BARABBAS (bar-ăb'ăs, Gr. Barabbas, for Aramaic Bar-abba, son of the father, or teacher). A criminal chosen by the Jerusalem mob, at the instigation of the chief priests, in preference to Christ, to be released by Pilate on the feast of the Passover. Matthew calls him a notorious prisoner, and the other evangelists say he was arrested with others for robbery, sedition, and murder (
BARABBAS bə răb’ əs (Βαραββα̂ς, G972, Aram., בַּר אַבָּא, son of the father, or son of Abba). The criminal whom the crowd, in response to Pilate’s offer, chose for release instead of Jesus.
Beyond the evidence in the gospels, nothing is known about the governor’s custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover. But the releasing of prisoners for various reasons was known (Jos., Antiq. XX. ix. 3; Livy, V. 13; Deismann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 267). Pilate offered the crowd the option between Jesus and Barabbas in the expectation that Jesus would be released. The chief priests could readily influence the vote of the people because the sight of Jesus as a helpless and unresisting prisoner deeply outraged their Messianic expectations concerning Him. Their vote was motivated not by popular esteem for Barabbas, but by aroused antipathy to Jesus because of disappointed hopes.
The name Barabbas may simply be a conventional proper name. It is found as the surname of several rabbis. Jerome (On Matthew) asserts that in the apocryphalthe name was “son of their master” (filius magistri eorum), which points either to a form Bar-rabban (“son of a rabbi”) or to Bar-Abba (“son of the father,” in the sense of teacher). That Barabbas was chosen because he was the son of a rabbi is improbable.
Origen (Commentary on Matthew) noted a reading “Jesus Barabbas” in
Nothing is known concerning the subsequent history of Barabbas.
E. P. Gould, “St. Mark,” ICC (1896), 285-287; W. B. Wright, The Heart of the Master (1911), 186-195; A. E. J. Rawlinson, “St. Mark,” WC (1927), 227-229; H. A. Rigg, “Barabbas,” JBL, 64 (1945), 417-456; C. E. B. Cranfield, “St. Mark” (1959), 449, 450.