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Two Types of Discipleship: On Matthew 8:18-22

Author: Xi Li
Published: Winter–Spring 2019

MD 10.1

Article Type: Text Article

Xi Li

When scholars discuss the identity of the two inquirers in Matt 8:18–22, they have an either-or position on discipleship, tending to hold that these two inquirers are either already or not yet disciples. Such a position has led to ambiguous understandings of both the identities of these two inquirers and the nature of Jesus’s teaching in this passage. This paper proposes a different approach to discipleship, arguing that the two inquirers in Matt 8:18–22 represent two types of discipleship: the wandering disciple and the domiciled disciple. This approach indicates that the first inquirer is a domiciled disciple but wants to wander with Jesus, whereas the second is already a wandering disciple but wants to stay at home.

The identity of the two inquirers in Matt 8:18–22, especially the first, has long been controversial. While most scholars acknowledge the discipleship of the second inquirer, it is highly controversial whether the first is a disciple. The ambiguity of his identity also makes unclear the nature of his contrast with the second inquirer and the nature of Jesus’s responses to both. This paper proposes that the two inquirers in Matt 8:18–22 represent two types of discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew: the wandering disciple and the domiciled disciple. Accordingly, the first wants to wander, therefore Jesus explains to him what it means to be a wandering disciple; by contrast, the second inquirer wants to stay at home, so Jesus reminds him of his duty as a wandering disciple.

In the first section, I argue for the discipleship of the second inquirer. In the next section, I analyze the strongest arguments for and against the discipleship of the first inquirer. I argue that both sides of the arguments have their problems, and a theory of two types of discipleship is a possible approach. In the final section, I provide textual evidence for the theory of two types of discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew and show that this theory may lead to a different understanding of Matt 8:18–22.

The Identity of the Second Inquirer

He Is Already a Disciple

The pericope under consideration starts, “Jesus, seeing many crowds around him, ordered to depart to the other side” (8:18).1 Although the verb “ordered [ἐκέλευσεν]” has no object and, thus, it is unclear to whom Jesus is speaking, v. 23 indicates that the implied object is Jesus’s disciples. According to v. 23, Jesus’s disciples follow him when he embarks in the boat. The action of following Jesus and getting into the boat looks like a response to his command of departure in v. 18. Therefore, it is highly possible that in v. 18 Jesus orders his disciples to go to the other side. If so, the second inquirer’s request to first bury his father in v. 21 is a negative or reserved response to Jesus’s command in v. 18. The desire to delay for a while sets him apart from other disciples who respond positively to Jesus in v. 23.2

A stronger argument for the discipleship of the second inquirer comes from the expression ἕτερος τῶν μαθητῶν (8:21a). Grammatically, this expression can be translated in two ways. First, it might be literally translated as “another of the disciples” (NRSV, KJV); second, if we separate ἕτερος from τῶν μαθητῶν, we may have “another man, one of the disciples” (NEB, NJB) or “another, a disciple” (NAB).3 Both ways of translation support the discipleship of the second inquirer, although they may have different connotations.

He Is Not a Disciple

W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann are the only scholars I have found who argue against the discipleship of the second inquirer. Emphasizing the difference between Luke 9:57–62 and Matt 8:19–22, they claim, “Alongside the Lukan narrative, this verse [Matt 8:19] as it stands in the Greek in Matthew is odd.”4 They explain why “this verse” (Matt 8:19) is odd: “The legal requirement of burial within twenty-four hours would not have posed an intolerable delay in the following of Jesus, and the third inquirer in Luke [9:61] is obviously not of the inner circle of the Twelve.”5

Albright and Mann assume that the request of burial is not an intolerable delay for disciples, and so they infer that the second inquirer in v. 21 is not a disciple. However, the text is unclear regarding why a disciple should not request a delay in following when he is commanded by Jesus to depart. It is possible that the urgency of leaving everything for the kingdom of heaven makes the delay of the second inquirer intolerable for a disciple. It is also possible that this inquirer’s father is not yet dead but close to death, and therefore the delay is intolerably more than twenty-four hours. Neither possibility proves that the second inquirer is not a disciple, although they may suggest that this inquirer is not a good disciple.

Nor is it clear what the third inquirer in Luke has to do with the discipleship of the second inquirer in Matthew. To be sure, the comment of Albright and Mann might make sense of the second inquirer in Luke, who is not called a disciple. Yet their comment does not apply to the second inquirer in Matthew, for whether this inquirer is a disciple or not is at least an open question in Matthew and, as discussed above, the context of Matthew shows that this inquirer is a disciple.

In conclusion, it is more likely than not that the second inquirer is already a disciple. By contrast, as I will argue below, it is unclear whether the first inquirer is a disciple or not. As a result, it is hard to know the nature of Jesus’s responses to both.

