Sunday, December 03, 2023

How The Names Of Jesus And His Brothers Corroborate The Infancy Narratives

I've written about how Matthew and Luke agree that Jesus' name was given by revelation and how easily they could have disagreed on the subject if they or their sources were independently fabricating accounts, for example. The name given, Jesus, means "Yahweh is salvation" or "Yahweh saves". And notice something about the names of Jesus' brothers (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Acts 21:17-18, Galatians 1:18-19, James 1:1, Jude 1):

"The names of the brothers are Hebraic and allude back to the [Old Testament] patriarchs: Jacob (James) and his sons Joseph (Joses), Judas, and Simon." (Robert Stein, Mark [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008], 283)

The naming scenario for Jesus and his brothers has multiple, distinct characteristics that line up well with the infancy narratives.

Notice, first, that Jesus' name is so appropriate for the sort of Messianic figure Jesus was thought to be. The name Jesus was popular at the time, but it was more likely that a son would be given a name that had less Messianic significance or none.

And notice that all of Jesus' brothers were given a substantially different type of name than Jesus had been given. The meaning of their names doesn't have the sort of Messianic significance that the meaning of Jesus' name has. And all of their names come from the same narrow context, some patriarchs who were contemporaries of one another and from the same immediate family (Jacob and three of his sons), which is a significantly different context than Jesus' name comes from. Those differences between Jesus' name and the names of his brothers corroborate the claim of the infancy narratives that the naming of Jesus came from a different source than the naming of his brothers.

As with other issues, a good way to evaluate the significance of what's involved here is to consider how easily the situation could have been different. Jesus easily could have been given a name with much less or no Messianic import. He could have been given the same sort of patriarchal name as his brothers, one or more of his brothers could have been given a name similar to Jesus' name, etc.

And all of the naming happened early in Jesus' life. It's not as though the naming of Jesus and his brothers was a later development. So, this is another example of how the accounts of Jesus' adulthood (the naming of his brothers in Matthew, Mark, Acts, Galatians, James, and Jude) corroborate the infancy narratives and suggest that Jesus was viewed as being so unusual during his childhood, not just later in life.

This is only partial corroboration of what the infancy narratives report, not full corroboration. Some other scenario could explain the characteristics we see with the naming of Jesus and his brothers. For example, perhaps Jesus was the name of a relative of Joseph or Mary, and they named their first son after that relative. And since Joseph and/or Mary liked the patriarchs, they named their later sons after Jacob and a few of his children. But the point I'm making isn't that the name characteristics under consideration can only be explained by the scenario in the infancy narratives. Rather, my point is that a particular type of scenario is needed, and the infancy narratives refer to that type of scenario. Think of the analogy of what's reported by witnesses of a crime. They agree that the person who committed the crime had dark hair. Does the fact that multiple colors of hair qualify as dark prove that the testimony of the witnesses doesn't offer any corroboration of the theory that a particular suspect with black hair committed the crime? The witnesses don't have to fully corroborate the theory in order to corroborate it to some extent.

Think in terms of the criterion of coherence. What the infancy narratives report about the naming of Jesus sheds light on the differences between Jesus' name and the names of his brothers. The later accounts make more sense in light of what the infancy narratives report.

If Jesus' name was provided by means of revelation, as the infancy narratives tell us, then Jesus' name probably would be significantly different than the names of his brothers. God's thinking regarding naming issues probably would be significantly different than that of Joseph and Mary (and whoever else, if you believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary). It's possible that Joseph and Mary's thinking about naming issues would be similar to God's, but that probably wouldn't be the case. And though Joseph and Mary might imitate Jesus' name when naming later children, they probably wouldn't, given Jesus' identity, the nature of his name, etc. The scenario that would make the most sense if the infancy narratives are correct in what they report about the naming of Jesus is that Jesus would later be perceived to be the sort of savior figure appropriate to his name and that his brothers would have significantly different names. That's what we see, consistently and across many sources. Accepting what Matthew and Luke (corroborated by 1 Timothy 5:18, etc.) report about the naming of Jesus doesn't require us to try to think of an alternative explanation that's both absent from the historical record and contradicts what multiple early sources reported.

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