Go and teach

Introductory Remarks

This article above every other minor leitmotif aims at highlighting the didactic motive, that is the character of teaching that should accompany every effort of evangelization. Many documents have already been advanced in furtherance of the Church´s mission of evangelization. Beginning from the scriptures itself the fount and summit of all theology[2], in the writings of early Christianity and in the various magisterial documents,[3] the theme of mission/evangelization has been really dominant. It will then be an equivocation of task to begin a definition or clarification of the concepts of mission and evangelization within the context of this limited space.[4]  “The imperatives of Matt 28:19-20 and Evangelization today” wants to draw our attention to one particular aspect of mission and evangelization that one would say is fast eroding from the mainstay of the Church´s Evangelization: The Teaching Aspect.

Let us pay close attention to the biblical texts[5] below:

Analysis of Texts





Mat 28:19 πορευθντες οὖν μαθητεσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος,


28:19 euntes ergo docete omnes gentes baptizantes eos in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti


28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Mat28:20 διδσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.


28:20 docentes eos servare omnia quaecumque mandavi vobis et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi


28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.


“Go”: πορεύομαι (poreuomai) a Greek middle voice derived from πεῖρα to traverse, that is, travel, go (away, forth, one’s way, up), (make a, take a) journey, walk. It depicts a movement and an effort on the part of the missionary to leave his comfort zone in other to take some message to others on the other side.

“Teach” all nations or make disciples of all nations? Μαθητεύω mathēteuō. From μαθητής mathētēs a learner, that is, pupil: – disciple. This too derived from μανθάνω manthanō, prolonged from a primary verb, μαθέω matheō, is used as an alternate in certain tenses; to learn, understand. Μαθητεύω intransitively to become a pupil; transitively to disciple, that is, enroll as scholar: – be disciple, instruct, teach. So, one can say that the English texts[6] that translate this as “make disciples of all nations” are also correct since to make a disciple will also mean to teach.

“Teaching”: Διδάσκω didaskō, a prolonged (causative) form of a primary verb δάω daō (to learn); to teach (in the same broad application): – teach.

A brief summary and commentary[7]:

Jesus commands the disciples to go to all the nations, and in that way spread the gospel to the whole world. Throughout history, the Church has understood this as a mandate to proclaim the gospel both locally and abroad (Mark 16:15, Lk 24: 47-49, Jn 20:21, Acts 1: 8). The Church must proclaim the gospel to everyone wherever they may be. Through the proclamation of the gospel, the Church is to bring people to accept and follow Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. This marks the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles (to the nations outside Isreal, cf 10: 5-6 and 15:24 with 2: 1-12; 8: 5-13; 21:43; 24:14; 26:13). As part of the mandate of the disciples, they are therefore by means of the water of baptism to bring believers to the fold. This water of baptism is a public identification of the believer with Christ. They are not baptized in any other name save in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This further strengthens the fact that Belief in the Trinity is fundamental to the Christian faith. By teaching, then they are not only to impart knowledge of the Scriptures, but also to show the disciple how to obey the commands of the Lord (5:19; 7:24). The constant presence of Christ will strengthen and stimulate them in their missionary and discipleship efforts.

Exegetical indicatives

Why does Jerome´s Vulgate (Vg) translate the Septuagint´s (LXX) “μαθητεσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη” as “docete omnes gentes” and well rendered in the KJV as “teach all nations”? This becomes a problem when it is discovered that somewhere else in the scripture there are a wide range of agreement in translation. This is a debate for the exegetical circles.[8] But I wish to highlight here that the rendition of the Vg and followed by RSV seek to emphasize the didactic motives that the mission to the nation entails. As such, it is almost impossible to make disciples of all nations except by means of teaching. And so well elucidates the emphasis of this article.

