Disciple Making Secrets

6 Little Greek Words with BIG Implications for Disciple Making

It’s all greek to me!

That phrase has become synonymous with any dense, hard-to-parse explanation. Unfortunately, it’s how many of us feel when thinking about the role we are called to play in God’s mission, which is making disciples.

But don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with a breakdown of some of the keywords and phrases Matthew uses in his Gospel and what they mean for our lives as disciple-makers.

1. Ethne: Making disciples is for all people, everywhere.

You probably already know Matthew wrote his gospel as an eyewitness account of Jesus’ life and ministry. But what you might not know is how significant the timing of his writing was.

When the book of Matthew was first penned, the early Church was experiencing an identity crisis. On the heels of being labeled heretics by the Jewish establishment, many followers of Jesus wanted to lean into their Hebrew roots, reforming to require more adherence to Jewish laws and customs. Meanwhile, an overwhelming amount of Gentiles were pouring into the Church. Should these early believers view themselves as a Jewish sect or a completely new movement?

That’s why it was so significant that Matthew recalled Jesus using the word “ethne” when he commissioned his disciples to make disciples of all nations. Often translated as nation, ethne refers to a group united by a shared cultural, tribal, or ethnic identity. It is a clear message that disciple-making is not just for one class of people. No matter who they are or where they’re from, everyone is meant to be a disciple of Jesus and make disciples of Jesus.

2. Basileia: Making disciples is an invitation to live in a new reality.

Everyone loves a good story, and Jesus told plenty of them. But His stories always began similarly:  

“The basileia (kingdom, or reign) of God is like...”

Jesus consistently uses the concept of a kingdom to describe what our lives should be like as disciples and disciple-makers. He uses it to describe a reality that is in both the future and the present. The reign of God describes His desire to see things set rightly, according to His will. It also describes His authority and power to make things that are not aligned with His will be set right. As disciple-makers, we are invited to live in a new reality where the sick are healed, the lost are found, and the poor are given mercy!

Speaking of which...  

3.  Dikaiosyne: Making disciples brings hope to the poor.

Dikaiosyne is a word Matthew uses in his Gospel that is closely tied to basileia. It is one of those big words that English can’t quite fully translate. But it includes the ideas of both justice and righteousness.

A common misunderstanding for people who are new to the idea of making disciples is that it is just another strategy for evangelism. Far from it! Making disciples is about reconciling the whole person to the will of God. Jesus longs for everyone to know Him spiritually, but He also seeks to transform society and improve the physical well-being of the poor. That’s why it’s so important for disciple-making communities to discuss the needs they see in their communities and how they can be a part of meeting those needs.

4.  Kerysso & didasko: Making disciples grows people into a relationship with Jesus.

Throughout Matthew’s gospel, Jesus bounces between two groups of people, an “in” group and an “out” group.

When He is with pious Jews—the insiders to God’s Kingdom—He is usually in a temple or a synagogue, and he is teaching them. The word used for this is didasko. It means to teach or instruct, intending to produce action and lifestyle change. However, Jesus also spent time with outsiders, such as common Jews, Samaritans, or even Romans. Whenever He is with them, we find Him proclaiming a message to them. The word kerysso is used to describe this activity.

But at the culmination of the book of Matthew, something interesting happens.

Matthew 28:19-20 says, “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, teaching (didasko) them to observe all that I have commanded you...”

Did you notice what happened? At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses the term set aside for discipling the in-group, to describe how the out-group should come to become disciples.

Traditionally, we assume that making disciples is part of a two-step process: evangelism followed by discipleship. But Jesus is painting a picture of evangelism through discipleship. In other words, we don’t have to wait for someone to profess faith in Jesus to begin teaching them how to follow him. Where there is hunger to learn—even apart from an emotional expression of faith or “sinner’s prayer”—we guide people along a journey of discovering God for themselves until they reach the point where they are ready to identify themselves with Him.

5. Toreo: Making disciples is an active lifestyle.

But this all begs the question, what are we teaching them to do?

The answer is to toreo all that Jesus has commanded us. Toreo is an interesting word that carries a lexical range including to obey, to observe, or to keep. It is not the blind, unengaged obedience of the Pharisees nor is it a lackadaisical tip-of-the-hat given by a petulant child who only wants to appear as if he’s obeying the rules. To toreo the commands of Jesus means that we hold them in our hearts, engaging with them continually, as a lifestyle of obedience. A beautiful picture of such an active, disciple-making lifestyle comes from Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lordyour God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9)


At Waha, we want to make it so easy to make disciples that multiply that you won’t need to speak Biblical Greek in order to do it. That’s why we created a mobile app that can facilitate the process of discovering God through scripture for you and a group of friends. And while we’re talking about languages, did you know we are adding new languages to the app all the time? Download the app today, or learn more about our localization efforts.