Apostles vs Disciples

As Catholics, we are often asked to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles. But what exactly is the difference between an apostle and a disciple? And why does it matter? Read on to find out!

The difference between apostles and disciples can be understood when you know what the two terms mean individually. 

The words apostle and disciple are often found in Bible study. Many treat apostles and disciples as equals and often use these words interchangeably. However, it is wrong and needs to be cleared up. 

The Pharisees and the Saduccees Come to Tempt Jesus
The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus

The twelve disciples listed in the Scriptures are Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Lebeus, James, Simon, and Judas Iscariot. These themselves became the original twelve apostles.

All apostles are disciples, but not all disciples are apostles.

You must know the difference between an apostle and a disciple to have a clearer understanding of the concepts. Therefore, in this article, we will discuss what each term means so that you understand the difference between apostles and disciples.

Difference between apostles and disciples
Duccio di Buoninsegna Jesus appears to the disciples

Who is a Disciple?

The Oxford English Dictionary writes a disciple is “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” So, a disciple is understood to be a pupil or a student. 

It originated from and was usually referred to as the followers of Jesus. Some famous and early followers of Jesus were John the Baptist and Saint Peter who is considered important in Christian society.

In his time, Jesus accepted everyone as his disciples, and this huge population was made up of sinners and women, which angered the Purists. The word disciple comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means an apprentice who learns from his teacher.

In simple terms, it is a term used to refer to an individual who follows a doctrine or a teacher. That is, for a disciple to exist, there must be a teacher or leader who instills in the disciple a doctrine, an artistic style, or a line of thought to guide him in his growth.

In the case of Christianity, the disciples of Jesus Christ were the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus himself to learn from him and help him preach his word and spread his religious ideas.

If you study the Bible, you will come to know that the disciples were followers or students of Jesus Christ. From among his many followers, Jesus chose twelve to travel and learn from him. Of course, these 12 were also originally the Disciples of Christ. These were the men who were later sent to distant lands to act as messengers, and these 12 men became the first apostles.

When Jesus died, the disciples formed a group of followers to spread what they had learned. They lived together and were known as the “First Christian Community“. From this, a community emerged, the future disciples, convinced of the value and truth of the proposals they defended.

The twelve apostles of Jesus
The twelve apostles of Jesus

Who is an Apostle?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the general meaning of the term apostle is “a vigorous and pioneering advocate or supporter of a particular policy, idea, or cause.”

This is apart from its use for the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. In that sense, they were twelve disciples or students, who later became messengers of the religion by supporting the religious belief of Jesus.

While in Christianity, apostles were the men chosen by Jesus to act as “fishers of men“, that is, to multiply his presence and teach his message.

The apostles had as a goal to convert into disciples of Christianity everyone who believed in Jesus and followed his teachings, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the apostles were also disciples, but the word apostle cannot be used when referring to someone who has simply been a follower or disciple of Christ. So not all disciples were apostles, although all apostles were disciples.

The original apostles were the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus, who was later joined by Matthias and Paul of Tarsus.

An apostle was, in addition to a follower of Jesus, a special apprentice who would later be sent as a messenger to preach Christianity

Interestingly, among the 12 men Jesus chose as disples, there was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ and later committed suicide. Matthias replaced Judas and joined the rest of the group in becoming an apostle.

The original 12 apostles were Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (the younger), Judas (or Thaddaeus), Simon, and Matthias.

Although Judas was just a disciple and never an apostle, based on the fact he betrayed Jesus and wasn’t sent out as a messenger, nor did he witness the ascension of Jesus.

What is the difference between Apostles and Disciples?

Apart from the word disciple, the word apostles are also mentioned in the Bible and people think that these two are the same, which is not true.

When you look at the Greek roots of the words apostle and disciple, the distinction between the two becomes clear. The Greek word for disciple translates to “student,” whereas the Greek word for apostle translates to “messenger or envoy.”
While it is true that Jesus chose 12 of his disciples to serve as messengers, later on, not all disciples can be referred to as apostles.
All apostles must first be disciples. To be sent as messengers, they must first have been students. However, not all the followers of Jesus were apostles since He did not send as a preacher everyone who believed in his teachings.

Do not forget to read the Origins of the words Apostle and Disciple.

Then Finally

We pray and believe in Christ as our Lord. Jesus Christ, in the way of referring to the twelve as a disciple, advised them to remain in the truth to be true disciples and John 8:31 sustains it:

“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him: If you continue in my word you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”.

John 8:31

As apostles, He charged them with making disciples all over the world, passing on what they had learned while with him. According to Matthew 28:19,

“then go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world. Amen.”

Matthew 28:19
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