As I mentioned in my previous blog Jesus and his disciples functioned as a family. However this wasn’t the dominant way that it would have been understand at the time, or the primary way it is described in the gospels. The dominant cultural model was of a Rabbi or teacher, and his disciples. That was commonly found in the ancient Jewish world and would have been how the Jews would have understood Jesus and his followers. It is the way it is mostly described in the gospels.
However, following the spread of Christianity from its Jewish roots into Gentile communities how things were understood and communicated changed.
Corinth was similar to the majority of pagan cities in the ancient world. The people there had no understanding of what the word “disciple” meant or what it might mean to follow a rabbi because they didn’t have rabbis and disciples. These people had no idea what a rabbi was or what a disciple looked like. But the process of investment called “discipleship” still needed to be taught and modelled, so Paul looked for a comparison.
The New Testament essentially replaces the rabbi-disciple relationship of the Gospels with the parent-child relationship of the epistles as it moves outside of Jewish context.
Most of us, we don’t have a tradition or relevant modern examples of Rabbi’s, teachers and disciples. However we do have traditions of families. Describing discipleship as modelled by Jesus as a family can therefore be very helpful, as long as we understand that we are meant to be following Jesus’ model of family rather than our increasingly dysfunctional experience of family life.
WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON
Tony is the leader of Hope Church Luton. He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.