Towards clarity: Defining Christian "disciple-making" (το μαθητευειν) from a purely lexical-contextual perspective

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solomon_powell
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Towards clarity: Defining Christian "disciple-making" (το μαθητευειν) from a purely lexical-contextual perspective

Post by solomon_powell » August 7th, 2017, 11:24 am

More and more people are talking about "discipleship" these days, which is wonderful!

But the more I read and hear, it seems everyone has their own definition they are offering about what this action means, or involves.

Like most of the people on this site, I am a Greek nerd. (My own training is in linguistics, with a special focus on New Testament Greek exegesis, and a sub-focus/specialty in componential analysis. (I have thousands of hours logged in componential analysis in the field of Koine Greek, from my time as an exegetical assistant with Wycliffe). For those who aren't as familiar with componential analysis, it is simply the linguistic science of breaking words down into their individual components of meaning. (See Beekman & Callow's "Translating the Word of God" for an introduction to this field from those with experience in Biblical languages, or Cliff Goddard or Anna Wierzbicka's works for an introduction to this field from a universal languages perspective) Componential analysis is (should be) the main pool that lexicographers swim in, since they are primarly the ones that give us our definitions of individual words. Normally a specific word-sense can be broken down into one generic component plus one or more specificying/diagnostic components. So for instance, for the English word "peninsula", the generic component is "a body of land" and the specifying/diagnostic component is probably something like "surrounded by water on most sides." In bullet form:

Peninsula
-a body of land (generic component)
-surrounded by water on most (but not all) sides (specifying/diagnostic component)

likewise for "Island"
Island
-a body of land (generic component)
-surrounded by water on all sides (specifying/diagnostic component)

(these are my off the cuff analyses but enough to give you the idea)

Notice how they both share the same generic component? That is because they are in the same semantic class.

Hopefully that gives you a crash course introduction to the concept of componential analysis. As you can see, it primarily focuses on the lexical level, which is the most-zoomed in level in the exegetical endeavor.
Ok, let me get back on track. We were talking about discipleship and how people seem to be buzzing about it, which is awesome! Personally, I have been praying for a discipleship revival in this generation. But one of the problems is a wide array of (sometimes complicated) definitions.

I genuinely believe we Greek nerds have something we can offer to this discussion. And I believe we must!

There is only one passage in Scripture where followers of Jesus are told to "make disciples." It is in Matthew 28:19. This passage is known as "the Great Commission." He used a specific Greek word when giving that command. Followed by two elaborative/supportive participles.

I submit that any definition of "making disciples" that ignores either
-the actual components of meaning present in the actual Greek word Jesus used (μαθητευω- Mt 28:19a)
-the actions prescribed in the elaborative/supportive participles that Jesus immediately attached to this verb via its two subordinate clauses (Mt. 28:19b-20a)

is at best man-made and prone to either deficiency or clutter.

Greek nerds arise! And help bring clarity to the concept of "making-disciples" as prescribed by Jesus. From this lexical-contextual perspective I submit that we end up left with only 3 necessary and sufficient components of discipleship. Everything else is apparently completely flexible and customizeable.

I am so passionate about this particular topic that I have written a book aimed to help de-clutter and blow away fog surrounding discipleship, which turns out to be quite simple. Since I am bent on giving preeminent place to the lexical-contextual perspective, and to de-cluttering our views of discipleship, I have used effort to make the book as succinct as possible. The body comes out to around 30 pages. And the main chapter, which unpacks the only 3 necessary components that I see from the lexical-contextual perspective, is really just a handful of pages.

The book is called "Discipleship Lost" and it is available on Amazon. There is a black and white edition of the book available that is about half the price of the color version. You really don't need the color version. If this book can be of service to you, please avail yourself to it, and if this topic is of interest to you, please don't hesitate to reach out-- I am happy to send free copies out although as a pastor of a growing family my funds aren't huge. But I do believe it may be those with an appreciation of Greek that can help contribute clarity to what I hope is an increasingly widespread discipleship renaissance that I already see budding in various little nooks.

Solomon Powell

Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Towards clarity: Defining Christian "disciple-making" (το μαθητευειν) from a purely lexical-contextual perspective

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » August 7th, 2017, 4:48 pm

While a componential analysis of μαθητευω and cognates would be on topic for this forum. IMO, your main question sounds something like biblical theology which in my way of thinking isn't driven by lexical semantics. Didn't James Barr talk about that over half a century ago?
More and more people are talking about "discipleship" these days, which is wonderful!
These things go in waves. "discipleship" was a buzz word in my late teens and 20s. That was really a long time ago.

If I were going to look at your question it wouldn't rest on lexical semantics of a single word. How about Jesus command to Peter in John 21 βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου. ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου. βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου.
C. Stirling Bartholomew

Jonathan Robie
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Re: Towards clarity: Defining Christian "disciple-making" (το μαθητευειν) from a purely lexical-contextual perspective

Post by Jonathan Robie » August 7th, 2017, 5:13 pm

Hi Solomon,

Next time, please ask before advertising anything on B-Greek - see this policy.

