Summary: A word study of "disciple."
WHAT’S IN A WORD?
INTRO: Someone has said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — nothing more, nothing less.” Since words are frequently used with the user’s own definition, we need to examine the word in Hebrew and Greek that is translated into English as “disciple.” Then we will be able to understand better the concept of discipleship as presented by the New Testament.
Let’s examine the meaning of the Greek word ìáèçôÞò (disciple) and its corresponding Hebrew term talmid. Talmid is used exclusively of one who gives himself (as a learner) to Scripture and to the religious tradition of Judaism. It is derived from lamid which has the idea of training as well as educating. The term occurs in the O. T. only once (1 Chron 25:8), where it is translated “scholar or pupil.” The term refers to musicians in David’s court. Since musicians learn by practice, or doing, as well as by study, we may conclude that talmid includes practice as well as theory.
In one other place in the O. T., (Isaiah 8:16,) the term “disciple” appears in the English. The prophet recognized that his message had been rejected by his people ans so determined to commit it to a band of followers, who would not only preserve it but make it effective in days to come.
Classical Greek used ìáèçôÞò in the sense we would use apprentice. For instance, one learning to be a weaver, to play a flute, or to be a doctor, was called a ìáèçôÞò. The term also designated which school of philosophy one belonged to (Athens, Plutrach, Cicero).
Notice from our examination of the Hebrew and Greek that the term disciple placed much emphasis on doing. To be a talmid or a ìáèçôÞò was to learn by doing. Thus discipleship involved intellectual comprehension and practical application.
However a difference exists between disciple and pupil. The disciple does more than receive instruction; he embraces the teaching of his teacher.
In the Gospels the disciple adhered closely to the very person of Jesus. In this respect Jesus’ disciples differ radically from the disciples of a philosopher or a rabbi.
It may seem obvious, but disciple (ìáèçôÞò) demands teacher (äéäÜ÷áëïò). A learner must have another from whom to learn. He must have a model, an instructor, a leader. It is possible (though unusual) for teacher and disciple to be the same person.
Now let’s examine in detail the use of ìáèçôÞò in the New Testament. First we note that Jesus initiates discipleship (Matt 4:19).
Now only did the initiative of Jesus form a circle of disciples, but it also determined the composition of that circle (Luke 6:13). Needless to say, many of those He chose did not seem to have the qualifications for fellowship with Him.
The initiative expressed by Jesus in the call of disciples was must unusual for the time. The rabbis of the first century gained their followers when the would — be talmid came to them. It was the duty of the righteous to attach themselves to the rabbi.
Another characteristic of ìáèçôÞò, as used in the Gospels, is that the disciple was not spoken of as “disciple” or “the disciples” but “His disciples.” This suggests both ownership and relationship. In one sense of the word the disciple belonged to Jesus, and in another sense the disciple enjoyed a personal relationship with his Teacher.