Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Didache and the Deity of Christ

A First Century Witness to a Non-Islamic Christology

A Response to Paul Williams Pt. 4

Sam Shamoun

We proceed with our rebuttal.

Submitting to the Authority of the Triune God

One of the reasons why the Didache is such an important document is that it happens to be our oldest extant witness to the early Church’s use of the Trinitarian baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 in the rite of Christian baptism:

Chapter 7. Concerning Baptism. And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before. (Roberts-Donaldson translation; italic emphasis ours)

Suffice it to say, this formula poses major problems for both Vermes and Williams, since it basically affirms the personal distinctions and the essential coequality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It also indicates that a Christian is one who fully submits to and comes under the complete authority and control of all three divine Persons of the Godhead:

“In the name of the Father, etc. - Baptism, properly speaking, whether administered by dipping or sprinkling, signifies a full and eternal consecration of the person to the service and honor of that Being in whose name it is administered; but this consecration can never be made to a creature; therefore the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are not creatures. Again, baptism is not made in the name of a quality or attribute of the Divine nature; therefore the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are not qualities or attributes of the Divine nature. The orthodox, as they are termed, have generally considered this text as a decisive proof of the doctrine of the holy Trinity: and what else can they draw from it? Is it possible for words to convey a plainer sense than these do? And do they not direct every reader to consider the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as three distinct persons? "But this I can never believe." I cannot help that - you shall not be persecuted by me for differing from my opinion. I cannot go over to you; I must abide by what I believe to be the meaning of the Scriptures.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible; *; bold emphasis ours)


“In the name ... - This phrase does not mean, here, "by the authority" of the Father, etc. To be baptized in the name of the Father, etc., is the same as to be baptized "unto" the Father; as to believe on the "name" of Christ is the same as to believe "on Christ," John 1:12; John 2:23; John 3:18; 1 Corinthians 1:13. To be baptized "unto" anyone is publicly to receive and adopt him as a religious teacher or lawgiver; to receive his system of religion. Thus, the Jews were baptized "unto Moses," 1 Corinthians 10:2. That is, they received the system that he taught; they acknowledged him as their lawgiver and teacher. So Paul asks 1 Corinthians 1:13, "Were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" - that is, Were you devoted to Paul by this rite? Did you bind yourselves to "him," and give yourselves away to "him," or to God? So to be baptized in the name of the Father, or unto the Father, means publicly, by a significant rite, to receive his system of religion; to bind the soul to obey his laws; to be devoted to him; to receive, as the guide and comforter of the life, his instructions, and to trust to his promises. To be baptized unto the Son, in like manner, is to receive him as the Messiah - our Prophet, Priest, and King - to submit to his laws, and to receive him as a Saviour. To be baptized unto the Holy Spirit is to receive him publicly as the Sanctifier, Comforter, and Guide of the soul. The meaning, then, may be thus expressed: Baptizing them unto the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by a solemn profession of the only true religion, and by a solemn consecration to the service of the sacred Trinity.

“The union of these three names in the form of baptism proves that the Son and Holy Spirit are equal with the Father. Nothing would be more absurd or blasphemous than to unite the name of a creature - a man or an angel - with the name of the ever-living God in this solemn rite. If Jesus was a mere man or an angel, as is held by many who deny his divinity, and if the Holy Spirit was a mere "attribute" of God, then it would have been the height of absurdity to use a form like this, or to direct the apostles to baptize people under them. How absurd would be the direction - nay, how blasphemous - to have said, "Baptize them unto God, and unto Paul, and unto the "wisdom or power" of God!" Can we believe that our Saviour would have given a direction so absurd as this? Yet, unless he himself is divine, and the Holy Spirit is divine, Jesus gave a direction substantially the same as this. The form of baptism, therefore, has been always regarded as an unbreakable argument for the doctrine of the Trinity, or that the Son and Holy Spirit are equal with the Father.” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible; *; bold emphasis ours)

In order to show why this Trinitarian formula is so problematic for Muslim Christophobes such as Williams, all we need to do is to challenge him to post a blog article where he writes out the following formulas:

“Go and circumcise people in the name of Allah, and of Muhammad, and of Gabriel!”