So how do you approach the lexical semantics and context for this particular verse using your approach? That was not clear to me from your post. Could you please apply what you are saying to the verse you discuss?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

solomon_powell
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Re: Towards clarity: Defining Christian "disciple-making" (το μαθητευειν) from a purely lexical-contextual perspective

Post by solomon_powell » August 7th, 2017, 8:02 pm

Jonathan, I private messaged you and assure you advertisement was not in my mind at all as much as promoting something I'm sincerely excited about and believe Greek enthusiasts can help me promote. For pragmatic purposes (e.g. clarity in the Church regarding discipleship as a concept) not commercial.
------------------------------
Mr. Bartholemew: Thank you for the thoughts. I can definitely resound with this concern. Biblical theology definitely contributes to exegesis from a more zoomed-out perspective, while lexical semantics contributes from the more ground-up/zoomed in level. Both perspectives add value and a more wholistic view. And neither should be done in a vacuum from the other. I believe a good exegetical method is one which continually passes from zoomed out to zoomed in levels and back again. And each successive pass through this cycle enhances the quality of the exegesis.

I am by training an exegete, but my strength is definitely in lexical semantics, so you may take what I am about to say with that knowledge, but I believe even exegetes with more zoomed-out level strengths such as biblical theology would heartily agree that any biblical theology-level analysis of a text (and especially of an individual word/concept such as το μαθητευειν) which contradicts or is at odds with the lexical meaning of that word is at best deficient. The inverse is true as well of course, but as a matter of science, I think people would agree that biblical theology is more deductive based on data provided by the lower levels. Whereas lexical semantics provides some of the facts that are used as building blocks for the deductions at those higher levels. For instance, the lexical definition of πιστις ("faith") in its most common biblical sense is "the state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the person trusted." For the role of faith, of course, you have to look to biblical theology and look at all the passages that discuss faith. But for its definition, and perhaps only for its definition, lexical semantics has something to offer. Perhaps a good analogy would be that lexical semantics illuminates the shape of each individual “brick” (the meanings of individual words), while biblical theology seeks to understand the proper shape of buildings.

I think when we come to term like μαθητευειν, English speakers in the 21st century are at a particular deficit, because we are not culturally familiar with the practice. Discipling people is a part of our linguacultural background knowledge. It was for those in 1st century palestine. And so when Jesus gave the command to his eleven disciples to go μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, they would have understood the only two necessary components of that word. Which are life-sharing + teaching.

Go μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη? It would have begged the question, what shall we teach them? Pharisees had their own set of things they taught their 1st century disciples. It involved memorization of large passages of the Torah, among other things, for instance. Jesus provides two supportive/elaborative participles which are grammatically as well as practically subordinate to that main verb μαθητεύσατε, and the latter of the two fills in what would have been their likely cognitive gap. What should we teach them? “to obey everything I have commanded.” Notice their discipleship requirement involves teaching their disciples not “to memorize” but “to obey.” He also adds that they should be baptized in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

So, from the lexical level, they would have had two points of clarity as to what they are to do:

-teach people
-while sharing life with them

These are the only two components of the word μαθητευω, in my opinion as a componential analyst. BDAG's entry on the far more common noun form μαθητης includes both these components (in prose form), though he uses the word “association” plus an intensifier rather than my attempt at a more semantically primitive phrasing (“life-sharing”). (Interestingly, this life-sharing component is the only component which distinguishes μαθητευειν from our English verb “teach.”)

From the contextual level, the first subordinated participle (βαπτιζοντες) adds one additional component:

-baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

and the second subordinated participle adds an important additional detail as to the content of what specifically they should teach their disciples: (-to obey everything I have commanded).

Thus, from the lexical-contextual perspective, we are really only left with three necessary and sufficient components for how we are to “disciple” people, at least from the actual words used in the only discipleship prescription we have in all the Bible. These three components are:

-teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded
-share life with them
-baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


And now my wife is ready for me so I must go. Hope this is helpful. I have taken for granted that the reader is familiar with the grammar of the passage in Greek, with one main verb followed by two participles. If someone wants to clarify that feel free. But my wife just cleared her throat and we all know what that means! :D Blessings!

Solomon

Stephen Hughes
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Re: Towards clarity: Defining Christian "disciple-making" (το μαθητευειν) from a purely lexical-contextual perspective

Post by Stephen Hughes » August 8th, 2017, 1:55 am

solomon_powell wrote:
August 7th, 2017, 8:02 pm
I think when we come to term like μαθητευειν, English speakers in the 21st century are at a particular deficit, because we are not culturally familiar with the practice. Discipling people is a part of our linguacultural background knowledge. It was for those in 1st century palestine. And so when Jesus gave the command to his eleven disciples to go μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, they would have understood the only two necessary components of that word. Which are life-sharing + teaching.
...

