Doctrinal Matters: Bible Interpretation
Different Names, Same Person
Names can be rather confusing at times. A teacher might become puzzled on the first day of school when she finds out that half of her students do not immediately respond when she calls roll. The reason: they normally are called by another name than that which appears on the school records. A coach may not immediately recognize a certain player’s identity, because his team speaks of this player (on the opposing team) only by using a nickname. After some investigation, however, the coach soon learns who the player actually is. Millions of individuals through the millennia have worn more than one name. Even at Apologetics Press, nearly half of my co-workers wear derivatives of their full, official name. Our Production Administrator's name is James Monroe, but he prefers to be called Jim. David Lee, our Executive Director, is just Dave to those who know him. Most people in the twenty-first century understand that this is simply the way it is; people often go by more than one name.
When reading the Bible, we need also to remember that people in ancient times frequently had more than one name as well. Keeping this in mind will help clarify various passages that may seem somewhat ambiguous. When studying the book of Genesis, it is helpful to bear in mind that Abram’s name was changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), and Jacob’s to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Later, while living in Egypt, “Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah” (Genesis 41:45). Numerous other individuals mentioned in the Bible also were known by more than one name.
Moses’ father-in-law was known both as Reuel and Jethro (Exodus 2:18; 3:1).
Gideon acquired the name Jerubbaal because he destroyed the altar of Baal at Ophrah (Judges 6:32; 7:1; 8:29,35).
Pharaoh Necho changed the name of King Josiah’s oldest son, Eliakim, to Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34).
The apostle Peter is sometimes called Peter, Simon Peter, Simon, and Cephas (Matthew 14:28; 16:16; 17:25; John 1:42; 1 Corinthians 1:12).
And Saul is called Paul (Acts 13:9).
Attention needs to be given to how the Bible writers frequently used different names when referring to the same person, because recognition of such name usage may help clarify certain alleged contradictions. Take, for instance, Matthew 1:9. Someone might wonder why Matthew mentioned Uzziah as being the father of Jotham, while 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 1 Chronicles 3:12 call Jotham’s father Azariah. The answer lies in the fact that that both names apply to the same person. Within the same chapter (2 Kings 15), Jotham’s father is called both Azariah (15:7) and Uzziah (15:32). The names are different, but they refer to the same person (cf. 2 Chronicles 26:1-23; Isaiah 1:1).
Countless Bible questions can be answered logically just by acknowledging that the ancients often were just as flexible in their giving of names as people are in the twenty-first century.