Who Are These People?

03 Nov

Luke records for us in Acts 13:1 the names of five church leaders at Antioch, saying: “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” Who are these people? Luke simply mentions their names. We know a little about Barnabas, but I’ll deal with him at length in another blog. We know who Saul is, and I have already written about Lucius of Cyrene HERE, but who are Simeon, called Niger, and Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch? Can we know?

I find it somewhat interesting that, if we couple the five mentioned here with the seven Hellenist Messianics mentioned in Acts 6 we have twelve. Is the Lord telling us through Luke that, just as he had anointed and sent twelve apostles to the Jews, he also has anointed and is sending twelve apostles to the gentiles? We cannot know this for certain, but it is a curious possibility. In any event, just as we don’t know a lot about the Twelve Jesus sent to the Jews, we probably cannot know (from the Scriptures) who many of these twelve were. Moreover, just as we know more about Peter and Judas than any of the other Twelve, we know more about Barnabas and Saul/Paul than the names of the other twelve mentioned here and in Acts 6. Some of them we know only by name, as far as the Scriptures are concerned. Therefore, it wouldn’t be an oddity, if we cannot identify these two men further. Certainly, we don’t know much about Stephen and Philip of Acts 6, and the other five we know only by name.

That said, notice that the list of names is separated by the word “and” in the English, and this is in the Greek. If we take out Simeon’s nick name we could read it: “…Barnabas and Simeon and Lucius of Cyrene…” Could both Simeon and Lucius be both from Cyrene? Cyrene is a country located in northern Africa and west of Jerusalem. The people there are darker skinned than is normally supposed of Jews and Europeans, and Simeon was identified in Antioch by his nickname “Niger” or “the black” (one). Since Lucius was also from Cyrene, his skin color was also probably dark, but just as some black people today are lighter or darker than one another, so to it might have been so for Simeon and Lucius. Lucius’ name means “light, bright or white” according to Thayer. The meaning of names were important to 1st century CE Jews, and Lucius, if born in Cyrene, may have had lighter skin than his blacker brethren, just as it is so among black people today.

If the above is logical, and remembering that Simeon is the same name as Simon, despite the different spelling, for notice that Peter is called Simeon in Acts 15:14 but elsewhere called Simon (cp. John 1:42; 21:15-17), Simeon of Acts 13:1 may have been the same Simon who carried the cross behind our Lord (cp. Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). Jews from all over the Empire came to Jerusalem during the 1st century CE to attend the annual Jewish festivals. Luke offers us a list of fifteen regions out of which these pilgrims came just after the crucifixion (Acts 2:8-11). As it is anywhere when large groups of people gather, some of the pilgrims died during their stay in Jerusalem and would have been buried there, rather than relatives taking or shipping their bodies home. Josephus records many thousands, perhaps up to a million pilgrims dying following the Passover during the Jerusalem revolt. Ossuaries holding their bones and labeled with both their names and places of origin are sometimes uncovered during archeological digs. In 1962, Dr. Nahman Avigad, an archaeologist, unearthed a burial cave of Jews from Cyrene just outside Jerusalem, and he dates his discovery prior to 70 CE.

One of these ossuaries is marked in Aramaic: ‘Alexander of Cyrene’. It is inscribed twice in Greek: “Alexander son of Simon.” Could this be the same Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21)? The names: Alexander, Simon and their place of origin, Cyrene, inscribed on the ossuary match up with the Scripture, so it is at least a possibility, and if true, it is possible that Alexander became a believer and died in the persecution that followed the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1-4 cp. Acts 11:19-21), for only Rufus (his brother?) is mentioned with his mother in Paul’s letter to the Romans (cp. Romans 16:13). The fact that both of Simon’s sons are mentioned in Mark suggests that he and his family became believers and were known to Mark’s readers, the Romans, and this same Simon who carried Jesus crossbeam to the place of the crucifixion was from Cyrene, probably had black skin, and may even be the same Simeon, called Niger, who helped evangelize the first gentile believers of Antioch (Acts 11:20; cp. 13:1).

What of the one called Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch? His name means “comforter” and may be a nickname given him by the disciples just as “Barnabas” was given to Joseph (cp. Acts 4:36); he was a member of Herod Antipas’ court and grew up with him. By this time in Acts 13:1, Herod had been banished to Gaul. Manaen could be the same as person as Chuza, Joanna’s husband (Luke 8:3). Chuza may be the nobleman who sought Jesus to heal his son (John 4:46-53), which would explain why Joanna was one of Jesus’ supporters. Of course, these things aren’t embedded in cement, but one has to wonder what happened to those people the Gospels mention who believed the Lord. Why are they singled out there but never heard of again? Could some of them be mentioned in Acts or Paul’s epistles without our realizing it through a cursory read? We need to be careful not to draw firm conclusions over these matters, but we should also leave our minds open to accepting the implications the Scriptures might be making.


Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Gospel, New Testament History


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10 responses to “Who Are These People?

  1. ron bontrager

    April 13, 2013 at 17:56

    This is the best description of these unknown men I’ve seen yet. Thanks for your work and your insights!

  2. Eddie

    April 13, 2013 at 19:58

    Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. Lord bless you in your walk with Christ.

  3. R. L. Longworth

    September 16, 2016 at 13:39

    Studying for a message … The Ideal Church …the Church at Antioch when the Church was first called Christians. It was a multicultural church filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing some of the gifts of the Spirit to be used. Thanks for the study.

  4. Eddie

    September 16, 2016 at 22:26

    Thanks for reading and for your encouragement. Lord bless you.

  5. Harry Holley

    June 7, 2019 at 07:42

    I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to reveal the unwritten things of God’s Word to you to help us better understand His Word.

  6. Eddie

    June 7, 2019 at 09:00

    Greetings Harry, and thank you for reading, but especially for your prayers and kind words. Lord bless you.

  7. Linda Vogt Turner

    February 26, 2021 at 16:41

    You are onto something Eddie. Instead of taking out the nickname Niger in Acts 13:1 simply believe Simon was called by all the names in the list.

    Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch), and Saul.

    Think of Simon as being called Niger, Lucius and Manaen who had grown up at the time of Herod the Tetrarch with Saul. For instance, think of someone born in Canada or the United States when Louis St. Laurant was the Prime Minister of Canada and who could trace their African-Canadian/American blood relatives through genealogy records all the way back to Sierra Leone or Libya to the city of Shahat formerly called Cyrene. Manaen spelled Manahen means Consoler. And Barnabas was considered to be a consoler, an encourager (Acts 4:36).

    Simon the Cyrene carried the Cross of Jesus and Simon was the Father of Alexander aka Apollo who had a red-haired sister regarded as Artemis (Mark 15:21). The Pauline letter to the Romans 16:13 asks the Romans to greet Rufus (the red-haired one) as the chosen one in the Lord and as the Mother of Jesus and to [Greet] me [the author of this letter]. The Ephesians worshipped Artemis as the Great Mother.

  8. Eddie

    February 26, 2021 at 22:42

    Miss Turner, greetings. You have your understanding and I have posted mine, and there is very little agreement between the two. Have a good day.

  9. Linda Vogt Turner

    February 26, 2021 at 22:55

    It is Dr. Turner. And as you say you have your understanding and I have mine. Are you the same Eddie I’ve been chatting with on Smoodock’s Blog? I

  10. Eddie

    February 26, 2021 at 22:56

    The same.

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