Some Oneness Pentecostals claim today that the Trinitarian baptismal formula was originally not a part of the Bible but was inserted into Matthew 28:19 by the Roman Catholic Church.1 Matthew 28:19 reads:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (KJV)
This claim about the wording of Matthew 28:19 seems to have originated with an article published in 19622 by a clergyman in Birmingham, England, with the unlikely name of “A. Ploughman” who is otherwise unknown. This work is quoted on nearly every Website on which Oneness Pentecostals make the assertion that the Trinitarian baptismal formula wasn’t originally a part of the Gospel of Matthew. Ploughman’s article in turn relies heavily on a couple of different articles by the English scholar F. C. Conybeare (1856-1924), who was a professor at the University of Oxford. The key evidence for both men consists of the way the church historian Eusebius (ca. AD 270-340) quoted Matthew 28:19 in his works—sometimes he quoted it with the Trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”) and sometimes without it, using “in my [Jesus’s] name” instead.
Ploughman doesn’t help his credibility any when he introduces his section on “The Evidence of Eusebius” by citing a source that is by his own admission impossible to substantiate:
“According to the editor of the Christadelphian Monatshefte, Eusebius among his many other writings compiled a collection of the corrupted texts of the Holy Scriptures, and ‘the most serious of all the falsifications denounced by him, is without doubt the traditional reading of Matthew 28:19.’
“Further inquiry has failed to pinpoint the exact compilation referred to, as Ludwig Knupfer, the Editor, has since written, ‘through events of war I have lost all of my files and other materials connected with the magazine.’ But various authorities mention a work entitled ‘Discrepancies in the Gospels,’ and another work entitled ‘The Concluding Sections of the Gospels.’”
This apparently means that not only is the original article from the Christadelphian Monatshefte unverifiable, but that these two works of Eusebius are completely unknown outside of quotations from this Ludwig Knupfer.
For example, when I searched the Web, every single instance (of only six or seven total) of “The Concluding Sections of the Gospels” was in a quotation of this same article. “Ploughman” bases his claim about Eusebius’s critical view of Matthew 28:19 (as distinct from the fact of simple difference in wording) on sources that cannot be verified, are unknown to all other authorities, and cannot even be proven to have ever existed. We aren’t even told the names of the “various authorities” who supposedly mentioned these works of Eusebius. It all smells very strongly of rotting fish; in other words, it seems these works are theological examples of “urban legends.”
The only verifiable fact here (as well as in the articles of F. C. Conybeare that Ploughman bases his article on) is that in known, extant works, Eusebius sometimes used Matthew 28:19 with “non-Trinitarian” wording, different from that in all known manuscripts of the New Testament, and sometimes he used it with the “Trinitarian” wording that comes from the text of Matthew 28:19 as it is in all existing manuscript versions of the NT. There is no evidence in his known works that Eusebius thought it was changed or corrupted; he simply uses a different wording for the passage without comment. He doesn’t claim that one or the other is the original wording of Matthew, and it is not even clear to me that he means to directly quote the book of Matthew in some cases. The Oneness claim that Eusebius’ non-Trinitarian wording represents the original reading of Matthew 28:19 is based only upon speculation, assumption, and doctrinal bias. All the hard evidence is in the other direction—not only are there no variant readings in any manuscript or papyrus, but others quote the triadic formula more than a hundred years before Eusebius (see below).
Further, in surveying the various Web articles and printed articles I could find about this issue, I’ve seen that there is not, in fact, a clear consistency to the way Eusebius quoted Matthew 28:19, F. C. Conybeare notwithstanding. He is said to quote it without the Triune formula 17 (or 18 or 19 or 21) times before the council of Nicea. But he is also revealed to have quoted it with the Triune formula 5 (or 7) times after the council of Nicea. The variation in the number raises my own suspicions about the way the references were counted. The dating of ancient works is far from precise—the assignment of the date (pre- or post-Nicene) of Eusebius’ usage of the two readings could easily be massaged to fit a pre-ordained scheme.
Even if one could cleanly divide the occurence of the two different “quotations” of Matthew 28:19 by Eusebius into pre- and post-Nicene groupings, that wouldn’t prove anything. It could mean that as a result of the council of Nicea (in A.D. 325), Eusebius became aware of better manuscripts and started using them; or that he decided to start quoting Matthew exactly instead of paraphrasing the passage according to his own preference (he is known to have been biased toward the Arian side). To automatically assume that he was coerced into using the triune formula by the evil world-wide Trinitarian conspiracy after the council of Nicea seems reasonable only if you have a predisposition to read history that way to begin with.
