This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Preference for praenomina in the New Testament

This is, I think, the first study of the conventions governing the use of Latin first names (praenomina) in the New Testament. I will show that believers, and especially gracious hosts, in the New Testament tended to be called by their praenomina.

Following  E.A. Judge , I suggest that Roman citizens were often selected to be church envoys in the NT because of the protection that their Roman status gave them for this dangerous work. This explains the very high proportion of Latin names, particularly among Paul's close companions. In the New Testament we have about 53 male believers who had Greek names and 27 with Latin names. In the first century male Roman citizens held three names: a praenomen, nomen, and cognomen. What seems to have gone unnoticed is that out of the 27 men with Latin names, about 30% are named with a praenomen. This is a very high proportion, even allowing for the possibility that some of the Greek names were also cognomina. Eleanor Dickey (1) reports that when Romans were named by a single name, the praenomen was used only 6% of the time. The praenomina in the NT are

1. Gaius (1 Cor 1:14; Rom 16:23)
2. Gaius (3 John 1)
3. Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37, 39), who seems to be in view in Col 4:10 also.
4. Mark (Philemon 24), whom I take to be different from the Mark of Acts.
5. Lucius (Acts 13:1), whom I take to be the same person as the Lucius of Rom 16:21 and the Luke of Philemon 24 (and Col 4:14).
6. Titus (Gal 2:1,3; 2 Cor 2:13; 7:6, 13, 14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18; 2 Tim 4:10; Tit 1:4).
7. Gaius (Acts 20:4)
8. Gaius (Acts 19:29)

Others will find more Lukes and fewer Marks, but will arrive at a similar total number of people. The only (presumed) non-believer who is given a Latin praenomen is:
9. Publius (Acts 28:7-8), who hosted Paul and his companions in Malta.

Why are these men named using praenomina? Can it be explained by the contexts in which they are mentioned, and the social ethos of the early church?

As is widely agreed, praenomina were used primarily by family members and intimate friends (2). Since the early Christians were a close-knit group and considered each other to be "family" (consider the fictive kinship language of e.g. Mark 3:34), we should not be surprised that they often used praenomina. Romans preferred to use their nomina and cognomina in public because a praenomen alone did not necessarily display their citizen status. It is sometimes inferred from this that the NT praenomina were held by non-citizens. Bauckham writes, "Those whose Latin name is merely a common Latin praenomen (Marcus, Lucius) were certainly not Roman citizens" (3). For a similar view see Judge p111. However, not everyone was keen to display his high status (4) and it is particularly doubtful that Christians were so snobby about their Roman citizenship. Paul, at least, seems to have been reluctant to display his citizenship (Acts 16:37-39; 22:25-28). Since, in Christ, there was no "slave or free" (Gal 3:28), it would not seem right for citizen believers to laud it over the others by flaunting their nomina and cognomina. The praenomen had the advantage of being more humble. The humility of early Christian naming conventions is shown by three observations:
1) The authors of the gospels and Acts and Hebrews avoid naming themselves at all, as does Paul in 2 Cor 12:2-5.
2) Hypocoristic name forms are common in the New Testament (see appendix 1).
3) Paul himself probably chose his name, which means "small", out of humility (see here).

Let us now examine the data on individual holders of Latin praenomina in the NT to see whether they were Roman citizens and why their praenomina are used.

Publius of Malta
Publius (Acts 28:7-8) was the leading man of Malta so he was undoubtedly a Roman citizen. Commentators have puzzled over why Luke uses his praenomen instead of nomen or cognomen. The explanation can be found, I think, in his relationship to the author of Acts. He "entertained us hospitably for three days" and Paul visited his sick father (presumably in his house) and cured him. Luke is saying that Publius was a gracious host. The use of his praenomen in this passage serves to reinforce the point that Publius had treated Paul and Luke as intimate friends. Publius might well have invited Paul and Luke to use his first name, especially after they cured his father.

