Apostle vs. Disciple: What is the Difference?


As followers of Jesus Christ, we often hear the terms “apostle” and “disciple” used interchangeably in conversations, sermons, and Bible studies. While these two terms are closely related, they represent distinct roles and responsibilities within the early Christian church. Understanding the difference between apostles and disciples can deepen our appreciation for the remarkable work God did through these individuals, and encourage us to strive for a closer relationship with our Savior.

In this blog post, we will dive into the biblical definitions and contexts of apostles and disciples, explore the differences between the two roles, and look at the unique responsibilities each group held within the early Christian church. By the end of this post, you will have a clear understanding of the significance of these terms and their implications for your own walk with Christ.

As you read this post, we encourage you to reflect on the examples of apostles and disciples found in the New Testament, as well as the ways in which these individuals can serve as role models for your own faith journey. Remember, the ultimate goal of all believers is to grow closer to Christ and to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all nations.

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apostle vs. disciple in the Bible

The Disciples: Followers of Jesus

Disciples were, quite simply, followers of Jesus. The term “disciple” comes from the Greek word “mathētēs,” which means “learner” or “student.” A disciple, therefore, is someone who learns from a teacher and seeks to apply those teachings to their life. In the case of Jesus’ disciples, they were called to follow Him, learn from His teachings, and carry out His mission on earth.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus called various individuals to follow Him and become His disciples. Some of the most well-known disciples are the Twelve, who were specifically chosen by Jesus to be His closest followers. These twelve individuals included Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed Jesus (Luke 6:12-16, NKJV).

While the Twelve were Jesus’ closest followers, they were not the only disciples. Many other men and women followed Jesus, learned from His teachings, and shared in His ministry. These individuals played a vital role in the early Christian church, as they spread the Gospel and helped to establish the foundation upon which the church would continue to grow.

The Apostles: Sent Ones

The term “apostle” comes from the Greek word “apostolos,” which means “one who is sent” or “messenger.” In the context of the New Testament, an apostle is someone who has been specifically commissioned by Jesus Christ to represent Him and carry out His work. The Twelve disciples, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, were also referred to as apostles (Acts 1:25-26, NKJV). However, not all disciples were apostles.

Jesus personally called and commissioned His apostles during His earthly ministry. He gave them unique authority to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons in His name (Mark 3:14-15, NKJV). Following Jesus’ ascension, the apostles were also endowed with the Holy Spirit, which empowered them to fulfill their mission and establish the early Christian church (Acts 2:1-4, NKJV).

In addition to the Twelve, the New Testament also identifies a few other individuals as apostles. For example, Paul was called to be an apostle by Jesus after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19, NKJV). Barnabas, a close companion of Paul, is also referred to as an apostle in the book of Acts (Acts 14:14, NKJV). These additional apostles were called by God to specific missions and played crucial roles in the early church.

Key Differences Between Apostles and Disciples

While all apostles were disciples of Jesus, not all disciples were apostles. The key differences between the two roles can be summarized as follows:

  1. Calling: Apostles were personally called and commissioned by Jesus Christ, while disciples were individuals who chose to follow and learn from Jesus.
  2. Authority: Apostles were given unique authority to preach the Gospel, perform miracles, and represent Jesus on earth. Disciples, while also called to spread the Gospel, did not possess the same level of authority as the apostles.
  3. Scope of Ministry: Apostles were specifically sent by Jesus to establish the early Christian church and lay the groundwork for its growth. Disciples, while also involved in ministry, primarily focused on learning from Jesus and living out His teachings in their daily lives.

The Legacy of Apostles and Disciples

The apostles and disciples of Jesus played a crucial role in establishing the early Christian church and spreading the Good News of the Gospel. Their faithfulness, obedience, and dedication to Jesus serve as powerful examples for all believers to follow.

As the church continued to grow and spread, the apostolic role became less prominent. The unique authority and calling of the apostles were tied to their direct commissioning by Jesus, which could not be replicated by later generations of believers. However, the term “disciple” remains relevant and applicable to all followers of Jesus Christ throughout history.

As modern-day disciples, we are called to follow Jesus, learn from His teachings, and share the Gospel with others. While we may not have the same authority as the apostles, we can still draw inspiration from their unwavering commitment to Christ and strive to live out our faith in a manner that honors God and advances His Kingdom.


In conclusion, understanding the differences between apostles and disciples is essential for gaining a deeper appreciation for the roles and responsibilities of these early followers of Jesus Christ. The apostles, personally called and commissioned by Jesus, played a unique and foundational role in the establishment and growth of the early Christian church. Disciples, on the other hand, were individuals who chose to follow Jesus and learn from His teachings.

As we reflect on the lives and legacies of the apostles and disciples, we are reminded of the importance of our own calling as followers of Christ. While we may not share in the unique authority of the apostles, we are still called to be disciples who learn from Jesus, follow His teachings, and share the Gospel with others.

May the examples of the apostles and disciples serve as an inspiration for our own faith journey, as we seek to grow closer to Christ and to fulfill the Great Commission to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19, NKJV).

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