This is Holy Week. It is the pinnacle of the church calendar and for many churches it is the busiest time of year. Churches will rehearse the events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus. Among those events is when Jesus stands before Pilate. In Matthew 27:16-17 we read the following:
“At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’” (NIV 1984)
But this is the 1984 NIV edition. Notice the change in the 2011 edition.
“At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’”
There are a few changes here but I want to focus on the name of Barabbas. The 2011 edition has his full name as Jesus Barabbas. Some translations observe this in a footnote while others omit it completely with no footnote. In the newest Teach the Text commentary on Matthew Jeannine Brown explains the reason for the difference.
“Some manuscripts include the name ‘Jesus’ before the surname ‘Barabbas’; others do not. Given a clear disposition by Christian scribes copying the New Testament to hold Jesus’ name in reverence, it is easy to understand how they might omit that name when used to refer to a criminal. It is less discernible why some scribes might add the name if it was not originally in Matthew. For this reason, it is likely that both prisoners to whom Pilate refers have the name ‘Jesus,’ a quite common Jewish name in the first century. The choice between the two men named ‘Jesus’ is set before the people: Jesus Barabbas or Jesus the Messiah.” (p. 306)
She provides a footnote to Richard Bauchham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses stating that the name ‘Jesus’ “was the sixth most popular male name among Palenstinian Jews in the period 330 BC-AD 200.” (p. 328n.2)
A note in the NABRE Bible adds another element to the name. “The Aramaic name Barabbas means ‘son of the father’; the irony of the choice offered between him and Jesus, the true son of the Father, would be evident to those addressees of Matthew who knew that.” (Note on Matthew 27:16-17)
Matthew is from Baker Books. It is a hardcover with 352 pages and sells for $39.99.
Jeannine K. Brown (PhD, Luther Seminary) is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary and author of Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics and The Disciples in Narrative Perspective: The Portrayal and Function of the Matthean Disciples. She contributed to The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary and has written for publications such as Journal of Biblical Literature and Catholic Biblical Quarterly.