ALEXANDER (ăl'ĕg-zăn'dêr, Gr. Alexandros, man-defending). A common Greek name belonging to five Jews to whom reference is made in the NT:

1. Alexander, brother of Rufus and son of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Jesus (Mark.15.21).

2. A kinsman of the Jewish high priest Annas (Acts.4.6).

3. A Jew of Ephesus who was pushed forward to speak to a noisy crowd that had been listening to Paul (Acts.19.33).

4. A false teacher whom Paul handed over to Satan for punishment (1Tim.1.20).

5. A metalworker who did Paul harm (2Tim.4.14). It is possible that nos. 3 and 5 are identical, or nos. 4 and 5; our knowledge is too sketchy to be sure.

d.328. Bishop of Alexandria (c.313-328). He held that the Son is eternally the Son of the Father. Both in a local clerical debate and at a council of about 100 bishops from Egypt and Libya, he accused (perhaps mistakenly) a presbyter in his see named Arius* of following Paul of Samosata and opposed his views that “the Son had a beginning” and that the Son “was from nothing.” Rejecting the pleas of Eusebius of Nicomedia and others on behalf of Arius, he in council anathematized Arius and his adherents about 321, prior to the embargo on synods by Licinius. Although regarded by Constantine in late 324 as overscrupulous, Alexander was upheld by the synods of Antioch and Nicea in 325, and consistently opposed Arians and Melitians until his death. He believed that the Father and the Son are exactly alike except that the Father is unbegotten. This exception made Arius stress “being begotten” as a temporal moment and as a sign of distinct identity between Father and Son.

ALEXANDER (̓Αλέξανδρος, G235, defender of men). A name common from Hel. times.

Alexander (“the Great”),

born 356 b.c., son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias of Epirus, king of Macedon from his father’s death in 336 to his own in 323 b.c.


For 200 years prior to Alexander the Gr. republics had fallen within the sphere of influence of the Persians whose Achaemenid kings held sway from the Aegean to the Indus and from Afghanistan to Egypt. Although victories such as Marathon and Salamis secured some independence in the 5th cent., in the 4th cent. Pers. finance and diplomacy often prevailed. Many Greeks of Asia Minor remained under Pers. rule throughout. Macedonia controlled the rich hinterland to the N of the Aegean, but was hitherto undeveloped and in the Gr. view uncivilized, being ruled by local cavalry barons. Their king was elected by the army from among them. During Alexander’s childhood, however, Philip II subjugated the Gr. peninsula. The pleas of Demosthenes were heeded too late to save (or, in the view of some, precipitated) the defeat at Chaeronea in 338 b.c., which left Philip leader of a confederacy of Gr. states, ostensibly directed against Persia. Two years later, at the age of twenty, Alexander inherited this cause.

The conquest of the Persian empire.

By 334 b.c. he had firmly established his home base, overawed the Greeks to the S, and the northern peoples as far as the Danube. Crossing the Hellespont with some 40,000 men he won his first victory over the Persians at the Granicus, which cleared the way to the Gr. states of western Asia Minor, the object of his expedition. There is unfolded in subsequent events an ambition far more extensive. Having cut the Gordian knot, he could claim the promised lordship of Asia. Through the Cilician Gates he pressed down into the plains, on the road to Syria. Here the news reached him that Darius, the great king, concerned at the failure of his satraps to stop the invader, was on his way from Babylon. Greek nationalists in the homeland hoped that he had at last over-reached himself, and Alexander himself must have been stunned when Darius actually appeared behind him, cutting off the retreat. His “Companion” cavalry, however, gave Alexander the day at Issus (333 b.c.). The royal women of Persia fell into his hands and the heart of the empire lay open. Darius had escaped to recruit his strength in the E, but Alexander, instead of pursuing him, turned to the occupation of Phoenicia and Egypt, the bases of the Pers. seapower that had long disrupted the Gr. Aegean. The island of Tyre was taken in a remarkable siege; Alexander’s mole now joins it to the mainland. In Egypt Alexander founded the most famous of the many cities that took his name. In the Libyan desert he received divine honors as the new Pharaoh at the oracle of Ammon.

It was only now that he committed his men to the course that was to change the world. In 331 he marched around the Fertile Crescent to face the full might of Darius. At Gaugamela, across the Tigris, the great king was again defeated. The splendid capitals of the empire were the prize: Babylon, the metropolis; Susa, the seat of power; Persepolis, the treasury and mausoleum of the Achaemenids, its ruins still marking the drunken feast that burned it in a night; and Ecbatana, the summer seat of the Medes. Such a triumph and such spoils far exceeded any vengeance for old wrongs the Greeks on their distant frontier could have envisaged. For Alexander it was only a new beginning. He discharged his Gr. mercenaries, and turned to the other half of the empire.

