I have heard in a few sermons the following remark: “Although our English Bible says ‘Go and make disciples,’ the Greek would be better translated ‘As you go, make disciples.’” However, there are good reasons why most of our English translations actually say “Go and make disciples.”
The remark contains a partial truth. The verb translated “go” is actually an aorist participle in Greek. It is followed by an aorist imperative (make disciples). But knowing that the first word is a participle is just the beginning. The question is what does it mean in this construction with a command immediately following.
I thought about this recently because of Daniel Wallace’s blog on this subject which I happened to read after I had read Matthew 28. (Wallace is the author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics and his blog will give a fuller explanation. It may better to hear it from someone who has written a grammar than merely one who has read one.) I had noticed that Matthew 28:7 has the same construction as Matthew 28:19: an aorist participle with an aorist imperative. The ESV reads: “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead” (Matthew 28:7).
I don’t think the message of the angel to the women was “As you go quickly, tell his disciples…” It is a bit more purposeful than that. I don’t think the women thought they could do anything they wanted before finding the apostles. Similar constructions can be found in Matthew (this is from a quick check in Accordance and only listing the other occasions in Matthew).
- 2:8 — Go and search diligently
- 2:13 — Rise, take the child and his mother
- 2:20 — Rise, take the child and his mother
- 9:6 — Rise, pick up your bed
- 9:18 — come and lay your hand on her
- 11:4 — Go and tell John
- 17:27 — Take that and give it
- 21:2 — Untie, bring to me.
In each of these narratives, the participle is usually rendered into English as a command. That is because in this kind of construction the participle takes on the force of the command that follows it.
To say that it would be better translated “As you go” is to make what is probably a first or second year Greek student’s error. By the way, I’ve made those kinds of errors too. I’ve even made this error at a point in my life. As several professors have warned: “a little Greek is a dangerous thing.” The bottom line is: “Go and make disciples” is the better way to say it in English.