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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Acts 12

Verse 1

1. κατ ʼ ἐκ . τ . καιρ . ] Before the arrival of Barnabas and Saul in Jerusalem. The famine in Judæa broke out under Cuspius Fadus, and continued under Tiberius Alexander, procurators of Judæa. Now Cuspius Fadus was sent to Judæa by Claudius on the death of Agrippa (i.e. after Aug. 6, A.D. 44). The visit of Barnabas and Saul must have taken place about the time of, or shortly after, Agrippa’s death.

Ἡρώδηςβασιλεύς ] HEROD AGRIPPA I., grandson of Herod the Great, son of Aristobulus and Berenice (Jos. Antt. xvii. 1.2; B. J. i. 28.1). Having gone to Rome, to accuse Herod the Tetrarch (Antipas), and fallen under the displeasure of Tiberius for paying open court to Caius Cæsar (Caligula), he was imprisoned and cruelly treated; but, on the accession of Caligula, released, and at once presented with the tetrarchy of Philip (Trachonitis), who had lately died, and the title of king. On this, Antipas, by persuasion of his wife Herodias, went to Rome, to try to obtain the royal title also, but was followed by his enemy Agrippa, who managed to get Antipas banished to Spain, and to obtain his tetrarchy (Galilee and Peræa) for himself. (Jos. Antt. xix. 8. 2.) Finally, Claudius, in return for services rendered to him by Agrippa, at the time of Caligula’s death, presented him with Samaria and Judæa (about 41 A.D., Jos. Antt. xix. 5. 1), so that he now ruled (Jos. ibid.) all the kingdom of Herod the Great. His character, as given by Josephus, Antt. xix. 7. 3, is important as illustrating the present chapter: ἐπεφύκει δὲβασιλεὺς οὗτος εὐεργετικὸς εἶναι ἐν δωρεαῖς , καὶ μεγαλοφρονῆσαι ἔθνη φιλότιμος , καὶ πολλοῖς ἀθρόως δαπανήμασιν ἀνιστὰς αὑτὸν εἰς ἐπιφάνειαν , ἡδόμενος τῷ χαρίζεσθαι , καὶ τῷ βιοῦν ἐν εὐφημίᾳ χαίρων … (see Act 12:3 ) … πραῢς δὲτρόπος Ἀγρίππᾳ , καὶ πρὸς πάντας τὸ εὐεργετικὸν ὅμοιον . ἡδεῖα γοῦν αὐτῷ δίαιτα καὶ συνεχὴς ἐν τοῖς Ἱεροσολύμοις ἦν , καὶ τὰ πάτρια καθαρῶς ἐτήρει . διὰ πάσης γοῦν αὑτὸν ἦγεν ἁγνείας , οὐδὲ ἡμέρα τὶς παρώδευεν αὐτῷ τῆς νομίμης χηρεύουσα θυσίας . This character will abundantly account for his persecuting the Christians, who were so odious to the Jews, and for his vain-glorious acceptance of the impious homage of the people, Acts 12:23 .

ἐπέβ . τ . χεῖρ . ] A pregnant construction. In full, it would be ἐπέβ . τὰς χ . ἐπί τινας τῶν ἀπὸ τ . ἐκκ ., τοῦ κακῶσαι αὐτούς . Some expositors (Heinr., Kuin.), not seeing this, have endeavoured to give to ἐπέβ . τ . χ . the unexampled meaning, not justified by Deuteronomy 12:7 ; Deuteronomy 15:10 , of ‘ took in hand,’ ‘attempted .’ The E. V. ‘ stretched forth his hands ’ (or, marg. ‘ began ’) is equally inadmissible. It should be, H. the K. laid his hands on certain of the church, to vex them.

τῶν ἀπό ] See reff., and compare ch. Acts 6:9 .

