The Man Who Carried Jesus’ Cross: The Hidden Significance of Simon of Cyrene’s Sons

Photo by Ricky Turner on Unsplash

Simon of Cyrene met Jesus in the most unusual way. Mark and Luke tell us he was coming back from the country. Whether out of curiosity or just being stuck in foot traffic, Simon ends up being a bystander to Jesus making his way to Golgotha. Weakened from the flogging, Jesus could no longer carry his cross by himself. Whether Simon felt any sympathy for Jesus or not, Roman soldiers forced him to help Jesus bear the weight of the cross the rest of the way. Coming face to face with the Man from Galilee in such a fashion would likely leave a lasting impression, and so his inclusion in the gospels makes sense.

But what is odd is Mark’s naming of his sons, as if they meant something to his audience. Notice that Matthew and Luke omit the names of his sons:

But notice that Mark calls them out by name:

What’s the point of Mark giving us their names, especially when so many others in the gospels go unnamed?

What’s with deal with the names?

Richard Bauckham explains:

Just as Paul gives us a roll-call of eyewitnesses to the resurrection that can be verified upon request in 1 Corinthians 15:3–7, it’s almost as if Mark is encouraging his audience to check out the details with witnesses they’d be familiar with. This by itself is an interesting connection to real-life testimony, and certainly sets the gospels apart from “cunningly devised fables.” (2 Peter 1:16)

Was Mark’s Rufus also Paul’s Rufus?

But there might be a bit more we can know about one of Simon’s sons. Here’s Lydia McGrew:

Evidence that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome

This early church tradition that puts the composition of Mark’s gospel in Rome that Lydia refers to has a lot of links in the chain. Here are just three in case you’re not familiar:

Papias of Hierapolis (60–130 AD)

Irenaeus (130–200 AD)

Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD)

Simon and his two sons: Evidence that Mark was based on eyewitness testimony

So while we can’t be certain that Paul’s Rufus is the same as Mark’s, there are good reasons to think it’s possible. That their names are dropped in Mark’s gospel in a way that invites inquiry tells us that Mark isn’t just spinning some mythical yarn, but is rooted in eyewitness testimony. Rufus and Alexander were living witnesses who can vouch for what Mark wrote about their dad. The man who was forced to come face to face with Jesus that day left a lasting impression on Simon. That impression seems to have inspired his two sons to also take up Jesus’ cross and follow after him.

I am the Reasonable Faith Chapter Director in Cedar Rapids and the writer for isjesusalive.com. I’m interested in the intersection of Christianity and history.

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