After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.
Daniel N. Balge
Antioch in Syria felt the ripple effect of Pentecost. Christians fled the persecution in Jerusalem, came to Antioch, and shared the good news of Jesus. Soon a church was prospering.
The commissioning of workers
The growing congregation sent Paul (Saul) and Barnabas as missionaries to the Gentiles. At that commissioning service, leaders of the Antioch church laid hands of blessing on them. These leaders included a man named Manaen (Greek for the Hebrew Menachem).
It was fitting that Manaen participate. Luke tells us, “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. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1-3).
Aspects of Paul and Barnabas’ commissioning are still part of the installation of a teacher, staff minister, or pastor, and the commissioning of a missionary. Prayer, blessing, and the laying on of hands mark the occasion then and now.
An unlikely church leader
Manaen was part of the service. What’s startling is his connection to Herod the tetrarch. The phrase “brought up with” reflects the essential meaning of Luke’s Greek word describing Manaen’s role in Herod’s life. The word implies that Manaen had been from boyhood nurtured and educated alongside the tetrarch, who was known also as Herod Antipas. The word suggests “childhood friend” and even “foster-brother,” someone bonded to Herod by early shared experiences, though by this time Herod was dead or in exile.
Herod the tetrarch (literally, “quarter-ruler”) had governed only a fourth of his father Herod the Great’s kingdom—just Galilee and Perea. In that role he ordered the beheading of John the Baptist to keep a careless promise (Mark 6:14-29). While on a Passover visit to Jerusalem, Manaen’s old friend had briefly held custody of Jesus, a Galilean, on Good Friday. When Jesus refused to perform tricks for him or even speak to him, the tetrarch made fun of Jesus and sent him back to Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:6-12). Herod the tetrarch kept up a family tradition of gross wickedness. Lurid stains of intrigue, incest, murder, and general viciousness splash across the story of several generations of the Herodian family.
If ever there was a man in a position to live up to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16), it was Manaen. Amid the Herods, he likely gained the benefit of a first-class education, found deep insight into how the Roman world worked, and lost all illusions about the evil of the human heart. His Hebrew name hints at a familiarity, perhaps a strong one, with the Old Testament. And he had come to faith in Jesus as his Savior from sin. Then all else in his background combined to serve the gospel and make him a respected leader among the Christians in Antioch.
Amazing, isn’t it, the people God uses in his church? People like Manaen. People like us.
Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.
This is the fifth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.
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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016
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