Wednesday, July 19, 2023

John Peter Moffitt

Originally published over at my substack.

Our son, John Peter Moffitt, was delivered still born on July 6 at 22 weeks. He had contracted parvovirus in the womb. And while our little boy managed to fight off the virus, it left him anaemic. The medical team attempted to arrest the anaemia through an in-utero blood transfusion directly into John’s liver.  Ultimately, it was too late for his heart. He didn’t make it.

So Alison and I found ourselves meeting our son half a pregnancy early. We had a day in hospital with him, cradling his lifeless body. Those limbs which we had seen vigorously moving on the scans, and had begun to feel kicking and punching, were terribly still. As we beheld his undeniable resemblance to his sister and his brother, our eyes poured forth in tears as we beheld his eyes which would never cry, a mouth which would remain silent, a nose which would never breathe.

I find it hard to describe the depth of our grief and sorrow at John’s loss. Those moments of breathless or anger that seem to overwhelm out of nowhere. The weight of tears that sit behind my eyes. Or the little smothered cries that continually try to escape my mouth.

There’s a sense of dissonance of course, that death had trespassed in the territory of life. The womb had become John’s tomb. The post-natal ward served as a mortuary.

Accompanying the dissonance is the disruption death has wrought. John’s life has ended, and with it has vanished the dreams we had started to have for our son. Instead there is a gap which I expect we will feel when the calendar turns to his due date in November, to his delivery date in July, to those moments which would have marked his life: his baptism, his first day at school, and so on.

Then there’s the sheer mystery of who my son would grow up to be. Would he walk before he could talk? Would he move to the rhythm like his Mum? Or be a musical philistine like his Dad? What would his laughter sound like? Would there be a favourite toy he snuggled up to at night when he felt afraid or sad? The unknowability of my own child…at this point I can only imagine how that pain will hit in time to come.

Well before he had even drawn his first breath, my son John has died. And my only comfort during all of this is the assurance that John has not missed out on life. The disruption dealt us by death will not be the final word. For death itself has been disrupted. After all Jesus assured us, God is the God of the living.

We discovered we were pregnant with John prior to Easter. For those who know, John Peter is a paschal allusion; the two disciples who raced to the empty tomb on Easter Day searching for the risen Jesus. Where John found death in the cradle of life, Jesus has emptied the grave with a love that is stronger than death. In the Eucharistic prayer this Easter we announced: ‘By his death [Jesus] has destroyed death, has taken away our sin’. Where death intrudes and interrupts, Jesus overwhelms death with his life-giving life.

In the midst of the pain and the grief we feel now, and will continue to feel, we know that John has not missed out on life. John’s eyes shall see eternal life, for his shepherd died for the sins of the world. It’s in God’s refuge that we are finding comfort and consolation for our souls. Not only for this life, but that God can make the words of Psalm 116 true in the life to come when he swallows up death forever.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling,

that I may walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.

        – Psalm 116.8-9

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

On The Palace Letters

It seemed inevitable that, after all the secrecy and all the court battles, the publication of The Palace Letters would renew calls for a republic in Australia. Our 29th Prime Minister, and former Chair of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), Malcolm Turnbull, described the letters as amounting to ‘an act of interference in Australian democracy’. Whitlam biographer, professor Jenny Hocking – the historian who tenaciously campaigned for the release of The Palace Letters – called the Letters a bombshell which damaged Queen Elizabeth’s reputation by proving she had breached her apolitical status in 1975 as Australia’s constitutional head of state. Turnbull’s successor at ARM, Peter Fitzsimmons, did not hold back the adjectives as he sought to re-energize Australia’s push towards a republic by describing himself as ‘gobsmacked’ by the letters.

However, the real bombshell of the Letters can be found in what they reveal did not take place during Australia’s political crisis of 1975. To be sure, many of the key actors who contested the political stage that year acted in bad faith. But there was no broad conspiracy to topple Australia’s most energetically reformist government. Buckingham Palace did not interfere or intervene as events unfolded; the swirl of letters and telegrams between the Queen’s Vice-Regal representative, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, and her private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris, reveal the Palace’s main concern alongside Kerr’s health was for Kerr to act according to dictates of the Australian constitution. As a former Chief Justice of NSW, they expected Kerr would have a thorough grasp of the Australian constitutional requirements and conventions.

