Did Paul give new names to church leaders and co-workers?

It has often been noted that, in some key respects, the emphasis of the narrative of Acts is different from what we might suppose from reading Paul’s letters. Given that we can date many of Paul’s letters to an early period, this raises questions about the accuracy and historicity of the account in Acts.

One of the issues is the question of named individuals; whilst there is some significant overlap between the names in Acts and in Paul’s letters, there also appear to be some strange omissions. Lydia is clearly a key leader in Acts 16 in Philippi, and yet she is not mentioned in Paul’s letters. And who is the important person Euodia mentioned in Philippians 4.3 but absent from Acts? Why does the narrative of Acts 18.7 mention Titius Justus as hosting Paul, but such a key person is not mentioned in Paul’s letters—yet Paul describes Stephanas, not mentioned in Acts, as the first convert in the region (1 Cor 16.17)?

One person who has been exploring this issue is Richard Fellows, a specialist in New Testament history, with a focus on Paul’s co-workers and personal names in Acts and Paul’s letters. His background is in science, as can be seen in the statistical analysis of marks on Codex Vaticanus in his recent NTS article.

I had the chance to interview him about his 2016 article in Tyndale Bulletin, “Name Giving by Paul and the Destination of Acts”, and its implications for the accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles.

IP: What question does your article attempt to answer?

RF: It is well known from the gospels that Simon was named “Peter” by Jesus, and that Joseph was named “Barnabas” (Acts 4:36), but we know that Ignatius of Antioch, in the late first/early second century, was also known as “Theophorus” (bearer of God). Furthermore, James, the brother of Jesus, was named “Oblias”, according to Hegesippus. These examples suggest that the giving of second names was not uncommon, that these second names often suggested laudable qualities in the person so named (‘Rock’, ‘Son of encouragement’, ‘Protector’) and that they functioned bilingually, switching from one language to another. As in the case of inscriptional evidence, we need to remember that much of the ancient world was fluently multilingual.

My paper asks whether there are similar cases of renaming among Paul’s associates in his letters and in Acts.  For example, does Luke, in Acts, ever refer to someone by his or her birth name, while Paul refers to the same person by his or her new name? When Paul writes to the Galatians he refers to Simon as “Cephas” at Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14, but switches to “Peter” at Gal 2:7, 8. This kind of name switching was very common in the ancient world when the person in question was already known to the audience by both names. Does Paul ever refer to anyone else by two different names in the same text? Does Luke do the same? These are the questions that I address in the article.

IP: So what cases of name giving are you proposing?

RF: There are several key characters whom I propose have been renamed, and are referred to by these different names, for a variety of reasons

Crispus = Sosthenes

The idea that Sosthenes was Crispus goes back at least to John Chrysostom, where he comments in his Homily on Acts 17 and 18:

This Crispus he means where he writes, I baptized none save Crispus and Gaius. (1 Corinthians 1:14). This (same) I take to be called Sosthenes — (evidently) a believer, insomuch that he is beaten, and is always present with Paul.

The identification has been taken up in recent times by both Augustine Myrou and by myself in an earlier paper in the Tyndale Bulletin (2005). If Crispus was the same person as Sosthenes, we no longer need to hypothesise that there were two Sosthenes (Acts 18:17 and 1Cor. 1:1) or two ἀρχι-συνάγωγοι (synagogue rulers) who became believers (Acts 18:8 and 18:17; 1 Cor. 1:1). The idea that Crispus was re-named ‘Sosthenes’ creates a remarkably consistent picture of the individual. Luke presents him as a synagogue ruler who caused many others to become Christians (Acts 18:8), and tells us that the Jews singled him out for a beating (Acts 18:17). The authority that his name carried among the believers in Corinth explains why Paul included him as a co-sender (1 Cor. 1:1). Paul named him ‘Sosthenes’, meaning ‘saving strength’ (which seems to be a close parallel to “Peter”, the rock on which Jesus will build the church, Matt 16:18) because, through his power and influence, he secured the viability of the fledgling Christian community in Corinth.

Lydia = Euodia

We have less data here, but it is generally agreed that Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:3) were leaders of the Philippian church, and Luke is unlikely to have mentioned Lydia in Acts 16 if she was not an important church leader. There is also a consensus that Euodia and Syntyche were probably converted during Paul’s first visit to Philippi. This is suggested by the fact that they had ‘struggled alongside’ Paul in the work of the gospel. Lydia too was a convert of Paul’s founding visit. She hosted Paul and his companions (Acts 16:14-15) and later hosted the believers (Acts 16:40).

The names Λυδία and Εὐοδία have a degree of phonetic similarity, and this increases the probability of identity (compare Saul—Paul, Silas—Silvanus, Jesus—Justus, Joseph—Justus). The word εὐωδία, a homophone of Εὐοδία, appears three times in the New Testament (2 Cor. 2:15; Eph. 5:2; Phil. 4:18). Phil. 4:18 describes the Philippians’ gift as a ‘ὀσμὴν εὐωδίας’ (fragrant odour). More intriguing still is 2 Corinthians 2:15 where Paul describes himself and his co-workers as ‘the aroma (εὐωδία) of Christ to God among those who are being saved’. Since the hypothesised Lydia = Euodia had opened her home for others to hear the gospel and had ‘struggled beside me in the work of the gospel’, Paul would surely have included her among his co-workers who were ‘the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved’.