The Identity of the First Inquirer

He Is Not a Disciple

Scholars’ arguments against the discipleship of the first inquirer focus on three factors: his identity as a scribe, his calling Jesus “teacher,” and his statement that he will follow Jesus wherever Jesus goes. My examination below reveals that none of these arguments is decisive.

The Title “Scribe”

Matt 8:19 states that the first inquirer is a scribe (γραμματεύς), a title that leads to a controversy over his discipleship. According to W. D. Davis and Dale C. Allison, “The man in 8.19–20 bears a title (‘scribe’) which often belongs to Jesus’ opponents.”6 However, in Matt 13:52 and 23:34 the title “scribe” is not negative. In the words of Pierre Bonnard, “mais ici, comme dans 13.52 et 23.34, rien n’apparaît de ce rôle négatif.”7

Robert Gundry argues that Matthew prefers “their scribes” for the opponents of Jesus, and that “Matthew’s not calling the man one of ‘their scribes’ ” favors this scribe’s discipleship.8 Jack D. Kingsbury argues against Gundry, pointing out, “If in two instances the first evangelist does describe followers of Jesus as ‘scribes’ (13.52; 23.34), in at least nineteen others he utilizes the term in strictly negative fashion to denominate enemies of Jesus.”9

Kingsbury is correct that we cannot infer the discipleship of the first inquirer merely from the fact that he is not called “one of their scribes.” However, neither are we able to conclude thereby that he is not a disciple. We can revise Gundry’s view to a weaker position, arguing that the point is not that this scribe is a disciple of Jesus because of the absence of the title “one of their scribes,” but that it is uncertain that this scribe is not Jesus’s disciple because the title “one of their scribes” is not used. According to this revision, Kingsbury’s comment results in uncertainty. On the one hand, we are not sure, as Davies and Allison attest, that the title “scribe” shows that the first inquirer is not a disciple. On the other hand, neither are we certain, as Gundry suggests, that since the title “one of their scribes” is absent, this inquirer is a disciple.

Matthew’s use of γραμματεύς, which occurs twenty-three times, including 8:19, also supports my conclusion above. In the twenty-two other occurrences, two are certainly positive, as pointed out (13:52; 23:34). There are three unclear cases (7:29; 9:3; 17:10). Matt 7:29 explains why the crowds are surprised by Jesus’s sermon: “for he was teaching them as one having authority, but not as their scribes.” It is not clear that “their scribes” here means the enemies of Jesus because we do not know to whom “their” refer. In 9:3, “some of the scribes” think Jesus is blaspheming. The reaction of these scribes is negative, but it is hard to say that they are enemies of Jesus; the use of “some” also suggests that even here not all scribes have a negative attitude towards Jesus. Matt 17:10 tells us that the disciples asked Jesus why “the scribes” said that Elijah must come first. The context does not suggest these scribes are the enemies of Jesus.

In the remaining seventeen instances, γραμματεύς clearly refers to the enemies of Jesus. However, in all these cases the scribes stand with the obvious enemies of Jesus. In eleven cases, they are with the Pharisees (5:20; 12:38; 15:1; 23:2, 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). In three cases, we have “the chief priests and scribes” (2:4, 20:18, 21: 15); in another three cases, the scribes are with “the elders and chief priests” (16:21, 17:41) or “elders and the high priest” (26:57). In other words, when Matthew mentions “scribes” as the enemies of Jesus, he never uses the word independently; he uses it with the terms that clearly refer to the enemies of Jesus.10

In 8:19, the “scribe” is not with either the Pharisees, the chief priests, or the elders. Therefore, it is uncertain that he is an enemy of Jesus. As a result, we cannot infer that this scribe is not a disciple because he is Jesus’s enemy. Nevertheless, neither are we sure that he is a disciple of Jesus, for the fact that he is not Jesus’s enemy does not mean that he is a disciple. Matthew’s use of the term “scribe” cannot help us to determine the discipleship of the scribe in 8:19.

The Title “Teacher”

The first inquirer comes to Jesus and calls him “teacher” (διδάσκαλε), which is often treated as another piece of evidence against his discipleship. Davies and Allison claim, “Although Jesus is, for Matthew, the teacher par excellence . . . the disciples . . . never employ it.”11 Kingsbury also highlights, “Persons of faith and true disciples never address Jesus as ‘teacher’ or ‘rabbi’ but always call upon him as ‘κύριε’.”12 Craig L. Blomberg, Daniel J. Harrington, and J. C. Fenton emphasize that the title “teacher” is usually used by either Jesus’s enemies or unfaithful persons.13

Although the evidence above is strong, it does not prove that a person who calls Jesus “teacher” cannot be his disciple. The noun διδάσκαλος occurs twelve times in Matthew, one of which is 8:19. In four cases (12:38; 22:16, 24, 36), it is used by the enemies of Jesus to label him. In 19:16, it is used by a young man who wants to have eternal life. It is also used by the Pharisees (9:11) and a tax collector (17:24) who call Jesus “your teacher” when they question the disciples of Jesus. In the remaining four cases, it is used positively by Jesus as a self-reference (10:24, 25; 23:8; 26:18). Thus, διδάσκαλος in Matthew is not always used negatively. Walter Grundmann is reasonable to claim that the first inquirer recognizes in Jesus the dignity of a teacher.14 Moreover, in 10:24–25 Jesus is teaching the relationship between a teacher and a disciple in general; the con-occurrence of μαθητής and διδάσκαλος here suggests that the Matthean Jesus accepts an internal and positive relationship between the titles “disciple” and “teacher.”

