Sometimes the Bible calls them the 12 Disciples. Other times it says that they are the 12 Apostles. So which is it: Disciple or Apostle? What’s the difference anyway?
The word “disciple” simply means “student” or “follower.” Therefore, a disciple of Jesus is anyone who follows him and what he says.
The word “apostle” is a bit more complicated. The basic meaning of the word “apostle” is “messenger” or “ambassador.” Therefore, an apostle, by definition, is someone who carries the message of another. Yet, as the Bible uses the word “apostle” there seems to be more qualifications added than simply just carrying a message.
The Bible uses the title “apostle” for people who were specifically chosen and sent out by Jesus. In Luke 6:13 we read, “When daylight came, [Jesus] summoned His disciples, and He chose 12 of them—He also named them apostles.”
When Judas Iscariot, one of the 12 Apostles, had to be replaced, how was his replacement chosen? To be listed as an apostle, a person had to not only be chosen by Jesus, but they also had to have been there as a witness to his ministry and most important they had to have been a witness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Acts 1:21-22). So, the church found two men who fit this qualification and they cast lots, asking God to choose between the two (Acts 1:23-26). In this way Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.
The Apostle Paul calls himself an apostle “abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:8) because of the way in which he was called to faith (Acts 9) and to ministry (Acts 26:12-18).
Finally, the Apostle Paul notes that one of the signs of an apostle is that God granted them the ability to perform miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12).
So what is the difference between a disciple and an apostle? A disciple is simply a student or a follower, whereas to be an apostle one has to fit other requirements. Every apostle began as a disciple. When they became apostles they did not cease to be disciples. That’s why the Bible is able to use the terms interchangeably when talking about the Twelve.
In the end, you can say that every apostle is also a disciple, but not every disciple is an apostle. As you look at the qualifications for being an apostle, no one today would fit those qualifications. However, everyone who listens to and believes Jesus’ words recorded in the Bible can rightly be called a disciple of Jesus. Therefore, let us all be disciples of Jesus; let us be students of his Word.
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