Was Peter Competent to Interpret the “Great Commission”?

by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam

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Mark’s record of our Lord’s commission to the eleven clearly states: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). As to unbelievers, baptism, of course, did not even enter into their case, thus the record goes on to say, “and he that believeth not shall be damned [condemned].”

This passage has always presented a problem for Fundamentalists who cling to the practice of water baptism and deny the special revelation committed to Paul for the present dispensation. The result has been that some change the meaning of this passage, while others contend that the last twelve verses of Mark 16 are not in the inspired originals.

To change this passage to read, “He that believeth and is saved ought to be baptized,” is simply to pervert and misrepresent the written Word of God. If a minister in the pulpit can lightly do this to one passage, beware of him; he may do it to others too.

As to the argument that the closing portion of Mark’s Gospel is not in the original, we reply that one cannot look into this contention without concluding that it is part of the inspired text.

First, it must be remembered that we have no original manuscripts of the Bible. Second, the manuscripts we do have contain it in the ratio of 300 to 1. Third, the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts, which do not contain it, leave spaces where it has been omitted. Fourth, we have translations earlier than our oldest manuscripts which do contain it. Fifth, we have the writings of fathers who lived still earlier, containing quotations from this passage.

The most conclusive evidence, however, is that contained in Peter’s testimony at Pentecost. Surely Peter was working under the “great commission” at this time. Surely, also, he was better able to interpret the commission than we are. The Lord had already “opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). With eyes thus opened, the apostles further sat under Christ’s special instructions for forty days before His ascension (Acts 1:3). And to cap it all, we read that “THEY WERE ALL FILLED WITH THE HOLY GHOST” (Acts 2:4).

Surely, under such conditions Peter could not have misinterpreted his commission. And are the terms laid down in Mark 16:16 omitted from his offer of salvation, or does he change or minimize them aught? Indeed not! He emphasizes them as he says to his convicted hearers:

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).

Surely, Spirit-filled Peter, taught for forty days by Christ, with his understanding opened to God’s revealed plan, would not have demanded water baptism for the remission of sins if he had not been instructed to do so. Those who would seek to eliminate Mark’s record of the commission to the eleven (later twelve) have this further fact to face. Sad to say, some also misrepresent these words of Peter’s by substituting three periods or an “etc.” for the words “for the remission of sins.”

Peter interpreted the rest of the Mark commission correctly too, for as it says, “these signs shall follow them that believe,” and he promised that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (for miraculous power) would follow repentance and baptism.

Unless Fundamentalists are ready to interpret and proclaim the message of Mark 16:15-18 as Peter did, they should acknowledge that we are to labor, not under the so-called great commission given to the eleven, but under that much greater commission given by the ascended Lord to Paul and to us (2 Cor. 5:14-21); that commission in which water baptism has no place, but the all-sufficiency of Christ and His finished work is the theme.

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.

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