Verses 1-25


Verse 2

2. Ἰάκωβον ] Of him we know nothing besides what is related in the Gospels. He was the son of Zebedee, called ( Mat 4:21 ) together with John his brother: was one of the favoured Three admitted to the death-chamber of Jairus’s daughter ( Mar 5:37 ), to the mount of transfiguration ( Mat 17:1 ), and to the agony in the garden ( Mat 26:37 ). He, together with John his brother (named by our Lord ‘Boanerges,’ ‘sons of thunder’), wished to call down fire on the inhospitable Samaritans ( Luk 9:54 ), and prayed that his brother and himself might sit, one on the right hand and the other on the left, in the Lord’s kingdom ( Mat 20:20-24 ). It was then that He foretold to them their drinking of the cup of suffering and being baptized with the baptism which He was baptized with: a prophecy which James was the first to fulfil.

This is the only Apostle of whose death we have any certain record . With regard to all the rest, tradition varies, more or less, as to the place, or the manner, or the time of their deaths.

Eusebius, H. E. ii. 9, relates, from the Hypotyposes of Clemens, who had received it ἐκ παραδόσεως τῶν πρὸ αὐτοῦ , that the accuser of James, struck by his confession, became a Christian, and was led away with him to martyrdom, συναπήχθησαν οὖν ἄμφω , φησί , καὶ κατὰ τὴν ὁδὸν ἠξίωσεν ἀφεθῆναι αὐτῷ ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἰακώβου . ὁ δὲ ὀλίγον σκεψάμενος , εἰρήνη σοι , εἶπε , καὶ κατεφίλησεν αὐτόν . καὶ οὕτως ἀμφότεροι ὁμοῦ ἐκαρατομήθησαν .

μαχαίρ ] Probably according to the Roman method of beheading, which became common among the later Jews. It was a punishment accounted extremely disgraceful by the Jews: see Lightf. in loc.

Verse 3

3. ] See the character of Agrippa above.

προς . συλλ . ] A Hebraism: see reff.

αἱ ἡμ . τ . ἀζ . ] Wieseler (Chronol. der Apost. Zeit. pp. 215 220) regards the whole of the following narrative as having happened on one and the same day and night, viz. that of the 14th of Nisan (April 1), A.D. 44. He takes τὸ πάσχα in the strict meaning, ‘ the passover ,’ i.e. the eating of the passover on the evening of the 14th of Nisan, and thinks that Herod was intending to bring Peter forth on the next morning. He finds support for this in the four quaternions of soldiers, the guard for one night (see below), and maintains that the expression τὸ πάσ ̇ χα cannot apply to the whole festal period, which would have been τὴν ἑορτήν , or ταύτας τὰς ἡμέρας . But Bleek (Beiträge zur Ev.-kritik, p. 144) calls this view most arbitrary and even unnatural; and I own, with all respect for Wieseler’s general acumen, I am disposed to agree with this criticism. The whole cast of the narrative, the ἦσαν αἱ ἡμέ ραι , not ἦν ἡμέρ α τῶν ἀζ ., Luke’s own expression in his Gospel, Luke 22:7 , the intimation of enduring custody in the παραδοὺςφυλάσσειν αὐτ ., the delay implied in the βουλόμενος , in the imperfects ἐτηρεῖτο , ἦν γινομένη (not ἐγένετο ), the specification of τῇ νυκτὶ ἐκείνῃ as presupposing (notwithstanding what wieseler says to the contrary) more nights preceding, all this would be unaccountable in the precise historical diction of Luke, unless he had intended to convey an impression that some days elapsed . But still more decisive is his own definition of πάσχα , Luke 22:1 , ἑορτὴ τῶν ἀζύμων , λεγομένη πάσχα . So that μετὰ τὸ πάσχα may well = μετὰ τὴν ἑορτὴν τῶν ἀζύμων . The argument from the four quaternions of soldiers proves nothing: the same sixteen (see below) may have had him in permanent charge, that number being appointed as adequate to the duties required.

Verse 4

4. τέσσαρσιν τετραδίοις ] In military arrangements, Herod seems to have retained the Roman habits, according to which the night was divided into four watches, and each committed to four soldiers ( διδόασι φυλάκεια δύο · τὸ δὲ φυλάκειόν ἐστιν ἐκ τεσσάρων ἀνδρῶν , Polyb. vi. 33.7), to two of whom the prisoner was chained, the other two keeping watch before the doors of the prison, forming the first and second guards of Acts 12:10 . It is plain that this number being mentioned is no sign that the custody was only for one night .

