The apostles were an odd conglomeration of men whom Jesus chose not for their intellects or influence but for their loyalty and ability to learn.

There were numerous disciples, or students, but only 12 original apostles.

The Rev. Landon Coleman and Bishop Michael J. Sis say the apostles became indispensable to the establishment of Christianity.

“They were certainly a mixed group including several fishermen, a tax collector who collaborated with Rome and a Zealot who swore to assassinate collaborators,” said the Rev. Coleman, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church. “Later after Jesus had been raised and ascended to Heaven, the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem would note that they were common, uneducated men who had spent time with Jesus.”

Referring to the pastor and author who hosts the national radio and TV program “Grace to You,” Coleman said, “John MacArthur rightly notes that the disciples were ordinary men who did extraordinary things.

“They were changed and transformed by their time with Jesus as well as by the person of the Holy Spirit who was sent by Jesus.”

Coleman said the Gospels and the Book of Acts make a distinction between disciples and apostles.

“It seems that Jesus had a larger number of disciples and out of this group he selected 12 to be apostles,” he said. “A disciple is a learner, a follower. An apostle is a sent one, a representative. These 12 were not selected for their abilities or intelligence, but for their teachability and loyalty to Jesus.”

Citing Ephesians 2:20, Coleman said the apostles and prophets were the foundation of the Christian church.

“Because of the word order, apostles listed before prophets, I take this to refer to the 12 and other prophets who were active in the New Testament church,” he said. “Like a foundation that only needs to be laid once, there was only one group of foundational apostles and prophets.

“These offices are not active in the church today, although we still have evangelists, pastors, overseers, elders and teachers. Paul does refer to himself as one of the apostles, one untimely born who nevertheless met Jesus and was sent by him.”

Coleman said tradition holds that the 12 apostles, excluding Judas Iscariot who committed suicide and was replaced by Matthias, took the gospel message all over the known world and that they were all were martyred except John, who died of old age. “The New Testament says precious little about their activities, reminding us that their message about Jesus was the most important thing about each of them,” he said.

As told in Matthew 10:7-8, when Jesus first sent them, he said, “As you go, preach this message: the kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

The Most Rev. Sis, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo, said the word “apostle” is from the Greek “apostellein,” which means “to send.”

“Thus an apostle is someone who is sent,” he said. “There are a few instances in the New Testament such as John 13:16 and Philippians 2:25 where the term ‘apostle’ is used generically to refer simply to a messenger who is sent.

“Acts 14:14 refers to Paul and Barnabas as apostles because they were sent as missionaries to the Gentiles and Paul regularly called himself an apostle because he understood this word to refer to someone specially called by God and sent out to preach the Gospel.”

However, Sis said, there is a more specific use of the term in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts, referring to a particular function or office given by Jesus during his public ministry when he formed a special group from among the larger group of disciples.

“These 12 are listed in Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16,” he said. “Any follower of Jesus is a disciple, but these disciples acquired the particular designation of apostles when Jesus called them to this specific task.

“The number 12 is very significant because it symbolically expresses the continuity of the church with the 12 tribes of Israel in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30. By choosing the 12 apostles Jesus signals that he is beginning a new Israel.

“None of them were rabbis, scholars or important in the eyes of the broader society. They were ordinary working men whom Jesus chose to carry out a special role among his followers. Certain apostles have a prominent role and others are relatively obscure.”

In every list of the apostles, Sis said, Peter comes first.

“Originally named Simon, he received a new name, Peter, when Jesus made him the rock upon which he built his church,” the bishop said. “Jesus was making a play on words because the Greek word for Peter, ‘petros,’ also means ‘rock.’

Citing John 21:15-19, he said, “Despite the fact that Peter denied Jesus three times during his trial and suffering, Jesus reinstated Peter and tasked him with the responsibility of caring for the other disciples.

“Peter and Andrew were brothers. James and John were also brothers. Jesus called these four in the midst of a day of their work as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. John, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved,’ John 13:23, was the only one who died of old age. The others were all martyred for their faith. Tradition says John took care of Jesus’s mother Mary in her old age.”

Sis said James, John’s older brother, was tempestuous. “He even asked Jesus to rain down fire on a Samaritan village, which Jesus did not do,” he said. “He was killed by King Herod in Acts 12:2.

“Matthew was a tax collector, which was considered a sinful profession. When Jesus had mercy on him and called him, he immediately left his profession and followed Jesus. There is very little written about James the Lesser, the son of Alphaeus.”

Known as Doubting Thomas, the Apostle Thomas would not accept the truth of the resurrection without seeing the evidence for himself, but after encountering the risen Christ he made the boldest proclamation of Jesus’s divinity, “My Lord and my God,” in John 20:28, Sis said.

“Simon the Zealot may have been zealous for Israel’s independence from the oppression of the Roman imperial government, Bartholomew might have been the same person as Nathaniel and Philip asked practical questions of Jesus and introduced people to him,” he said.

“Jude Thaddeus is not prominent among the 12 apostles in the scriptures, but after his death he acquired fame as a powerful prayer intercessor for those in desperate situations.”

Sis said the name “apostle” has also been given to other significant figures in Christian history like Saint Mary Magdalene, who is called the “apostle to the apostles” because she was the first witness who saw the risen Christ and she brought the good news of the resurrection to the apostles.

“The word has been applied to people who had a significant role in evangelizing various cultures,” he said. “For example Saint Augustine of Canterbury is called the ‘apostle to the English,’ Saints Cyril and Methodius are called the ‘apostles to the Slavs’ and Saint Boniface is called the ‘apostle to the Germans.’”