A comparison of the use of διδάσκαλος in Matthew and Mark is helpful. In Mark, this noun occurs twelves times, in four of which the disciples use it to label Jesus (4:38; 9:38; 10:35; 13:1). Three of these four cases have parallels in Matthew (Mark 4:38//Matt 8:25; Mark 10:35//Matt 20:20; Mark 13:1//Matt 24:1), and in all these cases διδάσκαλος disappears in Matthew. In Matt 20:20 and 24:1, διδάσκαλος disappears because the two dialogues between Jesus and his disciple(s) in Mark are changed into two narratives. The dialogue in Mark 4:38 is kept in Matt 8:25, but the title for Jesus is changed from διδάσκαλε in Mark to κύριε in Matt. Because such a change happens only one time in Matthew, it is hard to know the motive of Matthew’s change. Whatever the motive is, it is unlikely that Matthew uses διδάσκαλε to indicate a person’s non-discipleship because, as pointed out, Jesus’s teaching in 10:24–25 suggests his acceptance of a positive connection between the titles διδάσκαλε and κύριε. Thus, we cannot conclude that a person who calls Jesus “teacher” must not be his disciple.

“I Will Follow You Wherever You May Go”

The first inquirer comes to Jesus and states, “I will follow you wherever you may go” (8:19). Regarding this statement, Kingsbury claims, “According to the Matthean conception of discipleship, the point at which a candidate first evinces his willingness (or unwillingness) to commit himself to Jesus and to ‘follow’ him is at the moment of his initial summons (4.18–20, 21–22; 9.9; 19.21–22).”15 Harrington also proposes that the “statement ‘I will follow you’ is the equivalent of ‘I wish to become your disciple.’ ”16 According to both views, the statement “I will follow you wherever you may go” shows that this inquirer is not a disciple. Such a view has three difficulties.

First, how do we know that this scribe is initially evincing his willingness to commit himself to Jesus? As discussed above, Jesus’s command to go over to the other side is given to his disciples. If so, is not this scribe answering Jesus’s order? Second, although the term “follow” usually indicates a first commitment of discipleship, in other places it also means “go/walk behind.” For instance, in 9:19 “Jesus got up and followed him.” Third, there is a crucial difference between 8:18–22 and Jesus’s initial summons in 4:18–22 and 9:9. In the latter cases Jesus states “follow me” to would-be disciples. As argued above, however, the correspondence between 8:18 and 8:23 shows that in 8:18 Jesus orders his disciples to depart. This difference makes it implausible to parallel the first inquirer with the would-be disciples in 4:18–22 and 9:9.

He Is a Disciple

The above discussion shows that main arguments against the discipleship of the first inquirer are not decisive, thus the identity of this inquirer is debatable. I will now argue that the main arguments for the discipleship of this inquirer are also problematic.

“The Crowds”

Returning to v. 18, we have Matthew’s narrative, “seeing many crowds around him.” Who are those crowds? According to Gundry, the crowds here are Jesus’s disciples and, therefore, “Both of those who speak to Jesus in the next verses represent the crowd of disciples.”17 Gundry argues that the phrase “great crowds around him” is drawn from Mark 3:32, “A crowd was sitting around him,” and that the crowd in Mark is identified by Jesus as “his true family, those who do God’s will.”18 If Gundry is correct that the crowd in Matthew is Jesus’s family and that Jesus’s family consists of his disciples, then the crowd consists of the disciples. However, in Matthew there is a clear distinction between the crowd and the disciples.19 For instance, Matt 5:1 indicates that the crowd and Jesus’s disciples are two groups of people; the crowd in 13:2 is obviously distinguished from the disciples in 13:10. Hence, we are not able to establish the discipleship of the first inquirer from Matthew’s use of the phrase “the crowds.”

“One and Another”

A stronger argument for the discipleship of the first inquirer involves the use of εἷς in v. 19 and ἕτερος in v. 21. According to Gundry, the pair of “εἷς . . . ἕτερος” is in support of the first inquirer’s discipleship.20 Gundry’s general idea is this: “A genitive added to a noun previously mentioned without a qualifying genitive fails to reclassify a noun previously mentioned. . . . Thus it is probable that in 8.21 the addition of τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ to ἕτερος implies the discipleship of εἷς γραμματεύς in 8.19, too.”21 He discusses twenty examples in Matthew to prove how the genitive added to modify a noun does not change the reference of the same noun mentioned earlier.22 However, a closer examination shows that these examples do not help to draw a decisive conclusion on 8:21.