The most gobsmacking element about the dismissal is that when the system was placed under extraordinary stress by the blocking of supply, the system worked. The army remained in their barracks. Tanks did not roll down neither George Street nor Swanson Street. The courts continued to operate under the rule of law. Whatever we make of Kerr’s actions on November 11, the crisis was ultimately resolved with the ballot and not bullets. The Australian political system is by no means perfect. Since Federation we have seen the (re-)enfranchisement of people who were excluded by the political settlement of 1900: women, indigenous Australians, migrants from backgrounds other than Western Europe. Our greatest political achievements, such as the 1967 referendum or the rolling back of the White Australia Policy, also reveal our deepest political shames. But, for all the rage that was unleashed in 1975, our constitution weathered perhaps the greatest political storm it has faced, whilst maintaining the political freedoms our Commonwealth was both founded upon and aspires too.
That the constitution was put in this position in the first place was another matter.

Much could be (and has been) written about the Whitlam era of 1972-1975. Gough Whitlam is undoubtedly the most courageous reformer Australia has had as a Prime Minister. He presided over incredible, legacy-building, changes to the country: universal health care, free university education, initiating land right reform and the return of land to its traditional owners, the ending of military conscription, and the withdrawal of Australian troops in Vietnam.

At the same time, Whitlam presided over a troubled and ill-disciplined cabinet. Whitlam’s ministerial comrades plagued his government in crisis after crisis, risking their reformist agenda with charges of incompetency and corruption. Early in their time in office, Attorney-General Lionel Murphy had caused a scandal by personally leading a raid on the Melbourne ASIO office. To circumvent the issue of supply, and enable his vision to nationalize Australia’s energy market, Rex Connor pursued an unconstitutional loan of US$4 billion dollars from a foreign lender. The government was distracted during this time by the scandal of an affair by Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Jim Cairns, who exacerbated the crisis by misleading parliament about the Loans Affair.

Whitlam, for all his success in leading Labor out of opposition after 23 years, allowed the cabinet too much freedom to pursue their own interests and programs, often at the cost of the government’s reputation.

But Whitlam’s most fatal blunder lay in his appointment of the new Governor-General in 1974. For all of his legal and judicial background, Sir John Kerr was wholly unsuited for this high office. Admittedly, it is easy to both besmirch Kerr’s character and cast him as a tragic figure. As he acknowledges in the Letters, he became a man of few friends. Within six months of assuming office, Kerr was widowed when his first wife Alison died in September 1974.

However, as The Palace Letters testify, Kerr was destructively obsessed with his own position and reputation. He was paranoid that he would be removed from office – though that paranoia was fed by Whitlam's frequent jokes and remarks about 'a race to the palace' between the Governor-General and the Prime Minister to advise the Queen to fire the other.

In Kerr's mind, his actions to resolve the supply crisis were undertaken to avoid that very constitutional crisis where the Queen was sandwiched between her first minister and her Vice-Regal representative. But Kerr's action leading up to November 11 undermined that defence.
As Kerr drew a circle of advice on how to proceed with Whitlam, from Charteris, and from High Court justices Sir Garfield Barwick and Sir Anthony Mason, he began to negotiate with the Leader of the Opposition on how he might act. This is where Kerr acted in bad faith to the procedures and protocols his office is charged with preserving and protecting. Kerr essentially conspired with the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, to preserve not so much the constitution or the government, but his own appointment as Governor-General.

That action was typified by Kerr’s action on the afternoon of November 11. After the Senate passed supply and Malcolm Fraser had revealed himself in the House of Representatives as caretake Prime Minister, the House voted a motion of no confidence in Fraser and voted a motion of confidence in Whitlam. The House dispatched the Speaker, Gordon Scholes, to Government House to advise the Governor-General to recall Whitlam as Prime Minister.

Instead, Kerr refused to see Scholes. He kept him waiting at the gate for an hour. Instead, he had parliament prorogued by proclamation by his official secretary David Smith, leading to the now famous scene on the steps of Old Parliament House where Whitlam, responding to Smith’s proclamation “God save the Queen”, emerged from behind Smith and said:

“Well may we say "God save the Queen", because nothing will save the Governor-General! The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's cur. They won't silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for a few weeks. ... Maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day.”
It’s hard to imagine a more miserable or despised figure in Australian public life. The mental image of Kerr which is lodged in my mind is his appearance at the 1977 Melbourne Cup where he was appeared inebriated, and was his speech was drowned under the boos of the crowd. The son of a boilmaker, Kerr has risen to the highest offices in his state and his country. And he knew it. When you read or listen to Kerr, he was well aware of his own self-importance. And recent revelations about his behaviour would not only today make his position untenable, but point towards his lack of qualification for the office he assumed in 1974.

