the weblog of Alan Knox

Disciple making 2: Pupils or Disciples…

Posted by on Feb 6, 2007 in discipleship | Comments Off

In my previous post on discipleship, “Disciple making 1: The Command“, I ended by making a distinction between the two possible definitions of the noun μαθητής (from Matt 28:19-20): “pupil” or “disciple”. The distinction is clear: a “pupil” engages in learning, while a “disciple” is constantly associated with someone. Which did Jesus intend for his followers to make? Were they to make “pupils” / “students” by filling them with information about Jesus? Or, were they to make “disciples” who would constantly associate themselves with someone? The only way to determine which definition Jesus had in mind is to study Jesus’ method of disciple making in context.

First, we should recognize that Jesus does expect people to learn. Even in the Great Commission passage, we see that one of the ways that we “make disciples” is by “teaching”. Jesus places much emphasis on knowing his words. So, teaching is important and necessary. But, can we say that Jesus expects his followers to make “pupils” because of this? I think the answer would be, “No.” Jesus does not stop at simply teaching and knowing his words. He continues beyond knowing.

Consider this passage:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt 7:24-27 ESV)

As Jesus says here, there is more to being a follower of Jesus than “knowing”, there is also the “doing”. “Knowing” requires being taught. “Doing” requires more. “Doing” requires a model.

So, when Jesus called a μαθητής, he did not call that person to simply learn. He called that person to follow Jesus as Jesus lived his life. He expected his “disciples” to learn from his words and to learn from his life. Thus, in Jesus’ use of the word, “disciple” includes being a “pupil”, but it does not stop there. Learning information is only one part of being a disciple. To state this another way, being a “disciple” includes being a “pupil” by defintion. However, this does not work the other way around. Being a “pupil” does not necessarily include being a “disciple”.

Jesus wanted his disciples to learn from him, but he also wanted them to be “rather constantly associated with” him (to use BDAG’s definition). Thus, he taught them and the crowds, then he would further explain things to his disciples, but he would not stop there. He walked with them and ate with them; or, more appropriately, they walked with him and ate with him. For Jesus, discipleship was more than an educational exercise; it was a life experience.

But, what did Jesus expect of his disciples? Did he expect them to do the same thing with his followers? I believe he did. And, one clue to this is found in Jesus’ instructions when he sent his disciples out in pairs (both the twelve and the seventy). He told them to find a house that would welcome them, and then to remain in that house (Matt 10:11; Mark 6:10; Luke 10:7). It would seem more effective (using modern pragmatics at least) for Jesus’ followers to spread their activities around to as many people as possible. But Jesus wanted them to focus on one family, one household. He wanted them to live as a part of that household while they were in a particular city. This is discipleship. When the disciples are being in “relatively constant association” with the members of one household, they were modeling what it means to be in “relatively constant assocation” with Jesus.

As I continue to study disciple making, I am going to examine how Paul made disciples, and how he encouraged others to make disciples.

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…