Acts 13:1 – Who were the Prophets and Teachers in Antioch?

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Besides Barnabas and Saul, Luke lists three individuals as leaders in Antioch.  Luke calls these men“prophet-teachers” of the church rather than elders.

Simeon, 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).  The name may also refer to one’s outlook on life (“Antioch,” ABD 1:267). 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).

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 Cyrpus, 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.

6 thoughts on “Acts 13:1 – Who were the Prophets and Teachers in Antioch?

  1. This is a view of the Antioch leaders that I’ve not heard before. Frequently I hear this ‘single’ church in Antioch as a model for multicultural leadership and membership. And this really isn’t trivial. Western cities are becoming increasingly multiethnic and it is a massive challenge to know what church should look like. Some say all meet as one and others say for different cultures to be linked but meet separately.

    • Two things come to mind here, Mike. First, I am in favor of multi-ethnic churches in America. The racial divide on Sunday Morning is a well-known problem and I applaud churches that can create an environment where race is not a factor. Second, the multi-cultural spirit of America would have been alien to the ancient Greco-Roman world, and especially in Judaism. Even though I might look at these Christians as “all the same” racially, there was a significant difference culturally between Jerusalem and Antioch, later Ephesus and Rome. That there was a Greek-speaking synagogue and a synagogue for those from Cyrene in Jerusalem is evidence that there was not a single, one-size-fits-all synagogue system. (If you have ever visited the Holy Sepulchral, there are a half dozen versions of Christianity under one roof, and I am not sure anyone is happy about it.)

      One other factor, I am going to guess that no one church was bigger that 40 or 50 people, since they were still meeting in homes. Perhaps a community of Cyrenes living in Antioch hosted a familiar synagogue service in their home or only ten men, the minimum for a synagogue!

      • I don’t know what I think. I belong to a church that has an amazing heart for the multiethnic community it is in and is trying really hard to include all cultures and people. But at the same time I live in the community itself and find it hard to imagine how their cultural expression of worship could be expressed if they joined my church. My feeling at the moment is that often discussions like this focus on church as being Sunday morning only. If our definition if church is Sunday morning then multicultural church is harder than if we had a broader definition of what church is.

  2. Great Post! I’m both skeptical and open to new information. When someone suggested to me that Luke was a Hellenistic Jew, I had my typical “What? You’re nuts!” thoughts in my head.

    But, just when I think I’ve got things figured out, something comes along and—SMACK– knocks me upside the head and I learn something that totally turns my perspective around.

    The linked article from John Wenham did just that. It takes some careful digestion, as does his book “Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke”.

    They aren’t strong arguments, but when considered altogether, they raise some serious questions.

    (The possibility of Luke as Lucius brought the article to mind. )

    1) Was Luke one of the 70?
    2) Was Luke the unnamed person on the road to Emmaus?
    3) Was Luke a Hellenistic Jew and an actual kinsman (not just a fellow Jew) of Paul?
    4) Was Luke present at more than just the ‘we’ passages in the later chapters of Acts?
    5) Is “thoroughly investigated everything from the beginning” from Luke 1:4 the best translation, or is it even accurate?
    6) Was Luke the same person as Lucius of Cyrene?

    and more…
    “The Identification of Luke” John Wenham 1991

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