Bible Names

December 13, 2019

I was recently reading in 1 Chronicles as a part of my daily Bible reading. And I came across, “Abigail bore Amasa, and the father of Amasa was Jether the Ishmaelite” (1 Chronicles 2:17 ESV). I had to mentally stop and look at the context a bit, since the Abigail I’m more familiar with was the wife of David and widow of Nabal. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are genealogies, so the reader is going through a great many names in a text that is packed with names.
Stopping and rereading a bit, I realized that this Abigail was David’s sister. Had I read this before? Absolutely. I have over a thirty-year habit of reading the Bible through in a year. Did I remember that David had a sister by the name of Abigail? No. But this incident reminds me that just as in real life, multiple people can share the same name. According to the Biographical Bible, there are 3,237 individuals named in the Bible with 1,443 who share a Bible name with someone else.

Recently, someone came to me with this same kind of issue about the name Zechariah. The two Zechariahs he was thinking about were not the same person, but he wasn’t certain. When we stopped and looked at the Bible contexts, it was clear that they could not be the same man. Actually, there are 32 Zechariahs in the Bible. This is the kind of helpful information the Bible dictionary can provide.

Bible dictionaries can help us keep names straight. We probably won’t remember every Zechariah in the Bible. Some of the men by this name are just barely mentioned. But there are some prominent Zechariahs: (1) Zechariah the prophet, see the book of Zechariah, (2) Zechariah, king of the northern kingdom, 2 Kings 14:29, (3) Zechariah, the last martyr of the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 24:25, and (4) Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

The name Zechariah also reminds me of one of the peculiarities of the King James Version. In the KJV, Zechariah is Zacharias (Luke 1:4). A number of Bible names are transliterated from Greek and thus in a different form than what we expect from our reading of the Old Testament in English. Since many people read the KJV, it is important for readers to pick up on this peculiarity. The reader needs to recognize that Elias=Elijah, Eliseus=Elisha, Rachab=Rahab (although Rahab in Hebrews 11), Booz=Boaz, Ezekias=Hezekiah, Charran=Haran, Madian=Midian, and many other names. A Bible dictionary keyed to the KJV can help the reader make the proper connections to the Old Testament.

Bible names can also be hard to pronounce. Bible dictionaries sometimes give pronunciations. I like the pronunciation guide by W. Murray Severance, That’s Easy for You to Say, and there is even an app called Biblical Pronunciations.

I will probably never remember every individual named in the Bible. But it is important to remember the main characters because God used people to bring about his salvation. And just as he used people in the past, he continues to use people today to bring the good news to a world that desperately needs it.

— Russ Holden