the weblog of Alan Knox

Disciple making 3: Paul and his disciples…

Posted by on Feb 15, 2007 in discipleship | 13 comments

In the first two posts of this series (“Disciple making 1: The command” and “Disciple making 2: Pupils or Disciples“), I suggested that Jesus intended for his followers to make disciples, not pupils or students. According to a standard Greek lexicon (BDAG), the noun μαθητής (“disciple”, from the verb that is translated “make disciples” in Matt 28:19-20) means “one who is rather constantly associated with someone” instead of simply “one who engages in learning through instruction from another”. Jesus made disciples by both teaching and also spending time with people. Similarly, when Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy, he expected them to spend time with people as well as teach them.

But what about Paul? Paul is the author of a major portion of the New Testament. How did Paul make disciples, and how did he expect others to make disciples? Does Paul’s method of making disciples align with Jesus’ method?

First, Paul was certainly interested in teaching truth to those around him. This should not be denied, nor should it be avoided. Teaching God’s truth was important to Paul, just as it was important to Jesus. But, did Paul stop with “teaching” as instruction, that is, a mental exercise of transferring information?

Here are a few scriptural passages to help us think through this question:

And when they [the elders from Ephesus] came to him [Paul], he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:18-21 ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 ESV)

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra- which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. (2 Timothy 3:10-11 ESV)

When Paul carried out his “disciple making” task, he did so with both words (teaching) and conduct. He spent time with people. It seems that the Book of Acts describes Paul as staying in one city, with one group of believers, until the Spirit moved him on to another area, or until he was thrown out by angry citizens. But, Paul’s heart remained with the believers in each city, and he both returned to spend more time with them, and he wrote to them.

For Paul, disciple making included both teaching believers and “being rather constantly associated” with them. Did you notice how (almost seamlessly) Paul would mention teaching and conduct in the passages above? Both of these were necessary ingredients of disciple making for Paul. Paul would not attempt to make disciples apart from teaching the truth of the Gospel and the Scriptures. Similarly, Paul would not attempt to make disciples apart from living his life as an example before those disciples.

Discipleship includes instruction in the words of Jesus. But, it must not stop there. Otherwise, we are not making disciples, we are instructing students. We must spend time with people, sharing our lives with them, if we intend to make disciples as Jesus commanded, and as Paul both modeled. There is a time for “Bible study” but there must also be a time for “Bible living”.

(Addendum: Recently, my friend Lew at “The Pursuit” made a very insightful suggestion in the comments of his post “What is Discipling?” In this comment, Lew suggested that “teaching” is not the same as “lecturing”. Instead, “teaching” includes the “life-sharing” aspect.)

In the next article in this series, I am going to examine some further implications of disciple making.

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…


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

  1. 2-15-2007

    At the risk of “stealing your thunder” once again on this, I wonder what the implications of what you are saying here (I believe very insightfully) are for seminary and Bible School education. To what degree is it a biblical concept to “teach” Christian ministry and foundations of the Christian faith in an artificial academic environment isolated from practice in everyday life and relationships? Not that I suggesting doing away with seminaries or anything like that. Just how do we incorporate more of the “constantly associated with” aspect of discipleship into modern-day programs such as seminary training.

  2. 2-15-2007

    Hi Alen, very thought provoking. I appreciate seeing you and your family live this out in our church and the way you have lead my family. In the great commission, the key is for disciples to be baptized in the triune God and taught to obey what Christ has commanded. This is similar to moses saying that God asks us to fear, love, serve, and obey Him. Deut.10:12-16 cf. Deut.30:1-6. I have grown the most when the ‘being taught to obey’ has had both an intellectual or book side and a personal component of a close relationship. I see that at Messiah and it is great.

  3. 2-15-2007


    I think that a seminary or college/university can be a context for discipleship. However, we can’t think of classroom instruction as discipleship. Classroom instruction may be one small element of disciple making, but instruction is not discipleship on its own.

    I have seen professors here (SEBTS) demonstrate a discipleship relationship with some students. If I teach in a seminary/university setting, I hope to model my relationship with students after them.


    Somehow I knew you would take us back to the Old Testament. 🙂 I am surprised that you didn’t mention Deut. 6.

    I think that we (my family and others) are learning to make disciples. Unfortunately, this is not something that I had modelled for me.


  4. 2-15-2007

    I would love to see seminary be more of a place to train scholars and have most of our “pastor training” done in the churches (and I mean teaching people who are interested: languages, theology, history, etc.) BUT I believe that the good complement to book learning in our current state of affairs is being involved in a body while you are at seminary (see this post for what unfortunately happens way too much). I, like Alan, make it a point to develop relationships with my students for the purpose of sharing in the life and discipleship.

