Friday, 29 May 2015

The Aramaic Patronymic Bar-

     A patronymic is an identifying designation derived from the name of one's father or other male ancestor (e.g. Johnson = son of John). Corresponding to the Hebrew בֵּן (ben), the Aramaic בַּר (bar) is a patronymic prefix meaning “son of” (cf. Ezra 5:1, 2; 6:14; Dan. 3:25; 5:22; 7:13).1 With reference to one’s paternity or other distinctive features, this prefix helped to differentiate among those who bore the same name in ancient Aramaic-speaking communities. For example, the name “Jesus” is the English transliteration of the Greek Iēsous, which is equivalent to the Hebrew Yehoshuah and its abbreviated form Yeshua (“Joshua”). Seeing that this was a fairly common name among first-century Palestinian Jews,2 our Lord would have been known in his home community as bar Yosef or “son of Joseph” (cf. Luke 4:22; John 6:42).

Bar- as a Family Surname

     Bartholomew is listed among the 12 apostles in Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; and Luke 6:14 but is unnamed in John. While Bartholomew is paired with Philip in the Synoptic Gospels, John mentions Philip in association with Nathanael (1:43-49). Even though Nathanael is identified in the company of the apostles (John 21:2) and among the eyewitnesses of the risen Lord (John 21:3-14), he is unnamed in the Synoptics. Since the name Bartholomew is actually an Aramaic patronymic (bar Tôlmai = “son of Tolmai”) and would have normally been added to a given name, it stands to reason that the apostle known as Bartholomew was actually Nathanael bar Tolmai.3

     Two of the Lord’s original apostles shared the personal name Simon (Matt. 10:2, 4). To distinguish between them, Jesus not only gave one the nickname “Cephas” (Aramaic) or “Peter” (Greek) (Mark 3:16; John 1:42), he also used the patronymic bar Iōna (bar Jonah) in Matt. 16:17, meaning “son of Jonah.”4 The same designation would have also applied to Simon’s brother Andrew.

     Near the end of his earthly ministry the Lord encountered a blind beggar outside of Jericho called Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46), an appellation meaning “son of Timaeus.” We don’t know what this man’s given name was, as he was apparently more commonly known among the residents of Jericho (and/or Mark’s readers) in relation to his father’s name.

Bar- as an Ironic Play on Words

     Barabbas was the notorious criminal whose death sentence was repealed as the Lord Jesus took his place at Golgatha (Matt. 27:16-26; Mark 15:7-15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). The name Barabbas is the Graecized form of the Aramaic bar abbâ, which is a combination of bar (“son of”) and abbâ (“father”), meaning “son of [the] father.” The irony is that Jesus was the legitimate Son of the heavenly Father (John 8:16-29), treated and executed as a criminal, whereas the infamous Barabbas was set free though he manifested a very different spiritual paternity (cf. John 8:44).5

     Bar-Jesus is the patronymic surname of Elymas, a Jewish false prophet and sorcerer mentioned in Acts 13:6-8. He opposed the preaching of Barnabas and Paul in Paphos on the island of Cyprus. As noted above, the Greek Iēsous (“Jesus”) is equivalent to the Hebrew Yeshua (“Joshua”) and was a common name among the Jews at the time, apparently worn by Elymas’ father. For Paul, however, this name had special significance,6 and instead of using it in reference to this deceitful antagonist, the apostle seems to make a play on words by addressing the sorcerer as “son of the devil” (v. 10).

Bar- as a Nickname with Special Meaning

     Barnabas is the nickname given by the apostles to Joseph (or Joses), a Levite-Jewish convert from Cyprus (Acts 4:36) and cousin of John Mark (Col. 4:10). This moniker is a combination of the Aramaic bar (“son of”) and naba (to “prophesy”). Since prophesying involved communicating “edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor. 14:3), the Greek rendering of the name signified “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).7

     The designation Barsabbas is a patronymic description meaning “son of [the] sabbath,” perhaps indicative of the day of birth of the one to whom it was applied. In the Acts narrative two Christians shared this name, viz. Joseph Justus Barsabbas and Judas Barsabbas.

