“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; Matthew 28:19-20a NASB
Go – Most of us know that this opening word, “Go,” is not an imperative. It is not a command. Yeshua is not telling us to “Go!” as if we are to leave here and travel somewhere else. I know this is a handy verse for motivating missionaries, but this is not what it means in the Greek text. The word, poreuthentes, is a form of the verb poreuomai, usually translated “to go, to send.” That would be fine if the verb in this sentence were a command, but it is an aorist passive participle. Before we can really decide what it means, we have to do a bit of grammar.
Aorist means that this verb is an action completed in the past. Passive means that it was an action done to someone. And a participle connects an action to another part of the sentence (it presents the bare idea of the verb as if it were an adjective describing a noun or pronoun). Yes, I know this is complicated, but it will be worth it.
Let’s apply these definitions to the text. The translation cannot be “go” because that would require the word to be in the present tense, like “I go.” Here the word is in the past tense so it must be something like “having gone.” But it is passive, which means that I didn’t do the “going.” Someone or something else caused me to go. So we should read, “Having been caused to go.” Since it is a participle, this passive action needs to be connected to some noun or pronoun. But there isn’t any noun or pronoun in this sentence. By implication, this action is applied to those who are listening even though they aren’t named. We have to assume that this action describes the listeners. It doesn’t tell them what to do. It describes what is already true about them.
So far we have this translation: “[You] having been caused to go, therefore . . .” Now we need to add the fact that Yeshua didn’t speak Greek. What happens to this translation when we read it in Hebrew? The Hebrew idea of “going” is not like the Greek idea. Especially in this verse, it is most likely that Yeshua used the Hebrew verb halak, “to walk, to go in a certain direction.” This Hebrew idea is an idiom used to describe a way of life, a way that is in conformity with God’s directions. While the Greek idea suggests a path that leads to God, the Hebrew idea suggests following a path that God has already given. In other words, “to walk in God’s way” is to live according to the covenant – the Torah.
Now let’s translate. “[You] having been caused to live according to God’s way, therefore . . .” This is a far cry from the usual evangelism translation. What this suggests is that those who are walking in God’s way make disciples. Those who are not walking in God’s way do not make disciples. They might make recruits or even converts, but since they don’t walk in God’s way, they cannot make disciples. Furthermore, we learn that we are not the ones who were responsible for making ourselves walk in God’s way. Someone or something else caused us to walk in God’s way. It’s fairly easy to see how that happened. In the previous verse, Yeshua says, “All authority has been given to Me.” He is the one who has caused us to walk in God’s way. We cannot do it on our own. His action in the past, an action completed in the death and resurrection, has had its effect on us. We have been brought near. We have been given the new heart that we need in order to follow in God’s way. That’s why we make disciples.
Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our perspective on evangelism. What do you think?
Topical Index: go, evangelism, Matthew 28:19, poreuomai, halak