Acts 13 – Prophets and Teachers in Antioch

barnabasThe church at Antioch was led by “prophets and teachers” (13:1). As Keener points out, the two roles were closely related as leadership gifts in a local church (2:1983). Synagogues would have had teachers, although the extent to which they were leaders is unclear. Later in the first century, overseers and deacons were appointed to “carry out for you the ministry of the prophets and teachers” (Didache 15:1).

Besides Barnabas and Saul, Luke lists three individuals as leaders in Antioch.  Luke calls these men “prophet-teachers” of the church rather than elders. Acts 6:5 mentions Nicolas as one of the seven deacons in Jerusalem, but he is not mentioned in Acts 13. Keener points out Barnabas was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian who was sent by the apostles to Antioch and became a leader in the church there, but he was not named a deacon in Acts 6 (2:1833).

Simon NigerSimeon, called Niger. The word Niger is a Latinism which suggests that this Simeon was from Northern Africa, although the name could simply refer to a person with a dark complexion (BDAG, “Simeon the Dark,” Keener 2:1984). While it is possible, it is unlikely this is Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Jesus (Luke 23:26).  The name is spelled slightly differently, and the syntax (“being called Niger) indicates that Luke is trying to distinguish him from other Simeons already mentioned in his work (Witherington, Acts, 392.).  The Greek word Νίγερ appears on a wood tablet referring to an army veteran called “Petronius Niger” (A.D. 94). Keener points out Niger was a common Roman birth name it does not designate ethnicity (2:1986).

Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene was the capital of the Roman province of Cyrenaica in northern Africa (modern Libya). The city was prosperous and it is no surprise that merchants would turn up in Antioch.  Ward Gasque suggests that Acts 6:9 implies enough Jews from Cyrene came to Jerusalem that they had their own synagogue (“Cyrene,” ABD 1:1231). It seems reasonable to assume that this Lucius was among those scattered by the persecution against the Hellenist believers in Acts 6-7.

It is unlikely that this Lucius is the author of the book. The name Luke is spelled differently in Col 4:14 and there is no tradition that Luke was from North Africa. On the other  hand, F. F. Bishop argued that Lucius was from Cyprus, taking the Greek here to refer to Kyrenia, a town on the island of Cyprus (See “Simon and Lucius: Where Did They Come From? A Plea for Cyprus,” ExpTim 51 (1939-40): 148-53).

Manaen, a close associate of Herod Antipas. The word used to describe the relationship (σύντροφος) literally means that they shared the same wet-nurse, but it may mean they were foster-brothers.  Josephus, Antiq. 15.373-370 mentions a Manaen who was an Essene and friend of Herod the Great.  It is highly unlikely this is the same man, although it is possible this is the son of the man mentioned by Josephus.  Usually it is suggested that Manaen was Luke’s source of information on Herod Antipas in Luke (for example, Polhill, Acts, 290).  Antipas ruled as Tetrarch 4 B.C. – A.D. 39, so at this point he has already been banished.  The name Manaen is a Greek form of Menachem, “Comforter” (Fitzmyer, Acts, 497, citing LXX 2 Kings 15:14).

Along with Barnabas (from Cyprus) and Saul (from Tarsus), this is a remarkably international group of leaders, although it is likely these are all Jewish men.  This is in contrast to Bock who thinks that these Greek names indicate that “God is gifting the church without ethnic distinction” (Acts, 439).   Each name has a Greek and Hebrew form (with the exception of Lukas, perhaps) and we are certain that three of the group are Jewish.  While only one could be considered from Judea (Manaen), Barnabas would have spent considerable time there as a Levite and we know Saul was educated in Jerusalem.  Three of the group could be considered wealthy (Manaen as a friend of Antipas, Barnabas owned property in Acts 4, Saul have had some wealth as well).

Are these five men the leaders of a single “church” in Antioch?  I suspect that these are the leaders of multiple congregations throughout Antioch.  That there are five names may imply there were five separate Christian synagogues in the city.  That each man has a Hellenistic, Diaspora background implies that they considered themselves as missionaries in Antioch, establishing congregations in the city and surrounding region.

It is the Holy Spirit who sets Barnabas and Saul aside for their mission. While it is entirely possible the churches of Antioch had been considering such a mission, Luke is emphatic that this mission is based on the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  As such, we know that the mission will be successful, even though the gospel is going to go beyond the geographical and social boundaries established at Jerusalem and Antioch.  And as we might guess, there will be some growing pains.

8 thoughts on “Acts 13 – Prophets and Teachers in Antioch

  1. “I suspect that these are the leaders of multiple congregations throughout Antioch.”

    I agree.
    We get another hint of this later, in Acts 15:35
    “they AND MANY OTHERS taught and preached the word of the Lord.”

  2. It is interesting to note that a majority of these Jewish leaders (teachers and prophets) mentioned in Acts 13:1 are not all natives to Jerusalem. The variety of ethnicity and economical statuses of these men suggests that the social boarders of the church were wide – and were about to be broadened even farther. To say that these men were missionary church planters (a modern title for such) seems to fit. The sending off of Saul and Barnabas indicates that they were multiplying and that the Word of the Lord was being carried out through these men. The important element that Dr. Long points out, however, is that this particular “sending out” was a sending out done by the Holy Spirit and would not have occurred without His prompting (13:4). In verse 9, Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit when speaking to Elymas. Again in verse 52 the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit after the sermon in Antioch and Paul’s rejection of the Jews and his turning now to the Gentiles.
    My question however, is whether the Antioch in verse one is the same one as in verse 14? In verse one they are being sent out by a church in Antioch, but in verse 14 they go to the synagogue and preach there. Is it the same location, just different gatherings – the churches and the synagogue?

    • As I studied it further, there are two Antiochs. There is an Antioch in Syria where Paul’s first missionary journey started and there is an Antioch (in Pisidia) in Galatia where Paul gives his first sermon in 13.

  3. Rabbi-preacher aka teacher-prophet. We have to redeem some of the Greek old English lexicography. We are now more conciliatory with Rabbinic Jews and our Nazarene Jewish/Messianic Jewish/Jewish Christian/Christian Jew forebears should not be shunted aside.

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