One of Gundry’s examples is “the resurrection of the dead” in 22:31. He argues that the genitive “of the dead” does not change the reference of the noun “resurrection” previously mentioned in 22:23, 28, 30, and that this is Matthew’s way of using the genitive. Nevertheless, it seems that the reason why the reference of the noun “resurrection” is not changed by a genitive is not Matthew’s use but the definition of “resurrection,” which means the rising of the dead. In other words, the definition of “resurrection” already suggests its reference, and it is this fact, instead of Matthew’s special use, that explains why the genitive “of the dead” in 22:31 does not change the reference of “resurrection” previously mentioned.

Another of Gundry’s examples is “Galilee of the gentiles” in 4:15, where the genitive “of the gentiles” does not change the reference of the noun “Galilee” mentioned in 4:12. However, Matthew’s original reader might have known what “Galilee” meant, and it is this knowledge, rather than Matthew’s special use, that explains why “of the gentiles” does not change the reference of the noun “Galilee.” Similarly, the reason that “of the Jews” in 2:2 “does not imply that Jesus was the king of the Jews whereas Herod was the king of others” is because the original readers knew that “King Herod” was the King of the Jews.23

In the above examples, the reference of the noun modified by a genitive is identified not through Matthew’s way of using a genitive but through the definition or context of that noun, or the knowledge of the original audience. In other examples, it is not clear that the use of the genitive does not change the reference of the noun which it modifies. These examples include “blasphemy of the Spirit” in 12:31, “the sign of the prophet Jonah” in 12:39 (also in 16:4), “the parable of the sower” in 13:18, and “the parable of the weeds of the field” in 13:36. Gundry argues that the genitives in these passages do not reclassify the nouns previously mentioned. His idea is partly right in the sense that “blasphemy of the Spirit” is still a “blasphemy,” “the sign of Jonah” is still a “sign,” and “the parable of the sower” is still a “parable.” Nevertheless, in some examples the genitives do narrow down the references of the nouns modified, though the “kind” of the nouns is not changed. For instance, although the “sign of Jonah” is still a “sign,” it refers to a specific sign, a different thing from the reference of “sign,” a general concept.

Turning to 8:19, 21, we can see how the observations above make Gundry’s general argument for the discipleship of the first inquirer problematic. First, since in some cases a genitive may narrow down the reference of a noun, ἕτερος modified by τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ in 8:21 may refer to a narrower type of thing than εἷς γραμματεύς in 8:19. Accordingly, ἕτερος τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ may refer to a specific type of scribe, a scribe who is Jesus’s disciple, and εἷς γραμματεύς may refer to a general scribe, who may or may not be a disciple. Second, in other cases it is because of the definition or context that a genitive added to a noun does not reclassify that noun. Regarding 8:19–22, the only fact we know about the first inquirer is that he is a scribe. Neither the definition of the term “scribe” nor any context or knowledge about it may indicate that ἕτερος τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ refers to the same thing as does εἷς γραμματεύς.

A Different Solution

After an examination of the main factors invoked by scholars to argue for or against the discipleship of the first inquirer, his discipleship is still unknown. This uncertainty turns out to make unclear our understanding of Jesus’s response to him. Some scholars believe Jesus turns down this would-be disciple’s request for discipleship,24 but the possibility that this inquirer is already a disciple makes such a belief problematic. Others emphasize Jesus’s teaching on discipleship, but most of them do not explain what leads Jesus to offer such a teaching. Regarding this issue Harrington suggests, “In response to the scribe whose occupation would have demanded the stable lifestyle of a home, Jesus offers only the life of a wandering preacher.”25 However, if the scribe is already a disciple and knows the wandering nature of discipleship, Jesus’s teaching seems to be redundant.

Scholars who hold that the first inquirer is already a disciple face a different difficulty: Why is this inquirer, a disciple, so eager to express his commitment to follow Jesus? Gundry’s answer to this question is interesting: “Throughout his gospel Matthew emphasizes proof of genuineness among professors of discipleship.”26 However, throughout Matthew’s gospel we see only Peter’s intention to prove his genuine discipleship (26:33). More importantly, Peter’s case is different from the current one in that his proof is a defensive response to Jesus’s statement, “You will all become deserters because of me this night” (26:31). In the current case we see Jesus’s order to go over to the other side, which seems not to be a cause for the scribe to prove the genuineness of his discipleship. This scribe is indeed responding to Jesus’s order, but what exactly is the intention behind his response?

