The proper form of baptism is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Jesus designated in Matt. 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." The clear command of Jesus is to baptize this way. But, if that is so, then why do we see so many instances in the New Testament where people were baptized "in Jesus' name"?
- Acts 2:38, "And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
- Acts 10:48, "And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days."
- Acts 19:5, "And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."
The reason they were baptizing "in the name of Jesus" is not because it was a formula, but because the phrase, "in the name of" means "in the authority of. We can see proof of this in Acts 4:7-10,
"And when they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, 'By what power, or in what name, have you done this?' 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, 'Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name this man stands here before you in good health.'"
The Jews asked "by what power, or in what name, have you done this?" Peter answers and says that it was in the name of Jesus that they had healed. In other words, "in the name of Jesus" means that it is by the power and authority found in Christ. We can see this usage many places in the New Testament.
- Acts 3:6 "But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene--walk!"
- Acts 16:18, And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment."
- 1 Cor. 5:4-5, "In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
- 1 Cor. 6:11, "And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God."
- Eph. 5:20, "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father."
- 2 Thess. 3:6, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us."
As you can see, "in the name of the Lord Jesus" and "in the name of Jesus" speaks of "in the authority of Jesus." Therefore, when someone is properly baptized, they are baptized in the name of Jesus; that is, by the authority of Jesus. Therefore, when they are properly baptized in the name of Jesus, they should say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," just as Jesus commanded us to do.
Didache and the baptismal formula
The Didache is a very old document that was written probably between the year of 65 and 80 A.D. It is also called the "Teaching of the 12 Apostles." The Didache is not Scripture, but it is clearly an ancient document and sheds light on what the early church was doing in the first century and what the baptismal formula was.
"But concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having first recited all these precepts, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water," (Didache 7:1).
If the early church did what some modern-day groups like the Oneness Pentecostal cult do and baptized "in the name of Jesus," then why does the Didache not teach the same thing? The reason is because the early church baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus commanded them to do ( Matthew 28:19).