WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DISCIPLE AND AN APOSTLE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
In Christian literature and sermons, we are constantly exposed to the terms “disciple” and “apostle.” What do these titles really mean though? How does the Bible define and use them? “For what saith the Scriptures?”
The word “disciple” (and its various forms) appears nearly 270 times in our King James Bible. In Greek, it is manthano, meaning “to learn or understand.” Our English word “mathematics” is derived from it.
“Disciple” first appears in Scripture in Matthew 10:24: “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.” As a “disciple” would follow his “master,” so a “servant” would obey his “lord.” A disciple is one who follows a master (or teacher) in order to learn or receive training. In other words, disciple is another word for student. Stated another way, the word “disciple” is a general reference to a student or follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple is willing to hear the Lord Jesus Christ, and His servants, preach and teach His Word. This is in stark contrast to unbelievers—namely, skeptics, Bible rejecters and scoffers. There is one instance of “disciple” in the “Old Testament,” which we will look at without commenting. Isaiah 8:16 says: “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.” The rest of the occurrences in the Bible are in the “New Testament.” We will get to them now, limiting comments for brevity’s sake.
We read about Joseph of Arimathaea being “Jesus’ disciple” (Matthew 27:57; John 19:38). The Pharisees ridiculed and harassed the blind man whom Jesus had just healed: “Thou art his [Jesus’] disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples” (John 9:28). We read about “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in John 19:26-27, John 20:2, and John 21:7,20. The writer of the Book of John called himself “the disciple which testifieth of these things” (John 21:24). Ananias was a “disciple” of Jesus (Acts 9:10). After his salvation, Saul of Tarsus (Apostle Paul) attempted to meet with other “disciples” (Acts 9:26). Timothy was a “disciple” (Acts 16:1). Acts 21:16 speaks of “disciples of Caesarea.” There are general references to Jesus’ “disciples” in Matthew 5:1, Matthew 8:21, Matthew 8:23, et cetera. The term appears throughout the Books of Matthew through John, as well as the Book of Acts.
It is noteworthy that the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch of Syria. Acts 11:26 says: “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” We see how “disciples” refers to followers of the Apostle Paul’s ministry as well—Acts 11:29, Acts 13:52, Acts 14:20-22, Acts 14:28, Acts 15:10, Acts 18:23, Acts 18:27, et cetera. Its last appearance is Acts 20:1, never being mentioned in the Pauline epistles, however.
Moreover, there are special “disciples.” Notice them mentioned four times in Scripture:
- Matthew 10:1-2: “ And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;” (Notice their title changed from “disciples” in verse 1 to “apostles” in verse 2.)
- Matthew 11:1: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.”
- Matthew 20:17: “And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,”
- Luke 9:1: “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.”
These four references transition us into discussing the office of an apostle.
The term “apostle” (and its related forms) appears some 80 times—only in the “New Testament.” First and foremost, these would be the “twelve disciples” mentioned in Matthew 10:1, Matthew 11:1, Matthew 20:17, and Luke 9:1 (what we just read). “Apostle” is from the Greek apostolos, meaning “sent away from.” The idea is preserved in Matthew 10:1-6: “ And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;  Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;  Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.  These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Luke 6:13 adds: “And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles….” Notice how Jesus took the disciples and, then out of them, He chose 12 Apostles. In the Bible, all disciples are not apostles, but all apostles are disciples. The Apostles were given special authority of God—over sickness, evil spirits, and so on. They were also to preach the Gospel valid for their dispensation. Let us look at some verses.
Matthew 10:7-8, for example: “ And as ye [12 Apostles] go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” In addition to miracle-working power, the Apostles were granted a teaching office, as Acts 2:42-43 tells us: “ And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.  And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.” Acts 4:33 adds: “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.” Also Acts 5:12: “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.” And 2 Corinthians 12:12 (Paul writing): “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”
Peter claimed apostolic authority in his two epistles. First Peter 1:1: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia….” And, 2 Peter 1:1: “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ….”
Later, years after the 12 Apostles were ordained, Barnabas and Paul (Saul of Tarsus) are called “Apostles.” Acts 14:14: “Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,….” In Romans 11:13, Paul says: “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.”
The reason why Paul claimed to be an Apostle was because of what Jesus Christ had told him in Acts chapter 9 (historically). We do not read about what happened in chapter 9 until chapter 26: “ But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;  Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,  To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
Paul claims to be an apostle throughout his epistles, especially in the introductory verses—Romans 1:1, Romans 1:5, 1 Corinthians 1:1, 1 Corinthians 4:9, 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:9, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 11:5, 2 Corinthians 12:11, Galatians 1:1, Galatians 2:8, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:6, 1 Timothy 1:1, 1 Timothy 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:1, 2 Timothy 1:11, and Titus 1:1. He does not do this in Philippians, 2 Thessalonians, or Philemon.