For more details on Phil 4.3, see the 2018 ZNW article by Alistair Stewart and me here.

Gaius = Titius Justus = Stephanas

Titius Justus (Acts 18:7) was Paul’s host in Corinth and his conversion was the breakthrough that Paul needed to get the church started in the city. When writing to the Corinthians, Paul refers to “Stephanas” (crowned) (1 Cor 1:16; 16:15-18) as the “first-fruits” of the province and this fits Titius Justus perfectly. If we equate Stephanas with Titius Justus the background of the letter comes into sharper focus: there was disorder in the church meetings in Corinth, hosted by Titius Justus–Stephanas and his household, so they travelled to Ephesus and reported it to Paul, who told the Corinthians to submit to them.

It has previously been argued that the Gaius of Acts 19.29 and 20.4, Rom 16.23 and 1 Cor 1.14, is the same as Titius Justus, and therefore also Stephanas. If so, then this would explain the absence of the name Stephanas in the list of those greeted by Paul in Rom 16.

The name Stephanas is very rare. In the seven volumes of Lexicon of Greek Personal Names published so far, there are just six people called Stephanas. This represents just 0.002% of all recorded persons. The same database records just eight cases of ‘Stephanephoros’. ‘Stephanas’ is either an abbreviation of ‘Stephanephoros’, or it is a more direct extension of ‘Stephanos’. It therefore means ‘crowned’ or ‘crown-bearer’, or the like. However, Στέφανος is a Pauline term (1 Cor. 9:25; Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19) so it would not be surprising for Paul to use this term in name-giving.

The suspicion that ‘Stephanas’ and ‘Sosthenes’ are names/titles that were given by Paul or the church is enhanced by the fact that they are Greek. It is unlikely that both had Greek birth names since we know nine names of members of the Corinthian church and all but one of them is Latin or Latinised, including Stephanas’s household members, Fortunatus, and Achaicus.

Jason = Aristarchus

Jason was the host of the believers in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5–9), and is mentioned there, without introduction, as if already known to the audience of Acts. He appears again at Rom 16:21, when Paul was about to set sail with a group of church delegates mentioned in Acts 20:4, where the only Thessalonians mentioned are “Aristarchus” (best leader) and Secundus.  Unless Jason = Aristarchus, we need to explain why Aristarchus is absent from Rom 16, and Jason is absent from Acts 20:4.

In the article I also discuss “Epaenetus” (praised) (Rom 16:5) and “Theophilus” (lover of God) (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) as possible church benefactors who received new names, and I find confirmation of the phenomenon in the second century Acts of Paul.

In summary, there seems to be a strong cumulative case that Paul gave new names to the founding hosts or benefactors of his churches, in much the same way that Jesus gave the name “Cephas/Peter” to his host. Acts, which records the initial evangelization of the region, refers to the individuals by their birth names. The proposed new names used by Paul in his letters are all Greek and have appropriate meanings that the importance of the person in question, and often make use of characteristically Pauline vocabulary and ideas.

IP: What impact does this have on our assessment of the accuracy and reliability of Acts?

RF: Acts presents Crispus–Sosthenes as an influential person, whose conversion led to the conversion of many in Corinth. This agrees very well with 1 Cor 1:1 where we read that Sosthenes was a co-sender of this letter to Corinth, for Paul includes as co-senders only those who helped him found the churches addressed. Evidently Sosthenes’ endorsement of Paul’s letter carried weight in Corinth and this fits what we read in Acts when we equate him with Crispus. A few scholars think that Acts got its details from the letters, but the agreement here between Acts and 1 Corinthians would be very difficult to contrive.

One argument for the historicity of Acts is that many of the people it names appear also in Paul’s letters. The names James, Peter, John, Barnabas, Mark, Timothy, Jason, Erastus, Aristarchus, Crispus, Sosthenes, Apollos, and Aquila appear in Acts as well as in the undisputed letters of Paul, and it is likely that Prisca, Cephas, Silvanus, and Sosipater, who appear in the letters, are in Acts under different names (Priscilla, Peter, Silas, and Sopater). The name-giving hypothesis strengthens the argument even further, by showing that we can no longer assume that Euodia and Stephanas are absent from Acts, or that Lydia and Titius Justus are absent from Paul’s letters.

I argue in the article that Acts was written for the churches of the Aegean region (which is covered by Acts 16:11–20:38), and that people, such as Crispus = Sosthenes and Jason = Aristarchus, were already known to the audience. This ties Acts to the first century and to a specific place in ways that we would not expect to find in a later creative fiction.

