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Luke 14:26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple [μαθητής].

Why is the word "disciple" rarely used by anyone except by Jesus in the NT? Paul never used the word. As mentioned by one of the comments,the word μαθητής is not in LXX at all.

Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.

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  • The proper way to determine what Jesus means by using the word 'disciple' is to examine - from a concordance - every single time that Jesus used the word and to ponder what he meant on each and every occasion.
    – Nigel J
    May 24, 2020 at 22:43
  • Again, (unsurprisingly) I agree with @NigelJ - that is why we have lexicons like BDAG which does just that.
    – Dottard
    May 25, 2020 at 2:31
  • What is the question exactly? Is it that you ask a reader, supposedly a Christian reader, whether he/she matches the criterion Jesus set for somebody being accounted His disciple? Or why does Jesus use this word, and that rarely, while Paul and LXX do not use it at all? But those two are totally different questions, so, please be specific, otherwise the answers will follow as vague as your question is. May 25, 2020 at 12:48
  • Yes, any and all of the above questions.
    – Tony Chan
    May 25, 2020 at 13:15

3 Answers 3

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First, we must recall that much (not all) of the NT is written and steeped in Hebrew idiom. This an example of Hebrew hyperbole. But let me get to that in a moment. First the meaning of the word, "disciple".

The Greek word μαθητής (mathetes) according to BDAG has two basic meanings:

  1. one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice, eg, Matt 10:24, Luke 6:4, etc. I particularly like the "apprentice" translation as this Greek word comes directly from the ancient guild system where a local master tradesman would run a school and teach apprentices his skills. The primary function of the apprentice was to learn to imitate the master. Thus Jesus tells us to imitate Him and teach others to do the same, Matt 28:19, 20.
  2. one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent, eg, Matt 9:14, 11:2, 10:1, 11:1, 28:16, 8:21, etc. Acts uses μαθητής (mathetes) almost exclusively to denote the members of the Christian community of believers, Acts 6:1, 7, 9:19, 11:26, 29, 13:52, 15:10, etc.

Note especially that such "disciples" were often martyrs and under such circumstances they clearly valued their faith and trust in Jesus much more than other earthly associations as demonstrated by their willingness to die for their Lord. Indeed, Jesus warned his followers that family members will betray the disciples:

Matt 10:21, Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. See also Mark 13:12.

It is in this sense that Jesus, in Luke 14:26, is telling the disciples that they must love Him supremely over all others, using classic Hebrew hyperbole.

Ellicott observes on Luke 14:26,

If any man come to me, and hate not his father.--Like words had been spoken before, as in Matthew 10:37-39, where see Notes. Here they appear in a yet stronger form, "not hating" taking the place of "loving more," and they are spoken, not to the Twelve only, but to the whole multitude of eager would-be followers. Self-renunciation, pushed, if necessary, to the extremest issues, is with Jesus the one indispensable condition of discipleship. He asks for nothing less than the heart, and that cannot be given by halves.

The Pulpit commentary also says:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. The Lord's teaching throughout, in parable and in direct saying, pressed home to his followers that no home love, no earthly affection, must ever come into competition with the love of God. If home and his cause came ever into collision, home and all belonging to it must gently be put aside, and everything must be sacrificed to the cause.

The word disciple is certainly a favorite of Jesus but was used extensively by Luke in Acts 6:1, 2, 7, 9:1, 10, 25, 26, 38, 11:29, 13:52, 14:20, 22, 28, 15:10, 16:1, 18:23, 27, 19:1, 9, 30, 20:1, 30, 21:4, 16.

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    The Peshitta and modern Hebrew translations translate μαθητὴς as תַּלְמִידוֹ (talmud with third masculine singular suffix). The LXX does not have μαθητὴς.
    – Perry Webb
    May 25, 2020 at 1:52
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A “disciple” is a student, i.e., one who learns from and is taught by a teacher.1 The English word “disciple” is a loanword from Latin discipulus.