Teaching an indispensable tool of the gospel today

The above textual consideration and indicatives help this work to present what it calls “a formula of the Great Commission” as follows:


Go Teach Baptize


This diagram clearly shows the centrality of teaching in the missionary mandate. This emphasis is better appreciated when it is understood that God is the supreme teacher. Xavier Leon-Dufour (1988) makes this clear:

Beside all these human masters [teachers], it is important to discover the only true master from whom they get all their authority: Yahweh. Inspiring Moses and the prophets, His Word is the source of the tradition which parents, priests and wise men all transmit. Through them it is, therefore, He who teaches men knowledge and wisdom in bringing them to know His ways and His Law (Ps 25,9;94,10ff)[9]

And that Jesus the full revelation of God[10] is the greatest teacher of all:

Christ is the greatest teacher of all. But in entrusting His Word to His apostles, He gives them a mission of teaching which continues His own.[11]

It therefore makes sense to re-read Matt 28:18-20 thus: All power [to teach all][12] is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching[13] them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

Critical Remarks

The “Go – teach – Baptize” imperatives of Matt 28:19-20 then becomes a clarion call for a rediscovery of the place of explicit proclamation and teaching in evangelization. Yes, we preach, we guide, we counsel, we advise, but “teaching” is a very powerful tool and has no replacement. How many priests for instance of our age, find time to dialogue with the Word of God, in order to teach that same word with its vivacity to the people of God who eagerly taste for the Word? Are we not carried away by the illusion of numbers and forget that the People of God must be taught?

Commenting on Matt 28:19-20 Scott Hahn says:

The command to “Go” speaks to the initial proclamation, the outward movement of the disciple into the world, proclaiming the Good news. “[T]eaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” is the work of catechesis. And “baptizing points to the sacramental element of the New Evangelization, the call to bring all peoples of the earth into the family of God.[14]

Scott Hahn therefore keys into the “Go – teach – Baptize” imperatives of Matt 28:19-20, although with his own motives.

In one of his Dialogues, Protagoras, The Ancient Greek Philosopher, Plato (427 -347 BC) argued validly that no one does evil willingly, that evil is as a result of ignorance; for if one knows the good, one will certainly pursue the good. Evil comes as a result of a wrong (misconceived, ignorant) perception of the good. While there may be many reasons and arguments to fault this philosophy, it still has its merit and validity. Did not the prophecy of Hosea reiterate this fact when he exclaimed: “My people perish (are destroyed) from a lack of Knowledge”?[15]

If evangelization and now New Evangelization is to mean anything today, all the stakeholders has to rediscover the indispensable role of the didactive (teaching) method. Jesus is emphatic about this formula: “Go – teach – Baptize.” Unfortunately, experience have proven that in the quest for number and sometimes given the “mad rush” and the so-called “lack of time”, more often than not evangelizers try to reverse this order and so baptize before teaching[16]. There is a need to rediscover and optimize the real meaning and wisdom in the catechumenate as well as ongoing catechesis[17] as an accompaniment in Christian life. In this regard Pére Liégé demonstrates three degrees of Christian Catechesis: Catechesis of initiation or fundamental catechesis, Permanent Catechesis and Perfective catechesis. He says:

  1. a) Catechesis of initiation or fundamental catechesis: this is the catechumen´s first contact with the teaching of the faith during his preparation for baptism…b) Permanent Catechesis: …the function of ´permanent catechesis´ is to draw out the implications of the gospel in the various situations of life as far as is possible and practical. Preaching aside, this can assume a variety of forms, course for adolescents or adults, study-circles, conferences and so forth c) Perfective catechesis (also called Sapiential) is directed to those whom a special mission or vocation impels to a deeper penetration of their faith…[18]

Thus, after the reception of the sacraments and incorporation into the life of the Church there is need for a continuous teaching (called on going or permanent catechesis). Homilies should be adapted to bare the imprint of this didactive approach.

I see the absence or the insufficiency of this follow up teaching and catechesis as one of the major causes for the crisis in faith today. Today more than ever, the marriage institution for instance is undergoing serious crisis. Pope Francis acknowledged this fact when he said: “We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”[19] When for Instance, Pope Francis challenges us to rather “seek new forms of missionary creativity”[20] given the crisis of faith and especially in the family, these new forms of missionary creativity is not far from seeking new methods, new ways of teaching the faith and teaching all nations. This is an imperative because “the Church is conscious of the need to offer a word of truth and hope…”[21] in the current crisis of faith.