Because of his faults, and the ease with which he could be portrayed as a drunken toft, Kerr provided an easy scapegoat for those who were enraged by Whitlam’s dismissal. Yet it is important to distinguish between personal dislike of the man, the constitutional action he took. Driven by improper motive, Kerr’s actions were neither unprecedented or illegal. While the powers he exercised had long remained dormant, they were not extinguished. And while me wish that a different, wiser Governor-General had chosen a different path, or been more careful in their use of reserve power, dismissing the Prime Minister remained a valid and open option for Kerr.

While Kerr’s legacy is seemingly irredeemable, Malcolm Fraser’s reputation underwent a renaissance after leaving politics.

I grew up knowing Malcolm Fraser as a reformer and advocate of human rights. He became known as the great humanitarian, unafraid to critique his own party and former colleagues, and even forming an unlikely partnership with Gough Whitlam.

The Malcolm Fraser of 1975 was far more impetuous. We forget that Fraser had already ended the Prime Ministership of WWII hero John Gorton in 1971. According to Fraser, Gorton was "unfit to hold the great office of Prime Minister".

(At least in 1971 MPs had the decency to resign from cabinet before assassinating their leader.)
Become coming to power, Fraser’s tactic was an all-or-nothing, scorched earth approach. Arguably, he was an Opposition Leader in the same vein as Tony Abbot – a wrecker.
And it worked.

After only seven months of becoming Opposition Leader, Fraser found himself in The Lodge.
Fraser used the numbers of the Liberal and Country parties in the Senate to block supply to Whitlam’s government. Whitlam could not pass his budget, and the government was at risk of running out of money. Hence some of the crazier schemes like the Loans Scandal that Labor frontbenchers employed to keep their political agenda afloat.

However, it was Fraser’s temperament which caused the 1975 constitutional crisis. Assuming the mantle of Opposition Leader in March, by September Fraser had triggered the Supply Crisis. He did so because he was impatient; Fraser wanted to dam the flow of money to the government in an effort to force an early election in the hope of winning power. While the Senate had the power under the constitution to do so, there was an unwritten constitutional convention that an opposition would not try to use the Senate to block supply.

Other conventions were breached to bring about the Supply Crisis. Despite winning a double-dissolution election in 1974 and therefore arguably having a mandate to pursue his policies, Labor never held a working majority in the Senate. Whilst the government and opposition were initially forced to work with the cross-bench to pass or block legislation, things changed dramatically in 1975.

In February one of the two independents joined the Liberal Party, living the Senate with a makeup of 30 Coalition Senators, 29 Labor Senators, and 1 independent Senator. This changed again when two-Labor held senate seats needed to be replaced by their respective state parliaments, in this case NSW and QLD. Both states were governed at the time by Coalition parties; both states broke long standing convention and did not appoint replacements chosen by the party who had won the seats at the last election. NSW selected an independent, whilst QLD selected a Labor member who opposed Whitlam and was prepared to vote against supply. With these two appointments, the Coalition was given control over the upper house.
(It is worth noting that under Fraser’s premiership, the constitution was amended via the 1977 referendum which required state parliaments to replace a senator with a member of the same political party).

Able to take advantage of these changes in the senate, Fraser pushed Australian federal politics to the brink. It may have been expected that Whitlam, unable to secure supply, would call for an election. But having won an election less than 24 months prior, refused to play Fraser’s game. Parliament was deadlocked.

In breaching the longstanding convention over supply, Fraser played a destructive form of politics which created fault lines and rage in Australian politics that continue to run deep. The Palace Papers reveal that seeing the deadlock coming, Kerr had been searching for months for a way to end the deadlock without compromising the constitution. Hr consulted widely – and this would give the Opposition the opportunity it needed to end the deadlock in their favour. 

Arguably the most insidious action Fraser took during the crisis was, when Kerr turned to hi m for advice, Fraser entered into consultation and negotiation with a Governor-General who was frightened over their own position of power. In a breach of protocol, Fraser was even ensconced inside Government House without Whitlam’s knowledge while Kerr withdrew the commission of the government.

In offering Kerr his ongoing support to remain in Yarralumla, Fraser conspired and exploited the tension between Whitlam and Kerr to his own advantage. Where Whitlam lost office, and Kerr lost his reputation and legacy, it was Fraser – the instigator behind the Supply Crisis and its resolution – who became the chief beneficiary of the dismissal.

