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Disciples and Apostles

The New Testament has numerous references to people called "disciples" and "apostles." What's a disciple? What's an apostle? What's the difference, if any, between disciples and apostles?

Galilee Disciples

  • Disciple is derived from the Greek word, pronounced math-ay-tes, which means learner, or student. The Biblical usage involved not just learning, but also agreement and acceptance of the teacher as a leader.

  • While the disciples of Jesus Christ are overwhelmingly the most often referred to, there is also some mention of John The Baptist (Matthew 9:14) and the Pharisees (Matthew 22:16) having disciples.

  • Followers of Christ were not called Christians until the founding of the church at Antioch Of Syria (Acts 11:26). Before then, Christians were called disciples of Jesus Christ.

  • The apostles began as disciples (Matthew 10:1). There were far fewer apostles than disciples - all apostles were disciples, but not all disciples became apostles.


  • Apostle is derived from the Greek word, pronounced ap-os-tol-os, which means messenger, or ambassador.

  • The Twelve Apostles, with Matthias replacing the traitor Judas Iscariot (see Why Did He Do It?), were given the symbolic "Keys to The Kingdom," whereby they will serve as the foundation of the Christian church. All of them, with one possible exception (see John), were martyred (see What Happened To The Apostles?)

  • Others were appointed as apostles at later times and other purposes, including Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, and Barnabas (Acts 14:14). Lesser-known people are also referred to as apostles, including Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7).

  • As might be expected, Satan, That Old Serpent, used corrupt and evil men as his own "apostles" - "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light [see What Does Satan Look Like?]. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

Fact Finder: What did Paul say were the proofs of an apostle?
2 Corinthians 12:12

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