In order to teach others, we must first of all teach ourselves, in order to evangelize others, we must first of all evangelize ourselves. This what Scott Hahn underscores when he talked about “Evangelizing the Evangelizers.”[22] The Old Latin adage nemo dat quod non habet is still valid. Every hand must be on deck: Bishops, Priests, Consecrated men and women and the lay evangelizers must therefore seek to teach more in order to evangelize more. The Go – teach – Baptize imperative of Matt 28:19-20 means that if we will evangelize more, then we will need to teach more. And if we will teach more we must be taught more.

[1] This article is borne out of a thoughtful reflection and thus aims at being yet another “footnote” and not an “endnote” in the discourse on Evangelization.

[2] That age-old quotation of Sacred Scripture as the soul of theology has been reduplicated in many Church´s document over the years “For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology” Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (DV) 24

[3] See for instance, Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, Ad Gentes Divinitus (AG), Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii  Nuntiandi (EN), December 8, 1975, John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio (RM), December 7, 1990, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), The Church in Nigeria: Family of God on Mission, (Abuja: Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, 2004), CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, (Abuja: Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, 2011) and many others.

[4] This article does not deem it pertinent given the constraint of space to define these terms “mission” and “evangelization.” It merely presumes the reader at least has an idea of this concepts. I duly acknowledge before- hand this inadequacy. For details of such clarifications see Umoh, V., “A Critical Assessment of Mission Approach in Nigeria” In NACATHS Journal of African Theology, (Vol. 23, March 2013)

[5] Latin Texts from Jerome’s 405 A.D. Latin Vulgate w/ Deuterocanon using Gallican Psalter; English Texts from the 1769 King James Version of the Holy Bible (also known as the Authorized Version). Greek Text from Nestle-Aland 26th/27th edition Greek New Testament.

[6] The New American Bible Revised Edition (NAB), and many other English versions are accustomed to translating this as: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” The Spanish Bible translates thus: “Id, pues, y haced discípulos a todos los pueblos, bautizándolos en el nombre del Padre y del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo; y enseñándoles a guardar todo cuanto os he mandado. Y sabed que yo estoy con vosotros todos los días hasta el fin del mundo.” Cf. Navarra, Universidad de. Sagrada Biblia (Spanish Edition) EUNSA. Kindle Edition. This Spanish translation follows the English texts that uses “make disciples.”

[7] Commentary adapted from La Biblia de las Américas (LBLA) Copyright © 1986, 1995, 1997 by The Lockman Foundation

[8] Somewhere else especially in Matt 5:2 All the translations follow the LXX καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων Vulgate: et aperiens os suum docebat eos dicens; RSV And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying; NAB: He began to teach them, saying.

[9] Dufour-Leon, X., Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Updated Second Edition, Trans by Cahill, P.J, New York: Burns and Oates, 1988, p. 592

[10] Heb 1: 1-2, DV nn 2 -6

[11] Ibid.

[12] Bold, brackets, italics and emphasis are mine. Obviously “All power” will also include “the power and authority to teach.” The NT writers especially Matt and Mk bring this out clearly. Matt 7:29 “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching for he taught them with Authority and not as the scribes.” Also see Mk 1:22. In Matt 21:23 Jesus´ Authority for teaching was even questioned by the Chief priests and the elders “…by what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this Authority.

[13] This second appearance of the word “teach” or “teaching” therefore seeks to emphasis the validity of the mandate already given.

[14] Hahn, S., Evangelizing Catholics, A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2014, p.55

[15] Hosea 4:6

[16] One has to make a distinction here between Infant Baptism, Baptism in danger and the Catechumenate.

[17] Jacques Audinet defines Catechesis as “the proclamation of the word of God in view of the education of man in faith.” Audinet, J., “Catechesis” in Rahner K. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Theology, A Concise Sacramentum Mundi, New York: Burns & Oates, 1975, p. 176.

[18] Quoted in Jacque Audinet “Catechesis” Ibid. 177. Bold and Italics are my emphasis.

[19]Vatican Radio, Pope Francis´ Address to a Colloquium on the theme “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Monday 17. 11. 2014.

[20] Cf. Pope Francis, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, 19th March, 2016, n.57.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Hahn, S., Evangelizing Catholics, p.38.

©Valentine Anthony Umoh 2017


Fr. Valentine Umoh. Ikot Ekpene Diocese, Nigeria