μετὰ τὸ πάσχα ] (see above) after the days of the feast , i.e. after the 21st of Nisan. Herod, who (Acts 12:1 , note) observed rigorously the Jewish customs, would not execute a prisoner during the feast: ‘Non judicant die festo’ (Moed Katon Acts 12:2 , Meyer).

ἀναγ . αὐτ . τῷ λαῷ ] See ref.: to bring him out and sentence him in sight of the people .

Verse 5

5. ] On the duration implied by this verse, see above.

Verse 6

6. ἐκείν ] emphatic: that very night , viz. which preceded the day of trial.

The practice of attaching a prisoner to one keeper or more by a chain is alluded to by several ancient authors: e.g. Seneca, de Tranquill. 10, ‘Eadem custodia universos circumdedit, alligatique sunt etiam qui alligaverunt, nisi tu forte leviorem in sinistra catenam putas:’ and Epist. 5: ‘Quemadmodum eadem catena et militem et custodiam copulat.’ In the account of the imprisonment of Herod Agrippa himself by Tiberius, Jos. Antt. xviii. 6. 7, we read of the συνδεδεμένος αὐτῷ στρατιώτης . And we have an edict of Constantius, commanding, for binding prisoners, ‘prolixiores catenas, si criminis qualitas etiam catenarum acerbitatem postulaverit, ut et cruciatio desit, et permaneat sub fida custodia.’ (Wieseler, p. 414.) See note on ch. Acts 24:23 ; see also ch. Acts 28:16 ; Acts 28:20 .

ἐτήρουν τὴν φυλ . ] not, kept the watch (Raphel, Wolf, al.), but guarded the prison .

Verse 7

7 .] οἰκήματι , the chamber . It is in St. Luke’s manner to relate simultaneously the angelic appearance and the shining of a light around: cf. Luke 2:9 ; Luke 24:4 ; ch. Acts 10:30 . The light accompanied, or perhaps, as suggested here in syr-marg, shone from , the angel.

Verse 9

9. ] ἐξελθών , viz. from the οἴκημα .

Verse 10

10 .] The first and second watch or guard cannot mean the two soldiers to whom he was chained, on account of ἐξελθών above: but are probably the other two, one at the door of the chamber, the other at the outer door of the building. Then ‘the iron gate leading into the city’ was that outside the prison buildings, forming the exit from the premises. The situation of the prison is uncertain, but seems to have been in the city. The additional clause in D (see var. readd.) is remarkable, and can hardly be other than genuine.

Verse 11

11. ] ἐν ἑαυτῷ γ . , as E. V. coming to himself : having recovered his self-consciousness. He was before in the half consciousness of one who is dreaming and knows that it is a dream: except that in his case the dream was the truth , and his supposition the unreality.

Verse 12

12. συνιδών ] Not, considerans (as Vulg., Beza, Grot.): nor, ‘ being aware of the place of meeting ,’ with reference to what follows (Meyer), against which the aorist is decisive, importing some single act and not a state: but, as reff., referring to what went before ( οἶδα ἀληθῶς κ . τ . λ .), having become aware of it.

Ἰωάννου ] It is uncertain whether this John Mark was the same as the Evangelist Mark: but they have been generally believed to be the same. For a full account of him, see Prolegomena to Mark (Vol. I. § i.). His mother Mary was not sister, but aunt of Barnabas: see Colossians 4:10 , note.

