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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Missions

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MISSIONS

1. The prophetic background.—The missionary spirit and aims of Christianity have their beginnings in the history, literature, and character of the Jewish people. The OT, especially in the portions which express the ideals and spirit of prophecy, is full of principles and promises which find their fulfilment in the world-wide mission of Christianity (Horton, The Bible as a Missionary Book). The proselytizing energy of the Jews in the last cent. b.c. and in the time of our Lord (‘Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte,’ Matthew 23:15) is a partial outcome of ideas and instincts which were long inherent in the race. These wide and lofty prophetic aims had to struggle against particularist tendencies, which made the Jews one of the most narrow and exclusive of the races of mankind. It is one of the paradoxes of history, that the missionary propaganda which aimed at the conversion and blessing of the world, sprang from a people whose predominant characteristics were pride in racial privileges, expectation of national greatness, and contempt for all who were not of the seed of Abraham. But the missionary activities and aims of Christianity cannot be rightly understood apart from the gradual development of missionary ideas which took place in the course of Jewish history. The words applied to John the Baptist in relation to Christ might be applied to the Jewish race, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee’ (Mark 1:2). These germinal missionary conceptions and movements found their end and fulfilment in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and in the work which He originated. He absorbed and enlarged them, giving them such definiteness and fulness that they appear to be derived entirely from Him; for the spirit, aims, and motives of missions are distinctively Christian, and Christianity is essentially a missionary religion.

2. The missionary character of our Lord.—He regarded Himself as a missionary. At the beginning of His work in Galilee He applied to Himself the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1), ‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted,’ etc. (Luke 4:18-19). He frequently describes Himself as one ‘who was sent,’ as when He says, ‘he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me’ (τὸν ἁποστείλαντά με, Matthew 10:40); ‘as the living Father hath sent me’ (ἀπέστειλέν με, John 6:57); ‘the Father which hath sent me’ (ὁ πέμψας με, John 6:44). The references to His being ‘sent’ are most frequent in John.

It may be remarked that the verb ἀσοστελλειν is applied to Jesus 17 times in John , 10 times in the Synoptics, while πέμπειν is applied to Him 25 times in Jn., but only once in the Synoptics. The distinction between the two verbs is slight. In most cases in the Gospels τέμτειν, applies to the sender and ἀτοστελλειν to the person sent (cf. ‘Neither is he that is sent (ἀτόστολος) greater than he that sent (τέμψαντος) him,’ John 13:16); but the distinction is not always followed (cf. ‘As thou hast sent (ἀτέστειλας) me into the world, even so have I also sent (ἀτέστειλα) them into the world’ (John 17:18). Wilke and Grimm distinguish τίμπειν as the general term, which may imply accompaniment (as when the sender is God), while ἀτοστελλειν includes a reference to equipment, and suggests official or authoritative sending). But the frequency with which both words are applied to Jesus in the Gospels (at least 53 times in all) is an emphatic indication of the missionary character of His work. (Under this heading it is not necessary to discuss the distinctive aims and character of His mission. See artt. Kingdom of God, Eternal Life, Salvation).

3. In the call and training of the disciples the missionary idea is also strongly emphasized. They were to be ‘fishers of men’ (Mark 1:7 || Matthew 4:19). Jesus ordained them that ‘they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach’ (κηρύσσειν, Mark 3:14). The training was not only educative but practical. After a period of private intercourse He sent the Twelve forth two by two, as heralds to proclaim (κηρύσσειν) that ‘the kingdom of heaven (or of God) was at hand’ (Mark 6:7 || Matthew 10:5-7 || Luke 9:3). There is recorded by Lk. (Luke 10:1-7) another mission of Seventy, also sent forth two and two, who were to go with the same message to every city and place to which He Himself was about to come. From the words ‘also others’ ([καὶ] ἑτέρους, Luke 10:1) it is probably ‘to be understood that the Twelve were not included in this mission. In both missions of the disciples, the work they had to do was evangelistic in relation to the people, and educative in relation to themselves. There may have been other missions which have not been recorded, for Mk. uses the suggestive phrase, ‘He began to send them forth two by two’ (Mark 6:7); but the influence of such work on the training of the disciples, especially in giving them a firm grasp of the gospel they had to preach, is incalculable. Not a little of the teaching of Jesus which we have in the Gospels may have taken its present shape from the frequent repetition of their message.

