Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Captain (In the Bible)

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 3
Captain (In the Bible)

by Florentine Stanislaus Bechtel


In the Douay version captain represents several different Hebrew and Latin words, and designates both civil and military officers. It is used without rule, other words being frequently substituted where the same expression with the same sense is translated, and this is true with regard to the Latin Vulgate as well as the Hebrew or Greek text. It is rarely used to designate civil officials, and then only the highest. Thus we find "captain of my people" (IV Kings, xx, 5); "let us appoint a captain" (instead of Moses; Num., xiv, 4; cf. Prov., vi, 7). When applied to military officers it corresponds in most cases to the Hebrew sár, and like it designates officers of all grades, namely:


  • (1) Generals, "captains of the host"(sár háççãbã, strategos, hegoumenos princeps exercitus, dux); but in many cases "general of the army" or "prince of the army" is used.
  • (2) The various grades of officers of infantry: "captains of thousands" (sár hãalãphim, chiliarchos, tribunus); "captains of hundreds" (sár hámmeôth, ekatontarchos, centurio); "captains of fifty" (sár hamíshshîm, pentekontarchos, quinquagenarius); and "captains over tens" (dekarches, decurio).
  • (3) "Captains of the chariots" (sár hãrékéb. The "captains of cavalry", Vulg. duces equitatus in II Par., xviii, 30, 31, 32, xxi, 9, should be "captains of the chariots").
  • (4) Commanders of the body-guard (sár háttábbãhîm, sár hãrãçîm, translated respectively "captain of soldiers", Gen., xxvi, 26, xxxvii. 36, etc., and "captain of the shieldbearers", III Kings, xiv, 27).
  • (5) Lastly, captain is used to designate two special classes of officers, the shôterîm, probably officers charged with the organization of newly levied troops and the order of the camp (Deut., xx, 5, 9), and the shálîshîm, whose status is not clear; under the later kings they were royal equerries or aides-de-camp (IV Kings, ix, 25, xv, 25, cf. vii, 2, 17). It is also applied to the chiefs of marauding bands (III Kings, ii, 24).

In the New Testament "captain" occurs but once, Matt., ii, 6, in the prophecy of Micheas, ii, 5, "for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel".

F. BECHTEL.