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Apostles vs. Disciples: Clearing the Confusion

Discover the truth behind the Apostles vs. Disciples debate. Uncover the real difference between these influential figures in this thought-provoking article.

Last Updated:
January 18, 2024
  •  
8 Minutes

Definition of disciples and apostles

The word "disciple" comes from the Latin word "discipulus," meaning "learner" or "pupil." In the context of the Bible, a disciple refers to a follower of Jesus who voluntarily chooses to learn from him and adhere to his teachings. This includes listening and observing, imitating his way of life, and applying his teachings to their own lives.

On the other hand, the term "apostle" originates from the Greek word "apostolos," which means "one who is sent out" or "messenger." In the Bible, an apostle specifically refers to someone chosen by Jesus to spread the good news of the gospel and establish the early Christian church. Apostles are given the authority to perform miracles and to lead and shepherd the newly formed Christian community.

Key attributes and responsibilities of apostles include being eyewitnesses of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, being chosen and commissioned directly by Jesus, and playing a foundational role in establishing and teaching the early Christian church. Disciples, on the other hand, are called to learn and emulate the teachings and way of life of Jesus, and to also spread the gospel message. Still, they are not specifically chosen and commissioned by Jesus as apostles.

In summary, disciples voluntarily follow and learn from Jesus, while Jesus specifically chooses apostles to spread the gospel and establish the early Christian church.

  • Disciples: Voluntarily choose to follow and learn from Jesus, apply his teachings to their lives
  • Apostles: Specifically chosen by Jesus, given authority to spread the gospel, establish the early Christian church

Where did the words apostle and disciple come from?

The word "apostle" originates from the Greek word "apóstolos," which means "one who is sent off." In Christianity, it refers to the 12 chosen disciples of Jesus who were sent to spread the teachings of Christianity. The 1828 Webster's Dictionary defines "apostle" as "one of the twelve disciples of Christ commissioned to preach the gospel." The Strong's Dictionary provides a similar definition, emphasizing being sent with a special commission or authoritative mission.

On the other hand, the word "disciple" also has its roots in the Greek word "mathētḗs," which means "learner" or "follower." In Christianity, a disciple refers to anyone who follows Jesus and his teachings. The 1828 Webster's Dictionary defines "disciple" as "a learner; a scholar; one who receives or professes to receive instruction from another." The Strong's Dictionary expands on this, highlighting the idea of being a student or pupil of a teacher.

In Christianity, both terms hold significant importance as they represent the followers and messengers of Jesus. Jesus specifically chose the apostles to continue his work. They spread his teachings, while disciples encompass a broader group of followers who strive to learn and embody his teachings. Both terms demonstrate the close relationship between Jesus and his followers, emphasizing the core principles of faith and discipleship in Christianity.

The term "apostle" in the New Testament

The term "apostle" in the New Testament holds significant theological and historical importance. It refers to the special group of twelve disciples chosen by Jesus and other individuals commissioned to spread the teachings of Christianity. This title is linked to the authoritative role of those directly appointed by Jesus and was crucial in establishing the early Christian church. The New Testament provides detailed insights into the apostles’ qualifications, duties, and experiences, shedding light on their pivotal role in expanding the Christian faith. Understanding the term "apostle" in the New Testament is essential for grasping the foundation and development of Christianity.

Origin and meaning of the word "apostle"

The word "apostle" originates from the Greek word "Apostolos," which means "one who is sent out" or "messenger." In the context of the New Testament, an apostle refers to a person chosen and commissioned by Jesus to be his representative and to spread his teachings. Jesus selected twelve apostles during his ministry, and they played a crucial role in establishing the early Christian Church.

The apostolic age, marked by the acts and writings of the original apostles, ended with the passing of these apostles. The term "apostle" is also used more generally to refer to those who are considered pioneers or influential figures in spreading a particular belief or movement.

The Greek word "Apostolos" perfectly captures the essence of the role of an apostle in the New Testament—a person sent out with a specific mission or message. The usage of this term reflects the significant responsibility and authority that the apostles held in the early Christian community.

Key takeaways:

  • The word "apostle" originates from the Greek word "Apostolos," meaning "one who is sent out" or "messenger."
  • In the New Testament, Jesus chose and commissioned apostles to spread his teachings and establish the early Christian Church.
  • The apostolic age ended with the passing of the original apostles. Still, "apostle" is also generally used to refer to influential figures in spreading a particular belief or movement.

Apostolic authority and role within the Christian faith

The apostolic authority in the Christian faith refers to the special authority and foundational role of the original apostles of Jesus Christ in the early church. These apostles were directly chosen and commissioned by Jesus himself, and their teachings and guidance formed the basis of the Christian faith.

