Several days ago, in response to my post “Q&A Session,” Jack asked a very good set of questions (and statements) concerning being a disciple of Jesus Christ:
I am working on a paper about discipleship and I was wondering if you could give me your thoughts on the usage of ÎœÎ±Î¸Î·Ï„ÎµÏ…ÌÏ‰, Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„Î·ÌÏ‚, and Î¼Î±Î½Î¸Î±ÌÎ½Ï‰.
I am finding very little definition, but a lot of demonstration of what discipleship is from Jesus. I would like a better understanding of the greek words and if I am using them correctly.
As I thought about Jack’s questions, I realized that I could not answer in one post. Plus, if I answered the specific questions about the Greek words, the answer would be incomplete. As Jack said after asking about definitions, understanding discipleship in Scripture requires more than understanding the definitions of specific Greek terms.
But, let’s begin with the three terms that Jack asked about:
Î¼Î±Î½Î¸Î±ÌÎ½Ï‰ (manthano) – This verb generally means to learn or to find out. It is found several times in the New Testament (and in the LXX – the Greek version of the Old Testament). (For examples of this verb, see Matthew 9:13, John 7:15, Acts 23:27, Romans 16:17, and Hebrews 5:8.)
Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„ÎµÏ…ÌÏ‰ (matheteuo) – This verb is only found in four places in the New Testament: 3 in Matthew and once in Acts. When found in the passive form (Matthew 13:52 and Matthew 27:57), it means to be or become a disciple. In the active form (Matthew 28:19 and Acts 14:21), it means to make or form a disciple. (To examine the meaning of “disciple,” we have to look at the noun version.)
Î¼Î±Î¸Î·Ï„Î·ÌÏ‚ (mathetes) – This is the noun form from which we get the translation “disciple.” This noun is only found in the Gospels (all four) and in the Book of Acts. Glosses such as “learner,” “pupil,” and “disciple” are often used in English translations of this noun. (For examples of this noun, see Matthew 5:1, Matthew 9:14, and Matthew 10:25.)
These terms (like most – if not all – Greek terms in the NT) are not specifically “Christian.” These words had been around and had been in use before Jesus was incarnated and before the New Testament was written.
Furthermore, most of the noun uses (i.e., “disciples”) simply refer to a group of people and do not necessarily tell us what the term means.
Since the terms themselves do not help us understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we’ll have to look for other clues in the text of the New Testament.