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.
We also note that the disciple was characterized by an attachment to the person of Jesus, not just an acceptance of His teachings. The whole life of the ìáèçôÞò was shaped by this attachment. There is no doubt who is exerting the formative power.
The relationship between Jesus and His disciples was wholly personal. This was true whether we consider the issue from Jesus’ viewpoint or from the disciple’s viewpoint. For example, to criticize the disciples was to criticize Jesus (Mark 2:18, 23-24). On the other hand, to remove Jesus the Teacher was to destroy the community of disciples (Mark 14:50).
Again we notice a difference between Jesus and His disciples and the rabbis and their followers. For a rabbi like Akiba (Ad 130), knowledge and method were what drew followers. They were welcome to follow him as long as they were willing to accept what he had to offer. On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples were attracted to Him because of His person. They followed Him because for who He was rather than for what He taught.
Finally, discipleship involves an unconditional surrender to Jesus. No parts of the disciples’ lives could be off-limits to Jesus. All their time was to be under His governance. This unconditional surrender was revealed inwardly as the disciples believed in Him and outwardly as they obeyed Him (see Mark 11:1-4; 14:12-16).