Acts 16:6-10 seems to be saying that Paul and his companions received three pieces of divine guidance, which they interpreted to mean that they should preach in Macedonia without stopping to preach en route.  This interpretation is strengthened if, as I argue, Theophilus and the primary intended audience of Acts were in Macedonia. Such an audience would certainly be interested to read that God had directed the missionaries to bring the gospel to them. This seems to rule out the idea that they evangelized north Galatia. So Paul’s letter was likely written to South Galatia. My 2018 article in Biblica builds on the South Galatia theory and resolves the major conflicts between Acts and Galatians in a new way

IP: How does this relate to other recent research that has been done in names in the New Testament—for example, the studies by Richard Bauckham?

RF: Unfortunately Bauckham does not address this particular phenomenon of new name giving in any detail. However, in his book Gospel Women he discusses “Andronicus and Junia” (Rom 16:7) and Joanna, one of the benefactors of the Jesus movement, who’s husband was Chuza (Luke 8:3). He proposes that Joanna took the name “Junia” for use in the Diaspora. In a recent blog post I endorse Bauckham’s idea and tentatively propose that Andronicus was Chuza renamed.

The recent data bases of ancient names, such as LGPN, The LJNLA, and Trismegistos People have enabled much of my research.

IP: How has your proposal been received? What objections have people raised to this way of reading the names?

RF: Craig Keener, in his commentary (p2749), refers to my 2005 article and writes,

Since Crispus was an early convert (1 Cor 114), Sosthenes also seems a believer (1:1), and both are described by Luke as “synagogue rulers” (Acts 18:8, 17), it is possible that these are two names for the same person. … This proposal is ultimately unlikely, however; why would Luke change names without an explanation connecting them?

Keener is right to raise this objection and it is the only objection that I have heard. It is addressed in my 2016 article, but I don’t know how this article has been received. I hope our discussion today might make it more widely known!

IP: Are you planning to develop this further? Where can people find out more?

RF: If Jason was Aristarchus and so on, then it would appear that Paul, in Romans, sends greetings from all the prominent believers who were with him at the time, so we would expect to find the author of Acts among them. Given the importance of name order, Lucius, who is second only to Timothy among the greeters in Romans, was surely the author of Acts, and this confirms the tradition, since “Luke” is just another form of the name Lucius. Thus we have good confirmation that Acts was written by a travel companion of Paul. I am developing this proposal, addressing the evidence in the disputed letters, and the Titus-Timothy hypothesis.

I am also considering people such as Aseneth, Mary Magdalene, Tabitha, and Strataeas in Pseudo-Pionius—and my blog has some further discussions.

IP: Thank you so much for sharing these fascinating insights. I look forward to reading more!

RF: Thank you for the opportunity to share my research here on your blog. I hope that it provokes and widens further discussion and research.

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32 thoughts on “Did Paul give new names to church leaders and co-workers?”

  1. With this in mind, is the “Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus)” of Acts 1 the “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”)” of Acts 4?
    If so, it says a huge amount about his character. The one not chosen to bear the name of “apostle” of the 12, is someone who still pitches in, is the “son of encouragement” and plays a huge role. He takes the rejection, and the setback, and continues in Christlike living.

    • That’s an interesting idea, Colin. The difficulty is that Acts 4:36 introduces Barnabas as if for the first time. We would need to explain why Luke does not tell us at 1:23 that this Joseph was a Levite from Cyprus. About 9% of people in Palestine were called Joseph so it is not a big coincidence that we have the name in Acts 1:23 as well as 4:36. Incidentally, Codex Bezae has the name Barnabas at Acts 1:23 instead of Barsabbas, but it also replaces Barsabbas with Barabbas at Acts 15:22. It seems that a scribe was uncomfortable with the name “Barsabbas”, perhaps because he/she interpreted it as a honorific new name, meaning “son of the Sabbath”, rather than as a mere patronymic. This might fit with the antisemitic tendency of Bezae, and I’ll give this some more thought.

      • I read this as an a potential idea about 2 months ago. But, do you think I can find the source? Not a chance.
        If I have a brainwave and if it has useful references, I’ll let you know. I acknowledge that chance of that is slim, but who knows. My brain does wierd things at times.

  2. This is a whole science, and often what one is left with at the end is merely greater or lesser probabilities, but we are in debt to anyone who does the spadework to clarify (a) the factors, (b) what those factors imply for greater or lesser probability.

    Isolation of the factors alone requires expertise in a reasonable number of fields. But even after that, definite findings could be meagre. That is only my suspicion, which I cannot prove. I fear that if I ever ventured into that area, I would never emerge.

  3. Sounds like CNN is rewriting the Bible? Why not? It should be written in the spirit of hope and change and other adjectives that skew facts and nonconforming ideas.

  4. Great research, thanks for the article, a couple of related yet quite different thoughts: firstly, surely one of the purposes of changing names was to help avoid detection because of the controversial nature of this new religio illicita. Secondly, I wonder about the four prophetess daughters of Philip and Agabus in Acts 21. Apparently one of the translations of Agabus is “Father’s Joy.” Could it be, and I realize this is quite radical, that Agabus is actually one or all of Philip’s daughters? And that Luke had to say Agabus to disguise the fact that it’s women prophesying because that’s still a fairly controversial thing in Jewish communities.

