“What is the difference between ‘disciple’ and an ‘apostle?’ Are there still apostles today?”
The word “disciple” is from the Latin discipulus meaning “pupil, student, or follower,” The online Visual Thesaurus links the word “disciple” to just one other word: “adherent” – which is derived from the word “adhere,” meaning “to stick to.” A disciple is one who “sticks to” the teachings of the one followed. Every true believer who has made Jesus Christ Lord is a disciple of Christ.
The word “apostle” has both a general and a special usage in scripture. The Greek word simply means “one who is sent” and the Bible uses the term to describe several individuals who were not part of the twelve set apart by Jesus. [e.g. Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6–9), Timothy and Silas (1 Thess. 1:1, 2:6), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25)]
After a full night of prayer Christ chose the twelve apostles from the larger group of many disciples (Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:14; Acts 26:14–18). He “gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…” and He sent them out “to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt. 1:1,6). They were to announce that the kingdom of heaven had come near. He told them “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (v.7).
When the eleven sought a twelfth apostle to replace Judas, a requirement was that the candidate had been an eye-witness to the full ministry and resurrection of Christ. “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)
Later, Jesus Christ appeared to Paul (then named Saul) as he journeyed along on his way to Damascus. He appointed Paul as an Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 26:14–18). For this reason Paul wrote of himself as “one abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:8).
We do not see true “apostles” today. There can be no new “eye-witnesses” of the earthly ministry and resurrection of Christ. However the term is sometimes used of missionaries who bring the gospel to a particular people group for the first time. Every believer who follows and obeys Christ is a “disciple” of Christ.
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