Some years ago I was sitting at the National Missionary Convention—of all places—when I heard a main speaker say, "The Great Commission does not actually say, 'Go and make disciples.' What the Greek really says is, 'As you go, make disciples.'"
The Great Commission becomes the Great Suggestion. If any of you are planning on going anywhere, then "as you go" take the gospel along. And if you don’t go anywhere, that's fine -- just do a little witnessing where you are.
The speaker's statement was not only inappropriate for a missionary convention, it was also hideously wrong. To make matters worse, I have heard or read the same thing on many other occasions. So, since this issue of The Compass is devoted to missions, I decided it would be a good idea to address this well-worn error.
To begin, we should look at every translation of Matthew 28:19 we have available. Do any of them say something different from "Go and . . ."? Does any major translation say, "As you go" or "While you are going"? Could there be a reason that every single translation committee chose the imperative command, "Go"?
To dig further, we should notice that the original Greek does use a participle (poreuthentes – por you THIN tess), which literally means "having gone." So then, why do all English translations change it to the imperative, "Go"? The answer lies in the style of writing Koine Greek that was used especially by Matthew and Luke.
When an aorist participle precedes the main verb, as in Matt 28:19, it regularly expresses a necessary prerequisite to that main verb. In other words, the first action ("go") must be carried out before the second action ("make disciples of all nations") can be accomplished. Because the first action is just as imperative as the second action, it is best expressed in English as a command connected with the word "and."
The same situation -- a participle of poreuomai before the main verb -- happens eleven other times in Matthew, and every single time the word is translated in the same mood as the main verb. (Those places in Matthew are 2:8; 9:13; 11:4; 17:27; 18:12; 21:6; 22:15; 25:16; 26:14; 27:66; 28:7. Interestingly enough, the Macedonian Call in Acts 16:9 also uses the same grammar when it says, "Come over . . . and help us.")
The Lord's command to GO and make disciples of all nations still stands.