the weblog of Alan Knox

Disciple making 1: The command…

Posted by on Jan 31, 2007 in discipleship | 6 comments

From the beginning of his “public ministry” until his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus lived among the people for about three years. During that time, he healed the sick, cast out demons, resurrected the dead, and taught multitudes. And, during that time, he poured his life into a small group of people who followed him from place to place, town to town, region to region. After teaching the crowds, he would gather this small group around him, and he would meticulously explain his words and deeds of the previous day. They did not understand everything – in fact, they could not understand everything, yet. Their understanding would have to wait until the coming of the Holy Spirit. But, these people had something special – something that the crowds did not have. And because of this, they were able to understand something about Jesus that others did not understand.

Then, after his death, burial, resurrection, and just before his ascension, he gave this small group of followers a command:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Much has been made of this command. It has even been given its own title: The Great Commission. But, what is it that Jesus commanded that small group of followers to do? Did he command them to “go”? No. Did he command them to “baptize”? No. Did he command them to “teach”? No. He commanded them to “make disciples”. Consider, for example, how the ISV translates this passage:

Therefore, as you go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 ISV)

As we consider what it means to “make disciples”, we must begin with Jesus’ command. Whatever it means to “make disciples”, Jesus expected this small group to carry out his command. Certainly he did not intend or expect them to carry out this command on thier own; he promised to be with them always. But, they did have work to do, and that work was the work of making disciples.

The verb “make disciples” (μαθητεύω) is only found 4 times in the New Testament, three of those being in Matthew. It general means “to be a pupil/disciple” (BDAG). Since the verb is imperative in Matt 28:19, it carries the connotation of “to make a pupil/disciple”.

So, what is a “pupil/disciple” (μαθητής)? This noun form of the verb “make disciples” (μαθητεύω) is far more common in the New Testament. It can mean simply a “pupil” or an “apprentice”, but in the New Testament it generally means a “disciple” or an “adherent”. So, is there a difference between a “pupil” and a “disciple”?

The standard Greek lexicon (BDAG) gives the following as the definition for “pupil” as a meaning of μαθητής: “one who engages in learning through instruction from another”.

On the other hand, BDAG gives the following as the definition for “disciple” as a meaning of μαθητής: “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views”.

The distinction is clear: a “pupil” engages in learning, while a “disciple” is constantly associated. Which did Jesus intend for his followers to make? Were they to make “pupils” or “students” by filling them with information about Jesus? Or, were they to make “disciples” who would constantly associate themselves with someone?

There is only one way to decide what kind of μαθητής Jesus wanted his followers to make – either “pupils” or “disciples”: we must study Jesus’ understanding of a μαθητής in context.

This study has become much more extensive since I started. I will continue to study this, and I will post additional blogs in this series as I am able. However, it may be several days between “Disciple making” posts.

Series:
1. Disciple making 1: The command…
2. Disciple making 2: Pupils or disciples…
3. Disciple making 3: Paul and his disciples…
4. Disciple making 4: Implications…


6 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-31-2007

    Alan, you are on target so far with your disciple making study as far as I am concerned. I am sure that many folks have lots of good teaching on this but for my two cents what is important that is often missed is ‘to make disciples of whom?’ Too often we make others disciples of ourselves and consider ourselves disciples of others. We need to be and to make disciples of Jesus.

  2. 1-31-2007

    Strider,

    Thanks for the comment. You are correct that we need to make disciples of Jesus. I am still studying this, but there are some interesting things going on as far as disciple making goes (especially in Paul). I’ll get into this more a little later.

    -Alan

  3. 2-1-2007

    Alan -

    You said, “The distinction is clear: a “pupil” engages in learning, while a “disciple” is constantly associated. Which did Jesus intend for his followers to make? Were they to make “pupils” or “students” by filling them with information about Jesus? Or, were they to make “disciples” who would constantly associate themselves with someone?”

    I believe that the we (in general) have been making students rather than disciples. And you can see where it has led us. I am following your line of thinking here and I would have to agree. It’s challenging to realize that the call is to make disciples and not pupils.

    Before our daughter came to know the Lord last year, I was really concerned with how I was going to teach her “Bible” as a subject in homeschooling. I wanted to sit down and study the Bible with her, but I didn’t want to just fill her with all the stories and all the facts (make a pupil). So my goal was to simply teach her about God and who He is and what He’s done and how He loves her until the day she came to know Him. I didn’t want her to simply be a pupil with her head full of knowledge, but her heart empty of the Lord. I desire for her to be a true disciple.

    I used this analogy, but I’m not just talking about school (and I know you’re not either) or my children (although they are my “inner-circle”, if you will), but I’m talking about everyone I minister to. Thanks for this challenge to always be aware if I am merely teaching or discipling.

  4. 2-1-2007

    Heather,

    Your daughter is a great example for where this study is leading me. Your daughter is your disicple. She is “rather constantly associated” with you (to use BDAG’s definition). Thank you for sharing that example.

    -Alan

  5. 2-1-2007

    It would seem to me that the general teaching of the New Testament would point to the legitimacy of both the “pupil” and “disciple” definition of “mathetes” (how do you do greek letters in blog comments?), but not the “pupil” definition in isolation from the “disicple” definition.

    I look forward to following your thoughts as you continue to study this.

  6. 2-1-2007

    David,

    I agree. This is exactly the direction that I am heading. A μαθητής (I use symbols for Greek) is a pupil, but not only a pupil. Learning information is only part of what a disciple does. And, if we stop at teaching information, we are not making disciples.

    -Alan