And yet...though bruised and manipulated, constitutional democracy in the Commonwealth of Australia continued unabated.

When tested in 1975, our constitutional monarchy worked. It wasn't pretty. Many Australians then and since have had visceral reactions to how it happened. We may rightly question some of the judgments and tactics. But the strength of the Australian political system was to rest the most incredible of powers in the hands, not of politicians, but independent guardians entrusted to use them sparingly. And when they were used, the means for breaking the deadlock was given back to the Australian people in the 1975 election.

Of course, there is a cautionary tale in all of this. The outcome may have been different with other actors in the lead roles on November 12. Though it now appears from The Palace Letters that Whitlam contacted Buckingham Palace to briefly encourage their persuasion of Kerr to reinstate a Whitlam government, Whitlam was otherwise the constitutionalist. He called for rage, but rage to be expressed at the ballot box, and not the barricade.

So many of our traditions and conventions rest on having people of character in office. What would have happened if Whitlam had no such integrity? In an age where ministerial responsibility and political indiscretion carry less responsibility than they once did, have we forgone character, integrity, and virtue in our political representatives?

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Advent: The Trees Are Burning

About ten years ago I read about two-thirds of the Miles Franklin winning Australian novel Eucalyptus. The fact that I did not complete the novel says more about me than it does about the book. I had neither the patience, nor the discipline, to handle Murray Bail's mythic imagining of the Australian story and his opulent descriptions of every kind of eucalyptus trees.

Nevertheless, for the past decade I have been enchanted with the thought of planting and tending to trees. It is hard to surpass these wild and magnificent creatures. Whenever I pass through Canberra now, no visit is complete without some time spend wandering the forests and meadows of the National Arboretum. My imagination turns from Bail's Holland and Mr Cave to Tolkien's Ents - the shepherds of the forest - who protected the woodlands from the perils of Middle-earth. My mind turns too to a beguiling account of King Solomon in the Bible. Renowned for his wisdom and 'breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore', Solomon is a man who 'would speak of trees' - from the greatest pine to the smallest shrub. There's something Edenic, even Adamic, about this scene in 1 Kings. Solomon's wisdom consists not only in his compositions of proverbs, songs, poetry, and pithy little sayings. He knew and accounted of animals, birds, reptiles, fish, and trees.

What staggers me whenever I walk among the trees is the sheer vastness of type and kind. I surely would have been content with 10-20 species I think to myself. The fact that there is somewhere between 60,000-100,000 different species on the planet seems a little gratuitous. It is this abundance of arboreal life which sustains life.

We easily forget how bound our lives are to trees. Not only do I mean existentially; but scientifically and culturally too. From the air we breath to the paper we write on, from the shade we sit in to the desks we sit at, from the leaves we admire to the logs we burn on the fire; our lives are connected to the gums, cedars, and palms which cover this planet. Without each other we cannot be ourselves. And let's not be so anthropecene for a moment. It is not only us, but birds, insects, mammals, soil, and other plants which depend on trees too.

In the state where I live, since Semptember this year, almost 3 million hectares of land have been burnt and con summed by fire. We can put a number on some of the devastation these fires have wrought on human life. So far there have been six fatalities. 724 homes destroyed. 276 homes damaged. What's harder to quantify is the impact on the flora and fauna. Who knows how many trees have been lost?

At first that may not seem so significant for an ecosystem which for at least 60,000 years had been cultivated by fire. But after 23 decades of reshaping and re imagining the Australian landscape and climate, the species which have made this island continent their home for millenia appear to have reached breaking point.

Today it was revealed that a quarter of eucalyptus trees are threatened by extinction. It's not just this years fires (though they have burnt much of our local eucalyptus forests); its urbanisation and agriculture which have lead to this predicament. Personally, having grown up among gum trees (watching the lorikeets and parrots feed on their flowers in February each year), and having swept up more than my fair share of gum leaves, it's hard to imagine life in Australia without this endemic species. Their loss would be a loss for us all.

As I write this, my family is currently observing the season of Advent. It's a season which I have written about often before. We prepare ourselves for Christmas by a. joining Israel in their longing for an end to exile and God to come; and thereby looking to the time when Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And as my city is choking on smoke, and I find charred leaves in my yard - carried over 60kms by the winds from the nearest fires - I can't help but reflect on trees in the Bible. The are, literally and figuratively, a gift to be received and delighted in. They are a symbol of pride and an object of destruction. They are a depiction of hope for Israel and the nations of the world. They are the personification of obedience and hearing God's word. They are twisted and ruined, so that a tree bears God's Son to his death. They are sign of life, bearing healing in their leaves for all the world. The desire for everyone to sit under their own vine and fig tree is the desire of advent. The story of trees in the Bible weaves together the strands of beauty, justice, expectation, and salvation which make up the advent tapestry.

