Names in the Synoptic Gospels


dr Mikolaj Martinjak

professor, Faculty of philosophy and religious Studies

May 18, 2023, 7:12 p.m.


Names are essential. They help us identify and distinguish people, places, and things. We can also learn about the values, traditions, and beliefs of the people who use them. In ancient times, names were often chosen based on their meaning or significance. For example, in the Hebrew Bible, Jacob was renamed 'Israel' by God after wrestling with an angel.  This new name symbolized Jacob's new identity as the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the New Testament, names are often chosen based on their connection to biblical figures or events. For example, Jesus was named after the Hebrew prophet Joshua, whose name means "Yahweh saves."  

Names can also profoundly impact a person's self-identity and sense of belonging. For many individuals, their name is a fundamental part of their identity. It can shape their self-perception and how others perceive them. In Christianity, parents give their child a name, and the child is then baptized in that name in front of the whole church. These names are usually chosen from the names of saints and martyrs.

The Synoptic Gospels, which include Matthew, Mark, and Luke, place great importance on names. These names serve multiple purposes, ranging from identifying characters in the story to reflecting deeper religious and cultural themes. One of the primary ways in which names are used in the Synoptic Gospels is to identify characters in the stories. This creates a sense of familiarity and continuity for the reader, allowing them to follow the narrative more easily. It also provides an insight into the social status of a particular name. The names of characters often reflect whether they are considered good or evil. Few, if any, Christian parents would name their child Pilate, Herod, Barabbas, or Judas.

Names are powerful things. They can identify us, shape our identity, and reflect our values. In the Bible, names are often used to convey more profound meaning and significance.

Analyzing names in biblical texts could help uncover interesting connections between individuals, including those who may initially have been considered less important. For example, the following graph reveals the interconnections among biblical characters based on how often they co-occur in the Gospel of Mark verses.