Discipleship and Mission
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Disciple - Gk. μαθητής (mathētēs =
"pupil, learner"), from the verb μανθάνω (manthanō = "to learn"); someone attached to a teacher,
group or movement, who not only learns academically but also lives a prescribed lifestyle, sometimes even in a community setting. Used 261 times
in the NT, "disciple" usually refers to the immediate followers of
Jesus, but there are also disciples of John the Baptist (Luke 11:1, John 1:35),
of the Pharisees (Mark 2:18, Matt 22:16), of Moses (John 9:28), or of later
Christians (Acts 6:1-7). Related words: μαθητεύω (mathēteuo
= "to be a disciple; to make a disciple"; Matt 13:52, 27:57; 28:19;
and Acts 14:21) and μαθήτρια (mathētria =
"female disciple"; Acts 9:36 only).
[Click here for more detail on the Named Disciples in the NT.]
Follower - from Gk. ἀκολουθέω (akoloutheō = "to follow"; 90x). This verb sometimes means literally going behind or coming after someone or something else (Mark 10:32; 11:9), but participial forms are also used for "those who follow" (οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες), in the sense of discipleship (Matt 8:10; John 8:12).
Apostle - Gk. ἀπόστολος (apostolos = "someone sent out; a messenger, delegate, missionary"; 80x), from the verb ἀποστέλλω (apostellō = "to send out"; 132x). In the NT this term sometimes refers to "the Twelve" (Matt 10:2; Mark 3:14; 6:30; 6x in Luke; 0x in John; often in Acts), but "apostle" is also used of Paul (in all his letters) and of other Christian missionaries, like Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and Andronicus & Junia (Rom 16:7 - married couple? brother/sister?). In Heb 3:1 Jesus himself is called an "apostle" sent by God! Related words: ἀποστολή (apostolē = "apostleship"; Acts 1:25; Rom 1:5; 1 Cor 9:2; Gal 2:8); and ἐξαποστέλλω (exapostellō = "to send out"; 18x).
The Twelve - Gk. δώδεκα (dōdeka = "twelve"), refers to a core group of Jesus' disciples (23x in Gospels, but otherwise only Acts 6:2; 1 Cor 15:5; and Rev 21:14). Their names are listed (with variations!) in Mark 3:13-19, Matt 10:1-4, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13, but not in John. Caution: these "twelve" are not the only "disciples" or "apostles" in the NT; the number is symbolically derived from the "Twelve Tribes of Israel" (Matt 19:28; cf. James 1:1; Rev 7:5-8; 21:12).
Evangelist / Evangelize / Gospel - Gk. εὐαγγελίζω (euangelizō = "to proclaim good news"; 54x) and εὐαγγελιστής (euangelistēs = "messenger, one who proclaims good news"; 3x), related to εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion = "good news; Gospel"; 76x; see esp. Mark 1:1). In later usage "Evangelist" refers only to the four writers of the written "Gospels," but in the NT itself, it refers to anyone who preaches orally (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5), esp. preaching about God's Kingdom and about repentence and salvation, as Jesus did (Mark 1:14:).
Missionary / Mission - from Latin missio ("sending off"), a "missionary" is equivalent to an "apostle," someone who is "sent out" to preach the Christian message. Modern English usage distinguishes the "apostles" of the NT era from "missionaries" of later times, but the words originally had the same meaning.
Christian - Gk. Χριστιανός (from χρίω = chriō; "to anoint"; and χριστός= christos; "someone who is anointed"). A common word in later centuries, "Christ-ian" is used only three times in the NT (Acts 11:26, 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16), referring to those who believe and proclaim that Jesus is "the anointed one," the "Christ" (from Greek), or the "Messiah" (from Hebrew). It was possibly used originally by outsiders as a derogatory term for the believers.
