An example is the commonness of some of the personal names in the Bible.

For instance, there are two persons named Sosthenes in the Scriptures.  One is a synagogue ruler (Acts 18.17).  The second is a “brother” (a Christian and, possibly, a fellow worker) of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 1.1).

Well, slightly more than a century before Acts and 1 Corinthians were written, the Roman orator Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero [106-43 BC]) wrote one of more than 900 of his surviving letters to his closest friend, Atticus (Titus Pomponius Atticus [110-32 BC]).  In this letter, written from Rome and dated January 1, 61 BC, Cicero has, among other subjects covered, this to say:

…at the moment of writing, I am in considerable distress, for a delightful youth, my reader, Sosthenes, has just died, and his death has affected me more than that of a slave should, I think, do.

By a “reader,” Cicero means that Sosthenes was a slave one of whose many duties was to read aloud, sometimes at great length, to his master, both for business purposes and as a form of recreation for Cicero.  (Cicero was himself, of course, one of the most literate and literary of the ancient Romans and was perfectly capable of reading and writing for himself.  However, in ancient Rome, many household slaves were more literate and educated than their masters.)

So, we see that, in this instance, Sosthenes was a common name in the ancient Roman world, and had been for at least a century before the New Testament documents were written – a small example of how the Bible was rooted in the common life of the times in which it was written.

From: The Letters of Cicero: The Whole Extant Correspondence in Chronological Order, translated from the Latin and edited, with an introduction and notes, by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh; 4 volumes (London: George Bell and Sons, Ltd., 1899-1900), 1:27.

Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh (1843-1906) was a well-known author and translator, specializing in ancient Roman history and literature.  He was associated with Emanuel College of Cambridge University.

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