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A disciple is a follower and student of a mentor, teacher, or other wise figure.


[In OE. discipul, ad. L. discipul-us learner, pupil, f. disc{ebreve}re to learn. In early ME. di-, deciple, a. OF. deciple, semi-popular ad. L. discipul-us. Both in OF. and ME., deciple was gradually conformed to the L. spelling as disciple; ME. had occasional variants in -il, -yl, -ul.]

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  • 1. One who follows or attends upon another for the purpose of learning from him; a pupil or scholar.

It has not been at any period in English the ordinary term for scholar or pupil, as discipulus was in Latin; but has come into use through the New Testament versions, being applied chiefly to the Twelve Disciples of Jesus Christ, and used in similar Scriptural applications or later extensions of them. Hence the sense-development in Eng. is not that of Latin, where the order of sub-senses was d, c, a, b.

a. One of the personal followers of Jesus Christ during his life; esp. one of the Twelve. Rare in OE. the word in Ags. Gospels being leorningcniht, in Lindisf. Gl. usually {edh}ei{asg}n.

c950 Lindisf. Gosp. Matt. xxvii. 57 Summ monn..{edh}e discipul wæs {edh}æs hælendes. c1200 Trin. Coll. Hom. 101 Ure louerd stod among his diciples. a1225 Ancr. R. 106 He biheold hu his deore deciples fluen alle vrom him. c1380 Sir Ferumb. 5733 Su{th}{th}e sente {th}e holy gost To ys decyples he louede most. 1382 WYCLIF John xix. 38 Ioseph of Armathi..was a disciple of Ihesu, forsothe priuey, for the drede of Iewis. 1538 STARKEY England I. ii. 40 Al Chrystys dyscypullys and apostyllys were sympul and pore. 1611 BIBLE Luke x. (heading), Christ sendeth out, at once, seuenty disciples to worke miracles. 1667 MILTON P.L. XII. 438 His Disciples, Men who in his Life Still follow'd him. 1850 ROBERTSON Serm. I. xvi. 242 One disciple who had dipped in the same dish..deceived and betrayed him.

b. Also applied in the N.T. to the early Christians generally; hence, in religious use, absol. a professed follower of Christ, a Christian or believer. (Hence sense 3.)

c1380 WYCLIF De Dot. Eccl. ii. Sel. Wks. III. 433 Crist sei{th} {th}at noo man may be his discipul but {ygh}if he renunce alle siche {th}ingis. 1388 {emem} Acts xi. 26 The disciplis weren namyd first at Antioche cristen men. 1526-34 TINDALE Acts xx. 7 The disciples came to geder for to breake breed. 1607 HIERON Wks. I. 384 If a true disciple, a true Christian; if but a formall disciple, surely but a hollow Christian. 1853 ROBERTSON Serm. II. xix. 244 To the true disciple a miracle only manifests the Power and Love which are silently at work everywhere. 1890 J. HUNTER Devot. Services, Dedic. Serv., You are gathered here..to take upon yourselves the obligations of Christ's disciples.

c. A personal follower or pupil of any religious or (in more recent use) other teacher or master. (This passes almost imperceptibly into sense 2.) (Rare in OE.: see a.)

c900 Bæda's Hist. v. ix. (1891) 410 An {edh}ara bro{edh}ra, se wæs iu on Breotene Bosles discipul and {th}e{asg}n. a1300 Cursor M. 21199 (Cott.) Lucas was..disciple o paule ai foluand fer. 1382 WYCLIF Isa. viii. 16 Marke the lawe in my disciples. {emem} Matt. xxii. 16 Thanne Pharisees..senden to hym her disciples, with Erodyanys. {emem} Luke vii. 19 And John clepide to gidere tweyne of his disciples, and sente to Ihesu. 1393 GOWER Conf. III. 374 (MS. Harl. 3490) And grete well Chaucer, whan ye mete, As my disciple and my poete. 1756 NUGENT Gr. Tour France IV. 90 The cieling..is painted in fresco, by Francesco Romanelli, a disciple of Peter of Cortona. 1838 THIRLWALL Greece II. 137 His fellow-citizen, friend, and disciple, the courageous and unfortunate Zeno.

d. generally. A scholar or pupil. (Now arch., rhet., affected, or jocular, or with conscious reference to c.)

1489 CAXTON Faytes of A. I. x. 29 Al thinges seme dyfficyle to the dysciple or scoler. 1563-7 BUCHANAN Reform. St. Andros Wks. (1892) 11 Nor {ygh}it sal it be leful to the said pedagogis to ding thair disciples. 1758 JORTIN Life Erasmus I. 321 Lord Mountjoy, who was formerly my disciple, gives me a yearly pension of an hundred crowns. Mod. I am afraid you may not find him a very apt disciple.

  • 2. One who follows, or is influenced by, the doctrine or example of another; one who belongs to the ‘school’ of any leader of thought. [An extension of 1c, or fig. from 1a.]

a1300 Cursor M. 16636 (Cott.) {Th}ai spitted on his luueli face, {th}aa disciplis of hell. 1375 BARBOUR Bruce IV. 18 A discipill of Judas, Maknab, a fals tratour. 1594 HOOKER Eccl. Pol. IV. vii. (1611) 139 To become disciples vnto the most hatefull sort that liue. 1613 SHAKES. Hen. VIII, V. iii. 112 This man, whose honesty the Diuell And his Disciples onely enuy at. 1711 ADDISON Spect. No. 163 {page}4, I am one of your Disciples, and endeavour to live up to your Rules. 1849 JAMES Woodman xxx, All who are disciples of St. Hubert, prepare your horses. 1868 G. DUFF Pol. Surv. 75 M. Pierre Lafitte and his English disciples. 1893 Chr. World 16 Nov. 885/3 An advanced Theist, of the school of the late Professor Green, of whom he was a pupil and is a disciple.

  • 3. pl. The name of a denomination of Christians, a branch of the Baptists, which originated in the early part of the 19th c. and is chiefly found in the United States; called also Campbellites. [A specific application of 1b; the name was suggested by Alex. Campbell of Lexington, Kentucky, in 1832.]

1834 J. M. PECK Gaz. Illinois 203 A new sect [was] recently organized by a union of ‘Reformed Baptists’ and ‘Christians’ who call themselves ‘Disciples’. 1835 J. MARTIN Gaz. Virginia 76 The precise distinction between the regular Baptist and the Reformers, called the disciples of Christ, not being in all cases drawn. 1858-60 GARDNER Faiths World I. 718/1 The principles of the Disciples have found their way into England and Wales..and the census of 1851 contains a return of three congregations or churches calling themselves by the name of the Disciples of Christ. 1867 Even. Standard 19 Nov., A new sect is attracting some attention in this city. Its members give themselves the name of ‘the Disciples’. They profess a religion most primitive and simple. 1881 W. M. THAYER Log-Cab. to White Ho. ii, Abram Garfield..united with a comparatively new sect, called Disciples, though Campbellites was a name by which they were sometimes known.

  • 4. Comb.

1641 MILTON Reform. II. Wks. (1847) 17 Honoured as a father and physician to the soul, with a sonlike and disciple~like reverence. 1823 BENTHAM Not Paul 392 Apparatus employed by him in his trade of disciple-catcher.