According to Oxford English Dictionary on “disciple”:

Etymology: Originally (in Old English) < (i) classical Latin discipulus

Lewis & Short on the Latin word discipulus:

Lewis & Short, p. enter image description here

The Lord Jesus Christ was a teacher. Note the following:

Matt. 22:16:

16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. NKJV, ©1982

Matt. 5:1–2:

1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: NKJV, ©1982

He taught his disciples (students), and in turn, he commanded them to go and teach the nations.2 In Acts of the Apostles, and the later books, the apostles and other disciples were fulfilling his commandment to do so, hence “the number of disciples multiplied.”3 Although the apostle Paul makes no explicit mention of the word μαθητής (“disciple”) in his writings, the fact that he refers to himself as a “teacher of Gentiles” (διδάσκαλος ἐθνῶν)4 implies that he, too, was making disciples by teaching them “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the doctrine which is according to godliness.”5


Footnotes

1 Greek διδάσκαλος; Latin magister
2 Matt. 28:19
3 Acts 6:1, 6:7
4 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11
5 1 Tim. 6:3

References

Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles. Harper’s Latin Dictionary: A New Latin Dictionary Founded on the Translation of Freund’s Latin-German Lexicon. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1884.

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As the other answers here note, a disciple μαθητής (mathetes) is a student who studies under a teacher. These were common in Greco-Roman society. The Plotinus and Plato had numerous disciples who studied under them.

Just as with modern day students, once you graduate and are no longer a student, the term is no longer appropriate unless in the past tense (Eg, Jayant Narlikar was a student of Steven Hawking, but is no longer. Similarly, Aristotle was a disciple of Plato until he started teaching on his own.)

By virtue of the fact that the Gospels mostly record the life and teachings of Jesus, there is not much opportunity for others to refer to the Disciples/Apostles as Disciples - and this then is the term mostly used by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

With the death of Jesus however, they could no longer study from the the rabbi Jesus, and therefore the term was no longer appropriate. A new term is needed, and in Acts we are told of the day of Pentecost in which the Apostles are sent out to preach the Gospel to all nations.

The term Apostle ἀπόστολος (apóstolos), literally means "one who is sent off" and so from the day of pentacost forward, this was a more appropriate term for Jesus' 12 apostles - they were the 12 who were sent off by Jesus.

As the Epistles and Revelation (the remaining texts of the New Testament) mostly record and concern times after the day of Pentacost, they understandably use the term "Apostle" instead of "Disciple" as this is the appropriate term for the time period that these writings record.

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  • Are there disciples of Jesus today?
    – Tony Chan
    Jun 11, 2020 at 20:09
  • @TonyChan - certainly. And Apostles - those who have been sent. Jun 11, 2020 at 21:31
  • Technically, I agree - people are sent today. But using the word 'Apostle' is surely more misleading than helpful. The term 'Apostle' is pretty much never used from the second century onwards for anybody outside of the Twelve + Paul. So if we use the word 'Apostle' of anybody else, I'm not sure I've encountered a usage that seems authentic to how it was understood by the first and second century church. At best I'd replace it with the term 'missionary' to avoid confusion.
    – Steve Taylor
    Dec 18, 2020 at 10:21
  • @SteveTaylor - the Apostolic Church used it to name their entire denomination. I don't believe that they use the word "Apostle" to describe their congregants, directly, but I think they undoubtedly chose "Apostolic" to name the denomination in order to remind congregants that they have been sent into the world to make disciples. And if we are to interpret the term in context of the passage, I think the later usage really doesn't matter - it would be the usage in the 1st and 2nd century we care most about. Dec 18, 2020 at 19:28
  • I suspect that they were mistaken in their reasoning for that, but I'd rather not make a thing of that! I think if we are to interpret the term as it was intended and as it made sense in the context of its original recipients, we can't afford to ignore historic interpretations. If the Apostles' own disciples did not believe in such a thing as a "gift of Apostleship" or understand there to be any Apostles after the first generation, any interpretation that there is such a 'gift' which continues today is also effectively a judgement that the earliest Christian leaders were all mistaken.
    – Steve Taylor
    Dec 18, 2020 at 19:54

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