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Matthew 10:1 describes Jesus calling His twelve disciples to Himself. In the very next verse (10:2) they are called, “the twelve apostles.” Well, which is it? Are they disciples or apostles? Is there a difference between these two words? Do they mean the same thing, or are they two different things? The Bible uses several terms to describe those who adhere to the Christian faith. Adherents are referred to as followers(1 Thessalonians 1:6), members, citizens, saints (Ephesians 2:19), Christians (Acts 11:26), and the church (Colossians 1:24). However, the two words that stand out above all others are those two words, disciple and apostle. They are used the most frequently throughout the New Testament. In one sense, they are synonymous, but in another sense, they are quite distinct in their definition. Let’s look at how.
Disciple The word disciple, that is translated from the original Bible language, means “a learner; a pupil of someone (in contrast to a master, or teacher).” Our English version came from the Latin form discipulos, which means “a scholar.” It implies that the learner accepts the views and practices of his teacher. Knowing this, we gain more insight into what is meant when the word is used in phrases such as, “the disciples of John” (Matthew 9:14). It means John had pupils that learned directly from him. The Pharisees are also described as having disciples (Luke 5:33), and they even called themselves, “disciples of Moses” (John 9.28). Yet, the most common use of the word (some 250 times!) is in conjunction with those who follow Jesus, the Master Teacher. The words follower and disciple have, essentially, become synonymous with being a Christian.
Apostle This term comes directly from the Greek word, apostolos, which literally means “one sent forth.” The verb form of the word, apostelo, means “to send.” This is how the word is used in Acts 14:14, where Barnabas is described as an apostle. He, indeed, had been sent out (Acts 13:2,3). But, this is not how the word is most often used, nor typically understood. The same word is more closely associated with “the Twelve” apostles of Jesus. They still had been sent out by Jesus (Matthew 10:5) but, in this case, the word is more closely associated with a special position – that of His twelve, specially chosen disciples. We often call them Apostles, with a capital “A.” This position has specific requirements, found only in Acts 1:21-26, of which not just anyone can meet, certainly not anyone in modern times. Paul met these requirements, thus he also is called an apostle in both senses of the word (Acts 14:14; Galatians 1:1; 1 Timothy 2:7).
Matthew 10:1 describes Jesus calling His twelve disciples to Himself. In the very next verse (10:2) they are called, “the twelve apostles.” Well, which is it? Are they disciples or apostles? Is there a difference between these two words? Do they mean the same thing, or are they two different things?