🔼The name Barsabbas: Summary
- Man Of The Host
- One Of The Drunks
- Son Of An Oath
- From (1) the noun בר (bar), son, and (2) the verb צבא (saba'), to be a collective.
- From (1) the noun בר (bar), son, and (2) the verb סבא (seba), to imbibe.
- From (1) the noun בר (bar), son, and (2) the verb שבע (shaba'), to solemnly swear.
🔼The name Barsabbas in the Bible
There are two men named Barsabbas in the New Testament: Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, who rivaled Matthias as a candidate to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:23). The other Barsabbas is Judas Barsabbas, who, together with Silas, joined Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 15:22).
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Barsabbas
The name Barsabbas consists of two elements, the first one being the Aramaic word בר (bar), meaning son:
The Aramaic noun בר (bar) is cognate with the Hebrew noun בן (ben) and both mean "one of," i.e. one of a certain house, one of a certain profession, one of a certain country, and so on. These nouns are also the regular words for "son."
Hence the name Barsabbas means Son Of Sabbas, but where the sabbas-part comes from is not clear at all, apart from that it is most probably Semitic.
If the Greek sabbas is a transliteration of something Aramaic or Hebrew, it may be the name Saba. Although the name Saba doesn't occur in the Old Testament, Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary) says it existed, and came from the verb צבא (saba'), meaning to collectively engage:
The verb צבא (saba') means to ally; to combine and integrate. It describes the formation of a distinct group, its inner economy and its interactions with neighboring groups. It's often used for military encounters but certainly not restricted to that use. Noun צבא (saba') describes a group that functions internally and externally as a distinct unit: a team, a league, a sodality, a collective, an army division.
Verb צבה (saba) means to swell up, but tends to describe the growing, getting better organized and more thoroughly engaging of the troop described by noun צבא (saba'). Noun צבה (sabeh) mostly describes a physical swelling. Noun צבי (sebi) mostly describes a swelling in the social sense: a becoming more honored or increasing in perceived beauty. In later parts of the Bible the verb צבה (saba) may be used to mean to wish. Noun צבו (sebu) means "desired thing."
Noun צבי (sebi) describes a gazelle, and is identical to the one meaning beauty but may also reflect the gazelle's herd behavior. Noun צביה (sebiya) also means gazelle.
Noun צב (sab) probably stems from an otherwise unused root צבב (sabab) and means cart. It's unclear how it fits in but perhaps as a thing upon which to pile things? Identical noun צב (sab) is thought to describe a kind of lizard (listed as unclean), possibly also because this animal tended to congregate.
Zodhiates' proposal is perfectly plausible, since Old Testamentary names that start with the Hebrew letter tsadhe (such as Zibiah, Ziha or Zur) are transliterated in the Septuagint with the Greek letter sigma.
And that (assuming that the verb saba means to fight in this regard) would render the name Barsabbas the meaning of Man Of War (which would put him in pretty good company because also "YHWH is a man of war"; Exodus 15:3). Also read our article on the name Dalmanutha for the connection between Barsabbas and Josephus the historian.
Other scholars have suggested relations with words such as סבא (seba), meaning to imbibe or as a noun, drunkard (see the name Seba). That would give the name Barsabbas the meaning of Son Of A Drunk.
Another possibility is that Barsabbas comes from the word שבע (sheba'), meaning seven, or the similar שבע (shaba'), meaning to swear or promise solemnly:
The root שבע (sb'), which in modern medieval times became pointed as שׁבע (shaba'), has to do with the number seven and the act of binding with an oath (i.e. with a proverbial seven seals or seven bonds).
Nouns שבע (sheba') and שבעה (shib'a) mean 7 and their plural שבעים (shib'im) means 70. The dual form שבעתים (shib'atayim), means sevenfold or seven times. Adjectives שביעית (shebi'it) and שביעי (shebi'i) mean seventh.
The noun שבע (sheba'), meaning seven, became the verb שבע (shaba'), meaning to bind with an oath. Subsequent nouns שבועה (shebu'a) and שבעה (shebu'a) mean oath.
The identical root שבע (sb'), which in modern medieval times became pointed as שׂבע (saba'), means to be sated or satisfied, either with food and such or with any act, deed, quality or phenomenon. Nouns שבע (soba'), שבע (saba'), and שבעה (sab'a or sib'a) mean satiety, fullness, contentment and so on.
That would let Barsabbas translate to Son Of An Oath, and would marvelously compliment the feminine name Bathsheba, meaning Daughter Of An Oath.