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Apostle, Disciple, Prophet: The Difference Explained

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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.

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