Gaius of Corinth
Just as Luke uses the praenomen of his host in Malta; in the same way Paul uses the praenomen of his host in Corinth (1 Cor 1:14; Rom 16:23). Some or perhaps all of those whom Paul greets in Rom 16:3-15 had travelled (returned) to Rome from the east and Gaius may have hosted them during their journey to Rome. In any case, he hosted Paul and the whole Corinthian church. His house must have been large so it is likely that he was a Roman citizen or freedman, rather than a Greek who had only the one name. The use of his praenomen here suggests that he treated his guests as intimate friends or family members. Rather than lording it over them, he encouraged them to use his praenomen. Now, it seems to me that the kind of man who would allow people to know him by his praenomen would not be the kind of person who would have been comfortable with the fact that high status believers humiliated low status believers in his house. This suggests that Gaius was not complicit in the problems that arose in the church meetings (1 Cor 11:17-33). He must, therefore, have been ineffective in asserting his authority as host over the arrogant Corinthian believers. This neatly explains why Paul must urge the Corinthians to show the household of Gaius Titius Justus Stephanas (who was one man) "a little respect" in 1 Cor 16:15-18.

Gaius of 3 John
Gaius is urged to support traveling Christians (3 John 5-8) so he was probably wealthy and likely a Roman citizen. The author writes:
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
The use of the praenomen is not surprising because the author and Gaius were intimate friends and the author may have wanted to emphasize their closeness in order to more effectively influence his friend. Dickey (p65) mentions that praenomina could sometimes be used when making requests.

Acts 12:12-13 tells us that "many had gathered" in the house of Mary, who had a servant and an outer gateway and was the mother of John-Mark. If Col 4:10 is correct, he was a cousin of Barnabas, who was a benefactor (Acts 4:36-37). Both sources therefore suggest that he was from a wealthy family, and this makes it more likely that he was a Roman citizen. Williams (5) points out that the name "Mark" was often held by Jews who were Roman citizens and only in Cyrenaica was it held by non-citizen Jews. In any case he was surely given the name "Mark" at birth. The common assumption that he took that name only when he became a missionary is untenable since the name had nothing to recommend it. The name "Mark" has no appropriate meaning and nor is it a close homophone of "John". Nor is it likely that a Jerusalem Jew, who was not already a Roman citizen, would associate himself with the Roman administration by choosing a Latin name. All the other double names in the NT make better sense (Saul-Paul, Silas-Silvanus, Simon-Peter, Jesus-Justus, Joseph-Barnabas etc.).

The others
In previous blog posts I have discussed the Mark of Philemon 24, Lucius/Luke, and Titus-Timothy. These, along with the Gaius of Macedonia (Acts 19:29) and Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4) and John-Mark, were probably all travelers. The Mark of Philemon 24 and Lucius (Rom 16:21), you see, send greetings because they had met (many of) the addressees on their travels. Excluding those with purely Semitic names, about 40% of those who travelled on church business in the New Testament had Greek names, about 30% had Latin praenomina, and about 30% had either a nomen or a Latin cognomen. Why do so many of Paul's travel companions have Latin praenomina? A very low percentage of non-Romans were called by a praenomen (See appendix 2), so it is likely that many of these men were freeborn citizens (or freedmen). Presumably believers who were Roman citizens travelled more than those who were not, because they could afford it and because their citizenship gave them protection.

Given that about 60% of Roman citizens were called either Lucius, Gaius, or Marcus, great confusion would have been created if the use of praenomina had become universal among the Christians. The use of praenomina, while it seems to have been favored, would then be self-limiting.

I am grateful for the feedback that I received from E.A. Judge on these issues. My thinking also owes much to Larry Welborn (An End to Enmity p298-9), who suggests that Gaius of Corinth is called by his praenomen out of humility, but he oddly ascribes this humility to Paul rather than to Gaius.

Appendix 1: Hypocoristic names in Acts-Revelation
Here are the diminutive forms and their probable formal equivalents.

