Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

Is there a difference between an “apostle” and a “disciple”?

Posted by Tony Listi on August 11, 2008

This is an especially important question in deciding who exactly has the authority to bind and loose as conferred in Mt 18:18—all Christian believers or the apostles and their successors alone?

In the beginning, there were only about 86 apostles: the original twelve (including Judas), Matthias, Paul, and the 72 sent out by Jesus. No more. But Jesus had more than 86 followers, or disciples, as the Gospels tell. I consider myself a disciple of Christ, not an apostle. Indeed, all the apostles were explicitly CHOSEN either by Christ himself (Paul and the Twelve, see John 6:70 and Acts 1:2) or by the apostles themselves as a group (Matthias). (The latter is also evidence of the concept of apostolic sucession with Catholic bishops as the apostles’ successors.)

In Mark 6:30 and Matt 10:1-5, the twelve are specifically referred to as apostles. The latter Matthew citation shows the interchangeability of the terms “disciples” and “apostles,” at least for the 12. For they are called the “12 disciples” in the first verse and the “12 apostles” in next one:

“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew….”
-Mt 10:1-3

Disciples are called; apostles are sent. All apostles are disciples; not all disciples become apostles.

At various times in Matthew, it says the “disciples” got in a boat (e.g. Mt 14:22). Is it plausible that this referred to all Jesus’ followers? Again, in Mt 19:25-28, Jesus speaks to his “disciples” and refers to “12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel” that will be theirs. See also Mt 20:17 which says “12 disciples.” The Last supper passage Mt 26:18-20 also refers to 12 disciples. Mt 28:16 refers to the “eleven disciples” (Judas had already betrayed Jesus). 

Thus, it is quite clear that throughout the book of Matthew that the term “disciples” almost surely refers ONLY to the Twelve. And this makes sense: Matthew is the the most Jewish of the gospels and the Jews did not let just anyone make binding Scriptural interpretations! The notion of an authoritative hierarchy and the importance of tradition that came from Judaism were not done away with in the formation of Christianity.

Consequently, since Jesus is not speaking to a crowd of followers/disciples but to the Twelve in Mt 18 when he confers the authority to “bind and loose,” it is the Church leadership, NOT all Christians, who receive this authority. And this interpretation is born out in descriptions of Church organization in Acts and Paul’s letters as well as in the history of early Church practices.

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29 Responses to “Is there a difference between an “apostle” and a “disciple”?”

  1. Jacob said

    Wow. Thank you soo much. I have always been wanering what the difference was. Again thank you so very much for posting this!!

  2. Dan said

    But the fact that it is included in Scripture indicates that the Apostles felt it necessary to share with ALL believers. The Lord gave this authority to those who follow Him through the Apostles. Joel 2:28 says, “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions.” This was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit was poured out on all believers and God broke down the barriers of separation. THe Priest and Prophet are no longer above the laity. People who teach that they are are often trying to posture authority because they want a position in the church.

    • foospro86 said

      Wrong. Scripture was not intended to be read by the faithful without authoritative and disciplinary instruction from their pastors/shepherds, esp. their bishops, the episkopos. For heaven’s sake, there was no printing press back then! So it’s totally ridiculous to make an argument like that.

      Read the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus. The bishops exercised authority given by Christ.

      I highly recommend you read another post of mine: https://conservativecolloquium.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/the-error-of-the-supremacy-of-private-judgment-of-scripture-cardinal-newmans-analysis/

      • Paul said

        No. YOU are wrong. Scripture was not intended to be read by the faithful without the holy Spirit as the final authority and ultimate instructor of ALL things (1John 2:27). Certainly some men of the church can guide you in the truth but more often than not they will guide you in folly. The “holy” Catholic church is a fine example of the blind leading the blind. If you rely on men for understanding then you have a fool for a teacher. I recommend you read the Bible.

      • Tony Listi said

        The Holy Spirit resides in the Catholic Church, which is founded upon the apostles and their successors, not some limited compilation of their writings known as the Bible, which was created by the Catholic Church (and gutted of books by Luther). Because the Holy Spirit resides in the Church, which is known according to apostolic succession and is the pillar and bulwark of truth according to St. Paul, the Church is the final arbiter of Scriptural interpretation and doctrinal truth and instruction. Thus the Catholic Church is not merely of men but of the apostles and thus of the Holy Spirit, unlike all other churches.
        I recommend you read the Bible: 1 Tim 3:14-15; Eph 2:20.
        https://conservativecolloquium.wordpress.com/2007/09/18/the-visible-hierarchical-apostolic-church-in-the-bible/

  3. fred said

    if you realy want to know. all apostles were called buy Jesus and sent forth after his death and resurection. all biblical apostles were directly given this autority buy the rison Christ. all apostles in the bible personally had conversation with the rison christ. including Paul on the road to damascus. No one today can make this claim. so, are there apostles living in this world today? I would say no.

