While, as is expected, not all of the 269 references to disciples specifically define the word, very strong exegetical evidence from many passages establish that one becomes a true disciple of Christ at the same moment that one becomes a true believer, so that discipleship begins at regeneration, and all the people of God, not some elite minority, are identified as disciples in Scripture. On the other hand, no verse in Scripture teaches that believers become disciples at a post-conversion crisis or that only some of the regenerate are disciples. While the fact that all Christians are disciples is taught in many texts of Scripture, Acts 11:26 is crystal-clear. The verse states:
And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
καὶ εὑρὼν αὐτὸν ἤγαγεν αὐτὸν εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν. ἐγένετο δὲ αὐτοὺς ἐνιαυτὸν ὅλον συναχθῆναι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ διδάξαι ὄχλον ἱκανόν, χρηματίσαι τε πρῶτον ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς.
In Acts 11:26, the clause χρηματίσαι τε πρῶτον ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς (“the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch”) explicitly equates the category Christian and disciple. Mathetas (“disciples”) functions as the subject of the infinitive chrematisai (“were called”), and Cristianous (“Christians”) is a predicate accusative in the construction (cf. pgs. 190-197, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace). Since this syntactical pattern is “similar [in function] to the nominative subject and predicate nominative construction, following the same principles for distinguishing [the subject and predicate words]” (pg. 190, Ibid.), and the equivalent subject-predicate nominative construction is a convertible, not a subset proposition, because mathetas is articular and Cristianous is a proper noun (pgs. 40-46, Ibid.), the two categories disciple and Christian are explicitly equated as convertible terms. The “construction indicates an identical exchange . . . both nouns have an identical referent. The mathematical formulas of A=B, B=A are applicable in such instances. . . . There is complete interchange between the two [nouns]” (pg. 41, Ibid.). Disciple = Christian, and Christian = disciple.
Furthermore, at Antioch the disciples were called Christians first in time (πρῶτον, proton), but this designation spread to the rest of the believing community in the same manner. That is, Acts 11:26 teaches that first at Antioch, and from there in the rest of the world where the gospel had penetrated, it was disciples who were called Christians. The equation disciple = Christian was not limited to Antioch—it was universal, just starting first in time at Antioch. Acts 11:26 definitively equates the category of disciple and Christian as identical. If only some Christians are disciples, then only some Christians are Christians. Everyone who cares about the Bible needs to recognize this fact, and churches need to preach the gospel accordingly.