It is common for pastors to give novel translations of “go” in Matthew 28:19, like “as you’re going” or even “as you go about your life.” Is it because they know something that Bible translators don’t? The arguments for re-translating the Greek verb “go” are 1. it is in the passive voice and 2. it is a participle.
The Greek word πορεύω (poreuo) in the active voice means “to lead over, carry over, transfer” (Thayer). The active form of this word does not appear in the New Testament. Instead, we find it in the middle and passive voices as the normal word for “go.” For example, it is used in the passive voice in Matthew 28:16:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.Matthew 28:16, ESV
Does the passive voice imply that the disciples were just going about their lives, and ended up at this mountain? No, Jesus directed them to go there, and they went. The form of the word is passive, but the meaning is active. This is how the word is consistently used throughout the New Testament.
In English we only have present participles, such as “going.” But “go” in Matthew 29:19 is an aorist participle, and can be literally translated “having gone” or “after going.” When combined with a command, this word also has the force of a command, because the main command cannot be obeyed without going. For example:
And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”Matthew 2:8
No one would think of translating this “as you’re going…” “Go” is rightly translated as a command because the Magi must go in order to search. Here are the other examples of this in Matthew:
Go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”Matthew 9:13
Go and tell John what you hear and seeMatthew 11:4
However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourselfMatthew 17:27
Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the deadMatthew 28:7
In every case, the passive aorist participle is translated as a command, “go,” because going is a precondition for obeying the command. Mary can’t tell the disciples that Jesus is risen without going, and the church cannot make disciples of all nation without going. We are commanded to go.
The point of this post is not that you should immediately pack your bags and go somewhere else. My point is not that you shouldn’t make disciples as you’re going about your life. Jesus did not command you as an individual to make disciples of all nations. You have a unique calling in a specific place, and there is nothing in Matthew 28:19 to say whether that place is California or Japan.
But the church has a mission, and the mission requires the church to go. We do not make disciples of all nations by waiting for them to come to Jerusalem. The church spreads all over the world like yeast spreads through dough. An individual can be faithful in one location, but the whole church cannot remain in one location. This requires some Christians to intentionally uproot their lives and go somewhere else, while most Christians can faithfully serve where they are planted.