Are the apostles the same as the disciples?

These two terms are often used interchangeably, although in the synoptic gospels the apostles generally refer to the 12 men explicitly called by Jesus to follow him while the disciples are a more inclusive larger group that can be thought of as including the apostles.

The apostles listed in these gospels are: Simon (also called Peter), Andrew, James son of Zebedee, John, Philip, Batholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot.

The larger group of disciples include others both named and unnamed who encountered Jesus and attended to his message: his mother Mary (sometimes called “the first disciple”) Levi, Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, Bartimaeus, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Susanna and “many other” women who followed him and provided for Jesus out of their resources (Lk 8:1-3).

John’s gospel never lists 12 apostles and doesn’t even name five of the twelve mentioned in the synoptics. More so than in the synoptic gospels, John’s gospel equates discipleship with apostleship. Disciples/apostles includes Nathanael, the Beloved Disciple, the Samaritan Woman at the Well, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist and any who seek Jesus out and “abide” with him.

Ann Naffziger

Ann Naffziger

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.


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