Priscilla (Acts 18:2, 18, 26); Prisca (1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19)
Sopater (Acts 20:4); Sosipater (Rom 16:21)
Apollos (Acts 18:24; 19:1; 1 Cor 1:12; 3:4, 5, 6, 22; 4:6; 16:12; Tit 3:13); Apollonios
Stephanas? (1 Cor 1:16; 16:15, 17)
Epaphras (Philemon 23; Col 4:12); Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25)
Demas (Philemon 24; Col 4:14); Demetrios (Acts 19:24, 38)
Lukas (Philemon 24; Col 4:14); Lucius (Acts 13:1; Rom 16:21)
Patrobas (Rom 16:14); Patrobios?
Olympas (Rom 16:15); Olympiodoros
Hermas (Rom 16:14); Hermogenes (2 Tim 1:15)
Zenas (Tit 3:13); Zenodotos
Artemas (Tit 3:12); Artemidoros
Antipas (Rev 2:13) Antipatros

Appendix 2: It was not common for non-citizens to hold a Latin Praenomen.
There were only about 15 praenomina in common use. Here is the list with their approximate frequencies:
Lucius 21%; Gaius 21%; Marcus, 16%; Quintus, 10%; Publius, 9%; Gnaeus 4%; Aulus 4%; Titus 3%; Sextus 2%; Manius, Numerius, Decimus, Servius, Tiberius, Spurius, each 1%. Of those recorded in the six volumes of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, less than 1% held a Latin praenomen as his only recorded name, and some of these may have been citizens. The Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity Part III The Western Diaspora 330 BCE-650 CE gives the names of 810 male Jews who have Greek names, and 326 with Latin names. Of these 326 males, only 24 are known to us only by a praenomen, and 5 of these 24 are almost certainly Roman citizens. The Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity Part 1 Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE identifies 2509 male Jews, of which 71 have Latin names. Of these 71, only 9 possible non-citizens possess a Latin Praenomen. The index of Josephus contains not a single praenomen that was held by a non-citizen.

The above statistics may underestimate the occurrence of praenomina in the first century since the sources cover wider spans of time. Much more needs to be done to reconstruct the frequencies of the praenomina in question in the first century in the relevant regions among Romans and non-Romans. However, it does seem that it was not common for non-citizens to boast a Latin praenomen.

Following helpful comments from Richard Bauckham, I have assembled statistics for the first century.

Christians in the New Testament Probably first century men in Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity IIIFirst century men in Lexicon of Greek Personal Names Vols 1-5
1 Number of men with Greek names5353011068
2 Number of men with Latin names27100
3 Number of men recorded by Latin praenomen only814203

Row 3 divided by row 115%2.6%1.8%

Row 3 divided by row 230%14%

It can be seen that, even in the first century, it was rare for men to hold a Latin praenomen as their only recorded name. The number of such men in our sources is only 2% of the number of men with Greek names. From this we should expect to have only one believer in the New Testament recorded by praenomen alone.

Notes on how these statistics were compiled:
The 14 men with praenomen alone in the LJNLAIII comprise 9 men from Cyrenaica who are dated, "Pre-117CE", 1 from Cyrenaica on a "pre-70CE" ossuary, 3 others from Cyrenaica who are definitely first century, and 1 from Egypt. I did not include a certain Lucius or his son Lucius because the father was likely a Roman citizen who had passed his praenomen to his son. Similarly I did not include Quintus or his son, Quintus.
For the LGPN the statistics are limited to those who are designated as certainly first century. I estimated the number of first century men with Greek names by counting those on pages 50, 100, 150, 200, etc. in each of the six volumes.

(1) Latin Forms of Address p56
(2) Adams writes, "The praenomen was the most intimate of the tria nomina. It was mainly used within the family and between close friends." (Conventions of Naming in Cicero, The Classical Quarterly XXVIII, p161).
Harold Axtell, Men's Names in the Writings of Circero, Classical Philology X 1915, p399, writes, "In cases other than that of direct address the praenomen is more freely used to indicate intimacy".
(3) Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World, p204
(4) Concerning Asia, Kearsley finds evidence that men were not always keen to indicate their high status in Greek inscriptions and he suggests that this may mean that estimates of the number of Roman citizens may need to be increased. Greeks and Romans in imperial Asia: mixed language inscriptions and linguistic evidence for cultural interaction until the end of AD III, 2001. p150-1, brought to my attention by E.A. Judge.
(5)  Williams, "Palestinian Jewish Personal Names in Acts" in The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting Vol 4 p105