4. The limits within which the personal work of Jesus was confined were declared by Himself: ‘I am not sent but unto the house of Israel’ (Matthew 15:24). During the time of His personal ministry the work of the disciples was similarly limited. In sending them forth, He said, ‘Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:5-6). This restriction, given at such a time, is of great importance, for it is an indication that the idea of a mission outside the bounds of the Jewish people was in the minds of the disciples when they were sent out on their first missionary journey. The restriction would have been needless if the disciples had not thought of such a mission as a possibility. It is an entire misreading of the Gospel history to imagine that the glorious conception of a world-wide mission was an afterthought, which only occurred to the disciples, or was suggested to them, after the resurrection of our Lord. The limitations which were so carefully laid down were temporary, and were evidently regarded as temporary. Even in declaring that He was sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, He had also said, ‘Let the children first be filled’ (Mark 7:27). The reasons for the limitation were adequate. The disciples had to be fully trained; the Kingdom of God had to be preached to the people who had been disciplined by the providence of God to receive it; the gospel had to be completed by the full disclosure of the redemption of grace, in the death and resurrection of the Saviour.

5. Indications of a world mission in the teaching of Jesus.—Apart from the essentially universal character of the gospel, which inevitably involved a universal mission, there are indications that the world-wide view was brought before the minds of the disciples prior to the time when the great commission was given. The disciples were to be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:13-14). When Jesus praised the faith of the centurion of Capernaum, He said, ‘Many shall come from the east and from the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 8:11; cf. also the same passage in Lk. in another connexion, where He adds, as if in reference to the preference which the Jews had received, ‘Behold there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last,’ Luke 13:29-30). So also, when defending the woman who had anointed Him with the box of ointment, He said, ‘Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, this … shall be told for a memorial of her’ (Matthew 26:13). Then He warned the disciples, saying, ‘Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles’ (Matthew 10:18). Many of the parables have references to or suggestions of a future extension of work among the Gentiles. In the interpretation of the parable of the Tares (one of the earlier parables) it is said that ‘the field is the world’ (Matthew 13:38). In the later series of parables, as in that of the Vineyard and the Husbandmen, it is said, ‘The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof’ (Matthew 21:43); in the Marriage Feast the direction is found, ‘Go ye … into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage’ (Matthew 22:9, Luke 14:23); in the Sheep and the Goats there is a picture of the judgment of ‘all nations’ (Matthew 25:32). Direct intimations of a world mission are not awanting, as in the apocalyptic discourses in the Synoptics, which are prefaced with a declaration of the destruction of the Temple (‘There shall not be left one stone upon another which shall not be thrown down,’ Matthew 24:2, Mark 13:2, Luke 21:6), and contain the announcement that ‘this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness to all the nations’ (Matthew 24:14 || Mark 13:10). In the Fourth Gospel the evidence of a world view as part of the instruction given to the disciples is very plain. After saying that He lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:15), Jesus adds, ‘Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice’ (John 10:16). In connexion with the visit of the Greeks, He uttered the pregnant and impressive prophecy, ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me’ (John 12:32); and a little further on in the same chapter we find the words, ‘I came not to judge the world, but to save the world’ (John 12:47). In the private converse of our Lord and His disciples, in the last days of the earthly ministry, the vision of the world is repeatedly brought before the minds of the disciples as the object of the Saviour’s thought and the scope of the disciples’ mission, as—’That the world may know that I love the Father … even so I do’ (John 14:31); ‘As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world’ (John 17:18; also John 12:46-48, John 16:8-11, John 17:2; John 17:21). Judas (not Iscariot) is even represented as asking, ‘How is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us and not unto the world?’ (John 14:22), as if the limitation of His work was a source of perplexity to him. Unless we are to regard the Gospels as entirely unhistorical, and all such universal references as due to the mind of the Church (which would then be greater than its Lord) at a later time, it must be admitted that the disciples were aware of the world-wide character of the work they were to undertake. The frequency of the world references in the earthly ministry May to some extent account for the fact that the missionary commission is mentioned only once in each of the Gospels (Matthew 28:16-20 || Mark 16:15 || John 20:21 || Luke 24:46-48), and in Acts 1:8. For it is recognized that it is only in the brief records of the risen life of Jesus that the universal mission of the disciples is explicitly expressed in the form of a command. But that is no reason for imagining that it was an afterthought of Jesus, or an addition put into His mouth by followers of a later time. The universal commission is given then, because that is the time to which it belongs. The work of redemption had been ‘finished’; the gospel was completed; the limitations which had restricted its extension were no longer necessary. The intimations of a universal mission, which had been given before, were carried to their inevitable conclusion in the majestic commission: ‘All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye into all the world, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you all the days, unto the consummation of the age’ (πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος, Matthew 28:16-20). The universal note predominates the whole passage. There is (i.) the claim of universal authority; (ii.) the direction to a universal field; (iii.) the universality of what is to be taught (‘all things whatsoever I have commanded you’); (iv.) the promise of a universal presence, ‘Lo, I am with you all the days, unto the consummation of the age.’