Verse 15

15. ἄγγελός ἐστ . αὐτοῦ ] No other rendering but his angel will suit the sense: and with a few exceptions (Camero, Basnage, Hammond, and one or two more) all Commentators, ancient and modern, have recognized this meaning. Our Lord plainly asserts the doctrine of guardian angels in ref. Matt. (see note there): and from this we further learn in what sense His words were understood by the early church. From His words taken with the context ( μὴ καταφρονήσητε ἑνὸς τῶν μικρῶν τούτων ) we infer that each one has his guardian angel: from this passage we find not only that such was believed to be the case, but that it was supposed that such angel occasionally appeared in the semblance (seeing that he spoke with the voice) of the person himself . We do not, it is true, know who the speakers were: nor is the peculiar form in which they viewed the doctrine binding upon us: it may have been erroneous, and savouring of superstition. But of the doctrine itself this may not be said, as the Lord Himself has asserted it . See Wordsw.’s interesting note here.

For what purpose they supposed this angel to have come, does not appear in the narrative.

Verse 17

17. κατασείσας ] see reff. His motive was haste : he tells briefly the particulars of his deliverance, and, while it was yet night, hastily departs.

Ἰακώβῳ ] James, the brother of the Lord , whom we find presiding over the church at Jerusalem, ch. Acts 15:13 ; Acts 21:18 ; Galatians 2:12 . See Galatians 1:19 ; Galatians 2:9 . He appears also to be mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7 . I believe him to have been one of those ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ κυρίου mentioned Matthew 13:55 ; John 7:5 ; ch. Acts 1:14 ; 1 Corinthians 9:5 , of whom I have in the note on the first of these passages maintained, that they were His real maternal brethren, sons of Joseph and Mary: to have been an Apostle , as Paul and Barnabas, but not of the number of the twelve (see note on ch. Act 14:4 ): and to have been therefore of course distinct from James the son of Alphæus, enumerated (Matthew 10:3 [61] ) among the twelve. The reasons for this belief I reserve for the Prolegomena to the Epistle of James.

[61] When, in the Gospels, and in the Evangelic statement, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 , the sign (║) occurs in a reference, it is signified that the word occurs in the parallel place in the other Gospels, which will always be found indicated at the head of the note on the paragraph. When the sign (║) is qualified , thus, ‘║ Mk.,’ or ‘║ Mt. Mk.,’ &c., it is signified that the word occurs in the parallel place in that Gospel or Gospels, but not in the other or others .

εἰς ἕτερον τόπον ] I see in these words a minute mark of truth in our narrative. Under the circumstances, the place of Peter’s retreat would very naturally at the time be kept secret. It probably was unknown to the person from whom the narrative came, or designedly left indefinite. And so it has remained, the narrative not following Peter’s history any longer. We find him again at Jerusalem in ch. 15. Whether he left it or not on this occasion is uncertain. It is not asserted in ἐξελθών , which only implies that be left the house .

Verse 18

18. γενομένης ἡμέρας ] Wieseler argues from this, and I think rightly, that the deliverance of Peter must have taken place in the last watch of the night (3 6 A.M. in April), for otherwise his escape would have been perceived before the break of day, viz. at the next change of the watch.

τί ἐγένετο ] So Theocr. Id. xiv. 51, ἁδίστα Γοργοῖτί γενοίμεθα ;

Verse 19

19. κατ εἰς Καις . ] These words are to be taken together, and ἐκεῖ or ἐν Κ . to be supplied with διέτριβεν . Kuin. takes εἰς Κ . as = ἐν Κ . with διέτρ ., and κατελθών alone, which is not so natural on account of the position of the words.

Verse 20

20. θυμομαχῶν ] It is impossible that Herod should have been at war with the Tyrians and Sidonians, belonging as they did to a Roman province, and he himself being in high favour at Rome: nor is this implied in our text. The quarrel, however it originated, appears to have been carried out on Herod’s part by some commercial regulation opposed to their interest, dependent as they were on supplies from his territory, ἦν θυμ . is therefore best rendered as in E. V., was highly displeased .

ὁμ . παρῆς . viz. by a deputation.

Blastus is a Roman name (Wetst. from an inscription), and, from Herod’s frequent visits to Rome, it is likely that he would have Romans as his confidential servants, Blastus was his cubicularius , or præfectus cubiculo (Suet. Deuteronomy 16:0 ): see ch. Acts 8:27 .

εἰρήνην ] not (see above) peace , in its strict sense, but reconciliation .