     Joseph Justus Barsabbas was a devoted follower of Jesus throughout the Lord’s entire earthly ministry and was an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:15-23). He was assembled with around 120 fellow-believers in Jerusalem a few days before Pentecost, and he was one of two disciples considered to replace Judas Iscariot as an apostle but not the one chosen.

    Another follower of Jesus who wore this name was Judas Barsabbas. He was a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22), a skilled writer (vv. 22-23),8 a prophet (v. 32), a teacher (vv. 27, 32), and an encourager (v. 32b). When the apostles and elders met in Jerusalem to discuss the circumcision controversy, reaching a consensus through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the decision was put into writing, and it was Judas Barsabbas and Silas who penned the document and subsequently delivered it to Gentile Christians in Syria (Acts 15:22-32).


     The name a person wears is important, functioning to describe, distinguish and identify. And there is no greater honor than to be called the children of God (1 John 3:1) by wearing the name that is above all names (Phil. 2:9).9 May we live in a manner that is worthy of the precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 This Aramaic prefix is not part of the Hebrew names Barachel (Job 32:2), Barachiah (Zech. 1:1), Barak (Judg. 4:6), Bariah (1 Chron. 3:22), Barkos (Ezra 2:53), Baruch (Neh. 3:20; 11:5; Jer. 32:12), Barzillai (2 Sam. 17:27; 21:8; Ezra 2:61), Barachias/Berechiah (Matt. 23:35), or Barhumite (2 Sam. 23:31; cf. 1 Chron. 11:33).
     2 Cf. Acts 13:6; Col. 4:11; Heb. 4:8; Josephus, War 6.5.3. This name has been found by Israeli archaeologists no less than 71 times in ancient burial caves (see Ed Pilkington and Rory McCarthy, “Is this really the last resting place of Jesus…?” The Guardian [27-02-2007], <Link>).
     3 See “Bartholomew,” <Link>.
     4 An alternative reading in John 1:42 and 21:15-17 is [huios] Iōannou (“son of John”) (cf. B. Metzger, Textual Commentary [2nd ed.] 172, 220). But remember that in Matt. 16:17 Jesus was originally speaking in Aramaic to fellow-Aramaic speakers, and Matthew was an Aramaic-speaking Jew writing to fellow-Aramaic-speaking Jews (see Matthew's Audience). In contrast, John was writing to Greek-speaking Gentiles (see John's Audience). Seeing that Aramaic expressions have been translated into Greek by these different authors in different settings for different audiences, which in turn have been copied by hand plethoric times and then translated again into English, the difference in spelling of a couple of letters is hardly significant. See “Simon Peter,” <Link>.
     5 See “Barabbas,” <Link>.
     6 See Acts 9:20, 22; 13:23, 33; 15:26; 16:18, 31; 17:3, 7, 18; 18:5; 19:4, 5, 13; 20:21, 24, 35; 21:13; 25:19; 28:23, 31; Rom. 1:1, 3, 6, 8; et al.
     7 See also Acts 9:27; 11:22-30; 12:25; 13:1-2, 7, 43, 46, 50; 14:12-20; 15:2, 12, 22, 25, 35-39; 1 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 2:1, 9, 13; 4:10.
     8 The term graphō in Acts 15:23 literally means to “write.” See “Biblical Authorship 4,” <Link>.
     9 Acts 2:38; 4:2, 10-12, 17-18; 5:28, 40, 41, 42; 8:5, 12, 35; 9:15, 27, 29; 10:43; 11:26; 26:28; 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; 3:11; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 1:20-21; Phil. 1:18; Col. 3:4; Heb. 1:1-4; Col. 3:11, 17; 1 Pet. 4:16; James 2:7.

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Image credit: Photo of a 1st-century ossuary inscribed in Aramaic “James, son of Joseph [bar Yosef], brother of Jesus,” <>.

Friday, 22 May 2015

A Tribute to My Friend Todd Walker (1962-2015)

     We’ve lost a friend. We’ve lost a brother. The passing of Todd Walker, whose battle with ALS ended on Tuesday May 19th, has left an emotional void in countless of lives along with an everlasting impression. Our hearts are hurting with Ms. Shirley, Shelia, Lauren, and Daniel.

