Today’s preview is from Chapter 2: Biblical Foundations for Catechesis. This particular section is a discussion of the so-called “Great Commission.” As an aside, when I was in seminary, I was forced to take a Missions class with a guest speaker each week. Each one began with their personal testimony about how they discovered the “true meaning” of the great commission. It was, of course, always law, and yet they each managed to have their own interpretation which was unrelated to what any of the other speakers shared with us. And, just as certain, not a single speaker actually engaged the Greek text, which has significant differences from the English. This was perhaps the moment I realized that too often “Missions” was premised on reading into the text what one wanted it to say, rather than examining the text on scripture’s terms to see what God was saying to us. In this section, I actually look at the Greek text, to see what God’s Word has to say to us, rather than the other way around:
Matthew ends his book with what is usually referred to as the Great Commission. The King James translation has become the pattern for most English translations which have followed. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” The grammatical structure of this sentence gives us the following directives: Go and teach all nations, baptizing and teaching. But the Greek grammar gives us a different result. The initial “go” in the Greek is a participle. “Going, therefore, teach all nations…” Jesus is not commanding them to go, He is giving them direction for the manner of their going.
As they go, they will teach. But the word in Greek is not teach. It is the verb form of the noun “disciple.” Some have translated it as “make disciples.” This changes the verb to “make,” with disciple only an object of the making. The actual phrase might be better translated “As you go, therefore, disciplize the nations…”
How is this discipling to be accomplished? By teaching and baptizing. The word used here for teaching is didasko. While teaching is certainly an appropriate translation, the root of this word, didache, became synonymous in the early church with catechesis, and is the title of one of the earliest extra-Biblical writings, a writing which is explicitly catechetical. This instruction is to be catechesis. In what does this instruction consist? They are not to undertake any random religious instruction. The apostles are to teach the people to observe all things Jesus has commanded them. What are these things? The words of Jesus, as recorded in the book of Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount ends by noting that Jesus finished teaching (didache) the people. So the task of instruction is to follow the pattern of the teaching of Jesus himself, and to focus on those words.
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