διὰ τὸ τρέφεσθαι ] We learn from 1Ki 5:11 that Solomon made presents of wheat and oil to Hiram in return for the cedar and fir-trees for the Lord’s house: and from Ezekiel 27:17 , that Judah and Israel exported wheat, honey, oil, and balm (or resin) to Tyre. In Ezr 3:7 also, we find Zerubbabel giving meat, drink, and oil to them of Sidon and Tyre, to bring cedar-trees to Joppa. Mr. Humphry quotes from Bede [62] , ‘Tyrii necessariam habebant vicini regis amicitiam, eo quod eorum regio valde angusta et Galilææ Damascique pressa finibus esset,’

[62] Bede, the Venerable , 731; Bedegr, a Greek MS. cited by Bede, nearly identical with Cod. “E,” mentioned in this edn only when it differs from E.

An additional reason for their request at this particular time may have been, the prevalence of famine.

Verse 21

21. ] The account in Josephus is remarkably illustrative of the sacred text: τρίτον δὲ ἔτος αὐτῷ βασιλεύοντι τῆς ὅλης Ἰουδαίας πεπλήρωτο , καὶ παρῆν εἰς πόλιν Καισάρειανσυνετέλει δὲ ἐνταῦθα θεωρίας εἰς τὴν Καίσαρος τιμήν , ὑπὲρ τῆς ἐκείνου σωτηρίας ἑορτήν τινα ταύτην ἐπιστάμενος (probably the ‘quinquennalia,’ B. J. i. 21. 8. Wieseler, p. 133). καὶ παρ ʼ αὐτὴν ἤθροιστο τῶν κατὰ τὴν ἐπαρχίαν ἐν τέλει καὶ προβεβηκότων εἰς ἀξίαν πλῆθος . δευτέρᾳ δὲ τῶν θεωριῶν ἡμέρᾳ στολὴν ἐνδυσάμενος ἐξ ἀργύρου πεποιημένην πᾶσαν , ὡς θαυμάσιον ὑφὴν εἶναι , παρῆλθεν εἰς τὸ θέατρον ἀρχομένης ἡμέρας . ἔνθα ταῖς πρώταις τῶν ἡλιακῶν ἀκτίνων ἐπιβολαῖςἄργυρος καταυγασθεὶς θαυμασίως ἀπέστιλβε , μαρμαίρων τι φοβερὸν καὶ τοῖς εἰς αὐτὸν ἀτενίζουσι φρικῶδες . εὐθὺς δὲ οἱ κόλακες τὰς οὐδὲ ἐκείνῳ πρὸς ἀγαθοῦ ἄλλος ἄλλοθεν φωνὰς ἀνεβόων θεὸν προσαγορεύοντες , Εὐμενής τε εἴης , ἐπιλέγοντες , εἰ καὶ μέχρι νῦν ὡς ἄνθρωπον ἐφοβήθημεν , ἀλλὰ τοὐντεῦθεν κρείττονά σε θνητῆς φύσεως ὁμολογοῦμεν . οὐκ ἐπέπληξε τούτοιςβασιλεὺς οὐδὲ τὴν κολακείαν ἀσεβοῦσαν ἀπετρίψατο . ἀνακύψας δ ʼ οὖν μετ ʼ ὀλίγον τὸν βουβῶνα τῆς ἑαυτοῦ κεφαλῆς ὑπερκαθεζόμενον εἶδεν ἐπὶ σχοινίου τινός · ἄγγελον δὲ τοῦτον εὐθὺς ἐνόησεν κακῶν εἶναι , … καὶ διακάρδιον ἔσχεν ὀδύνην . (This owl, Eusebius, H. E. ii. 10, professing to quote Josephus , makes into an angel. Having prefaced his quotation, αὐτοῖς γράμμασιν ὧδὲ πως τὸ θαῦμα διηγεῖται , he cites thus: … ἀνακύψας δὲ μετ ʼ ὀλίγον , τῆς ἑαυτοῦ κεφαλῆς ὑπερκαθεζόμενον εἶδεν ἄγγελον . τοῦτον εὐθὺς ἐνόησε κακῶν εἷναι αἴτιον κ . τ . λ . On the impossibility of acquitting the ecclesiastical historian of the charge of wilful fraud, see Heinichen’s second Excursus in his edition of Eusebius. It may be a caution to us as to how much we may believe of his quotations of authors which do not remain to us .) ἀθρόον δὲ αὐτῷ τῆς κοιλίας προσέφυσεν ἄλγημα μετὰ σφοδρότητος ἀρξάμενον . ἀναθεωρῶν οὖν πρὸς τοὺς φίλουςθεὸς ὑμῖν ἐγώ , φησίν , ἤδν καταστρέφειν ἐπιτάττομαι τὸν βίον , παραχρῆμα τῆς εἱμαρμένης τὰς ἄρτι μου κατεψευσμένας φωνὰς ἐλεγχούσης · καὶκληθεὶς ἀθάνατος ὑφ ʼ ὑμῶν ἤδη θανὼν ἀπάγομαισυνεχῶς δὲ ἐφ ʼ ἡμέρας πέντε τῷ τῆς γαστρὸς ἀλγήματι διεργασθεὶς τὸν βίον κατέστρεψεν . Antt. xix. 8. 2.

