Introduction. "Disciple," from the Latin discipulus, translates the New Testament μαθητής (mathētēs ), which at its root means "learner," or "apprentice." The word is used 261 times in the New Testament, all of which appear in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles (72, 46, 37, 78, 28, respectively). in addition, the word for "fellow disciple," σνμμαθητής (summathētēs ), is used in Jn 11:16, so as to show the closeness of the disciples with Jesus, "and on this basis their fellowship with one another" (Rengstorff, 460). The feminine form μαθητρíα (mathētria ) is used once, in Acts 9:36 (cf. below). in addition, related verbs fill out the rich disciple-related vocabulary (see, e.g., Rengstorff): μανθάνω (manthanō ), "to learn" or "to direct one's mind to something"; καταμανθάνω (katamanthanō ), "to examine closely," "to learn"; maqhte›w (mathēteuō ), "make a disciple", or, in the passive, "become a disciple." After treating possible background for the term μαθητής (mathētēs ), its New Testament usage, related terminology and distinctiveness will be investigated. Finally, some reference to the employment of μαθητής (mathētēs ) in Jewish and early nonbiblical Christian writers of the first and second centuries a.d. will be offered.
Background. The New Testament word for "disciple," μαθητής (mathētēs ), which can also be understood as "adherent," "student," "learner," or "follower (of a master/teacher)," is related to the Hebrew terms talmîd and limmû[symbol omitted], and the Aramaic, talmî[symbol omitted]ā', "disciple" or "student," which may have been chosen "during the pubic ministry, either [by] Jesus himself or [by] his immediate followers," and which had not yet become "a technical term in the later rabbinic use" (Meier, 3.44; cf. below on the rabbinic use). The Hebrew terms, however, are rather rare in the Old Testament. The former term is used only in 1 Chr 25:8, in reference to one whom is studying music. As rare as talmîd is in the Old Testament, it is "absent from the nonbiblical writings discovered at Qumran" (Meier, 3.42). The latter Hebrew term, limmûd, is used of those who are in the process of learning from Isaiah (8:16; 50:4 [bis]) and from the Lord (54:13). in none of these instances, however, is the term μαθητής (mathētēs ) used by Septuagint (LXX) as the Greek translation of talmîd or limmûd.
Despite the lack of the specific terminology—whether in Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek—in the Old Testament, the relationships between elijah and elisha and those learning from Isaiah, provide background for the New Testament understanding of Jesus and his disciples. Only Elijah was "(1) an itinerant miracle working prophet, active in northern Israel, who (2) issues a peremptory call to another individual (Elisha) to leave home, family, and ordinary work in order to follow, serve, and ultimately succeed Elijah in the ministry of prophet" (Meier, 3.48, cf. 48–49 and 91–92 nn. 25–26; see below, for the presentation of Elijah and Elisha by Josephus). There are, however, some distinctive characteristics of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples (see below) when compared to the models in the Old Testament and the Greek exemplars among the philosophers.
Greek Usage. in classical Greek literature μαθητής (mathētēs ) was used generally of any "learner," but more technically of an "adherent" to a particular philosopher or master, i.e., a teacher (διδάσκαλος—didaskalos ) who was engaged in teaching pupils his thought, way of life, and/or religious beliefs. The sophists restricted the term even more, namely, to "institutional pupil" (Wilkins, "Disciples," 176). socrates, in the writings of plato, used the word in the general sense, but avoided the technical use of the term, probably so as not to be associated with the Sophists (cf. Rengstorff, 418).
During the Hellenistic period, which includes the time of Jesus, μαθητής (mathētēs ) was used both in the general sense as well as the more technical sense of "adherent," with the "type of adherence … determined by the master." One could be a "follower of a great thinker and master of the past," or a "pupil of a philosopher," or a "devotee of a religious master" (Wilkins, "Disciples," 176). The disciples were to imitate, i.e., be the imitators (μιμηταí—mimētai ), of their master, so as to be recognized as a disciple of the master, but also to learn the master's teaching and then pass it on, but with some development, as the former disciples might now be considered teachers with their own disciples (cf. Weder, 209). Although the Pauline and other New Testament letters do not use the term "disciple," the language of imitation is found: "imitators" in 1 Thes 1:6; 2:14; Phil 3:17; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1 and in Eph 5:1; Heb 6:12; verb form in 2 Thes 3:7, 9; 3 Jn 11; Heb 13:7. This usage may reflect the Greek background, but certainly for paul, to be imitators of him, who is an imitator of the Lord, was not so that the imitators would be carbon copies of the original, but rather, so that they would "incorporate certain specific aspects of his [Paul's/Lord's] life into their own lives." in addition, for Paul to urge others to imitate him is not arrogance, as modern individualists might assume, but rather reflects "the notion of imitating some sort of moral exemplar [which] was quite common in the ancient world" (cf., e.g., 2 Mc 6:27–28 (4) Mc 9:23). Finally, this language implies that those who have recently come to faith in Christ "need both instruction in their new faith and concrete examples of how to embody their faith in the various contexts in which they find themselves" (see Fowl, esp. 430 for quotations; see below on Mt 10:24–25).
