The land of the Bible is sometimes called the Fifth Gospel. This name refers to the fact that after spending time in The Land of the Bible, students of Scripture return home understanding God’s Word in ways that cannot be obtained any other way. Many visitors to the Promised Land report returning home being able to see the Bible when they read it. If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Israel, do it!
Today, most students of God’s Word contextualize it from within their own world experience. They attempt to make sense of the Bible based on what they see in their own environment. There is a huge problem with this approach.
The Bible isn’t yesterday’s news.
It didn’t come off the presses overnight, written in the language most of us speak. 21st century believers live in a world that is more than 2,000 years removed from the events recorded in the New Testament. For the most part, God’s Word was written in Hebrew and in Greek. Biblical Hebrew is a concrete language. The meanings of its words are rooted in the physical world; things to be touched, heard, and experienced. The Greek language is abstract. Most of the meaning of its words are understood conceptually. Simply moving from Hebrew to Greek requires a shift in how we approach what is written. Western societies think and communicate along a more abstract Greek model than those societies of the East.
Let me illustrate. This Sunday, ask several people in your local congregation to describe God. Most likely, you will get responses like powerful, all knowing, loving, just, omnipresent. All of these answers are correct, but they communicate concepts that cannot be touched, heard, or even seen. If you were to visit a yeshiva (religious school of Judaism) in Israel and asked the same question, the answers you receive would likely be different. He is a rock, eagle’s wings, strong tower, a mighty river! This represents a tremendously important difference between the ancient languages of the Bible itself.
This presents an issue that we should be mindful of as we attempt to understand disciple making. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament. While Greek is the language of the Septuagint, the translators were not Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Neither were the authors of the New Testament. They were distinctly Jewish in their world experience. The Jewish writers of the Bible were fishermen, craftsmen, prophets, tent-makers, kings, shepherds, farmers, and more. The many Jewish word pictures used by these men are most often missed by today’s readers of the Bible. This happens because we attempt to force their words into our own world view. The things that would have been readily apparent to Yeshua’s first Jewish disciples are missed by many of us living today. The good news is that if we will make an effort to see the Bible in its original context, the vibrancy experienced by the Bible’s first readers can be ours, enriching our understanding and informing the correct application of God’s Word.
Most of us tend to think of discipleship as primarily an educational experience, along a Greek model. We transfer information from one person to another. Our process is like using a flash drive to move content between computers. This methodology is sterile and devoid of real life experience. On the other hand, Yeshua’s disciples were action oriented. Their activity flowed out of their understanding of what Yeshua taught and demonstrated for them. They received hands on ministry training experience while traveling together from place to place.
Before ascending to heaven, Yeshua gave one final command to His disciples. Go, make disciples everywhere. Their methodology came out of their own experience with their Jewish Rabbi. Jesus made His disciples using a process that was firmly rooted in Jewish religious experience and instruction. This process had been in existence since the time of Ezra the Scribe.
The 1st Century disciple making methodology is still visible in Israel today. All ultra-orthodox rabbis have disciples of their own. Around Jerusalem, it is not unusual to see a rabbi being followed by his talmidim (disciples) as he goes about conducting his personal business. Why in the world would his students follow him like this? They want to learn to do what the rabbi does. They want to be like their rabbi. Everywhere their rabbi goes, his disciples are sure to follow.
In John 1, John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John’s disciples knew that when he identified the Messiah, they were to leave John and follow Him. That’s what we see Andrew and the other disciple doing in John 1:35-40. All day they followed Jesus until He turned and asked, what is it that you want? They replied, Where are you staying? Did they want to know what accommodations Jesus had for the night? No, they wanted to become part of his life, just like the disciples we see following their rabbis today in Mea Shearim, an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Jesus’ disciples approached their disciple making activity very differently than what is observed in our churches today. There are a number of reasons why this is true. Yeshua’s brand of life-on-life involvement includes loss of privacy and impact on one’s own personal time. It is a huge investment in others that is individually inconvenient. It requires self-sacrifice and personal transparency. These are some of the reasons why most people today will not give themselves away in a biblical disciple making relationship with others. It cannot be denied, however, that this process worked for Jesus, for His disciples, and the disciples His disciples made.
Rather than focusing on programmatic techniques, the earliest disciples sharpened one another each day through the process of doing life together. That is where truth proved itself. Can you see how radically different this is than today’s institutional discipleship programs?
Many years ago, one of my disciplers shared a text (of Scripture) taken out of context, is merely pretext. What happens when biblical disciple making is removed from its original 1st Century context? It becomes a pretext for something else. I personally believe that Satan is very satisfied with what passes for discipleship today. By removing biblical disciple making from its original Jewish context, we have established a 21st Century Gentile pretext for discipleship.
All manner of evil has taken place as a result. Consider some of the following facts:
Open persecution against Jewish people, both within and outside Christendom began to take place between the 3rd and 5th Century A.D.
During the next 1,000 years, a period know as the Dark Ages, the majority of Christendom adopted and expanded persecution of Jewish people. Many of these were Jewish believers in Yeshua as their Messiah.
About 1500 A.D. reformers from within the Catholic Church began to appear. There were many good things that resulted from this period of Church history. Unfortunately, the Replacement Theology of the Catholic Church remained present in most of Christendom following the Protestant Reformation.
To this day, Reformed / Replacement / Covenant Theology continues its proclamation that God has no future plans for the Jewish people individually or as a Nation.
This errant theology teaches that the Church has been given ownership of the unconditional promises made by God to the Jews because of their unbelief. They base this teaching on Israel’s national rejection of Jesus as their Messianic King.
This destructive theology has been a contributing factor to the continuous persecution of and prejudice against Jewish people to this day.
Reformed Theology has directly led to the darkest stains on HIStory such as the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust.
Today, little thought is given to evangelistic outreach to the Jewish people.
Congregations fail to provide a welcoming environment for Jewish believers, creating a community where both Jewish and Gentile believers grow together in maturity and common faith.
Jewish and Gentile believers in Yeshua / Jesus establish separate fellowships based on Jewish and Gentile identity.
Rather than presenting a unified “one new man” front to the unsaved world, authentic Gospel proclamation is diminished among Jews and Gentiles.
How we as modern believers understand the Bible is directly related to our definition of what a disciple is, how they are made, and what a disciple does. If you remove disciple making from its original Jewish context, doesn’t 21st Century disciple making become a pretext for something else?