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Apostle is derived from the Greek word, pronounced ap-os-tol-os, which means messenger, or ambassador. Although the term is most often used to describe The Twelve Apostles, certain others, including Paul (see On The Road To Damascus) and Barnabas, were also designated as apostles according to God's purpose at a given time.

Apostle Apostles Were All Disciples;
Not All Disciples Were Apostles

Disciple is derived from the Greek word, pronounced math-ay-tes, which means learner, or student. Generally, apostles were chosen from among the disciples (Matthew 10:1), and therefore there were far fewer apostles than disciples - all apostles were disciples, but not all disciples became apostles.

Apostles Of God

By definition, an apostle of God is a messenger of God - even Jesus Christ is referred to in this way:

"Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. He [see The Logos] was faithful to Him [see The Father] Who appointed Him." (Hebrews 3:1-2 RSV)

"Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you." (John 20:21 RSV)

The term apostle is however best known from the twelve apostles, who were sometimes recognized by more than one name. For that reason, The Bible record does list them with a slight variation:

"The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter [see also Did Peter Have The Primacy?], and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him." (Matthew 10:2-4 RSV)

"And He appointed twelve, to be with Him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom He surnamed Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him." (Mark 3:14-19 RSV)

"And when it was day, He called His disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles; Simon, whom He named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor." (Luke 6:13-16 RSV)

"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet [see The Mount Of Olives], which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James." (Acts 1:12-13 RSV)

To replace the traitor Judas Iscariot (see Why Did He Do It?), another man, Matthias, who had also witnessed everything, was chosen:

"So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when He was taken up from us - one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection." And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "Lord, Who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two Thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles." (Acts 1:21-26 RSV)

Christ's immediate purpose for His twelve apostles can be summed up in what some call the "Great Commission":

"And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of The Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 RSV)

"So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19-22 RSV)

Others were also designated as apostles, according to God's purpose:

"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." (Romans 1:1 RSV)

"But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, "Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them." (Acts 14:14 RSV)

"Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me." (Romans 16:7 RSV)

"Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles." (1 Corinthians 15:7 RSV)

What Were The Proofs Of A True Apostle Of God?

Many others have claimed to be an apostle during and since the time of the New Testament, even including some in our present time. Are they really apostles of God? Well, perhaps one way to begin to find out is to see how many of these Biblical precedents of a true apostle they have met:

  • They have seen The Lord:

    "one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" (Acts 1:21 RSV)

    "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Corinthians 9:1 RSV)

  • They were called directly by Jesus Christ:

    "And when it was day, He called His disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom He named apostles" (Luke 6:13 RSV)

    "Paul an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father." (Galatians 1:1 RSV)

  • They have the Holy Spirit of God:

    "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom The Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:26 RSV)

    "So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:11-14 RSV)

  • They respect and teach The Word of God, not their own philosophy:

    "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers." (1 Thessalonians 2:13 RSV)

    "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4 RSV)

    "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1:20-21 RSV)

  • They have done miracles:

    "And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it." (Mark 16:20 RSV)

    "Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles." (Acts 5:12 RSV)

    "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works." (2 Corinthians 12:12 RSV)

False Apostles

There has never been a shortage of false apostles, who might generally fall into two categories:

Those who are merely deceiving themselves (and anyone else who will believe what they say) through a perhaps well meaning, but unacceptable to God, self-serving personal interpretation of what is right:

"Thus you will know them by their fruits. "Not every one who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you evildoers.' "Every one then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it." (Matthew 7:20-27 RSV)

Those who are knowingly teaching lies in the service of the ultimate deceiver:

"And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds." (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 RSV)

Fact Finder: What future positions will the original twelve apostles occupy?
Luke 22:29-30, Revelation 21:10-14

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