When I find a man who claims that he has found some new truth which no one else seems to know, I have normally viewed him and his conclusions with deep suspicion. It seems that he is probably arrogant in his assumptions that he has greater insight or ability or knowledge than others. If he thinks he knows more than brilliant scholars in Greek and Bible, he is probably wrong. However, I have found another possibility. It may be that he is simply more ignorant of what great scholars have taught than he knew, and brilliant scholars in Greek and Bible may have come to the same conclusions that he did, but his reading and studying has not been broad and deep enough to have discovered them.
I have discovered something that seems significant to me that is in that category. I have never seen an article on the subject, and I know of no Greek scholar who specifically addresses the point, and certainly none that deny its validity. So I will present to you what I have found, that others may have also found, even though I am not aware of it. Then we shall examine some passages that relate to that discovery.
What I have found is that in every case of which I am aware, both in Greek and English, when a sentence has a command (an imperative verb), followed by a participle that relates to that verb, the participle describes or limits the way that imperative is to be done. First, let me give a simple illustration in English, then relate it to various verses in the Bible and suggest its implications.
If one should say to you, "Clean your teeth, brushing them with Colgate tooth paste," the imperative "clean" is followed by the participle, "brushing." Suppose you decide to clean your teeth, rinsing them with water. Have you obeyed the command? It is not hard, even for a little child, to realize you have not. If you clean your teeth, brushing them with Pepsodent, you have not obeyed. The participle defines and limits the action of the imperative verb. I find no exception to this, either in Greek or English. If you do, I trust you will let me know. Now let us examine some scriptures that have that construction, and see what lessons we may gain from them.
Jesus said, "And as ye go, preach, (keerussete / κηρυσσετε), (2nd plur, act. imperat.), saying, (legontes / λεγοντες) (pres. act. part.) "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 10:7). The verb, "preach" is the command. It is a second person, plural, active, imperative verb. The word, "saying" is a present active participle. This means that if the disciples had gone and preached, but had not, in that preaching, been saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," they would not have obeyed the command. This seems so evident that one neither needs to know Greek or very much about English to see that it is so. The broader implications of the principle will be more evident as we look at other passages.
In what we call the Great Commission, Jesus said, "Go ye (poreuthentes / πορευθεντες) (pres. act. part) therefore, and make disciples (matheeteusete / μαθητευσετε) (1st aor. imp. act.) of all the nations, baptizing (baptizontes / βαπτιζοντες) (pres. act. part.) them into the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching (didaskontes / διδασκοντες) (pres. act. part.) them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Mt. 18:19). It is often said that there are four commands in this commission, and although there is a necessity of doing the four things, technically, there are not four commands. There is one command, and three participles. "Go, ye" is a present active participle, which could be translated, "As ye go," or "Whenever or wherever ye go." Since you cannot do what Jesus said to do without going, it has the effect of a command, but has a deeper meaning as Jesus said it. Do you not see that if Jesus had just said, "Go" and you went, you might assume that you had fulfilled his command. But when he said, "As you go" or "Whenever you go" (which is a present active participle) it is a continuous action and involves more than simply an act of going. If I say, "Move" and you move, you have done what I have said. But if I say, "Keep on moving" and you simply move, you have not done what I said.
The command is "make disciples." This is one word in the Greek text, and is a 1st aorist imperative, active verb. It is commonly assumed that a disciple is simply a learner, so you have done what Christ said do if you teach him some facts. This is not so. A disciple is more than a learner. A disciple is a disciplined follower. You surely know this, if you understand that a person can learn about Karl Marx without being a disciple of Communism. Jesus is not concerned with merely telling persons facts about Him. He wants us to teach and practice in such a fashion that those who hear become disciplined followers.