So what might advent offer us during the current climate and fire crisis? What might advent offer us in the midst of drought and heat waves? While some of my ecclesiastical peers would see the current conflagration to be a proleptic taste of the fire that is to come, the hope of advent is not annihilation but restoration. In one of my favourite quotes from French theologian John Calvin, we are told that: 'no part of the universe is untouched by the longing with which everything in this world aspires to the hope of resurrection.' Advent teaches us to long for and to live in light of the hope of the resurrection. We look for the one who came at Christmas to come again to mend, heal, restore, and remake his world. And that should give us reason to pause and question the tone and tenor of our lives. God made a world which was not only ontologically good and aesthetically good, but was hospitable for us and the conditions which we need in order to flourish. It was good for us. Faced then by the challenges of environmental degradation, perhaps we should attend to the Bible's diagnosis of the human condition: the voracious, intense, obsessive, and destructive misappropriation of God's good gifts in creation.

But if advent is a season for attuning our desires to the desire of the nations, than that will lead us away from the desire to grasp after and consume the natural resources we see around us. In other words, it should lead us in our pneumatic transformation towards becoming more truly human, and away from the sins and pride which facilitates the doom of our fellow creatures.

As we await the redemption of all things at God’s hand, advent trains us to deal with our disappointment and discontent with our governments. Advent announces that time is short for all secular authority. There will come a time when queens and presidents, prime ministers and premiers will be held to account their dispensing of justice and provision of peace as they lay down their authority before the lamb who was slain. John's apocalypse warns us that God hates those who destroy the earth (Revelation 11.18).

Woe then to governments that neglect their duties to preserve life.
Woe to governments that hide behind a smokescreen of science denials and obsfuscation.
Woe to those governments that would suppress the reality of things.

That will be held accountable for their lies, spin, and sloth.

So in this season of advent, as the smoke clings to our clothes and our skin, and the trees perish, advent teaches us to mourn, to lament, to pray, and to look for God's blessing on all the creatures he has made.

Let not the trees and animals suffer on the altar of human pride and vain glory.

In a lecture he gave in York several years ago, Rowan William addressed what it look like for us to co-exist with the flora and fauna of the world:

In Genesis, humanity is given the task of 'cultivating' the garden of Eden: we are not left simply to observe or stand back, but are endowed with the responsibility to preserve and direct the powers of nature.  In this process, we become more fully and joyfully who and what we are – as St Augustine memorably says, commenting on this passage: there is a joy, he says, in the 'experiencing of the powers of nature'. Our own fulfilment is bound up with the work of conserving and focusing those powers, and the exercise of this work is meant to be one of the things that holds us in Paradise and makes it possible to resist temptation.  The implication is that an attitude to work which regards the powers of nature as simply a threat to be overcome is best seen as an effect of the Fall, a sign of alienation.  And, as the monastic scholar Aelred Squire, points out (Asking the Fathers, p.92), this insight of Augustine, quoted by Thomas Aquinas, is echoed by Aquinas himself in another passage where he describes humanity as having a share in the working of divine Providence because it has the task of using its reasoning powers to provide for self and others (aliis, which can mean both persons and things).  In other words, the human task is to draw out potential treasures in the powers of nature and so to realise the convergent process of humanity and nature discovering in collaboration what they can become.  The 'redemption' of people and material life in general is not a matter of resigning from the business of labour and of transformation – as if we could – but the search for a form of action that will preserve and nourish an interconnected development of humanity and its environment.  In some contexts, this will be the deliberate protection of the environment from harm: in a world where exploitative and aggressive behaviour is commonplace, one of the 'providential' tasks of human beings must be to limit damage and to secure space for the natural order to exist unharmed.  In others, the question is rather how to use the natural order for the sake of human nourishment and security without pillaging its resources and so damaging its inner mechanisms for self-healing or self-correction.  In both, the fundamental requirement is to discern enough of what the processes of nature truly are to be able to engage intelligently with them. 

- Rowan Williams, Renewing the Face of the Earth: Human Responsibility and the Environment, 2003.