     While Todd is remembered as an excellent song leader, several of us know where he developed that talent. If you’ve never had the privilege of worshiping with the Glendale church of Christ in Newbern, TN (Todd’s home congregation), you don’t know what really good singing is! And Todd’s gifts included more than singing. He was an outstanding student of God’s word and minister of the gospel, and heaven’s population will be significantly increased because of his short life on this earth. More than anything else, he was an exceptional Christian gentleman.

     After attending high school and college together, our lives took us in separate directions, but I’ve kept up with Todd over the years – marriage, kids, grad school, ministry, illness. I understand that his last sermon was aptly based on 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

     This may seem quite trivial in comparison, but my fondest memories of Todd center around football. We played together for Coach Ab Davis’ Dyer County Choctaws. Then at Freed-Hardeman University we were in different social clubs and played against each other in intramurals. But nothing rivals our no-pads-full-contact football games as teenagers in Todd’s front yard. Sometimes there were others who joined in, but mostly it was Todd, Tim Carter, Mike McCullough, and me.

     Our “field” was a strip of land of about 40 x 30 yards, with a driveway and a ditch as end zones and a road and a shed as sidelines. Sometimes Mr. Bobby Joe (Todd’s dad) would come out and cheer us on, and in our minds we were Lynn Swann, Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert. At the risk of sounding boastful with slight exaggeration, the UT Vols really missed out by not having a talent scout in the area when we played some of these thrilling, knock-down-drag-0ut competitions. I don’t recall any broken bones or major concussions, but we had about as much fun as teenage boys could have.

     I don’t know if we’ll be allowed to play football in heaven, but seeing that “there shall be no more pain” (Rev. 21:4), maybe the Lord will let Todd and the rest of us use our new, glorious, incorruptible bodies (1 Cor. 15:42-44) to relive some happy memories.

Thank you Todd for your life. Looking forward to the reunion.

--Kevin L. Moore

Image credit:

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Macedonians Had Names

     What comes to mind when you hear the words “New Zealand”? Kiwi birds? Rugby? The Hobbit? I immediately think of Gauntlett Lotter, Jill Anderson, Peter Gray, Jane O’Donnell, Shirley Loveridge, Mac de Thierry, and a host of other special friends. Having been involved in the Lord’s work in New Zealand the past three decades, I have been blessed by close relationships with some of the finest people I know. Starting at the Lower North Island, I’m thinking of Joan, Trish, Leigh, the Batemans, Arulandus, Raines, Toas, Phillips, Bannister clan, Robinsons, Zous, Angs, Jacobs, and so many others. Further up the highway are June, Janny, Paul, Beverly, Rodger, the Copelands, Gawes, Van der Ventels, and more. So many fond memories of the McGraths, Piersons, Andersons, and Walkers, as well as Lara, Tessa, Julie, Robbie, Lucy, Halligan twins, and Daniel. There are the O’Donnells, Kyles, Grays, Paynes, Townsends, Pakis, Pauls, Nealls, Spicers, Paikeas, and dear Ms. Betty, Gayna, and Glenys. Words like “love” and “family” just don’t seem strong enough for Michelle, Janette, Sophie, Carolyn, Nona, Ma, and their families. And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of the Pipers, Fowells, Blackmans, Jensens, Fentons, Van Kuyks, Basons, Stanfords, Banks, Whitakers, Cranstons, Cammocks, not to mention the Parrs, Cumings, Leotas, Timotis, Heathers, Hodgmans, Hansells, Woodrows, De Freres, ad infinitum.
     With a sizeable lump in my throat as I write these words, I’m trying to make a point. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only missionary who feels this way, and I’m almost certain that the apostle Paul could relate. He confesses, “what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28), and his prayer life bears resounding testimony to this (Rom. 1:9; Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3-4; 1 Thess. 1:2; 3:10). Just read the last three verses of Acts 20 or the first chapter of Philippians, and you will have some idea of the intimate connection he shared with these people. In the final chapter of Romans, after mentioning no less than 35 individuals by name, you get the impression that Paul could have easily continued to list a multitude of others had he not reached the end of the papyrus scroll.
     Throughout his letters the apostle makes numerous references to the Roman provinces of Macedonia, Achaia, Asia, and Galatia.1 I can pretty much guarantee that in every reference he is recalling the names and faces and stories of those he dearly loved in these places. When he speaks of Macedonia (1 Cor. 16:5), it is not the provincial or geographical locality that interests or concerns him, but the Macedonians themselves (2 Cor. 9:2, 4) and the churches of Macedonia in particular (2 Cor. 8:1). These congregations were comprised of individuals whom Paul knew personally and cared for deeply.
     Macedonia incorporated the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. For Paul, Philippi meant Lydia and her household, the local jailer and his family, a slave girl, Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement.2 Other Macedonian friends were Jason, Gaius, Aristarchus, Secundus, and Sopater.3 When the apostle writes of Asia, he has in mind fellow-Christians in Ephesus, including Tychicus, Trophimus, Onesiphorus’ family, and at times Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla.4 Elsewhere in the region he was mindful of Epaphras, Onesimus, Archippus, Philemon, Apphia, Nymphas, Carpus, and Eutychus.5
     Galatia was the home of Lois, Eunice, Timothy, Gaius of Derbe, and Crescens.6 Achaia is where Paul had developed a close bond with Crispus and Stephanas and their respective households, Sosthenes, hospitable Gaius, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Erastus, Quartus, Dionysius, Damaris, and servant-minded Phoebe.7 And there were many other places and many other persons firmly embedded in the apostle’s heart, though not enough ink and papyrus and time to record them all. 
     Reading the New Testament through the eyes of a missionary makes a big difference. Potentially boring geographical details take on new life and meaning as one recognizes the precious souls these places represent. Providing everlasting significance to our sometimes underappreciated maps and geography studies is the simple reminder that the Macedonians had names.8 “For God so loved the world …” 
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Macedonia (Rom. 15:26; 1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 1:16; 2:13; 7:5; 8:1; 9:2, 4; 11:9; Phil. 4:15; 1 Thess. 1:7, 8; 4:10; 1 Tim. 1:3; cf. Acts 16:10; 19:21; 20:1, 3); Achaia (Rom. 15:26; 16:5 [KJV]; 1 Cor. 16:15; 2 Cor. 1:1; 9:2; 11:10; 1 Thess. 1:7, 8; cf. Acts 18:12, 27; 19:21); Asia (Rom. 16:5 [ESV]; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Cor. 1:8; cf. Acts 19:10, 22, 26; 20:4, 16, 18); Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1; Gal. 1:2; 2 Tim. 4:10; cf. Acts 16:6; 18:23). We could also add Cilicia and Syria (Gal. 1:21; cf. Acts 15:41; 18:18; 21:3, 39; 22:3; 23:34), Judea (Rom. 15:31; 2 Cor. 1:16; Gal. 1:22; 1 Thess. 2:14; cf. Acts 26:20), and even Rome (Rom. 1:7; cf. Acts 19:21; 28:16; 2 Tim. 1:17).
     2 Acts 16:14-16, 27-34; Philippians 2:25; 4:2, 3.
     3 Acts 17:5-9; 19:29; 20:4; cf. Acts 27:2; Col. 4:10; Philem. 24. It is possible that Sopater of Acts 20:4 is Sosipater of Rom. 16:21.
     4 Acts 18:18-26; 20:4; 21:29; 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 4:12, 13, 19, 20.
     5 Acts 20:9; Col. 1:7; 4:9, 12, 15, 17; Philem. 1. According to Rom. 16:5 in the Alexandrian Greek text and the Latin Vulgate, Epaenetus was among the earliest converts in Asia; cf. ESV, HCSB, ISV, N/ASV, NIV, N/RSV.
     6 Acts 16:1; 20:4; 2 Timothy 1:5; 4:10.
     7 Acts 17:34; 18:8, 17; Rom. 16:1, 23; 1 Cor. 1:1, 14, 16; 16:17; 2 Tim. 4:20. According to Rom. 16:5 in the Byzantine Greek text, Epaenetus was among the earliest converts in Achaia and thus conceivably a member of Stephanus’ household (1 Cor. 16:15); cf. N/KJV, RAV.
     8 Wayne Stiles observes: “Those of us who seek to understand the meaning of the Bible strongly believe in interpreting a passage in its context. But context is more than words. When one reads the Bible, it becomes clear how geography is the stage on which the redemptive narrative takes place” (“What Biblical Geography Can Do for Your Spiritual Life,” <Link>).

Image credit: Claude Vignon’s St. Paul the Apostle, <>.