The primary point of this article at this time is to emphasize that the imperative, "make disciples" is followed by two participles, baptizing and teaching. If my thesis is correct, and I find no exception to it, either in Greek or English, the participles define or limit the way the imperative is to be obeyed. This means that one cannot make disciples, according to this directive, without baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy spirit, and teaching them to observe all that is commanded for them to do. The implications of this are deep and wide. If a person cannot be a disciplined follower of Christ without being baptized, (and this can surely be proven by various other passages of scripture) then here is another proof of the necessity of baptism. Furthermore, this indicates that one also cannot be a disciplined follower of Christ (a disciple or a Christian in the true and Biblical sense of the word) without having been taught to do all that Christ commanded. If, in your study with a person, you should happen to ask him a question the answer to which reveals that he is unwilling to do whatever Christ wants him to do, you have no authority to baptize him, for if you did, he would only go down into the water a dry sinner and come up a wet one, for he is not thereby made a disciplined follower of Christ. If he is a drunkard, and does not determine to quit drinking and do what Christ wants, he cannot be scripturally baptized. If he is a thief and does not determine that he will do with his ill gotten gains what Christ wants and cease his thieving in the future, he cannot be scripturally baptized. It could be said in many ways, but perhaps one of the simplest ways to say it is, "If one does not determine that Christ will be your Lord, you cannot have Him as your savior."
Let us look at several other similar, although probably far less significant passages. The messengers of God told Peter in Acts 10:20, "But arise, and get thee down, and go (poreuou / πορευου) with them, nothing doubting: (diakrinomenos / διακρινομενος) for I have sent them." The verbs "get down" and "go" are second person singular, present imperatives. Nothing doubting is a negative with a participle. Although not of vital importance, this verse means that if Peter had arisen and gone with them with doubt, he would not have been obeying the command. The participle defines the way the imperative is to be obeyed.
There is an even more significant verse as we hear the statement of Ananias to Saul of Tarsus, "And now why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized, (baptisai / βαπτισαι) and wash away (apolousai / απολουσαι) thy sins, calling on (epikalesamenos / επικαλεσαμενος) his name" (Acts 22:16). There are several interesting and significant things in this verse. First, both "be baptized" and "wash away" are 1st aorist imperative, middle verbs. Literally, "get yourself baptized and have your sins washed away." They are not active verbs, suggesting some work that you do, but middle, suggesting something is done for you. Sometimes when we talk to someone about the plan of salvation, and the fact that we are saved by grace through faith, and it is not through some work that we do, the thought is presented that if baptism is important, we would be saved by a work we do. It is not a work we do, but a work that is done to us. Washing away our sins is not something that we do, but something that is done for us by the blood of Christ when we let ourselves be baptized into Christ. But the thrust of this article has to do primarily with the significance of "calling on his name." It is a present participle, epikalesamenos, and does not mean, " and call on his name" as if it were an additional imperative. As a participle, following an imperative verb, it defines or shows how the action of that verb is to be accomplished. Put in simpler language, it means that his arising, being baptized, and having his sins washed away was to be accomplished by whatever is involved in "epikalesamenos." When we look into the meaning of the root "epikaleo" we discover that it does not merely mean "to pray to" but to appeal to as an authority or to turn one's self over to that person with a willingness to abide by his decision. This is the word Paul used when he said, "I appeal unto Caesar." Certainly it might involve his pleading with Caesar, but that it not its primary thought. He might never say a word to Caesar, but he submitted to his authority. What is the application to Paul's (and our) conversion? When a person arises and is baptized and gets his sins washed away, this happens to him as he surrenders to the commands of the Lord and puts himself under His authority. We know it is not simply by saying , "Lord, Lord," for Jesus specifically says so in Matthew 7:21- 22. Saul was not told to arise and be baptized and pray, although some modern translations may make it sound that way, or may translate it "wash away thy sins and call on the name of the Lord." He had been praying for three days. He was told to arise and get himself baptized and get his sins washed away by surrendering to the authority of Christ and obeying His commands as given in the Great Commission.
Paul said, "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore (katartizete / καταρτιζετε) such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to (skopoon / σκοπων) thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). Although this may not be as significant as some other similar passages, the construction shows that one cannot restore the erring in the way the Holy Spirit instructed without looking to himself, being aware that he might be in the same kind of situation. There is little doubt that if all those who are overtaken in a trespass were approached in a spirit of gentleness, with a sense of humility in those who are attempting to do the correction, much more good would be accomplished than as it is sometimes done with bitter, sarcastic and arrogant comments.
