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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Disciple (2)

DISCIPLE

1. In the NT ‘disciple’ (sing. and plur.) occurs very frequently in the Gospels and Acts, but not elsewhere in NT. In every case it represents the Gr. μαθητής = (1) ‘learner,’ ‘pupil,’ in contrast to ‘teacher,’ as Matthew 10:24; and (2) ‘adherent,’ one who is identified with a certain leader, or school, and adopts a corresponding line of conduct, as Mark 2:18 ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?’ cf. John 9:28 ‘Thou art his disciple; but we are disciples of Moses.’ Our Lord Himself points to and discourages a loose use of the term ‘disciple,’ according to which it meant no more than ‘hearer,’ when He says, ‘If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples’ (John 8:31; cf. His statement of the conditions of discipleship, Luke 14:26-27; Luke 14:33 and John 15:8). As used by the Evangelists, ‘disciples’ has sometimes a broader and sometimes a narrower significance. For the former, see Luke 6:13; Luke 6:17 ‘a great multitude of his disciples,’ Acts 6:2 ‘And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them,’ cf. Acts 4:32. It is evident that to St. Luke τῶν πιστευσάντων and τῶν μαθητῶν were equivalent expressions. Hence, when we read in Acts 19:1 f. of ‘certain disciples,’ who when they ‘believed’ heard nothing of the gift of the Holy Ghost and were baptized ‘into John’s baptism,’ we must understand thereby Christian disciples, though in an ‘immature stage of knowledge’ (see Knowling’s note on the passage, Expos. Gr. Test.). For ‘disciples’ in the narrower sense = the inner circle of the followers of Jesus, ‘the Twelve,’ see Matthew 8:23; Matthew 11:1; Matthew 14:15; Matthew 26:18, and frequently. Thus, as applied to the followers of our Lord, ‘disciples’ is a term of varying content. It is of interest in passing to note the various appellations by which the disciples address the Saviour, expressing divers aspects of the relation which they held to subsist between themselves and Him. He was to them (1) Teacher (διδάσκαλος), Mark 4:38, John 13:13 f.; (2) Superintendent (ἐπιστάτης), only in Luke 5:5; Luke 8:45; Luke 9:33; Luke 9:49; (3) Lord (κύριος; from Luke 6:46 we should gather that this was the designation most usually adopted by the disciples); (4) My Teacher (ῥαββί), Matthew 26:25, Mark 9:5, John 4:31; John 11:8.

2. Restricting ourselves to the more limited sense in which ‘disciples’ is used of the followers of our Lord, we may note the composition of the Twelve. The Synoptics and Acts provide the following lists:—

Matthew 10:2 ff.

 

Mark 3:16 ff.

 

Luke 6:14 ff.

 

Acts 1:13.

 

Simon.

 

Simon.

 

Simon.

 

Peter.

 

Andrew.

 

James.

 

Andrew.

 

John.

 

James.

 

John.

 

James.

 

James.

 

John.

 

Andrew.

 

John.

 

Andrew

 

Philip.

 

Philip.

 

Philip.

 

Philip.

 

Bartholomew.

 

Bartholomew.

 

Bartholomew.

 

Thomas.

 

Thomas.

 

Matthew.

 

Matthew.

 

Bartholomew.

 

Matthew.

 

Thomas.

 

Thomas.

 

Matthew.

 

James of Alphæus.

 

James of Alphæus.

 

James of Alphæus.

 

James of Alphæus.

 

Thaddæus (Lebhæus).

 

Thaddæus.

 

Simon the Zealot.

 

Simon the Zealot.

 

Simon the Cananæan.

 

Simon the Cananæan.

 

Judas of James.

 

Judas of James.

 

Judas Iscariot.

 

Judas Iscariot.

 

Judas Iscariot.

 

Judas of James.

 

 

Comparing these lists, it is apparent that common to them all is the division of the Twelve into groups of four. The sequence of the groups is the same in each list. Within the groups the order of the names varies, save as regards the first name of each of the three groups, which in all the lists is the same—the first, fifth, and ninth places being occupied in all by Simon (Peter), Philip, and James of Alphaeus respectively. See, further, art. Apostles, p. 103a f., and the separate articles on the above names.Acts 1:13.Luke 6:14 ff.

