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.

Stephen, in the book of Acts, is described as “…a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost…” (Acts 6:5), and one who “…did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was selected by the disciples to remedy the neglect of the widows by supervising this …

Pilate was the fifth Roman procurator or governor of Judaea, Samaria, and Idumaea (26-36 C.E.). His headquarters were at Caesarea Maritima, but he came to Jerusalem during the major festivals, including the Passover, because the influx of visitors gave rise to disorder. He brought imperial images into the city in …

c. 5-67 C.E.; also “the Apostle Paul,” “Saint Paul,” and “Saul of Tarsus.” He is perhaps the most influential early Christian missionary. The writings ascribed to him by the church (the Pauline epistles) form a considerable portion of the New Testament. The influence on Christian thinking of the epistles ascribed …

  “This elusive figure is the most famous of Jesus’ women disciples and the one who has been most misinterpreted in Christian history” (Meyers 120). Another author has written, “The whole history of western civilization is epitomized in the cult of Mary Magdalene” (Carroll 108). Mary is the only one …

According to tradition, Luke was a Syrian of Antioch, who wrote a Gospel derived from Paul. He wrote it either in Achaia, Rome or Bithynia. Tradition says he died in Boeotia or Thebes at the age of 84. Luke was a physician and companion of Paul but did not witness …

Joseph of Arimathea was a man of great wealth, according to the Gospel of Matthew. He was also a member of the ruling judicial body of the Jews, called the Sanhedrin, which met together in the Temple. The Sanhedrin was a seventy-member body of priests made up of scribes, Pharisees, …

John the Baptist is portrayed in the Gospels as the forerunner of the Messiah. His role was in prophecy and his spiritual purpose was to prepare the nation of Israel for the coming of the one who was expected to save Israel. Prophecies of John the Baptist in the Old …

John Mark was the son of Mary of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), a companion of Paul on his first journey, and cousin of Barnabas. Many scholars believe he is the author of the Gospel of Mark. Tradition says that the Last Supper was held at the house of his mother, but …

James, the brother of Jesus, is mentioned several times in the New Testament. Matt. 13:55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? (See also Mark 6:3) After the resurrection: I Cor. 15:7 After that, he …

BACKGROUND Herod the Great was King of Judaea from 37 B.C.E. to 4 C.E. He was born in 73 B.C.E. and grew up in a time of great political upheaval and unrest in Judaea. Being from an Idumaean background –- his mother was an ethnic Arab and his father was …

BACKGROUND Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great. He was called Herod the Tetrarch, ruler of Galilee from 4 B.C.E. to 39 C.E. (Luke 3:1). Herod founded a city in Galilee called “Tiberias,” named after the Roman Emperor. Jesus called him “that fox” when he heard certain Pharisees …

BACKGROUND Caiaphas was the high priest of Jerusalem from 18 C.E. to 37 C.E. and was the high priest during the night of Jesus’ trials. The high priest was appointed at this time in Jewish history by the Romans and also served as the leader in the high court, the …

Barabbas had been imprisoned, waiting for trial, when Jesus was in custody during the Passover. He is referred to in Matthew as a “notable prisoner” (Matt. 27:16). John’s Gospel refers to Barabbas as a “robber,” a word usually reserved for the Zealots (18:40). Today, Barabbas might be called either a …

BACKGROUND Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest the year Jesus was tried. Annas had performed the duty of high priest from 6 C.E. to 15 C.E. and was influential in the Sanhedrin, even after the trials. Technically, he was supposed to serve for life, but the …