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

Painting of Jesus and his Disciples on the Sea of Galilee dated 1833 by Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Oesterley courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. German art historian, painter and university teacher. Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.
Painting of Jesus and his Disciples on the Sea of Galilee dated 1833 by Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Oesterley courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. German art historian, painter and university teacher. Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

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

General Church
Bishop Sharma Lewis shares a moment with Bishop Lindsey Davis, her former bishop in North Georgia Conference, during her consecration on July 15, 2016, at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center at Lake Junaluska, N. C. File photo by Burt Williams, Western North Carolina Conference.

Ask The UMC: How are bishops chosen in The United Methodist Church?

United Methodist bishops are ordained elders elected and consecrated for a ministry of servant leadership and supervision.
Theology and Education
Pumpkins fill the grounds of the 12th South Farmers Market in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Laurens Glass.

Ask The UMC: What is The United Methodist Church's view of Halloween?

Cultural celebrations for Halloween have evolved alongside church celebrations for All Saints but these activities need not define or limit our witness to what makes for holiness.
Church History
(Left to right) Central United Methodist Church in Luanda, Angola, photo by Mike DuBose; food distribution site for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Dagami, Philippines, photo by Mike DuBose; the Rev. Shalom Agtarap, photo by Paul Jeffrey; stained glass cross and flame, photo by Kathleen Barry.

Ask The UMC: Has The United Methodist Church always had an official symbol like the cross and flame?

The official insignia of The United Methodist Church has been the Cross and Flame since its founding in 1968. The symbols and seals for other predecessor denominations were generally varied in form and use.