Ask The UMC: What is the difference between an apostle and a disciple?


There are two different Greek words involved.

Disciple (mathetes) means “learner” or “student.” It is a term that applied and applies to all who seek to learn the way of Jesus.

Apostle (from the Greek verb apostellein) means “one who has been sent out.”

The apostles in the New Testament were disciples who were understood to be specifically sent out by Jesus to extend his mission throughout the world. We might call these persons something like “chief mission strategists,” those who were acting to oversee the advance of the mission of the church and to guarantee the authenticity and foundational teachings and purpose of that mission.

This focus on a ministry of oversight (episkope in Greek) is why the successors to the apostles in each place were referred to as bishops. The English word "bishop" is the Anglicized form of the Greek word episkope, meaning oversight.

So, the bishops were (and are) overseers, continuing the mission and work of the original apostles in the current day.

Watch this related Chuck Knows Church video about disciples.

Have questions? Ask The UMC. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications. First published Sept. 4, 2018.

Sign up for our newsletter!

SUBSCRIBE

Latest News

Theology and Education
A wreath and draped cross symbolize the crucifixion of Christ during Good Friday service. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Ask The UMC: How do we understand the timing of the Great 3 Days?

The timing of the events of Holy Week have been understood by Christians since at least the third century.
Theology and Education
The Rev. Esther Kachiko Furaha prays during worship at New Jerusalem United Methodist Church in Uvira, Congo, in 2015. Christians understand prayer as spiritual communication with God. File photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

Ask The UMC: What is the difference between prayer and meditation?

Christians understand prayer as spiritual communication with God in which we open ourselves to God's transforming love.
General Church
Bishop Kenneth H. Carter gives the sermon during opening worship for the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Ask The UMC: What Happened at General Conference?

Amid growing concerns for the denomination’s future, the 2016 General Conference authorized the formation of a commission to deal with church teachings on homosexuality and find ways to help the church stay together. The Commission on a Way Forward submitted proposals that were considered by the delegates at the 2019 special called General Conference.