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Biblical Personality Profiles


Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus. The three of them were close friends of Jesus. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home in Bethany, where she prepared him meals as he taught. A conscientious hostess, Martha busied herself with serving her guests while Mary chose instead to listen to Jesus’ teaching. This frustrated Martha, but Jesus gently rebuked her and defended Mary’s desire to learn from him (10:38–42). It was Martha and Mary who sent word to Jesus when their brother Lazarus became ill (John 11). Even though Lazarus had died by the time Jesus arrived at their home, Martha believed that God could work a miracle through Jesus. When Jesus gave Martha an opportunity to express her faith, she replied, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27). (Luke 10:38–42)


Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless and advanced in age when Gabriel announced that Elizabeth would bear a son. The baby would be named John, and he would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). John lived and preached in the wilderness of Judea, where he wore clothes made of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:4–6). John prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah by calling people to repentance, as the OT prophets had predicted (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1). Those who accepted his message were baptized as an outward sign of their inward cleansing from sin. Although Jesus needed no repentance or cleansing, he was baptized by John in order to identify with the sinful people he came to save. After angering the royal Herod family, John was imprisoned and eventually beheaded (Matt. 14:6–12). (John 1:29–34)


Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the powerful Jewish governing body, the Sanhedrin. He had seen the signs performed by Jesus and recognized that God was with him. Possibly to avoid being seen by his peers, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to speak with him. Although he was a “teacher of Israel” (3:10) and knew the OT Scriptures, Nico­demus was mystified when Jesus told him that he must be born again. It was while talking with Nicodemus that Jesus made the statement recorded in 3:16, perhaps the most well-known summary of the gospel in all of Scripture. The Bible does not say whether Nicodemus responded to the gospel on this occasion. Later, however, Nicodemus defended Jesus when others wanted to arrest him (7:50–52). After Jesus’ death on the cross, Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial (19:39–40). (John 3:1–21)


Caiaphas was the high priest during Jesus’ ministry. He consulted frequently with his powerful father-in-law, Annas, who had previously served as high priest. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered in great fear to discuss Jesus’ growing influence among the Jews. As they contemplated what to do, Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied that Jesus would die for the sins of the world (11:51–52). It was this prophecy that put in motion the plan to have Jesus put to death. When Jesus was arrested before his crucifixion, he was sent first to Annas and then to Caiaphas. As high priest and leader of the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas confirmed the charges against Jesus before handing him over to Pilate to be crucified. (John 11:49–52)


John the son of Zebedee was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, along with his brother James. John was a fisherman. He and James were in business with fellow disciples Simon Peter and Andrew (Luke 5:10). John was a close friend of Jesus and one of the inner circle of disciples. He is probably “the other disciple” (John 18:16) and “the one whom Jesus loved” (20:2). This “other disciple” reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper (13:23). He stood at the foot of the cross, where Jesus entrusted his mother Mary to John’s care (19:26–27). Along with Peter he witnessed the empty tomb on the first Easter morning (20:2–10). He also talked with the resurrected Jesus (21:7, 20). In addition to the Gospel bearing his name, John wrote the books of 1, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation. (John 13:23)


Mary was called Magdalene because she was from Magdala, on the western shore of Galilee. She ex­­perienced incredible healing when Jesus drove seven demons from her (Luke 8:2). Mary Magdalene became a faithful and courageous disciple of Jesus. After witnessing the crucifixion, she visited Jesus’ tomb to complete burial preparations—only to find the tomb empty. She became the first person to witness the resurrected Jesus when he appeared to her as she stood outside the tomb weeping. Distraught, she first supposed Jesus to be the gardener. But all Jesus had to do was say her name and Mary Magdalene recognized her beloved Lord. It was she who ran to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection. (John 20:1–18)


Thomas, one of the 12 disciples, was called “the Twin.” He courageously declared that he was willing to die with Jesus (11:16). Unfortunately, however, he is most remembered for displaying doubt rather than bravery. When Jesus first appeared to the disciples following his resurrection, Thomas was not with them. Overcome with uncertainty, he refused to believe the news that Jesus was alive. Thomas declared that he would believe only if he were able to see the scars from Jesus’ crucifixion on his hands and side. A few days later, Thomas was with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them again. When Jesus invited him to see and touch his wounds, Thomas immediately responded, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). (John 20:24–28)


Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple, were part of the early Jerusalem church. After selling a piece of property, they claimed to have given all their proceeds to the apostles. In reality, however, they had kept a portion of the sale for themselves. Though Peter made it clear that Ananias and Sapphira were not required to give anything, the couple sinned by lying about their gift. After Peter confronted Ananias and declared that he had lied to God, Ananias immediately died. When Peter later questioned Sapphira about the gift, she repeated Ananias’s lie. Peter accused Sapphira of testing the Spirit of the Lord, and she, too, fell dead. (Acts 5:1–11)


Stephen was one of seven men chosen by the disciples to care for the Greek-speaking widows in the church (6:5). Like the apostles, Stephen not only ministered to the needy but also proclaimed the gospel. Many of the religious leaders grew angry at Stephen, who was performing signs and wonders and speaking with great wisdom. They dragged him before the Sanhedrin, where he was falsely accused of blasphemy. During his defense, Stephen compared Israel’s repeated disobedience in OT times to the nation’s present rejection of the Messiah. This made the members of the Sanhedrin so angry that they cast him out of the city and stoned him. Stephen’s prayers as he was dying echoed those prayed by Jesus on the cross (7:59–60). His martyrdom led to a time of persecution against the church. (Acts 6:8–10)


Along with Stephen, Philip was one of the seven men chosen to help the apostles minister to the early church. Referred to as “Philip the evangelist” (21:8), he began his ministry in Samaria, where he proclaimed Christ boldly and with power. Like the apostles, Philip had received the Holy Spirit’s power to cast out demons and to heal the sick. The Bible says that as a result of Philip’s ministry in Samaria “there was much joy in that city” (8:8). God later led Philip toward Gaza, where he explained the gospel to an Ethiopian royal official. After baptizing the man, Philip was immediately carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a new area of ministry. (Acts 8:5–8)


Author of 13 out of the 27 NT books, Paul is one of the most important people in the history of the Christian faith. Born in Tarsus with the Hebrew name “Saul,” he was both a Jew and a Roman citizen. He came to Jerusalem as a young man to be educated by Gamaliel, the most famous rabbinic scholar of that time. After approving the stoning of Stephen, Saul helped lead a great persecution against the church (8:1–3). Then, on his way to Damascus to arrest believers, he was dramatically converted to the faith (9:1–31). Paul would eventually go on three missionary journeys, winning many people to faith in Christ and establishing churches in cities all across the Roman Empire. He was especially effective in explaining the gospel to Gentiles. Paul faced brutal opposition throughout his ministry and eventually was imprisoned. He wrote many of his letters while under house arrest and later in prison in Rome, before being martyred for his faith. (Acts 9:1–22)


Cornelius was a Roman centurion and a “God-fearer”—a Gentile who worshiped Israel’s God. As a centurion, Cornelius would have been a socially prominent and wealthy man. The Bible says that he “gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (10:2), and that he was held in high regard “by the whole Jewish nation” (10:22). An angel of the Lord appeared to Cornelius in a vision and instructed him to send for the apostle Peter. When Peter arrived, he preached the gospel to Cornelius and his friends and family. While he was still speaking, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these Gentile seekers. Cornelius and his household were baptized, and their conversion convinced the early church that God’s promises were for Gentiles as well as for Jews. (Acts 10:30–33)


Herod Agrippa I was a grandson of Herod the Great. He grew up in Rome, where the future Roman emperors Gaius (Caligula) and Claudius were his childhood playmates. It was largely due to these friendships that Herod was granted rule over various territories in Judea. Herod was a violent persecutor of Christians, perhaps because he believed such persecution would help him gain favor with the Jews (12:3). He executed James, and had Peter put in prison. Following a well-received speech given to the people of Tyre and Sidon, Herod was enthusiastically praised as a god. Rather than reject the people’s worship, he embraced it. The Bible says that because of this demonstration of godless pride, an angel of the Lord immediately struck him down, and he died a gruesome death (12:23). (Acts 12:1–3)


Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus. His birth name was Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” The nickname fit his personality well. Following Paul’s conversion, the Christians in Jerusalem were initially afraid of their former persecutor. Barnabas, however, befriended Paul and introduced him to the apostles. He brought Paul to Antioch to help build a church there (11:25–26), and became Paul’s companion on his first missionary journey. The two men eventually had a sharp disagreement over John Mark, who had left Paul and Barnabas before the end of the first journey. As a result of the disagreement, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. While Paul chose Silas as his companion for his second journey, Barnabas took Mark on a separate mission back to Cyprus to strengthen the church there. (Acts 11:22–26)


John Mark was probably Barnabas’s cousin (Col. 4:10). The early church at Jerusalem met at the home of his mother, Mary (Acts 12:12). He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but then chose to leave them. As a result, Paul refused to take him along on his second expedition. However, it seems that Mark eventually regained Paul’s favor (2 Tim. 4:11). He ultimately demonstrated his effectiveness and commitment as a missionary pioneer and as the author of the Gospel of Mark. He was closely associated with the apostle Peter, who refers to Mark as his “son” (1 Pet. 5:13). (2 Timothy 4:11)


Silas was a Judean Christian and a leader in the Jerusalem church. After Paul and Barnabas parted ways, Silas joined Paul as a coworker on his second missionary journey. While in Philippi, Paul cast out a spirit that was enabling a girl to tell fortunes (ch. 16). The girl’s owners were furious, since they had been making money from her demonic powers. They brought Paul and Silas before the magistrates, and they were flogged and jailed. Paul and Silas were miraculously freed from their bonds—but rather than flee, they saw an opportunity to share the gospel. As a result, their jailer and his household became Christians. Silas is known by the name “Silvanus” in the NT epistles. He worked closely with the apostle Peter, and delivered Peter’s first letter to its recipients in Asia Minor (1 Pet. 5:12). (Acts 15:32)


Aquila and his wife, Priscilla (also called Prisca), were close friends and coworkers with the apostle Paul. Forced from Rome by the emperor Claudius, they fled to Corinth (18:1–2). Like Paul, who stayed in their home, they were tentmakers by trade. On his way back to Antioch, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus to establish the church in that city. There the godly couple taught the Christian way “more accurately” to a gifted Alexandrian disciple named Apollos (18:26). They were eventually able to return to Rome, where the church met in their home (Rom. 16:3–5). Paul’s deep love and respect for Aquila and Priscilla is obvious in his letter to the Romans, where he declares that the couple “risked their necks” for his life (Rom. 16:3). (Romans 16:3–5)


Luke was a doctor (Col. 4:14) and a faithful companion of Paul, accompanying him on several journeys. He was with Paul throughout his two-year imprisonments in both Caesarea and Rome. He is the author of the Gospel bearing his name and the book of Acts, where he records his travels with Paul. Little else is known about Luke. Most scholars believe that he was a Gentile. This is based in part on the fact that Paul does not include Luke among the “men of the circumcision” who were his fellow workers (Col. 4:10–11). How Luke came to know Christ is not revealed, though his thorough acquaintance with the OT suggests that he may have been a “God-fearer” like Cornelius before becoming a Christian. (Acts 21:1–8)


Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I and the great-grandson of Herod the Great. Following the death of his father, Agrippa II ruled over several minor territories. He had authority over the temple in Jerusalem, including the right to appoint the high priest. Festus, a Roman unfamiliar with the Jewish faith, sought Agrippa’s advice regarding Paul’s case (chs. 25–26). While defending himself before Agrippa, Paul presented a detailed explanation of the gospel. Though Agrippa resisted Paul’s appeal to believe in Christ, he listened sympathetically to his defense (26:28). He said that if Paul had not appealed to Caesar, he could have been released. (Acts 26:27–32)


Timothy was from Lystra in South Galatia and was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Timothy, along with his mother and grandmother, may have been led to Christ during Paul’s first visit to Lystra. Timothy joined Paul as a coworker when Paul passed through his hometown early on his second missionary journey. Paul trusted Timothy immensely, and sent him on a number of important missions to strengthen and encourage churches as well as to deal with doctrinal and theological problems. Although he was young, Timothy proved himself to be a godly and effective leader. In Philippians 2:19–24, Paul describes Timothy as an example of a Christ-centered life. Paul also referred to Timothy by the lofty title “God’s coworker,” emphasizing his credentials (1 Thess. 3:2). Two of the NT epistles are letters written from Paul to Timothy. (Philippians 2:19–22)