Monday, March 3, 2014

The Great Commision According to Dan Wallace

Recently, Dan Wallace has been blogging about the Great Commission, in three posts (starting here).  I recently made reference to it in the February Bibio-blog Carnival.  However, I was interested to study more fully what Wallace was saying since I often hear the "myth" he is referring to in this series.  However, I did not have time to invest in his (as blogs go) lengthy study.  I figured others are like me and would love to know what Wallace says, but would like a few bullet points.  Here they are!  I did it for you!  You can thank me later...

Presenting Problem:
Wallace contends that there is a prevailing myth about the Great Commission that goes thus (with an added comment that forecasts his own opinion of the "myth" and where his posts are headed):
“In the Greek, the word translated ‘Go’ is really a participle and it literally means, ‘as you are going.’ But the words ‘make disciples’ are an imperative in Greek. That’s the only imperative in these two verses. Therefore, the Great Commission is not a command to go; rather, it is a command to make disciples as you are going, or make disciples along the way.” The exposition based on this understanding of the Greek text then attempts to salve the consciences of the congregation, permitting them to do nothing about the lost if it at all means going out of their way.
He addresses the "myth" in three parts: 1) The Greek Grammar. 2) The Historical Setting of the Commission.  3)  The Application of the Commission

1) The Greek Grammar

According to Wallace two problems exist with the "as you go" interpretation of the Great Commission in the Greek Grammar.

1) the verb translated "go" is an aorist participle.  This means that it is best translated "after you have gone."  Wallace reminds us what his grammar instructs, namely, according to the grammar rule of "attendant circumstance," when the aorist ptc. is used with an imperative, it "piggy backs" on the mood of the finite verb - the imperative.  His post gives 6 example in Matthew's Gospel where this happens.  In other words, "go" should sound like an imperative ("go!"), not a description of the action of going, i.e. "as you go."

2)The participle is a necessary prerequisite to the action of the main verb.  In other words, what Wallace means is that the emphasis is on the main verb, the imperative, and the descriptor provided by the ptc. is the thing that must happen before the main verb happens.  Wallace illustrates: 
For example, Peter could not throw a hook in the lake until he went to the lake (Matt 17.27); the women could not tell Jesus’ disciples that he had been raised from the dead until they went (Matt 28.7). How does this relate to the Great Commission? Essentially, it means that the apostles must go before they could make disciples.
This corrects the "myth" that places the emphasis on the ptc. and misunderstands its place in the order of operation. And in sum, according to the grammar there is no reason "as you go" should ever be considered as a translation of the Commission.  "Go" rather takes on the mood of the imperative. 

 2) The Historical Setting of the Commission

Setting: Mount of Olives in Galilee (Cf. Lk 24 and Acts 1), but the commission says that the implementation of the mission must start in Jerusalem. 

The importance of the historical setting for Wallace is the Commissions movement.  It is a mission that starts with familiar ("within Israel, within Judaism, and to the Jews") and moves steadily to areas unfamiliar to the disciples.  That is, the mission may have been heard in Galilee, but the mission is supposed to start at the heart of Judaism and move outward to the Gentiles. 

For Wallace, the historical setting itself demonstrates not an ethnocentric mission but an eccentric mission.  He says:
I cannot stress enough how difficult this change in perspective must have been for these apostles. But for the sake of the gospel, they became evangelists on an eccentric mission with a Christocentric focus. In short, they moved outside of their comfort zone: they went and then made disciples “of all the nations” rather than making disciples along the way. If it had been along the way, they would have avoided Gentiles like the plague. To translate Matt 28.19 as “as you are going” or “along the way, make disciples” misreads not only the syntax but the historical setting as well.

3)  The Application of the Commission

The imperatives are baptizing and teaching.  For Wallace, this demonstrates the means of making disciples.  He emphasizes the importance of order and how our current day has reversed them (i.e., teaching then baptizing), and how this has devalued baptism into a right of obedienceHe says:

Part of the reason why we don’t consider baptism as more important nowadays is that we see it as simply an act of obedience (which should be reason enough!) when it may be more than that.
That sounds so Covenant-theological to me!  I love it!  Maybe we can get a post on covenant-baptism next, and how credo-baptists have devalued baptism into a "choice" (etc.) and are implying some serious things about where their kids stand in relation to the people of God and under the Representative.   But, I digress...  

Next, he contends that too many Christians are not willing to "go!" outside their comfort zones.  Amen, Dan!  My favorite quote is this: 

Way too many seminary students—future pastors—are cookie-cutter Christians. They have conformed to a style of living that is not messy enough to be real. Kind of an aesthetic asceticism—you know, ‘professional casual’… monks.

Well said.  He adds, lastly, that Christians resist becoming "all things to all people."  That is, "resist becoming like the people that one ministers to."  The application essentially stems from the translation.  That is, if we are "'as-we-are-go'-ing" we get, according to Wallace, impotent attempts at mission.  But if we understand the Commission, its prescriptive means, and the power invested by the One commissioning, the church's mission looks much different and powerful.

Conclusion: Wallace contends that the "typical English translation, 'Go and make disciples,' was pretty accurate," and has important implications for the culture of evangelism and discipleship in the church today.  

I hope this series gains a wide reading.

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