So, from the lexical level, they would have had two points of clarity as to what they are to do:

-teach people
-while sharing life with them

These are the only two components of the word μαθητευω, in my opinion as a componential analyst. BDAG's entry on the far more common noun form μαθητης includes both these components (in prose form), though he uses the word “association” plus an intensifier rather than my attempt at a more semantically primitive phrasing (“life-sharing”). (Interestingly, this life-sharing component is the only component which distinguishes μαθητευειν from our English verb “teach.”)
Not having read your book, let me comment blindly that I think "life sharing" is ambiguous. It could be taken as the teacher shares the life with their μαθητὰς (or if only female μαθήτριας) - eating the same food and sharing the same language, OR that the person with skill and knowledge (διδάσκαλος, ἰατρός, ῥήτωρ, φιλόσοφος, etc.) shares their life, knowledge, understanding and experience of a discipline, trade or social functionwith others. Additionally, while a lexicon cannot reasonably be expected to be the last word in theological commentary, I think that the translation of μανθάνω in regard to Eph.4:20 displays the weakness in understanding or expressing the concept that you are getting at in your posts in this thread. Verses 17 - 19 describes the lifestyle of those, who are not the people of God, then that lifestyle is implicitly (unstatedly) compared to the lifestyle of those people, who ἔμαθον τὸν χριστόν. Perhaps, followed the example of Christ, taken upon themselves the lifestyle of Christ, learnt to live like Christ, think like Christ, might be better than learn the things of Christ. The example given from
Stirling Bartholomew wrote:
August 7th, 2017, 4:48 pm
If I were going to look at your question it wouldn't rest on lexical semantics of a single word. How about Jesus command to Peter in John 21 βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου. ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου. βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου.
Mr Bartholomew's example is actually quite close to what you are talking about, if we consider what part of animal husbandry Jesus in his post breakfast discussion does NOT ask Peter to use in feeding his sheep. Specifically, the least involved way of looking after the flock is to νέμειν (not a NT word) them - take them to a place where they can eat, and let them go for it as they wish or do so themselves. The shepherd is in the picture, but the sheep move independent of the shepherd's action - the shepherd does their own thing, if you would like to put it that way - "let them graze". On the other hand, βόσκειν seems much more involved - "give / let them have food and nourishment". A suggestive example might be an elephant which uses τῇ προβοσκίδι αὐτοῦ to put food into its mouth - gives itself something to eat.

I also wonder about the point of sticking to a single word. In some situations, it is possible to find the patterns and meaning of the macrocosm in the microcosm, but why stick to just the μαθ- family of words?

Adding another example to Mr Bartholomew's, if trades, knowledge and skills were shared within family lines, as a τέκτων would share his knowledge of different timbers and techniques for working them with his son, then the idea of fatherhood is not far removed from discipleship - even if the son were not biologically his. Imitation of somebody's life is a point worth looking at too. The Great Commision uses the word you have chosen to give attention to, but the commentary on and description of how that happened in the first years of the church uses a wide range of vocabulary and imagery that can also add to our understanding of the phenomenon.
Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Towards clarity: Defining Christian "disciple-making" (το μαθητευειν) from a purely lexical-contextual perspective

Post by Stirling Bartholomew » August 8th, 2017, 12:22 pm

Solomon,

If you want to find out what the NT has to say about what it means to be a disciple you might be better off focusing on the exegesis of narratives where we see Jesus making disciples. The John 21 narrative demonstrates a crisis in discipleship. Peter has apostatized and lead a group with him. Read the following from Iver Larsen’s 1988 article[1]:

About three years have passed between the incident in Luke 5 and this one in John 21. Peter
had been a faithful follower of Jesus, but he had recently denied his commitment three times. It
is against this background that Peter said, in John 21.3, “I am going fishing.” By saying this
Peter expressed his resignation as a disciple of Jesus. He was giving up and returning to his old
way of life before Jesus called him as a disciple. However, as we read so clearly in John 21.15-
17, Jesus renewed his call to Peter, and the end result was a renewed commitment from Peter to follow Jesus, even to death. It was Jesus who took the initiative to restore their relationships,
and Peter was happy to be accepted as a disciple again.
I am in agreement with Stephen Hughes. An attempt to build an understanding of discipleship on the lexical semantics of one word ignores the fact that the NT is full of narratives about disciples. My thinking is that the target of exegesis should be much larger than a key word. The great commission has been a proof text for eons and rightly so. But you cannot construct a valid picture of discipleship based on the content of one verse.

This is all pretty much off topic for b-greek.

[1]Iver Larsen, Did Peter Enter the Boat (John 21.11)?
Notes on Translation Vol.2 No. 2 (1988): 34-41
C. Stirling Bartholomew

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