Disciples of John the Baptist. Another possible background for the use of "disciples" of those associated with Jesus, may have been the use of the term, probably in Aramaic, for the disciples of john the baptist, among whom Jesus may have been counted for a time (cf. Meier, 2.119–129 and 3.45–46). Two of John's disciples, Andrew and an anonymous disciple (probably not "the beloved disciple"; cf. Neirynck) are presented as among the first to follow Jesus (Jn 1:35–40); like the pharisees (or their "disciples," Lk 5:33), John's disciples fast (Mk 2:18 || Mt 9:14 || Lk 5:33); they confront "a Jew" on purification (Jn 3:25) and are outnumbered by Jesus' disciples (Jn 4:1–2); some of them were sent by John to query Jesus in Lk 7:18–23 || Mt 11:2–6; they had learned to pray from John, according to Lk 11:1; after John's beheading, Mk 6:29 notes that they buried their master's body, and, according to the parallel in Mt 14:12, reported this to Jesus; finally, Paul encounters about Twelve "disciples" in Ephesus, presumably of John, who had received John's baptism of repentance (cf. 18:24–26 on Apollos), but not the Holy Spirit, and who, after being baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus and receiving the spirit through the laying on of hands, are taken from there by Paul after some stubborn members of the synagogue refused to believe (Acts 19:1–10). Disciples of John, even after the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, were also known to Josephus (Ant. 18.5.2 §117–18; Meier, 3.46; for more on Josephus, cf. below).
New Testament Use. As noted, μαθητής (mathētēs ) is only used in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, and in addition to disciples of Jesus, the term is used of disciples of the Pharisees, John the Baptist (cf. above), and of Moses (Jn 9:28). No doubt, a rather common understanding, especially of "the/his disciples," οí/αύτο[symbol omitted] μαθητάς(hoi/autou mathētas ), is to equate this group with "the Twelve" (οí δωδέκα— hoi dōdeka ). Mark uses "(one of) the Twelve" absolutely, though Mk 3:14 (see the parallels in Mt 10:1–2 and Lk 6:13) notes that when Jesus appointed Twelve from among those he summoned, he named them "apostles," αποστóλοι (apostoloi), that is, "sent ones" (cf. too, the 70[-two] who are sent out in Lk 10:1ff). in their redactions of Mark, Matthew and Luke occasionally either add "disciples" or "apostles" to (noted by +d or +a, respectively) or change the absolute use of "the Twelve"; the following list offers a synoptic comparison: Mk 3:14 || Mt 10:1+d || Lk 6:13; Mk 3:16 || Mt 10:2+a; Mk 4:10 || Mt 13:10 ("the disciples") || Lk 8:9 ("his disciples"); Mk 6:7 || Mt 10:1+d || Lk 9:1; Mk 9:35 || Mt 18:1 ("the disciples"); Mk 10:32 || Mt 20:17[+d textually uncertain] || Lk 18:31; Mk 11:11; Mk 14:10 || Mt 26:14 || Lk 22:3; Mk 14:17 || Mt 26:20 || Lk 22:14 ("the apostles"); Mk 14:20; Mk 14:43 || Mt 26:47 || Lk 22:47. in addition, see: Mt 11:1 ("his twelve disciples") and 28:19 ("the eleven disciples"); Lk 8:1; 9:12; 18:31 and Acts 6:2 for "(one of) the Twelve"; Jn 6:67, 70, 71; 20:24 for "(one of) the Twelve"; and 1 Cor 15:5, "the Twelve." From the above, it is clear that Matthew, more than any other evangelist, has a tendency to identify "the disciples" with "the Twelve," especially from Mt 10:1–4 on.
