Who Were the Apostles?

Difference in Apostle and Disciple

Before we look at the number of New Testament disciples (apostles) lets first define the words “apostle” and “disciple.”

Davis Dictionary of the Bible says the requirement of an apostle was that he had to be an eyewitness of the events of the life of Jesus, he had to see Him after His resurrection, and he had to testify to mankind concerning Him (Matthew 10:2-42; Acts 1:21,22; I Corinthians 9:1). Davis defines “disciple” in a more general way, i.e., as a “pupil or scholar (Matthew 10:24); especially the follower of a public teacher, like John the Baptist (Matthew 9:14); a person taught of God (Isaiah 8:16). It is used of all of whatever age who in faith received the divine Master’s instructions (Matthew 10:42; Luke 14:26,27,33- John 4:1; 6:66); and especially of the twelve apostles” (Matthew 5:1; 8:25; 10:1; 12:1, etc).

The Original Twelve

The original twelve were chosen in succession at a very early period of the Savior’s public life. They were chosen as follows: First came Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter); James and John [the sons of Zebedee] (Matthew 4:18-22; 10:2,3; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 6:14; John 1:35-42); then Philip and Nathaniel [named also Bartholomew] (John 1:43-51). Subsequently, there came Matthew [also known as Live] (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:14-17; Luke 5:27-32); Thomas, James (the son of Alphaeus), Simon the Zealot (or Cananaean), Thaddaeus, the brother of James the Less, and Judas Iscariot–Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13.

After Judas’ betrayal and death, two men possessing the necessary qualifications of apostleship were put forward. One was Joseph (called Barsabas and Justus) and the other was Matthias. Lots were cast to choose which one would replace Judas and the lot fell upon Matthias, who was consequently elected (Acts 1:15, 26).

This accounts for the original twelve disciples–or apostles (Matthew 6:13 tells us Jesus called these disciples “apostles.”)

The ‘Other’ Apostles

However, the title “apostle” was not limited to the twelve, for Barnabas (Acts 14:14), and James (the Lord’s brother, Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7) were called apostles also.

Paul was divinely chosen and called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-31; 22:5-21; 26:1-20). He had not traveled with Jesus our Lord as on earth; but he possessed the apostolic qualifications of having seen Jesus after His resurrection. 0n the way to Damascus Jesus appeared to him and spoke to him, changing his hostility into passionate devotion. Paul was able to say, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” (I Corinthians 9:1).

While we do have accounts in the Bible of Paul’s imprisonments and his trials, there is no actual account of his death. According to Eusebius, his death took place in AD 67; according to Jerome, in AD 68. How he came to be rearrested we do not know. II Timothy was written from Rome shortly before his death. No doubt he was finally condemned to die simply because he was a Christian, in accordance with the policy begun by Nero in AD 64. Tradition handed down through early church history relates that Paul was beheaded, as was the custom with a Roman citizen, on the Ostian Way.

There were numerous other followers of Jesus who suffered martyrdom. Stephen is an example. He was the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58-60). He was not an apostle; however, he was a preacher and certainly suffered for the cause of Christ. He was finally stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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