Their special authority stemmed from their firsthand experience with Jesus and their appointment by him to spread his message and establish the early Christian community. They were responsible for teaching and guiding believers, organizing the early Christian community, and ensuring the unity and coherence of the faith.

The apostles' teachings and writings, preserved in the New Testament, continue to serve as the foundational authority for Christian belief and practice. Their role in the early church was crucial in laying the groundwork for the development and expansion of Christianity.

In summary, the apostolic authority within the Christian faith is marked by their special authority as chosen representatives of Jesus, their foundational role in establishing the church, and their responsibility in teaching, guiding, and organizing the early Christian community.

  • Special authority and foundational role of the original apostles
  • Responsibility in teaching, guiding, and organizing the early Christian community

The term "disciple" in the New Testament

The term "disciple" in the New Testament refers to a follower or student of Jesus Christ who learns from and emulates his teachings and way of life. In the context of the New Testament, being a disciple involves a deep commitment to Jesus, a willingness to sacrifice and serve others, and a desire to spread his message of love and salvation. The concept of discipleship is central to the teachings of Jesus and plays a crucial role in shaping the early Christian community. It encompasses not only belief in Christ but also obedience to his commands and a life of continuous learning and growth in faith. The New Testament offers valuable insights into the characteristics and responsibilities of a disciple, as well as the rewards and challenges that come with this role.

Origin and meaning of the word "disciple"

The word "disciple" has its origins in the Hebrew and Greek languages. In Hebrew, the word "disciple" is derived from the root word "limmud," which means "instructed." In Greek, the word "disciple" comes from "mathētēs," which translates to "learner" or "follower." The Latin word "discipulus" also holds significance, as it is the source of the English word "disciple."

In the Old Testament, "disciple" primarily referred to a student or pupil of a particular teacher or leader. It denoted a deep commitment and dedication to the teachings and guidance of the master or mentor. In the New Testament, the word "disciple" took on a more focused religious connotation, often associated with the followers of Jesus Christ. These disciples were known for their allegiance and adherence to Jesus' teachings and mission.

Over time, the meaning of the word "disciple" has evolved to encompass the idea of being a devoted follower of a particular philosophy or way of life. In the Christian faith, discipleship is important as it emphasizes the call to follow Christ, learn from His teachings, and actively live out the principles of love, grace, and service within the community.

Key takeaways:

  • "Disciple" originates from Hebrew "limmud" and Greek "mathētēs"
  • Signifies a learner or follower
  • Originally referred to a pupil of a teacher, later associated with followers of Jesus
  • Evolved to emphasize dedication to a certain philosophy or faith
  • Crucial in Christian faith for following Christ and living out His teachings.

Relationship between disciples and their teacher

The relationship between disciples and their teacher is a profound one. Disciples are essentially students who eagerly follow and learn from their teacher, in this case, Jesus. They seek to understand the teachings and guidance imparted by the teacher and apply it to their own lives for spiritual growth. The disciples' role is not just to passively receive knowledge, but to actively carry out the teachings and mission of their teacher.

This relationship is essential in spreading the gospel as the disciples become the living vessels through which the teachings and mission of Jesus continue to impact and transform the world. They are empowered to share the message and embody the love and grace they have learned from their teacher. Like a seed that is sown and nurtured by a diligent gardener, the disciples help ensure that the seeds of truth and transformation are sown in the hearts and minds of others.

In summary, disciples are devoted students who learn from their teacher to carry out the teachings and mission, playing a critical role in spreading the gospel and perpetuating the spiritual legacy of their teacher.

Key takeaways:

  • Disciples are students who learn and follow the teachings of their teacher.
  • They play an active role in carrying out the teachings and mission of their teacher.
  • The relationship between disciples and their teacher is crucial in spreading the gospel and perpetuating spiritual teachings.

Difference between apostles and disciples

In Christian theology, the difference between apostles and disciples are often discussed and debated. Understanding these roles and how they differ is important for grasping the early development and structure of the Christian church. Apostles are typically seen as individuals who were directly chosen and commissioned by Jesus to spread his teachings and establish the church. At the same time, disciples are generally understood as followers and students of Jesus. This differentiation carries significant theological implications and has shaped how the roles of apostles and disciples are perceived and understood within the Christian faith.

Original apostles chosen by Jesus

Jesus chose the original apostles through a deliberate and purposeful process. He handpicked those who would become his closest followers, selecting individuals who demonstrated faith, dedication, and a readiness to learn and spread his teachings. In choosing the apostles, Jesus looked for individuals committed to the gospel’s message and would be instrumental in establishing the early Christian church. This selection process was significant because the apostles played a crucial role in carrying out Jesus' mission and spreading the gospel message after his death and resurrection.