    • Thanks for bringing up the possibility of protective renaming. Richard Bauckham and others have written about protective anonymity in the gospels. A comprehensive study of protective anonymity and other protective silences in Acts and Paul’s letters is overdue, I think. In particular, there was sensitivity around Paul’s collections for Judea: Acts is silent about all the collections except for the one to relieve famine, and Paul conspicuously fails to name his collection helpers (2 Cor 8:18-22; 12:18). These things are hard to prove, but we cannot assume, as some do, that Luke did not know about the collection(s). The hosts and benefactors of churches were in danger (consider Jason and Sosthenes, and my reading of Phil 4:2-3), so I suppose it is possible that their new names had a protective function.

      There does seem to have been a lot of interest in the meanings of the names of prophets, so it is worthwhile to speculate on the name “Agabus”. I have speculated that he was given the name, which means “locust”, because he predicted the famine. More work needs to be done on the names of prophets before we can discern whether there was a pattern of renaming of prophets. Elymas seems to have taken the name Bar-Jesus to claim that he was a successor of Jesus, and it may be possible to reconcile Acts with Josephus if one Theudas (meaning gift of God?) took his name from the other.

      Acts seems quite comfortable giving prominent roles to women, and this is one reason to date it earlier than the disputed Paulines.

      • A minor point – not sure one can lump together a group called ‘the disputed Paulines’. (a) Any Pauline can be ‘disputed’ – I hereby dispute Romans (purely for the sake of illustration). (b) The idea is that the characteristic ‘some genuine doubt over authorship can be felt – whether or not that doubt is sufficient to tip the balance’ is effectively one and the same with the characteristic ‘dating late’ – but not only are these not the same, they are not even similar. (c) To be disputed means that the balance may tip either way, not that it tips the way of scepticism. (d) Paulines are classed as ‘questionable’ even in cases where more scholars tend to authenticity than to inauthenticity (vide Paul Foster’s BNTC survey) – which is an unwarranted bias towards scepticism. See (a) – even if less than 1% dispute something, it is still ‘disputed’; but if the majority fails to dispute it then why on earth should the minority rather than the majority be favoured in determining the way it is classified? Illogical.

  5. If Lucius is Loukas, Loukas would be a relative of Paul which helps explain his ever-presence in different cities from a very early age and perhaps his ability/authorisation to write in Paul’s name. One relative he could be is the son of Paul’s sister in Acts 23.16 – is it coincidence that this is an incomparably detailed and first-hand section of Acts?

    Not sure I believe any of that – but it is well worth airing. Does one call one’s nephew a beloved physician? The presence of Loukas in Col/Phm ties in well with his faithful ever-presence during this part of Paul’s life. So is Loukas really Lucius? Or is this more Eisenman/Tabor style improbable excitement at the fact that two people bear much the same common name?

    If anyone read Diggle’s Euripides, then Diggle would sometimes offer alternative possible new versions of words in the text which he did not himself in the end endorse but considered worthy of consideration as possibilities. To cite something as a possibility worth consideration (and most possibilities are not that) is a good thing to do, since everybody needs to make their decision based on the fullest range of genuine options.

    In addition, I am sure Richard would endorse the idea that if Romans is written from Corinth, the likelihoods can be gauged from close comparative study of 2 Cor and Rom, written only one year apart.

  6. συγγενής in Rom 16 probably just means “compatriot” rather than family member. It likely indicates only that the people in question were Jews.
    The identification of Lucius as the author of Acts does not rest mainly on the fact that the name was another form of “Luke”. In Rom 16:21-23 Lucius is the second most prominent of Paul’s co-workers, so he is almost certainly mentioned in Acts 16-20, unless he is the author. I have a forthcoming article in CBQ, which illustrates the importance of name order.

  7. Richard, thanks, that was really interesting.

    I was wondering about the name changes in the earlier part of Acts. If it’s correct that Luke joined Paul’s team just before they entered Macedonia where the first person plural begins, why would Luke bother to mention name changes which happened in the earlier chapters if he was relying on second-hand accounts to put together the first 15 chapters? Why would Theophilus need to know this name-change information if the new names were the ones in common use by then?

    • Peter, if I may rephrase your question: Why did Luke sometimes explicitly mention cases of double names and sometimes not? It is hard to know, but some points can be made.

      New names did not tend to replace birth names completely. For example, “Bar Kokhba” was a new name (given to him by Rabbi Akiva), but he signed his name “Simon”. Consider also James’s reference to Peter/Cephas as “Simeon” (Acts 15:14). Often it is clear how context dictated which name would be used, but not always. Paul used the birth names for Sosthenes and Stephanas (Crispus and Gaius) at 1 Cor 1:14.

      Double names could help to distinguish individuals. By referring to him as “John also known as Mark”, Luke distinguished him from other Johns and other Marks.

      Luke does not always go to the trouble of giving multiple names. He does not say that Silas was Silvanus or that Timothy was Titus or that Peter was Cephas. Nor, for example, does he give praenomina or nomina of Paul or Silvanus (though they almost certainly had them since they were Roman citizens).

