Bible Question:

In John 13:16 the word used for apostle is απόστολος which is Greek. But in Adam Clarke's commentary on John,  the Greek word for apostle in John 13:16 is αποϚολος. So are απόστολος and αποϚολος the same Greek word for apostle?

Bible Answer:

In John 13:16 Jesus told His disciples that the slave is not greater than his master. What did Jesus mean with this statement? The answer becomes clear in the next statement when He said that the person who sends another person is greater. Jesus is not talking about personal worth or value. Both times Jesus is referring to the person who has the greater authority. That is the common message of both illustrations. Jesus had just washed the feet of the disciples. His point is that since He is their Lord or master they should follow His example, do what He does, and be obedient. He was the greater one and they were His slaves (James 1:1). That was Jesus’ message.

Adam Clarke’s Comment About AποϚολος

Now upon examination of John 13:16, we discover that the literal Greek word that is amplified to “one who is sent” in the second illustration is απόστολος.

Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. John 13:16 (NASB)

Adam Clarke (1762 – 26 August 1832) was a British Methodist theologian and biblical scholar. In his Commentary on John, he uses the Greek word αποϚολος and says it means “apostle.”

The servant is not greater than his lord – Christ has ennobled the acts of humility by practising them himself. The true glory of a Christian consists in being, in his measure, as humble as his Lord.

Neither he that is sent – Ουδε αποϚολος Nor an apostle. As I think these words were intended for the suppression of all worldly ambition and lordly conduct in the apostles and their successors in the ministry, therefore I think the original word αποϚολος, should be translated apostle, rather than he that is sent, because the former rendering ascertains and determines the meaning better.[1]

Why does Adam Clarke use the word αποϚολος and then say it means “apostle” when the Greek word for apostle is απόστολος.

Aπόστολος and AποϚολος Compared

The only difference between the two Greek words απόστολος and αποϚολος are the two letters στ and and the letter Ϛ. The reason this occurred is that Ϛ is a ligature of σ and τ. A ligature is a combination of two letters. For example, in English æ is a ligature of the letters “a” and “e.” Another ligature in English is œ, a combination of “o” and “e.” In Greek, Ϛ is a ligature of the letters sigma, σ, and tau, τ.

Adam Clarke used αποϚολος because it was popular in the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century.


The Greek word απόστολος has two basic meanings. Generally it refers to a person who is sent by another person. Maybe a mother sent her son next door to a neighbor or an employer sent an employee on an errand. There is also a technical meaning of the word which is apostle. That is the noun απόστολος normally meant “sent one.” In the New Testament it was used in a technical sense for Christ’s apostles—sent ones. Therefore, it is difficult to agree with Adam Clarke. Additionally, all modern Bible translations disagree with him. Therefore, we conclude that his view about the meaning of αποϚολος or απόστολος lacks accuracy.



1. Adam Clarke. Commentary on John. Commentary on the Bible. 1832.

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