People in the Bible did not tend to have last names unless they were associates of others with the same first name. Even when surnames were given, they were not specifically family names. They were used to identify ethnicity (Doeg the Edomite of 1 Samuel 21:7), parentage (John and James, the sons of Zebedee in Matthew 10:2), or place of residence (Mary Magdalene in Matthew 27:56). Sometimes women were even identified by the names of their sons (also Matthew 27:56).
Did the people in the Bible have last names?
One name in the Bible that commonly causes confusion is that of Jesus Christ. "Christ" is not Jesus' last name; it is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, or anointed/chosen one. It is the same as "Christ Jesus," and has the same form as "Lord Jesus" or "King Richard." It is an identifier of a position, not a personal name.
Other Bible characters that seemed to have last names:
- Judas Iscariot: The origin of "Iscariot" is unknown, but it is not a family name; it distinguishes him from Thaddaeus who was also called "Judas the son of James" (Luke 6:16).
- Simon bar Jonah (John 1:42): This is the traditional Hebrew name of Simon Peter; "bar" means "son of" and identifies him as the son of Jonah.
- Mary Magdalene: "Magdalene" identifies this Mary as from the town of Magadala and distinguishes her from the many other Marys in Jesus' life.
- Simon the tanner (Acts 10:32): "Tanner" is not a last name, but an occupation; it distinguishes him from other Simons in the church.
- Simon the Zealot (Matthew 10:4): This was another disciple of Jesus; "zealot" identifies his political affiliation and distinguishes him from Simon Peter.
- James and John, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17): Although James and John are also called "sons of Zebedee," Jesus thought "sons of thunder" more accurately described their personalities.
Why did some people's name change in the Bible?
Why is Jesus called Jesus of Nazareth?
What are the names of Jesus Christ? What titles are ascribed to Jesus in the Bible?
What are the names of God? What do the names of God mean?
What names and titles does the Bible use for the Holy Spirit?
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