“Go and circumcise people in the name of Allah, and of the Messenger, and of the Angel of revelation!”


“Sacrifice and bless your food in the name of Allah, and of Muhammad, and of Gabriel!”

“Sacrifice and bless your food in the name of Allah, and of the Messenger, and of the Angel of revelation!”

There is no Muslim who would dare to utter or write out such statements since to do so would be a blatant act of shirk, or of associating partners with Allah, which is the unforgiveable sin according to Islam:

The One who made the land a habitat, and the sky a structure, and He sent down from the sky water with which He brought out fruit as a provision for you. So do not make any equals with God while you now know. S. 2:22 Quran: Reformist Translation (QRT)

God does not forgive that partners be set up with Him, and He forgives what is beside that for whom He wills. Whoever sets up partners with God has indeed invented a great sin. S. 4:48 QRT – 4:116

And yet Williams would have us believe that the Didache and Matthew’s Gospel are writings which are Christologically less developed, and therefore reflect a lower view of Jesus, one which is supposed to be compatible with Islamic theology!

Vermes does raise an objection against the Didache’s employment of the Matthean Trinitarian baptismal formula:

“Whichever way the baptism was performed, the surviving text of the Didache imposes the ritual formula attested in Matthew 28:19 of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Did 7.1 and 3). Bearing in mind, however, the slow progress of Trinitarian theology in the early church, the historicity of the Didache’s wording appears questionable for two reasons. At the earliest stage of the primitive church, according both the Petrine and Pauline sections of the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 1-12 and 13-28), baptism was administered not by invoking the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but simply in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 19:5). Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the Didache itself lays down the apropos the Eucharistic meal that the participants of this solemnity must be baptized, not in the name of the Trinity, but ‘in the name of the Lord’ (Did. 9.5), the Lord being always identified as Jesus in this writing. Once more, we are brought face to face with a very early form of Christianity.” (Vermes, pp. 139-140; bold emphasis ours)

There are several glaring problems with Vermes’ argument.

First, Vermes’ comments are a perfect illustration of the biases and prejudices that all individuals have and which they often bring to their examination of sources, scholars being no exception. It is these very assumptions which directly affect how they will interpret the evidence. For instance, instead of allowing the evidence to influence his understanding, Vermes has already decided beforehand what the early Jewish followers of Jesus could and could not have believed or taught. He then proceeds to question or brush aside any information or data that do not fit in with his presuppositions regarding early Jewish beliefs concerning Jesus.

Take Vermes’ assertion that the Trinitarian baptismal formula is questionable, thereby implying that this may have been inserted into the Didache at some later point in time. Does he derive this from the manuscript evidence? Not at all, since the manuscripts which scholars use to translate the Didache all contain this section.

He is basing this mainly on his assumption concerning the supposed slow progression of Trinitarian theology in the early church. Yet there is nothing in the Didache’s use of the Trinitarian baptismal formula that makes it anymore advanced than what we find in Matthew’s Gospel, which even Vermes admits is one of the earliest sources on Jesus’ life.

Second, why assume that the Trinitarian baptismal formula is a later insertion or invention? Why not actually argue that it is the book of Acts that has got it wrong or making things up, since the early Church did not baptize in/into the name of Jesus? And why not make the assumption that it is actually the words of 9.5, i.e. “in the name of the Lord,” which were inserted later into the text of the Didache?

In fact, this is precisely the view of one of the leading scholars on the Didache:

11 Koester, Synoptische Überlieferung, 191: the formula does not come from Matthew’s Gospel but “from the praxis of the community.” For Koester (following well-known models), however, the analogous formula in Matt 28:19 is apparently secondary. Thus for him the Didache is the oldest attestation (p. 192). Voobus (Liturgical Traditions, 36-39) has still a third interpretation, that the Trinitarian formula arose only around the middle of the 2d century. It was subsequently introduced not only into Matthew’s Gospel but also into Didache 7. The one-part baptismal formula in Did. 9.5 is original. But there is no real reason to suppose that there is a gloss in 7.1, 3. Moreover, in my opinion, 9.5 is redactional. See below. (Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache (Hermeneia: A Critical & Historical Commentary on the Bible) [Augsburg Fortress Publishing, 1998)], pp. 126-127; bold emphasis ours)

The answer is obvious, of course. Vermes presupposes that the early Jewish followers of Christ could not have held such an exalted view of Jesus, one which basically depicts him as being essentially intrinsic to the very identity of God, and therefore has to explain away any and all such evidence which does not fit into his scheme.