The circumstance related in our text, of the answer to the Sidonian embassy , of which Josephus seems not to have been aware, having been one object of Herod on the occasion, shews an accuracy of detail which well accords with the view of the material of this part of the Acts having been collected at Cæsarea, where the event happened (see Prolegg. to Acts, § ii. 11).

Verse 23

23 .] The fact may be correctly related by Josephus (see above): but our narrative alleges the cause of what happened to have been the displeasure of God , and the stroke to have been inflicted by His angel . Compare 2 Kings 19:35 ; 1 Chronicles 21:15-16 . But no appearance of an angel is implied: nor was I aware that such had ever been inferred; but I see in Valesius’s note on Euseb. ii. 10, “Quasi vero non utrumque fieri potuerit, ut et bubo supra caput Agrippæ, et ex alia parte angelus eidem appareret.”

σκωληκόβρωτος ] Another additional particular: and one to be expected from a physician. In several cases of deaths by divine judgment we have accounts of this loathsome termination of the disease. So Herodotus, iv. 205, ἡ Φερετίμηζῶσα εὐλέων ἐξέζεσε : which he alleges as an instance that excessive indulgence of revenge, such as Pheretima had shewn against the Barcæans, is looked on with anger by the gods. See too the very similar account of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, 2Ma 9:5-9 . So also Jos. Antt. xvii. 6. 5, describing the disease of which Herod the Great died, mentions σῆψις σκώληκας ἐμποιοῦσα . So also Euseb. (viii. 16) of the death of Galerius. So also Tertullian, ad Scapulam, c. 3, vol. i. p. 702, Migne, “Claudius Lucius Herminianus in Cappadocia, cum indigne ferens uxorem suam ad hanc sectam transiisse, solusque in Prætorio suo vastatus peste vivus vermibus ebullisset, Nemo sciat, aiebat, ne gaudeant Christiani. Postea cognito errore suo, quod tormentis quosdam a proposito suo excidere fecisset, pæne Christianus decessit.”

Verse 24

24 .] Similarly, ch. Acts 5:12 ff.; Acts 6:7 ; Acts 9:31 , a general statement of the progress and prosperity of the church of God forms the transition from one portion of the history to another.

Verse 25

25 .] The journey (ch. Act 11:30 ) took place after the death, or about the time of the death, of Herod; see on Acts 12:1 . The purpose of the mission would be very soon accomplished: Saul would naturally not remain longer in Jerusalem than was unavoidable, and would court no publicity: and hence there seems an additional reason for placing the visit after Herod’s death: for, of all the persons whose execution would be pleasing to the Jews, Saul would hold the foremost place. Our verse is probably inserted as a note of passage from the last recorded fact of Barnabas and Saul (ch. Act 11:30 ), to their being found at Antioch ( Act 13:1 ).

Ἰωάνν . ] See above on Acts 12:12 .

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Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Acts 12". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.