Unique Discipleship to a Unique Master: Discipleship in the Gospel according to Mark -- By: Michael J. Wilkins

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 08:3 (Fall 2004)
Article: Unique Discipleship to a Unique Master: Discipleship in the Gospel according to Mark
Author: Michael J. Wilkins


Unique Discipleship to a Unique Master:
Discipleship in the Gospel according to Mark

Michael J. Wilkins

Michael J. Wilkins is Professor of New Testament Language and Literature and the Dean of the Faculty at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in La Mirada, California. Dr. Wilkins has published numerous books and articles, among them Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Zondervan, 1992) and the commentary on Matthew in the NIV Application Commentary series (Zondervan, 2003).

The phenomenon of Jesus and his disciples continues to be a central area of research and writing in both scholarly and popular venues, as well it should, since discipleship to Jesus in large part sums up the Christian life. I have participated in that examination of discipleship for much of the last thirty years, as a scholar, pastor, teacher, and perhaps most importantly, disciple of Jesus. I first wrote on Mark’s view of discipleship several years ago, in summary fashion,1 so I am happy to extend that study here. We will first look briefly at the unique form of discipleship that Jesus initiated in the first century, and then look at the specific perspective from which the gospel of Mark views discipleship to Jesus.

Jesus’ Unique Form of Discipleship

Masters and Disciples in the Ancient World

Discipleship was a common phenomenon in the ancient Mediterranean world.2

Ancient literature, art, and other artifacts bear testimony to the widespread occurrence of masters and disciples. But the diversity of discipleship was directly related to the differentiation between masters, who ranged from great educators to philosophers to physicians to great thinker-masters of the past to religious figures.3 The relationship assumed the development of a sustained commitment of the follower to the master and his particular teaching or mission, and the relationship extended to imitation of the conduct of the master as it impacted the personal life of the disciple.

Greek Sophists such as Protagoras were among the first to establish an institutional form of relationship in which the master imparted virtue and knowledge to the disciple through a paid educational process.4 Socrates and Plato objected to such a form of discipleship on epistemological grounds, advocating a relationship in which the master directs dialogue to draw out innate knowledge from his followers. Hippocrates likewise disavowed charging fees for passing on medical knowledge, but vowed in the famous “Hippocratic Oa...

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