This brings us to the next problem with Vermes’ statements. Vermes is simply grasping at straws when he tries to pit the Trinitarian baptismal formula against the claim of Acts that the primitive church baptized people in/into the name of the Lord Jesus, since nowhere does Acts itself say that these are the actual words that the baptizer and/or the baptized uttered during the rite itself. The following Evangelical scholars explain it best:

4. These statements supplement rather than contradict Matthew 28:19, which speaks of baptizing new disciples “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Neither Matthew 28:19 nor the passages in Acts are specifying the words to say in a baptismal ceremony; the New Testament, in fact, contains no record of words at a baptismal ceremony. In Matthew, just as much as in Acts, the focus of disciple making is commitment to Jesus Christ. Hence, in Matthew 28:18-20 those who believe are to recognize his universal authority (v. 18), become Jesus’ disciples (v. 19a), be baptized in the Son’s name as well as the Father’s, and the Holy Spirit’s (19b), observe all that Jesus taught (v. 20a), and live in the awareness of his presence (20b). (Robert Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], p. 303; bold emphasis ours)


12. In Matthew, Jesus told his disciples to baptize "into [eis] the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19, literal translation). This statement does not contradict the references to baptism “into” the name of Jesus Christ, since none of the texts is specifying a baptismal formula or a set of words for use in the baptismal rite. (Ibid, p. 324; bold emphasis)

Moreover, the context of Acts helps us understand why the Apostles stressed the importance of being baptized in/into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“… By the ritual act of baptism in the name of Jesus, believers were identifying themselves as religious devotees of Jesus.

“Dr. Lightfoot has some good thoughts on this commission given to the apostles: -

"I. Christ commands them to go and baptize the nations: but how much time was past before such a journey was taken! And when the time was now come that this work should be begun, Peter doth not enter upon it without a previous admonition given him from heaven. And this was occasioned hereby, that, according to the command of Christ, the Gospel was first to be preached to Judea, Samaria, and Galilee.

"II. He commands them to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; but among the Jews, they baptized only in the name of Jesus. See Acts 2:38; Acts 8:16; Acts 19:5. For this reason, that thus the baptizers might assert, and the baptized confess, Jesus to be the true Messias; which was chiefly controverted by the Jews. Of the same nature is that apostolic blessing, Grace and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Where then is the Holy Ghost? He is not excluded, however he be not named. The Jews did more easily consent to the Spirit of the Messias, which they very much celebrate, than to the person of the Messias. Above all others they deny and abjure Jesus of Nazareth. It belonged to the apostles, therefore, the more earnestly to assert Jesus (to be the Messias) by how much the more vehemently they opposed him: which being once cleared, the acknowledging of the Spirit of Christ would be introduced without delay or scruple. Moses, (in Exodus 6:14), going about to reckon up all the tribes of Israel, goes no farther than the tribe of Levi; and takes up with that to which his business and story at that present related. In like manner, the apostles, for the present, baptize in the name of Jesus, and bless in the name of the Father and of Jesus, that thereby they might more firmly establish the doctrine of Jesus, which met with such sharp and virulent opposition; which doctrine being established among them, they would soon agree about the Holy Ghost.

"III. Among the Jews, the controversy was about the true Messias; among the Gentiles, about the true God. It was therefore proper among the Jews to baptize in the name of Jesus, that he might be vindicated to be the true Messias. Among the Gentiles, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that they might be hereby instructed in the doctrine of the true God. - Let this be particularly noted.