The existence of these difficulties suggests that it might not be appropriate to have an either-or position on discipleship. Whether arguing for or against the discipleship of this inquirer, scholars tend to hold that he is either a disciple already or not yet a disciple. No middle way has been tried, perhaps because scholars do not think there is a middle way. However, there is a middle way: This inquirer is a disciple but not the type of disciple who wanders with Jesus to preach. Put another way, the two inquirers in 8:18–22 represent two types of discipleship: the wandering disciple and the domiciled disciple.

This middle way is implied in a debate over the historical Jesus. On the one hand, Gerd Theissen and John P. Meier view the earliest disciples of Jesus as wandering charismatics, and Matt 8:20 is taken as one piece of evidence for their view.27 On the other hand, Richard A. Horsley argues, “There must already have been a more concrete ‘community’ than a vaguely conceived group of ‘followers’ during the ministry of Jesus.”28 This debate calls for an eclectic solution; that is, historically Jesus had two types of disciples: the wandering disciples and domiciled disciples. Turning to Matthew’s narrative, we will see that it does indicate or imply two types of discipleship. But note that I am not going to use a debated point to solve a different debated point.29 Rather, I am going to argue that a solution to a debate about the historical Jesus indicates a similar solution to the debate concerning the identity of the two inquirers in Matt 8:18–22. The fact that both debates involve the issue of discipleship explains why these two debates call for a similar solution.

Two Types of Discipleship in Matthew

Wandering Disciples

Theissen defines “wandering” as homelessness, lack of family, lack of possessions, and lack of protection.30 In this paper I accept the first three features of Theissen’s definition of “wandering” because they are sufficient for distinguishing the wandering disciples from the domiciled ones. In addition, given the narrative of sending out the Twelve, I add that wandering disciples are disciples who are doing missionary work.31 In Matthew’s Gospel, we can discern three passages supporting the wandering discipleship.

First, according to the calling story in 4:18–22, “Immediately leaving the boat and their father they followed him” (4:22); this narrative suggests that these disciples give up their home, family, and possessions to follow Jesus. Horsley thinks this narrative only implies a temporary abandonment of home and family, but he does not explain why.32 Possible evidence for his view is the statement in 8:14 that Jesus enters Peter’s house, which suggests that Peter abandons his house temporarily in 4:22. Nevertheless, the phrase “Peter’s house” does not necessarily mean that Peter still owns the house; it could be a convenient way to identify the house. Peter’s statement in 19:27 that “we left all and followed you” shows that he has given up his house.

Second, the narrative of sending out in Matt 10 also suggests a life of wandering for some disciples, at least the Twelve. Regarding this narrative, Horsley argues that it does not mention abandoning home and family but merely suggests that no possessions are to be carried during the missionary journeys.33 However, Peter’s statement in 19:27 indicates that the wandering disciples lack possessions not only during the missionary journeys but also throughout their life with Jesus so far.

Third, as mentioned above, Peter’s statement in 19:27 is good evidence for the wandering life of some disciples. Peter’s use of “we” indicates that these wandering disciples are the Twelve. Jesus replies to Peter by stating, “everyone who left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold” (19:29). This statement also indicates a wandering life for at least some of Jesus’s disciples. Horsley argues that Jesus here “promises full restoration to a new ‘home’ and the broader ‘family’ . . . hardly the homeless wandering of the supposedly itinerant charismatics.”34 Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Jesus’s promise involves a “home” as a building. It seems confusing that abandonment of physical home would result in “a hundredfold” new physical ones; we should rather understand the houses as spiritual. Furthermore, when Jesus continues to say that his disciples will receive eternal life in the age to come (Matt 19:29; see also Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30), the “eternal life” sounds spiritual, which implies that the “new houses” are also spiritual.

One may argue that without a strong economic basis the wandering life is impossible. However, if the number of the wandering disciples is limited, as with the Twelve mentioned above, then finances are not a serious problem. More importantly, many scholars believe that the context of the Gospel of Matthew is Antioch, the capital of Syria, a well-to-do city.35 Accordingly, Matthew’s narrative indicates that his communities are wealthy.36

The wealth of Matthew’s communities leads Kingsbury to argue that these communities have not “practiced literally the itinerant ethic of renouncing home, family, and good.”37 While Kingsbury is right that Matthew’s communities might not lead a wandering life, it is possible that these communities send out missionaries. For instance, Matthew’s communities, which are in a city, might send out missionaries to villages or other cities, and the narrative of sending out supports this possibility.38

Domiciled Disciples

The above discussion shows that in Matthew there are some wandering disciples, the number of which is limited, probably twelve. I argue below that there are two pieces of evidence supporting the existence of a distinct, domiciled discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew’s use of ἐκκλησία

The term ἐκκλησία occurs 114 times in the NT but only three times in the four Gospels, all in the Gospel of Matthew (16:18, 18:17 [2x]).39 While in the first-century Graeco-Roman world the term ἐκκλησία did not necessarily mean a religious body,40 it has an obvious religious sense in Matthew. In 16:18, after Peter’s confession, Jesus points out that he will build his church (ἐκκλησίαν) based on a rock; it is unimaginable that Jesus is talking about building a non-religious assembly.

