LETTER FROM A MINISTER
What's in a name?
Do you know anyone named Agnes? Baby names have fashions and
Agnes was the third most popular girls name for 400 years before virtually
disappearing, but now there is a comeback.
These trends can be historically tracked and in New Testament
times we know which Jewish names were most popular in Israel, Egypt
and Rome. They were different in each centre and changed over time then
as now. We are indebted to the almost insanely detailed Academic work,
“Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I” (2003). Inadvertently
this work shows that the New Testament authors get two things incredibly
The frequency of popular names is accurate and the most common
names have descriptors added to differentiate the individuals as the
research demonstrates. So the various Simons are distinguished by the
following markers:- Cephas, the Zealot, of Cyrene, the Tanner and the
Leper. Whereas uncommon names like Thomas which do not need
additional information, do not receive such. All this is part of the science
of textual criticism that goes all the way back to the likes of Erasmus and
his dictum “Back to the sources”. So we find ourselves living in a more
cynical age but able to verify in numerous ways the authenticity of the
Gospel accounts as eye witness sourced. It would be impossible to get the
level of subtle detail correct if written at distance physically or in time.
Indeed later gospels never accepted by the church fail these tests
For a fascinating lecture on such I commend any of the works of
Amy Orr-Ewing and in particular her talk “can I trust the bible” (which is
available online). You may find in the process that you are challenged or
encouraged to read again the Gospel accounts. I love the thought that
when I read these narratives I have the privilege of looking through the
eyes of those who saw them unfold in front of them.
Minister Newport Pagnell Baptist Church