Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament

By Kim, Benjamin M. H. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament


Kim, Benjamin M. H., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Bell and Howell Information and Learning: Foreign Text omitted ". . ."

Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament. Edited by Richard N. Longenecker. McMaster New Testament Studies. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996, xi + 308 pp., $25.00 paper.

This book inaugurates the McMaster NT Studies series sponsored by McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario. The series intends to "address particular New Testament themes that are of concern (or should be) to Christians today" (p. ix). The plan is to publish annual symposium volumes that are both scholarly and pastoral, written in a manner that captures the interest of laypeople, theological students and ministers. In the present book, 13 scholars share the "overarching thesis" that "each of the New Testament writers presents the concept of Christian discipleship in a manner related to his own ideological background and perspectives, the perceived needs and understanding of his audience, and the specific details of the situation addressed" (p. 6).

The editor begins the book ("Introduction") by tracing the meaning of "Christian discipleship." He gives a linguistic overview of such terms as "those of the Way" (. . . . . .), "disciple" (. . .) and "to follow" (. . .) found in the NT as well as in the parlance of antiquity (e.g. LXX, Talmud, rabbinic writings). The survey is terse yet broad in scope to function as a preview of what is further discussed in detail by the other writers.

L. Hurtado ("Following Jesus in the Gospel of Mark-and Beyond") sees the 12 disciples in Mark as representing the calling and equipping of Jesus' followers for discipleship roles, and as demonstrating, as seen through the Twelve's failures and eventual restoration after their desertion and denial, the paradigmatic hope for subsequent disciples who may also fail their master (pp. 24-28). Moreover, the juxtaposition of their failures and Jesus' exemplary behavior highlights the demands of discipleship and portrays him as the object and paradigm of discipleship. In similar fashion, T. Donaldson ("Discipleship in Matthew's Narrative Strategy"), who uses narrative criticism, views the original disciples' function primarily as a model of what is involved in being a member of Jesus' "people." We learn what it means to be a disciple by identifying with there, learning from their successes and failures and, above all, in joining them as they listen to Jesus' teachings. R. Longenecker ("Taking Up the Cross Daily: Discipleship in Luke-Acts") sees discipleship depicted in somewhat broader categories. Source-critically (e.g. Luke's use of Q, passion and travel narratives) he finds that, although the disciples still model the essential characteristics of Christian discipleship, Luke does not limit the portrayal of discipleship to the Twelve. He purposely interchanges, for example, "disciple/disciples" with "brother," which delineates more the concept of familial oneness and equality, to depict Paul in Acts as the exemplary lifestyle to imitate. L. Belleville ("Imitate Me, Just as I Imitate Christ": Discipleship in the Corinthian Correspondence"), L. Jervis ("Becoming like God through Christ: Discipleship in Romans"), and G. Hawthorne ("The Imitation of Christ: Discipleship in Philippians") all emphasize this imitatio theme of Paul, God and Christ, respectively, in their writings. M. Hillmer ("They Believed in Him: Discipleship in the Johannine Tradition") examines a variety of terms-some relational in nature (e.g. "believe," "remain") and others action-oriented (e.g. "follow," "bear fruit"). He concludes that these terms are summed up in Thomas's confession, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28), which defines discipleship for the Twelve and all succeeding generations of disciples. J. Weima, on the other hand, believes ("How You Must Walk to Please God": Holiness and Discipleship in 1 Thessalonians") that ethical expressions, such as "holiness"' and "righteousness," as opposed to sexual immorality and idleness, characterize discipleship. …

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