3. The calling of the Twelve.—If this phrase be taken quite strictly, there is no difficulty in determining when and under what circumstances the call to which it refers was given. The Synoptic accounts are in virtual accord. They show that it was not at the outset of His ministry that our Lord increased the company of His immediate followers until it numbered twelve. That increase took place when the fame of His teaching and words, as He went through the towns and villages of Galilee, ‘preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness’ (Matthew 9:35), both attracted to Him the attention of the populace, and so excited the resentment of the scribes and Pharisees that they began to take counsel with the Herodians ‘how they might destroy him’ (Mark 3:6). The need for more labourers was evident, and not less evident to Jesus the signs that the time for training such labourers might he short. St. Matthew tells, immediately before he records the calling of the Twelve, that when Jesus ‘saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest’ (Matthew 9:36 ff.). That summons to prayer becomes more urgent and pressing in the light of St. Luke’s record, that immediately prior to His choosing the Apostles our Lord ‘went out into the mountain to pray; and he continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples, and he chose from them twelve’ (Luke 6:12 ff.). The immediate purpose of the call is expressed by St. Mark thus: ‘And he appointed twelve that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have authority to cast out devils’ (Mark 3:14 f.) On the question whether some of the Twelve had not received a previous call, or perhaps more than one previous call, to be followers of Jesus, and if so, in what relation these carlier callings stand to the appointment of the Twelve, see art. Apostles.

4. The training of the Twelve.—When St. Mark tells us (Mark 3:14) that Jesus ‘appointed twelve that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,’ he discloses the characteristic and the all-important feature of the method of their training. They were to see the works of the Saviour and to hear His words, and in addition to that they were to be constantly in contact with His personality: they were to be with Him (see above, p. 107).

That ‘course of instruction,’ as Keim calls it, which contact with Jesus secured to His disciples, was maintained with very slight interruption from the calling of the Twelve until the Betrayal. The chief intermission, of which we have any word, of the intercourse of Jesus with His chosen followers, was occasioned by that mission on which the Twelve were sent quite soon after their call (Matthew 10:5). The interval occupied by the mission was probably not more than a few days—‘at least a week’ (Latham, Pastor Pastorum, p. 301). That mission was a testing of the Apostles themselves, not less than an act of service to those to whom they were sent; and the test was so endured that it needed not to be repeated. The Twelve went forth under the conditions which Jesus prescribed: they delivered the message He bade them, and they used freely the power to heal with which they were entrusted. No similar service separated them again from their Master,—unless, indeed, they had part in that mission of the Seventy of which St. Luke tells (10:1ff.). The time would yet come for them to deliver their testimony and to fulfil their ministry. Meanwhile the Saviour jealously guards for them the precious opportunities which remain for free intercourse with Himself. He leads them away from the crowds, taking them now to ‘a desert place’ (Mark 6:31), and again to the remote ‘parts of Caesarea Philippi’ (Matthew 16:13). We gain the impression that as the brief spell of His own earthly ministry neared its term, our Lord concentrated Himself increasingly upon the inner band of His followers. Ewald is true to the indication of the Gospel narratives when he says that ‘the community of His friends’ was to our Lord ‘during the last year and a half the main object of His earthly labours’ (III, vol. vi. 417).

