What does it mean to be a disciple? You better count the cost before becoming one!
The New Testament was written in Greek. Let’s look at the noun and then the verb.
It is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In English, incidentally, disciple is related to the word discipline.
BDAG is the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
So basically the teacher would gather or allow learners to join his circle with permission and then instruct them. Saul / Paul, for example, was a disciple of Gamaliel, and his pupil was “thoroughly trained” in the law of his ancestors (Acts 22:3). Jesus gathered the twelve and the other disciples, and he taught them privately and in public, as he went into the synagogues to teach, as we saw him do in the Gospel of Luke. They also heard his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and were about to hear his Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49).
Discipleship with Jesus included these components in the four Gospels and Acts (Dictionary of New Testament Theology, pp. 350-52):
A.. Jesus was a rabbi / teacher. He taught and discussed issues (Mark 12:18-40) and was asked to decide a legal issue, though instead he went right to the heart (Luke 12:13-14). He had not, however, passed through a rabbinic school (Mark 6:2; John 7:15), though he was addressed as a rabbi by his disciples (Mark 9:5; 11:21; John 1:38; 4:31) and by outsiders (John 3:2).
B.. In rabbinic and Greek philosophical schools, one could voluntarily join them, but Jesus issued a call (Mark 1:17; Luke 5:1-11; Matt. 4:18-22). However, a large group of people followed him, but the chosen were relatively few, as the twelve (Luke 6:12-16) and the seventy-two (Luke 10:1-24). A large number abandoned him (John 6:66).
C.. Students joined rabbinic and Greek philosophical schools with the aim of themselves becoming master-teachers or rabbis. Jesus’s call, however, did not lead to his disciples’ becoming masters, but they had to sacrifice all to join his “school”—the school of life in the kingdom (Matt. 10:24-25; Luke 14:26-27; John 11:16). Discipleship with Jesus meant they had to do God’s will (Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35), and not to seek to be called rabbi or instructor (Matt. 23:8-12).
D.. Unlike the rabbis of his day, Jesus broke through the barriers of the clean and unclean, the sinful and disobedient. He summoned Levi the collector to abandon his former way of life (Luke 5:27-32), and he also called Simon the Zealot (zealous for the law). He also called four fishmen, and they were not usually considered rabbinic material. Simon even told Jesus to depart, because Simon was a sinful man (Luke 5:1-11, Andrew is implied).
E.. Jesus’s call required service, which included dangers (Mark 10:32; Matt. 10:16-25). Going out in pairs, their mission was to spread the kingdom of the gospel and do the works that Jesus did, including healing and driving out demons (Mark 6:7-13; Luke 10:1-17). They could not expect a better life than their master (Matt. 10:24-25; 16:24-25).
F.. Disciples were required to engage in these things: renunciation (Matt. 23:7-12), humility (Matt. 18:1-4), poverty (19:23-30), and readiness to suffer (Matt. 10:17-33).
G.. Disciples were required to have faith in Jesus himself (Matt. 18:5, especially John 2:11; 6:69; 11:45).
H.. In John’s Gospel, the disciple belonged to a wider Christian community (6:60, 66). He is no longer bound to the earthly Jesus, but would now follow the Spirit and remain connected to the Father and Son through him (14:15-17; 15:26-27). Everyone in the world outside of the Christian community of disciples should be able to recognize them by their love (13:34-35).
I.. In Acts, “disciple” simply meant Christian, one who believes in Jesus (6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19, 25-26, 38; 11:26, 29; 13:52; 14:20, 22, 28).
The verb manthanō (pronounced mahn-thah-noh) is used 25 times in the NT. BDAG defines it thus: (1) “to gain knowledge or skill by instruction, learn”; (2) “to make the acquaintance of someone, learn”; (3) “to come to a realization with implication of taking place less through instruction than through experience or practice, learn, appropriate to oneself.” The third definition is not relevant to the Gospels and discipleship. The Dictionary of New Testament Theology says the verb is used primarily of someone who has become a disciple (Joseph of Arimathea in Matt. 27:57) and of a large number of people (Acts 14:21). Jesus said to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).
How does this information help me grow in Christ?
Are you a disciple? He or she is a learner. You are supposed to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of him. He calls you to take his yolk upon yourself and walk with him. You learn. Then you have to take the test. A student submits during tests that he gives. If you look at tests with your busy minds, then you will believe that the teacher—Jesus—is silent. But if you quiet your mind, then you will discover that this is an open-book exam. You can bring your Bible. Then the teacher will call you in front to his desk and then he will ask you questions, so it’s a personal test. So it’s a two-stage test: open book written and personal. If you stumble and fail, he may send you back to the basics class, which he also teaches. But he will not kick you out of his school. You just have to start over from the beginning.
Never give up or walk out of his school. Just submit. Learn of him. Then he will commission you to go out and reach your corner of the world.
Written by James Malcolm