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The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch. Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant.[1] His famous Sermon on the Mount to his disciples, the mount representing Mount Zion, is considered by some Christian scholars to be the antitype[2] of the proclamation of the Old Covenant by Moses from the Biblical Mount Sinai.

In the History of Christianity, the disciples were the students of Jesus during his ministry. While Jesus attracted a large following, the term disciple is commonly used to refer specifically to "the Twelve", an inner circle of men whose number perhaps represented the twelve tribes of Israel. In addition to the Twelve, the gospels and the Book of Acts refer to varying numbers of disciples that range between 70 and 120 to a "growing multitude". Jesus controversially accepted women and sinners (those who violated purity laws) among his followers, though it's not clear they were disciples. In the book of Acts, the Apostles themselves have disciples. The word disciple is used today as a way of self-identification for those who seek to learn from the teachings of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount.

The term disciple is derived from the New Testament Greek word "μαθητής". , coming to English by way of the Latin discipulus meaning "a learner". Disciple should not be confused with apostle, meaning ""messenger, he that is sent"".  [3] While a disciple is one who learns from a teacher, a student, an apostle is sent to deliver those teachings to others. The word disciple appears two hundred and thirty two times in the four gospels and

Several disciples are historical figures, notably James the Just, Peter and John, the pillars of the Jerusalem church during Paul's missions. The canonical gospels name Peter as the first among the disciples, the first to name Jesus the messiah, on whom the church is built, called to feed Jesus' sheep, see also Primacy of Simon Peter. Paul named him the Apostle to the Jews, as Paul claimed the title Apostle to the Gentiles, see also Circumcision controversy in early Christianity. John's tradition was strong in Asia Minor, where the gospel of John was likely composed. In the synoptics, Peter, John, and James witness Jesus' transfiguration. Thomas is associated with a sayings tradition that features gnostic elements, and he appears in John as "doubting Thomas." The gospels Matthew and John have traditionally been attributed to these disciples, and Mark associated with Peter's teaching, though modern scholars generally take these gospels as anonymous.

Many of Jesus' first followers had been disciples of John the Baptist.

Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus led a large following, as related in the four canonical Gospels. These gospels pay special attention to the Twelve, Jesus' inner circle.

The four

In Mark (1:16–20), Jesus initially calls four fishermen from among those at the Sea of Galilee. These are Simon (later called "Rock" or Peter) and his brother Andrew, and the brothers James and John (later called the "Sons of Thunder" or Boanerges). Matthew follows Mark's account (4:18–22). The Gospel of Luke 5:1–11 lacks a mention of Andrew. John 1:35-51 also includes an initial calling of disciples, but these are: an unnamed disciple, Andrew, Simon, Philip and Nathanael.

The twelve

Most of the attention in the gospels is given to a specific group of disciples called by Jesus on the top of a mountain and commissioned by him as the Twelve Apostles. These men are:

  1. Simon, called Peter
  2. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter
  3. James, son of Zebedee (called the son of Zebedee by Mark and Matthew)
  4. John (Mark and Matthew identify him as the brother of James, son of Zebedee)
  5. Philip
  6. Bartholomew, named Nathanael in John
  7. Matthew (whom the Matthew evangelist identifies as a publican), named Levi in Luke and Mark
  8. Thomas
  9. James, son of Alphaeus
  10. Simon, called a zealot in Mark, Matthew, and Luke
  11. Jude Thaddaeus, called Thaddaeus by Mark, Lebbaeus Thaddaeus by Matthew, and Judas of James by Luke
  12. Judas Iscariot

The Gospel of John refers to one disciple as the one whom Jesus loved. Since the apostle John, unlike the other twelve, is never named in that gospel, the "beloved disciple" is assumed to be him.

Mark provides the first list of the twelve, and Matthew copies it. Luke, however, replaces Thaddeus with a second Judas. John names nine disciples plus "the beloved disciple." The number twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel, identifying Christianity as the new Israel.[4] Many scholars take it as historical that Jesus called an inner circle of twelve disciples, while others see "the Twelve" as an early Christian invention.[4]

Matthew is the only canonical gospel to talk about the church. In Matthew, Jesus grants authority to Peter and to the rest of the twelve, giving them power to bind and loose.

