The Definition of Disciple

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The Definition of Disciple

Discipleship is the core of Christian ethics, especially as the last command of Jesus (28:19). When I heard the word “disciple” in childhood Sunday School, I envisioned an eager, bearded man with dirty robes straining intently towards Jesus, like a child begging to hear more of a bedtime story. In high school youth group, we talked about being good disciples by obeying the rules: no kissing, no running, no talking in church. But as I re-read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s stirring, straightforward work, The Cost of Discipleship as a Lenten devotional, my idea of what a disciple is and does is crumbling like old paint.

A few extremists, citing Matthew 16:25 as their justification, say that only those in the situation to literally die for their faith can be called true disciples. An entire denomination claims the name, so that those who belong to a certain church can assume the title “Disciples of Christ.” Even some who identify with the New Age movement call themselves disciples of Christ, for they do indeed believe and follow Jesus as a great teacher.

The word disciple itself is derived from the Greek mathetes, or learner (Greek Lexicon). This word also applied to the students of Socrates and Plato, so perhaps Jesus’ followers were simply caught up in the philosophical frenzy of their time (Longenecker 3). However, the word that most often accompanies mathetes is akoloutheo, which implies not simply “to follow” but “to make a commitment” or “to count the cost.” This additional definition unveils a far deeper intention behind Jesus’ ethics than merely to be a good teacher. Especially because the term disciple identifies Jesus’ followers far before the term Christian, exploring its myriad meanings in ...

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..." (28:20).

Works Cited

Arnold, J. Heinrich. Discipleship. Farmington, PA: The Plough Publishing Company, 1994.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1959.

Donaldon, Terance L. “Guiding Readers—Making Disciples: Discipleship in Matthew’s Narrative Strategy.” In Longenecker, R. N. Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

Greek Lexicon. Crosswalk. http://bible/

Koester, Helmut. “The Gospel of Matthew.” The Story of the Storytellers: From Jesus to Christ. PBS: WGBH Frontline, 1998.

Longenecker, R. N. Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

The Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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