🔼The name Alexander in the Bible
The name Alexander occurs 6 times in the New Testament — see full concordance — and describes up to five different men:
- The first Alexander to appear on the Biblical stage is a brother of Rufus and son of Simon of Cyrene, who was pressed to carry Jesus' cross on His way to Golgotha (Mark 15:21). The cameo of Simon and his sons are probably not as anecdotal as is commonly believed but may in stead reflect the appreciated efforts of the Jewish community in Cyrene (read our article on the name Cyrene for a further discussion).
- The next Alexander shows up in Acts of the Apostles (4:6), where the apostles Peter and John are arrested and made to face the counsel of rulers, elders and scribes (including Alexander). This elite party also counted high priest Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas; men who had tried Jesus a few weeks prior (John 18:12).
- Alexander number three shows up in Ephesus where Demetrius, a silver smith specialized in making Artemis-souvenirs, sees his business wane due to the gospel. Demetrius gives his concerns a theological twist and stirs the whole city into an uproar. The chaos is soon so thorough that most of the rioters don't even know what the problem was, until they notice Alexander. He is a Jew and has nothing to do with Christianity or Artemis for that matter and resorts to evasive gesturing, but the townsfolk of Ephesus burst out in a single outcry, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! That lasts about two hours, and no one hears from Alexander of Ephesus ever after (Acts 19:23-41).
- Alexander number four appears to fail Paul in such a way that he "surrenders" Alexander to satan. We don't exactly know what that means, but Paul also speaks of Alexander and some others having blasphemed and suffered "shipwreck in regard to their faith" (1 Timothy 1:20).
- The last Alexander to appear in the Bible might be the same as the previous one (or even number three) because he hates Christianity and has personally upset Paul (2 Timothy 4:14). Paul subsequently warns Timothy for this Alexander, and Timothy was stationed in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). But (says also Zodhiates) Paul upset entire nations and Alexander was a very common name also in those days. There's no reason to assume that this Alexander is the same as any of the previous.
Note that the last two Alexanders may also be covert reflections on the goings on in the library of Alexandria. See our article on the name Zenas for more details.
Since Alexander the Great appeared on the world stage after the youngest book of the Old Testament was written, this name does not occur in the Hebrew Bible. But the book of Daniel, which was written in the sixth century BC, about two hundred years before Alexander the Great, predicts him with great accuracy.
Daniel describes a vision in which he sees a two-horned ram being trampled by a unicorn he-goat. The angel Gabriel explains the vision and says that the two-horned ram represents the Medo-Persian empire and the unicorn buck the kingdom of Greece (Daniel 8). The Greco-Persian wars broke out a few decades after Daniel wrote his book. The Persian empire would not succumb to Greece until Alexander the Great Defeated it in 330 BC.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Alexander
The name Alexander has been popular since Alexander the Great conquered the entire known world and converted his subjects to the Aristotelian outlook on life. At the end of his campaign there were dozens of cities named Alexandria, and countless people. The name itself stems from deep antiquity, and is possibly more than 3.500 years old. Another noteworthy detail is that, judging from its verbal roots and earliest applications, this name was probably originally feminine (Alexandra).
The name Alexandra / Alexander consists of two parts:
The first segment comes from the verb αλεξω (alexo), meaning to ward or keep off, turn away or aside (Liddell and Scott — An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon). This verb is not used in the Bible but it is common in Homer and Herodotus.
Some other compound words that contain this verb are: αλεξητης (alexetes), meaning averter; αλεξημα (alexema), meaning a defense or remedy; αλεξαιθριος (alexaithrios), meaning screening from chilled air. And the list goes on.
The second part of the name Alexander comes from the common Greek word ανδρος (andros), meaning of man:
A curious consequence of the distinction between the nouns ανερ and ανθρωπος is that the name Alexander may not so much mean Defender of Man(kind), as it is commonly translated, but more so Guy Repeller. Perhaps little Alexander before he became the Great had a ruffle with a male adult and managed to ward him off, and was named accordingly.
The object of the verb αλεξω (alexo), meaning to ward off, seems to be anything harming or hurting, and this verb would not be issued in an unintended scaring away of otherwise perfectly fine suitors. In other words, women named Alexandra should pride themselves in their handsome name: Wards Off Bad Guys.