The other two occurrences of ἐκκλησία in 18:17 further confirm the religious sense of ἐκκλησία in Matthew. The broad context of 18:17 is Jesus’s teaching to his disciples, because 18:1 states that “the disciples came to Jesus.” Matthew 18:15 points out a more direct context of 18:17: “a brother of you sins.” The “you” obviously refers to the disciples who come to Jesus in 18:1 and, thus, “a brother of you” is also a disciple. Therefore, when Jesus teaches in 18:17 that the disciples should report the sin to the church if the sinner, another disciple, refuses to listen to two witnesses, Jesus means the church of the disciples.

Scholars have noticed that the churches of Matthew are house churches.41 If so, these churches must have fixed places for their members to meet and those members are more likely to be domiciled disciples than wandering disciples.42 Furthermore, the existence of churches means a relatively large number of disciples. As argued above, the number of wandering disciples must not have been very big, due to limited finances. So, it is unlikely that all the members of Matthew’s churches are wandering disciples. In other words, at least some disciples of Matthew’s churches are domiciled disciples.

Some Individuals

There are two special cases which point to domiciled discipleship in Matthew. Matthew 27:57 mentions Joseph who “was discipled” (ἐμαθητεύθη) to Jesus. Albright and Mann argue that Matthew uses μαθητεύω to avoid the misunderstanding that Joseph is a disciple,43 but other scholars believe that Joseph is already a disciple.44 I agree with the latter view, because it is in line with Matthew’s other two uses of μαθητεύω. In 28:19, Jesus commands the eleven disciples to “make disciples of” (μαθητεύσατε) all nations; the term μαθητεύσατε here must mean “make disciple” rather than “instruct.”45 In 13:52, therefore, it is not unreasonable to render πᾶς γραμματεύς μαθητευθείς as “every scribe being made a disciple,” especially given the modification “for the kingdom of heaven.”

Joseph does not appear as a disciple in any other passages of Matthew. Given the import of his role, namely coming to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus (27:28), it is hard to imagine that he is wandering with Jesus but Matthew does not mention his name. The narrative also indicates that he is a new character not mentioned earlier. It is very likely that Joseph is a domiciled rather than wandering disciple of Jesus.

It is important to note that the verb μαθητεύω, used to describe the identity of Joseph in 27:57, is also used to identify scribes in 13:52: “πᾶς γραμματεύς μαθητευθείς τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν” (every scribe who has been made a disciple of the kingdom of heaven).46 The use of μαθητεύω in both 27:57 and 13:52 indicates that some scribes are domiciled disciples like Joseph. In my discussion of the use of the noun “teacher” in Matthew, I have argued that we cannot conclude that a person who calls Jesus “teacher” must not be his disciple. Therefore, the use of μαθητεύω in Matthew supports identifying the first inquirer in Matt 8:19, a scribe who calls Jesus “teacher,” as a domiciled disciple.

Another example of domiciled discipleship involves a group of persons. In 12:49, when Jesus replies to the notice that his mother and brothers are waiting for him, the Matthean Jesus “stretched out the hand upon his disciples and said, ‘behold, [here are] my mother and my brothers.’ ” As E. Anne Clements emphasizes, the Matthean expression “stretching out the hand upon his disciples” does not occur in parallel synoptic passages (Mark 3:31–35; Luke 8:19–21).47 This difference suggests that in Matthew, women might be included among the family of Jesus’s followers. However, in Matthew there is no narrative about female disciples wandering with Jesus. Matt 27:55–56 does state that some women follow Jesus from Galilee, but it is not clear whether they are disciples or not. The whole group of female disciples in Matthew might be domiciled, staying at home to support wandering disciples, while “the worldwide mission is reserved for males only in the story.”48

Differences Made by the New Solution

Cumulative evidence supports the theory of two types of discipleship in Matthew. Accordingly, this theory suggests a reading of Matt 8:18–22 from a new perspective. According to this perspective, Jesus calls his wandering disciples to go over to the other side to do missionary work (8:18), but a domiciled disciple, a scribe, wants to go with Jesus (8:19). Since he is already a disciple, he is not called “one of their scribes” but “one/a scribe.” He is also different from the second inquirer, who should have been a wandering disciple as I will discuss below. In addition, since the request of this scribe involves wandering discipleship rather than discipleship per se, Jesus’s reply to him in 8:20 is not a denial of discipleship, as some scholars argue.49 It is more likely that Jesus is explaining the nature of doing missionary work to remind this disciple to have a second thought about his decision.