The eyewitness testimony of the resurrected Christ was crucial in establishing the validity and truth of the Christian faith. The apostles played a vital role in providing firsthand accounts of Jesus' resurrection, serving as credible witnesses to the foundational event of the Christian faith. Their commissioning to preach to all nations underlined the universality and inclusivity of the gospel message, emphasizing the importance of sharing the good news with people from all walks of life.

The original twelve apostles chosen by Jesus were: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. Additionally, individuals such as Paul were later recognized as apostles due to their significant contributions to the spread of Christianity.

The biggest differences between apostles and disciples

The biggest differences between apostles and disciples lie in their roles, selection by Jesus, and transformation from disciples to apostles after the resurrection.

Disciples were learners and followers of Jesus during his earthly ministry, while apostles were specifically chosen by Jesus and given authority to be his special messengers. Disciples were a larger group of followers, while apostles were a select few handpicked by Jesus.

The disciples' main role was to learn from Jesus, while the apostles' role was to spread the teachings of Jesus and lead the early church.

After the resurrection, disciples were transformed into apostles, receiving a new level of authority and commissioning to go and make disciples of all nations. This transformation marked a shift from followers and learners to leaders and teachers.

The three circles around Jesus represented the different levels of followership, with the apostles being the innermost circle, followed by the disciples, and then the larger group of followers.

In summary, the biggest difference between disciples and apostles involve their roles, selection by Jesus, and the transformation from disciples to apostles after the resurrection.

Key takeaways:

  • Disciples were learners and followers, while apostles were chosen and given authority by Jesus.
  • Apostles had a specific role to spread the teachings of Jesus and lead the early church.

Conclusion

In conclusion, discipleship of Jesus requires sacrificing our desires and priorities to love Him and bear our cross. This means prioritizing our relationship with Christ over our family and other earthly attachments. Denying ourselves involves putting aside our selfish desires and submitting to the will of God.

For example, when Jesus called his disciples, he asked them to leave their families and follow him (Matthew 4:18-22). This illustrates the demand of loving Christ more than our family. Additionally, Jesus emphasized the need to bear our cross, symbolizing the challenges and sacrifices of discipleship (Matthew 16:24).

In today's context, this can mean making difficult decisions that go against societal norms or personal desires for the sake of following Christ. To claim true discipleship of Jesus, believers must be willing to prioritize their love for Him above all else, including their desires and relationships.

Key takeaways:

  • Discipleship of Jesus requires prioritizing our love for Him over our family and earthly attachments.
  • Bearing our cross symbolizes the challenges and sacrifices of following Christ.
  • Denying ourselves involves putting aside our selfish desires and submitting to the will of God.

References:

Luke 6:13

Luke 9

Luke 10:1

Matthew 10

Matthew 26:37

Frequently asked questions

How many apostles were there in total?

  • Jesus chose twelve apostles to carry out his divine mission.
  • Not every disciple could become an apostle; they had to be handpicked by Jesus.
  • Apostles had specific qualifications to fulfill their duties.
  • Jesus gave each apostle a unique purpose and mission.
  • Through the apostles, Jesus spread his teachings throughout the world.

Can a disciple become an apostle?

  • A disciple can become an apostle through a process called disciple transformation.
  • This transformation is enabled by God, anointing and empowering the disciple to continue the apostolic succession.
  • As an apostle, the disciple is entrusted with divine duties.
  • The process of disciple transformation involves being chosen, anointed, and empowered by God.
  • Becoming an apostle requires special approval from God.

What is the significance of witnessing Christ's ministry on earth for an apostle?

Witnessing Christ's ministry on earth is highly significant for apostles:

  • It reinforces their faith and beliefs.
  • It provides them with direct knowledge of Jesus' teachings and miracles.
  • It gives them the motivation to share the gospel.
  • It furthers their divine mission.
  • It gives them a deeper understanding of Jesus' message.

Are there any female apostles mentioned in the Bible?

  • Yes, female apostles are mentioned in the Bible.
  • Junia, mentioned in Romans 16:7, is regarded as a prominent apostle.
  • Women played a significant role in early Christianity, spreading the gospel.
  • Female apostles are found in several Bible passages, including Acts 2:17-18 and 1 Corinthians 11:5.
  • These women were important leaders and evangelists in the early Church.

Did all of the apostles perform miracles?

  • All of the apostles performed miracles through the power of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
  • They could heal the sick, cast out demons, and perform incredible miracles.
  • Their accounts of these miracles are inspiring and demonstrate God's power.
  • These miracles are a testament to the apostles’ faith and the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Faith in God can lead to incredible experiences with Him.

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