Question: What is the difference between an apostle and a disciple?
This is a very common question. The terms “apostle” and “disciple” are often used interchangeably, particularly when referring to the Twelve men hand-chosen by Jesus to be His followers and spokesmen to the world.
Within Christianity a disciple is one who is a student of Christ Jesus and who strives to apply His teachings in life. The word disciple comes from a Latin word meaning pupil. Both the learning (i.e.: Bible study) and the application of Jesus’ commandments and teachings are central to discipleship. During His earthy ministry, Jesus had hundreds of disciples, followers. Mary, Martha and Lazarus and Mary Magdalene would be well known examples. The 120 gathered in the Upper Room of Pentecost were disciples and included most of the Apostles.
Since Jesus and His immediate followers were not “gainfully employed” during His period of instruction as we would define it today. They depended on followers for shelter and support. This practice was also used by Paul during many portions of his missionary journeys.
The term Apostle is generally applied to a group hand-selected by Jesus for His instruction and to establish the Universal Church following His death and resurrection. This group would include the original Twelve, Mathias (who replaced Judas Iscariot), Paul and James, brother of Jesus. Apostles were also disciples.
The word apostle is very roughly translated from an Aramaic word meaning “one who is chosen (called) by God for a particular mission or duty.” When used in this sense that all who are called today would be apostles. In the New Testament, the two terms are often used interchangeably in modern English translations. This is another example of the challenges of Biblical translation.
As a general rule, when the terms are capitalized they refer to the Apostles mentioned above. When used in lower case they have a broader meaning. See how the two terms can be so easily confused?
Jesus knew that His time on earth would be very short. He would not have enough time to instruct a huge number of people. He also understood small group dynamics. These are the primary reasons He choose the original Twelve for His intense, special instruction.
Alive in The Word
This is part of a series of blogs responding to questions that come up in Bible study classes I am either taking or facilitating. To see all of the blogs in this series, please visit: Questions from Bible Study