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Bible Commentaries
Acts 12

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-25

XII 1-25 The Persecution of Herod Agrippa —1-5 St Peter Imprisoned, A.D. 44 —1. ’Now about that time’, i.e. presumably before the arrival of Barnabas and Saul, who found only presbyters at large, and before the spring of 44, when St Peter was arrested. Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great, who put his father Aristobulus to death in 7 b.c.. He was then at the age of three, sent to Rome with his mother Berenice, and brought up at the Court. He led a disorderly life, and shortly before the death of Tiberius in a.d. 37, he was thrown into prison. Caligula, his companion in debauchery, released him, and gave him some of the territories of his grandfather. Claudius added Judaea and Samaria in 41, thus completing the restoration. He courted not only the great but also his subjects, and his persecution was intended as a proof of his zeal for the Law. At Jerusalem he kept the Law, and offered the prescribed sacrifices, but in his palace at Caesarea he put up statues to his daughters, and eventually allowed himself to be called a god, v 23. The persecution, undertaken to please the Sanhedrin, differed from that after the death of St Stephen in that it struck at the Apostles, whose acceptance of Gentiles had no doubt alienated popular support.

2. St James (cf.Mark 10:39) was presumably accused of a political crime, since the penalty of blasphemy was stoning. This is the last ref. to St John in Ac, though see Galatians 2:9. As to his alleged martyrdom at this time see § § 607k and 777g.

3. During the week following the Passover no leaven was eaten. Crowds of pilgrims thronged the city, and these too Herod hoped to please.

4. ’Four groups of four soldiers’. In the Roman army each group was on duty for one of the four watches of day and night. Two soldiers remained in the cell, with the prisoner chained to them, and the other two were stationed, one at the door of the cell and one at the outer door. These precautions were in view of St Peter’s escapes. He was to be condemned after the Pasch, which must not be desecrated by a public execution. Our Lord’s death just prior to the Feast had been at the hands of the Romans. Sentence was to be passed publicly, to please the people; cf.John 19:13.

6-11 St Peter’s Release —6. The night before his trial St Peter lay guarded as usual, 4. 7. The angel ’awoke’ him. 8. The girdle which held up the flowing tunic had to be put on, then the sandals and the cloak. St Peter was to be in no hurry.

10. The two guards, 4, were passed, and the outer door opened of itself. The prison was probably the Fortress Antonia; see on 21:31. 11. The street reached, the angel’s work was done, and St Peter realized the miracle.

12-17 St Peter leaves Jerusalem —12. ’Becoming aware of what had happened’ he decided it would be unwise to return to his own house. On the house of St Mark’s mother see on 1:13. On St Mark, probably the source of this vivid account, see comm. on Mk § § 724-5. 14. With persecution raging, the door was locked. 15. The disciples anticipated the scepticism of later critics. On the guardian angel see § 820g.

17. On St James see on 15:13. St Luke deliberately omits to say where St Peter went, perhaps because, as tradition preserved by Eusebius and others maintains, it was to Rome. In a.d. 63 it may well have been unwise to mention St Peter’s visit to the capital, in which he then lived or to which he would soon return. If not Rome, then Antioch, which he certainly visited at some time, Galatians 2:11. He was back in Jerusalem for the Council in a.d. 49, and that is the last time he appears in Ac.

18-25 The Death of Herod —19. The soldiers seem to have suffered the usual punishment; cf. 16:27; 27:42. Herod perhaps hoped to put the blame on them. 20-21. St Luke and Josephus give independent accounts. According to Ant. XIX, 8, 2. Herod was celebrating games, probably in thanksgiving for Claudius’s return from his expedition to Britain. He appeared in the amphitheatre in a robe of silver. When the morning rays of the sun lit it up, the flatterers cried out that he was a god. The king gave no reprimand, and as he raised his eyes, saw an owl, the bird of ill omen. He was then seized with sudden internal pains, and died in agony five days later. St Luke gives us the precise nature of the illness and its profound cause. As to the embassy from the Tyrians and Sidonians, ’because their country depended on the King’s country for food’, there seems to have been trade rivalry between them and Herod’s port at Caesarea. They depended on Judaea for corn. 22. The people were pagans; see on 8:40. 23. Contrast 10:26 and 14:14. Herod died the death of the impious, 2 Mac 9:5; Isaiah 66:24, in the summer of a.d. 44, and his kingdom was once more ruled by procurators. His children appear in 24:24 and 25:13. 24. With the persecutor dead, and for the next four years strife between the Jews and the new procurators, the Gospel could once more spread in Judaea. This is the end of the history of the Church of Jerusalem in Ac. It only appears again incidentally, and with the Apostles gone, and the church of the Gentiles growing, it declines in importance; see on 15:1. 25. Some MSS including B and Sin. have ’returned to Jerusalem’, presumably after distributing relief in Judaea. However, we may safely read, with the great majority of exegetes, as in DV. Barnabas and Saul were planning to continue the preaching to the Gentiles, and saw how valuable the former’s cousin would prove, with his personal witness to our Lord’s life, and also his knowledge of Gk. The return to Antioch must have been during the second half of a.d. 44.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Acts 12". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/acts-12.html. 1951.
 
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