Who was Malchus: Why Names Matter

Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the scabbard: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? John 18:10-11

In the Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Bible, Malchus is the servant of the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas, who participated in the arrest of Jesus. According to John, one of the disciples, the Apostle Peter, being armed with a sword, cut off the servant’s ear in an attempt to prevent his Master’s arrest.

The story is related in all four gospels, John 18:10–11; Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; and Luke 22:51, but the servant and the disciple are named only in John. Also, Luke is the only gospel that says Jesus healed the ear. (via wikipedia)

I have been thinking about names for a while. Ever since reading about certain names, specifically names like Melchizedek, Malchus, Onesimus, and others. Why are these names in the Bible? Why do they matter? why do names matter? Here are just some quick thoughts:

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First, where do you find a person’s full name?
Birth Certificates. Diplomas. Wedding Invitations. Social Security Cards. Passports.

Why the emphasis on these documents?
I think there is a fair consensus that these are documents of note, proof that you are you and not just the third one in the phone book or in a page of search results. You are distinguished from all others with your name.

What does your name mean?
Mine means, “Gift of God,” and others I’ve talked to said, “Perfect,” “Town of the North,” “Grove of Ash Trees” and “Lives by the Sea.” If you take a sec to search on the web or in a baby name book at your local bookstore, you’ll find what your name means. Norway has a list of all the people named certain names and the trends as they rise and fall. Do you ‘live up to’ your name?

Does your name matter?
I think that it does. At a point in Jesus’ career here on earth, he takes a moment in Matthew 16:16-18 and John 1:42 and names Simon “Cephas,” or, “Peter,” both meaning “Rock.” This cross-gospel intentionality of both disciples chronicling this moment strikes me that names mean something. Think about a name of someone who just annoys you. Got it? Now think of all the other people that had that name that you associated that bitterness with and it flavored your relationship because of that other person and your relationship with them. Names have an incredible depth and impact that we can’t even see or hear or feel at times because we can feel that names don’t mean very much. In my younger years, quite foolishly, my friends and I used to play a game of who could think of the most names that would be associated with a trailer park. While we were young and silly, we were encoding names with stereotypes and we created biases that we couldn’t have even realized in the process. Names have that much power and more.

Think back to a time when you did something wrong and that person of authority used you full name. How powerful, how stopping and heart-clenching it was, when you heard your full name out in the open air, not on a form or piece of paper on a wall. It almost sounds foreign or incorrect sailing through the air with all of the, “well sweetheart, you were named after your so-and-so,” and seeing it on a form at the doctor’s office and learning to sign it in cursive. However, now it was a formal cease-and-desist letter from that person with authority over you. Playtime was over.

With all of these thoughts in mind I think it’s a little easier to think that God, God of the universe, creator of the heavens and the earth, knows not only the hair on our head, when we are hungry, but our names. He calls us by name. While I have no scripture to back up this next point, I get the feeling that one time in God’s world, the Father and the Son sat down and went through the list of people who were going to exist that Jesus would be savior for. I think he did it for everyone. I can see God the Father asking, “Jesus, here’s Ruby- if it was only her, would it be enough?” Jesus would answer, “yes, for sure.”
God would continue, “And David?” “And Sarah?” “And Micah?” Jesus would answer ‘yes’ every time.

Your name and who you are matters. God calls us each by name, this isn’t about a one-time experience. We all get the call, and what’s great is that God keeps calling us to do great things and accomplish tasks we could never have imagined.

I’ll say this too- I know that some names are hard to break from, ignore and bury because of broken, open, and healing wounds. If you had a parent or significant other that was terrible and that name is now associated with you, you have to carry it and it can feel like a burden. I pray that you ask for God to redeem that name for you in the amazing ways that only he can. Address the hurt, the pain, the frustration. Then say God, it’s a name, and this name hurts me. Please redeem it in your perfection. Be honest with God- he can take it- and he’ll listen even when you are shouting. He’s always listening, so if it has to be a whisper, sneak it out.

He’s listening, He loves you, You matter to Him.

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John Thompson is a Seattle-based writer and poet who loves DVD’s with a Special Features section. As a Pastor’s kid, he has had an eclectic journey of faith and life finding a calling to follow Jesus Christ. Seeking to find the story behind the story is something that he loves to hear and share. To read more from John, check out his blog or Like him on Facebook.