Saturday, August 31, 2013

Μαθητής: Moving Past The Glosses

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20a). Make disciples. Disciples? There is a lot of discussion surrounding the translation of the word μαθητής. What does the word mean? What does it mean in our local churches for a person to be a disciple? Over at the C. S. Lewis Institute's website, Thomas A. Tarrants III writes:
"To make disciples, we first need to know what a disciple is. Many people today are confused about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and this is the root of serious problems in the church. Some think a disciple is a person in full-time vocational ministry—such as a pastor, priest, or missionary—but not an ordinary believer. Others believe a disciple is someone who has gone through a “discipleship program,” studying the basics of the Christian life for several weeks or months. Still others think a disciple is a Christian who has made an optional, higher level of commitment to Christ than the average believer."
David Alan Black was appointed the Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary while I was in my doctoral program. I had the honor of serving as the first ever Research Assistant to the Chair. I had already been serving as Black's grader, which really wasn't a grader (he does all his own grading). I remember sitting in his office one day when he offered me the position. He asked a question out loud: "Now what are we going to call the position?" What unfolded in his answer was a discussion on the meaning of μαθητής. That was the first time I heard him talk to me about it. Learner, student, disciple. None of those really cut it. I remember him proposing the translations trainee, intern, and then, all of a sudden, apprentice.

In my doctoral dissertation, my first translation of Luke 6:40 on the very first page uses the word apprentice for μαθητής. I offered the following footnote:
"The translation 'apprentice' will not be used in every translation throughout this research. It is important, however, for believers to rethink what discipleship is. 'Apprentice' really captures what Jesus means by the word μαθητής. For discussions on this issue, see Steve Chalke with Joanna Wyld, Apprentice: Walking the Way of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009); Fisher Humphreys, I Have Called You Friends: New Testament Images that Challenge Us to Live as Christ Followers (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2005), 35-37; C. H. Dodd, More New Testament Studies (Manchester, England: The University Press, 1968), 39-40; Stanley H. Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006), 39ff.; Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church, Exponential Series (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011); Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005), 135; Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken, Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011), 54-56."
As you can see, others have certainly shone the light on how different translations, such as "apprentice," really capture what Jesus meant by the word. Let me ask you this question: From what you know about apprentices, how do you think local churches are doing in making them of all the peoples of the world (including nearby their homes)? Sadly, I think the report would be less than near passing. Do you have someone that you are apprenticing?

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