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People of the New Testament

In the Bible, just as throughout the ancient Near East, personal names almost always have a meaning, either secular or religious. Some names are connected with dates of contemporary events; others are connected with a physical characteristic or character temperament. Others have names of animals, trees, plants, flowers, or fruits. We also find biblical names that are symbolic in nature or have some connection with the godhead.

We cannot begin to cover every personal name in the Bible. But we will cover the names associated with familiar Bible stories and events of both the Old and New Testaments, offering background material and a list of resources one can utilize to further understand the biblical role each of these individuals plays.

“What kind of people do we find in the Bible? The Bible names between 3,000 and 3,100 individuals, of whom 2,900 are men and only 170 are women. The vast majority are members of the Israelite people, and less than 500, or hardly one-sixth, are from other nations. Many are people we might think of as insignificant because they are but names buried in a list or are mentioned only in passing. From their midst emerge the prominent personalities, those who ‘make history’ because they play a determining role in the development of peoples and institutions: Abraham, Moses, David, Ezra, Jesus, Paul. In between, there are those who have a history, though it is sometimes quite short, or a precise role, though it is sometimes quite modest. In this intermediate group there is a whole gallery of figures: men of the people and persons of high rank; lowly servants and prestigious leaders; kings and shepherds, prophets, priests, generals and lawmakers, workers and artists, rich landowners, leaders of clans or tribes, authorities of every type, ambassadors, wise people and fools; incorruptible men and traitors; executioners and martyrs; heroes and cowards; men of the Resistance, and collaborators. There are individuals who are solidly ensconced within history, others who in addition to having a historical existence have become literary types. The Bible is thus a mirror to humanity” (Odelain and Séguineau xvi).

Source: Odelain, O. and R. Séguineau. Dictionary of Proper Names and Places in the Bible. Matthew J. O’Connell, trans. Garden City: Doubleday, 1981.