Difference between Apostle and Disciple

Apostle vs Disciple

Difference between apostle and disciple can be understood when you know what the two terms stand for individually. The words apostle and disciple are often encountered in biblical study. Many treat apostles and disciples to be the same and often use these words interchangeably. However, it is wrong and needs to be clarified. You ought to know the difference between an apostle and a disciple to have a clearer understanding of the concepts. Therefore, in this article, we will be discussing what each term stands for in order to make you understand the difference between apostle and disciple.

Who is a Disciple?

According to the Oxford English dictionary, a disciple is ‘a follower or pupil of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.’ So, you understand that a disciple is basically a pupil or a student. In his time, Jesus accepted all as his disciples, and this huge population consisted of sinners and women and that made purists angry. The word disciple comes from a Latin word discipulus, which means a learner who learns from his teacher.

If you study the Bible, you would come to know that disciples were followers or students of the Jesus Christ. Out of his scores of 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 far off lands to act as messengers, and these 12 men became first apostles.

Difference between Apostle and Disciple

Jesus and his apostles.

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 to Jesus Christ’s 12 apostles. In that sense, they were twelve disciples or students, who later became messengers of the religion as they supported the religious belief of Jesus.

It is true that apostles were also disciples, but one cannot use the word apostle when he is referring to someone who has merely been a follower or a disciple of the Christ. So, not all of disciples were apostles though all apostles were disciples.

An apostle was, apart from being a follower of Jesus, a special trainee who was to be later sent out as a messenger to preach Christianity. Interestingly, among the 12 that Jesus chose as apostles, there was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ and later killed himself. Matthais replaced Judas and joined rest of the group to become an apostle. The original 12 apostles were Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James (the Less), Judas (or Thaddaeus), Simon, and Judas Iscariot.

What is the difference between Apostle and Disciple?

Apart from the word disciple, there is also mention of the word apostles in Bible and people think of these two as being same which is not true.

• If you get to the Greek roots of the words apostle and disciple, the difference between the two becomes crystal clear. The Greek word for disciple literally means student while the Greek word for apostle means a messenger or sent one.

• While it is true that Jesus chose 12 of his disciples to become messengers later on, not all disciples can be called apostles.

• All 12 apostles of Jesus were disciples. However, you cannot say all the disciples of Christianity are apostles.


Images Courtesy: James Tissot, The Exhortation to the Apostles via Wikicommons (Public Domain)

  • Donal Laurence Heffernan

    Since Jesus chose Judas Iscariot as an Apostle, did he make a mistake? Or was Judas chosen to fulfill a prophecy, and thereby fulfilling his destiny? If that is so, surely he cannot be held responsible for his actions?

  • Donal Laurence Heffernan

    In a general sense, Disciples are listeners, Apostles are preachers.