Friday, November 01, 2019

'As you go'? Matthew 28:19 and Exegetical Fallacies

This post is based on an exegetical paper I wrote several years ago as a Moore College student. As a consequence, the paper is very technical as it considers the Greek syntax and grammar of Matthew 28:16-20. TL;DR: There is a common exegetical fallacy which argues that the go in Matthew 28:19 is a participle and should be translated as ‘as you go’, placing the emphasis on the verb make disciples. But syntactically, go is best translated as a participle of attendant circumstances, which carries the mood of the main verb make disciples. As Dan Wallace writes  "there is no good grammatical ground for giving the participle a mere temporal idea...Virtually all instances in narrative literature of aorist participle+ aorist imperative involve attendant circumstance participle. In Matthew in particular, every other instance of the aorist participle of 'go' followed by a main clearly attendant circumstance."

16 Ο δ νδεκα μαθητα πορεύθησαν
(ες τν Γαλιλαίαν)
(ες τ ρος)
 ο τάξατο ατος ησος,

17 κα δόντες ατν προσεκύνησαν,
ο δ δίστασαν.

18 κα προσελθν ησος λάλησεν ατος λέγων·
δόθη μοι πσα ξουσία
(ν οραν)
κα (π [τς] γς).
19 πορευθέντες ον μαθητεύσατε πάντα τ θνη,
βαπτίζοντες ατος
(ες τ νομα)
το πατρς
κα το υο
κα το γίου πνεύματος,
20 διδάσκοντες ατος τηρεν πάντα
σα νετειλάμην μν·
κα δο γ (μεθ᾿ μν) εμι πάσας τς μέρας
ως τς συντελείας το αἰῶνος.[1]

This passage functions as the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel. However, rather than operating as an epilogue to Matthew’s narrative, it serves as the climax of the Gospel: the crucified and risen Lord commissions his disciples in mission. It has been noted by many commentators that many of the theological themes introduced and developed in Matthew find their resolution and culmination in these five verses.[2] Alone among the synoptics, Matthew records this interaction in Galilee rather than Jerusalem.

The coordinating conjunction δ introduces a change, as the narrative moves from Judea to Galilee.[3] With the death of Judas Iscariot, it is the eleven disciples who make this journey. Like the bulk of Matthew’s Gospel, the commencement of their mission occurs in Galilee, perhaps suggesting continuity with Jesus’ own mission.[4] Whilst ες τ ρος has a broad reference, with the general meaning of ‘into the hills’, the exact phrase recalls Jesus’ own earlier ministry of teaching, prayer, and healing (5:1, 15:23, and 15:29). More generally it echoes the seven previous mountain-top experiences in the Gospel (4:8, 5:1, 14:23, 15:29; 17:1, 24.3, and 26.30).[5] As with some of these earlier episodes, there are probably also Mosaic overtures. Whilst the aorist middle indicative verb τάξατο might suggest a prearranged place, the general sense of ες τ ρος places the focus not on a particular mountain, but Galilee in general.

Much like women did (v.9), the disciples worshipped Jesus when the saw him. Yet the mixed reaction from some of their companions has been the source of consternation among commentators. The worship of the disciples could refer to the obeisance Persians and Greeks displayed before their kings. However, these kings were deified. Moreover, the reference here is most likely that of worship, parallelling a fragment found at Qumran that all the nations would come to worship the Son of God. [6] Yet some doubted. The aorist verb, διστάζω, occurs only twice in the New Testament: here and earlier in Matthew as Peter’s faith wavered on the Galilean waves (14:31). Yet it was widely used in the Hellenic world, referring to either doubt or waiver over something, or hesitancy over a certain course of action.[7] Commentators have attempted to resolve the issue of whether it was hesitation or actual doubt by questioning whether verse 17 refers just to the eleven, or other unnamed accomplices. Carson is amongst those who suggest that the doubters were outside of the eleven. On this reading ο δ refers to others in contrast to those who have already been the mentioned.[8] However, one would normally expect the presence of the particle μν.[9] Both Carson and France point to 26:67 as evidence of Matthew’s use of ο δ to support their position. Yet France is probably correct when he argues that in both verses ο δ refers to a ‘countercurrent within the group, affecting some but not all of them.’ Nonetheless, both France and Carson agree that ἐδίστασαν is not the opposite of προσεκύνησαν, as in intellectual doubt; instead ἐδίστασαν refers to hesitancy on the disciples behalf.[10] It is possible then that this hesitancy is related to an uncertainty whether it was Jesus standing before them. (cf. Luke 24:16, 31-32, 37; John 20:15, 21:4-7). Within the narrative frame of Matthew, it is likely that the hesitancy of some of the eleven stems from an uncertainty over the reception they would receive from Jesus. The last time they had seen Jesus was as they fled from him in Gethsemane.[11]

