In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly tells people to follow him. But why doesn’t that call ring out in the rest of the New Testament?
Today we field a question from a listener named Mark who lives in Midlothian, Virginia. Mark writes, “Pastor John, my question is, Why does Paul refuse to use the phrase ‘follow Jesus’ when speaking about saving faith or in his imperatives to the church? Jesus spoke this way a lot.
“In Matthew 4:19, he said to his disciples, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Jesus’s command to ‘follow’ seems significant in all four Gospels. In Matthew 8:22 he says, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’ In Mark 10:21 he says, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ In Luke 9:23 he says, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ And in John 10:27 he says, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’
“Key texts — all of them. The Greek word for follow (akoloutheō) appears 89 times in the New Testament, but only once in Paul (1 Corinthians 10:4). Basically, Paul avoids the language of ‘following Jesus.’ Why? And was this terminology more appropriate for those who could literally follow Christ during his ministry on earth?”