It goes without saying that each of the twelve apostles is a disciple, but to reduce the use of "disciple (s)," even in Matthew, to "(one of) the Twelve" limits the richness of the term. As already noted, John the Baptist had disciples, among whom Jesus may have been counted for a time. Moreover, Jesus has disciples before he names "the Twelve." Early on Jesus calls four fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John (Mk 1:16–20 || Mt 4:18–22; cf. Lk 5:1–11), to follow him, and although they are not immediately called "disciples," they will be counted among the Twelve. But Jesus also calls Levi, who worked in a tax office, in Mk 2:13–14 (|| Lk 5:27–32). Like the fishermen, Levi left his employ and followed Jesus, and thus Mark and Luke probably consider him a disciple, even though they do not apply the term to him and even though they will not count Levi among the Twelve (note, however, that Mt 9:9 changes the name to Matthew, thereby including him among the Twelve, and using a name for which there is no other specific call story; the name also serves the gospel well because of its Jewishness, Hebrew for "gift from the Lord," as well as its assonance with μαθητής [mathētēs]; cf. Davies and Allison, 2.98–99). Later, at dinner in Levi's house, Mark uses the term "disciples" of those with Jesus for the first time, and these "disciples" are questioned about the company that Jesus keeps (Mk 2:15–16 || Mt 9:10–11 || Lk 5:29–30). But to the first indication of "disciples," Mark adds a grammatically clumsy, but probably explanatory, phrase, "for there were many who followed him," thereby indicating more disciples than the four fishermen (cf. Meier, 3.51 and 93–94 n. 32). As for the parallels, Mt 9:10 mentions "disciples" but omits the problematic phrase, while Lk 5:29 omits "disciples" and recasts the phrase as "and others were at table with them." Nevertheless, in the subsequent verse Luke writes, "The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples …" in addition, it seems difficult to limit to or include in "disciples" only the few who had been called and would eventually be among the Twelve in some other early uses of "disciples," for example: those who hear the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:1); the one who wishes to bury his father (Mt 8:21); those who pluck and eat grain on the Sabbath (Mk 2:23 || Lk 6:1; note that the parallel in Mt 12:1 takes place after choosing the Twelve); those who are with Jesus when he heals a multitude by the sea (Mk 3:7–12; the parallel in Lk 6:17–19 has been transposed to take place immediately after choosing the Twelve, rather than just before as in Mark). in addition, John does not mention the Twelve until 6:67–71, but he does note that a large crowd is already following Jesus in 6:2, and then Jesus goes up a mountain and sits "down with his disciples" (6:3), without any clear distinction, though another large crowd, clearly not part of the disciples, approach Jesus (6:5). Later in Jn 6, after the Bread of Life Discourse, "many of his disciples who were listening" (6:60) found Jesus' teaching more than they could take, and thus left him and "returned to their former way of life" (6:66), leaving at the very minimum the Twelve (6:67).
Luke offers the clearest indications that the term "disciples" includes more than just those for whom there is a specific call story and/or named among the Twelve, for it is already from a larger group of disciples that the Twelve are selected (Lk 6:13), and "a great crowd of his disciples" (Lk 6:17) are among an even larger number of people who come to hear and be healed by Jesus. in Lk 6:20, "raising his eyes toward his disciples" (is the number of disciples now even larger than it was in 6:17?), Jesus preaches his Sermon on the Plain. in Lk 9:52, messengers are sent ahead of Jesus to prepare a Samaritan village for his visit, which is similar to the seventy[-two] whom Jesus "sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit" (Lk 10:1). in neither case are those sent specifically called "disciples," but it is hard to imagine that the evangelist thought of them otherwise. Finally, later in Luke's narrative, as Jesus "was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God" (19:27).
These larger groups of people following Jesus and/or sent out by him raise the question of whether or not women were considered to be disciples of Jesus. The Gospels use neither μαθητής (mathētēs ) of a woman nor its feminine form, μαθητής (mathētria; only use is of Tabitha in Acts 9:36). This may be due (cf. Meier,3.73–80) in large part to the lack of call stories of women and to the general androcentrism of the gospel narratives. But also, the fact is that the masculine term would have been the one used to include both men and women disciples. Moreover, the evangelists may not have had a feminine form available to them due to the recentness of the phenomenon of female disciples (for an analogous situation, note that Paul does not use a feminine form of "deacon" for Phoebe, in Rom 16:1; see too, 1 Tim 3:8–12). It seems clear that women had accompanied Jesus and can be counted among the disciples, for at least some of the women are presented as doing what disciples do— even doing what many of the male disciples fail to do: they had followed him and ministered to him and/or the other disciples from the time of Jesus ministry in Galilee (Mk 15:41 and parallels; cp. Lk 8:1–3); they witnessed his death from afar (Mk 15:40 and parallels; Jn 19:24–27); they saw where Jesus was buried (Mk 15:47 and parallels); they returned to find the grave empty (Mk 16:1–8 and parallels; Jn 20:1–13); they are commissioned with a message for the other disciples at the tomb (Mk 16:7 and parallels) and/or by the risen Lord (Mt 28:9–10; Jn 20:17); they report what they have seen (Lk 24:10–11; Jn 20:2, 18); they see the resurrected Lord (Mt 28:9–10; Jn 20:14–18).
Another group of persons to whom maqhtøj (mathētēs ) is not applied are those who strongly believed in Jesus and were committed to him, but did not accompany Jesus on his itinerant ministry, i.e., they seem to have remained in their homes (cf. Meier, 3.80–82), for example: Martha and Mary (Lk 10:38–42; Jn 11:1–12:2); Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1–10); Nicodemus (Jn 3:1–9; 7:50; 19:39); Lazarus (Jn 12:1–2); Simon the leper (Mk 14:3); the anonymous host of the Last Supper (Mk 14:13–15); Joseph of Arimathea (Mk 15:43 and parallels; Jn 19:38).