Great crowd and the seventy

The number of or persons among Jesus' disciples (as opposed to just followers) is not always given in the gospel accounts. A much larger group of people is identified as disciples in the opening of the passage of the Sermon on the Plain that begins in Luke 6:17.

Additionally, seventy (or seventy-two, depending on the source used) people are sent out in pairs to prepare the way for Jesus (Luke 10). They are sometimes referred to as "the Seventy" or "the Seventy Disciples". They are to eat any food offered, heal the sick and spread the word that God's reign is coming, that whoever hears them hears Jesus, whoever rejects them rejects Jesus, and whoever rejects Jesus rejects the One who sent him. In addition, they are granted great powers over the enemy and their names are written in heaven.

The reference to seventy-two may have indicated that the missionaries went to all the lands in the world, in support of Luke's overall theme of Jesus' universal relevance.

Cleopas and companion on the road to Emmaus

Cleopas is one of the two disciples to whom the risen Lord appeared at Emmaus (Luke 24:18). Cleopas, with an unnamed disciple of Jesus' are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the day of Jesus' resurrection. Cleopas and his friend were discussing the events of the past few days when a stranger asked them what they spoke of. The stranger is asked to join Cleopas and his friend for the evening meal. There the stranger is revealed, in blessing and breaking the bread, as the resurrected Jesus before he disappears. Cleopas and his friend hastened to Jerusalem to carry the news to the other disciples, to discover that Jesus had appeared there also and would do so again. The incident is without parallel in Matthew, Mark, or John.


Jesus practiced open table fellowship, scandalizing his critics by dining with sinners, tax collectors, and women.

Sinners and tax collectors

The gospels use the term "sinners and tax collectors" to depict those he fraternized with. Sinners were Jews who violated purity rules, or generally any of the 613 mitzvot, or possibly Gentiles who violated Noahide Law, though halacha was still in dispute in the first century, see also Hillel and Shammai and Circumcision controversy in early Christianity. Tax collectors profited from the Roman economic system and the Roman imposed Iudaea province, which was displacing Galileans in their own homeland, foreclosing on family land and selling it to absentee landlords. In the honor-based culture of the time, such behavior went against the social grain.


Samaritans, positioned between Jesus' Galilee and Jerusalem's Judea, were mutually hostile with Jews. In Luke and John, Jesus extends his ministry to Samaritans.

Females that followed Jesus

In Luke (10:38–42), Mary, sister of Lazarus is contrasted with her sister Martha, who was "cumbered about many things" while Jesus was their guest, while Mary had chosen "the better part," that of listening to the master's discourse. John names her as the "one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair" (11:2). In Luke, an unidentified "sinner" in the house of a Pharisee anoints Jesus' feet. Any pre-existing relationship between Jesus and Lazarus himself, prior to the miracle, is unspecified by John. In Catholic folklore, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is seen as the same as Mary Magdalene.

Luke refers to a number of people accompanying Jesus and the twelve. From among them he names three women: "Mary, called Magdalene, ... and Joanna the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources" (Luke 8:2-3). Mary Magdalene and Joanna are among the women who went to prepare Jesus' body in Luke's account of the resurrection, and who later told the apostles and other disciples about the empty tomb and words of the "two men in dazzling clothes". Mary Magdalene is the most well-known of the disciples outside of the Twelve. More is written in the gospels about her than the other female followers. There is also a large body of lore and literature covering her.

Other gospel writers differ as to which women witness the crucifixion and witness to the resurrection. Mark includes Mary, the mother of James and Salome (not to be confused with Salomé the daughter of Herodias) at the crucifixion and Salome at the tomb. John includes Mary the wife of Clopas at the crucifixion.


