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[ what is a 'disciple'? - some heavyweight views ]

The following excerpts from a variety of sources may help us to understand what the word disciple means...

From IH Marshall, BA, MA, BD, PhD, DD, Professor of New Testament Exegesis, University of Aberdeen writing for the IVP Study Bible, 3rd Edition1

A disciple (from Latin discipulus, ‘pupil, learner’) is basically the pupil of a teacher. The corresponding Hebrew term is somewhat rare in the Old Testament but in the rabbinical writings the talmîd is a familiar figure as the pupil of a rabbi from whom he learned traditional lore. In the Greek world philosophers were likewise surrounded by their pupils. Since pupils often adopted the distinctive teaching of their masters, the word came to signify the adherent of a particular outlook in religion or philosophy.

Although Jesus (like John) was not an officially recognized teacher (Jn 7:14f), he was popularly known as a teacher or rabbi (eg Mk 9:5), and his associates were known as disciples. The word can be used of all who responded to his message (eg Lk 6:17), but it can also refer more narrowly to those who accompanied him on his travels (eg Mk 6:45), and especially to the twelve apostles (Mk 3:14).

Discipleship was based on a call by Jesus (eg Lk 9:59–62). It involved personal allegiance to him, expressed in following him and giving him an exclusive loyalty (Mk 8:34–38; Lk 14:26–33). In at least some cases it meant literal abandonment of home, business ties and possessions (Mk 10:21, 28), but in every case readiness to put the claims of Jesus first, whatever the cost, was demanded. Such an attitude went well beyond the normal pupil–teacher relationship and gave the word ‘disciple’ a new sense.

According to Luke, the members of the early church were known as disciples (Acts 6:1f, and frequently thereafter). This makes it clear that ... the pattern of the relationship between Jesus and his earthly disciples was constitutive for the relationship between the risen Lord and the members of his church.

So much for the historic meaning, what of more contemporary thinking?  David Watson’s book "Discipleship" was published in 1981 (and is still in print).  In the introduction he writes 2 

Discipleship sums up Christ's plan for the world.  Yet for all its brilliant simplicity, it is the one approach that most western churches have neglected.  Instead we have had reports, commissions, conferences, seminars, missions, crusades, reunion schemes, liturgical reforms - the lot.  But very little attention has been given to the meaning of discipleship. ...

... the basic idea of discipleship was widely accepted by the time Jesus began his own ministry.  At the same time, when he took the initiative himself in calling people to follow him, when he called them primarily to him and not just to his teaching, when he expected from them total obedience, when he taught them to serve and warned them that they would suffer, and when he gathered around him a thoroughly mixed crowd of very ordinary people, it became obvious that Jesus had created a radical and unique pattern of discipleship. ...

And more recently from Richard Foster (1999) 3, who selects Dietrich Bonhoeffer as his contemporary paradigm for the virtue-filled life 

Bonhoeffer took Jesus’ call to discipleship seriously.  He felt this call most powerfully compressed in Jesus’ robust and prophetic Sermon on the Mount. ... [which] he understood to be Jesus’ universal call to obedience - a call issued to all people, at all times, in all places.  In a letter to his brother ... he wrote, “I have begun to take seriously the Sermon on the Mount.  That is the only source of power capable of blowing up the whole phantasmagoria [implied: Hitler and his rule] once and for all.”

The most systematic treatment of this matter is found in The Cost of Discipleship, where Bonhoeffer argues for ‘costly grace’. ... This he contrasts with ‘cheap grace’ ... “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.” 4


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