The Named and Unnamed

Over at The Catholic Weekly, we continue our look at the use of names Scripture–specifically, in the gospels:

Last time we looked at how the gospels use names as a way of footnoting their sources and noted that some characters are left unnamed in some gospels but named in others.

For example: Peter and Malchus. All four gospels tell of a disciple cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, but only John tells us the disciple was Peter and that the servant was named Malchus. There may be a number of reasons for obscuring Peter’s name. It could be to protect him from the law. Malchus was, after all, regarded as property in the ancient Roman world and an attack on the property of an important figure like the high priest could have resulted in Peter’s arrest.

Matthew and Luke appear to use Mark as their source for this story (though Luke appears to have other sources as well) and may have followed Mark out of deference to him, though it is unlikely that they did not know Peter was the disciple.

But John follows a different stream of tradition, though still based on eyewitness memories. John was not only present for the arrest of Jesus and the assault on Malchus, but is one who was “known to the high priest” (John 18:15).

Many people are surprised by this, assuming all the disciples were uneducated. But John’s gospel shows a high degree of literary skill and there is every reason to believe that John had been educated in Jerusalem and therefore knew not only the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, but was familiar with their households—including slaves such as Malchus. That may be the simplest explanation for why John knows his name.

As to why John tells us Peter’s name? Probably because Peter is dead and need not fear the law’s wrath any further.

Another interesting figure is Mary of Bethany, the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive nard….

Much more here.


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