We are commanded, "And be ye (ginesthe / γινεσθε) kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving (charizomenoi / χαριζομενοι) each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). Although it is possible for a person to be kind to another person and yet not forgive him as Christ forgave us, it is not possible to obey this command without doing that. That is, the kindness commanded here is a specific sort of kindness, involving forgiveness. Even though we cannot forgive sins in the same sense God and Christ can forgive sins, nor can our love and grace equal theirs, we can forgive in the same manner - with gracious love and in kindness. We have seen those who say they forgive, but their forgiveness seemed to be grudging and surly. The participle limits or defines the sort of kindness Paul had in mind here, and one does not obey the command simply by being kind.
A significant use of the imperative with the participle is found in the following passage: "Be filled (plarousthe / πλαρουσθε) with the Spirit; speaking (lalountes / λαλουντες) one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing (adontes / αδοντες) and making melody (psallontes / ψαλοντες) with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks (eucharistountes / ευχαριστουντες) always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God" (Eph. 5:19-20). Although one might assume that it might be possible to be filled with the Spirit in some other way, the way Paul specifies doing it here is by speaking, singing, making melody, and giving thanks. Sometimes it is assumed that being filled with the Spirit is the same as being baptized in the Spirit, for Acts 2:4 says when they were baptized with the Spirit that they were all filled with the Spirit. But that does not prove that they are equivalent. Note that the baptism of the Spirit was never a command; it was a promise to the Apostles. To be filled with the Spirit is a command for all Christians in all ages. If one attempts to be filled with the Spirit by playing on a mechanical instrument instead of speaking and singing and making melody in the heart, he is disobeying God the same as one would be disobeying God if He had said, "Cultivate the field, plowing it" and one attempted to cultivate the field by harrowing it.
The parallel passage in Colossians is also revealing. Paul says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in (enoikeitoo / ενοικειτω) you richly; in all wisdom teaching (didaskontes / διδασκοντες) and admonishing (nouthetountes / νουθετουντες) one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing (adontes / αδοντες) with grace in your hearts unto God" (Col. 3:16). According to the construction of this sentence, the way to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly is by teaching, admonishing and singing with grace in your hearts unto God. If there is another passage in which we find that the word of Christ can dwell in us richly by some other action, then we must accept that. In any case, however, the way we obey this passage which involves the imperative - the command - that we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, is defined and limited by the participles, teaching, admonishing and singing. We have no doubt that if we properly sing, teach and admonish each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, the word of Christ will dwell in us richly.
Even a passage like the following has more significance than we usually give it if we understand the relationship between the imperative verb and the participles which follow it. Paul said to the Colossians, "Masters, render (parechesthe / παρεχεσθε) unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing (eidotes / ειδοτες) that ye also have a Master in heaven" (Col. 4:1). Though we may seldom think of it in this way, the truth is that a master with a servant cannot properly render that which is just and equal if he does not know that he has a Master in heaven. Do you not realize that a non-Christian simply will not look upon one of his servants with a proper concept of what is just and right for he does not do it from the viewpoint of one who understands the proper standards of what is just and right? A person who thinks of his servant as just another piece of property which he thinks he owns will not treat him the same way as one who realizes that God owns both of them on the same basis.
Even a passage like Colossians 4:5 has greater significance when we realize the relationship between the imperative verb and the following participle, "Walk (peripateite / περιπατειτε) in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming (exagorazomenoi / εξαγοραζομενοι) the time." One may have some sort of wisdom, either earthly or from above, with regard to those who are outside the church, but the kind of wisdom God specifically ordained here is that kind of wisdom which recognizes the importance of "buying up the time," for that is what the word suggests. Time is important, and those who "fiddle while Rome burns" or play around when souls are lost, are not walking in the wisdom that God here enjoins.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive