An apostle (/əˈpɒsəl/), in its most literal sense, is an emissary, from Greek ἀπόστολος (apóstolos), literally "one who is sent off", from the verb ἀποστέλλειν (apostéllein), "to send off".[1] The purpose of such sending off is usually to convey a message, and thus "messenger" is a common alternative translation; other common translations include "ambassador" and "envoy".[1]

Paul the Apostle, by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn

The term derives from the Greek of the New Testament and was used for Jesus's original Twelve Apostles (including Peter, James, and John), as well as a wider group of early Christian figures, including Paul, Barnabas, and Junia. Some other religions use the term for comparable figures in their history. The word in this sense may be used metaphorically in various contexts, but is mostly found used specifically for early associates of the founder of a religion, who were important in spreading his or her teachings.

The adjective apostolic (/ˌæpəˈstɒlɪk/) is claimed as a continuing characteristic by a number of prominent Christian churches (i.e., that a given church's traditions, practices, and teachings descend directly from the original apostles), and so finds wider modern application. The word is found, for example, in the "Apostolic See", the official name for the Roman Catholic Papacy; in the doctrine of apostolic succession, held by many branches of Christianity; and in the Four Marks of the Church ("one, holy, catholic, and apostolic") found in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.


Gallery of the Apostles, Temmenhausen Nikolauskirche

The term apostle is derived from Classical Greek ἀπόστολος (apóstolos), meaning "one who is sent off", from στέλλειν ("stellein"), "to send" + από (apó), "off, away from".[1] The literal meaning in English is therefore an "emissary" (from the Latin mittere, "to send", and ex, "from, out, off".

The word apostle has two meanings, the broader meaning of a messenger and the narrower meaning of an early Christian apostle directly linked to Jesus. The more general meaning of the word is translated into Latin as missiō, and from this word we get missionary.

The term only occurs once in the Septuagint.[2] But Walter Bauer in his Greek-English Lexicon of the NT relates the term to the rabbinical idea of a Shaliah, or agent; "…Judaism had an office known as apostle (שליח)". The Friberg Greek Lexicon gives a broad definition as one who is sent on a mission, a commissioned representative of a congregation, a messenger for God, a person who has the special task of founding and establishing churches. The UBS Greek Dictionary also describes an apostle broadly as a messenger. The Louw-Nida Lexicon gives a very narrow definition of a special messenger, generally restricted to the immediate followers of Jesus, or extended to some others like Paul or other early Christians active in proclaiming the gospel.


Before their sending away, the Twelve had been called disciples, or "students" (Latin discipulus; Greek μαθητής mathētḗs; Hebrew לִמּוּד limmûdh; all meaning "one who learns").[3] Jesus is stated in the Bible to have sent out the Twelve Apostles, "whom he also named apostles" (Luke 6:13), first before his death "to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 10), and after his resurrection, to spread the message of the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:16–28:20). There is also a tradition in the Eastern Churches of "Seventy Apostles", derived from the seventy-two disciples mentioned in the Gospel of Luke.

Modern day apostle in the apostolic movement

A modern-day Apostle in the tradition of the Apostolic-Prophetic movement is one who is "called and sent by Christ to have the spiritual authority, character, gifts and abilities to successfully reach and establish people in Kingdom truth and order, especially through founding and overseeing local churches”, according to Dr. David Cannistraci.[4] An "apostle" is one who has a call to plant and oversee churches, has verifiable church plants and spiritual sons in the ministry, who is recognized by other apostles and meets the biblical qualifications of an elder.[5]

Latter Day Saint movement

In the Latter Day Saint movement, an apostle is a "special witness of the name of Jesus Christ who is sent to teach the principles of salvation to others."[6] In many Latter Day Saint churches, an apostle is a priesthood office of high authority within the church hierarchy.

In many Latter Day Saint churches, apostles may be members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church. In most Latter Day Saint churches, modern-day apostles are considered to have the same status and authority as the biblical apostles. In the Latter Day Saint tradition, apostles and prophets are believed to be the foundation of the church, with Jesus as the chief cornerstone.[7] The Articles of Faith, written by Joseph Smith, mentions apostles: "We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth."[8]


In Islam, an apostle or messenger (Arabic: رسول, romanized: rasūl) is a prophet sent by God. According to the Qur'an, God has sent many prophets to mankind. The five universally acknowledged messengers in Islam are Ibrahim, Mūsa, Dāwūd, Īsā and Muhammad,[9] as each is believed to have been sent with a scripture.[10] Muslim tradition also maintains that Adam received scrolls as did some of the other patriarchs of the Generations of Adam.[11] The term apostle or messenger is also applied to prophets sent to preach to specific areas; the Qur'an mentions Yunus,[12] Elijah,[13] Ismail,[14] Shuaib[15] and other prophets as being messengers as well.

Sahabah refers to the companions, disciples, scribes and family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Later scholars accepted their testimony of the words and deeds of Muhammad, the occasions on which the Qur'an was revealed and various important matters of Islamic history and practice. The testimony of the companions, as it was passed down through chains of trusted narrators (isnads), was the basis of the developing Islamic tradition. From the traditions (hadith) of the life of Muhammad and his companions are drawn the Muslim way of life (sunnah), the code of conduct (sharia) it requires and the jurisprudence (fiqh) by which Muslim communities should be regulated.

Muslims consider apostles to be messengers or prophets. Islamic teachings emphasise the Quranic verse which exclaims that God sent a messenger to every nation of the world.[16] Thus Muslims recognize many religious figures as messengers or prophets, including Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Noah, Adam as well as all Prophets followed by Christians and Jews.

Baháʼí Faith

The Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh were nineteen eminent early followers of Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith. The apostles were designated as such by Shoghi Effendi, the head of the religion in the first half of the 20th century, and the list was included in The Baháʼí World, Vol. III (pp. 80–81).

These individuals played a vital role in the development of Bahá'u'lláh's Faith, consolidating its adherents and bringing its teachings around the world. To Baháʼís, they filled a similar role as the sons of Jacob, the apostles of Jesus, Muhammad's companions, or the Báb's Letters of the Living.

See also


  1. Liddell & Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford, 1944
  2. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Robert McLachlan Wilson New Testament Apocrypha: Writings relating to the Apostles- 2003 - 0664227228 Page 7 "Unfortunately the adjectival noun Απόστολος occurs in LXX only in a single passage, and indeed as a translation of the Hebrew shaluach (passive participle of shalach - 1 Kings 14:6)."
  3. Cassell's Latin Dictionary, Revised by Marchant & Charles
  4. Cannistraci, David. (1998). Apostles and the emerging apostolic movement. Regal Books. ISBN 0-8307-2338-2. OCLC 180766628.
  5. Cannistraci, David (1996). The Gift of Apostle: A Biblical Look at Apostleship and How God Is Using It to Bless His Church Today. Regal Books. pp. 194–195. ISBN 978-0830718450.
  6. McConkie, Bruce R. (1979). Mormon Doctrine. Deseret Book. p. 46. ISBN 0-88494-062-4.
  7. Ephesians 2:20
  8. The Articles of Faith 1:6
  9. Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, C. Glasse, Messenger
  10. Muslims believe Ibrahim received the Scrolls of Abraham, Musa received the Torah, David in Islam received the Psalms, Jesus the Gospel in Islam and Muhammad received the Qur'an
  11. A-Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, B.M. Wheeler, Apostle
  12. Quran 37:139
  13. Quran 37:123
  14. Quran 19:54
  15. Quran 7:85
  16. Q10:47 Quran 10:47
  • The dictionary definition of apostle at Wiktionary
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