'Apostle' vs 'Disciple': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on September 15, 2023

Are you looking for an explanation of the difference between an 'apostle' vs 'disciple?'

Here is a short answer: 

  • 'Apostles' were the first Christian missionaries and they included the 12 disciples of Jesus and Paul. 
  • 'Disciples' are one of the 12 members of Christ's inner circle or devoted followers who spread the doctrine or teachings of another person. 
  • 'Apostle' and 'disciple' are synonyms, so you can use them interchangeably. 

However, there is more to learn. So, keep reading to learn the definitions, correct usages, and pronunciations of these terms.

What is the Difference Between 'Apostle' vs 'Disciple'

'Apostles' and 'disciple' are two terms that are commonly found in The Bible. In Christianity, Jesus Christ had 12 'disciples' who followed him that he later declared were his 'apostles.' These men included Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Judas Iscariot, Matthew, Thomas, James, the son of Alpheus, Bartholomew, Judas Thaddeus, and Simon Zelotes the 12 who were with him at the Last Supper.

Christ's 'disciples' traveled with him as he taught them and included other disciples besides the original 12 he named. They devoted their lives to learning His teachings and learning from him.

While some of the 12 'disciples' became 'apostles,' the original 'apostles' included others who weren't part of Jesus's 'disciples,' including Barnabas and Paul. The 'apostles' were not necessarily students of Christ, but they did spread His word and help to create the first Christian churches.

So, a 'disciple' is more of a student, and an 'apostle' is someone sent away to spread the teachings of a person or religion. However, these terms are synonyms, which means you can use them interchangeably.

When to Use 'Apostle' vs. 'Disciple'

Now that you have an idea of the difference between an 'apostle' vs. 'disciple,' here are some tips for when and how to use both terms.

  • Use 'apostle' to refer to someone who is sent out on the first significant mission to spread Christianity in an area.

For example, you could say:

During her time as an apostle, she went on missions to some of the most remote parts of the planet. 

  • Use 'apostle' for someone who is sent to spread the teachings of a person, church, or group.

As an example, I might say:

The apostles set out to spread the word of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world. 

  • Use ' disciple' to describe someone who believes in and learns from someone.

So, you might hear someone say:

The cult leader lived with his most devoted disciples on a secluded piece of property and spent hours each day teaching them his weird beliefs. 

  • Use 'disciple' for one of Christ's 12 disciples.

For example, you might say:

Paul was not one of the original 12 disciples, but he was an apostle. 

Definition of 'Apostle': What Does 'Apostle' Mean?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the noun 'apostle' as:

  • Someone sent on a mission, specifically a religious mission

It can also mean:

  • A member of the authoritative group who spread the teachings of Jesus Christ and included the 12 disciples and Paul
  • The first prominent Christian missionaries in an area or region
  • Someone who initiates significant moral reform or advocates for a belief system
  • A strong supporter of something
  • A high-ranking ecclesiastical official in some churches
  • A member of the Mormon council, which consists of 12 men

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Apostle'

  • Proponent
  • Exponent
  • Advocator
  • Advocate
  • Friend
  • Booster
  • Paladin
  • Disciple
  • Promoter
  • White knight
  • Gospeller
  • Champion
  • Protagonist
  • Expounder
  • Adherent
  • Herald
  • Partizan
  • Loyalist
  • Cohort
  • Follower
  • Encourager
  • Stalwart

Definition of 'Disciple': What Does 'Disciple' Mean?

The same defines 'disciple' as a noun that means:

  • Someone who accepts the teachings of another and helps to spread their doctrines

It can also mean:

  • One of the twelve members of Jesus Christ's inner circle according to the Gospel, including Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Judas Iscariot, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, Bartholomew, Judas Thaddeus, and Simon Zelotes
  • A devoted adherent of a school, institute, or individual
  • Members of the Disciples of Christ, which were founded in the United States in the early 1800s, who believe that the Bible is the rule of faith and religious practice, are baptized by immersion in water, and adhere to the governance of a congregational polity.

Synonyms and Similar Words to 'Disciple'

  • Adherent
  • Follower
  • Missionary
  • Apostle
  • Devotee
  • Student
  • Pupil
  • Acolyte
  • Scholar
  • Soldier
  • Advocate
  • Supporter
  • Protege
  • Admirer
  • Fan
  • Worshipper
  • Ideologist
  • Loyalist
  • Zealot

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Apostle' vs. 'Disciple'

Let's look at the pronunciation of 'apostle' vs. 'disciple.' Knowing how to pronounce each term will give you confidence to use them in verbal communications, which is especially important if you are learning English as a second language.

So, here is a pronunciation guide you can follow. 

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'apostle':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'disciple':


Sample Sentences Using 'Apostle' vs. 'Disciple'

Now, read these sample sentences using 'apostle' vs. 'disciple.' They will teach you more about the difference between these terms and how you use them.


  • Paul played an important role as an apostle in the creation of the first Christian churches.
  • The original apostles were appointed and sent on missions by Jesus before he passed.
  • The book of Acts in The Bible contains records of the apostles healing people and God communicating with them through supernatural means.


  • My grandmother has a picture of Jesus and his 12 disciples at the Last Supper hanging in her dining room.
  • The brainwashed disciples of a cult leader often have to go through years of therapy before they can live their best life.
  • Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus.


  • The 12 disciples were Jesus' first apostles.
  • Jesus's disciples learned his teaching before he appointed them as his apostles and sent them on their first mission to spread His word and perform miracles.

Recap: The Difference Between 'Apostle' vs. 'Disciple'

You learned a lot in this post. So, here is a recap of the difference between 'apostle' vs. 'disciple': 

  • An 'apostle' is a noun for a person who is sent on a mission to spread the religious teachings or beliefs of another person, group, or church. 
  • A 'disciple' is a noun for someone who believes in, follows, and helps to spread the teachings of someone else. 

Words like these with similar or overlapping meanings are challenging to keep straight even after you learn their differences. So, if you ever need to verify the correct term to use, you can always return to this page to review this lesson.

You can also learn about hundreds of other frequently misspelled and misused words in the confusing words section here. Check them out before you go if you are unsure about the meanings, spellings, or pronunciations of any terms.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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