Names and Miracles

I have a theory about names in the Gospels. Jesus interacted with some people whose names we know, like Zacchaeus, Bartimaeus, Jairus, and Lazarus. But what about the woman at the well, the woman subject to bleeding for 12 years, the centurion and his servant, the man born blind, and the Gerasene demoniac? Why do we not know their names?

My theory is that those who “stuck around” after being healed or raised are the ones we are more likely to know by name. (Or, as in the case of Lazarus, they were known to Jesus and his disciples before the miracle.) A quick overview of the Gospels reveals that none of the paralytics Jesus healed are named, nor are the lepers. The highest percentage we know are those raised from the dead: Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus have names, while the widow’s son in Nain does not.

Assuming my theory is correct that a named recipient of a miracle equals a subsequent follower of Jesus, we can see that miracles were not very efficacious as an evangelistic method. We are certainly given the impression that there were many healings and exorcisms beyond those we have details about, and yet we only have a handful of names.

One interesting exception to this rule is the raising of Lazarus. This is the only miracle specifically mentioned in the Gospels as having evangelistic effect.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

John 11:45-46 (ESV)

And then later:

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

John 12:9-11 (ESV)

Why was the healing of Lazarus different? Was it because Lazarus knew Jesus before his death? Did this prior knowledge give him better insight to be able to explain what had happened? Was Lazarus merely a more well known person for reasons unrelated to Jesus? We are not told. There are varying and conflicting accounts of Lazarus’ later life that don’t really seem to help answer the question either. We are told there was a decent crowd around when Jesus raised Lazarus, but that was the case for many of his other miracles as well.

We know more about the raising of Lazarus than about most of the miracles Jesus performed, and yet for all we know, it seems to only raise further questions. Why did Jesus weep? What were the dynamics going on with Mary and Martha when Jesus arrived? Why does John not call Lazarus by name in 11:44?

We will probably never know the answers to these questions about Lazarus, yet we accept the narrative by faith. We accept that the reasons and the outcomes were part of God’s plan. We can pray that God will use us for his glory as well, either in life or death.


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