A final extension of the term μαθητής (mathētēs ) is seen in its use in Acts of the Apostles: in Jerusalem, 6:1, 2, 7; 9:26 (bis); 15:10 (Peter's speech at the council); in Damascus 9:1, 10 (Ananias), 19 (in 9:25 "his disciples" refers to Paul's disciples); near Joppa, 9:36 (Tabitha; feminine form), 38; in Antioch, 11:26, 29; 13:52; 14:28; in Lystra, 14:20; 16:1 (Timothy); in Derbe, 14:21 (μαθητής— mathēteuō; cf. below); cities throughout Lycaonia, 14:22; in Galatia and Phrygia, 18:23; in Achaia, 18:27; in Ephesus, 19:2; 20:1, 30; in Tyre, 21:4; from Caesarea and Cyprus, 21:16 (bis). Except for the reference to John's disciples (cf. above), the meaning Luke essentially seems to intend for "disciple (s)" in Acts is one/those who believe in Jesus Christ, i.e., "Christian (s)," which is most clear in 11:26b: "it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians." in addition, except for 15:10, the use of "disciple (s)" to refer to those who now believe in Jesus Christ, but had not physically followed him during his public ministry, "always occurs in Luke's narrative," by which Luke provides "links between the time of Jesus and the time of the church" (Meier, 3.41), even though this usage in Acts demonstrates a willingness to employ the term in a way that it is not often applied in later Christian writings (cf. below).
Certainly "the Twelve" had important symbolic function in that they represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the New Israel (the number seems more significant than the names, on which the lists of the Twelve do not agree; cp. Mk 3:16–19; Mt 10:2–4; Lk 6:13–16; Acts 1:13; see Wilkins, "Disciples," 179, for a comparison of the lists and brief biographical sketches). But given that there are multiple sources for the existence of the Twelve and that the use of maqhtøj (mathētēs ) is not much used in later Christian writings (see below), it would seem unwise to deny the historicity of this inner group of disciples (Meier, 3.45, 47; cf. too Nepper-Christiansen, 373). But as much as the Twelve played a symbolic function, the expansion of the notion of "disciples" to include the many men and women who followed Jesus, as well as those faithful who remained in their homes, symbolizes the universality of Jesus'—and the Christian community's—message and ministry. Again, however, because the same criteria used to establish the historicity of the Twelve could be applied to this more expanded understanding of disciples, it would also be unwise to deny the historicity of the larger circle of Jesus' disciples.
Related Vocabulary in the New Testament. Although μανθάνω (manthanō ), "to learn" or "to direct one's mind to something," due to its similar root, would be a natural word to employ for the learning process of Jesus' disciples, of the 25 times it is used in the New Testament, it is only rarely used for that purpose. To those who murmur about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus says, "Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice"' (Mt 9:13a; cf. Hos 6:6). Jesus invites all "who labor and are burdened" to come to him, and encourages them: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me" (Mt 11:28, 29, respectively). Jesus urges the disciples to "learn a lesson from the fig tree" (Mk 13:28 || Mt 24:32 || Lk 21:29, who uses "consider"[ḵδετε— idete] instead of "learn"), as a way to discern the import of events leading up to the coming of the Son of Man. in Jn 6:45b, an interpretation of Is 54:13, the focus is on the Father: "Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me." The term is also on the lips of "the Jews" for the technical, academic study of the Scriptures, which Jesus had not done (Jn 7:15). Paul uses μανθάνω (manthanō ) to indicate how prophecy ought to be given "so that all may learn" (1 Cor 14:31). According to Heb 5:8, even Christ "learned obedience from what he suffered." in general, then, with the use μανθάνω (manthanō ), "if not always with equal clarity, an intellectual process is always implied and this always has external effects" (Rengstorff, 392; cf. Nebe,384).
Despite the rare use of μανθάνω (manthanō ), the basic educational relationship between a disciple and his mentor is certainly evident in the proverb of Mt 10:24–25: "No disciple is above his teacher [διδάσκαλος—didaskalos], no slave above his master [κύριος— kurios]. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master" (cp. the briefer parallel in Lk 6:40). As a result, the disciples, as well as other persons who know of Jesus and his disciples, call Jesus by titles appropriate to his teaching role: rabbi/rabbouni (ῥαββι—Mk 9:5; 11:21; 14:45; Mt 26:25, 49; Jn 1:38, "which translated means Teacher"; 1:49; 3:2, 26; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8/ραββουνι—Jn 20:16, "which means Teacher"; cf. too Mt 23:8); teacher (διδάσκαλος— didaskalos; Mk 4:38; Mk 9:17 || Lk 9:38; Mk 9:38; Mk 10:17 || Mt 19:16 || Lk 18:18; Mk 10:20, 35; Mk 12:14 || Mt 22:16 || Lk 20:21; Mk 12:19 || Mt 22:24 || Lk 20:28; Mk 12:32; 13:1; Mk 14:14 || Mt 26:18 || Lk 22:11; Mt 8:19; 12:38; 22:36; Lk 7:40; 9:38; 10:25; 11:45; 12:13; 19:34; 20:39; 21:7 [note that John the Baptist is addressed as "Teacher" in Lk 3:12]); master (ἐπιστάτα— epistata; Lk 5:5; 8:24 [bis], 45; 9:33, 49; 17:13); and, of course, Lord/Master/ir (κύριος— kurios; Mk 11:3 || Mt 21:3 || Lk 19:31, 34; Mt 8:2, 8, 21, 25; 9:28; 14:28, 30; 15:22, 27; 16:22; 17:4, 15; 18:21; 20:30, 31, 33; Lk 5:8, 12; 6:46; 7:6, 19; 9:54, 59; 10:17, 40; 12:41; 13:23; 17:37; 18:41; 19:8; 22:38, 49; 24:34; Jn 6:68; 8:4; 9:38; 11:3, 12, 27, 28, 32, 34, 39; 13:6, 9, 13–14 [twice, "Teacher and Lord"], 25, 36, 37; 14:5, 8, 22; 20:2, 13, 18, 20, 25, 28; 21:7, 12, 15–17, 20–21). of course, the Gospels also have numerous examples of Jesus teaching (διδάσκω— didaskō) or giving a teaching (διδαχή/greek>— didachē, e.g.: Mk 1:22, 27; 4:2; 6:2, 6b, 34; 11:18; 12:14; 14:49 and parallels; Mk 4:1; 8:31; 9:31; 12:35). The post-Easter mission of the disciples involves teaching "all the nations" what Jesus had commanded them (Mt 28:20).
