Sonship is Discipleship: How Theological Anthropology Links the Discipleship of Jesus and Paul

Because Paul does not use the term disciple, some question whether the concept is helpful or part of the church’s mission. Gupta does a good job showing that Paul’s slave/master metaphor has correlations to the disciple/master relationship, thus demonstrating that the concept of discipleship occurs in Paul’s letters, even if by means of other terms. However, in Paul’s letters, an even better analog to the disciple/master relationship can be found in the son/father metaphor. In fact, for Paul, sonship is discipleship. This is because the son/father metaphor builds on several aspects of theological anthropology shared with Jesus’ disciple/master concept, including crucial doctrines relating to creation and salvation—namely, that (all) humanity was made in God’s image and that (saved) humanity is being conformed into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, both Jesus’ teaching on discipleship and Paul’s teaching on sonship have the same starting point and telos: creation in God’s image and transformation into Christ’s image (Christoformity).
To establish the thesis that theological anthropology links the visions of Jesus and Paul on the matter of discipleship, this paper will examine Jesus’ teaching on discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s metaphor of sonship in Ephesians and Romans. This comparison will first demonstrate that both Jesus and Paul have the same goal of transformation/Christoformity (Matt 10:24; Eph 4:13-16, 5:2; Rom 8:29). Next, both Jesus and Paul call their respective followers to become “learners” of Christ (Matt 11:29; Eph 4:20), and this learning occurs through both instruction and imitation. Thirdly, both Jesus’ teaching of his disciples and Paul’s instruction of his audiences utilize familial imagery (imitating the Father, Matt 5:45; obedience to the will of the Father, Matt 12:26-50; calling them “brothers” after the resurrection, Matt 28:10; adoption, Eph 1:5; imitating the Father, Eph 5:1; brothers, Eph 6:23; Rom 8:14-17). This shared language merges the messages of Jesus and Paul and closely resembles the language of the Old Testament and of Josephus, where the term “Son of the Prophets” describes discipleship relationships. Finally, the language of “image” appears in both Jesus (Matt 22:15-22) and Paul (Eph 4:24 [Col 3:10]; Romans 8:29) to communicate the fundamental notion of why mankind was created, namely to resemble God’s image and to reflect his glory. This concept of the image of God contains the important element of sonship. Finally, the paper will close with reflection on how Paul’s sonship metaphor practically impacts the church’s approach to discipleship.

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