"Love one another"

A definition for who is a disciple is Jesus' self-referential example from the Gospel of John 13:34-35: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (NRSV) Further definition by Jesus can be found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 14. Beginning with a testing trap laid out by his adversaries regarding observance of the Jewish Sabbath, Jesus uses the opportunity to lay out the problems with the religiosity of his adversaries against his own teaching by giving a litany of shocking comparisons between various, apparent socio-political and socio-economic realities versus the meaning of being his disciple. Examples which are expressed definitions of a disciple are:

  • Luke 14:26 Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
  • Luke 14:27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
  • Luke 14:33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

"Be transformed"

Generally in Christian theology, discipleship is a term used to refer to a disciple's transformation from some other World view and practice of life into that of Jesus Christ, and so, by way of Trinitarian theology, of God himself.[5] Note the Apostle Paul's description of this process, that the disciple "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2) Therefore, a disciple is not simply an accumulator of information or one who merely changes moral behavior in regard to the teachings of Jesus Christ, but seeks a fundamental shift toward the ethics of Jesus Christ in every way, including complete devotion to God. In several Christian traditions, the process of becoming a disciple is called the Imitation of Christ, after the famous book of that title by Thomas à Kempis. See also Imitatio dei. Martin Luther called on Christians to be "little Christs."

The Great Commission

Ubiquitous throughout Christianity is the practice of proselytization, making new disciples. At the beginning of Jesus' ministry, when calling his earliest disciples Simon (Peter) and Andrew, he says to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Then, at the very end of his ministry Jesus institutes the Great Commission, commanding all present to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20a). Jesus has incorporated this practice into the very definition of being a disciple and experiencing discipleship.

Discipleship for The Twelve Disciples

The same process of transformation is also evident in the recorded experiences of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. Though regarded highly throughout Church history, the biblical texts themselves do not attempt to show the Twelve as faultless or even having a solid grasp of Jesus' own ministry, including a recognition of their part in it. All four gospel texts are not reluctant to convey the confusion and foibles of the Twelve in their attempt to internalize and live out the ministry of Jesus within their own discipleship.

Some other examples where the Twelve worked directly against the very center of the ministry of Jesus: In Matthew 19 Jesus rebuked the Twelve for their disinterest in children and Jesus explains that children are a model for a heavenly demeanor. In John 14, Philip demands that Jesus show them the Father, to which Jesus exasperatedly explains that they should know by then that if they have seen him, they have, in fact, seen the Father. In Matthew 18 the disciples argue over which of themselves will be the greatest when Jesus' kingdom comes into full effect. Jesus responds, to explain their gross misunderstanding of the humble and self-sacrificial nature of his teaching, "whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.".

On the other hand, according to the Book of Acts, at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples take on a new boldness, accuracy and discipline in their discipleship. It is from this point where we see the often confused band of disciples (not limited to the Twelve) mature into what is known as the Church (ekklesia εκκλησια), the forefathers and foremothers of the faith of all modern Christians worldwide.

Family and wealth

Jesus called on disciples to give up their wealth and their familial ties. In his society, family was the individual's source of identity, so renouncing it would mean becoming virtually nobody. In Luke{Luke 9:58-62}, Jesus uses a hyperbolic metaphor to stress the importance of this.

Other Biblical uses

Since the word disciple is used in English generally to mean "follower" or "pupil", it is applied to other Biblical characters, such as John the Baptist (c.f. John 1:35) and Isaiah (c.f. Isaiah 8:16).

Discipleship Movement

The "Discipleship Movement" (also known as the "Shepherding Movement") was an influential and controversial movement within some British and American churches, emerging in the 1970s and early 1980s. The doctrine of the movement emphasized the "one another" passages of the New Testament, and the mentoring relationship prescribed by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 of the Holy Bible. It was controversial in that it gained a reputation for controlling and abusive behavior, with a great deal of emphasis placed upon the importance of obedience to one's own shepherd. The movement was later denounced by several of its founders, although some form of the movement continues today.[6][7][8]


  1. Hebrews 8:6
  2. See also Antithesis of the Law.
  3. ""Christian History: The Twelve Apostles"". Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. "Mark," p. 51-161
  5. Romans 12:2
  6. "Bible teacher Derek Prince dies at 88: Charismatic-renewal leader, author of 45 books lived in Jerusalem". WorldNetDaily. January 13, 2009. 
  7. Lawrence A. Pile (1990). "The Other Side of Discipleship" (in English). Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  8. "Charismatic Leaders Concede They Went Too Far: `Shepherding' was often accused by outsiders and former members of being cultlike in requiring members to obey leaders in all aspects of their personal lives.". Los Angeles Times. March 24, 1990. 

See also

External links