All of these titles put Jesus within the sphere of other Jewish teachers, e.g., the scribes (see above on the Baptist and the Pharisees), who had their talmîdîm, (pl. of talmîd), "whom they instructed in the Scripture and in the traditions of the fathers" (Nepper-Christiansen, 372). and although "to learn," μανθάνω (manthanō ), would be an appropriate way to speak of the disciples relationship to Jesus, the primary New Testament vehicle to speak of the basic relationship is "to follow," ἀκολουθέω (akoloutheō; cf. below).
Καταμανθάνω (katamanthanō ), is "in some sense the intensive of μανθάνω [manthanō] in the sense of 'to examine closely,' 'to learn,' 'to grasp,' 'to note"' (Rengstorff, 414). Mt 6:28 is the only New Testament occurrence of this term: "Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow" (the parallel in Lk 12:27 has κατανοήσατε—katanoēsate, "notice"; cp. this to the variance noted above in another lesson from nature, Mk 13:28 || Mt 24:32 || Lk 21:29).
Finally, μαθητεύω (mathēteuō ) is used four times in the New Testament. It is "constructed from μαθητής[mathētēs], … means intrans. 'to be (a.) or to become (b.) a pupil"' (Rengstorff, 461). Joseph of Arimathea "was himself a disciple of Jesus" (Mt 27:57). The other uses are transitive, "to make disciples." According to Mt 13:52, "… every scribe who has been instructed in [or "who has been made a disciple of"] the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom the new and the old." The 11 disciples are commissioned by the risen Lord to "Go … and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19) by baptizing and teaching them. Finally, Barnabas and Paul have great success in Derbe: "After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch" (Acts 14:21). "Behind this peculiar New Testament [transitive] use there possibly stands the insight that one can become a disciple of Jesus — this also stands behind Mt 13:52 — only on the basis of a call which leads to discipleship" (Rengstorff, 461; for this distinctive aspect, see below).
Distinctiveness of the Disciple in the New Testament. Although Greek and Jewish understandings of discipleship provide some background for the New Testament understanding, to be a disciple of Jesus is not equivocated with the earlier understandings, but rather, appears to have some rather distinctive elements. "To be sure, rabbinical students shared their master's life, imitated his conduct, and memorized his words. But this did not involve imitating a prophetic and healing ministry in an eschatological context" (Meier, 3.71). This context seems to contribute to some distinctive characteristics of being a disciple of Jesus.
First, it seems that the Greek and Jewish norm was for the would-be disciple to seek out the master under whom he wished to study (cf. Meier, 3.53). in the Gospels, however, most especially in the call and healing stories (cf. examples above), it is clear that to be a disciple of Jesus was initiated by Jesus (cf. Meier, 3.50–54). Moreover, Jesus' call was often given to "those 'outside the pale"' (Meier, 3.73), e.g. tax collectors, the poor, women. in the rare instances when someone sought permission to follow Jesus as a disciple, there seems to be less than full understanding and/or commitment; for example, see the scribe's request in Mt 8:19–20 (|| Lk 9:57–58), another person's verbal application in Lk 9:61–62, and the desire of the former demoniac in Mk 5:18–20 (|| Lk 8:38–39).
Second, the Greek or Jewish disciple would certainly leave home during the course of instruction, but eventually return. To be a disciple of Jesus, however, can imply a life-long commitment which requires giving up home and family (e.g., Mk 10:28–30 and parallels), even to the point that families will be torn apart over commitment to Jesus (Mt 10:34–37 || Lk 12:51–53; 14:26) and that basic familial duties, such as burying the dead, are relativized (Mt 8:21–22 || Lk 9:59–60). The disciples of Jesus are now his—and, presumably, the disciples'—true family (e.g., Mk 3:34 and parallels). By the second century a.d., one can see more similarities between Jesus' disciples and rabbinic disciples on this point (cf. Meier, 3.48).
