The “in the Name of Jesus” Debate

Simply put, there is a debate over the name used in baptizing. It is an issue that divides Christians as some say the ‘in Jesus’ name” baptisms are invalid and vice versa.

The question is: does the Bible teach that Christians are to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost? Or does it teach that baptism is to be done in the name of Jesus Christ? Is there a difference in these names?

For clarification, the expression “in the name of” has a biblical definition of “by the authority of,” or “by the power of:”

And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, By what power, or in what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders, if we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole. (Acts 4:7-10)

This meaning becomes important below as some say that “in the name of” does not mean that a precise wording should be used as much as it is just the authority that authorizes the practice.

Three Main Views

1. There is no difference between the names

According to the CARM article “Should we baptize ‘in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ or ‘in the name 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.”[i]

According to Gospelway, “in Jesus name is not a formula, it just is the authority by which it is done.[ii]

“Who within the Godhead gave instruction to baptize? Jesus is the one who told us to baptize. The Father under the Old Covenant did not command it; it is a command given by Jesus in the Great Commission. So the question then is “how” did He tell us to baptize? Clearly in Matthew 28:19 Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is the formula or manner of baptism. The formula or manner of baptism must come only from the One who authorized and commanded baptism—and that is Jesus. No one after Him can change the formula, and the book of Acts does not change the formula, but only clarifies Who authorized baptism.”[iii]

Notice the term “Godhead” above, that is orthodox terminology that ties everything back to the trinity. This is seen in the author’s (of the above statement) clarification:

“Bear in mind the baptismal formula—Father, Son and Spirit—this describes who God really is more than any other description. Jesus wanted to make sure that the foundation of our faith is the acknowledgment of the blessed Trinity—one God revealed in three persons. To deny this is to deny the foundation of our faith, and this is why Christians have rightfully declared heretical any teachings that deny the Trinity.”

This points to the motive of the person using the trinitarian formula being to reinforce the importance of the trinity. This explanation is nowhere in scripture; it looks like purely self-serving speculation.

2. Baptism and everything else should be done in the name of Jesus [Christ]

Oneness Pentecostals are one group that teaches that baptism is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus only. They cite the New Testemant records that never show the trinitarian formula being carried out while the “In Jesus Name: wording is all over the New Testament. [iv]

3. You Must Baptize In the Trinitarian Name as “In Jesus Name” Baptisms Are Invalid

This is the position of the Catholic Church.[v] cites evidence from Tatian and the Didache (170 A.D.) on that “The early Church Fathers, of course, agreed. [vi] They do not agree that there is no difference between the wordings. They say that only Trinitarian wording baptisms are valid. They say “in Jesus name” baptisms are invalid.


The basis for this debate is that in Matthew 28:19 the trinitarian formula is used while the application of that command appears to be missing because in the book of Acts the latter name (Jesus Christ) is used.

First of all, while there are numerous verses that have alternative translations in the texts, Matthew 28:19 does not appear to be one of them. Furthermore, several early church fathers directly quote the trinitarian formula as being used in baptism. Ignatius and Tertullian among them.[vii] However, there is a contingent that gives evidence why Matthew 28:16 might be in error as some church fathers cite Matt 28:19 wording with “in my name” as opposed to the trinitarian formula. (See Matthew 28:19 – Legitimate Verse that was not Carried Out by the Apostles or Scribal Forgery?)

In short:

Justin Martyr in his First Apology talked about baptismal practice in his day:

«Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.»[viii]

While not directly saying so, this quote implies that in Justin’s day they baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost as written about in Matthew 28:19:

Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: (Matthew 28:19)

The trinitarian formula in the verse above makes it appear to have been the practice for all of the early years in the church. However, that contradicts the records in the book of Acts and other places in the New Testament:

And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

This and all the other verses that include “in the name of…” say that what was practiced was that baptism is done in the name of Jesus [Christ]. Look at all these verses that say baptize(d) in the name of Jesus Christ, and not in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:

for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Act 8:16 ESV)

And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.  (Act 10:48 ESV)

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
(Act 19:5 ESV)

The evidence is that every baptism in Acts is done with the name of Jesus Christ and not in the trinitarian formula!

There is a real problem here with the Church’s position then.  If baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ makes the baptism invalid then every one of the baptisms in Acts are invalid!  And we know that can’t be.  The only acceptable alternative is that the Church’s teaching is wrong.  Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ must be acceptable!

Problem with the “no difference” position

If “in Jesus Name” is not a formula, then “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is not a formula either. But it is used that way in practice. In fact, in Catholic churches, who are the churches that developed and perpetuated this practice, everything from baptism to the sign of the cross is done in the formula of “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy SpiritAnd Catholics especially reject doing things in the name of Jesus only.

Problem with “You Must Baptize In The Trinitarian Name, In Jesus Name Baptisms Are Invalid” position

The Catholic Church cites evidence back to the mid-second century. However, scripture evidence is that “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (and similar forms of Jesus Christ’s name) is what was used in the first century.

Again, all the records in Acts where baptisms are done using the “in Jesus Name” wording.  It’s ridiculous to think these baptisms are invalid.

Problem with “In Jesus Name” only Position

If Matthew 28:19 is a legitimate verse, then there is nothing wrong with the Trinitarian formula as it is the command of the Lord Jesus. That is why one must seriously consider whether Matthew 28:19 is legitimate. (See Matthew 28:19 – Legitimate Verse that was not Carried Out by the Apostles or Scribal Forgery?)

Again, this is a very divisive issue as some say that baptizing in the wrong “formula” makes the baptism invalid.

[vi] ibid
[vii] Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter IX.—The Old Testament is good: the New Testament is better; Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians, Chapter II.—Unity of the three divine persons;
[viii] Justin Martyr, 1st Apology, Chapter LXI.—Christian Baptism

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