      Acts mentions that the apostles had given a Joseph the name “Barnabas”, and I think this honours Barnabas for his generosity.

      At Acts 9:36 Luke refers to the generosity of Tabitha, and, when he translates her name, I think he presupposes knowledge of the habit of giving new names to benefactors. The fact that he gives the meaning of her name implies that she was new name worthy. He does not say whether she had receive the name “Tabitha” as a new name or whether it was a birth name that was considered so fitting that she did not need a new name.

      On the rather separate question of when Luke joined the group, I think it is very unlikely that he joined them in Troas. Ancient writers such as Josephus could refer to themselves in the third person so the absence of the first person prior to Acts 16:10 does not indicate that the author was not part of the team before then. Paul does not seem to have preached in Asia and tradition connects Luke with Antioch, not with Troas. Also, it seems to me that Luke was one of those who interpreted the three pieces of divine guidance in 16:10, and I doubt the he would have done so if he had not been present when they had been received. Luke switches to first person language when he begins sea voyages. In every case he was likely with Paul on land for some time before then.

  8. I have had an interesting conversation with Richard Bauckham about this, and he makes a number of observations which will be worth engaging with:

    a. If Paul does use alternative names for people, that is not really evidence for Paul himself renaming them.

    Actually no one in the NT gives anyone a new personal name, which is what Richard appears to be claiming. Peter and Barnabas are nicknames, which are added to the personal name. Nicknames were very commonly used in 1st century Jewish Palestine because the popular personal names (Joseph, Simon etc) were extremely common. A nickname is added to the personal name and can be used either with it or in place of it: Simon Peter, Joseph Barnabas. But a personal name (Simon, Joseph, Mary etc) would never be used as a nickname. You never find Simon Joseph or Matthew Nathanael.

    b. Richard’s argument appears to lump several different phenomena together. One is Jewish use of nicknames. Another is the Palestinian Jewish practice of having both a Semitic name and a Hebrew Aramaic name. This is a case, not of adding a nickname to the personal name, but of having two alternative names in different languages, often for use in different cultural contexts. So we have, e.g., Joseph Barsabbas, also called Justus. Barsabbas is his Aramaic nickname. Joseph and Justus are his alternative language names: Joseph Aramaic, Justus Latin.

    c. It was a quite common to choose a Greek or Latin name that sounded rather like the Semitic name. Simon (Greek)/Simeon (Hebrew) is the most common case, since the two names happen to be almost identical in pronunciation. Both are used for Simon Peter. The case of Joanna/Junia (if I’m right) is such a case. Junia is Joanna’s Latin sound-equivalent of Joanna.

    Fellows may be right that Chuza and Andronicus are the same person (I suggested it myself). But if so this is a case of alternative names in two languages: Chuza Semitic (in this case actually Nabataean) and Andronicus Greek. This is a Palestinian Jewish naming practice that supplies no particular precedent for the cases of Greek and Latin names that are being proposed.

    • Hi Richard. Thanks for your comments. I agree with most of what you say. I agree that double names could be taken for cultural/linguistic reasons and that this is different from the phenomenon of name giving for religious reasons. I don’t think I have confused these phenomena anywhere.

      I also agree that when a new name was taken in adult life the new name sometimes sounded similar to the person’s birth name. Simon Bar Kosevah was given the name Bar Kokhba (son of the star) by Rabbi Akiva, and his critics later named him Bar Koziba (son of the lie). In this case the new names were given for religious reasons and not because they were of a different language.

      You seem to distinguish between what you call “nicknames” and “personal names”, but nicknames ARE personal names (they are names of persons). Actually, I avoid using the term “nicknames” when discussing name-giving in the early church because it imports modern assumptions that may not apply. Incidentally, we cannot assume that the name-giving practices of Jesus were representative of those in the wider society in first century Palestine. They could have been modeled more on the cases of renaming in the scriptures, as some have argued.

      I also agree with you that in first century Palestine new names were likely often given to distinguish a person from others of the same name. However, there was more to it than that in the case of name giving in the early church. On Peter, James and John see Williams “From Shimon to Petros” in “Peter in Early Christianity” 39. Hegessipus wrote that James, brother of Jesus, was named “the just” as well as “Oblias” or “Obdias”. If new names were given only to distinguish people from others of the same name, they would have given him a new name only once. Furthermore, Ignatius took the name “Theophorus”, even though the name “Ignatius” was rare enough. It is true that Simon, James, John, and Joseph were common names, but that tells us little because most people in first century Palestine had common names. Having a common name was clearly not a prerequisite to receiving a new name, though it may have played a role in some cases.

      It takes us further from the subject of my paper, which concerns the Aegean region, but I would be interested in your further thoughts on Joseph Justus Barsabbas. Was his father called Sabbas? Alternatively, should we read it as a new name given to him for his observance of the Sabbath: “son of the Sabbath”. If so, are “Barsabbas” and “Justus” loose translations of each other (compare Cephas and Peter)? Would Greek-speakers have had enough Latin to understand “Justus”?

      We have seven people in the NT with a Semitic-Latin double name: Saul-Paul, Silas-Silvanus, John-Mark, Simeon-Niger, Joanna-Junia, Joseph-Justus, and Jesus-Justus. So why do we not have any certain Semitic-Greek double names, except when the second name had to be Greek to convey its meaning (Cephas-Peter and Thomas-Didymus)? Have I overlooked any cases? Why the imbalance, when Greek names were so much more popular than Latin names in Palestine? This demands an explanation, doesn’t it? My view is that we tend to know about the double-named people because they were evangelists in gentile lands, and that it was too dangerous to evangelize there without the legal protection of Roman citizenship. This would explain why all the evangelists in the Diaspora had either a Latin name or a new meaningful name, behind which a Latin name may be hiding (e.g. Titus-Timothy). I’m open to other suggestions. (In any case, if the name Andronicus was not chosen for its meaning and given in adult life, then the Semitic-Greek name combination, Chuza-Andronicus, would be unusual in the NT. The suspicion that he is hiding a Latin name is enhanced by the fact that his wife had one.)

      • Hi Richard

        The distinction between what I call “personal names” and “nicknames” is vital. Personal names are the names parents used as birth names. Nicknames are acquired later, even if in early family life. The names used for birth names were not used as nicknames. So no-one called Judas is nicknamed Ishmael. No one called Samuel is nicknamed Hillel. Genuine patronymics are not exactly nicknames because they could be used from birth, but they always take the form Bar X, Ben X, Bat X. There are also pseudo-patronymics which are really nicknames, e.g. probably Barsabbas, “son of the Sabbath,” because he was born on the Sabbath. In addition to what I call nicknames, there are also alternative names in another language: Palestinian Jews with a Semitic name and a Greek name or a Latin name. “Joseph Barsabbas called Justus”: Joseph is his personal name, Barsabbas his nickname, Justus his alternative Latin name.

        What I see no evidence for is the use of a “personal name” as a “nickname”. The same set of names used to name people by parents at birth were not used as nicknames. Where someone has two personal names, they are always the alternative language names. Jesus’s nicknames follow this practice: Cephas and Boanerges were not personal names. So Jesus renaming Levi Matthew (both very common, ordinary Palestinian Jewish names) makes no sense to me. Jesus would have come up with something more inventive for a nickname than Matthew.

        Do we know anyone in NT with a Semitic name and a Greek name. Well, everyone called Simon is case of this. It’s a major reason why Simon was so popular. Simeon and Simon sound almost the same, but people knew there were different. In the Aramaic inscription on the ossuary of Simon “the builder of the sanctuary” he is called Simon transliterated into Hebrew letters, not Simeon, no doubt because the Greek form was the one generally used for him. Simon Peter is usually Simon in NT but twice Simeon.

        Not a certain case, but I would argue for Thaddaeus/Judas son of James.

        I guess we have few examples because, at least in one circle of people, someone would be known by only one of their names. So Andrew and Philip doubtless had Semitic names, but they were never used. It’s like: we only know Bartholomew by his patronymic because that’s how he was known in the circle of Jesus’s disciples.

        I agree that the Semitic/Latin examples are because they travelled in the diaspora and used their Latin names there. Those who were male Roman citizens, of course, always had the three Latin names of the Roman tria nomina. Paul always had the name Paul (and two others we don’t know) but used Saul in Palestine, Paul in the diaspora. I don’t see any reason to think this had anything to do with danger. It’s just a cultural thing.

        So my basic point: we very little evidence of people being given a new name by Jesus or early Christians, and those we have are nicknames (Cephas, Boanerges, Barnabas, “Oblias”), not personal names. Even these are cases of people with very common names who needed a nickname or a patronymic anyway. Jesus in effect replaced “bar Jonah” with “Cephas.” They fit within general Palestinian Jewish practice. I cannot see that you can get from there to someone with a Semitic personal name being given another such, or someone with a Greek personal name being given another such.

        I don’t claim that nicknames were given to people only to distinguish them from others. The nickname was always appropriate for some reason. Simon bar Koseva. This could be a genuine patronymic (but the name is otherwise unknown) or nickname (meaning unknown, as with many nicknames). He needed “bar Koseva” because Simon was the commonest of all names. His followers, by a play on words, gave him the nickname “son the star.” This was a religious-political renaming but it doesn’t use a personal name. They didn’t call him David or Menahem, i.e. a messianic personal name.

        • Hi Richard. I failed to attach my last comment to your thread, but I hope you saw it anyway.

