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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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MALCHUS (Μάλχος).—The name of the man whom Peter wounded in the right ear at the arrest of Jesus (John 18:10).

Malchus was a common Semitic name, though not certainly met with among the Jews proper. By both Delitzsch and Salkinson it is vocalized מָלְכו̇ם, which is no more than a transliteration. Josephus (see Niese’s index) mentions five persons who bore it under the form of Μάλχος or Μάλιχος, whence an original מָלִיךְ has been inferred (Dalman, Gram. Aram. Aramaic 104). But the true Greek form seems to have been Μαλίχας (Periplus maris Erythrœi, cf. Müll. Geogr. Gr. Min. i. 272); and מלבו, pronounced מָלִבוּ, appears in three inscriptions (CIS [Note: IS Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum.] ii. 158, 174, 218) that may be dated with some confidence between b.c. 40 and a.d. 40. In these inscriptions the name is Nabataean; but the root מלך is common to all the Semitic languages, and appears to belong to the unhistorical period prior to the separation of the various peoples. In Assyrian it is a designation of a subordinate ruler (Schrader, COT [Note: OT Cuneiform Inscriptions and the OT.] i. 23), a prince rather than a king. While there are instances of its use in relation to a god (cf. Boehmer in Expos. Times, xvi. [1905] 473 ff.), there is no need to see in it anything more than an allusion, serious or playful, to superiority in rank or in pretence.

The bearer of the name in the Gospel narrative held a position of trust in the household of the high priest, probably Caiaphas (John 18:13). It has been assumed that the other Evangelists suppressed the name (Matthew 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50) with a view to protect Peter from revenge or an action at law on the part of the Jews. It is at least as likely that they were ignorant of the name, or of opinion that no purpose was to be served by its mention. There is no evidence that Malchus was exceptionally active in the arrest, or anything more than an onlooker. Peter’s forward rush, when his indignation could be restrained no longer, towards the group of which Jesus was becoming the centre (John 18:4), suggests rather that Malchus was on the skirt of the group, and not immediately engaged in binding Jesus. He happened to be in Peter’s way in his attempt to rescue his Master, and may well have been personally unknown to the majority of the disciples. If John was the unnamed disciple who was ‘known unto the high priest’ (John 18:15), possibly because he supplied the family of Annas with fish (according to an old tradition; cf. David Smith, Days of His Flesh, 465), he would be acquainted with both Malchus and his kinsman (John 18:26); and the mention of the name in the Fourth Gospel may be taken as one of the undesigned indications of Johannine authorship. The healing of the ear of Malchus is recorded by Lk. alone, but is an essential part of the story (cf. Expos. Times, x. [1898–99] 139, 188), and exactly such an incident as would be likely to attract the notice of a physician, and so to calm the soldiers as to make the subsequent remonstrance preserved by each of the Synoptics possible. The natural order of events was first the healing of the wound, followed, while Malchus’ friends were crowding around him, by the rebuke of Peter, and then, as soon as the people were ready to listen, by the taunting protest in regard to the manner of the arrest. Thereupon Jesus consented to be seized, and in perfect self-possession passed on to His trial and death.

R. W. Moss.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Malchus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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