Sunday, December 17Exploring The Black Presence In The Bible

From Niger to Nigger: Simeon and The Other Black Apostles


"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge..." - Hosea 4:6

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Did you know that the apostle Simeon was nicknamed Niger… pronounced NEE-GER in Latin? Growing up, I was taught that it was pronounced ny-jer, so I never gave it any additional thought. A couple of years ago, Xavier Jackson brought up the reference in Acts, which motivated me to give it a second look. Let’s start by looking at the verse:

“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.” – Acts 13:1

We’re going to dig into every aspect of this verse, starting with the word “Niger” and then we’re going to investigate what seems to be a list of black apostles.

From Niger To Nigger

What we have above is another of the many interesting references to skin color hidden all over the Bible. In Western culture, we are taught that the word Niger is pronounced ny-jer, but that is incorrect:


As we can hear, the word is pronounced a little different than it is pronounced in the West. We run into similar mispronunciations like this all of the time, even though the people know for a fact that they are pronouncing it wrong. They choose to go out of their way to pronounce words incorrectly, which leads to others pronouncing them the same way. The most often occurs with names of people of color.

  • 2 Pac – The majority of people pronounce it TWO-POCK. However, some non black people choose to say it wrong as TWO-PACK, even though they are capable of pronouncing it correctly. This is done on purpose as a sign of disrespect.
  • 50 Cent – The majority of people pronounce it FIFTY-CENT. However, many non black people go out of their way to pronounce it as FIDDY-CENT for whatever reason, in an attempt to sound “black”. 50 Cent explains in his own words.

I do not believe that the pronunciation of words has any racist intent behind them, but are a result of what people THINK they heard, when it was pronounced, at least in most cases. Sometimes it’s just outright stereotyping. When we look at the progression of the pronunciation of the word “Niger”, we run into something similar.

  1. nee-jer
  2. nee-ger
  3. nigger

In order to understand why black people went from being called Niger to Nigger, we must look at the definition of the word.



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The Definition of Niger

In Spanish, we find another more familiar word that also has the same meaning:

  • Negro: Mid 16th century: via Spanish and Portuguese from Latin niger, nigr- black. – Oxford Dictionary

Spanish is a Latin based language, and Latin was spoken by the Roman conquerors that the Hebrews referred to as Gentiles (Matthew 20:19). The early uses of the word niger and later negro, were not racist, but were more descriptive of skin color. When slaves were brought to the Americas, the descriptive terms were later turned into racial slurs meant to degrade slaves and their descendants.

But Wait There’s More…

This is solely my opinion, but I believe that the term “nigger” arose not only because of cultural mispronunciation, but also because it was a broad term used to describe black people in general. Slave owners had no desire to learn individual tribes or even names of slaves. Because of that, slaves were renamed and the broader term “niger” became “nigger” as a means of reference.

Over time the word “nigger” took on racist and hateful undertones, which is why the word is so taboo in modern society. Again, that is just my opinion, but it seems to be the case based on the history of the word.

Now that we’ve looked at Simeon the black apostle, let’s take a look at the other people mentioned in Acts 13:1.

The List of Black Apostles

At first glance, Acts 13:1 just looks like a list of names of apostles, and it is. However, as is the norm with scripture, there is a lot more to what is being presented in the text. Let’s look at each of the names in the list.

  1. Barnabas – A Levite born in Cyprus. Cyprus was ruled an inhabited by people of color before and after Roman invasion and occupation. It’s also interesting to note that Moses was a Levite as well, and was also mistaken for an Egyptian. It is very likely that Barnabas was a person of color.
  2. Simeon – He was surnamed Niger, pronounced “nee-jer”, which means “black skin” in Latin.
  3. Lucius of Cyrene – Cyrene is a city located in Libya, Africa
  4. Manaen – Only mentioned once in the Bible. Nothing else is known about him from scripture.
  5. Saul – Later renamed Paul, he was from the tribe of Benjamin, and was mistaken for an Egyptian (Acts 21:38).

With the exception of Manaen, the other apostles listed are either called black, originate from Africa, lived in a historically ethnic area, or was mistaken for an African. Reason and logic dictate that these were not light or white skinned people.

The Breakdown

While it is certainly PC to make the claim that the Bible doesn’t talk about skin color, it’s certainly not true at all. All over the Bible we see references to skin color. The more we dig into scripture to find the meaning behind the names, locations, and culture… the more we see that the Bible is a document written by people of color, to people of color, but later included the Gentiles for redemption through Christ.




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7 Comments

  • Chad

    Thanks for the research, I would say that All of the early apostles were “people of color”, because they were from this middle east region of the World, Jesus was a person of color, because he was a Jewish middle eastern man, I think this needs to be emphasized because I hear so many times that Christianity is a “white Man’s religion”, which of course is false, “God does not look on the outward man, as man sees, but God looks at the heart”. I love the diversity in the church at Antioch, a beautiful picture of what the modern church should be.
    Thanks again!

    • Black History In The Bible

      Let’s not be confused by what modern day “Middle Eastern” people look like. The people we see now are what they look like POST European invasion and thousands of years of mixing. Even the Bible notes that Cushites built Babylon. Cushites are black Africans. You can find that in Genesis 10 – 11. There are still black Arabs today that look more African than modern Middle Eastern.

      I think the reason many people believe it’s the white man’s religion is because the white man has done so much to cover up the truth.

  • I believe Simon the Cyrene was Black and I believe Simon carried the cross of Jesus because he was Jesus of Nazareth and Simon the Pharisee the Father and Judge of the Oral Traditions and the Law (Buttrick, George Arthur. “Pharisees.” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3. New York: Abingdon; 1962, pp 776-777.) According to the Gospel of Mark, Simon was the Father of Rufus and Alexander (Mark 15:21).

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