their then current beliefs and lifestyle, or from hindsight as a description of what they later became, or because they were disciples of John? I don’t know for sure, but if it is the first, then Luke calls them disciples before baptism. But, certainly this would be for literary purposes rather than strict definition, since Jesus’ language indicates otherwise.

    But, I agree completely with what I believe you are getting at…a disciple is a student, a follower, of Jesus Christ. That takes more than water…it takes training and time and commitment. We certainly can’t overlook anything that Jesus has commanded in our walks as disciples, or in our making of new disciples. And we certainly must urge people to commit to Christ for a lifetime.

  6. Justin says:

    I’m in agreement with Nick, especially his last few sentences. You certainly can’t go around baptizing people who know nothing, but ultimately a person is not fully a disciple until they’ve committed to baptism and to being a life-long follower of Christ.

    About the only Greek comment I have is this: “baptizing” and “teaching” are adverbial participles, and I think they are used instrumentally. In other words, BY baptizing and teaching we are making disciples of Christ. Also (and this is probably just semantics), I think all the verbs revolve around “the nations.” We make disciples of the nations…we baptize and teach the nations (after some level of instruction).

    This is good discussion. I guess I’m just thankful that God opens peoples’ hearts to accept the message and obey it. It’s wonderful to teach people who are open.


  7. cthoward says:


    Nick and I were actually just discussing the subject of the section…how “all nations” is who we are to disciplize and baptize and teach….and how “disciples” as a noun is not present in the Greek. Our English translations make the Greek verb “to disciple” into “make disciples”…which makes it sound like “disciples” is the subject. But, as you said, “all nations” is actually the subject.

    And, I probably didn’t put it so clearly, but I agree that “baptizing” and “teaching” are adverbial participles…and that they modify the primary verb, “make disciples.”

    Most of all, I agree that we need to truly “make disciples.”

  8. David says:

    This was a very good question and the discussions have been very good as well.

    I’m thankful there are people who have a stronger understanding of Greek than i do. When it comes to neutral conditional present active singular prepositional participles I may as well be speaking Swahili because i am absolutely clueless!

    Luckily, I have the PC Study Bible that does all that work for me (definitions pronunciation, the whole nine).

    To say the very least, here’s what i would want to know if someone was wanting to be baptized.

    1. Do they believe Jesus is the Son of God and that He arose from the grave.

    2. Are you willing to make Jesus the Savior AND Lord of your life (this means obeying Him and seeking to do HIS will rather than our own – as well as denying yourself and taking up your cross daily and following Him).

    3. Do they love Jesus more than anything and anyone else?

    4. Are they a sinner (of course, we all are). Are you willing to repent and leave that way of living for the new life?

    5. Will you live for Jesus for the rest of your life?

    Acts 22:16 time.

    I’m sure there are many more…but just some basics.

  9. I’m not sure where you are getting the whole Greek thing. The sentence structure in both Greek and English reveals that we are to make disciples and then baptize “them” and teach “them”. That is the orthodox understanding. Making disciples is evangelism…they are made by understanding that we are a part of God’s story and that we can be rescued from our sins and adopted into His family through Jesus Christ. Baptizing them and teaching them is the ongoing discipling process. Baptism is a symbol and a marker that the community of faith shares with the new believer whereby the new disciple bears witness to what God has done in his or her heart. It is a sacred rite or an “ordinance” if you will. Teaching them to obey all that I command no doubt has much to do with not only the Great Commandments but also the commandment Jesus just gave them (ie – to go and make disciples…). So, we are to teach the new disciple to love God, love people, and to make disciples who will also love God, love people, and etc. Making disciples simply has to do with the spiritual process by which someone becomes a follower of Christ. One who is saved is a disciple. Disciple status comes at the moment of salvation (if there is such a moment in time). There aren’t Christians and disciples…just disciples who call themselves Christians. However, if a disciple is to grow, he or she should be baptized and taught (discipled). Hope this helps.

  10. Brian King says:

    Hey, I have another question Clint if you would be so kind as to post it on the board…

    Practically, how can we help the members of the Lord’s body where we’re serving to discover & employ their own spiritual giftedness? I am just wondering what you guys are all trying and what’s working and what’s not.

  11. Brian King says:

    Special emphasis on the “discovery” part of that question.

  12. cthoward says:


    Thanks for your participation in the discussion…

    I would urge you to take a look at the Greek text again. You are right about the English translations…they seem to make “disciples” the subject, and therefore the ones we are to baptize and teach. However, the word “disciples” does not occur in the Greek text as a noun. Our English translations derive it from a verb that means to “disciplize”…hence the rendering, “make disciples.” The noun that represents the subject in the Greek text is “nations.” Grammatically, and practically, speaking, it is “all nations” that we are to baptize and teach. And, I won’t belabor the point about “baptize” and “teach” being particples…I’m not exactly an expert, anyway…but it is an important point to consider since it alters the interpretation of the text.

    But, I would like to ask if you would explain a statement that you made. Could you give me the scripture you use to reach this conclusion?: “Baptism is a symbol and a marker that the community of faith shares with the new believer whereby the new disciple bears witness to what God has done in his or her heart.” I assume that you mean that baptism signifies the work God has done in the heart of the participant to save him. So, again, where does the Bible say that this is the purpose of baptism?

