A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave as his master. (Matthew 10:24–25)
The word disciple means “learner, student.” The ancient Greeks had disciples in the realm of philosophy. Plato, often called the “father of philosophy,” developed a system of thought that dealt with issues of epistemology, and issues related to the meaning of life. Plato discipled his student Aristotle, who took what he had learned and built “gymnasiums,” or academies.
In the ancient world, gymnasiums were not arenas for sporting events.They were training centers to teach students Plato’s thought and the system developed by Aristotle, known as Aristotelian logic. The students thus trained were “gymnatized,” which is the verb form of the Greek word for gymnasium.
So successful was this discipling process that it allowed the Greeks to influence the whole Greco-Roman world. This process was called “Hellenization,” in which people who were not Greek began to adopt Greek thinking, language, and culture. That was all part of this concept of discipleship.
The New Testament picked up this concept and put it in a spiritual context so we would know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Discipleship involves an apprenticeship in which the apprentice, or student, is brought toward a particular goal.
The word disciple itself means “learner.” It refers to a student who follows the teachings and pattern of another so closely that the student becomes a “clone” of the teacher, to use a modern-day term. We could also call a disciple an apprentice, someone who stands at the side of a skilled master in a trade to learn that trade thoroughly.