Every apostle was a disciple, but not every disciple was an apostle. Every person who believes in Jesus is called His disciple. Matthew 28:19–20 records Jesus saying,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The Greek word for “disciple” simply refers to a learner and is used throughout the New Testament to refer to people who believed in Jesus. For example, Acts 6:1 says, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing.” The word disciples means “believers” or “the Christians” in this context.
The Greek word for “apostle” literally means “one who is sent” and can refer to an emissary or anyone sent on a mission. An apostle is given the authority of the one who sent him. All of the apostles were disciples — they were among the many believers in Jesus — but only a select group of disciples were chosen as the Twelve Apostles. This included the original twelve disciples (although Judas Iscariot eventually reversed his loyalties and rejected the Messiah) and Paul, who was later chosen by the Master. That there is a select group of twelve apostles is seen in the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem: twelve foundations, each inscribed with a name of an apostle (Revelation 21:14).
Other men who are named “apostles” in the New Testament — although not members of the Twelve—include Matthias (Acts 1:26), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:6–9), Timothy and Silas (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2:6), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), and two unnamed apostles (2 Corinthians 8:23, possibly already included in the previous list). These men were “sent ones” in that they were chosen for specific work on behalf of the church, but they were not part of the Twelve who were hand-picked by Jesus. Jesus is also called an “apostle” in Hebrews 3:1, indicating that He was sent by and had the authority of His Father.
The main distinction of apostles appears to have been regarding their authority. The apostles’ teaching forms the foundation for the truths of our faith. The qualifications for being an apostle included having been with the Messiah during His ministry, having personally witnessed Jesus after His resurrection, and having been empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles or signs. Paul was an exception to part of the qualifications. Although he did not accompany Jesus on His earthly journeys, Jesus made a special appearance to him on the road to Damascus and set him apart as an apostle to the Gentiles. This is why Paul compared his place among the other apostles as “one born at the wrong time”.
The word apostle, however, is still used by some groups in reference to a missionary or entrepreneurial leader in a general sense. But these people do not meet the same qualifications as the twelve apostles in the Bible.
Every person who believes in Jesus as his or her Master and Savior is a disciple of Jesus. However, only a select group of early believers were chosen as apostles and given authority to perform signs and share the revelations found in the New Testament. There is a movement know as The New Apostolic Reformation, or NAR. It is a loose collection of non-denominational and independent churches rallying around a particular set of biblical interpretations. The New Apostolic Reformation approaches church leadership and biblical interpretation differently from mainstream Protestant denominations. Of particular distinction are the role and power of spiritual leaders, a literalist approach to spiritual warfare, and an overt interest in cultural and political control. Unfortunately, this has led to some unscriptural approaches to faith and spirituality.
- Matthew 28:19 (NASB) — “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
- Acts 19:1–2 — 1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
- Luke 6:13 — 13 And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:
- Luke 6:17 — 17 Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon,
- Matthew 10:1–2 — 1 Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
- Acts 6:2 — 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
- Acts 11:26 — 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.