6. The genuineness of the missionary commission has been gravely questioned. In Mk, it appears in the closing section (Mark 16:9-10), which is now generally regarded as an addition by a later hand, possibly by the presbyter Aristion, who, according to Papias, was ‘a disciple of the Lord’ (F. C. Conybeare, Expositor, iv. viii. [1893] 241 ff.; but see Aristion). All critics admit the antiquity of the passage, and it may be accepted as ‘embodying a true Apostolic tradition’ (Salmond in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iii. p. 253b).

The passage in Mt. (Matthew 28:16-20) is characterized as ‘a later appendix’ (Moffatt, Historical NT, p. 647) entirely on account of its contents. The indications (in a different order) of its lateness are said to be—(i.) its incipient Trinitarianism, (ii.) the Trinitarian formula of baptism, which is found nowhere else in the NT. To these is added, (iii.) that the first disciples could hardly have known of the universal mission, or else they lived in flagrant disobedience to their Master’s solemn command, and only reluctantly recognized its fulfilment in the Pauline gospel. But it may be said, on the other hand, as to (i.), that the incipient Trinitarianism of the NT is such a daring conception, especially to men who had been trained in the strict monotheism of Judaism, that its existence can hardly be explained without some word of the Lord Jesus in relation to it, such as that which Mt. records. How are we to account for the ‘incipient Trinitarianism’ of the Pauline benediction—‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost’ (2 Corinthians 13:14)—if there were no words of the Lord Jesus to justify it? As to (ii.), the baptismal formula, as it has been called, may not have been a formula. It may have been the mistake of a later time to regard it as such. If it was not a formula, there was nothing to hinder the Apostles and others from baptizing in the name of the Lord Jesus (‘The Baptismal Formula,’ by J. H. Bernard in Expositor, vi. v. [1902] 43 ff.). (iii.) The apparent inaction of the disciples may not have been due to ignorance or disobedience. The command as given in Lk. and Acts indicates a gradually widening sphere of operations, in Jerusalem and Judaea, in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. The difficulties and persecution which the Apostles encountered at the beginning of their work may have been to them a proof that the time had not yet come when they could leave the nearer and narrower fields and go forth to the Gentiles. If any reliance is to be placed on Acts as an historical document, it is abundantly evident that the first disciples did know of the world mission, and that they were moving ill the line of their instructions. For in his first recorded utterance St. Peter strikes the universal note repeatedly. He quotes the words of Joel in explanation of what had happened at Pentecost, saying, It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, that I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh’ (Acts 2:17), And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21). He closes his appeal to the people with the assurance that the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call’ (Acts 2:39). Then in Acts 3:25 f. there is the recognition of the coming of Christ as a fulfilment of prophecy, as a carrying out of the covenant made with Abraham (‘And in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed’); further, in the words, ‘Unto you first God, having raised up his Servant (παῖς), sent him to bless you,’ there is the recognition of a wider field to be entered in due time. The great declaration, Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12), is meaningless, if there was not behind it a consciousness of the universal character of Christianity, and, as a consequence, the consciousness of a universal mission.

The disciples are also seen to be moving in the line of their instructions. They certainly preached the gospel in Jerusalem and in all Judaea. It is also seen that they preached it among the Samaritans, towards whom Jews had as strong an antipathy as they had towards Gentiles (‘Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them.… (Peter and John) preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans,’ Acts 8:5; Acts 8:25). In a few years after the Crucifixion (Harnack says 1, Ramsay 3, Lightfoot 4, Turner 6 or 7 [in fixing the date of St. Paul’s conversion, see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , art. ‘Chronology of the NT’]) the faith of Christ had spread to Damascus, and had gained such hold there, that Saul was sent thither by the Sanhedrin to bring ‘any of the Way,’ whom he might find, bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2). Lastly, some of those who were scattered abroad upon the persecution which arose about Stephen went as far as to Antioch, and preached the word to the Greeks (“Ελληνας, the reading adopted by Tischendorf, Nestle, etc.); and when tidings of these things came to the Church at Jerusalem, they sent forth Barnabas to visit and help them (which he did by finding Saul of Tarsus, Acts 11:19-26).

