How many men named John do you know? Or Pedro? In Bible times there was the same problem. The situation was further complicated because people normally only had one name, they did not have a family name. Sometimes distinguishing who is who in the Bible gets complicated, so we created this list:
João Batista and João Evangelista (among others)
John was a popular name at the time of Jesus. John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus, son of Mary’s cousin. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb and prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry by preaching repentance. This John became known as the Baptist because he baptized people who repented in the Jordan River.
See the story of John the Baptist here.
The John known as Evangelist was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. He was one of the best known apostles and wrote several New Testament books. John became known as the Evangelist because he wrote the Gospel of John. He also wrote John’s three letters and the Apocalypse.
In addition to these two, the Bible talks about another John, also known as Mark, or John Mark . He wrote the book of Mark and worked with Paul, Barnabas and Peter.
See also: who was João de Patmos?
Two apostles named Simon
Simon was another very common name. Two of Jesus’ apostles were called Simon: Simon Peter and Simon the zealot. The first Simon had his name changed by Jesus to Peter and that was the name by which he became better known. He was one of the great leaders in the early church and often served as a spokesman for the apostles.
Read the story of the apostle Peter here.
The Bible does not give us details about Simon the zealot . As an apostle, he would have a close relationship with Jesus. He was probably known as a zealot because of a previous affiliation with the religious group of zealots.
In addition to these two apostles, several other minor characters were called Simon:
- Judas’ father, the traitor
- A brother of Jesus
- A Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner
- The man who helped Jesus carry the cross
- A magician who was rebuked by Pedro
- A leather tanner, friend of Pedro
One Tamar, another Tamar
The Bible tells of two women named Tamar, both with a tragic history.
The first Tamar married the son of Judah, one of the twelve patriarchs. Her husband died without children and she married her brother, but he also died without children. As Judah did not give her the other son to marry her, as was the custom, she dressed as a prostitute and tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her. Thus she became pregnant with twins, who were later officially recognized as sons of Judah.
The second Tamar was the daughter of King David, many centuries later. Her half brother Amnon fell in love with her and raped her. King David did nothing to punish him, but Tamar’s entire brother, Absalom, was furious and killed him. This situation generated a great power struggle between Absalom and his father David. Absalom called his daughter Tamar, probably in honor of his sister.
Rahab: the prostitute and the monster
Rahab was a prostitute who helped two Israeli spies when Joshua was preparing to conquer Jericho. She believed in God and, because of his help, the spies promised to spare her family. Rahab escaped the massacre in Jericho, married an Israelite, and became one of Jesus’ ancestors.
See Rahab’s full story here .
Less well known is another Rahab, who sometimes appears in the Bible. This Rahab was a mythological sea monster that was used in the Bible to poetically represent Egypt or the forces of evil.
Lazarus: one real, one not
The story of Lazarus is well known – the friend of Jesus, brother of Martha and Mary, who died and was resurrected by Jesus four days later. His resurrection became so famous that Jesus’ enemies also wanted to kill Lazarus, to eliminate the evidence!
This Lazarus is sometimes mistaken for a fictional character in one of Jesus’ parables. In this parable , Jesus told of a very poor man named Lazarus who went to heaven, and his rich neighbor who went to hell. The parable explains about the importance of believing in Jesus’ message, because after death it is too late.
Find out more about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
Other Judas (besides the traitor)
The most famous Judas in the Bible is Judas Iscariot , the apostle who betrayed Jesus and then hanged himself. But he was not the only Judas of his time. There was another apostle named Judas, also known as Thaddeus .
In addition to these two apostles, several other people had the name Judas. One of Jesus’ brothers was called Judas, and he wrote the letter from Judas, which is in the New Testament.
see also: why did Jesus choose Judas?
It is quite easy to confuse all the Marias in the Bible, especially since some of them went together! The best known Mary was the mother of Jesus , who became pregnant with the Holy Spirit when she was still a virgin. She married Joseph and together they raised the baby Jesus.
Several women named Mary followed Jesus:
- The sister of Martha and Lazarus
- Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus expelled seven demons
- The wife of a man named Clopas
In addition to these, there was a Maria who was the mother of João Marcos. The church gathered at his home to pray when Peter was arrested.
Literally dozens of men in the Bible were called Zechariah! But there are three main men with that name:
- The prophet Zacharias, who lived at the time after the exile in Babylon. He encouraged the people to complete the construction of the new temple. The prophet Zechariah also wrote a prophetic book with his name, which is in the Old Testament.
- Zechariah, the son of priest Joiada. He prophesied against King Joash when he turned away from God. Because of this, Joash had Zacharias murdered. This is probably the Zechariah that Jesus mentioned, because he was murdered in the temple.
- Zacarias, the father of João Batista. He was a priest and was one day chosen to offer the sacrifice to God. There he saw the angel Gabriel, who told him that he would have a son whom he should call John. The birth of John the Baptist was a miracle because both Zacharias and his wife Isabel were elderly.