          I have revisited Ilan’s volume 1, and agree with you that, when a Jew in Ancient Palestine had two names in the same language, at least one of the names was usually rare. So, Levi-Matthew does not follow normal naming conventions. It seems to me that Levi, a hated tax collector, needed a new identity for his own protection, so he took the alias, “Matthew”. It was a very common patriotic name so it allowed him to avoid suspicion. Mark mentions both “Levi” and “Matthew” but does not connect them, perhaps to protect Matthew, or to avoid revealing that early Christians used aliases. The author of Matthew’s gospel knew more about Matthew (perhaps from Matthew himself) than he read in Mark’s gospel. He knew that Matthew had been a tax collector, and he knew that Matthew was the man in the tax booth whom Jesus called. So the author of Matthew’s gospel replaced Mark’s “Levi” (Mark 2:4) with “Matthew” (Matt 9:9). Mark’s version then tells of an episode in Levi’s house by using the phrase “his house”. The author of Matthew’s gospel, perhaps wanting to avoid contradicting Mark more than he had to, omitted the word “his”. All this, of course, is heavily indebted to your “Jesus and the eyewitnesses”, but with a different twist.

          Those who funded the Jesus movement and those who hosted the churches and those who were leaders of the movement (often the same people) did so at great personal risk. Simon-Peter was imprisoned (Acts 12:3), James-Boanerges was killed (Acts 12:2), Jason (-Aristarchus) was attacked and forced to give bail (Acts 17:5-9), (Crispus-) Sosthenes was beaten (Acts 18:17), Joseph-Barnabas was persecuted with Paul (Acts 13:44-14:6). How could the movement recognize such people for their dangerous work, without endangering them by drawing unwanted attention from opponents? They gave them new names, perhaps in conformity to OT precedents (Abraham etc.), but those new names had to be of a form that would look innocuous to outsiders. As you point out, in Palestine people often took new names that were rare, so the new names “Cephas”, “Boanerges” and “Barnabas” would not have alerted outsiders.

          Mary Magdalene funded the movement (Luke 8:1-3). She was the most important of the three women mentioned because she is named first. Name order mattered (see my forthcoming CBQ article). You argue that the epithet “Magdalene” was seen by outsiders as merely a reference to her town of origin. To insiders, however, it recognized her as a tower (Magdala), which was a metaphor of protective strength and a close parallel to “Peter”, as interpreted by Jesus (Matt 16:18). It seems unlikely that she was actually from a place called Magdala because the name would then have risked revealing the movement’s source of funding to opponents. In any case, the meaning that the insiders attributed to the epithet was not for outsiders to know.

          My paper argues that Paul followed the tradition by giving new names to the hosts and funders of his churches. Would we expect him to do so in the style of first century Palestine by choosing rare names that were not generally used as birth names? Such names would have raised suspicion in the Aegean provinces. If two Christians in Thessalonica had said “Let’s meet tonight at the house of ‘City of Refuge'”, it would have sounded suspicious to anyone overhearing it. If, however, they had said “Let’s meet tonight at the house of Aristarchus”, no eyebrows would have been raised, and Jason would have been protected from another attack on his house. So, yes, the new names had to sound innocuous to outsiders, but convey the intended meanings to insiders. In Paul’s churches this required that the new names were ordinary names that others could have from birth. All this supports the point that John made in an earlier comment.

          It also explains why Luke does not explicitly equate Crispus with Sosthenes etc.. Luke did not want to reveal, to outsiders, that the Christians used aliases (Theophilus is one such), and Luke’s intended audience already knew the identities of these people.

          Thanks for getting me thinking about this stuff.

          • You seem to me to be finding very complicated explanations of matters that are easily understood according to normal name use (Simon Cephas, Mary of Magdala etc). Ah, you say, it looks like normal name use, but that’s because it was meant to do so. It shows they were using a very clever device. That sounds to me like conspiracy theory logic.

          • You seem here to be attacking points that I am not actually making. My view of the naming of Cephas is virtually the same as yours. And I’m certainly not making the circular argument concerning Mary Magdalene that you suppose.

            It is not only the coincidence of the possible meaning of the epithet “Magdalene” that you have to carry. There is also the coincidence of the head rhyme of Mariam and Magdalene. It is a judgement call, of course, and much depends on whether we see evidence of widespread name giving to early Christian benefactors, and to assess that we need to move the discussion to the Aegean.

          • If Matthew was Levi, (son) of Alphaeus, then he was almost certainly a close relative (brother?) of James of Alphaeus (for Alphaeus was not a common name). This identity of Matthew is confirmed by the fact that Matthew and James of Alphaeus appear next to each other in two of the lists of the twelve.

            Mark 3:16-19 Simon Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas.
            Matt 10:2-4 Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas.
            Luke 6:14-16 Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James of Alphaeus, Simon, Judas of James, Judas.
            Acts 1:13 Simon Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James of Alphaeus, Simon, Judas of James, Judas.

            Mark does not put Matthew and James of Alphaeus together, but he lists the disciples in strict order of rank, with James and John separating Peter from his brother, Andrew. Luke’s gospel copies Mark in listing Matthew, Thomas and James of Alphaeus in that order. Acts and Matthew’s gospel independently (?) both over-rule Mark by placing James of Alphaeus next to Matthew, showing that there was a tradition that these two men belonged together. In the same way, Matthew’s gospel and Luke both over-rule Mark to put Andrew next to his brother, Peter.

