Apostle vs. Disciple


Is there a difference between Apostle and Disciple? The bible references both in the context of teaching, however, some say they are “Apostles of Christ” (Those picked by Jesus to preach and teach the Gospel) and some refer to themselves as “Disciples of Christ” (Those who assisted the Apostles in their teaching). Is there a correct Catholic identification?


Jesus had many disciples but only twelve apostles. The word apostle means “One who is sent forth”. The apostles are the ones that Jesus chose to be his successors and to continue his teaching. You can look at them as early Bishops or Priests. A disciple is more of a student. We can all be disciples of Christ if we follow his teaching.


In the simplest terms:

Apostles are disciples, but not all disciples are Apostles. The Apostles were Jesus’ closest disciples, His inner circle (Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:12-13 for instance) and thus received the entirety of Christ’s teaching. Even more, apostleship is an office of the Church established by Christ; whereas discipleship is a belief/lifestyle.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia online:

The word “Apostle”, from the Greek apostello “to send forth”, “to dispatch”, has etymologically a very general sense. Apostolos (Apostle) means one who is sent forth, dispatched–in other words, who is entrusted with a mission, rather, a foreign mission. It has, however, a stronger sense than the word messenger, and means as much as a delegate.


Let me rephrase. Jesus originally chose 12 apostles. After Judas betrayed Jesus and killed himself, Matthias was chosen as his replacement. Then later on, Jesus called Saul Paulus, “Paul” to be an apostle.


Disciple = follower or student
Apostle = One who is sent forth… which would take the disciple from follower role to follower and teacher role


Were there not more than 12 Apostles? My understanding is that Paul was an apostle because he was called by Christ who struck him blind. That came after the original twelve chose Matthias to replace Judas.


Barnabas was also an apostle.


The twelve disciples that Jesus directly chose are most generally called the twelve. The mission of the twelve is different than the mission of the Apostles. The twelve for instance will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. If, I recall correctly, Luke is the only Gospel that refers to the ‘twelve apostles’. In any case, the earliest writings in the New Testament (some of the letters of Paul) use the term Apostle more broadly. Paul is called an apostle as is Barnabas. There is also a reference to a Junia who was well known among the apostles. The Greek is ambiguous, but, there are some early Church Fathers, if I recall correctly, who interpreted that as meaning she was an Apostle. Like so much of what happened in the very earliest Church (before the Gospels which were written 40 or more years after the death of Jesus), not much is really know about what the title Apostle actually meant.

It is well established that the Apostles were a limited group appointed directly in some way by Jesus and that there will be no more Apostles. The age of the Apostles is at an end having been replaced by the age of the Church.

closed #9

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.