Historical Criticism and the Great Commission

Robert L. Thomas | August 25, 2009

A difference of opinion is emerging among evangelicals about the degree of historical accuracy of the Synoptic Gospels. A historical survey of how various individuals explain the Great Commission illustrates that difference of opinion. An examination of how the church at different periods has viewed this Commission gives perspective regarding how and when this difference developed. The early church took the words of the Commission at face value, assuming them to be spoken by Jesus. The post-Reformation church did the same until the impact of the Enlightenment, which generated the ideology of Historical Criticism. Radical Historical Criticism questions the basic historicity of the Commission, Jesus’ claim of all power, His command to go to all nations and baptize, and His use of the Trinitarian name in connection with baptism. Evangelical Historical Criticism questions the historicity of the same parts of the Commission, though usually not to the same degree as radical Historical Criticism. This evangelical approach to the Great Commission poses a serious dilemma for evangelical preachers and teachers in their handling of the Great Commission.

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