the weblog of Alan Knox

A Disciple of Jesus Christ – Introduction

Posted by on Mar 7, 2011 in discipleship | 4 comments

A Disciple of Jesus Christ – Introduction

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 Μαθητεύω, μαθητής, and μανθάνω.

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:

μανθάνω (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.)

μαθητεύω (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.)

μαθητής (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.


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

  1. 3-7-2011

    Thanks Alan I appreciate your input. I am finding this study very interesting. It’s not quite as simple as I thought, or maybe it is just more involved.

    I like to use this analogy. A jet engine is complex but if you understand the principles behind its design, it is really quite simple.

  2. 3-7-2011


    How is your paper coming along?


  3. 3-8-2011

    Alan, Jack,

    Do you consider Paul’s self-description as servant/slave/prisoner of Christ to be another facet of being a disciple? Or are disciple/servant/slave/prisoner various slices/shades of what it means to be a Christian?

    Also, that makes me wonder if you guys associate a standing/state sort of tension (where you are seen differently by God–standing–than you might be by an onlooker–state) as another aspect of what it means to be a disciple/Christian? The “you are this” now “act like it” that often forms a general outline of Paul’s epistles?

    I think this day to day listening, evaluating urges, interests and intentions in His presence, yielding, glad obedience, (so easily marred by blissful disregard of His presence and going along as if there were no God at all, just you and whatever struck you to do/think, I suppose, as if you were God yourself) to be the most exciting-joyful-peaceful-heartbreaking part of being a Christian.

  4. 3-8-2011


    When Paul presented himself as a slave/servant of Christ, I think he was identifying himself as a disciple. And, I completely agree with your last paragraph!



  1. A Disciple of Jesus Christ: True Disciples | The Assembling of the Church - [...] the first post of this series (“A Disciple of Jesus Christ: Introduction“), I defined a few terms related to…