Who Were Rufus And Alexander? Why Are They In The Bible?

Simon CyreneAnd they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. (Mark 15:21)

Many of us growing up in church know who Simon of Cyrene is. Simon was forced to carry Jesus’ Cross for him on the road to Golgotha. His inclusion in Mark’s account makes sense; when the almighty Son of God’s mortal strength was failing him, Simon helped bear his burden. What makes less sense, initially, is the inclusion of his sons, Alexander and Rufus, who, to our knowledge, did absolutely nothing. Why then should they be there, included in the text? What’s the point in telling us who his sons are, especially when so many others go unnamed in the account, including the relations of prominent disciples, such as Peter’s mother-in-law who was actually the subject of healing (Mark 1:30-31)?

Richard Bauckham steps in to clear things up for us:

…the way Simon is described by Mark — as “Simon the father of Alexander and Rufus” — needs explanation. The case is not parallel to that of Mary the mother of James the little and Joses (Mark 14:40), where the sons serve to distinguish this Mary from others, because Simon (very common though this name was) is already sufficiently distinguished by reference to his native place, Cyrene. Matthew and Luke, by omitting the names of the sons, who that they recognize that. Nor is it really plausible that Mark names the sons merely because they were known to his readers. Mark is far from prodigal with names. The reference to Alexander and Rufus certainly does presuppose that Mark expected many of his readers to know them, in person or by reputation, as almost all commentators have agreed, but this cannot in itself explain why they are named. There does not seem to be any good reason available other than that Mark is appealing to Simon’s eyewitness testimony, known in the early Christian movement not from his own firsthand account but through his sons. Perhaps Simon himself did not, like his sons, join the movement, or perhaps he died in the early years, while his sons remained well-known figures, telling their father’s story of the crucifixion of Jesus. That they were no longer such when Matthew and Luke wrote would be sufficient explanation of Matthew’s and Luke’s omission of their names.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, pg. 52

What we have here is an early invitation to check with the witnesses. The implication, much as with Paul’s laundry-list of names in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, is for the reader feel free to ask them about it, should they care to. Simon might be dead, but Rufus and Alexander are living witnesses who can verify what Mark has written about their father.

The constant witness of the New Testament is that the apostles were not teaching “cleverly devised stories” but were dealing with “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 2:16) Our faith is still faith–it is not yet sight–and yet, it is not blind. We are asked to place whole-hearted trust in credible testimony, human, and ultimately divine, that the promises of God have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who, though he was strong, became weak for our sake that day on Golgotha.

Soli Deo Gloria

2 thoughts on “Who Were Rufus And Alexander? Why Are They In The Bible?

  1. Papias tells us that Mark gives the memories of Simon Peter. My guess is that Alexander and Rufus were known to the church in Rome, a possible first audience for the Gospel of Mark, which makes sense in light of Papias’ comment that Mark represents the memories of Peter. Perhaps Luke and Matthew did not mention Alexander and Rufus because Matthew’s ‘Eretz Yisroel audience did not know them; and Luke may well have been taciturn about Roman Christians because he didn’t want anyone else to get into trouble in case Paul lost his appeal to Caesar.

    I admit I am skeptical towards the consensus that the Gospels were all written in the latter third or quarter of the first century. First of all, there’s no need for us to continue acting as if Ferdinand Christian Baur’s attempt to make the NT fit a Hegelian paradigm has any relevance; second, given Luke’s quickness to point out how the prophecies of people like Agabus came to pass and the upbeat note on which he ends Acts, I doubt Luke-Acts could have been written much before A.D. 64 (throwing Matthew and Mark earlier, too). As for the Olivet Discourse as “proof” that the Synoptics postdate A.D. 70, the convinced believer in me says Jesus actually had a prophetic calling; the residual evolutionary materialist unbeliever in me says that Jesus’ mind was chock full of Old Testament prophecy, a staple of which is the coming destruction of Jerusalem (albeit by the Babylonians rather than the Romans), and since he made a “lucky guess” about what was coming down the pike, his followers were able to capitalize on what Matthew, perhaps Peter and a couple others of the 12, managed to scratch down on ostraca.

  2. The Names Alexander and Rufus would have been instantly recognised and understood by any reader of the time.
    The names are symbolic. Alexander referring to Alexander the Great.The greatest warrior of the ancient world. And Rufus who lead the pacifist school of philosophy.
    So Simon was the father of War and Peace.

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