As to the second inquirer, he might be considered a wandering disciple because his request to bury his father first in 8:21 is likely a response to Jesus’s order in 8:18, a call to continue the journey of doing missionary work as indicated above. In other words, this inquirer’s request to bury his father first turns out to be his response to Jesus’s order to continue their journey. If he is not a wandering disciple already, it is hard to explain why he responds to Jesus’s order to wander. In contrast to the first inquirer, who wants to be a missionary instead of staying at home, this second inquirer might not want to wander but to stay at home. It is also possible that he misunderstands the meaning of wandering and thus asks for a delay, while the wandering discipleship requires an urgent commitment, as the calling stories in 4:18–22 and 9:9 indicate. Whatever his intention is, my argument suggests that this second inquirer is not struggling with discipleship but with wandering discipleship. Therefore, in 8:22 when Jesus says “follow me” he is not calling a new disciple but reminding a wandering disciple of his responsibility or explaining it to him. It might be wondered how the second inquirer, if he is already wandering, gets the news about the death of his father. While it seems that he might be domiciled and thus know that his father is dead, two possibilities support his identity as a wandering disciple. One is that he happens to be passing through town in his wanderings with Jesus when his father dies.50 The other is that the crowds bring the news about his father, who lived nearby.


To sum up, this paper deals with the identity of the two inquirers in Matt 8:18–22. I argue that while the discipleship of the second inquirer is certain, all current solutions to the discipleship of the first inquirer have flaws. To solve this problem, I propose a theory that Jesus has two types of disciples, the domiciled and the wandering disciples. This theory is supported by textual evidence and provides a new perspective on Matt 8:18–22. According to this perspective, the first inquirer is a domiciled disciple but wants to be a wandering missionary, whereas the second is already a wandering missionary but wants to stay at home. This perspective also offers a different explanation of Jesus’ responses: Jesus is explaining to the first inquirer the nature of wandering and reminding the second of his own wandering duty.

Xi Li is currently a third year PhD student in the field of biblical studies at the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America. His research interests include trauma studies, the Deuteronomistic History, and the issue of discipleship. Xi received a PhD in the field of Ethics from Peking University in 2005 and an MDiv from Milligan College in 2017. He has served as an associate professor at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics since 2011 and was a visiting scholar at Baylor University from 2012 to 2013.

1 In this paper, all translations of the Greek New Testament are mine.

2 The meaning of his request, “allow me to go first and to bury my father” (8:21), is unclear. Kenneth E. Bailey argues that it means to “serve my father while he is alive and after he dies I will bury him and come” (Kenneth E. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], 26; E. P. Sanders connects this request to the Jewish obligation to bury dead relatives (E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985], 253); Byron R. McCane argues that the burial here refers to the Jewish practice of secondary burial (Byron R. McCane, “Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead: Secondary Burial and Matt 8:21–22,” HTR 83 [1990]: 31–43); Geza Vermes claims that this disciple uses the filial duty as an excuse for procrastination (Geza Vermes, The Religion of Jesus the Jew [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993], 29). These controversies do not influence the identity of the second inquirer.

3 See Jack Dean Kingsbury, “On Following Jesus: The ‘Eager’ Scribe and the ‘Reluctant’ Disciple,” NTS 34 (1988): 53.

4 W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, “Matthew: Introduction, Translation, and Notes,” AB 26 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971), 96.

5 Ibid.

6 W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 2, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), 39.

7 Pierre Bonnard, L’Évangile Selon Saint Matthieu, 2nd ed., CDNT 1 (Paris: Delachaux et Niestlé, 1970), 118: “but here, as in 13.52 and 23.34, no negative role comes out of it.”

8 Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 151.

9 Kingsbury, “Following,” 48. Both Ulrich Luz and Donald A. Hagner agree that Kingsbury’s view in “Following” is correct (Ulrich Luz, Matthew 8–20: A Commentary, HermCHCB, trans. James E. Crouch, ed. Helmut Koester [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001], 17n16; Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, WBC 33A [Dallas: Word Books, 1993], 216).

10 This use supports Chris Keith’s distinction between scribal-literate authorities and scribal-illiterate manual laborers (Chris Keith, Jesus against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014]) and David E. Orton’s distinction between Pharisaic scribes and other kinds of scribes (David E. Orton, The Understanding Scribe: Matthew and the Apocalyptic Ideal, JSNTSupp 25 [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989]). According to their distinctions, the enemies of Jesus are scribal-literate authorities and/or Pharisaic scribes instead of all scribes.

11 Davies and Allison, Commentary on Matthew, 41.

12 Kingsbury, “Following,” 51.

13 Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, NAC 22 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 146; Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, SP 1 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), 119; J. C. Fenton, Saint Matthew, WPC (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), 128.

14 Walter Grundmann, Das Evangelium Nach Matthäus, THNT1 (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1972), 258.

15 Kingsbury, “Following,” 48.

16 Harrington, Matthew, 119.

17 Gundry, Matthew, 151.

18 Ibid.

19 Michael J. Wilkins points out that Mark also makes such a distinction (Michael J. Wilkins, Discipleship in the Ancient World and Matthew’s Gospel [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995], 137).

