Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger…
This is the only record that we have of this man. Yet it is impossible not to find a melancholy interest in the juxtaposition of characters and lives so strangely contrasted. At the very time that the one foster-brother was prominent among the ministers of Christ, the other was living in a dishonoured exile with a dark past and a hopeless future — a fact of daily experience, viz., that the lives of men may begin, in the closest companionship, and under nearly the same conditions, and yet the end of the one shall be honour and the other shame.
1. The name Manaen was connected earlier with the Herods. When Herod the Great was a boy, an Essene of this name, believed to possess prophetic gifts, met him as he went to school, and reading, perhaps, in his features the signs of an insatiable ambition and an indomitable will, hailed him as "king of the Jews." He stood in somewhat the same relation to him that Ahijah did to Jeroboam. As with the son of Nebat, so with the son of Antipater, the early prophecy was not forgotten. When he attained the summit of his power he would fain have attached the prophet to his court as friend and counsellor. What the identity of name renders probable is that on the refusal of the old man the king transferred his offer of patronage to his son, or grandson, and had brought him up as the companion of one of his favourite sons. If so, the first great event in the life of Manaen must have been the change from the stern purity of the life of the Essenes to the pomp and luxury of the court of Herod. Soon this would be followed by a yet greater change. Antipas and Archelaus were sent to receive their education at Rome, and Manaen would naturally share this training. He may have heard of the arrival of the "wise men," and could not have been altogether ignorant of the Messianic hopes which animated the people. The very name which he bore (Menahem, the comforter), bore witness of this hope.
2. One so brought up would continue to be attached to the royal household, and Manaen may have adopted the life and the principles of those with whom he lived. He may have acquiesced in the king's incestuous marriage, but we can estimate the effect which the teaching of the Baptist must have had upon him. Here he saw a life, like in form to that devotion which he had known in his youth, the reappearance of the prophetic character, the open and fearless speech, as of a new Elijah, and as we find traces of the influence of the Baptist's teaching within the circle of Herod's attendants, it is reasonable to think that he too must have come under it.
3. The first trace is in Luke 3:14, where "the soldiers" were literally "men on a march" to the war with Aretas, the father of the wife whom the tetrarch had divorced in order that he might indulge his guilty passion for Herodias. The line of their march would take them down the valley of the Jordan, and so they would pass by the chief scene of the Baptist's ministry. From that hour there must have been many among the attendants of Herod who were disciples of John.
4. The next trace meets us in John 4:46, where the word "nobleman" means an attendant of the king, i.e., of the tetrarch Antipas. I do not assume the identity of this "nobleman" with Manaen, but I point to it as one of the tokens of the Baptist's work as "preparing the way of the Lord," even among Herod's followers. The nobleman thus believed, and Herod's court now included some who were disciples, not of the Baptist only, but of the Prophet of Nazareth.
5. The imprisonment of John brought him into yet closer contact with the tetrarch's immediate followers. Even Herod himself "heard him gladly." It is clear from Matthew 11:2, 3, that some of the Baptist's disciples were allowed free access to him, and who so likely as attendants of the prince? If we believe that every word which our Lord spoke at such a time was full of meaning, "they that wear soft clothing and are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' houses," may have been those who were halting between two opinions, "like reeds shaken by the wind," whom it was necessary to remind that the true servants of God were to be found, not "in kings' houses," but in prison.
6. The narrative of the circumstances of the Baptist's death includes notice of the feast of "lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee," amongst whom must have been the "nobleman" of Capernaum, and the "steward" of Herod's household, and the king's "foster-brother and friend," who must have shuddered with an unimaginable loathing. It was time for them to make their choice.
7. At or about this time, some at least did make it, and among them was she who "ministered to Christ of her sustenance," e.g., "Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward." This she could hardly have done, according to the Jewish law of property and marriage, without her husband's consent.
8. It may be that up to this point the foster-brother had continued faithful to the relationship which that name involved. But soon the course of events brought about a disruption of it. The ambitious intrigues of Herod Agrippas (Acts 12) enabled him to assume the disused title of king. This gave him a higher dignity than that of his uncle the tetrarch, and the pride of Herodias was stung to the quick, and she gave her husband no peace until he had taken the fatal step of leaving his tetrarchy, in the hope of obtaining the privilege of regal rank. But the attempt failed, and he had the mortification of seeing his tetrarchy merged in the kingdom of Agrippa, and was exiled first to Gaul and then to Spain. The tradition that Pilate also was banished to the former province, suggests the probability that the two may have met once again there, to test the value of the friendship which had been purchased at so terrible a price.
9. About this time we have the first actual mention of Manaen. Unknown as he is to us, he stood then on the same level as Barnabas, in a higher position than St. Paul. Whatever his past life had been, it had led him to this. But what calls for special notice, as showing the tendency of the Baptist's teaching, is the fact that he is found at Antioch, not at Jerusalem. The words of the Baptist, "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham," contained by implication the whole gospel of the calling of the heathen, and Manaen must have seen that they did so. At Antioch, too, he must have taken upon himself the new name, and to one who had seen Antipas and Jesus face to face it must have been a joy unspeakable to cast off all connection with the Herodiani, and to take his place among the Christiani. In him, the prophetic form of utterance which had reappeared in John after long centuries of desuetude was powerful. As the disciples of John fasted oft, so he and those who were with him "fasted" as they ministered to the Lord. From his lips and theirs came the words which marked out the fittest labourers for the new and mighty work. One who had begun with the training of an Essene, and the teaching of the Baptist, now gave the right hand of fellowship to the two new apostles, not of "the twelve," as they went forth to their work among the heathen.
10. To such a man the Gentile Church, in its infancy, must have owed much. He alone of all the earlier teachers of the Church may have sojourned in the imperial city. From him the Apostle of the Gentiles must have had encouragement and support, and there is a probability that the debt is even greater. St. Luke's life as a Christian must have begun at Antioch, and if so, then he must have known Manaen, and from him he may have learnt many of the facts of the history of the Baptist, and the details of Herodian history, of which the third Gospel is so full. Conclusion: Whatever interest may attach to the juxtaposition of the two names of Manaen and Antipas, is deepened and strengthened by this fuller study. The danger of the weak will — untrue to its own convictions, and therefore losing them altogether, or keeping them only to its own condemnation — the power of earnestness and faith to triumph over the temptations of outward circumstances and perilous companionship are seen more clearly. Our inquiries, too, will have added something to the conviction as we read the Gospels that we are dealing, not with "cunningly devised fables," but with true histories, dropping hints, after the manner of all true histories, naturally and incidentally, suggesting more than they tell, and rewarding those who seek diligently with new insight into the facts which they record.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.