    • Tony Listi said

      Fred, read Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. Paul gave them their authority and told them to exercise their authority over their flocks to combat heresy and false teaching. Timothy and Titus did not speak with the risen Lord and yet they had the same authority as Paul after he was martyred.
      Here is another good link citing Scripture: http://www.scripturecatholic.com/apostolic_succession.html

      • wynn said

        why do you quote Paul,he was against everything Yashua teach,
        please read the book and understand it ,don’t let any religion tell you .

      • Tony Listi said

        No, the teachings of Jesus and Paul are in harmony. The Gospels and Paul’s epistles are in harmony.

        Which religion taught you Paul was against Jesus? The Wynn Religion?

  4. Lori said

    Thank you for the information and your input. I am discussing the 12 apostles with my Sunday School class and we have had some amazing discussion. This will help me with this week’s lesson.

  5. […] 19:28 “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” The Twelve are set apart from all other followers of Jesus. They were given governing authority over the New Israel that did not end with their deaths. And they will participate in the authority of Christ apparently at the Last Judgment. (This verse also helps confirm that when Matthew says “disciples,” he means the Twelve.) […]

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  9. Paul said

    A disciple is someone that is still learning, like a student. In Acts the apostles themselves had disciples. An apostle is someone that is sent to teach others. So YES I would certainly agree…you’re definitley still a disciple…so please stop acting like you’re an apostle. In other words STOP TEACHING…you don’t know half as much as you think you do.

    • Tony Listi said

      No, an apostle is one sent to teach others WITH AUTHORITY. There is nothing wrong with me spreading the authoritative teachings of the apostles and their successors. I do not present anything based on my own authority, for I have none, but based on the authority of those chosen by Jesus and those chosen by them down through the ages.

      If I don’t know, it is your duty to prove it, not merely assert it.

  10. […] has been sent out by those with authority (namely, Peter and James) to spread the gospel. Click here to learn more about the difference between a disciple and an apostle. In this letter, he is adamant […]

  11. mathew said

    guys, looking at the above mentioned conversation, all I can conclude is that we are not practicing what we believe. This chain of comments don’t have the LOVE of God nor they are helpful even though each one of you are trying to impress each other. let’s do things in love.

  12. Gods Child said

    I agree with Mathew. Let do the love thing cause do you really believe we will have a catholic section a baptist section a watch tower section in Heaven? I don’t think so we are all one body this religious thing with titles is ridiculous who cares just love god and be obedient and all is well. Be a believer not a title. cause guess what no one has the answer but God.

    • Tony Listi said

      No, we are not all one body if we are not all of one mind, as Jesus commanded and the early Church in Scripture was. Unity of belief is absolutely important and crucial, and “all truth” (Jn 16:13) was given to the apostles and their successors.

    • Actually, no there will not be separate sections for each sect…in fact, there will be only Catholics in heaven, whether they were Catholics at some time during their earthly life or became Catholic at the moment of death when given one last chance to embrace the Truth…their choice.

  13. Andrew (not one of the original disciples) said

    Good Info Tony and thanks for the info. Also… I have to say that Mathew was right on Aug 13 when he said some of the comments dont have the Love of God in mind. Good for you Mathew.

    I have to agree that surely disciple refers to a “loyal follower” while apostle refers to a person who is sent to spread the word. In this way the original 12 disciples were surely also apostles since they were not only followers of Jesus, but were also sent out by him at the last supper.

    Others who came later such as Saul/Paul were apostles, sent out to spread the word (yet they were also, arguably, “disciples” of Jesus too… though not of course the originals. Be nice 🙂

    • Tony Listi said

      Paul is the one making personal attacks, not me. And I’m not referring to telling someone they are wrong. I’m referring to his implication that I shut up.

      An apostle is not merely one who is sent to teach but one who is sent by those with authority to teach with authority.

  14. AVoice said

    It seems to me that “title” is important here. Someone wishes to refer to himself as an apostle, or as a disciple. And another is asserting that this title is specific to a particular grouping. It has drawn an area of contention, and scripture says that when this occurs, we all must cease from arguing over theology only because this prevents us from operating in faith, it provokes us to operate in reasoning instead. If someone believes it is okay to eat meat given to idols, let him eat it & if someone’s conscience (sparked by God) says don’t, then let them “not” eat the meat.

    In the same vain, if someone is insistent on having a title, let him and if someone else is insistent that he himself will not have a title, then so let him be without…and to each of you, you respect what God, by faith, has given to the other.

    We are talking about the meat of idols. Its so much more than what we eat!

    • Tony Listi said

      A mere title is not what’s at stake here. What’s at stake here is authority and who has it. Protestants like to say there are no authorities, despite what Scripture says.

      An apostle is someone who is sent out with the authority to teach. Jesus sent out the apostles to teach with His authority. The apostles in turn chose others to teach with their authority given them by Jesus.

  15. Isaac abule said

    Help learn more

  16. […] Is there a difference between an "apostle" and a "disciple"? […]

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