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I've been researching about the apostles and found historical documents that show there were more than 12 but 12 + 7, including women. This information was included in non biblical historical documents. In reading the bible, the number twelve is highly important to jewish readers as it represents the twelve tribes of Israel. My question is have the gospel writers focused on the number twelve to keep in line with the hebrew books? Or could there have been more than twelve? It seems logical to not limit his number to twelve, in order to spread the word as far as possible.

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Hi, plawton. Welcome to Christianity.SE. What historical documents are you talking about? It's a lot easier to answer questions like this--particularly ones that deal with subjects that are not "common knowledge" material--if you cite your sources. In return, we try to do the same when coming up with answers for you. Would you mind editing your question to add some links? Thanks! –  Mason Wheeler Jun 16 '13 at 1:44
Agreed with Mason; links and/or titles would be helpful. –  David C. Jun 16 '13 at 2:57
Yes, there were only 12 because they were to be the kings of the new kingdom. 12 apostles, 12 disciples, 12 tribes, 12 kings –  The Freemason Nov 20 '13 at 16:42

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Different books of the Bible use the terms apostle and disciple in differing ways. The word disciple means a follower or student of a teacher, while the word apostle means a messenger or ambassador who champions a particular cause.

Initially, the term "apostle" was used to describe the early followers of Jesus. There were specific requirements to be called an apostle, some of which were, the chief of which was that they had to have seen him after his Resurrection. Additionally, the apostles were the foundation of the early church, after Jesus, the chief cornerstone. So the "apostles" were limited in number, but not to only 12 (a disciple, however is a much broader term. A disciple is any follower of Christ, and as such there are millions of disciples today).

However, there is a common convention of a difference between "apostle" and "Apostle", with "Apostle" denoting the those specifically appointed by Jesus as apostles (the twelve, along with Paul). So there were the Twelve, but these were set apart by Jesus as his closest companions during his earthly ministry, and not an artificial distinction posed by the writers of the gospels. So depending on your definition, there might be 12 apostles or several hundred (see 1 Corinthians 15:6)

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no the term apostle was not used to describe the early followers of Jesus the term disciple was used to describe his followers downvoting –  caseyr547 Jun 17 '13 at 15:39
There is a question on the site that asks about the difference between an apostle and a disciple –  Affable Geek Jun 17 '13 at 18:59
so... was Matthias little 'a' or big 'A'? –  bruised reed Sep 15 '14 at 1:01
@bruisedreed - a big 'A' –  SSumner Sep 15 '14 at 2:37

The Recursive Great Commission

The Greek word from which apostle is derived literally means "one who is sent out". To be sure, every believer is in effect an apostle who is sent out to proclaim Christ to the world. The Great Commission is, in a sense, recursive. Those that received that command were to make disciples and them those disciples everything Jesus had commanded them, which included the Great Commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

The Special Designation of the Twelve

However, there was a specific designation of apostleship that was reserved for twelve specific men whose names are identified for us.

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out... Matthew 10:1-5a ESV

In a very real sense, the disciples/learners/students became apostles (ones sent out) at this moment in time when Jesus specifically sent them out with a purpose.

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There were twelve Apostles to begin with, whom Jesus chose and ordained as special witnesses of his ministry. These were different from disciples, like everyone else here said, who were followers. But there are two recorded instances in the Bible where more men were called Apostles. The first is in the early chapters of Acts where Matthias is chosen to fill the void that was left after Judas killed himself. It seemed very important to fill that void immediately. It is more likely that the "12 Apostles" is more of a quorum that is to always maintain 12 members.

Later on, of course, Paul is denoted as an Apostle and a lot of the New Testament books are from his short writings. But, we have no record of him being ordained or of who may have died to leave a vacancy in the quorum. Anyway, there were definitely more than twelve, though the group may have only had twelve at any one time.

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Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. This is okay for a first answer. It would be better if the few Bible events you refer to were either quoted or linked to an online Bible, like Bible Gateway. You can edit this post if you want to make those changes. I hope to see more of you. –  fredsbend Jun 30 '14 at 4:36

There are 2 groups of apostles. Both in a sense, means being sent out (ambassadors). But the first office is the 12. Many say that the 12 were ordinary Christians who happened to live at the same time as Jesus. Not true, they were specially appointed by God for a specific reason. Someone above said they noticed the emphasis on the number 12. SThe same is with the 12 apostles because they are another caliber of Christians. Yes, they were sinners like you and me, and yes they were men, but there office was divine specific.

Revelation 21:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

There were specific requirements of being an Apostle of Christ. One being the witness of the resurrected Christ. (Acts 1:22, 1 Corinthians 9:1). Another being able to perform signs and wonders (2 Corinthians 12:12, Hebrews 2:4).

There is some debate over who replaces Judas. Matthias or Paul. Matthias was the only not directly appointed by Jesus Christ. Anyways, this office wasn't as some confuse with disciples. They weren't ordinary Christians. One example of not ordinary is the writings of the New Testament. The writing and teaching of the apostles weren't received by a man or bok, but directly from Christ.

John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

This verse was given directly to the apostles. I understand the we can claim this verse in a sense, but in it's context it was to the apostles to lay the foundation of the church. And to reveal the mystery of Christ.

Ephesians 3:4-5 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

The second group were apostles that were called by man. They were appointed by the apostles and the church. These were not the same as the 12. This group had the title of an apostle, but not the office. Hope that makes sense. The main group are apostles of Christ. The secondary group are apostles appointed by the church.

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Welcome to the site! This is really good! This answer would be even better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. Remember that "I believe it means..." isn't an acceptable answer, since this site isn't about personal interpretation. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Nov 20 '13 at 0:03
I don't know of anyone who wondered if Cephas (Peter) replaced Judas - I do know there is debate as to whether it was Paul or Matthias, but Peter's apostleship was in effect long before Judas' betrayal. –  Affable Geek Nov 20 '13 at 14:53

Mat 10:1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.

Act 1:23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

Mar 15:40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; Mar 15:41 (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.

Technically there were indeed multiple people who qualified to be members of the 12. We know of 14 total. The eleven original called by Jesus then Judas and his two replacements. The other 5 you mention are not in the word.

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There were also the 70(72) disciples/apostles (sent out ones) in Luke 10:1+. John 6:60-70 speaks of many disciples leaving. The two mentioned in Acts 1 might also have been the most obvious replacement choices among several that were "with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us"[NIV]. Proposed/appointed does not sound like they were the only options meeting that criterion (That might make a good BH.SE question). Luke 19:37 speaks of a "whole crowd of disciples". (Does an auditor of a course not count as a student? :-) –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 16 '13 at 20:03
Oops! I was confusing disciple and apostle. Even so, the 72 are reasonably considered apostles (small 'a'). –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 16 '13 at 20:11
@PaulA.Clayton no the word apostle is not used to describe every follower of Christ. It is a special ministry gift. –  caseyr547 Jun 17 '13 at 15:36
Apostle means "sent out ones"; in this sense the 70 were literally apostles. Wikipedia mentions that they are "known in the Eastern Christian tradition as the Seventy Apostles" (perhaps because of the closer connection of those churches to the Greek language). Perhaps someone needs to ask the question "What do Christians mean by 'apostle'?" (distinguishing between capital and lower-case A uses, ideally dealing with the multiple different uses by different groups). –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 17 '13 at 22:54
By the way, even the Apostle Paul seemed to indicate that there were other apostles. Ephesians 4:11--"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,"[NIV]--, though that text might have various interpretations. –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 17 '13 at 22:58

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