Faith & Wisdom

What Is An Apostle? A Look To The Bible’s Definition & Meaning for It

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Date Published:
July 21, 2021

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Summary

You may be familiar with the word apostle as the name ascribed to Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples after His resurrection.

The Bible describes apostles as those who spread the word of the gospel as messengers of God, which includes Jesus Christ Himself.

In contemporary interpretations, however, the definition of apostle applies more broadly as ‘someone who is sent on a mission.’

So what does it really mean to be an apostle? Do you have a responsibility to become one, and how can you use the concept to enhance your relationship with God and support your faith and duties as a Christian?

In this article, we’re going to study the true meaning of apostleship according to the Bible, extracting all the ways in which it can enhance our relationship to God. 

Biblical definition of an apostle

The English term ‘apostle’ originates from the New Testament and is the title given to Jesus’ original 12 disciples. 

The 12 apostles were Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot. Matthias was also an apostle during Jesus’ time, chosen to replace Judas Iscariot after he betrayed Christ.

The early Christian apostle Paul is also well known, but he is not one of the original 12 apostles.

The word itself derives from the Greek word Apostolos, meaning ‘messenger’ or ‘envoy.’ It also comes from the related Greek verb apostellein, which means “to send off.”

Mark 6:7–13 teaches us that Jesus anointed the 12 disciples as apostles and sent them out in pairs to the town of Galilee to ‘heal the sick’ and ‘cast out demons’ after His death and eventual resurrection. 

So, ingrained in the definition of apostleship is the responsibility to spread the word of God, an activity which we refer to as the Great Commission. 

person holding Bible up to the sun


When people speak of the Great Commission, they speak of the instruction from Jesus after his resurrection to baptize “all the nations,” including Jews and Gentiles, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Ephesians 2:19–20 states that the church is "built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets.” This further denotes the importance and reverence of the role of apostles.

In a way, we all shoulder the responsibility of apostleship. Though, in the Biblical sense, Jesus specifically commissioned apostles to carry out the important duty of establishing the house of God. 

When people speak of the Great Commission, they speak of the instruction from Jesus after his resurrection to baptize “all the nations,” including Jews and Gentiles, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Ephesians 2:19–20 states that the church is "built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets.” This further denotes the importance and reverence of the role of apostles.

In a way, we all shoulder the responsibility of apostleship. Though, in the Biblical sense, Jesus specifically commissioned apostles to carry out the important duty of establishing the house of God. 

Requirements for being a true apostle

To be a ‘true’ apostle, disciples of Jesus had to meet certain conditions laid out in the scriptures of the New Testament.

The conditions were:

  1. The person had to have been an eyewitness to Jesus after His resurrection, according to 1 Corinthians 9:1.
  2. The person had to have been chosen by the Holy Spirit, according to Acts 9:15
  3. The person had to have ministered with miraculous signs and wonders, according to Acts 2:43 and 2 Corinthians 12:12

However, those who aspire to apostleship should not be disconcerted. You can apply modern-day interpretations of the concept as developed by various Christian sects to enhance your connection to God.

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Modern-day apostles

1 Corinthians 12:27-31 clearly states in reference to apostleship that “not everyone will receive the same gifts.” Therefore, it follows that not every disciple of God will become an apostle.

Looking further into contemporary Christianity, however, we have the example of Pentecostal Protestant Christians, who practice a revised form of apostleship under the label of ‘Christian missionary.’ 

 In this role, they take it as a divine duty to promote their faith beyond its place of origin. 


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormons, have 12 modern-day apostles who serve in their religion. Their roles are based on those of the original apostles, and they also administer their gospel worldwide.

God intends to reach as many people with the divine word as possible for the sake of their eternal salvation. By the example of the 12 apostles of Jesus, we must take it as our responsibility as children of God to further carry the message of the gospel far and wide.

At the same time, we must also accept that most of us have not been divinely selected through God-given gifts to live our lives as dedicated apostles of the gospel. 

Which may come as some relief, given the dangers of apostleship described in Luke 11:49: "I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute."

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Key lessons from the apostle definition

So, where does that leave us as dedicated followers of Jesus in the 21st century?

It is advisable to always seek examples of miracles, signs, and gifts in your life, which may indicate your calling as an apostle, though also not to be disappointed or weary if such signs do not appear. 

Instead, you can aspire to the values of apostleship by being a faithful messenger of the word of God wherever possible.

A cross on a cliff over the ocean at sunset


Growing the Christian church, just as Christ commissioned the 12 disciples to do, is an act of kindness. It enables others to gain a deeper spiritual understanding of their place in the world. 

It is also an exemplary display of faith, enhancing your relationship with God and appeasing His judgment.

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Become apostolic

Reflect the love that God bestows upon you back out into the world in His service, as Jesus did alongside His 12 apostles. 

Don’t spread His word with undue force, and understand that all of God’s children exist on different planes of spiritual understanding. Remember that the love of the Holy Spirit exists in everyone, and you can lead with your shining example. 

Jesus is the cornerstone of the church, and He should be the cornerstone of our lives too. Trying to learn from Him and minister to others in His name are some of the best ways we can honor Him.

For more Bible verses, prayers, and devotionals about the word of God and the meaning of the gospel, download the pray.com app in the iOS App Store and on Google Play.

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