Simeon, that was called Niger (Acts 13:1)
Simeon is an alternate spelling of the name Simon (Acts 15:14 spells Simon Peter’s name Simeon). The name Niger means “black.” Some have suggested that this means that Simeon was a black man. If this is the case, then it would imply that Simeon was a Gentile, and would therefore be the first recorded Gentile prophet in the New Testament. If the fact that he was called “black” means that he was indeed of African descent, then that makes the Antioch church look even better, because they didn’t care about skin color.
Others state that in the Roman Empire, the surname “Niger” or “Black” was just as common as the name “Black” is today in the United States.
A third suggestion which is made is that this Simeon/Simon was one of the people mentioned in 11:20, and that the phrase “of Cyrene” applies in 13:1 to both Simeon/Simon and Lucius. If this is the case, then it would identify this man with Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus Christ to Golgotha.1 According to Mark 15:21, he is also the father of two men whose name pop up elsewhere in the biblical record: Rufus2 and Alexander.3
Luke has a habit of rarely mentioning people by name unless they show up elsewhere, are well-known to his readers, or are a main character in the narrative. For example, there are two disciples on the road to Emmaus who meet the resurrected Christ. One of them (Cloepas) is named, the other is not. According to John 19:25, Cleopas (also spelled “Cleophas”) was the husband of one of the women who stood at the cross of Christ. Though this isn’t definitive proof, it points to Simeon being someone who appears elsewhere in the biblical record. For that reason, it seems as though identifying him with the man who carried the cross of Jesus would make the most sense.
But look at the beauty of this: A man who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time was grabbed and forced to carry Jesus’ cross. There’s no indication that this man was a disciple of Jesus at this point. But then comes Pentecost, and Simon of Cyrene hears the gospel, and obeys it. He returns home and teaches them. He hears about the household of Cornelius, and he knows the importance of that event. He rushes to Antioch and starts preaching Jesus to the Gentiles there, and watches the church grow and flourish. While he’s there, he meets Saul of Tarsus, the former persecutor-turned-prophet, and gets to know him. And it’s also about this time that his name becomes immortalized, because Matthew—one of Jesus twelve apostles—has published the first official gospel account,4 and it is making its rounds among the Jews and Jewish Christians. And there, near the end of it, Simeon sees the words, “And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled him to carry (Jesus’) cross.”
Is it any wonder that Simeon is mentioned in this list?
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Luke 23:26
2 Romans 16:13
3 Acts 19:33
4 Some scholars date Matthew as early as AD 38. It is not within the scope of this work to debate/prove the order in which the gospels were written. However, we would submit that every collection of the gospels in Greek and Latin have Matthew first. We would also submit that it was the universal assertion of early Christian writers (at least, of those who spoke to the order of writing) that Matthew and Luke were written first, then Mark, then John. J.W. McGarvey suggests a date between AD 42-58, while seeming to lean towards the earlier end of the spectrum.