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Why is μαθητεύσατε translated "make disciples of all nations" in the newer translations when the older ones and the modern literal translations render it "disciple (or teach) all nations", ie without "make"? I note that Blass & Debrunner's Grammar 148(3) say that μαθητεύσατε involves a transitive use of an original intransitive. Is this the reason? It still seems peculiar to me for two reasons. Firstly, the object of the transitive verb is "nations", not "disciples". (There is no "of" in the text either.) Secondly, in Mt 4:19 the word "make" (ποιήσω) is in the text, hence the translation "make you fishers of men" makes sense. But why import "make" into Mt 28:19 when there is no ποιήσω in the text?

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    disciple is not a verb in English.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 22:19
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    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 22:19
  • 1
    What "old versions" use the word "disciple" as a verb" as you have quoted. I could not find any.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 22:39
  • 1
    You question is a matter of English usage and makes no difference in the meaning of the passage.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 22:52
  • English Stackexchange will be better for this to ask why over time its verbal form vanished.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 17:48

2 Answers 2

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The trick in translation Matt 28:19, in particular, the imperative verb μαθητεύσατε, is to render the sense.

First, "disciple" in English is usually taken as a noun and not a verb.

Second, the English word "disciple" is rather old-fashioned and little used. A more modern, better translation might be "student" or "apprentice".

Thus, I would prefer to translate Matt 28:19 as:

"Having gone, make students/apprentices [from] all nations ..."

The root Verb here, μαθητεύω, means to make a disciple, or make an apprentice of someone, in the sense that the person becomes a student studying the techniques of the master. This was an allusion to the ancient guilds where students/apprentices would be taught the techniques of a master craftsman in a trade such as, caving, construction, embroidery, pottery, stone-masonry, etc.

Thus, Christians, are people who study and imitate their master, Jesus, in their life and conduct. Thus, Jesus tells the disciples to make more disciples.

Now, it is a simple matter that one cannot make a disciple of a nation but only the people of a nation. Thus, Jesus instructs his disciples to make disciples of the people of all nations, ie, to exclude no one.

[Equally, one cannot baptize a nation but only baptize people from a nation.]

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  • disciple is far from rare in the context of the Bible though
    – Tristan
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 14:10
  • @Tristan - perhaps that is true, but it is a problem for non-Christians who should not have to learn strange words to read the Bible. The Bible, in the original languages, was written in every-day langue and I think that the translations should reflect this.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 21:04
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I struggle with the point of this question but will attempt an answer. One issue is distinguishing μαθητεύσατε in v19 with διδάσκοντες in v20. The primary difference is v19 is who to teach and v20 is what to teach. μαθητεύσατε seems to reflect the Semitic language Jesus spoke and has the sense of the Hiphil, cause or make disciples. In BADG the meaning ② is like the Hiphil of ①.

μαθητεύω (s. μαθητής) 1 aor. ἐμαθήτευσα, pass. ἐμαθητεύθην. ① to be a pupil ... ⓐ intr., be or become a pupil or disciple ... ② to cause one to be a pupil, teach, trans. -- Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 609). University of Chicago Press.

The Peshitta seems to reflect this. The Syriac Peshitta uses the same root as the Hebrew word Talmud (ܬܱ݁ܠܡܶܕ݂ܘ tlmd). Talmud means student and the verb means learn or study. Thus, we could translate μαθητεύσατε to make students. Again, the main point in the beginning of v19 is who to teach and in v20 what to teach.

This passage points to the meaning of making disciples of the people in the nations rather than the nations themselves.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."

(Matt. 4:8–10, ESV)

Thus, Jesus resisted the temptation to become a military Messiah.

Is the following what bothers you about the translation "make disciples."

36.37 μαθητεύωb: to cause someone to become a disciple or follower of—‘to make disciples, to cause people to become followers.’ πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ‘go then, to all peoples and make them (my) disciples’ Mt 28:19. In rendering μαθητεύω in Mt 28:19 and similar contexts, it is important to avoid the implication of duress or force, that is to say, one should not translate ‘force them to be my disciples’ or ‘compel them to be my disciples.’ This might very well be implied in a literal translation of a causative such as ‘to make.’ In order to avoid a wrong implication of a causative, it may be important to use some such expression as ‘convince them to become my disciples’ or ‘urge them to be my disciples.’ -- Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 470). United Bible Societies.

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