Paul and the Church in Antioch

When they were set apart for a special mission by the Holy Spirit, Saul and Barnabas were leaders in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1). The 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 (Acts, 2:1983). Synagogues had teachers, although the extent to which they were also 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. 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 (Acts 2:1833).

St Peter's Church, Antakya, Turkey

St Peter’s Church, Antakya, Turkey

What is the origin of the church in Antioch? Hellenistic Jews who fled Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen returned to their homes in Antioch and Damascus (Acts 11:19). It is also possible that the Hellenistic Jews purposely shifted their ministry away from Jerusalem to Antioch since there were a large number of like-minded Jewish people in the city. The next most likely cities for Hellenistic Jews to spread the gospel in Greek Speaking Jewish synagogues would have been Antioch, Damascus, and Alexandria.

The book of Acts does not mention anything about a similar Christian presence in Alexandria, Egypt even though the city had a large population of Hellenistic Jews. That at least two of the Christians mentioned in Acts 13 are from North Africa is perhaps a hint some Hellenists moved to Antioch rather than Egypt. Schnabel cites Rainer Riesner as suggesting the prosperity of Antioch was the motivating factor: these Christian Hellenistic Jews found a place where they could support themselves while participating in ministry in the synagogues of Antioch.

The church at Antioch was the first to do ministry among the Gentiles, but it is unclear that the move beyond the synagogue and God-Fearing gentiles. Acts 11:19 indicates that initially they only spoke to Jews, but a few did speak to Hellenists (11:20). As in Acts 6, the word Hellenist likely refers only to Jews who spoke Greek, in contrast to the Jews who spoke Aramaic. While I cannot prove this, I suspect there were synagogues which used Aramaic, and others which used Greek. If this guess is close to the mark, then the same cultural divide found in Acts 6 was present in Antioch as well.

The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch to encourage the church to remain true to the word do the Lord (Acts 11:22-26). Schnabel points out Barnabas was not simply an “inspector” from Jerusalem, but a “coordinator, missionary leader, and theological teacher (Early Christian Mission, 1:787).”  Perhaps, but there was some suspicion of the Antioch movement since non-apostles were establishing local congregations. It is unlikely the congregations in Antioch made any attempt to reach Gentiles beyond the God-Fearing Gentiles. For Luke, Paul’s mission on Cyprus in Acts 13 is the dramatic turning to the Gentiles.

Barnabas recognizes this as an opportunity for Saul and invites him to participate the ministry at Antioch. This is important: Saul was doing ministry among the Gentiles prior his move to Antioch, although Luke does not describe this ministry. Why bring Saul to Antioch? It may be as simple as Barnabas thinking Saul would fit well into the growing Gentile ministry in Antioch.

While these are Hellenistic Jews, they are not necessarily “liberal” on the Law. In fact, the Hellenists may have been more conservative on with respect to Jewish boundary markers than some of the Hebrew-speaking Jews in Jerusalem. As a former persecutor turned evangelist, Saul would have been a powerful testimony to the more conservative Jews.

How does Paul’s time in Antioch prepare him for the Gentile mission which begins on Acts 13? When he targets the Roman governor in Act 13:4-12, is Paul pushing the Gospel into cultural contexts where it has yet to reach? Based on the rest of Acts 13 and the falling out between Paul and Barnabas, would some Jewish Christians think Paul has gone too far by targeting people who are not already God-Fearing Gentiles?

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

Barnabas Icon

Barnabas

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.

Acts 13 – Gentiles and the Church in Syrian Antioch

When they were set apart for a special mission by the Holy Spirit, Saul and Barnabas were functioning as elders in the church at Antioch. Before examining the first missionary journey I want to reflect a moment on this important but overlooked church.

Syrian AntiochLikely as not, Hellenistic Jews who fled Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen returned to their homes in Antioch and Damascus (Acts 11:19). It is also possible that the Hellenistic Jews purposely shifted their ministry away from Jerusalem to Antioch since there were a large number of like-minded Jewish people in the city. The next most likely cities for Hellenistic Jews to spread the gospel in Greek Speaking Jewish synagogues would have been Antioch, Damascus, and Alexandria.

Why there is no tradition of a similar movement in Alexandria is interesting since that is another place with a large number of Hellenistic Jews. That at least two of the Christians mentioned in Acts 13 are from North Africa is perhaps a hint that most of the Hellenists moved to Antioch rather than Egypt. Schnabel cites Riesner as suggesting that the prosperity of Antioch was the motivating factor – these Christian Hellenistic Jews found a place where they could support themselves while participating in ministry in the synagogues of Antioch.

The church at Antioch seems to have done ministry among the Gentiles, but it is unclear that the move beyond the synagogue and God-Fearing gentiles. Acts 11:19 indicates that initially they only spoke to Jews, but a few did speak to Hellenists (11:20). As in Acts 6, the word Hellenist likely refers only to Jews who spoke Greek, in contrast to the Jews who spoke Aramaic. While I cannot prove this, I suspect there were synagogues which used Aramaic, and others which used Greek. If this guess is close to the mark, then the same cultural divide found in Acts 6 was present in Antioch as well.

The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch to encourage the church to remain true to the word do the Lord (11:22-26). Schnabel points out that Barnabas was not simply an “inspector” from Jerusalem, but a “coordinator, missionary leader, and theological teacher (Early Christian Mission, 1:787).”  Perhaps, but there may very well have been suspicion of the Antioch movement since non-Apostles are establishing local congregations. It is unlikely the congregations in Antioch made any attempt to reach Gentiles beyond the God-Fearing Gentiles.  For Luke, Paul’s mission on Cyprus is the dramatic turning to the Gentiles.

Nevertheless, Barnabas recognizes this as an opportunity for Saul and draws him into the ministry at Antioch. Saul was doing ministry among the gentiles prior to this, although Luke does not describe this ministry.  Why bring Saul to Antioch? It may be as simple as Barnabas knowing that Saul would fit the situation in Antioch well. While these are Hellenistic Jews, they are not necessarily “liberal” on the Law. In fact, as I observed earlier in this series, the Hellenists may have been more conservative on the boundary markers than some of the Hebrew-speaking Jews in Jerusalem. As a former persecutor turned evangelist, Saul would have been a powerful testimony to the more conservative Jews.

In a sense, Saul is the ultimate conservative Hellenistic Jew.

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.