Into this hesitancy Jesus approached (v.18). The only other time Matthew uses προσέρχομαι with Jesus as the subject is following the transfiguration (17:7). Both times Jesus’ calms the baffled disciples.[12] Silent through Matthew’s narration of the last two verses, from hereon only Jesus speaks. His speech is held together by the repetition of πᾶσ: all authority, all nations, all of his commandments, and at all times. Firstly, Jesus claims all authority in heaven and earth. (cf. 7:29, 10:1-8, 11:27, 22:43-4, 24:35), strongly echoing Daniel’s Son of Man (Daniel 7:14). Like the Septuagint, Matthew uses ἐξουσία to describe Jesusdominion.[13] Throughout the Gospel, Jesus uses the language of Daniel 7 to describe his future authority and vindication (16:28, 19:28, 24:30-31, 25:31-34, 26:64). Now that authority is realised, including not only the earth as in Daniel 7, and as offered by Satan (4:8-10), but heaven too. Jesus’ authority is coextensive to that attributed to his Father (11:25-27). Having had his claim to sovereignty mocked (27:11, 29, 37, 42), Jesus stands before the eleven vindicated in his authority. Wright notes that this brings together the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps as its answer, that earth should match heaven.[14] Of course, this authority has not been assumed by Jesus; instead it has been given to him. The passive use of the aorist δίδωμι not only presents the action in summary, but also highlights Jesus own passivity.[15]

The second ‘all’ is connected to the first by the inferential participle ον. It signals a development that is highly constrained by the previous argument.[16]. As an aorist imperative, μαθητεύσατε conveys specific commands.[17] As the other actions in vv.19-20 (go, baptise, and teach) are participles, verse 19 is sometimes translated ‘Having gone/As you go, make disciples...’ to stress the action of making disciples.[18] However, Carson cautions against this reading.[19] Additionally, Wallace rules it out on account of the first participle, πορευθέντες, being an aorist that comes before an imperative in narrative.[20] To treat πορευθέντες as either an adverbial participle or a temporal participle would, argues Wallace, reduce the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion. Rather than a temporal participial, πορευθέντες is most likely a participle of attendant circumstances. There is a similar use of the participle πορευθέντες preceding an aorist imperative in Matthew 11:4, ‘Go and tell John what you see and hear’. It would be strange to translate πορευθέντες here as a temporal participle; ‘As you go, tell John...’ In this instance, πορευθέντες carries the same mood as the main verb. Undoubtedly the emphasis falls upon μαθητεύσατε. Yet it remains that πορευθέντες is not optional but a prerequisite to the action of the main verb. After all, given who the disciples are commanded to disciple, namely the nations, it would be difficult to obey Jesus' command without travelling. 

The verb μαθητεύσατε is unusual as this is only one of two times it appears as a transitive in the New Testament (cf. Acts 14:21). It has the sense of causing someone to become pupils.[21] This discipling has a particular object: the nations. Again Matthew picks up the language of the Septuagint. When God reconfirmed his covenant with Abraham, he used the words πάντα τ θνη (Genesis 18:18, 22:18). Rather than replacing Israel, Matthew has in mind the inclusion of the gentiles alongside faithful Israelites in the kingdom.[22] In this sense Knox suggests that Jesus has in mind not merely individuals from the nations, but the nations themselves which are to be discipled.[23]

Discipling the nations will include both baptism and teaching. These two particles operate as participles of means; baptism as the means of induction into community of the triune God, and instruction as the means of how to live in that community.[24] This is the first time baptism has appeared in Matthew since John’s ministry (chapter 3). It appears to be different from John's baptism, and differrent to the customary Jewish purification baptisms as well. It is baptism into a relationship; BDAG notes that the combination of εἰς τὸ ὄνομα refers the possession of the name borne.[25] Of note here is the particular name to be borne: the singular Triune name. Rather than being an original liturgical formula, the relating of the three persons here fits with earlier moments in Matthew, such as Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration (3:13-17, 17:1-8). Although this form is echoed in the Didache, there is no evidence of later manuscript tampering to make Matthew conform to second-century practice. On its own this verse does not prove Trinitarian consciousness in the New Testament, but it does make it difficult to deny the presence of Trinitarian thinking.[26]

