Making Sense of the Names in Pauls Epistles

Making Sense of the Names in Paul's Epistles

Written by: Samantha Wichman

We’ve made it to the end of the book of Colossians, but we’re not done with the epistle just yet! Paul ended his letter to the Colossians with a series of greetings, and while it might be tempting to skim over this portion of Scripture (in the same way you might feel tempted to skim over genealogies), let’s fight it!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Not every passage of Scripture is as exciting as the next, but they were all given to us by God.

The end of Colossians seems like a lot to handle because it’s essentially a list of names with small bits of information accompanying each one. A helpful approach to the ending of Colossians, and other passages like it, is to cross-reference names to see where else in Scripture they come up. Little information may be attached to a name in one passage, but more details may be given elsewhere in Scripture.

Here’s an example: if you look up cross-references for Colossians 4:7, you’ll find that the name “Tychicus” is also mentioned in Acts 20:4, Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7, 2 Timothy 4:12, and Titus 3:12. Looking up each of these verses and spending some time studying the passages they’re in will give you more information about what Tychicus did and who he spent time with. This type of in-depth Bible study is slow work, but it’s so worth it.

A good study Bible will have many cross-references listed at the bottom, but if you’d like more you can always use the internet. The Blue Letter Bible is an amazing online resource that can help you with cross-references and so much more. Check it out by following the link above or download it from your app store.

Sometimes, however, when you look up a word or name from the Bible you’ll find that it’s only used once. This is the case with Nympha in Colossians 4:15, for example. One helpful next step for a verse like this might be to look up verses about similar topics. Since Colossians 4:15 tells us that Nympha hosted a church in her home, you could look up other women in the Bible who were particularly marked by hospitality. Cross-references can also help with this, but a simple google search is easy and efficient too.

If you study the verse containing Nympha’s “biography,” and then also spend time studying the passages about Lydia (she opened her home to Paul, Silas, and others), you will be able to learn more about how God used these women for His glory.

One reason that I believe “name drop” passages like the end of Colossians are overlooked is that, even after extensive Bible study, we won’t ever know as much about Lydia or Nympha as we can about other people in Scripture. It may seem like “what’s the point??” but consider this: even if all Lydia and Nympha did was open up their homes as spaces for church services (it’s possible that they were much more involved with services), God saw it fit to include their names and actions in Scripture. That’s huge.

Among other things, their small mentions in Scripture tell us that even the possibly mundane and unglamorous work of setting up and breaking down your home for church services each week is glorifying and faithful service in God’s eyes!

I encourage you this week as you spend time studying the Bible for yourself to remember that every book of the Bible is a part of God’s BIG story! Each book has its own literary style, intended audience, and historical context, but they are all working together to tell the story of redemption. Let your study of Colossians pull you at times to other portions of Scripture, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand how it all fits together.

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