Repent / Repentance - Gk. μετανοέω (metanoeō = "to turn around, turn toward, return"); μετάνοια (metanoia = "repentance"). In the NT "repenting" is not just saying you did wrong or you are bad; rather, it means turning around, ceasing to do or follow what is wrong/evil, and following the good/right path again (Mark 1:15).
Convert / Proselyte / Neophyte / Catechumen - various terms are used in the NT for people who newly join a different religion. A convert to Judaism is usually called a "proselyte" (προσήλυτος; Matt 23:15; Acts 2:11; 6:5; 13:43). The term "neophyte" (νεόφυτος) is used only once (1 Tim 3:6), while the term "first fruits" (ἀπαρχή/aparche) is sometimes applied metaphorically, esp. to the first converts in a particular city (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:15; 2 Thess 2:13). A new Christian is more frequently called a "catechumen" (κατηχούμενος, lit. "one who has been instructed"; Luke 1:4; Acts 18:25; Rom 2:18; 1Cor 14:19; Gal 6:6).
Imitate / Imitator - Gk.μιμέομαι (mimeomai = "to imitate"); μιμητής (mimētēs - "imitator"). Used especially by Paul to encourage his converts to follow his example, to pattern their lives after his own (1 Cor 4:16, 11:1; Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 3:7-9). Sometimes Christians are called to imitate Jesus (1 Thess 1:6) or even to imitate God (Eph 5:1), but usually they are to imitate the community leaders and/or other exemplary Christians (1 Thess 2:14; Heb 6:12; 13:7; 3 John 1:11).
Believe / Faith / Believer - Gk. πιστεύω (pisteuō = "to believe, trust, entrust"); πίστις (pistis = "faith; trust; belief"). In the NT, these words do not refer primarily to "beliefs" or "doctrines" (the intellectual assent to propositional truths), but rather to "trusting" God or "entrusting" one's life to God and/or Jesus. Thus, disciples are often referred to as "those who believe" (οἱ πιστεύοντες; Mark 9:42; Matt 18:6; John 1:12; 17:20; Acts 2:44; 5:14; 22:19; Rom 3:22; 4:24; 1 Cor 1:21; 14:22; Gal 3:22; etc.)
Brothers and Sisters - Gk. ἀδελφός (adelphos = "brother"); ἀδελφή (adelphe = "sister"). In most modern NT translations, the plural adelphoi is no longer rendered as "brothers" but as the more inclusive "brothers and sisters" when appropriate. Christians are called adelphoi in the NT about 160 times. Jesus affirms that any who do the will of the Father are his brother or sister (Matt 12:50; Mark 3:35; Luke 8:21). Paul, addressing his fellow Christians, insists that members of the Christian family must love one another (Rom 12:10; 1 Thess 4:9-10).
Slave / Servant - Gk. δοῦλος (doulos = "slave"; although translated more loosely as "servant" in many English translaitons of the Bible). Since Christians belong to only one master, namely God (Matt 6:24), "slave" metaphorically describes their relationship with God. Just as Jesus became a "slave" (Phil 2:7), his followers must also be slaves or servants of others (Matt 20:27; Gal 5:13). Paul often calls himself a "slave of Christ," in that he lives at the complete disposition of Christ, his master (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1).
Sons/Children of God - Gk. υἱοί (huioi) - believers are "adopted" by God as children and heirs; see esp. Luke 20:36; John 1:12; Rom 8:14-21; Gal 3:23--4:7; Phil 2:15; Heb 2:13; 1 John 3:1-10; etc.; thus they also become "Brothers & Sisters" (Gk. adelphoi) of one another (Acts 1:15-16; Rom 1:13; 1 Cor 1:10; etc.)
See also Friends, Witnesses, Martyrs, etc.
Questions asked by this branch of NT Theology:
See also these other NT Theology Glossaries:
Christology | Discipleship | Ecclesiology | Pneumatology | Trinity | Eschatology | Liturgy | Soteriology | Anthropology
Creeds & Hymns | Cosmology | Morals & Ethics | Religions | Sacraments | Politics & Society | Mariology
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