"IV. The Jews baptized proselytes into the name of the Father, that is, into the profession of God, whom they called by the name of Father. The apostles baptize the Jews into the name of Jesus the Son, and the Gentiles, into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

"V. The Father hath revealed himself in the old covenant; the Son in the new; in human flesh by his miracles, doctrine, resurrection and ascension; the Holy Ghost in his gifts and miracles. Thus the doctrine of the ever blessed Trinity grew by degrees to full maturity. For the arriving to the acknowledgment of which, it was incumbent upon all who professed the true God to be three in one to be baptized into his name." Lightfoot's Works, vol. ii. p. 274. (Adam Clarke’s Commentary; bold emphasis ours)


B. Acts 2:38 and Matt. 28:19

1. Neither passage specifies that certain words are to be spoken during baptism; nor does the Bible ever record someone saying, “I baptize you in the name of....”

2. Those said to be baptized in the name of Jesus (whether or not the formula “in the name of Jesus” was used) were people already familiar with the God of the OT:

a. Jews: Acts 2:5, 38; 22:16

b. Samaritans: Acts 8:5, 12, 16

c. God-fearing Gentiles: Acts 10:1-2, 22, 48

d. Disciples of John the Baptist: Acts 19:1-5

e. The first Christians in Corinth were Jews and God-fearing Gentiles: Acts 18:1-8; 1 Cor. 1:13

3. Trinitarian formula for baptism (if that is what Matt. 28:19 is) was given in context of commissioning apostles to take the gospel to “all the nations,” including people who did not know of the biblical God. (Bowman, The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity - Part Six, VI. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Are Each Someone Distinct from the Other Two (i.e., they are three “persons”); italic and underline emphasis ours)

Since these baptismal passages in Acts deal with the conversion of Jews, Samaritans and God-fearing Gentiles to the Christian faith, people who would have already been familiar with what the OT and Jewish tradition taught concerning God being the heavenly Father, it therefore makes sense that the Apostles would stress to these individuals the need of submitting to the sovereign authority of Jesus Christ and recognizing his exalted status over them by confessing him as their risen Lord.

Moreover, what makes Vermes’ objections rather ironic is that the compiler(s) of the Didache obviously had no problem including both of these baptismal statements in the very same document! The author(s) apparently viewed these instructions as being essentially complementary, which is why he/they included both of them.

The writer(s) may have viewed “in the name of the Lord” as indicating the fact that it was Christ himself who gave the leaders of the Church the authority to baptize, a baptism which Jesus himself said was to be carried out “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, “in the name of the Lord” signified the authority which the risen Lord had given Christians to perform the rite of baptism, whereas the Trinitarian formula refers to the actual words which the baptizer and/or the baptized was/were required to invoke during the ceremony itself in order to make the baptism valid in the sight of God.

As such, the author(s) may have been simply reminding his/their communities that anyone who hadn’t received baptism as a sign of his/her submission to the authority of Jesus Christ as their sovereign Lord were disqualified from participating in the Eucharist.

Now if the author(s) didn’t have a problem with placing both these instructions together in the very same book, why should Vermes?

Fourth, and finally, even if we go by Vermes’ preferred reading we still end up with a rather exalted view of Christ, one which depicts him as God!

The expression “in the name of the Lord” essentially means that Jesus is the Deity for whom rites such as baptism were carried out as a way of honoring and glorifying him:

“The most common wording the New Testament uses to express this idea is that the early Christians baptized 'into' (eis) the name of Jesus (Acts 8:16; 19:5; 1 Cor. 1:13-15; cf. Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27). The phrase 'into the name of' (eis to onoma) used in these baptismal texts has no precedent in the Old Testament and appears to reflect a rabbinical expression used with reference to religious rites or rituals. In his monograph on the subject, Lars Hartman explains, 'The rites are performed "into the name" of the god, to whose cult the rite belongs or who is otherwise associated with the rite in question. This god is the fundamental referent of the rite; he/she is the one whom the worshipper “has in mind” or “with regard to” whom the rite is performed and who thus makes it meaningful.' This sense of the expression clearly fits the New Testament usage with regard to Christian baptism. It also fits the similar expressions of baptizing 'in' (en) or 'on' (epi) the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 10:48) (Bowman & & J. Ed Komoszewski, Part 3: Name Above All Names: Jesus Shares the Names of God, 11. Name One, p. 132; bold emphasis ours)

