The Evolution of Discipleship in the Gospels

Thesis: The terms and concepts of discipleship evolve throughout the ministry of Jesus.

There are certain difficulties involved in studying discipleship in the Bible. One of the primary challenges the student of biblical discipleship faces is the changing terms or concepts found in the Gospels.

Discipleship changes throughout the three years of Jesus's ministry because he took a known concept (discipleship; and we'll look more at this later) and molded to make it how he wanted. Therefore at the beginning of the Gospels we see that Jesus' form of disicpleship is very similar to other forms that existed at the time. Yet when we get to the Book of Acts and Jesus has ascended and the Spirit has descended, we see that the terms and concepts of Jesus' form of discipleship have solidified into something quite different that common concepts of the that time.

This means that discipleship terminology evolves through the Gospels and only solidifies in the Book of Acts. For example, we can see in the Gospels that “disciple” can refer to even the most casual follower of Jesus (many of whom left him when his teaching became difficult; John 6). And yet when we read the Book of Acts we see time and again that the term "disciple" is a synonym for believer; it refers to a saved believer who is openly committed to following Jesus (Acts 4.32 cf. 6.2: the same multitude of believers are called a multitude of disciples). We would call such a person a "Christian" today, and so they were called in the Book of Acts (Acts 11.26; 26.28).

Therefore the Book of Acts will give us a more complete picture of discipleship as Jesus' desired and designed it. As we read and study discipleship in the Gospels, we need to be careful about applying concepts directly to us today because it was in a time of transition when Jesus was molding and changing an existing concept into what he wanted.