            It seems unlikely to me that both writers merely wanted to promote Thomas. Matthew’s gospel moves Thomas by only one spot, and if the author was so particular about exact ranking, he would not have moved Andrew ahead of James and John.

            So, while Bauckham is wrong to split Levi-Matthew into two people, he is right that “Matthew” was not a “nickname”. It was Levi’s alias, used for protective purposes. Whereas the names “Cephas/Peter” and “Boanerges” honored their recipients, the name “Matthew” did not do so, for he ranks quite low in all our lists of disciples.

            But the Levi-Matthew question is very peripheral to the subject of my paper. I again encourage Bauckham to engage with the arguments in it and to offer an explanation for the beating of Sosthenes.

  9. Thanks for the clarifying what you mean by “personal names”. I don’t see why Paul in the Aegean would have had to follow the style of “nickname” giving that had evolved in Palestine but I’ll try to address your point in a future comment.

    You mention Simeon-Simon as a possible example of a Semitic-Greek double name where the Greek name was chosen for use in the Greek-speaking world. However, we have no evidence that any Simon in the NT chose to be called Simon in the Greek-speaking world (or at all). In the context of his trip to Antioch (Gal 2:11-14) and his travels in general (1 Cor 9:5) Simon Peter is called “Cephas”. The gospel writers know him primarily as Peter. Tal Ilan argues that Simon and Simeon were considered the same name. Josephus names 27 Simons and just two Simeons. The NT has 9 Simons and 5 Simeons. All the other sources contain no more than 50 Simons and about 160 Simeons. Why the different ratios? Your own work in “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” rightly says that ratios should line up. I suggest, with Ilan, that the two names were largely interchangeable and it was Josephus’ preference to call most of them Simon. The two Simeons in Josephus are revealing. One of them, perhaps appropriately, is the great grandfather of Judas Maccabaeus, but he is called Simon in Macc 2:3, according to Ilan. The other is called Simon elsewhere in Josephus. The 5 NT Simeons are also revealing. We have:
    1. The prophet Simeon (Luke 2:25, 34)
    2. Simeon the ancestor of Jesus (Luke 3:30)
    3. Simeon Niger, probably another prophet (Acts 13:1)
    4. Simeon, the head of the tribe (Rev 7:7)
    5. Simeon Peter when he spoke with prophetic authority (Acts 15:14) (2Peter 1:1)
    The Simons are:
    1. Simon Peter
    2. Simon the Cananaean (Matt 10:4)
    3. Simon, brother of Jesus (Matt 13:5)
    4. Simon the Leper (Matt 26:6)
    5. Simon of Cyrene (Matt 27:32)
    6. Simon the Pharasee (Luke 7:40)
    7. Simon father of Judas Iscariot (John 6:71)
    8. Simon Magus (Acts 8:9)
    9. Simon the tanner (Acts 9:43)
    It seems to me that the NT affords the name-form “Simeon” to those in the scriptures and the like, and to those who spoke with prophetic authority, and it is interesting that Luke denies the name-form to Simon Magus. None of the Simons appear in the context of gentile territory, but Simeon Niger does.
    So I don’t think we have any evidence that Simeon Peter or any of the others chose to be called Simon when moving in Greek circles. People like Josephus and Luke would generally have referred to thim as Simon instead of Simeon whether they liked it or not (like Davids get called Dave).

    How did Simeon Niger come to have his Latin name? If this Simeon needed a name that worked well among gentiles, the name-form “Simon” would have worked fine, so why did he have the name “Niger”? It was surely because he was a Roman citizen, as AE Judge also claimed.

    On the lack of Semitic-Greek double names, you write, “I guess we have few examples because, at least in one circle of people, someone would be known by only one of their names. So Andrew and Philip doubtless had Semitic names, but they were never used.” This will not do. The statistics are the statistics, and you can’t appeal to data that you do not have. The NT has 7 cases of Semitic-Latin double names. If these second names were chosen so that the person could move freely in the Diaspora, why are none of them Greek? Greek names would work just as well for that purpose, wouldn’t they? Yet we have virtually no evidence of any NT character choosing a Greek name for use in the Diaspora. How do you explain this? My suggestion is that the legal protection of Roman citizenship was necessary for evangelism in the Diaspora, so the missionaries were selected from the few who (like Paul) already had citizenship, or perhaps some of them gained citizenship so that they could become missionaries. They did not choose their Latin names so that they could use them in the Diaspora (Greek names would have worked just as well for that). They had Latin names because they had Roman citizenship and, since they had them already, they used them in the Diaspora for the cultural reason that you mention. Does that make sense?

  10. I haven’t suggested that Paul in the Aegean gave nicknames. I don’t accept your theory that Paul gave anyone new names. I just don’t see the hard evidence for it. You have no single text attesting that that was Paul’s practice.

    • I know that you don’t.

      If Paul did indeed give aliases to the leaders of his churches, what evidence would you expect to see?

      Acts 18:17 is an example of a text that attests to the practice. How do you understand this verse? Was Sosthenes a Christian when he was beaten? Was he a Christian later? How did Luke expect his intended audience to understand the beating?


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