20 Kingsbury, “Following.” Gundry, “On True and False Disciples in Matthew 8.18–22,” NTS 40(1994): 433–41. Alan Hugh McNeile proposes that the use of “εἷς . . . ἕτερος” suggests the discipleship of the first inquirer (Alan Hugh McNeile, The Gospel according to St. Matthew: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices [London: Macmillan, 1915], 108). For a similar view, see Heinz Joachim Held, “Matthew as Interpreter of the Miracle Stories,” in Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew, ed. Günther Bornkamm, Gerhard Barth, and Heinz Joachim Held, NTL (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963), 203.

21 Gundry, “True and False Disciples,” 435.

22 Ibid., 440–41.

23 Ibid., 440.

24 Kingsbury, “Following,” 51.

25 Harrington, Matthew, 119.

26 Gundry, “On True and False Disciples,” 437; Matthew: A Commentary, 151.

27 John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 3 (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 50; Gerd Theissen, Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 10.

28 Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, 2nd ed. (New York: Continuum, 1994), 210.

29 I am thankful to an anonymous reviewer who raises this question.

30 Theissen, Palestinian Christianity, 10–13.

31 There might be disciples who stayed at home most of the time but went out to another church or city to preach occasionally. I see them as domiciled disciples because they were not without home, family, and possessions.

32 Horsley, Jesus, 210.

33 Ibid.

34 Horsley, Jesus, 229.

35 See, for instance, Donald Senior, What Are They Saying about Matthew? (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 14; Raymond E. Brown and John P. Meier, Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 22–27; Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew as Story (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 121–26; Rodney Stark, “Antioch as the Social Situation for Matthew’s Gospel,” in Social History of the Matthean Community, ed. David L. Balch (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 189–210.

36 As Kingsbury points out, the Matthean Jesus blesses “the poor in spirit” (5:3) instead of “the poor” as the Lucan Jesus does (6:20), and the Matthean Jesus commands his disciple to take no “gold, nor silver, nor copper coin” (10:9) but the Marcan Jesus commands them to take no “copper coin” (6:8) (Kingsbury, “The Verb Akolouthein [‘to Follow’] as an Index of Matthew’s View of His Community,” JBL 97 [1978]: 56–73[67]).

37 Kingsbury, “The Verb Akolouthein,” 67.

38 There is a gap of time between Jesus’s sending out and Matthew’s communities and, thus, it seems illegitimate to use the sending out to infer the situation of Matthew’s communities or vice versa. However, as Luz’s idea of “transparence” indicates, “past and present, the history of Jesus and the community’s own experiences, constantly intermingle” in Matthew (Ulrich Luz, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew, trans, J. Bradford Robinson, NTT [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011], 33. Thus I do not distinguish Jesus’s disciples and the disciples in Matthew’s communities/churches.

39 There are two variants of ἐκκλησία in Matt 18:15, 21. If we count them, this root occurs in Matthew five times.

40 BDAG, 303.

41 Michael H. Crosby, House of Disciples: Church, Economics, and Justice in Matthew (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), 1988, 49–76; Brown and Meier, Antioch and Rome, 66.

42 Robert Banks claims, “a moderately well-to-do household could hold around thirty people comfortably” (Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early Churches in Their Historical Setting [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], 41).

43 Albright and Mann, Matthew, lxxvii.

44 Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 858; Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Socio-Political and Religious Reading, JSNTSup 204 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2000), 538; Gundry, Matthew, 580. Wilkins, Discipleship, 161.

45 Albright and Mann argue for a translation of “teach all nations” (Albright and Mann, Matthew, lxxvii). Just as Benno Przybylski points out, however, “when v. 19 is seen in conjunction with the verb διδάσκοντες in v. 20, this translation is not possible” (Benno Przybylski, Righteousness in Matthew and His World of Thought, SNTSMS 41 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980], 110). Moreover, the participle βαπτίζοντες that follows and modifies μαθητεύσατε also suggests rendering μαθητεύσατε as “make disciple.”

46 For the opinion that the μαθητεύω in Matt 13:52 should be translated by a phrase which has the meaning of disciple, see also Albright and Mann, Matthew, lxxvii.

47 E. Anne Clements, Mothers on the Margin? The Significance of the Women in Matthew’s Genealogy (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014), 249.

48 Talvikki Mattila, “Naming the Nameless: Gender and Discipleship in Matthew’s Passion Narrative,” in Characterization in the Gospels: Reconceiving Narrative Criticism, ed. David Rhoads and Kari Syreeni (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999): 153–79 (168).

49 Kingsbury, “Following,” 51; Harrington, Matthew, 119; Ben Cooper, Incorporated Servanthood: Commitment and Discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew, LNTS 490 (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 119.

50 I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer who pointed out this possibility.

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