There is a phenomenon in science called “sensitive dependence on initial conditions in a dynamical system,” more commonly known as “the butterfly effect.”
In 1951, Edward Lorenz was running a model of weather predictions. The first time he entered a value of 0.506127 for one of the variables (the most digits the primitive computer would hold). The next time, Lorenz took a shortcut and only carried out the variable to the thousandths place, 0.506.
We’re talking about a truly tiny change—like having $1,000 in your pocket and discovering that you’ve lost a single dime. It’s a negligible, meaningless amount. Thus, Lorenz was stunned to discover that when he ran the model the second time, the computer came up with a completely different weather prediction!
Realizing that a tiny change in one variable could have gigantic results in outcomes, Lorenz published his findings in a paper for the New York Academy of Sciences, and stated, “one flap of a seagull’s wings could change the course of weather forever.” In later speeches, he changed the seagull to a butterfly, and coined a phrase that has found its way into popular culture.
The “butterfly effect” can be seen in situations where two objects begin close together but end up very far apart. Think of the Plinko carnival game. Or think of standing on a watershed, where a drop of rain that lands by your left foot runs into the Pacific, but a drop of rain that lands by your right foot runs into the Gulf of Mexico.
By now you must be asking why this matters, and who is this guy Manaen. In Acts 13:1, we are introduced to the teachers at the church at Syrian Antioch:
Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
From this point Luke begins to describe the important missionary work of Paul and Barnabas, and we forget about once-mentioned Manaen. But this description of him is truly fascinating, and it deserves our closer attention.
The Herod to whom Luke refers is Herod Antipas, one of the most corrupt, sinful individuals mentioned in Scripture. His father was Herod the Great, the so-called king of Judea who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem in an effort to destroy Jesus. Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea until 39AD. He is the Herod who stole his brother’s wife and beheaded John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). He is the Herod who mocked Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:8-12). His nephew, Herod Agrippa, is the one who killed James in Acts 12:1-2. Obviously, the Herods were not nice people.
While the Greek term syntrophos could mean a number of things, including “attendant at court,” all the translations except the RSV prefer the most natural meaning, “childhood companion, or foster brother,” from the verb trephô, “to bring up or raise” (see Luke 4:16) and the prefix syn, “with or together.” Some scholars believe that the two had been nursed together and raised together by the same woman (McGarvey, Commentary on Acts, Vol. 2, p. 2).
Whatever the precise details of their childhood, it is clear that Herod Antipas and Manaen started out in similar circumstances and in the same household. Their masters taught them the same lessons, gave them same privileges, and pointed them toward the same goals. They witnessed the same sights and heard the same sounds. They may have eaten at the same tables and reclined on the same cushions. It is therefore utterly amazing that one went on to become a hedonistic pagan and murderous tyrant, and the other went on to become a follower of Jesus Christ and a teacher of the gospel!
And this fact points not to random puffs of wind or a lucky bounce, but to the way these two men chose to respond to the gospel. Is it possible for a person steeped in a sinful environment, fed on the philosophies of evolution and materialism, bred in the ways of the world, to chart a different course from his fellows? Yes! The gospel can resonate in the hearts of a few sensitive individuals, and cause them to separate from the pack. How did two people, Manaen and Herod Antipas, start so similarly, and finish so differently? Because they received differently the truth of the gospel.
Two men may sit in the same pew—one can strive for eternal life, the other can turn a deaf ear (Romans 12:1-2). Two sisters can grow up in the same God-forsaken household—one can put God first, the other reject God entirely. A thousand people can attend the same high school, and a handful can emerge with a love for Jesus Christ. What starts together doesn’t have to stay together, thanks to the transforming power of the gospel. –John Guzzetta