Lazarus

David Platt in Radical offers that the name Lazarus means “God Is My Help” (p.114). I had never heard that before. So I jotted the note down and later went online to verify. And if you look online, you will actually find this all over the place – in countless sermon texts, bible studies and devotional thoughts.

Okay. So when I read that in the book it immediately struck me as a stretch. Why? Well, here was my logic…

  1. There are three likely languages to deal with here, Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. I don’t know Aramaic, but my guess is it would be reasonably close to Hebrew so far as names go.
  2. The “-us” ending definitely is Greek-like. However, nothing in the name smacks of a Greek word for “god,” or even of a divine or spiritual entity.
  3. So lets guess that Lazarus is a transliteration of a Hebrew name into Greek. That seems to be plausible, no? (If you look online, you will eventually find the Hebrew root אֶלְעָזָר – El’azar)
  4. Well, I don’t know a lot of Hebrew, just enough to get me into some trouble. And I am aware that a noun tagged “my” would end in a longish “i” sound. Yet that sound is strangely missing!
  5. So at best we have “God [is] help”, or “God helps” or “God helped.”

I know, that won’t be as warm and fuzzy and personally emotive. But still a nice name, reminding one of God’s provision and concern. Finally I found eteacherhebrew.com, which has a page of Hebrew names with brief formation hints. They are nice enough to provide the following:

Eleazar (Elazar, El’azar):
The meaning of the name “Elazar” is “God (אֵל, el) helped (עָזַר, azar)”.

Maybe that seems petty. But to me, “God helped” is somewhat different than “God is my help.” There is a question of time, of completed versus uncompleted status, of agency or activity… Especially if you are going to springboard from that to some theological treatise on how the name Lazarus is significant and intentional, illustrative of Lazarus’ trust in his God compared to the rich-man’s trust in his wealth.

I’m probably going too far, over-thinking and being a little OCD about it. Any thoughts?

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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2 Responses to Lazarus

  1. Orminyah says:

    I’m responding six and a half years after the original post, so I’m aware the topic may no longer be fresh. Perhaps my own OCD (undiagnosed) has been triggered. Or perhaps I just found your post stimulating—we certainly share an interest in theology, languages, and translation.
    I have three semesters of seminary Hebrew under my belt, have studied several languages (mostly Indo-European), and am assembling observations and notes for an article or book about undeveloped narrative cues and assumptions in the Hebrew text of the books of Samuel, particularly the Saul story (1 Sam. 9-31).
    Your post is Interesting. I agree with you that Platt is stretching things if he claims that Lazarus/Eleazar means “God is my help,” particularly if he then parlays the ostensible meaning of the name into a sustained theological argument. (I find it significant merely for Lazarus to be named in the narrative and the rich man not to be—that’s a Kingdom reversal right there!) As for the grammar, you’re right that the possessive suffix “my,” vowel hireq plus consonant yod, would be transliterated into English with an “-i.” The name “Eleazar” lacks this suffix. There is a Hebrew name translated “God is my help”—Azriel, the name of three minor OT characters, two mighty in their time but little remembered now. (See the first entry in the list below.)
    The Hebrew word ❛ezrī, “my help,” appears in Ps. 70:6; 121:1, 2.
    For the entries that appear below, and their translations, I consulted the Brown-Driver-Briggs (“BDB”) Hebrew-English Lexicon, originally published in 1906. The ❛ (I sure hope it appears in the completed post) represents the guttural stop ❛ayin (ע), and the ❜ represents the glottal stop ❜alef (א).
    • ❛azrī❜ēl, Azriel, “my help is Ēl”: 1 Chr. 5:24; 27:19; Jer. 36:26.
    • ❛ăzar❜ēl, Azarel, “Ēl has helped”: 1 Chr. 12:7; 25:18; 27:22; Ezra 10:41; Neh. 11:13; 12:36.
    • ❛ăzaryāh[ū], Azariah, “God has helped”: 2 Kgs.; 1 and 2 Chr.; Neh. 3, 7, 8, 12; Jer. 42:1; 43:2; Dan. 1 (4 times).
    • ❜el❛āzār, Eleazar, “God (is) help(er)”: regarding the Levite priest, numerous times in the Hexateuch; Judg. 20:28; 1 Chr. 5, 6, 9, 24; Ezra 7. There are also five other Eleazars named in the OT.
    • ❛ezrāh or ❛ezrā❜, Ezra, “help”: Ezra 7, 10; Neh. 8, 12.
    Blessings to you!

    • George says:

      I appreciate the response! Been away from my blog for too long, and am trying to get motivated to get back to regular updates…

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