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What is an Apostle and Disciple?

Updated on August 25, 2013

An Ambitious Term

Apostle. Most Christians would desire to be one. Some even claim to be one. But when we claim to be Apostles, do we really know what we're saying? What does it mean to be an Apostle, and how do we become one? Furthermore, how (if at all), does this differ from being a disciple. Let us look at the two terms so we may determine the truth about who we are called to be in Christ.



Apostolos-- The Greek word for Apostle is "Apostolos" ( ἀπόστολος) and is used only 81 times total in the New Testament. In the Gospels it is used 9 times, and only to refer to the 12 that Jesus had chosen. In the letters, they are used 19 times, and only two claims of Apostlehood are made by Peter, the other 17 are by Paul. There are 3 references in Revelations, referring to again, the 12 Apostles. The majority of the usage is in Acts, where it is used almost exclusively to refer to the "11" (initially), and then also to refer to Matthias (who was chosen to replace Judas) and finally, though more tentatively, to Barnabas and Paul. The meaning of this word, as defined by Strongs Concordance is, "A delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders". However, the concordance also makes the claim that it is specifically applied to the "12 Apostles of Christ" with a few other exceptions such as Barnabas.


Mathetes-- The greek for Disciple, "Mathetes" (μαθητής), is used much more often--a total of 269 times. Its meaning is a "learner or pupil". Additionally, the word is derived from the greek "Manthano" meaning "to learn (through hearing and practice), and to increase one's knowledge". There is a distinct sense of being "unfinished" when using this word.

Meaning and difference

So what is the difference between being an Apostle and a Disciple?  It must be that being an Apostle is a specific kind of Disciple, one who is called by Christ himself.  If you are a true Christian you are disciple, for all of us are "unfinished" and still learning how to truly live out the Gospel.  We also know that we are called to "make disciples of all the nations".  We are called to convert, teach, and provide opportunities for others to hear and practice the word.  But though we are teachers, that does not make us Apostles.

The New Testament is clear, besides a few exceptions like Paul and Barnabas, the term of Apostle is reserved for those few people who are specifically called and ordained by Christ.  Does that mean that there are not Apostles still appointed today?  I believe that there are, for just as Matthias was chosen to replace Judas, so there are those among us who are chosen to specifically lead the people by teaching disciples.  God still anoints and we as a Church still need leadership.  How that appointment of the Apostolate comes about is a matter of opinion depending on the denomination, but I believe few would argue that 1) we are all disciples because we are all still learning to be like Christ (the ultimate Apostle and Master), and 2) Christ still calls some to be Apostles.

© 2010 rdlang05


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      Ian 5 years ago

      Romans 16:7

      That pre-pauline Church to whom she was of note: Rome. It's ironic that Roman Catholic scholars are the only people today who still question whether "Junia" is a female name.

    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Psh, I've never even heard of Junia, is that in some non-scriptural writing? And yes, I've heard of the letters, and I think them being associated with the "12" gives a bit of credence to their claim.

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      Ian 5 years ago

      You've forgotten one of my all time favorite apostles: the female apostle Junia, the probable wife of Andronicus, particularly notable among the apostles by a pre-Pauline Church.

      It may also be worthy of note that early Christian leaders -possibly individuals associated with James or the 12 ("the most eminent of the apostles")- bore letters of recommendation, likely from the Church at Jerusalem, to support their apostleship (2 Corinthians).

    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 7 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank you Faithful Daughter. I believe Paul in some sense was a self-appointed Apostle, although I think he would disagree with that.

      And I am very glad to be back. I hope to increase my writing a bit more again.

    • Faithful Daughter profile image

      Evi Lopez 7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      And then there are those who are self-appointed apostles. It is a status for many. I still believe that we are all Disciples of Christ and the apostles where the Twelve Apostles of Bible times. By the way, welcome back from your (dis)inspiration or is it too early to celebrate?