Abacadaba; “In The Name Of”

BASIC TEXT: Therefore leaving the [first, Heb. 5:12] principles of the doctrine of Christ, ... Of the doctrine of baptisms (Hebrews 6:1, 2, KJV)

A common but erroneous belief is that the expression “in the name of” is a Biblical formula to call upon God to perform. If one does not get the formula correct then God does not do His miracle of rebirth upon your soul.

As a teenager I had taken a Bible correspondence course that taught a special way to contribute to the poor: “I do this in the name of Jesus!” It was downtown Dyersburg. Passing by a blind man who sat on the side walk in front of a barber shop while soliciting with a hat full of pencils, I stopped. I had a dollar bill and I wanted to donate it to the man. I proudly recited “In the name of Jesus” and dropped the dollar into the hat. It startled the man so much that he opened his eyes and visibly shook so that I thought he’d rise up. That was the first and last time I did such a thing.

One time I was somewhat surprised to hear an unusual complaint against the recently hired preacher. A member was upset because the preacher had baptized a new member without quoting Matthew 28:19. Indeed, the preacher had not even raised his hand which was customary before immersing the person. Was that member’s baptism valid?


A friend of mine once confessed to me that he could find a free parking space by circling the block twice while crossing the fingers of his left hand. “It works”, he said. The street magi of the first century called sorcerers (like the Samaritan Simon in Acts 8) were reported in secular writings as ostentatiously waving palm fonds and using foreign language quips for incantations.i Serenus Sommonicus, a Gnostic healer under Emperor Caracalla, prescribed for his “patients” amulets containing the word “abracadabra” written in the form of a triangle. One theory for the origin of this word is the “Hebrew words” for “father, son and holy spirit” (“ab, ben and ruach hakodesh).ii

A Magic “Law” For Names

Just as our childhood teachings affect our viewpoints, folk tales color our thinkings. In western folklore, magic is an ingredient. Among the so-called magic “lawsthat thread these stories, there is the belief that knowing the “true” name of an object, being, or process will give one complete control over it.iii If one believes that “true” names have power, then knowing the name of a god should grant the greatest power of all.iv The greatest desired name of power is the Hebrew ‘personal’ name of God, YHVHv whose true pronunciation “unfortunately” has been lost. If one can determine how to pronounce the “true” Name of God, one would have powerful magical powers.vi Subsequently, a kindred feeling is that it is important to invoke the “true” name of Deity when baptizing. Hence, there is a prevailing controversy over how to pronounce the Savior’s “true” name. The contention is that “Jesus” is not that name. Is His name a Hebrew version, the Chaldean or Aramaic versions, Greek or English?

The Name That Saves

The massive copies of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament writers are the only “New Testament” that we have. Ancient copies of “the church fathers” have quotations from most if not all of the Greek New Testament.vii The internal evidence indicates the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, is profusely quoted and that the narratives indicate that Jesus spoke the language. Greek had become the language of the Greco-Roman world: its government, commerce, and education throughout the East.viii If the writings of Jesus’ ministry is reporting literal events, then Jesus would have spoken Greek as well as Aramaic.ix Jesus’ encounters in His ministry is in Greek territories (Decapolis, Mark 5:6f, 18-20; Tyre, Mark 7:24-29; Bethsaida, Matthew 11:21; a Roman household, Luke 7:ff; etc.). His home town Nazareth, by the way, had been a Greek-dominated region for over three centuries.x

Regardless, the inspired text of Scripture available to man is in Greek.Every Scripture is God-breathed [inspired] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The writings are addressed to the church (Jews and Gentiles) in the “Greek” world. The writers intended the Greek text to be understood by the original readers, who evidently spoke Greek and not Aramaic. Thus, knowledge of Aramaic or original Hebrew is not necessary to understand the meaning the writers intended. Jesus, by the way, is name written in Greek in the inspired texts.

Jesus, the transliterated Greek form for Iēsous and not the Hebrew Yeshua is the name revealed to us. "Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. . . . And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:10-12). The New Testament uses only the Greek name.

In The Name Of

And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; . . . Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk . . . And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple” (Acts 3:2-8). Readers of this text may attribute the phrase “in the name of Jesus” as a formula for the miracle. Hence, a next step would be that they would extrapolate this meaning to associate baptizing with such a formula “in the name of.”

It would appear that they can prove their point by quoting the incident of casting out an evil spirit in Ephesus. Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (Acts 19:13). Jesus apparently alludes to these exorcists in Matthew 12:27 and Luke 11:19. The exorcists (from exorkizō, to exact an oath), were those who administered and used an oath they claimed being from Solomon and they used it as a spell or charm.xi Does this prove that Paul and the apostles used “in the name of Jesus” as a formula or charm in miracles and hence applying the same to a baptism formula?

Rather, than proving such a formula, it proves the contrary. If the expression, “in the name of Jesus” had indeed been a set formula for the miracle then the exorcists would have been successful. However, they weren’t. The evil spirit according to the text (Acts 19:15), “answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” The recorded response proves that it was the Heavenly authority invested in Paul that performed the miracle and not a mere citing of a formula. Hence, the real power was the faith or logos of Jesus (Hebrews 6:1) who wrought special miracles by the hands of His apostle Paul so that “from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:11, 12). The citing of “in the name of” was not then a magical formula but served a different purpose.