Renowned NT scholar Larry W. Hurtado pretty much agrees with the above Evangelical scholars:

“The characteristic rite through which people became members of early Christian groups was 'baptism,' a ritual immersion that included the invocation of Jesus' name (e.g. Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48)… As Hartman has argued, the reference to baptism as done 'in/into the name of Jesus' meant to represent Jesus as 'the fundamental reference of the rite.'

“Suppositions about direct influence of pagan cults upon earliest Christian practice and thought have been shown to be simplistic and unfounded. Nevertheless, there are certain phenomenological similarities between the significance and role of Jesus in early Christian baptism and the place of the deities of pagan mysteries. As in the pagan initiation rites, so in the baptismal practice reflected in Paul's letters, initiates were assured of the power of the figure into whose rites they entered, Christian initiates coming under the power of Jesus as the God-appointed Kyrios. Yet Hartman persuasively argues that baptism 'in the name of Jesus' emerged in Palestinian Jewish Christian circles, and that here, too, lies the historical origin of believers ritually identifying themselves by reference to Jesus' name. This is both remarkable and unparalleled in the context of Jewish tradition of the Roman period.” (Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 2. Early Pauline Christianity, pp. 143-144; bold emphasis ours)


“The regularized references to Jesus as the unique agent of God’s redemptive action in these prayers of very antique provenance again attests the important place of Jesus in early Christian devotional practice, a place that has no true antecedent or parallel in the religious environment of the time.162 Moreover, only those who have been baptized ‘into the name of the Lord (Jesus)’ are to be permitted to partake of the meal (9.5), indicating that Jesus serves as the gateway into the company of the elect who offer these prayers. Furthermore, in the thanks given to God for his ‘holy name’ which God has ‘caused to dwell [kateskenosas] in our hearts’ (10.2), we probably have another reference to Jesus. As Niederwimmer noted, God’s ‘name’ here in this very primitive prayer that derives from Jewish Christian circles represents ‘God’s epiphany, God in person,’ and it ‘stands for what the Greeks would call ousia [essence, being].’163 For the Christians from whom this prayer stemmed, Jesus embodied the divine name, and he is the one in whom God’s name dwelt among humankind and now dwells in believers.164

“The conclusion to the Eucharistic prayer of 10.1-6 gives us another antique feature of Christian devotional practice, the old Aramaic formula maranatha. As we noted earlier in commenting on the use of this expression in 1 Corinthians 16:22, it is an appeal to the exalted Jesus to come in eschatological power. In Didache 10.1-6 the appeal forms part of a set of petitions that cumulatively involve the triumph of God’s purpose (‘May grace come’) and kingdom over ‘this world/age [kosmos].’ As the climactic component of this series of appeals, the maranatha formula exhibits the crucial place of Jesus in early Christian hope and liturgy. (Ibid, 10. Proto-orthodox Devotion, pp. 617-618; bold emphasis ours)

162. Christian prayer is distinguished from pagan practice in the restriction of prayer to the one God, and in the inclusion of Jesus as his unique Son. In Jewish prayer, no revered figure such as Moses functions in prayer in a way that corresponds to Jesus’ place in early Christian practice. See Hurtado, One God, One Lord.

163. Niederwimmer, 156, and n. 13.

164. See, e.g., 1 Clem. 58:1; 59:2-3, where believers “obey,” “trust,” and “hope” in God’s “name,” which can only be references to Jesus as embodying the divine name. (Ibid, p. 617; bold emphasis ours)

Hence, even if we were to accept that the Didache did not originally contain the Matthean Trinitarian formula, the command to baptize in the name of the Lord would still be sufficient to prove that the Christology of its author(s), and of the communities for whom this book was originally written, was every bit as high as that of Paul’s and John’s!

We come to the conclusion of this segment of our rebuttal. Lord willing, the fifth and final part should be appearing soon.