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What’s the difference between an apostle and a disciple?


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Philip Kosloski - published on 01/18/18

While at first the words can be easily confused, after learning their definitions, the distinction is clear.

In Christianity the words “apostle” and “disciple” are often interchanged, but in truth refer to different realities.

The English word “apostle” is derived from the Greek apostello, “to send forth.” While hardly used in the Old Testament, it is found at least 80 times in the New Testament. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Jesus may have originally used the Aramaic word seliah, which describes “those who were dispatched from the mother city by the rulers of the race on any foreign mission, especially such as were charged with collecting the tribute paid to the temple service.”

An apostle is one who is “sent” by God to preach the Gospel to the nations. For many centuries this was almost exclusively used to identify the 12 apostles who were sent into the world by Jesus. In a similar way, St. Paul is often named an “apostle,” because of his divine commission from Jesus.

Since then the word is sometimes used for great saints who were “apostles,” sent by God on a specific mission. For example, St. Boniface is known as the “Apostle to the Germans,” for his missionary work among the Germanic people. While not directly ordered by Jesus, he followed divine inspiration to spread Christianity.

In contrast the word “disciple” is derived from the Latin discipulus, meaning a “student” or “pupil.” Similar to the word “apostle,” it is used almost exclusively in the New Testament. It typically denotes the many “students” who surrounded Jesus and eagerly learned from his many teachings.

In this context a disciple of Jesus is not necessarily someone who is “sent” to preach the Gospel to the world, but is a person who is constantly learning what it means to be a Christian.

While at first the words can be easily confused, after learning their definitions, the distinction is clear.


Read more:
Whatever happened to the Twelve Apostles?

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