Matthew 28:19 Teach or make disciples ? The Great Commission.

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Most people know of the great commision given by Jesus to his disciples. But what did Jesus actually commision his disciples to do? Did he tell them to teach all nations or make disciples of all nations? There is a massive difference between these 2 commands but which is the correct translation, teach or make disciples? Most modern Bible translations use “make disciples” while the KJV uses teach. When preaching on the great commision most preachers will use the modern rendering and say the disciples were commisioned to “make disciples” and this is what we must do also. Iwont actually be discussing the breat comission itself here only what Jesus instructed his disciples to do.

So let’s see if we can answer the question.

First lets look at the verse in the KJV and 2 modern versions the NIV and the ESV

Matthew 28-19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: KJV

Matthew 28-19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,NIV

Matthew 28-19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, ESV

The Greek word translated as Teach and make disciples is mathēteusate μαθητεύσατε.

This word is a verb and means to disciple or to instruct.  To disciple someone is to teach them. Jesus spent 3 years teaching his disciples. There is no “to make”  in the Greek in this verse and there is no noun disciple. “To make disciples” simply does not exist in the Greek.  

The word appears just 4 times in the Bible. Each time the verb is in a different form. It appears in Matthew 28-19 and also in

Matthew 13- 52Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. KJV

Matthew 13-52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” NIV

Matthew 13-52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” ESV

Matthew 27- 57When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:  KJV

Matthew 27-57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. NIV

Matthew 27-57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. ESV

Acts 14- 21 21And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, KJV

Acts 14-21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, NIV

Acts 14-21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, ESV

Some of the other Bibles that have translates the word as teach are


Matthew 28-19 Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

The 1599 Geneva Bible uses teach

Matthew 28-19 19 [a]Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them [b]in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the holy Ghost,

The wycliffe Bible also uses teach

Matthew 29- 19 Therefore go ye, and teach all folks, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;

And youngs literal translation says disciple not make disciples

Matthew 28-19 19 having gone, then, disciple all the nations, (baptizing them — to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

Interestingly the NIV translated Matthew 13-52 as “instructed” in its 1973,1977 and 1984 editions before changing it to has “become a disciple” in the 2011 editon.

It is very important to understand that we cannot in fact make disciples of anyone. This is the ONLY verse that can even be use to try and demonstrate this command. We can preach the gospel, we can teach the gospel and we can teach how to follow, however it is  up to those that have been preached to and taught and God.  A disciple of Jesus is one that believes and follows Jesus. Only they can choose to do that. However in order to believe and follow they must first have heard and been taught and that is the job of disciples.

Romans 10-17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

We see in Acts 2 that 3000 souls were added to the disciples in one day

Acts 2- 41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

But if we go back and look at what happened we will see that Peter PREACHED the word to them.  (acts2: 14-35)

AFTER this the peoples hearts were pricked

Acts 2 – 37Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

Peter did as was commanded he went out and preached to the people. They then ASKED what they must do so Peter TAUGHT them and TESTIFIED.

Acts 2- 38Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

And it was after the preaching and teaching that people accepted Jesus. Remember that the people had their hearts pricked as to allow in the holy spirit. Peter did not himself make anyone accept Jesus they chose to do that after Peter had preached and taught.

After Steven had been stoned to death and the disciples scatttered they continued to PREACH the gospel.

Acts 8- 4Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. 5Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

Paul and Barnabus preached the Gospel

Acts 14-  6They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about: 7And there they preached the gospel.

The disciples never made disciples. They preached the gospel. They taught the Gospel.They did as they were ccommanded by Jesus to do and the people chose to become disciples of Jesus.

There is a verse that is used as an argument against this understanding.

John 4-1 When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,

John the baptist made disciples.  However when the verse is examined and properly understood the argument simply fails.

Unlike in the verse in Matthew where there is no verb “to make” and no noun”disciple”, in this verse there is both a verb and a noun. The noun (disciples)  μαθητὰς mathētas and the verb (to make) poiei ποιεῖ

So to have MADE more DISCIPLES would indeed be correct IN THIS VERSE.

This is the correct way in which a verse with made discples is formulated.

Now if we cannot make disciples how is it that John made disciples? Well this is pretty straight forward. John’s disciples were different from the disciples of Jesus. John did not make disciples of Jesus.  A disciple simply means a learner or a pupil, someone who is taught. John’s disciples learned from him however they then left John the Baptist and followed Jesus

John 1- 35Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; 36And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! 37And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

John himself said that Jesus must increase and John himself decrease.

John 3-30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

There is another verse (acts 9-25) that is incorrectly translated by the modern Bibles where they make it seem as if Paul had disciples.

Acts 9-25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. NIV

Acts 9-25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. ESV

The modern versions make this seem like the verse is taking about Pauls disciples (his) disciples. However Paul did not have disciples. This was THE disciples. In the Greek there is the definitive article  οἱ hoi which means the as correctly translated by the KJV

Acts 9-25 Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. KJV

The disciples were not Pauls disciples.

In the next verse after Matthew 28-19 it says “teaching them”

Matthew 28-20 20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Many proponants of the “make discipes” camp proclaim an Implied Sequntial component in these 2 verses Go, make disciples baptize and teach.

Matthew 28-19 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” NIV

The simple question that this then raises is, How is it possible to make a disciple if we remove the preaching of the gospel and the teaching comes after the baptism?

If you havent preached the gospel or taught it what exactly are the “disciples” being baptised into?

The Greek word tanslated as teaching in this verse is διδάσκοντες didaskontes

Both the NIV and ESV agree with this translation

Matthew 28-20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” NIV

Mattthew 28-20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” ESV

So this obviously begs the question as to why if teach and teaching in verses 19 and 20 respecfully are the correct translation then why did Matthew not use the same Greek word in both verses? Why are there 2 different Greek words used?

This is actually pretty simple . The teach in verse 19 is in fact different than the teaching in verse 20. In verse 19 the disciples are told to teach all nations, this is teach them the gospel. We must allow scripture to interpret sccripture and aswehave aready seen the disciples taught the gospel after they preached it and in the parallel account in Mark we see that the disciples were indeed told to PREACH the gospel.

Mark 16-15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

So we see that the disciples were actually told to preach and teach the gospel to all nations of the world.

And this is EXACTLY what we see in the verse in Acts where the KJV translates mathēteusate μαθητεύσατε  as had taught.

Acts 14- 21 21And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, KJV

The disciples preached and taught the Gospel.

Whereas the teaching in verse 20 is not teaching the gospel but teaching them how to observe all the things that Jesus commended.

Paul said that we must teach one another

Colossians 3-16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

2 timothy 2-2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

While it may seem like “make disciples “can work at face value , it neither fits the Greek or aligns with what the rest of scripture declares.On examination it doesn’t and cannot work. It also gives the impression that we have some input in the “making of a disciple” which is only through the conviction of the holy spirit.

The Bible never speaks of the disciples making disciples but it over and over shows the disciples carrying out the command of Jesus to preach and teach the gospel.

The word teach is correct in the KJV. The translation “make disciples” distorts the command and gives people the understanding that they themsleves can convert a person which is NEVER discribed in scripture.

So just as declared by Jesus go and preach and teach to all nations the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and teach them how to follow him.


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