Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

A quick look at the Greek word for “follow”

A quick look at the Greek word for "follow": akoloutheō

The gospels contain many references where Jesus personally invited people to follow him. The Greek word translated as “follow”, in most of these references, is akoloutheō. This is a common word and is used throughout the Greek New Testament, especially in the Gospels.[1]

While akoloutheō is almost always translated as “follow” in English translations, it has a broader range of meanings. It can also mean “accompany” and “assist”. Many New Testament translations and lexicons do not give these other meanings, this is because they tend to favour the traditional translation of “follow”.  Strong’s, however, is one lexicon which gives the extra meanings of “accompany” and “attend”, as well as “follow”.[2]

The word “acolyte” is derived from akoloutheō. An acolyte is an assistant or attendant. Several Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox churches, the Lutheran church and others, have assistants called acolytes. Acolytes perform rituals in religious services which may include lighting candles, carrying crosses, swinging censers and ringing bells. However meaningful people may find these rituals, we can safely assume that these activities were not what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Come follow me.”

If we understand that akoloutheō can have the meanings of “accompany” and “assist”, as well as “follow”, we can see that when Jesus was calling people to follow him he wasn’t just saying “tag along behind me”.[3] He didn’t want people to just listen and believe in him from a distance. Jesus was inviting people to come close, to join him, and even help him with his mission. He wanted people to be vitally engaged and involved with him in both learning and doing the work of the gospel.

Jesus is still inviting people to be his disciples and to personally join him, learn from him, and help him in gospel ministry. There is nothing passive about being a true follower of Jesus Christ.


[1] Verses where Jesus invites people to follow him with the word akoloutheō: Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21 (19:28); Mark 1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21; Luke 5:27, 9:23, 59, 61; 14:27, 18:22; John 1:43, 8:12, 10:27, 12:26, 21:19, 22. Every occurrence of akoloutheō in the Greek New Testament can be viewed here.

[2] Strong’s Concordance (first published in 1890) is not always completely accurate. Strong’s is a wonderful work, but it was written shortly before the discovery of numerous Greek papyri in Egypt in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century which helped to give us a better understand the Greek of the New Testament.

[3] In the calling of his first disciples in Mark chapter 1, Jesus uses the word opisō (rather than akoloutheō) which means “after” (Mark 1:17, 20; cf. Matt. 4:19, etc). In the same chapter, John the Baptiser uses opisō in reference to Jesus: the Mightier One who comes after John the Baptiser (Mark 1:7). There may be a deliberate juxtaposition of opisō in Mark chapter 1. (There’s also an interesting juxtaposition of opisō in Mark 8:33 and 34!) Every occurrence of opisō in the Greek New Testament can be viewed here.

Posted March 11th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Christian Living, ,

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4 comments on “A quick look at the Greek word for “follow”

  1. Deborah says:

    I like this insight, Marg.

  2. Marg says:

    Thanks Deborah. I learnt about it this week in a Greek class. The word came up in a reading (of an ancient political speech) and I immediately recognised it and translated it as “follow”. But the lecturer said that it had other meanings and that in the context of the speech it probably meant “assist”. I went and checked the word in NT lexicons and found out that they don’t always give these other meanings.

    I believe that many Christians don’t have a good grasp of what it means to follow Jesus and be his disciple, so I posted this tiny article.

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