The meaning of words change from time to time. One example from the 60’s, money became known as bread, especially among the hippie movement. Luckily this example soon fell by the wayside. Words are important! They convey meaning that we need if we are to have a true discussion of thoughts and or ideas. Sometimes I will ask the person who I am in discussion with to define a term which they are using to make sure I understand exactly what they are saying. As a pastor I find this especially true when we are discussing biblical concepts. As an example the words “baptism” and “believe” mean a lot different things to different groups that all call themselves Christians.
For me, I do not look to my denomination for the definition of biblical words. I look at the original languages in which they are written in. Since I do not speak or write in Greek or Hebrew I rely on bible dictionaries and encyclopedias along with books on grammar, history and commentaries to help me understand what God was saying through the human writers of the Bible. There is too much at stake for me to do anything less. I believe every teacher and or preacher of God’s Word will be held accountable for what we teach others.
Today I would like to look at the two words disciple and Christian that most will define as being two different groups of people. But they would be mistaken. I believe most will be amazed that the word “disciple” and its plural which appears 275 times in the Bible, while the word Christian and its plural appears only 3 times. Let’s first give their definitions.
Disciple, as defined by The Complete Word Study Dictionary, “means more in the NT than a mere pupil or learner. It is an adherent who accepts the instruction given to him and makes it his rule of conduct”. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says “A disciple was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher”. A passage that reflects this is: Matt 10:24-25 - "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master”.
Christian, according to The Complete Word Study Dictionary teaches us that a Christian is “A name given to the disciples or followers of Christ, first adopted at Antioch. It does not occur in the NT as a name commonly used by Christians themselves. The believers first became known as Christians as an appellation of ridicule”. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says: "Christian, a word formed after the Roman style, signifying an adherent of Jesus, was first applied to such by the Gentiles and is found in Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16. … From the second century onward the term was accepted by believers as a title of honor.”
The lesson for today then is the word Christian refers to being a disciple who is an imitator of Christ that follows His rules of conduct. Sadly in today’s society we have greatly watered down what a Christian should look like and act. Many today believe if they belong to a church and have been baptized they are a Christian. Is it no wonder that Christians are no longer known for being “salt” and “light” in our society?