    You got me to think of Deut 6:4-9
    “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
    “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
    “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.
    “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
    “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

    This God prescribed disciple making looks like it goes beyond books: if you are teaching them pretty much all the time, how can you not be living them?

    BTW – Alan must be tired … he thinks he is a false God Allah .. well he misspelled it Ala … 😉

  5. 2-15-2007


    Thank you for taking part in this discussion, and for keeping me humble, at least in my spelling/typo abilities.


  6. 2-15-2007

    I think it is a mistake to separate training for Christian ministry and discipleship. I tend to agree with Maël that “pastor training” is probably best done in the context of local churches, but I also see what appears to be a biblically legitimate trans-congregational model of training in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Sometimes by pooling our resources we are able to do more than we can working on a strictly local church basis.

  7. 2-15-2007


    I agree. And, since I think “Christian ministry” is the same as “serving in the name of Christ”, I think it is only “learned” through discipleship. As far as “working on a strictly local church basis”… well, I think you know how I feel about that.


  8. 2-15-2007

    hi ala
    as i sit here finishing my meal of peanut butter, apple, matza bread and cheese, i realize how much i miss my wife. i have been reading Deut. lately over and over and it seems that moses teaches us to love God and walk by faith with him and teach our family to do likewise as this is the delight of the Lord. It is true that seminary can be dry and boring and bookish, but not always. It is the difference between studying about the Bible and actually studying it. Thank God for Dr.Cole, Black, Sailhamer, Hogg etc. who have really motivated me how to study the Word. That is the difference for me between dry and vital, depth of study of the Word which I see at our church. What would you do differently for a church/school training in terms of discipleship, allin?

  9. 2-15-2007


    First of all, I want to thank you and Maël for continuing to point out that I cannot spell my own name.

    If we are teaching academics, then very little needs to change. If we are making disciples, then there are things as important (if not more important) than the transfer of information. I cannot force students to become disciples, but I can offer them that opportunity.


    p.s. I checked the spelling of my name twice.

  10. 2-17-2007

    Is it that we should trash seminaries or just that we should trash the bad modern model of education? And, should we trash having professors that couldn’t make it as preachers and instead have disciplemakers whom students can pattern their lives after just as the Twelve did with Jesus or any rabbinical student does with a rabbi?

    Question: Why do we need scholarly training of a spiritual matter? Is that more walking in humanity than it is in the spirit?

    Great post.

  11. 2-17-2007


    Good questions. Honestly, I was not even thinking of seminaries when I wrote this post. However, it is certainly applicable. As a follower of Jesus, my goal should always be to make disciples, whether that context is a seminary or not.


  12. 10-11-2012

    Interesting article. Why did not not Paul refer to those whom he brought to salvation and Christian service, as disciples? Paul was the only apostle who received the full revelation of the gospel of grace to the gentiles, presumably during his 3 years in Arabia studying under Jesus. He was sent to the gentiles by Jesus (Jesus did not prevent him going to the Jews, also) with a message that none of the original apostles knew about. Understandably, in Paul’s ministry, he had problems with the original apostles who were preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom to the other Jews, that Jesus was their Messiah and they should repent and be baptised because they cricified him, but he might still come back to reign (if Israel repented soon). But their making Christians of the Jews was not by the Gospel of Grace. Soon Paul’s gospel of Grace would the only valid gospel (until the tribulation). Jesus gave the Great Commission before the secret of the gospel of grace was revealed (that Jesus Christ was crucifed, shed his blood, was buried and rose again on the 3rd day. (The Gospel of Grace was a secret in God’s mind, until he revealed it to Paul alone during the 3 years in Arabia). In a meeting with the original Apostles (plus James) in Jerusalem, they all came to the agreement that hinceforth Paul should go to the Gentiles, and the original Apostles and their disciples should go only to the Jews.

    Paul is the apostle of the Age of Grace, for both Jews and Gentiles. While it is very beneficial to study the four Gospels, we have to realize that they were written primarily to the Jews, under the Law, and did not contain the full Gospel of Grace that Paul preached.

    What benefit is it to us to introduce the concept of disciples into Paul’s teachings? It looks like that Jesus intended that, he would have told Paul, and he would have told us. But I am open to arguments.

  13. 10-12-2012


    I find it interesting that you dismiss the idea that Paul made disciples because he doesn’t use that term, yet you suggest that “Paul was the only apostle who received the full revelation of the gospel of grace to the gentiles, presumably during his 3 years in Arabia studying under Jesus” – a observation that is not found in Scripture either.

    By the way, Luke said that Paul made disciples (Acts 14:21-22 among many other places in Acts), and Paul did compare “his gospel” to the gospel being proclaimed by those in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-2).