The “fact” that the usage of the triune formula by Eusebius was restricted to the post-Nicene period becomes even harder to explain when one learns that Trinitarianism triumphed only in theory at the council of Nicea. In reality, Arians continued to dominate the Roman church until about A.D. 380. Athanasius, the chief Trinitarian, was even banished a couple of times during that period. There was no immediate, wide-spread cleansing of non-Trinitarian theology that would explain a sudden switch by Eusebius to the triune formula. The references that Oneness people come up with to the burning of Christian works refer to pre-Nicene persecutions of all Christians, not to an effort to eradicate only non-Trinitarian works after Nicea.
So If the claim is made that later authorities went back to change the work of Eusebius, then why would they not change all of his references to Matthew 28:19?
Similarly, if evil Trinitarian authorities changed all New Testament manuscripts to include the triune formula in Matthew 28:19, why would they leave the other two references (in the book of Acts) to baptizing in Jesus’ name unchanged?
These are major inconsistencies in the picture that we’re being asked to believe. If the victorious Trinitarians eradicated all non-Trinitarian literature, or changed it to make it appear Trinitarian, then how did the Book of Acts and all those citations of Matthew by the well-known Eusebius slip through?
Another thing that I find odd about this claim is that it comes from people who are usually rigid “Bible-only” folks. Now all of a sudden a quotation from a church father is supposed to trump all existing manuscripts of the New Testament in spite of the fact there is not one New Testament manuscript that has the reading they claim is the correct one. Their claim represents a striking departure in their theological method from solid Biblical foundations to blatant doctrinal bias.
However, as long as they want to be guided by references to Matthew 28:19 in the church fathers, here are a few others for them, all before Eusebius (plus one from Eusebius himself that uses the Trinitarian formula):
“After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Before baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days.” (Didache 7:1 [Before A.D. 120, possibly as early as A.D. 60])
Tatian the Syrian:
“Then said Jesus unto them, I have been given all authority in heaven and earth; and as my Father has sent me, so I also send you. Go now into all the world, and preach my gospel in all the creation; and teach all the peoples, and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and teach them to keep all whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you all the days, unto the end of the world [Matt. 28:18-20].” (The Diatesseron 55 [A.D. 170])
“When the one being baptized goes down into the water, the one baptizing him shall put his hand on him and speak thus: Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty? And he that is being baptized shall say: I believe. Then, having his hand imposed upon the head of the one to be baptized, he shall baptize him once. Then he shall say: Do you believe in Christ Jesus . . . ? And when he says: I believe, he is baptized again. Again shall he say: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy Church and the resurrection of the flesh? The one being baptized then says: I believe. And so he is baptized a third time.” (The Apostolic Tradition 21 [A.D. 215])
“After his resurrection he promises in a pledge to his disciples that he will send them the promise of his Father; and lastly, he commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, not into a unipersonal God. And indeed it is not once only, but three times, that we are immersed into the three persons, at each several mention of their names.” (Against Praxeas 26 [A.D. 216])
“Why, when the Lord himself told his disciples that they should baptize all peoples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, does this apostle [Paul] employ the name of Christ alone in baptism, saying, We who have been baptized into Christ; for indeed, legitimate baptism is had only in the name of the Trinity.” (Commentary on Romans 5:8 [A.D. 248])
Cyprian of Carthage:
“He [Jesus] commanded them to baptize the Gentiles in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. How then do some say that though a Gentile be baptized . . . never mind how or of whom, so long as it be done in the name of Jesus Christ, the remission of sins can follow when Christ himself commands the nations to be baptized in the full and united Trinity?” (Letters 73:18 [A.D. 253])
“We believe . . . each of these to be and to exist: the Father, truly Father, and the Son, truly Son, and the Holy Ghost, truly Holy Ghost, as also our Lord, sending forth his disciples for the preaching, said, Go teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Concerning whom we confidently affirm that so we hold, and so we think, and so we have held aforetime, and we maintain this faith unto the death, anathematizing every godless heresy.” (Letter to the People of His Diocese 3 [A.D. 323])