- A topic that is somewhat related to the most recent discussions on this list is the
subject of nicknames. In various places in the New Testament (and outside it), disciples
of Jesus are often called something other than their given names. A preliminary survey
turns up the following examples:
- Simon was called "Rock" (Peter) by Jesus [Mark 3:16]
- James and John were called "Sons of Thunder" (Boanerges) by Jesus [Mark 3:17]
- Joseph was called "Son of Encouragement" (Barnabas) by the apostles [Acts 4:36]
- Judas was called "the Twin" (Thomas or Didymos) [John 11:16; see also the beginning
of "The Book of Thomas the Contender" from the Nag Hammadi Library
where Jesus addresses "Judas Thomas" in the following manner:
"Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion..."]
- Simon was called "the Zealot" [Luke 6:15]
- Mary was called "the Magdalene" [Luke 8:2]
- James was known as "the Righteous" or "the Just" [Gos. Thom. #12]
- Saul was called Paul [Acts 13:9]
- Simeon was called Niger [Acts 13:1]
- Judas was called Iscariot [Luke 22:3; note, however, John 6:71 -
"Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot"]
- a different Judas was called "Son of the Father" or Barsabbas [Acts 15:22]
- a different Jesus was called Justus [Colossians 4:11]
- it is also believed that Matthew's original name was Levi, although this is
an inference drawn from statements in different passages and is not directly
It is apparent that many of the disciples had nicknames which were sometimes
bestowed by Jesus himself, sometimes by the apostles, and, in the vast majority
of the cases, by persons unknown (or, at least, unrecorded).
We should also note, in this regard, that Jesus himself had nicknames; the
most famous one being, of course, Christ [Matt. 1:16; 16:16; 27:17; 27:22],
but he had others, including Nazarene [Matt. 2:23] and the Living or Living One
[Rev. 1:18; Gos. Thom. incipit]
The question that arises from these simple observations is this:
Are the nicknames nothing more than attempts to specify persons who had
common names? If this is the case, then they are merely descriptive tags that
have nothing to do with the fact that these people were disciples of Jesus. Or
was there some process by which the disciple of Jesus was given a new name?
There is evidence that could be produced to support both positions.
On the one hand, it would be normal and almost necessary to add descriptive tags
to differentiate people with common names. Which Mary was it? It was the Mary from
Magdala or Mary "the Magdalene." Further evidence in this direction is the fact that
not all disciples had nicknames (at least, not that we know of).
On the other hand, we have at least two occasions where Jesus explicity bestows
the new name (Rock, Sons of Thunder) and one where the apostles do (Son of
Encouragement). Aside from this, there are two suggestive passages in the Book
Rev. 2:17 - "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him
a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."
Rev 3:12 - "Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never
again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city
of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God;
and I will also write on him my new name."
However, these two passages may, in turn, simply go back to the following
passage in Isaiah:
Isaiah 62:2 - "The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you
will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow."
So I suppose the evidence, such as it is, is inconclusive. In the case of Judas who
was called Twin, it could have been meant literally (i.e., he was someone's physical
twin, either Jesus' or someone else's) or it could have been meant symbolically (that
he was the spiritual "twin and true companion" of Jesus).
Before leaving this subject altogether, there are a couple of related points of interest.
The first point is that there are some similar cases of new names being bestowed
in the Old Testament:
- Abram is given the new name Abraham by God [Gen. 17:5] and, likewise, God
gives his wife Sarai the new name Sarah [Gen. 17:15]
- Daniel was called Belteshazzar by the king [Daniel 5:12]
The second point is a rather unusual example of someone who is called something
else in the Book of Revelation. Specifically, in Rev. 19:11-16, the rider of the white
horse, whose name is the Word of God and on whose robe and thigh are written the
name "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" is called "Faithful and True." This particular
passage has been the subject of considerable debate. Some have argued that the true
identity of the rider of the white horse is Christ while others have argued that, instead,
it is the antichrist. The arguments on each side make for interesting reading though,
of course, they are unrelated to a discussion of the Gospel of Thomas.
- Kevin Johnson
More new features than ever. Check out the new AOL Mail ! - http://webmail.aol.com
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Hi Kevin-
You mentioned ...
> - a ... Judas was called "Son of the Father" or Barsabbas [Acts 15:22]I think you might have this name mixed up with 'Barabbas', which could,
I suppose, be taken to mean 'son of the father', but 'Barsabbas' means
'son of [the] Sabbath' according to NIV (bar-sabbas vs bar-abbas). There's
also a Joseph Barsabbas mentioned in Acts (1:23) - the guy who lost
out to Matthias as the replacement apostle (NIV thinks they might have
As to the controversial character named 'Barabbas', NIV interprets that
to be a patronymic - 'son of Abbas'. Which brings up interesting (to me)
questions about nicknames versus patronymics, as well as between two
types of patronymics, which might be called 'one-time' and 'serial'.
(What I would call 'serial patronymics' are those typified in English by
generations upon generations using the same last name, e.g. "Jack's son".)
As to nicknames, it seems safe to say that if the Greek has 'x called y',
then 'y' must be a nickname. But that test is probably not sufficient.
I suspect that bandits in those days may not have been too unlike
bandits in other days, insofar as some of them may have adopted
nicknames to use in place of (not in addition to) their natural names
(perhaps to disguise family affiliation, and/or to impress others).
Thus, 'Barabbas' may have been a nickname adopted by the bandit,
contra NIV. In which case, it could mean 'son of the Father'. (If, on
the other hand, Barabbas was only a fictional character, it's difficult
for me to see why a writer would have chosen that name for that
character - unless, that is, there was a real and well-known bandit
who called himself "Barabbas", and whose name was borrowed
by the writer for a fictional character.)
As to clear patronymics, we seem to have at least two in
'Bartholomew' and 'Bartimaeus' (the blind beggar, 'son of Timaeus').
The evidence seems to indicate that biblical patronymics were of
the one-time variety, i.e., that the father named was the immediate
father - as opposed to our modern day "serial patronymics", where
the father named is removed far beyond recollection.
Such are my mullings, for what they're worth.