    Thanks, again, for your comments. I agree completely with you on this: “Making disciples simply has to do with the spiritual process by which someone becomes a follower of Christ.” That is a wonderful way to put it. Discipleship begins at the point of salvation, but it continues…it is a process of maturity and spiritual growth.

  13. David says:

    Yet a person is not saved UNTIL they are baptized…

  14. Jason says:

    I wish to apologize for entering this conversation after it has progressed to the current state. I have read these blogs and tried to learn from your efforts. I rarely intend to make comment. I am disappointed with myself simply for the inability to keep quiet.
    I would like to address the initial question. What must a disciple be “made” to know & practice before he is ready to become a baptized believer? The question has been addressed adequately from the text cited. Yet, I do not think the initial question has been answered.
    This question was asked by Bill Tracy (SIBI instructor) as a central point to the beginning of his class on Acts (of the Holy Spirit). I was honestly aggravated by it. I was further infuriated when I attempted to answer it. This aggravation coupled with some recent study is the reason I didn’t refrain from posting.
    In my humble opinion the first 3000 baptized disciples of Jesus (not yet identified as “Christians”) knew these things: Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus was resurrected and is now at the right hand of God. I have struggled with the simplicity of this. You could add details to any one of these points, i.e. while Jesus lived He did miracles; or Jesus died by crucifixion at the hands of lawless men instigated by men of Israel; or His life, death, resurrection and ascension were prophesied, and on and on. But, in its simplest form I believe this is what they were “made” to know; He lived, He died, He was resurrected and He ascended.
    Luke states that Peter used “many other words.” Luke’s report proves that what is recorded does not encompass everything that was said on that occasion. The absence of words does not open the door to add more information. I believe Peter used these “other” words to be a “witness” to the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the fact of a resurrected Jesus and His ascension to God’s right hand. If the first 3000 disciples were made to know more than this, (which I concede is a possibility however slim), it is not recorded for us. We cannot show they knew more than this by citing references from the New Testament. The New Testament was not in existence on that occasion. We cannot assume that the knowledge of later converts was a necessity for the first 3000 baptized disciples of Jesus.
    Additionally, (and possibly as an aside), I wish to point out that Peter does ask for repentance on the part of those who aspire to follow Jesus. I do not view this as an additional piece of information that should be added to the requisite body of knowledge for a disciple of Jesus. I see no contextual indication that would define this repentance as anything other than ceasing to disbelieve in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Those gathered are referred to as a body of people who had been party to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they perceived as a mere man, no different from themselves (excepting the accusation of blasphemy) at the time of His death. If Peter’s reference to “all” (2.32) being a witness of “this Jesus God raised up” refers to all those gathered, I conclude that the majority did not believe it to be a true resurrection from the dead. More likely is the understanding that “all” was the current disciples who were testifying to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Absence of any other information regarding the shortcomings of the gathered souls leads me to believe that Peter is asking them to repent of their disbelief. This does not add to the amount they were “made” to know. On the contrary, it reinforces the understanding that these simple points were a necessity. If this is true, and in my study I have come to believe it is, then that which is a necessity makes whatever would be added a non-necessity.
    I believe my frustration was manifested primarily because of the simplicity of this question. It may have been unsettling to think that the answer would be simple as well. I like knowledge, the more the better, yet all knowledge is not required to be a disciple of Jesus. I have explained my viewpoint clumsily. Yet I am comfortable in my stumbling because I am sure of who He is and where He is. Please ask for clarification if needed.

  15. cthoward says:


    Thanks for the wonderful comments and background.

    I am basically in agreement, especially of your analysis of what the Acts 2 crowd knew. I would emphasize a little differently I think…I would say that, Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation are the keys, summaries of pretty much everything else that is necessary…but I would say that the last one, exaltation, is the most important, and the other three point to this fact. Afterall, Peter concludes the bit of sermon we have recorded with, “Let all the house of Israel thereforeknow for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus prove that He is Lord and Christ, that He has all authority, and that He, therefore, deserves our devotion.

    It is this fact that I believe the repentance factor hinges on. In my estimation what they had to repent of was “disbelief,” as you put it…but I would rephrase that and say that is was their rejection in the crucifixion of their Messiah that they needed to repent of. They rejected the Lord, and needed to turn to Him. And that would include all that His lordship entails…namely, obedient faith. I believe that at least had to know that since Christ is Lord, and since He spent a lot of time teaching, then it was His teachings they were to base their lives on.

    I also believe we can understand a lot about what they knew by looking at what they did immediately following their conversion. That, of course, is recorded in Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Where did this devotion come from? Peter convinced them of it when He proved to them that Jesus was both Lord and Christ.

    This and much more has led me to conclude that the idea that could sum up all that a person must know prior to baptism is “commitment.” Of course they must know who and what they are commiting to, but the key is that they must understand that baptism is a pledge to God (1Peter 3:21), a commitment to live under the Lordship of Christ. The details of the commitment will come later (teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded).

    I think it is this commitment that is too often missing in our preaching and evangelism, and too often missing in the mind of the “convert.”

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