What do you think about Acts 9:25? Is it appropriate to use the phrase "my disciples"? And what, if anything, can we conclude about a system of discipleship? Do you think we should all be in small groups? -- J.S.

The first time I read the Greek New Testament straight through (1983), I certainly noticed Acts 9:25. The better Greek manuscripts indicate that these were disciples of Paul ("his"); others, simply that they were disciples. I think the point is that these were people loyal to Paul, and in fact in this passage they were protecting him from harm. Did he "own" them? No more than Plato owned his disciples or the Pharisees theirs.

Regardless of how we translate the passage, to move directly to a philosophy of discipling from this is an enormous leap. The couple of times the verb matheteuein appears does not support a hierarchical system, either. If it did, I think we would see evidence of this in the letters.

Regardless of our preferred terminology, we are disciples of Jesus, not of men. As long as that is understood, I would not worry too much about the language used to describe our discipleship.

Let's move on to your questions about small groups. Jesus did have a "small group" -- for discipling -- but I would not press the analogy to the house church, which is the only small group I think we have substantial evidence for in N.T. times. Don't get me wrong: I think small groups are super. But I cannot prove that every Christian must be in one. In other words...

We must carefully distinguish between biblical principles and implementation of those principles. Sure, being in a small group is a fine thing, and directly implements the principle of one-another relationships. But just because it is a valid application of a principle does not prove that the practice is uniquely mandated for all Christians. There are, after all, other ways of being in one-another relationships. This is where so many of us get caught up!

Let me spell it out. Many reason this way:

a. This is an important biblical principle.
b. Our practice allows implementation of the principle.
c. Therefore everyone must follow our practice.

Occasionally one more statement is made, usually if someone points out that the practice is only one possible implementation of the principle, not the only one. (Often it may also be said that the there is no explicit command in the Bible to follow the specific practice.)

d. Get on board / We must be unified / Submit to what the leaders have decided.

Again, do not get me wrong. Submission to leadership, unity, and teamwork are all extremely important. But mandating uniformity of practice does not seem to be what Jesus had in mind (Mark 10), nor does it jibe with the various New Testament descriptions of ministry (1 Corinthians, 1 Peter, etc).

Let's all make sure we are disciples of Jesus, respectful of leadership, and involved in one-another relationships. Yet we must be careful not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). For the word of God has infinitely more authority than the word of man.

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