In connection with this aspect of discipleship, the primary metaphor for accompanying Jesus as a disciple is "to follow" (ἀκολουθέω— akoloutheō) Him. The imperative invitation, ἀιολούθει (akolouthei moi ), "Follow me," is found in Mk 2:14 || Mt 9:9 || Lk 5:27; Mk 10:21 || Mt 19:21 || Lk 18:22; Mt 8:22 || Lk 9:59; Jn 1:43; 21:19, 22. Similarly, see the imperative δπίσω μοι (deute opisō moi ), "come after me," in Mk 1:17 || Mt 4:19.
In other sayings, Jesus speaks of 'following' and/or 'coming/following after' him: Mk 8:34 || Mt 16:24 || Lk 9:23; Mt 10:38 || Lk 14:27; Mt 19:28; Lk 21:8 (disciples are not to go after those who falsely come in Jesus' name). Others also speak or ask about following Jesus: Peter (Mk 10:28 || Mt 19:27 || Lk 18:28); a scribe (Mt 8:19 || Lk 9:57, "someone"); John (Mk 9:38 || Lk 9:49, concerning an exorcist who does not follow Jesus); "another" (Lk 9:61).
Particular persons or groups are following Jesus in Mk 1:18 || Mt 4:20; Mk 2:14 || Mt 9:9 || Lk 5:28; Mk 2:15; Mk 3:7 || Mt 4:25 (cp. 12:1); Mk 5:24 || Mt 9:19; Mk 5:37; 6:1; 10:32; Mk 10:52 || Mt 20:34 || Lk 18:43; Mk 15:41 || Mt 27:55 || Lk 23:49; Mt 8:10 || Lk 7:9; Mt 8:1, 23; 9:27 (cp. 20:29); 14:13; 19:2; Lk 9:11; 22:39; 23:27; Jn 1:37, 40; 10:4–5 and 27 (of sheep as an image for disciples); 13:36; 18:15; 21:19, 22. The sons of Zebedee "went after" Jesus, Mk 1:20 (the parallels in Mt 4:22 and Lk 5:11 have "followed him").
Third, in addition to the radical denial of family, discipleship required a break with one's former life and livelihood (cf. above on Mk 1:16–20; 2:13–14 and parallels; cp. Jn 6:66), and the paradox that the disciple can only save his or her life by losing it (Mk 8:35 || Mt 16:25 || Lk 9:24; cp. Lk 17:33 || Mt 10:39 and Jn 12:25). The disciple must be willing to follow Jesus even to taking up the cross (e.g., Mk 8:34 and parallels; Mt 10:38 || Lk 14:27), and to face persecution (e.g., Mk 4:17; Mt 5:1, 44; 10:23; Lk 11:49; 21:12; Jn 15:20; 16:33), suffering (e.g. Mk 13:19 and parallels) and even death (e.g., Mk 13:12 and parallels; Mk 10:35–39 || Mt 20:20–23; Jn 16:2). There are, however, promises associated with the perseverance and endurance of the disciple (e.g., see Mk 10:30; 13:13 and parallels; Mt 10:22; cp. Jn 6:68), as well as dire consequences for those who deny or are ashamed of Jesus (e.g., see Mk 8:38 || Lk 9:26; Mt 10:33 || Lk 12:9)—even though Simon Peter denied Jesus three times (Mk 14:29–31, 66–72 and parallels; Jn 13:36–38; 18:15–18, 25–27), he is rehabilitated, most especially in Jn 21:15–19.
Fourth, the goal of the Greek or Jewish disciple was to one day become a master who would be sought out by those who wish to be his disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus, however, is to always be his disciple. Jesus remains the teacher, the master, and the disciple, regardless how long he or she is a follower of Jesus, remains a disciple. For example, in Mt 10, the Twelve are presented as learners, that is, "disciples," who by necessity will experience what their teacher has. Usually a disciple him/herself becomes a teacher, but verses 24–25 (|| Lk 6:40; cf. above) indicate that in relationship to Jesus Christ, the disciple is "to be a life-long learner…. This meansthat for the believer Jesus is not only a teacher but also an abiding lord" (Viviano, 651; cf. Meier, 3.55). This enduring relationship with Jesus means that the disciples are representatives of Jesus, such that to welcome a disciple is to welcome Jesus (Mt 10:40; cp. Lk 10:16 and Jn 13:20).
