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Μαθητης in Translation

I had this comment on my recent translation of Acts 9:26-31:

My only question is in 9:26, why did you translate μαθητης as “learner” not “disciple”? All the translations I usually use say ‘disciple’, was wondering if there were any particular reasons you chose to go that route…

BDAG allows for the meaning of μαθητης to be not only “disciple,” but also “learner,” or even “pupil”. I chose to go with “learner” as the translation of μαθητης rather than the traditional “disciple.” This was not a hard decision for me. Any time I’m reading and I come across the word “disciple” I really do not spend the time thinking about it and supplement (subconsciously) “those guys” for what it actually means. This isn’t good and I think that many of us who’ve grown up in the church probably do this without thinking.

So, in my translation I opted for something that would make me think of what the word means. It implies that they are learning something. It implies that there is something to be learned. It implies that there is someone who is teaching them.

What do you think? Would you go with “disciple” or “learner” for the translation of μαθητης?



8 Responses

  1. What about “student” or “apprentice”?

  2. No problems here. Often times, words such as “disciple” have been so saturated by ill-fitted definitions of our modern church life that it’s genuine meaning is lost. Look forward to more from the MEV (Matt Evans Version)!

    • Haha! MEV! That’s funny. And yes, I agree with you about the over-saturation “by ill-fitted definitions” of words like “disciple.”

  3. Matt,

    I’ve been thinking about the word “disciple” and “discipleship” lately, and I do agree with you about the fact that these words have definitely been changed in an ill-fitting way. Maybe you outta email the translators to change it! =)

    • Well, I’m glad you think so. I’m not sure if my emailing a translator will do any good. I know they’re updating the NIV, but if they changed “disciple” to anything else people (who don’t know any better) will just think that they’re changing the word of God.

  4. Honestly, I’m not a fan of “learner” because it seems to convey only the transmission of facts, whereas Jesus was modeling a lifestyle worth imitating which the disciples would then pass on to other apprentices/disciples (e.g. 1 Thess. 1.6).

    Disciple is probably the best word we have available in English. The best way to reclaim meanings for these words is to expound on it from the pulpit. To be frank, the pulpit is more effective than the publishing house and pastors have to resist the temptation to follow church-growth trends and must embrace the call to exposit the Scriptures. When this happens “churches” transform into disciples.

    • I would agree that the pulpit is the best way for people to learn how to change. And the church is the best place to become a disciple. I mean to put “learner” in there only as a way to help me think about the word. I do not see “learner” as merely one who gains facts, but (in my mind) it encompasses a lifetime of learning to be like someone else. But that is only me.

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