John T. Willis

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--I

Over the past two hundred years, many people have written articles and books about the meaning of disciples and the activities of disciples. It is a big mistake to read one or two books or articles about this topic and adopt the position of the writer. Everyone has the responsibility of weighing each idea and of determining whether or not each person is serious about attempting to determine the meaning and function of disciples according to the Bible. In the next several blogs, I will be presenting all the texts in the New Testament dealing with disciples. I want each one to know that after I present each text, my view may be correct or incorrect. PLEASE think and study for yourself.

1. The nouns "disciple" and "disciples" and the verb "to make disciples" occur ONLY in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. There is no reference at all to the term "disciple" in the rest of the New Testament. This is just a fact. Consult a concordance and YOU will realize this is true.

2. The Greek verb "to make disciple" is matheteuo. The noun "disciple" [disciples] is mathetes in the masculine and matheteria in the feminine. Thus, obviously disciples are male and female.

3. One must determine the meaning and function of a "disciple" by examining each text, not by looking up this word in a dictionary. Context is very important.

4. I will move through the order of the New Testament, realizing that the order may not be in chronological order. For example, Mark was written before Matthew and Luke, and John is late in the first century A. D. The date of Acts is debated, but Acts probably comes from about 70 A. D.

5. Matthew 5:1: "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain; and after he sat down, HIS DISCIPLES came to him."
    a. This verse introduces the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount immediately calls to mind Yahweh sending the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20. There are obviously many parallels between Exodus through Deuteronomy and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus apparently followed that Old Testament pattern.
   b. Just before this event, Jesus called Peter and Andrew, who were fishermen, to leave their occupation and "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." They immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus.  Then Jesus called James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were fishermen, and told them to follow him, and they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Jesus.
   c. This context shows that a "disciple" is a "follower." Peter, Andrew, James, and John left everything else to "follow" Jesus. It seems that the "disciples" of Jesus in Matthew 5:1 are these four men, but it is possible that other people were included. A "follower" is NOT a LEADER!!! Many biblical texts draw a sharp distinction between a follower and a leader. God our Father is the only true LEADER through Jesus Christ our Lord, not any other human being or group of human beings.

6. Matthew 8:18-27:
    "Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.
     A scribe then approached and said, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.'
     And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
     but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'
     ANOTHER OF HIS DISCIPLES said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'
     But Jesus said to him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'
     And when he got into the boat, HIS DISCIPLES followed him.
     A windstorm rose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves;
                                         but he was asleep.
     And HIS DISCIPLES came to him [that is the Greek; the NRSV simply translates: and they went]
     and woke him up, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!'
     And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, you of little faith?'
     Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a dead calm.
     They were amazed, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'
     a. The first event in this account relates a dialogue between an unnamed [anonymous] scribe and Jesus. Verse 21 makes it very clear that this scribe was a DISCIPLE of Jesus. So, obviously, by this time Jesus had quite a few disciples, not just The Twelve.
     b. This disciple called Jesus "Teacher," a term for Jesus in Matthew 9:11; 10:24, 25; 12:38; 17:24; 19:16; 22:16, 24, 36; 26:18 [parallel texts also appear in Mark, Luke, and John]. This clearly indicates that a DISCIPLE is a LEARNER, a PUPIL, a STUDENT OF JESUS. This is VERY DIFFERENT from being a student or learner or pupil under a teacher in high school or a university. What is VERY IMPORTANT here is that JESUS ALONE is the appropriate teacher. In this context, the background is Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
     d. Another unnamed [anonymous] DISCIPLE of Jesus said that he needed to leave Jesus and bury his father who had recently died. But Jesus told him to FOLLOW JESUS and let the dead bury their own dead. This emphasizes the great truth that each person must make serious decisions about priorities. JESUS must always be FIRST in every aspect of life above all other people, attractions, and distractions.
    e. The second event relates an occasion on which Jesus got into a boat on the Sea of Galilee and HIS DISCIPLES followed him, and a great storm arose on the sea. Jesus' disciples became very much afraid, but Jesus rebuked them for not trusting in God his Father in difficult situations. God our Father is in control of all situations through Jesus Christ our Lord no matter how threatening a situation might be.
    f. Summarizing, this passage emphasizes that a DISCIPLE is a FOLLOWER of Jesus, which includes being a student, a pupil, a learner of Jesus. Obviously, everyone must constantly go back to the Bible, to God's teaching, to Jesus' teaching if we ever REALLY desire to be a disciple. Jesus is our only dependable TEACHER. Other teachers may be honest and influential and highly respected by the crowds, but they are all human beings may be wrong or incomplete. JESUS ALONE is the only dependable teacher for TRUE DISCIPLES of God through Jesus Christ. It is a huge mistake to emphasize that one might or should be a LEADER. God our Father through Jesus Christ is our only dependable LEADER. It is sufficient to be followers, not leaders.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights and experiences and beliefs and biases with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis



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