🔼The names Sopater and Sosipater: Summary
- Father Of Salvation, Preserved The Father.
- From (1) the adjective σως (sos), safe and sound, and (2) the noun πατηρ (pater), father.
🔼The names Sopater and Sosipater in the Bible
The name Sopater (Σωπατρος, Sopatros) is short for Sosipater (Σωσιπατρος, Sosipatros), and although truncating and shortening names is not uncommon (think of Silas and Silvanus, or Cleopas and Cleopatros), it's not clear if this truncation had a function beyond pragmatic considerations or perhaps as show of affection. Both the names Sopater and Sosipater occur only once in the Bible (Sopater in Acts 20:4 and Sosipater in Romans 16:21), and some commentators have proposed that Sopater and Sosipater are one and the same man.
If so, he was from Berea and possibly a son of Pyrrhus (not all Greek manuscripts mention Pyrrhus, and see our article on that name for some possible reasons). He is mentioned among a group of men who accompanied Paul on his way from Greece via Macedonia to Troas (Troas means Of Troy) in Asia-minor. In practical terms, Paul's posse had rushed to his aid in response to a threat from a conspiracy of Jewish opponents, but as a literary allegory, Paul's posse clearly corresponds to stories like that of Jason and the Argonauts, who all represented elements of government (not unlike the modern Avengers, who loosely embody elements of the US military).
Just like Jesus assumed the form of a man in order to be able to be received by men (Philippians 2:7), and Paul was a Jew to Jews and a Greek to Greeks (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), so Luke made sure that his Greco-Roman audience felt right at home in the literary formats of his works. Acts ends right before the grand finale in which Paul would finally get to meet Nero, which doubtlessly reminded of the Iliad, which ends right before the grand finale in which Troy would finally fall. The famous wooden horse is not in the Iliad, just like Paul's entry into Nero's court is not in Acts. Luke made Paul's maritime journey obviously correspond with both the Odyssey (or the Nostoi genre at large) but more so with the Aeneid: Virgil's celebrated story of how a surviving Trojan prince named Aeneas (the namesake of the paralytic whom Peter healed) crossed over to Italy to become the patriarch of the Roman people.
The Bible cares little for political history and only considers the history of wisdom (see our article on YHWH), which means that just as much as Jesus is the Word in the flesh, so the heroes of the Bible are personified stations of mankind's great journey from the caves to the City of God. God is, after all, the God of the living and not of the dead (Matthew 22:32), and this is also the reason why people are baptized "in Moses" (1 Corinthians 10:2), or read things "in David" (Hebrews 4:7).
Jesus, similarly, embodies the whole of natural law (called Logos), and although the human embodiment of the Logos comprises many disciplines, the Logos itself is, was and always will be One. Which element of the embodiment of the Logos, and particularly the Pauline propagation of the Logos, Sopater embodies is not immediately clear, but Luke dubs him the son of Pyrrhus, whose namesake provided the spark that ignited the Punic Wars, which destabilized the Roman Republic, and triggered the further degradation into the disastrous Empire, which pretty much wiped the wondrous Republic Ideal from the face of the earth and plummeted mankind into 1,500 years of social, intellectual and technological darkness, from which humanity began to emerge only at the onset of the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.
The Logos is One like God (Deuteronomy 6:4) and One with God (John 1:1). This was very complicated (and spawned lots of bad theology) until in the 1960s Chaos Theory explained fractals: a Big House can comprise many Little Houses (John 14:2), while each Little House is wholly the same as the Big One, and each contains all others, and none can be pried out of the whole without destroying the entire whole. Having said that: every "saint" is One, and a member of Christ, who is likewise One (John 17:20-26), for the sole undeniable reason that God is One.
Paul's posse went ahead of him to Troas (= Of Troy), which reminds of what Homer said of Troy: "Numerous here are the allies spread out in Priam's great city, men from many lands, all speaking different tongues" (Il.2.803-804; compare 1 Kings 10:24 and Acts 2:9-11). Troy was the parent city of Rome in much the same way that Tyre was the parent city of Carthage (and myth tells that Carthage and Rome were twins, founded in the same year, around the time that Homer lived: the 8th century BC). About two centuries earlier, the king of Tyre had been Solomon's partner in building the great temple of YHWH in Jerusalem.
