Do I have disciples? Can I disciple someone? Or is it all about Jesus Christ?
These are some foundational questions I asked myself recently about discipleship. In answering my questions I observed:
1/ When referring to Christians as “disciples,” the NT never uses the term “disciple” in reference to anyone other than Jesus Christ. You never read of a Christian being a “disciple” of Paul or Peter or James. Paul does call believers to “imitate” him, but even then he still points them to Christ for he emphasizes that the imitation is only to occur “as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). So, it seems, we are to be disciples of Christ. But what about the fact that he is no longer with us physically?
2/ People in the NT period would already speak of being a disciple of someone from the past. For example, some Greeks would refer to themselves as “disciples” of the Greek philosopher Socrates, who had lived about 400 years before Christ. As another example, in the Jewish context, some Pharisees referred to themselves as disciples of Moses (John 9:24-29). So, it seems reasonable for us to consider ourselves to be disciples of Christ, even though he is a figure in the past (granted, he is still alive, but he is no longer with us). But, if we are disciples of Christ, can we ever really say that we ourselves “disciple” other people.
3/ If you look in most English translations of the Bible you will not find a “verb” form of discipling, but only the noun form “disciple(s).” In actual fact, the term “disciple” does occur as a verb in four places in the NT (in Greek), but it is generally translated as a noun (together with a verb= make disciples). The idea with the verb “disciple” is that one “disciples” a person. So, for example, Acts 14:21 speaks (in Greek) of believers “discipling many.” The NIV translates this as “made many disciples.” Even more importantly, the “great commission” also has “disciple” in a verb form. So, Matthew 28:19 actually reads (in Greek) “disciple all nations.” AND, to tie it all together, we find in Matthew that even though we can disciple people, they are still disciples of Jesus: Matt 27:57 speaks (in Greek) of Joseph as one who “was discipled to Jesus.”
My conclusions: I am to be a disciple of Jesus and when I am discipling other people they are to become disciples of Jesus.