What is the Bible definition of an apostle?

Author: BibleAsk Team

The Bible Definition of an Apostle

The term “apostle” carries significance within the biblical context, reflecting not merely a title but a vocation charged with divine authority, responsibility, and commission. The New Testament, particularly in the writings of the Gospels and the Epistles, elucidates the essence of apostleship. According to the Bible, the term “apostle” originates from the Greek word “apóstolos,” signifying a messenger, envoy, or one who is sent forth with a special commission. In its biblical usage, the term transcends mere human appointment, embodying a divine calling and authorization bestowed directly by Jesus Christ.

The foundation of apostleship lies in Christ’s selection and empowerment of specific individuals to serve as His emissaries and ambassadors. In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 3:13-15 NKJV), Jesus appoints twelve disciples, designating them as apostles: “Then He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.” This passage underscores the dual aspect of apostleship—being with Christ and being sent out by Him to proclaim the Gospel and perform miracles.

Central to the definition of apostleship is the concept of authority derived directly from Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 10:1-2 NKJV), Jesus confers upon the twelve apostles the authority to heal and cast out unclean spirits: “And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:…” Here, the authority bestowed upon the apostles extends beyond mere proclamation to the realm of supernatural intervention—a divine empowerment essential to their mission.

Moreover, apostleship entails a distinct role in laying the foundation of the Church and disseminating the teachings of Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:19-20 NKJV), the apostle Paul elucidates the significance of apostles and prophets in the establishment of the Church: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” This passage underscores the foundational role of apostles in sharing the doctrines of Christ with the early Christian community.

Furthermore, apostleship encompasses a commission to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of all nations. In the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV), commonly known as the Great Commission, Jesus charges His apostles with the task of spreading His message to the ends of the earth: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” This mandate underscores the universal scope of apostolic ministry and its enduring relevance throughout the ages.

Moreover, apostleship is characterized by sacrificial service and steadfast commitment to the cause of Christ. In his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NKJV), Paul provides a glimpse into the hardships endured by true apostles: “Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” This passage illustrates the selfless dedication and unwavering resolve characteristic of authentic apostolic ministry.

In addition, apostleship is marked by a unique gifting of the Holy Spirit for the edification and equipping of the Church. In his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:11-13 NKJV), Paul enumerates various gifts bestowed upon the Church, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” This passage underscores the indispensable role of apostles in nurturing spiritual growth and uniting the body of Christ.

Furthermore, apostleship entails a divine commission to confront and combat false doctrine and spiritual deception. In his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 1:6-9 NKJV), Paul issues a stern warning against those who distort the Gospel: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Here, Paul asserts the apostolic authority to safeguard the integrity of Christian doctrine and to refute theological error.


The definition of an apostle in the Bible encompasses a multifaceted role characterized by divine commission, authority, sacrificial service, and spiritual gifting. Apostles are not merely human emissaries but chosen vessels empowered by Christ to establish, nurture, and safeguard the Church. Their ministry transcends temporal limitations, testifying to the transformative power of the Gospel.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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