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Apostle, Disciple, Prophet: The Difference Explained

Staff Member
Easton's Bible Dictionary

a person sent by another; a messenger; envoy. This word is once used as a descriptive designation of Jesus Christ, the Sent of the Father ( Hebrews 3:1 ; John 20:21 ). It is, however, generally used as designating the body of disciples to whom he intrusted the organization of his church and the dissemination of his gospel, "the twelve," as they are called ( Matthew 10:1-5 ; Mark 3:14 ; 6:7 ; Luke 6:13 ; 9:1 ). We have four lists of the apostles, one by each of the synoptic evangelists ( Matthew 10:2-4 ; Mark 3:16 ; Luke 6:14 ), and one in the ( Acts 1:13 ). No two of these lists, however, perfectly coincide.

Our Lord gave them the "keys of the kingdom," and by the gift of his Spirit fitted them to be the founders and governors of his church ( John 14:16 John 14:17 John 14:26 ; John 15:26 John 15:27 ; 16:7-15 ). To them, as representing his church, he gave the commission to "preach the gospel to every creature" ( Matthew 28:18-20 ). After his ascension he communicated to them, according to his promise, supernatural gifts to qualify them for the discharge of their duties ( Acts 2:4 ; 1 Corinthians 2:16 ; 1 Corinthians 2:7 1 Corinthians 2:10 1 Corinthians 2:13 ; 2 co 5:20 ; 1 Corinthians 11:2 ). Judas Iscariot, one of "the twelve," fell by transgression, and Matthias was substituted in his place ( Acts 1:21 ). Saul of Tarsus was afterwards added to their number ( Acts 9:3-20 ; 20:4 ; 26:15-18 ; 1 Timothy 1:12 ; 2:7 ; 2 Tim 1:11 ).

Luke has given some account of Peter, John, and the two Jameses ( Acts 12:2 Acts 12:17 ; 15:13 ; 21:18 ), but beyond this we know nothing from authentic history of the rest of the original twelve. After the martyrdom of James the Greater ( Acts 12:2 ), James the Less usually resided at Jerusalem, while Paul, "the apostle of the uncircumcision," usually travelled as a missionary among the Gentiles ( Galatians 2:8 ). It was characteristic of the apostles and necessary (1) that they should have seen the Lord, and been able to testify of him and of his resurrection from personal knowledge ( John 15:27 ; Acts 1:21 Acts 1:22 ; 1 Corinthians 9:1 ; Acts 22:14 Acts 22:15 ).
  • They must have been immediately called to that office by Christ ( Luke 6:13 ; Galatians 1:1 ).
  • It was essential that they should be infallibly inspired, and thus secured against all error and mistake in their public teaching, whether by word or by writing ( John 14:26 ; 16:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:13 ).
  • Another qualification was the power of working miracles ( Mark 16:20 ; Acts 2:43 ; 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 ). The apostles therefore could have had no successors. They are the only authoritative teachers of the Christian doctrines. The office of an apostle ceased with its first holders.
In 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Phil 2:25 the word "messenger" is the rendering of the same Greek word, elsewhere rendered "apostle."

a scholar, sometimes applied to the followers of John the Baptist ( Matthew 9:14 ), and of the Pharisees ( 22:16 ), but principally to the followers of Christ. A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example ( Matthew 10:24 ; Luke 14:26 Luke 14:27 Luke 14:33 ; John 6:69 ).

(Heb. nabi, from a root meaning "to bubble forth, as from a fountain," hence "to utter", Compare Psalms 45:1 ). This Hebrew word is the first and the most generally used for a prophet. In the time of Samuel another word, ro'eh , "seer", began to be used ( 1 Samuel 9:9 ). It occurs seven times in reference to Samuel. Afterwards another word, hozeh , "seer" ( 2 Samuel 24:11 ), was employed. In 1 Chronicles 29:29 all these three words are used: "Samuel the seer (ro'eh), Nathan the prophet (nabi'), Gad the seer" (hozeh). In Josh 13:22Balaam is called (Heb.) a kosem "diviner," a word used only of a false prophet.

The "prophet" proclaimed the message given to him, as the "seer" beheld the vision of God. (See Numbers 12:6 Numbers 12:8 .) Thus a prophet was a spokesman for God; he spake in God's name and by his authority ( Exodus 7:1 ). He is the mouth by which God speaks to men ( Jeremiah 1:9 ; Isaiah 51:16 ), and hence what the prophet says is not of man but of God ( 2 Peter 1:20 2 Peter 1:21 ; Compare Hebrews 3:7 ; Acts 4:25 ; 28:25 ). Prophets were the immediate organs of God for the communication of his mind and will to men ( Deuteronomy 18:18 Deuteronomy 18:19 ). The whole Word of God may in this general sense be spoken of as prophetic, inasmuch as it was written by men who received the revelation they communicated from God, no matter what its nature might be. The foretelling of future events was not a necessary but only an incidental part of the prophetic office. The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among the people was "to correct moral and religious abuses, to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government."

Any one being a spokesman for God to man might thus be called a prophet. Thus Enoch, Abraham, and the patriarchs, as bearers of God's message ( Genesis 20:7 ; Exodus 7:1 ; Psalms 105:15 ), as also Moses ( Deuteronomy 18:15 ; 34:10 ; Hosea 12:13 ), are ranked among the prophets. The seventy elders of Israel ( Numbers 11:16-29 ), "when the spirit rested upon them, prophesied;" Asaph and Jeduthun "prophesied with a harp" ( 1 Chronicles 25:3 ). Miriam and Deborah were prophetesses ( Exodus 15:20 ; Judges 4:4 ). The title thus has a general application to all who have messages from God to men.