Under Paul (Romans 11:13—“the apostle of the Gentiles”) were various secondary apostles in the Church the Body of Christ. These apostles are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, Ephesians 2:20, Ephesians 3:5, and Ephesians 4:11. All of those spiritual gifts faded when the Bible canon was completed about 2,000 years ago (see Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 13:8-13).
SUPPLEMENTAL #1: JESUS CHRIST, THE APOSTLE OF ISRAEL
As noted earlier, “apostle” is from the Greek apostolos, and means “sent away from.” While we normally do not consider Jesus Christ as an Apostle, the Bible says He is. Notice Hebrews 3:1: “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus….” If “apostle” means “sent one,” and it does, then exactly who sent “Christ Jesus the Apostle?”
On nearly 40 occasions, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of “him that sent me” (Matthew 10:40; Mark 9:37; Luke 4:18; Luke 9:48; Luke 10:16; John 4:34; John 5:24,30,36-37; John 6:38; John 6:39-40,44,57; John 7:16,28-29,33; John 8:16,18,26,29,42; John 9:4; John 11:42; John 12:44-45,49; John 13:20; John 14:24; John 15:21; John 16:5; John 17:18,21,23,25; John 20:21). This is the idea of an apostle—a “sent one.” Jesus said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Who sent Jesus Christ to Israel? He tells us 15 times in Scripture:
- John 5:30: “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”
- John 5:36: “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.”
- John 5:37: “And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.”
- John 6:39: “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”
- John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
- John 6:57: “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”
- John 8:16: “And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.”
- John 8:18: “I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.”
- John 8:29: “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”
- John 8:42: “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.”
- John 12:49: “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.”
- John 14:24: “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.”
- John 17:21: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
- John 17:25: “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.”
- John 20:21: “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” (Notice this last verse. We will use it as a “jumping-off” point for a further development.)
God the Father designated His Son, Jesus Christ, as His Spokesman—namely, Jesus Christ speaks on behalf of the Godhead (made up of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Colossians 2:9 says: “For in [Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Since God the Father sent Jesus Christ to Israel during His earthly ministry, whomever refused to hear the words of Christ was actually refusing to hear the words of Father God! But, there is more.
The Lord said to His 12 Apostles in Matthew 10:40: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” And, John 13:20: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” Whoever rejected the preaching of an Apostle of Jesus Christ, rejected the doctrine of Christ—nay, they ultimately rejected Father God’s Word. Remember, Paul is our “apostle,” God’s spokesman to us Gentiles (Romans 11:13). If we reject Paul, we reject Jesus Christ who sent Paul to us, and we reject God the Father who sent Jesus Christ to speak to us on behalf of the Godhead!
SUPPLEMENTAL #2: FALSE APOSTLES, SATAN’S IMITATIONS
Friend, in keeping with his devious nature, Satan has counterfeits at his beckon call. Beware! Whatever God does, Satan mimics it. Beware! From Genesis through Revelation, Satan copies God as much as possible and as closely as possible. Beware! The Bible is very instructive at this point. Beware! We need to pay close attention to the passage we will now quote. Beware! Second Corinthians 11:13-15: “ For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”
I will tell you something that may very well shock you. Today, there are thousands upon thousands of “ministers” who are not serving the God of the Bible. Sure, they talk about “Jesus,” “grace,” “God,” “the Bible,” “the Spirit of God,” “holiness,” “Christian living,” “the Lord,” “salvation,” “truth,” “righteousness,” “evil,” and so on. They claim, “The Lord wanted me to tell you this…. I have a word from God to deliver to you from the pulpit!” However, they are not what they appear to be. Remember the passage we just read! We should not be surprised that looks are deceiving; Satan is “the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Satan knows the Bible better than all of us put together, and yet, would we let Satan teach us the Bible? The Bible must be “studied rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15). Most preachers are not doing this. Beware! They are preaching Law instead of Grace; they are preaching “Galatianism” (Law and Grace) instead of PURE GRACE. Beware! They are confusing the Church the Body of Christ with the nation Israel. Beware! They are mixing prophecy and mystery. Beware! This is why people get confused concerning the Bible. Beware! It is not being used God’s way—dispensationally delivered and believed. Beware! They claim to be sent by God, but they are harming God’s people because they are mishandling God’s Word. Beware!
Brethren, let us take our stand by faith, as English-speaking people, on the Authorized Version King James Bible. More specifically, let us take our stand by faith in the principles of grace that God’s Apostle to us Gentiles, Paul, wrote in the 13 Bible Books of Romans through Philemon. They are the standard whereby we gauge truth and error. As we better familiarize ourselves with them, we will see who is speaking on God’s behalf and who is not, who is following God and who is not!
“If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
—the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 14:37)
» What is the “that which is perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13:10?
» What is the difference between a minister, a pastor, and an evangelist?
» Was an apostle merely one who had seen Christ’s resurrection?