Names in the Bible -- By: Philip Whitwell Wilson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 108:431 (Jul 1951)
Article: Names in the Bible
Author: Philip Whitwell Wilson


Names in the Bible

Philip Whitwell Wilson

When we read the Bible—sometimes with an effort—we come upon passages which at first sight seem to be a hindrance to our thoughts rather than a help. We accept the Bible, the whole Bible, as the word of God to man and believe such passages to be included in the Bread of Life which nourishes the soul. But, humanly speaking, they seem to lack their quota of calories. We would not for the world cut them out of the Bible, but we reserve our attention for more “spiritual” treasures and we wonder why the barren parts (as we are apt to regard them) ever got into so carefully selected a canon of Scripture in the first instance. Obviously they have come to stay. But what is the reason for them?

I refer to the numerous and elaborate lists of Hebrew names which appear in the Mosaic books, in Joshua, Judges and Chronicles and even in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Apart from any other circumstances these names fill space in a volume where space is the most valuable to be found in any literature. The space, taken as a whole, would have been enough for a fifth Gospel had that been within the will of God, or another of Paul’s incomparable letters to the churches. Yet this space is devoted to what means little to the average and hurried reader. The names may be of a curious interest to the archeologist, but even so the interest would be academic and divorced from the realities of experience.

There are names of persons—hundreds of them whose existence, but for this passing allusion in the sacred archives, would have been buried long ago in that oblivion which engulfs almost the entire human race. In very many cases the names are mere names, and we are told nothing of what

the persons indicated were in themselves or said to others or did. There is nothing in these names, as we have them, that would get a person nowadays into the headlines, still less concentrate on him a fame which is not only enduring through all ages but universal over land and sea. It is not easy to understand why this had to be.

Most of the names are arranged in genealogies, father and son, and these pedigrees appear to be mainly obsolete. Many centuries ago the families affected were merged into the general community, so losing their identity as a clan. Sometimes the names are associated with the ownership of property in places also named. We have an anticipation of England’s Doomsday Book—what in these days would be called an ordnance survey. But what has happened to the landscape that, thousands of years ago, was thus delimited into parcels of real estate? Compared with the great open spaces of continents new and old, this area was always negligi...

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