🔼The name Lazarus in the Bible
There are two men named Lazarus mentioned in the New Testament, but note that the Greek name Lazarus is a Hellenized version of the popular name Eleazar. The men named Lazarus are:
- The poor Lazarus who features in one of Jesus' parables (Luke 16:20). Only Luke tells the story of the poor Lazarus who resides helplessly at the rich man's gate. When he dies he's taken into heaven, to decline at Abraham's bosom. The rich man goes to Hades, from which he cries out to Abraham and requests Lazarus' resurrection so that he might preach to his five brothers back on earth. Abraham informs him that if his five brothers won't heed Moses and the prophets, the also won't heed someone who's been raised from the dead (Luke 16:31).
- Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus raised from the dead after having been dead for four days (John 11:1). This Lazarus plays an important part in John's explanation of Jesus' resurrection (see our article on the name Nicodemus). In can't be assessed how much of John's Lazarus cycle was based on historical fact, but since the gospel of Luke had been circulating for decades by the time John wrote, he could have used the name Lazarus as a literary device (namely referring to Luke's Lazarus) in stead of using the real and irrelevant name of whoever it was that Jesus raised from the dead. Luke alone tells of an unnamed only son of an unnamed widow of Nain, whom Jesus raised from the dead. That could explain the family situation of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whose parents are unnamed (Luke 7:15).
For a possible connection between the two men named Lazarus, and a possible explanation of what this unified Lazarus might have represented, see our article on the name Annas.
🔼Etymology of the name Lazarus
The Greek name Λαζαροσ (Lazaros) is the Hellenized version of the Hebrew name אלעזר, Eleazar, which in the Septuagint appears transliterated as Ελεαζαρ. The two best-known Eleazars of the Hebrew Bible are the son of Aaron, the arch-father of all priests, and the son of Abinadab, in whose house the Ark of the Covenant resided. Both these Eleazars had brothers whom God killed for their inappropriate handling of the Ark or the sanctuary it was deposited in.
It may very well be that the Lazarus(es) of the New Testament may also serve as a kind of marker for the discussion on the consequences of someone else's sin, and the inevitable death-because-of-sin that befalls us all. Irrespective of the things we do, we all sin and we all die. Some of us die earlier, some of us have hard lives. And some of us partake in the resurrection.
The name Eleazar consists of two elements, the first of which is אל (El), meaning God:
The second part of Eleazar, and thus the name Lazarus, comes from the verb עזר (azar) meaning help, support:
For a meaning of the name Lazarus, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads the same as for the name Eleazar, namely God Has Helped. Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary) translates Eleazar with My God Is Helper (which is rather the translation of the similar name Eliezer), and the name Lazarus with Helped Of God.