But while the prophetic gift was thus exercised from the beginning, the prophetical order as such began with Samuel. Colleges, "schools of the prophets", were instituted for the training of prophets, who were constituted, a distinct order ( 1 Samuel 19:18-24 ; 2 Kings 1 Samuel 2:3 1 Samuel 2:15 ; 4:38 ), which continued to the close of the Old Testament. Such "schools" were established at Ramah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gibeah, and Jericho. The "sons" or "disciples" of the prophets were young men ( 2 Kings 5:22 ; 2 Kings 9:1 2 Kings 9:4 ) who lived together at these different "schools" ( 4:38-41 ). These young men were taught not only the rudiments of secular knowledge, but they were brought up to exercise the office of prophet, "to preach pure morality and the heart-felt worship of Jehovah, and to act along and co-ordinately with the priesthood and monarchy in guiding the state aright and checking all attempts at illegality and tyranny."

In New Testament times the prophetical office was continued. Our Lord is frequently spoken of as a prophet ( Luke 13:33 ; 24:19 ). He was and is the great Prophet of the Church. There was also in the Church a distinct order of prophets ( 1 Corinthians 12:28 ; Ephesians 2:20 ; 3:5 ), who made new revelations from God. They differed from the "teacher," whose office it was to impart truths already revealed.

Of the Old Testament prophets there are sixteen, whose prophecies form part of the inspired canon. These are divided into four groups:
  • The prophets of the northern kingdom (Israel), viz., Hosea, Amos, Joel, Jonah.
  • The prophets of Judah, viz., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah
  • The prophets of Captivity, viz., Ezekiel and Daniel.
  • The prophets of the Restoration, viz., Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Saul of Tarsus was afterwards added to their number ( Acts 9:3-20 ; 20:4 ; 26:15-18 ; 1 Timothy 1:12 ; 2:7 ; 2 Tim 1:11 ).
Technically Saul's role as an apostle terminated when he reached Damascus.

And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
Acts 9:6

Also, Saul wasn't described as an apostle at Damascus, but as a chosen vessel.

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
Acts 9:15-16

Saul wasn't added to the number of the original 12 as Easton's says.

And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.
Acts 20:4

Acts 26:15-18 is Paul's testimony, and it isn't consistent with him simply being told to proceed to Damascus per Acts 9:6 and Acts 22:10. Later only twelve apostles were acknowledged, implying that the original twelve were the only ones that were sent.

And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Revelation 21:14

But there were also false apostles at Ephesus.

I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
Revelation 2:2

Acts 19
1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus:
8 And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
9 But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.
Staff Member
Technically Saul's role as an apostle terminated when he reached Damascus.
I think you're wrong on this. First, how can his apostleship be "terminated" when he reached Damascus, the place of his conversion and becoming a true follower? Makes no sense. He was a religious hypocrite and persecutor of Christians up to the point of Damascus.

Read this: What Is An Apostle? Bible Definition and Meaning

Small portion from that study article on the definition of Apostle...

In the New Testament apostolos [ajpovstolo"] is applied to Jesus as the Sent One of God ( Heb 3:1 ), to those sent by God to preach to Israel ( Luke 11:49 ), to those sent by churches ( 2 Col 8:23 ; Php 2:25 ), and most often, to the individuals who had been appointed by Christ to preach the gospel of the kingdom. This latter category, however, is understood differently by New Testament writers. For example, Luke-Acts uses the term "apostle" to refer almost exclusively to the Twelve, while Paul uses it in relation to a broader group of individuals. The expression "all the apostles" in 1 Corinthians 15:7 seems to include more than the twelve referred to in verse 5. James is considered here, and in Galatians 1:19, to be an apostle. Barnabas is referred to as an apostle in ac 14:14 ( 11:22-24 ; 13:1-4 ). Paul calls Andronicus and Junias apostles in Romans 16:7. In this broader sense, an apostle was a witness to the resurrection of Christ, sent by him to make disciples of all nations.
Dictionary: Definition of APOSTLE

one of an authoritative New Testament group sent out to preach the gospel and made up especially of Christ's 12 original disciples and Paul
Another article: Apostle vs Disciple - Difference and Comparison | Diffen

While a disciple is a student, one who learns from a teacher, an apostle is sent to deliver those teachings to others. "Apostle" means messenger, he who is sent. An apostle is sent to deliver or spread those teachings to others. The word "apostle" has two meanings, the larger meaning of a messenger and the narrow meaning to denote the twelve people directly linked to Jesus Christ.
I think you're wrong on this. First, how can his apostleship be "terminated" when he reached Damascus, the place of his conversion and becoming a true follower? Makes no sense. He was a religious hypocrite and persecutor of Christians up to the point of Damascus.
Apostleship isn't based on being a follower. If that were the case there wouldn't be any distinction between the apostles and the disciples. Saul didn't persecute Christians before Damascus because the were no Christians until he started preaching at Antioch.

Apostleship is a like acting as an agent. If the terms of the agency specify a limited purpose, then than agency becomes completed or fulfilled when the purpose of that agency is achieved. Acting as an agent (or apostle) without proper authority is unlawful, as illustrated by the following text:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity(ἀνομία).
Matthew 7:22-23
ἀνομία = lawlessness

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