The third ‘all’ relates to Jesus’ teaching. To be a disciple of Jesus is to obey his commandments. The use of ἐνετειλάμην is significant, as hitherto Matthew has connected ἐντέλλω with the Mosaic commandments (i.e. 15:4, 19:7).[27] Additionally the infinitive τηρεῖν is particularly associated in the Septuagint with the law.[28] Now the focus is on Jesus’ own words (cf. Matthew 5:17-20). This is not abstract teaching, but instruction to be obeyed.[29] The fourth ‘all’ is the promise of Jesus’ enduring presence (cf. 1:23); κα δο emphasises the size of something.[30] This is filled out by the accusative for extent of time, πάσας τς μέρας.[31] This hapax legomenon complements the imperfective aspect of εμι, which portrays Jesus’ presence as ongoing.[32] This final clause is Matthean; whilst Matthew uses the phrase συντελείας το αἰῶνος five times (13:39, 40, 49, 24:3, 28:20), it is only used once elsewhere (Hebrews 9:26).[33] Jesus speaks of the consummation of this world or unit of history.[34] This speaks of Jesus presence not only with the eleven, but to those they disciple and so on, until the final renewal of the world.[35]

Whilst both Luke and possibly Mark include a final, post-graveside scene which includes mission to the nations and Jesus’ ascension, these serve as the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. Out of Galilee where a great light initially dawned at the onset of Jesus’ ministry the eleven are sent (4:12-17). Whereas Jesus had gone only to the house of Israel (15:24), they are to go to all the nations. They are to make the nations what they themselves already are: disciples of the risen Christ.[36] As the beneficiaries of the eleven’s mission, Christians today continue in this mission through the presence of Jesus in the apostolic announcement of his authority over all things.[37] On this basis it is entirely fitting that Jesus – Emmanuel, who saves his people from their sins, and whose name is included alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit – is worshipped.

[1] αἰῶνος. A* B D W 1 33 itaur, d, e, ff1, g1, h, n, qvg syrpalmss copsa, meg, bopt arm ethpp, TH geo1, B Origenvid Chrysostom Severianvid Cyril; Jerome // αἰῶνος. μήν. A2 D Q ƒ13 28 157 180 205 565 579 597 700 892 1006 1010 1071 1241 1243 1292 1342 1424 1505 Byz [E F Gsupp H S] Lect ita, b, c, f, ff2, l vgmss syrp, h, palms copbopt ethms geoA Apostolic Constitutions.

[2] cf. R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew (NICNT) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 1107; D. A. Carson, ‘Matthew’, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Revised Edition): Volume 9 – Matthew & Mark (ed. Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

[3] Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 31-32.

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 744.

[5] David L. Turner, Matthew (Barker: Grand Rapids, 2008), 688.

[6] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. F.W. Danker. 3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 882-883; Craig A. Evans, Matthew (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 482.

[7] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 252.

[8] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 663.

[9] France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 1111.

[10] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 663; France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 1111-1112. cf. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 744-745.
[11] K. Grayston, ‘The Translation of Matthew 28.17’ JSNT 21 (1984): 105-109.
[12] France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 651.
[13] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 353.
[14] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003), 643.
[15] Constantine R. Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 1286, Kindle.
[16] Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 43.
[17] Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, 1383.
[18] Evans, Matthew, 483; cf. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2009), 12-13.
[19] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 666.
[20] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 642, 645.
[21] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 609.
[22] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 666-667.
[23] D. B. Knox, ‘New Testament Baptism’, in David Broughton Knox Selected Works Volume II - Church and Ministry (ed. K. Birkett; Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2003), 277-282.
[24] Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 645.
[25] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 713; Carson, ‘Matthew’, 668.
[26] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 668.
[27] France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 1118.
[28] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1002.
[29] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 669.
[30] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 468.
[31] Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 202.
[32] Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, 894-900.
[33] Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 356, n.96.
[34] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 32.
[35] The textual variant at the conclusion of v.20, which includes ‘Amen’ in the text, is of doubtful origin given its absence from Alexandrian sources. It can be accounted for via the later liturgical use of the text. cf. B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 61.
[36] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Vol. IV: The Doctrine of Reconciliation 3.2 (Trans. G. W. Bromiley; Peabody: Henderson, 2010), 860.
[37] cf. Peter G. Bolt, Matthew: A Great Light Dawns (South Sydney: Aquila, 2014), 268.