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What is the difference between a disciple and apostle?

The terms "disciple" and "apostle" are sometimes used interchangeably, but they do, in fact, have different meanings. In general, a disciple refers to someone who follows and spreads the teachings of another person; the Greek word for "disciple" refers to a learner. The New Testament uses the word "disciple" to refer to followers of Jesus Christ, most notably the twelve disciples who assisted Jesus in His ministry. Jesus' final instruction to His followers was to, "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 them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19–20). All who put their faith in Jesus are to be His disciples.

The Greek word for apostle means "one who is sent;" this describes someone who is being sent out with authority from the one who is sending him. There is a special sense of the word "apostle" when we are talking about its New Testament usage. In order to be an apostle one must have been with Jesus during His ministry, seen Him after His resurrection, and been empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles and signs (Acts 1:21; Mark 3:13–19; Luke 9:1–5). Today there are no apostles in this sense of the word, although some sects of the church may call certain people "apostles" based on the work they are doing for the church. Interestingly, all of the original apostles with the exception of John, were martyred. In Revelation it says that their twelve names will be written on the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:14).

The Bible identifies eleven of the original disciples of Jesus as apostles including Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, and Simon (Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:14–19). Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and later hung himself so he is not considered an apostle. Judas was replaced among the Twelve by Matthias (Acts 1:26). Paul was an apostle. His apostleship is a bit of an exception in that he was not with Jesus during His ministry, but was later chosen by Jesus with a special mission to spread the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 26:14–18; Romans 1:1). The Bible also labels Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:6–9), Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6), and Silas (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6) as apostles. James, the half-brother of Jesus, appears to be an apostle as well (Galatians 1:19). The word "apostle" is used, seemingly in the more general sense of "messenger," for Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25) and at least another two people who are left unnamed (2 Corinthians 8:23). Some scholars also say that Andronicus and Junia were apostles (Romans 16:7). Finally, Hebrews 3:1 calls Jesus Himself an apostle who was sent by and with the authority of God.


Related Truth:

Is there a difference between a Christian and a disciple?

Christian discipleship - What is it?

Making disciples – Why is it important?

Who were Jesus' twelve (12) disciples / apostles?

How can a Christian be an ambassador for Christ?


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