Easton’s Bible Dictionary gives a very good breakdown of the differences between the three. So many times I have heard somebody who is preaching call themselves an apostle or a prophet. According to the Bible each one of these is a very distinct position that cannot always be determined by the person themselves. As we do with a lot of scripture we seem to interpret it from our perspective. The thing we forget is that it’s God’s perspective that counts. He tells us not to lean onto our own understanding. We do not get to choose which one we want to use for ourselves, each one has its own criteria. There is only one term they gives us any leeway and I will describe that later. Based on the definitions in Easton’s Bible dictionary I will break down each one.
Apostle; is a person sent by another; a messenger; envoy. This word is once used as a descriptive designation of Jesus Christ, the Sent of the Father ( Hebrews 3:1 ; John 20:21). It is, however, generally used as designating the body of disciples to whom he entrusted the organization of his church and the dissemination of his gospel.
Our Lord gave them the “keys of the kingdom,” and by the gift of his Spirit fitted them to be the founders and governors of his church (John 14:16 John 14:17 John 14:26 ; John 15:26 John 15:27 ; 16:7-15). To them, as representing his church, he gave the commission to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Matthew 28:18-20). After his ascension he communicated to them, according to his promise, supernatural gifts to qualify them for the discharge of their duties (Acts 2:4 ; 1 Corinthians 2:16 ; 1 Corinthians 2:7 1 Corinthians 2:10 1 Corinthians 2:13 ; 2 Corinthians 5:20 ; 1 Corinthians 11:2). Judas Iscariot, one of “the twelve,” fell by transgression, and Matthias was substituted in his place (Acts 1:21). Saul of Tarsus (Paul) was afterwards added to their number ( Acts 9:3-20 ; 20:4 ; 26:15-18 ; 1 Timothy 1:12 ; 2:7 ; 2 Tim 1:11 ).
In 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Phil 2:25 the word “messenger” is the rendering of the same Greek word, elsewhere rendered “apostle.”
Disciple; is a scholar, sometimes applied to the followers of John the Baptist (Matthew 9:14), and of the Pharisees (22:16), but principally to the followers of Christ. A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example (Matthew 10:24 ; Luke 14:26 Luke 14:27 Luke 14:33 ; John 6:69). This is the only one of the three that I feel has any leeway at all. But the term disciple, being described as a scholar, indicates the individual must be in constant and serious study of Scripture and its true meaning.
Prophet; Hebrew, nabi, from a root meaning “to bubble forth, as from a fountain,” hence “to utter”, (Compare Psalms 45:1). This Hebrew word is the first and the most generally used for a prophet. In the time of Samuel another word, ro’eh , “seer”, began to be used (1 Samuel 9:9). It occurs seven times in reference to Samuel. Afterwards another word, hozeh , “seer” (2 Samuel 24:11), was employed. In 1 Chronicles 29:29 all these three words are used: “Samuel the seer (ro’eh), Nathan the prophet (nabi’), Gad the seer” (hozeh). In Josh 13:22 Balaam is called (Hebrew) a kosem “diviner,” a word used only of a false prophet.
The “prophet” proclaimed the message given to him, as the “seer” beheld the vision of God. (See Numbers 12:6 Numbers 12:8). Thus a prophet was a spokesman for God; he spake in God’s name and by his authority (Exodus 7:1). He is the mouth by which God speaks to men (Jeremiah 1:9 ; Isaiah 51:16), and hence what the prophet says is not of man but of God (2 Peter 1:20 2 Peter 1:21 ; Compare Hebrews 3:7 ; Acts 4:25 ; 28:25). Prophets were the immediate organs of God for the communication of his mind and will to men (Deuteronomy 18:18 Deuteronomy 18:19).
The whole Word of God may in this general sense be spoken of as prophetic, inasmuch as it was written by men who received the revelation they communicated from God, no matter what its nature might be. The foretelling of future events was not a necessary but only an incidental part of the prophetic office. The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among the people was “to correct moral and religious abuses, to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government.”
Any one being a spokesman for God to man might thus be called a prophet. Thus Enoch, Abraham, and the patriarchs, as bearers of God’s message (Genesis 20:7 ; Exodus 7:1 ; Psalms 105:15), as also Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15 ; 34:10 ; Hosea 12:13), are ranked among the prophets. The seventy elders of Israel (Numbers 11:16-29), “when the spirit rested upon them, prophesied;” Asaph and Jeduthun “prophesied with a harp” (1 Chronicles 25:3). Miriam and Deborah were prophetesses (Exodus 15:20 ; Judges 4:4). The title thus has a general application to all who have messages from God to men.
But while the prophetic gift was thus exercised from the beginning, the prophetical order as such began with Samuel. Colleges, “schools of the prophets”, were instituted for the training of prophets, who were constituted, a distinct order (1 Samuel 19:18-24 ; 2 Kings 1 Samuel 2:3 1 Samuel 2:15 ; 4:38), which continued to the close of the Old Testament. Such “schools” were established at Ramah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gibeah, and Jericho. The “sons” or “disciples” of the prophets were young men (2 Kings 5:22 ; 2 Kings 9:1 2 Kings 9:4) who lived together at these different “schools” (4:38-41). These young men were taught not only the rudiments of secular knowledge, but they were brought up to exercise the office of prophet, “to preach pure morality and the heart-felt worship of Jehovah, and to act along and coordinately with the priesthood and monarchy in guiding the state aright and checking all attempts at illegality and tyranny.”
In New Testament times the prophetical office was continued. Our Lord is frequently spoken of as a prophet (Luke 13:33 ; 24:19). He was and is the great Prophet of the Church. There was also in the Church a distinct order of prophets (1 Corinthians 12:28 ; Ephesians 2:20 ; 3:5), who made new revelations from God. They differed from the “teacher,” whose office it was to impart truths already revealed.
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