Darius retreated N and E, until he was murdered by his Bactrian satrap, whereupon Alexander claimed the succession for himself. In two hard years’ campaigning he subdued Bactria (modern Afghanistan and Kazakhstan) before passing down into the Indus valley (327). Here he found that before he reached the eastern Ocean, which Greeks believed was the end of the world, he must traverse another great river-system, the Ganges. For once he was defeated: his men refused to go further. In retaliation Alexander marched them home to Babylon through the horrors of the Gedrosian desert of Iran, while his fleet opened up the neighboring coast. This inspired fresh ambitions of naval exploration: did the Caspian Sea lead out to the ocean to the N, and did Arabia represent another India to the S? It was in the midst of plans for such expeditions that Alexander died of fever (or poison?) after a more than usually protracted round of drinking orgies.

Alexander and the gods.

Throughout his career Alexander showed an intense interest in his connection with the gods. Doubts as to his paternity may have sharpened this; local political requirements may have encouraged his link with particular cults; and the range of his conquests stimulated comparison with Dionysus and Hercules. In the last year of his life he appears to have asked the Gr. states to treat him as divine. While much of this may stem simply from his own or his admirers’ attempts to distract attention from his personal defects and atrocities, it paved the way for the cult of the ruler which time was to make fully acceptable to Gr. thought. To Heb. monotheism it was to become an increasingly unbearable provocation.

The unity of mankind.

Alexander shocked his Macedonian “Companions” by adopting the style of the Pers. court, including the harem. He married a Bactrian princess, Roxane, and encouraged such unions amongst his officers and men. Persian nobles often were retained as satraps, and some integration of Pers. and Macedonian forces was attempted, including the training of Pers. youths in the Macedonian style of warfare. Alexander’s motives may have included political necessity, a genuine admiration for the Pers. nobility and his own desire to rule as heir to Darius. To the Macedonians it was highly distasteful, and the source of much of the disaffection which dogged him. If Alexander worked for the unity of mankind (which many now doubt altogether), he did not carry the day. His flamboyant style sufficed for gestures, but hardly for serious reform. Universalist ideas did grow up in the next cent.

Alexander and Hellenism.

Greek influence was already widespread in the E (Darius had a strong force of Gr. mercenaries on his side throughout), but Alexander’s triumphs insured it a thousand-year ascendancy, esp. in Syria and Egypt. The heirs of Seleucus and Ptolemy, two of his generals, firmly established the new way of life, and passed it on to the Romans. Even in Bactria and India, the Gr. veterans, left behind in garrison-settlements, provided the basis for an empire which prevailed for two centuries. In Pal. the Hel. civilization met the determined reaction of those who preferred to follow another law: the conflicts of the Maccabean era and of the time of Christ belong also to the legacy of Alexander.

Alexander and the Jews.


Ancient Sources: Arrian, Anabasis and Indica; Plutarch, Life of Alexander, ed. J. R. Hamilton; Diodorus Siculus xvii; Curtius Rufus; Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus xi, xii; fragments of the important lost historians in F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker IIB, nos. 117-153, translated in C. A. Robinson, History of Alexander the Great, Vol. I, part 2; L. Pearson, The Lost Histories of Alexander the Great (1960); A. R. Bellinger, Essays on the Coinage of Alexander the Great (1963); M. Bieber, Alexander the Great in Greek and Roman Art (1964); G. Cary, The Medieval Alexander (1967).

Modern Discussions: A. R. Burn, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Empire (1947); W. W. Tarn, Alexander the Great (1948); J. F. C. Fuller, The Generalship of Alexander the Great (1958); a series of articles in Greece and Rome, Vol. XII, No. 2 (1965); G. T. Griffith (ed.), Alexander the Great: the Main Problems (1966); U. Wilcken, Alexander the Great, tr. G. C. Richards (1967); R. D. Milns, Alexander the Great (1968).

Alexander Balas,

pretended son of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV, overthrew Demetrius I in 150 b.c. and was in turn supplanted by the latter’s son Demetrius II in 145 b.c. These civil wars hastened the decline of Seleucid powers, and provided Jonathan, the brother and successor of Judas Maccabaeus, with the opportunity of securing the high priesthood in Jerusalem (1 Macc 10:1-11:19).

Alexander the son of Simon of Cyrene

(Mark 15:21) is presumably picked out, with his brother Rufus, because they were known to the intended readers of the gospel (in Rome?).

Alexander the member of the highpriestly family

(Acts 4:6) at the inquiry into Peter’s preaching is otherwise unknown.

Alexander the Jewish spokesman at Ephesus

(Acts 19:33).

Alexander “delivered to Satan”

(1 Tim 1:20) with Hymenaeus.

Alexander the coppersmith

(2 Tim 4:14) who did Paul great harm and opposed his message, could be the same person as 5, or alternatively as 6, though 5 and 6 could not be identified unless it is assumed that 5 had been subsequently converted.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Alexandros, literal meaning "defender of men." This word occurs five times in the New Testament, (Mr 15:21; Ac 4:6; 19:33; 1Ti 1:19,20, 2Ti 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 Ro 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 Mr 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 Ac 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 Ac 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 1Ti 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 2Ti 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 1Co 5:5.

6. Alexander the Coppersmith:

The fifth and last occurrence of the name Alexander is in 2Ti 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.