Should it be asked more particularly what was the instruction of which the Twelve were the recipients, a full answer would require a recapitulation of all the teaching of Jesus. This much may be said here, that the Twelve shared the instruction given to ‘the multitude,’ with the added advantage of the explanations which they sought, and which our Lord freely accorded them, ‘when he was alone,’ ‘privately.’ See Mark 4:34, on which Swete (Gospel according to St. Mark, p. 84) comments: ‘Exposition now regularly followed (ἐπέλυεν πάντα) the public teaching.’ Furthermore, the Gospels contain records of discourses addressed only to the inner circle of the disciples. Among such discourses should be reckoned in all probability part at least of the group of addresses known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’—notably the part contained in. Matthew 5, which bears all the marks of a discourse to more immediate followers. Not, however, that the more immediate followers are in this particular connexion to be restricted to the Twelve, since the discourse in Matthew 5 must—in spite of the position St. Luke gives to his version of it (Luke 6:12 ff.)—be placed earlier than the calling of the Twelve; it ‘has throughout the character of an early and opening discourse.’ None the less it is to be accounted among our Lord’s less public utterances: it is ‘Jesus’ address of welcome to His band of disciples’ (Keim, op. cit. 286–290). Again, in Matthew 10:5-42 we have what appears at first sight to be a sustained address to the Twelve in reference to their mission. But on a comparison with Mark 6:8-11 and Luke 9:2-5 it seems likely that only Luke 9:5-14 were spoken with direct reference to the mission, and that Luke 9:15-42 are grouped with them, though coming from a later time, because they contained sayings of Jesus in reference to a kindred topic—the future missionary labours of the Apostles. Yet further must be added to the discourses delivered to the Twelve alone, the apocalyptic discourse Matthew 24 (cf. Mark 13 and Luke 21), with its parabolic sequel in ch. 25; and the discourse in the upper room on the night of the Betrayal (John 14-16). And when we endeavour to tabulate the instruction imparted more privately to the Twelve, we may not omit the signs, each so full of teaching for them, of which they alone—and in one ease but three of their number—were the spectators. The Walking on the Sea, the Transfiguration, the Cursing of the Barren Fig-tree, the Feet-washing in the Upper Room, the Miraculous Draught of Fishes (John 21:4 ff.),—these all surely formed part of the lessons most indelibly impressed on the Twelve.

Our Lord Himself has characterized for us the purpose and the content of the teaching He imparted to His followers. It was that to them might be given ‘the mystery of the kingdom of God’ (Mark 4:11). ‘As given to the Apostles it was still a secret, not yet to be divulged, nor even except in a small degree intelligible to themselves’ (Swete, op. cit. p. 72). The Kingdom, the characteristics of its subjects, its laws, its service, and, finally, its Lord reigning through suffering—such in broad outline was the course of the instruction imparted by Jesus to the Twelve. It moved onward from the simpler to the more profound. ‘At first, sayings are given them to remember; latterly, they receive mysteries on which to meditate. In the Sermon on the Mount men are told plainly what it is desirable for them to know; afterwards, the teaching passes through parables and hard sayings up to the mysteries conveyed by the Last Supper’ (Latham, op. cit. 120). But no teaching, not even the teaching of Jesus Himself, could overcome the reluctance to believe that it behoved that the Christ should suffer, or arouse anticipations of the glories that should follow. The crucifixion and death of our Lord found the Eleven unprepared, and ready to despair, though they still held together in the bonds of a love they had acquired in the school of Jesus. It needed the actual fact of the Resurrection, and converse with the risen Saviour, and the illumination of the Spirit, to bring them to a true understanding of all that reiterated teaching concerning His death and His rising from the dead which Jesus had given ‘while He was yet with them.’ But once that understanding was attained by the disciples, the truth against which their minds had been stubbornly closed became central in their proclamation. There is abundant evidence that the Apostles were slow learners—men with no special quickness of insight, and with the hindrance of strongly developed prejudice. It is also evident that their slowness and prejudice have for us an apologetic value (see esp. Bruce, Training of the Twelve, p. 482: ‘They were stupid, slow-minded persons; very honest, but very unapt to take in new ideas.… Let us be thankful for the honest stupidity of these men, it gives great value to their testimony. We know that nothing but facts could make such men believe that which nowadays they get credit for inventing’). It concerns us yet more to recall the evidence which their training affords of the patience and transforming power of Him who now, not less truly than in the days of His flesh, calls weak men to Himself that they may be with Him, and that He may send them forth to bear witness on His behalf, enduing them with His Spirit, that their testimony, like that of the Apostles, may not be in vain. See also art. Apostles.

Literature.—Bruce, The Training of the Twelve; Latham, Pastor Pastorum; Neander, Life of Christ; Ewald, History of Israel, English translation vol. vi.; Keim, Jesus of Nazara, English translation vol. iii.; Weiss, The Life of Christ; Sanday, Outlines of the Life of Christ [art. ‘Jesus Christ’ in Hastings DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ]; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Greenhough, The Apostles of Our Lord.

George P. Gould.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Disciple (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/d/disciple-2.html. 1906-1918.

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