Finally, Greek and Jewish disciples were to be solid and true representatives of their masters, but the narrative use of the disciples in the Gospels is far from ideal. Jesus' disciples are rather mixed characters, so that the reader not only learns from their example, but also from their mistakes. The presentation in Mark is more negative than in the other Gospels, but even after recognizing the difference in degree, all the Gospels show that the disciples often fail to understand (e.g., Mk 4:13; 6:52; 7:18; 8:17, 21; 9:32 and parallels), experience fear (Mk 4:40; 6:50; 9:32; 10:32 and parallels) and doubt (e.g., Mt 14:31; 28:17), and, except for Jn 19:25–27, abandon Jesus so that he dies on the cross with only some women disciples looking on from afar (Mk 15:40 || Mt 27:55 || Lk 23:49). Perhaps the closest the Gospels come to an idealize disciple is found in John's presentation of the "disciple whom Jesus loved," the so-called "beloved disciple," who first appears at the Last Supper (cf. above on the "anonymous disciple" of Jn 1:35–40) and whose testimony is foundational for the Johannine community (Jn 13:23; 19:26–27; 20:2; 21:7, 20; see too references to "this/(an) other disciple" in Jn 18:15–16; 20:3–8; 21:23–24). Although this disciple was traditionally identified with John, the Son of Zebedee, the Fourth Evangelist, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" seems more likely to be a literary device which draws the reader into the narrative and gives a solid foundation for the faith of the community/-ies out of which the gospel comes and to whom it is addressed (cf. Meier, 3.114–115 n. 110).
Jewish Writings and the Apostolic Fathers. The Jewish author, Philo of Alexandria (c. 25 b.c.–50 a.d.) uses "disciple" only 14 times in his extensive writings. Although he does use "the word at times in the general sense of a learner or one receiving instruction from a teacher, he typically uses mathētēs within the context of his mystical views about the 'perfect' person who is directly taught by God" (Meier, 3.42; cf. above on Jn 6:45b). Likewise, the nearly as extensive writings of Josephus (c. 37–100+ a.d.) witness only 15 uses of mathētēs, "scattered throughout The Jewish Antiquities and Against Apion" from c. 93 to 94 and 100 to 105 a.d., respectively. Besides its general use for "one who learns from another's example (Ant. 1.11.3 §200)" or "to describe persons or groups who follow the philosophical teachings of some other person or group that is notably distant from the learners in time and space (Ag. Ap. 1.2 §14; 1.22 §176; 2.41 §295)," Josephus uses mathētēs of a number of Old Testament relationships of disciples to their masters: Joshua to Moses (Ant. 6.5.4 §84); Elisha to Elijah (Ant. 8.13.7 §354); Baruch to Jeremiah (Ant.10.9.1 §158). These examples show how Josephus "interprets these biblical heroes in the milieu of Hellenistic Judaism" (Meier, 3.42–43).
Josephus offers more detail with respect to Elisha: Ant. 9.2.4 §68 finds Elisha in his house with his disciples; in Ant. 9.6.1 §106 Elisha sends a disciple on a mission. These presentations can be contrasted with "the elders" and "one of the guild prophets" in 2 Kgs 6:32; 9:1, respectively. "Here Josephus may be rereading biblical passages in the light of the Pharisaic and nascent rabbinic movements with their schools—a phenomenon that in turn reflects Hellenistic cultural influence" (Meier, 3.43, cf. 92 n. 26).
Josephus, who "claimed that he had been a Pharisee from early adulthood onwards," presents the Hasmonean ethnarch, John Hyrcanus (63–40 b.c.), as a disciple of the Pharisees (Ant. 13.10.5 §289). "In context, the passage probably means that Hyrcanus flattered the Pharisees by insisting how much he was influenced by their teachings" (Meier, 3.43). The strict sense of a true disciple, Samaias, of a Pharisaic teacher, Pollion, is found in Ant.15.1.1 §3, and both of them had "constant followers" (Ant. 15.10.4 §370). "Here the Greek idea of a masterdisciple relationship within a philosophical school has clearly sunk roots in a Jewish Palestinian setting …," which provides "the closest 1st-century Jewish parallel we can find to the Gospels' use of mathētēs for the disciples of Jesus…. Prior to the lifetime of the historical Jesus, there is no Jewish author we can point to who speaks of disciples who are at least in some ways similar to the disciples Jesus gathers around himself" (Meier,3.43–44).
Despite the writings of Philo and Josephus, and more importantly the frequency of the use of μαθητής (mathētēs ) in the Gospels and especially of "Christian (s)" in Acts, it "was not the ordinary way Christians of the first and second Christian generations spoke to or about one [an] other" (Meier, 3.41). This "discontinuity" between the Gospels and later Christian writings further substantiates "the historicity of a group of disciples around Jesus during his lifetime," rather than some "anachronistic retrojection of the early church's way of speaking of its members into the time of Jesus' public ministry" (Meier, 3.41, see too, 3.44; cf. above for more on historicity). Μαθητής (mathētēs ) is not found in 1 and 2 Clement (c. 96 and 150 a.d.), The Epistle of Barnabas (c. 130 a.d.), Polycarp's letter to the Philippians (pre-130 a.d.), The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 140 a.d.), and The Didache (pre-150 a.d.). Moreover, although Ignatius uses μαθητής (mathētēs ) nine times in his letters of 108 to 117a.d., for him, "the true disciple is the martyr," toward which Ignatius himself is moving. He also refers to the Old Testament prophets "as spiritual disciples of Jesus Christ (Magnesians 9:2)," and uses the term similarly to Acts of the Apostles (to Polycarp 2:1 and Magnesians 10:1), but never in reference to the disciples of the Gospel narratives. in the context of some of the names of the Twelve, "the disciples of the Lord" are twice mentioned in the fragments of Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord by Papias of Hierapolis (from about 130 a.d.) preserved by Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History. The Martyrdom of Polycarp 17:3 "reflects the Ignatian usage of describing martyrs" as disciples, and "contains the only occurrence in the Apostolic Fathers of 'fellow disciple,"' συμμαητής (summathētēs ). The Epistle to Diognetus (an apologist, probably from the second or third century a.d.) uses μαθητής (mathētēs ) "once of the author, once of those becoming Christian, and twice of the original disciples of Jesus." "In sum, most of the Apostolic Fathers never use mathētēs. Ignatius, who accounts for the vast majority of occurrences, uses it mostly of martyrs, rarely of contemporary Christians in general, and never of the original disciples of Jesus" (Meier, 3.84–85 n. 6).