Taking Turner’s estimate as above (though we prefer Ramsay’s), the gospel was firmly established in Damascus (and in Antioch) 6 or 7 years after the Crucifixion. The trouble which arose about Stephen marked the close of the comparatively peaceful progress of the Church. The hidden cleavage between Judaism and Christianity then became apparent, and an entirely new situation resulted, which affected those within and without the Church. The sympathy of the Jews (Acts 2:47 towards the Christians had become antipathy (Acts 12:2-3). The persecution created anxieties which naturally absorbed the attention of the leaders. Coming as it did when the Church had been extended throughout Palestine, the persecution may have arrested the forward movement which, in accordance with the line of progress sketched out in Acts 1:8, had then become due. A little consideration of the difficulties which affect the progress of modern missions in different countries might lead to a better understanding of the situation in the Apostolic age, and to a higher appreciation of the results which the first missionaries achieved.

The dispute in the early Church in relation to the Gentiles, regarding which so much has been made, was not about preaching the gospel to them, but about the conditions on which they were to receive salvation and be admitted into the Church. No instructions on these matters had been given by the Lord Jesus, and difference of opinion was inevitable until the truth was made plain. St. Peter’s reluctance to go to Cornelius did not arise from any unwillingness to preach to him, but from the natural shrinking of a strict Jew from entering the house of a Gentile. The accusation which was brought against him at Jerusalem by those who were of the circumcision was, not that lie had preached the gospel to a Gentile, but that he had gone in to ‘men uncircumcised and had eaten with them’ (Acts 11:3). It was ‘they of the circumcision,’ and not the first disciples, who glorified God, saying, ‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life’ (Acts 11:18). These considerations are sufficient to establish the knowledge of the missionary command by the first disciples, and to account for the apparent delay (if any) in carrying it out.

7. The progress of mission work within the NT record.—The order is admirably given by Turner in his art. ‘Chronology of the NT’ in Hastings’ DB. [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] He says that ‘the picture in Acts is cut up, as it were, into six panels, each labelled with a general summary of progress’; and his arrangement is adopted here. First stage, the beginning at Jerusalem (Acts 1:1 to Acts 6:7); second stage, the extension of the Church throughout Palestine (Acts 6:8 to Acts 9:31); third stage, the extension of the Church to Antioch (Acts 9:32 to Acts 12:24); fourth stage, the extension of the Church to Asia Minor, as a result of St. Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 12:25 to Acts 16:5); fifth stage, the extension of the Church to Europe, resulting from St. Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:6 to Acts 19:20); sixth stage, the extension of the Church to Rome (Acts 19:21 to Acts 28:31). While that is the view of progress which is presented in Acts, it is not to be taken as complete. It exhibits for the most part the movement as connected with the great missionaries, St. Peter and St. Paul. The labours of the majority of the company of the Apostles are not recorded, and their activity might to some extent modify the above order of progression. Missionary enthusiasm also was not confined to the Apostles. Unnamed disciples, as in the case of Antioch (Acts 11:20), and certainly also in the case of Rome, may have carried the gospel into many places of which no mention is made. But for general purposes the sketch as given above represents the line of advance up to the year a.d. 70. Progress after that belongs to the general history of missions.

Literature.—Horton, Bible as a Missionary Book; Bruce, Training of the Twelve; Latham, Pastor Pastorum; Hort, Judaistic Christianity Selby, Ministry of the Lord Jesus, pp. 86–118; Moffatt, Historical NT, pp. 647–650; Lambert, Sacraments in the NT, pp. 38 ff., 234 ff.; F. C. Conybeare, Expositor, iv. viii. [1893] 241–254; J. H. Bernard, ib. vi. v. [1902] 43 ff.; H. B. Swete, ib. vi. vi. [1903] 241 ff.; art. ‘Baptism’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible .

John Reid.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Missions'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/m/missions.html. 1906-1918.

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