Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Is a 'Disciple' Necessarily the Same Thing as Being a Christian?

John MacArthur asserts:
The word disciple is used consistently as a synonym for believer throughout the book of Acts.
The Gospel According to Jesus pg 196

(I will not dispute that). On this basis, he concludes:
Any distinction between the two words is purely artificial.
Ibid. pg 196

But then he appears to contradict himself (a Calvinist? no!) and says:
It is apparant that not every disciple is necessarily a true Christian.
Ibid. pg 196

Did anyone catch the contradiction? Apparantly, John MacArthur has concluded that a distinction between the words is not purely artificial after all but grounded in the New Testament itself. But if the words "disciple" and "believer" are synonomous, then every disciple is a true Christian, and if they are not synonymous, then every true Christian is not necessarily a disciple. It is clear, as even John MacArthur is forced to admit, that they are not synonymous!

Now if being a disciple is not necessarily the same as being a Christian, then it is not logically or exegetically consistent to select passages that refer to discipleship and assume that they refer to the conditions for becoming a Christian or to the characteristics of all who are truly born again.

Many writers commit the illegitimate totality transfer. They gather the passages in Acts in which "mathetes" (disciple) is used of Christians and passages in the Gospels where certain characteristics or conditions of being a disciple are enumerated, and then they import these contextual nuances into the semantic value of the word itself. This now pregnant term is carried back into various passages of the New Testament in service of a particular doctrine of Lordship Salvation and perseverance. This is illegitimate totality transfer.

The meaning of a word is determined by context. The usage elsewhere helps establish the range of possible meanings but not the meaning in the particular passage under consideration.

Joseph and Nicodemus were saved, but they were secret disciples (Jn. 19:38-39). They feared the Jews and would not publicly declare themselves disciples of Christ. Nevertheless, John acknowledges them as secret believers.

Many disciples left Jesus (John 6:66). If they were not really Christians, then the Traditionalists must acknowledge that being a disciple is not the same thing as being a Christian (or else give up their doctrine of perseverance of the saints!), and if they were Christians, then being a Christian does not inevitably result in a life of following Christ.

When Paul and Barnabus went to Antioch, they encouraged the disciples to remain true to the faith. It must be possible for them not to remain true or there would be no point in taking this trip (Acts 14:22). In fact, disciples can be drawn away from the truth (Acts 20:30).

If being a disciple is a condition for becoming a Christian in the first place, why does Jesus exhort those who are already Christians to become disciples (John 8:31-32)?

Key Words: Calvin, Calvinism, doctrines of Grace, Lordship Salvation, Free Grace Theology


Blogger Pastor Jim said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

August 03, 2006 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Antonio writes:

But if the words "disciple" and "believer" are synonomous, then every disciple is a true Christian, and if they are not synonymous, then every true Christian is not necessarily a disciple.

This is like saying:

If the words “animal” and “dog” are synonymous, then every animal is a dog, and if they are not synonymous, then every dog is not necessarily an animal.

August 03, 2006 3:50 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...


where did you learn your logic? From a Reformed school?

No one has ever claimed that "animal" and "dog" are synonymous. They have claimed that "disciple" and "Christian" are.

If someone was to say that "animal" and "dog" are synonymous, they would show themself foolish.

You need to go back to the drawing board for your criticism of this post. This one is truly laughable.


August 03, 2006 4:48 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

Pastor Jim,

I do enjoy you coming around and reading and commenting. I usually enjoy reading your comments.

Your last comment went overboard.

Please refrain from that kind of vitriole. Thank you.


August 03, 2006 4:51 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...


you also flatter me. you spent over 100 minutes on my blog and looked at 31 pages.

Are you from Butler County, Kansas?

August 03, 2006 5:08 PM  
Blogger Rose~ said...

I was just talking about this with an intern (graduate from Masters) at our church (where I work) yesterday. This is really the crux of the matter: salvation is a gift, discipleship is hard work. He seemed to agree for about 10 seconds ... and then came to himself. ;~)

August 04, 2006 3:45 AM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Excellent post, Antonio.

August 04, 2006 6:14 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Yeah, I don't understand how they can equate the two?

Being a disciple definitely requires more than faith in Christ alone, it requires denying everything including loving God more than your father, mother, etc.

Discipleship is based upon conditions, which if equated with believing would make the Roman Catholic theology seem like a cakewalk.

Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations. Is this something we can do if it means eternal life?

August 04, 2006 9:18 PM  
Anonymous Bud Brown said...

No, disciples and believers are not synonymous. John 8:30-32 makes that clear.

Not only are there believers who are not disicples, there are disciples (in the sense of people who try to follow Christ in terms of ethical living) who are not believers. It was the same way in Jesus' day - Judas!

August 05, 2006 6:52 PM  

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