The possible background as well as the use of μαθητής (mathētēs ) and related vocabulary in the Gospels and Acts and in later Christian writings pose more complexity than one might first expect. in the Gospels, "disciple (s)" can refer to those among the Twelve, a wider circle of male and female followers of Jesus, and even committed persons who did not accompany Jesus on his public (cf. the summary in Meier, 3.627–632). in Acts, "disciples" usually designates believers, that is, "Christians," even though this was not the common way for early Christians to refer to one another. Therefore, those preachers and writers who want to extend "pulpit oratory and theological musings to employ the word 'disciple' in as many meanings or in as broad a sense as possible … might appeal to Luke as their patron saint" (Meier, 3.49).
Bibliography: e. best, Disciples and Discipleship. Studies in the Gospel according to Mark (Edinburgh 1986). r. e. brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (Mahwah, New Jersey 1979). w. d. davies and d. c. allison, jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew in Three Volumes: Vol. I: Introduction and Commentary on Matthew I–VII; Vol. II: Commentary on Matthew VIII–XVIII; Vol. III: Commentary on Matthew XIX–XXVIII (International Critical Commentary, Edinburgh 1988; 1991 and 1997). p. nepper-christensen, "μαθητής" in h. balz and g. schneider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 v. (Grand Rapids, Michigan 1990) v. 2, 372–74. s. e. fowl, "Imitation of Paul/of Christ," in g. f. hawthorne, r.p. martin and d. g. reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, Illinois 1993). w. s. kurz, Following Jesus. A Disciple's Guide to Luke and Acts (Ann Arbor, 1984). u. luz, "The Disciples in the Gospel according to Matthew" (tr. r. morgan), in The Interpretation of Matthew, Issues in Religion and Theology, 3, ed. by g. stanton (Philadelphia 1983), 98–128. j. p. meier, A Marginal Jew. Rethinking the Historical Jesus: Vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person; Vol. 2: Mentor, Message, and Miracles; Vol. 3: Companions and Competitors (The Anchor Bible Reference Library, New York 1991; 1994; 2001, respectively). f. j. moloney, "The Vocation of the Disciples in the Gospel of Mark," Sal 43 (1981) 487–516. g. nebe, "μανθάνω" in h. balz and g. schneider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 v. (Grand Rapids, Michigan 1990) v. 2, 383–84. f. neirynck, "The Anonymous Disciple in John 1," ETL 66 (1990) 5–37; reprinted in Evangelica II: 1982–1991 Collected Essays, ed. by f. van segbroeck (Leuven 1991), 617–49, with an additional note, 649. p. nepper-christensen, "μαθητής ου, ὁ … μανθάνω," in h. balz and g. schneider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 v. (Grand Rapids, Michigan 1990) v. 2, 372–74. j. a. overman, "Disciple," in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. by b.m. metzger and m.d. coogan (New York 1993) 168–69. k.h. rengstorff, "μανθάνω, καταμανθάνι, μαθητής, συμμαθητής, μαθητρία, μαθητεύι," in g. kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (tr. and ed., g. w. bromiley), 10 v. (Grand Rapids, Michigan 1964–1976), v. IV, 390–461. f. segovia, ed., Discipleship in the New Testament (Philadelphia 1985). j. j. vincent, Disciple and Lord. The Historical and Theological Significance of Discipleship in the Synoptic Gospels (Sheffield 1976). b.t. viviano, "The Gospel according to Matthew" in r. e. brown, et al., eds., NJBC (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1990) 630–74. h. weder, "Disciple, Discipleship" (tr. by d. martin) in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 v., ed. by d. n. freedman (New York 1992),v. II, 207–10. m. j. wilkins, The Concept of Disciple in Matthew's Gospel. As Reflected in the Use of the Term Μαθητής, Novum Testamentum Supplment 59 (Leiden 1988). m. j. wilkins, "Disciples" and "Discipleship," in j. b. green, s. mcknight, and i. h. marshall, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, Illinois 1992) 176–82 and 182–89.
[t. a. friedrichsen]