Great Commission: What does GO mean?

by Jim on 31 January 2008

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations

I’ve heard it, haven’t you?  Speculation over that little word, go.  What does that mean?

You might have heard – I know I have – that in the original Greek this word is actually a participle, and could be more correctly translated "as you are going…"

But Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts says it ain’t so.

In some ways, the difference isn’t apparent – after all, if we’re going to reach the nations, somehow or other we have to get where the nations are.  Looking at other passages would clarify the situation too.

But then again, some people may point out that we don’t need to "go" – the point is that wherever we happen to be going, we should make disciples.

Anyway, Dr. Wallace, writing at the Parchment and Pen blog, says that this is a misunderstanding of the Greek.  Sure, the word is a participle.  But not a present participle, an aorist participle.  An being in proximity to an aorist imperative, it communicates a command.

No, grammar isn’t my strong pont either.  So I looked up some of the similar examples he cited in his article.  He says that Matthew 2:13-14 is an example of this, when the angel tells Joseph to flee to Egypt.  Can you imagine if the angel had said,"Well, if you happen to be getting up, be sure to take the child along and head over to Egypt…"

No way!  It was get up! Move it! Take the child and run for your life!

So the Greek construction here in Matthew 28 means – Go!  Skedaddle!  Move it on out!  It’s not the only command, of course.  Go and make disciples.

The disciples took this to heart.  In my 2000 Years of Missions seminar I show a map of the direction each disciple took (according to tradition) on their missionary trips.  They literally scattered in all directions, and I’m sure it wasn’t by accident.

Recently I heard a children’s show saying that if everyone told a neighbour (about the Gospel), and that neighbour told another neighbour, and another – soon everyone would know.  Well, it’s a great idea, and we certainly should share with our neighbours.  But in the real world, it wouldn’t work that way – everyone would not know.  Here’s why:

  1. Everyone doesn’t have that kind of connection – they’re in a fairly closed community where no one knows anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows the Lord.  Someone must come in from the outside intentionally if they’re going to hear.
  2. There are people dying without having heard – if the chain doesn’t reach them in time, they will never hear
  3. Not every neighbour will believe, and so will not share the Gospel.

It’s not enough just to tell a neighbour.  There has to be some intentional going.  Remember Paul’s words in Romans 10.

Ok, so go means go.  How does that apply to us personally?  Well, that’s a whole other topic.  And Dr. Wallace will be continuing his analysis of the passage next week, which should be interesting.  Meanwhile, if you want the details you can read his original post on the Great Commission.

What do you think?  Have you heard discussion about the word go?  What do you think about the preaching you’ve heard on this passage?


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