The purpose of using Jesus name would have been for the benefit of those hearing which eventually included the ruling council in Acts 4. Peter in healing the lame man drew attention to the one of Nazareth, crucified, rejected, “And on the faith of his name, this one whom ye see and have known, his name made strong, even the faith that is through him did give to him this perfect soundness before you all” (Acts 3:16, YLT). It was not the lame man’s believing in Jesus. The name of Jesus did make the man strong but as Peter points by the name he means the belief, the faith, that he is preaching. As the vagabond Jews claimed, “We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” As Jude writes, [I] exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

The word “Name” is not limited to a title or nomenclature that someone wears. The Greek scholar A.T. Robinson tells us, ‘In the papyri* "name" (onoma) often is used for the person or the authority of the person. It occurs frequently in the Septuagint in this sense. An example is in Acts 1:15: "The number of the names (persons) together were about one hundred and twenty.”’xii *papyri shows how the public understood the word.

In the book of Acts, the instruction for the audience is not always the same preposition “in” for the name.   It is “upon” the name (Acts 2:38), “concerning” the name (Acts 8:12), and “into” the name (Acts 19:5).   Each bears its respective meaning.   The fact that no consistent preposition exists in the conversions in the book of Acts should settle for us that there is no formula in baptizing.   Notice that the expression “in the name” is always for the audience, not the baptizer.   The fact that no consistent preposition exists in the conversions in the book of Acts should settle for us that there is no formula in baptizing.   The fact that the baptizer is never mentioned using any phrase in baptizing, much less a repetitive phrase, should set our minds at rest concerning the issue.   There is no formula that must be used in order for a baptism to be recognized by Heaven. However, this does not except the necessity of being a qualified candidate; i.e., believing the gospel in order for the baptism to be effective. It is not “He that is baptized according to a verbal formula.” But it is, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.

This should not be construed as being against quoting Scripture, such as Matthew 28:19 or any appropriately explanatory words during the baptizing.

This is the first part of a two part article. The second part will deal with the difference between the Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 “in the name of.”

-     ---     ---GAYLON WEST


- For Further Study -

Baptisms [preposition] The Name Of Jesus.”

Two things: (1) Is In” Always The Same Meaning? (2) Investigation For Incantations

Definition of incantation: “a use of spells or verbal charms spoken or sung as a part of a ritual of magic” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online).

Baptisms in the Book of Acts:

(1) Pentecost, after cross - epi G1909 the name of Jesus Christ. Both “on” + “in” in Acts 2:21, 38 are epi. 2:21 is accusative “movement upon”; 2:38 is dative “occurs when done.”

Acts 2:21, “Whosoever shall call on (epi_kaleomaiG1941 uses accusative epi:

upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.xiiimovement upon”

Acts 2:38, People commanded to be baptized (plus repent) “in the name of Jesus Christ. uses dative epi: upon the name

Acts 2:41 “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized”.

No incantation. Recipient [not the baptizer] is the one “calling upon”. The audible requirement [if any] would have been by the one being baptized (2:21). This is contrary to the position for a baptism formula.

(2) Samaria. periG4012 the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 8:12 “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

(genitive periG4012, means “Concerning the name.”

Acts 8:13 “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized . . .

No incantation by baptizer or Simon.

(3) Ethiopian Eunuch.

Acts 8:38 “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” Baptized upon the eunuch’s confession of faith,And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (8:37). Cf. Romans 10:10.

No incantation.

(4) Paul’s Conversion. epi G1909 the name of the Lord.

Acts 9:18 “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

Acts 22:16 Ananias: “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” -- uses accusative epi: movement upon Same as Acts 2:21.

No incantation

(5) The Gentile Cornelius’ Group. ἐνG1722 the name of the Lord.

Acts 10:47,48Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.

(dative enG1722 “in, “with”, “by”, “during”, “on”, “among”, in a person, nature, soul)

No incantation.

(6) Lydia’s Household.

Acts 16:15 “And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

No incantation.

(7) Philippian Jailer. Repented. Baptized.

Acts 16:33 “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

No incantation.

(7) Corinthians.

Acts 18:8 “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.

No incantation.

(8) Ephesians. eis G1519 the name of the Lord.

Acts 19:5 “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

uses accusative eis G1519 : into, in, to (indicating point reached or entered)

No incantation.

There are at least three different prepositions used in the Greek for “in the name”. There is a distinction to be drawn between "epi the Name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) and “ev the Name of the Lord (10: 48) and "eis the Name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5). The prepositions have different meanings of relationship. No direct quotation of an incantation during or before baptism. The point is, the apostles did not use or authorize a set formula for baptizing. Therefore, anyone using such a formula today will be guilty of “will worship” (Colossians 2:23). Jesus said, “For it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

iMatthew W.Dickie. MAGIC AND MAGICIANS IN THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD. Pdf at https://eclass.uoa.gr/modules/document/file.php/ARCH310/Readings%20for%2022%20Dec%20and%2012%20Jan/Dickie%20Magic%20and%20Magicians%20in%20the%20Greco-Roman%20World.pdf.

ii http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/03/31/the-interesting-origins-of-the-word-abracadabra/;


iiie.g., Rapunzel. http://deoxy.org/lawsofmagic.htm


v Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts, Putman Publishing, 1967. http://www.ccg.org/weblibs/study-papers/p240.html

vi G. Schloem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 133, Schocken Publishing, 1941. http://www.ccg.org/weblibs/study- papers/p240.html

vii The New Testament in the Greek Fathers, series edited by Gordon Fee

viiiAaron Tresham. The Languages Spoken By Jesus. pp. 78ff. https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj20e.pdf

ix Note: Scholars have fairly well established that the Septuagint text is in many ways older than the later medieval Masoretic text (Hebrew). Sources from the early Christian era indicate that revisions were made to the Masoretic text from the 2nd century onwards.


xiRobertson’s Word Pictures; also from Vincent’s Word Studies.

xii A. T. Robinson. The Christ of the Logia. Chapter VII on Matthew 28:19. Microform available online.

xiii Definition of epikaleomai G1941: “invoke aid; appeal to” (Strong’s definition).