The story of the Iliad plays roughly in the same age as Moses' story of the Exodus, namely in the age leading up to the Bronze Age collapse (12th century BC). The prophet Isaiah was a contemporary of Homer. And he wrote: "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us. And the government will rest on His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:1).
In Paul's time, Rome had wholly destroyed its Semitic twin Carthage, and its imperial agents of death prowled about looking for anything that might reek of treason. It's highly unlikely that in his public letter to the Roman church, Paul inserted the actual personal names of People of the Way (see our article on Philemon for more on this). In Romans 16:21, Paul greets Sosipater along with Timothy, Lucius and Jason, and this is nearly certainly not a passing salute to a few friends, but a coded commentary upon the satan that was the Roman Empire (see Romans 16:20).
🔼Etymology of the names Sopater and Sosipater
The name So(si)pater consists of two parts. The first part comes from the adjective σως (sos), meaning safe and sound:
The verb σωζω (sozo) means to save. Unused adjective σως (sos) means safe and sound, alive and well, whole and intact, and our verb describes the act of preserving the condition of σως (sos). In compounds, the final σ (sigma) may drop out: the adjective σωφρων, sophron means of sound mind (unused in the New Testament). And the So-part of names like Socrates, Sostratos and Sosias come from this adjective σως (sos).
From our verb σωζω (sozo), to save, comes the noun σωτηρ (soter), literally meaning savior or safe-keeper but in practice descriptive of a valued teacher or even employer (hence also the name Ptolemy Soter). Noun σωτηρια (soteria) means safety, deliverance, preservation, security, salvation: anything a soter might provide or accomplish. The noun σωσιπολις (sosipolis) means city-saver (city-safe-keeper) and σωσιοικος (sosioikos) means house-safe-keeper (both unused in the New Testament). In modern Greek, the noun Σωσιβιος (sosibios) means life-saver or life-guard.
The second part comes from the familiar noun πατηρ (pater), meaning father:
The familiar noun πατηρ (pater) means father, or rather: central authority figure, as it first and foremost applies to social leaders. It comes with a substantial list of compound derivations.
In names, the element πατηρ (pater) tends to be contracted into πας (pas), which is identical to the (unrelated) word meaning whole or all.
🔼Sopater and Sosipater meaning
The names Sopater and Sosipater are different names, and thus personify separate but highly similar principles. Yet as narrative terms (as little stories), they are identical and say the same thing. Sopater and Sosipater are constructed in two different ways: the first by dropping the final σ (sigma) of σως (sos), the second by inserted a connector -i- between the two elements of our name. The second method is older and points toward tradition, whereas the first is hipper and points toward innovation.
The name So(si)pater means something like Father Of Salvation, or Keeper Of The Father (i.e. the Semitic tradition that called God the Father). Isaiah had called the governing Son the Eternal Father, and Isaiah's husbandless Virgin (παρθενος, parthenos), who would nevertheless bear a governing man-child, referred to the great Republican experiment: the unprecedented and magnificent celebration of human freedom of a self-governing people without a king — she who was so young and promising in Isaiah's time but whose reality had turned into a demonic nightmare in Paul's (Revelation 12:17).
The name So(si)pater tells of the preservation of the divine government that comes from the perfect Republic that is the Kingdom of God, where every citizen is mature enough to fulfil the entire Law (Romans 13:8), and the world has no king other than God and his perfect natural law, whose mastery liberates (James 1:25).
The Hebrew verb for to save is ישע (yasha'), which is also the source of the name Jesus. The Hebrew word for father is אב ('ab). That means that our name So(si)pater has the same meaning as the name Abishua, belonging to a great-grandson of Aaron the first high priest, and distant ancestor of Ezra the reformer. The familiar Hebrew word שלום (shalom) means completion or wholeness, which is not unlike our adjective σως (sos), meaning safe. That means that the name So(si)pater is not unlike the name Absalom, the treacherous but beloved son of king David.
As we discuss in more detail in our article on the name of Sopater's alleged father Pyrrhus, the son of the famous Pyrrhus of Epirus was called Ptolemy, who was named after Ptolemy Soter, and that too explains the appearance of the name Sopater in the New Testament.