- al-eg-zan'-der (Alexandros, literal meaning "defender of men." This word occurs five times in the New Testament, Mk 15:21
; Acts 4:6
; 1 Tim 1:19,20
; 2 Tim 4:14
): It is not certain whether the third, fourth and fifth of these passages refer to the same man.
1. A Son of Simon of Cyrene:
The first of these Alexanders is referred to in the passage in Mk, where he is said to have been one of the sons of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Christ. Alexander therefore may have been a North African by birth. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the fact, with varying detail, that Simon happened to be passing at the time when Christ was being led out of the city, to be crucified on Calvary. Mark alone tells that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. From this statement of the evangelist, it is apparent that at the time the Second Gospel was written, Alexander and Rufus were Christians, and that they were well known in the Christian community. Mark takes it for granted that the first readers of his Gospel will at once understand whom he means.
There is no other mention of Alexander in the New Testament, but it is usually thought that his brother Rufus is the person mentioned by Paul in Rom 16:13, "Salute Rufus the chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine." If this identification is correct, then it follows, not only that the sons of Simon were Christians, but that his wife also was a Christian, and that they had all continued faithful to Christ for many years. It would also follow that the households were among the intimate friends of Paul, so much so that the mother of the family is affectionately addressed by him as "Rufus' mother and mine." The meaning of this is, that in time past this lady had treated Paul with the tender care which a mother feels and shows to her own son.
This mention of Rufus and his mother is in the list of names of Christians resident in Rome. Lightfoot (Comm. on Phil, 176) writes: "There seems no reason to doubt the tradition that Mk wrote especially for the Romans; and if so, it is worth remarking that he alone of the evangelists describes Simon of Cyrene, as `the father of Alexander and Rufus.' A person of this name therefore (Rufus) seems to have held a prominent place among the Roman Christians; and thus there is at least fair ground for identifying the Rufus of Paul with the Rufus of Mark. The inscriptions exhibit several members of the household (of the emperor) bearing the names Rufus and Alexander, but this fact is of no value where both names are so common."
To sum up, Alexander was probably by birth a North African Jew; he became a Christian, and was a well-known member of the church, probably the church in Rome. His chief claim to recollection is that he was a son of the man who carried the cross of the Saviour of the world.
2. A Relative of Annas:
The second Alexander, referred to in Acts 4:6, was a relative of Annas the Jewish high priest. He is mentioned by Lk, as having been present as a member of the Sanhedrin, before which Peter and John were brought to be examined, for what they had done in the cure of the lame man at the gate of the temple. Nothing more is known of this Alexander than is here given by Luke. It has been conjectured that he may have been the Alexander who was a brother of Philo, and who was also the alabarch or magistrate of the city of Alexandria. But this conjecture is unsupported by any evidence at all.
3. Alexander and the Riot at Ephesus:
The third Alexander is mentioned in Acts 19:33: "And some of the multitude instructed Alexander, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made defense unto the people. But when they perceived that he was a Jew, all with one voice," etc., the Revised Version, margin. In the matter of the riot in Ephesus the whole responsibility rested with Demetrius the silversmith. In his anger against the Christians generally, but specially against Paul, because of his successful preaching of the gospel, he called together a meeting of the craftsmen; the trade of the manufacture of idols was in jeopardy. From this meeting there arose the riot, in which the whole city was in commotion. The Jews were wholly innocent in the matter: they had done nothing to cause any disturbance. But the riot had taken place, and no one could tell what would happen. Modern anti-Semitism, in Russia and other European countries, gives an idea of an excited mob stirred on by hatred of the Jews. Instantly recognizing that the fury of the Ephesian people might expend itself in violence and bloodshed, and that in that fury they would be the sufferers, the Jews "put forward" Alexander, so that by his skill as a speaker he might clear them, either of having instigated the riot, or of being in complicity with Paul. "A certain Alexander was put forward by the Jews to address the mob; but this merely increased the clamor and confusion. There was no clear idea among the rioters what they wanted: an anti-Jewish and an anti-Christian demonstration were mixed up, and probably Alexander's retention was to turn the general feeling away from the Jews. It is possible that he was the worker in bronze, who afterward did Paul much harm" (Ramsay, Paul the Traveler, etc., 279).
4. Alexander an Ephesian Heretic:
The fourth of the New Testament Alexanders is one of two heretical teachers at Ephesus--the other being Hymeneus: see article under the word--against whom Paul warns Timothy in 1 Tim 1:19,20. The teaching of Hymeneus and Alexander was to the effect that Christian morality was not required--antinomianism. They put away--"thrust from them," the Revised Version (British and American)--faith and a good conscience; they willfully abandoned the great central facts regarding Christ, and so they "made shipwreck concerning the faith."
5. His Heresy Incipient Gnosticism:
In 2 Tim 2:17,18, Hymeneus is associated with Philetus, and further details are there given regarding their false teaching. What they taught is described by Paul as "profane babblings," as leading to more ungodliness, and as eating "as doth a gangrene." Their heresy consisted in saying that the resurrection was past already, and it had been so far successful, that it had overthrown the faith of some. The doctrine of these three heretical teachers, Hymeneus, Alexander and Philetus, was accordingly one of the early forms of Gnosticism. It held that matter was originally and essentially evil; that for this reason the body was not an essential part of human nature; that the only resurrection was that of each man as he awoke from the death of sin to a righteous life; that thus in the case of everyone who has repented of sin, "the resurrection was past already," and that the body did not participate in the blessedness of the future life, but that salvation consisted in the soul's complete deliverance from all contact with a material world and a material body.
So pernicious were these teachings of incipient Gnosticism in the Christian church, that they quickly spread, eating like a gangrene. The denial of the future resurrection of the body involved also the dental of the bodily resurrection of Christ, and even the fact of the incarnation. The way in which therefore the apostle dealt with those who taught such deadly error, was that he resorted to the same extreme measures as he had employed in the case of the immoral person at Corinth; he delivered Hymeneus and Alexander to Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme. Compare 1 Cor 5:5.
6. Alexander the Coppersmith:
The fifth and last occurrence of the name Alexander is in 2 Tim 4:14,15, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord will render to him according to his works: of whom do thou also beware (the King James Version "of whom be thou ware also"); for he greatly withstood our words." This Alexander was a worker in copper or iron, a smith. It is quite uncertain whether Alexander number 5 should be identified with Alexander number 4, and even with Alexander number 3. In regard to this, it should be remembered that all three of these Alexanders were resident in Ephesus; and it is specially to be noticed that the fourth and the fifth of that name resided in that city at much the same time; the interval between Paul's references to these two being not more than a year or two, as not more than that time elapsed between his writing 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. It is therefore quite possible these two Alexanders may be one and the same person.
In any case, what is stud of this last Alexander is that he had shown the evil which was in him by doing many evil deeds to the apostle, evidently on the occasion of a recent visit paid by Paul to Ephesus. These evil deeds had taken the form of personally opposing the apostle's preaching. The personal antagonism of Alexander manifested itself by his greatly withstanding the proclamation of the gospel by Paul. As Timothy was now in Ephesus, in charge of the church there, he is strongly cautioned by the apostle to be on his guard against this opponent.