Acts 12:1
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
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(1) Herod the king.—The previous life of this prince had been full of strange vicissitudes. The son of Aristobulus and Bernice, grandson of Herod the Great, brother of the Herodias who appears in the Gospel history, named after the statesman who was the chief minister of Augustus, he had been sent, after his father had fallen a victim (B.C. 6) to his grandfather’s suspicions, to Rome, partly, perhaps, as a hostage, partly to be out of the way of Palestine intrigues. There he had grown up on terms of intimacy with the prince afterwards known as Caligula. On the marriage of Herod Antipas with his sister, he was made the ruler of Tiberias, but soon quarrelled with the Tetrarch and went to Rome, and falling under the displeasure of Tiberius, as having rashly given utterance to a wish for the succession of Caligula, was imprisoned by him and remained in confinement till the death of that emperor. When Caligula came to the throne, he loaded his friend with honours, gave him the tetrarchies first of Philip, and then that of Lysanias (Luke 3:1), and conferred on him the title of King. Antipas, prompted by Herodias, came to Rome to claim a like honour for himself, but fell under the emperor’s displeasure, and was banished to Lugdunum in Gaul, whither his wife accompanied him. His tetrarchy also was conferred on Agrippa. Coins are extant, minted at Cæsarea, and bearing inscriptions in which he is styled the Great King, with the epithets sometimes of Philo-Cæsar, sometimes of Philo-Claudios. At the time when Caligula’s insanity took the form of a resolve to place his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem, Agrippa rendered an essential service to his people, by using all his influence to deter the emperor from carrying his purpose into execution, and, backed as he was by Petronius, the Governor of Syria, was at last successful. On the death of Caligula, Claudius, whose claims to the empire he had supported, confirmed him in his kingdom. When he came to Judæa, he presented himself to the people in the character of a devout worshipper, and gained their favour by attaching himself to the companies of Nazarites (as we find St. Paul doing in Acts 21:26) when they came to the Temple to offer sacrifices on the completion of their vows (Jos. Ant. xix. 7, § 3). It would seem that he found a strong popular excitement against the believers in Christ, caused probably by the new step which had recently been taken in the admission of the Gentiles, and fomented by the Sadducean priesthood, and it seemed to him politic to gain the favour of both priests and people, by making himself the instrument of their jealousy.

Acts 12:1-2. Now about that time — When Saul and Barnabas were preparing to set out to Jerusalem, to carry thither what had been collected by the Christians at Antioch; Herod stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church — So wisely did God mix rest and persecution, in due time and measure succeeding each other. This was Herod Agrippa, as the Syriac version expressly names him, the former being his Syrian, and the latter his Roman name. He was the grandson of Herod the Great, nephew to Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist, brother to Herodias, and father to that Agrippa before whom St. Paul afterward made his defence. Caligula made him king of the tetrarchy of his uncle Philip, to which he afterward added the territories of Antipas. Claudius made him also king of Judea, and added thereto the dominions of Lysanias. And he killed James the brother of John — Thus was the prediction of our Lord fulfilled, that James should drink of his cup, (Matthew 20:23,) and thus one of the brothers went to God the first, the other the last of the apostles. It is a just observation of a judicious writer, that “this early execution of one of the apostles, after our Lord’s death, would illustrate the courage of the rest in still going on with their ministry, as it would evidently show, that even all their miraculous powers did not secure them from dying by the sword of their enemies.”

12:1-5 James was one of the sons of Zebedee, whom Christ told that they should drink of the cup that he was to drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that he was to be baptized with, Mt 20:23. Now the words of Christ were made good in him; and if we suffer with Christ, we shall reign with him. Herod imprisoned Peter: the way of persecution, as of other sins, is downhill; when men are in it, they cannot easily stop. Those make themselves an easy prey to Satan, who make it their business to please men. Thus James finished his course. But Peter, being designed for further services, was safe; though he seemed now marked out for a speedy sacrifice. We that live in a cold, prayerless generation, can hardly form an idea of the earnestness of these holy men of old. But if the Lord should bring on the church an awful persecution like this of Herod, the faithful in Christ would learn what soul-felt prayer is.Now about that time - That is, during the time that the famine existed, or the time when Barnabas and Saul went up to Jerusalem. This was probably about the fifth or sixth year of the reign of Claudius, not far from 47 ad.

Herod the king - This was Herod Agrippa. The Syriac so renders it expressly, and the chronology requires us so to understand it. He was a grandson of Herod the Great, and one of the sons of Aristobulus, whom Herod put to death (Josephus, Antiq., 18, 5). Herod the Great left three sons, between whom his kingdom was divided - Archelaus, Philip, and Antipas. See the notes on Matthew 2:19. To Philip was left Iturea and Trachonitis. See Luke 3:1. To Antipas, Galilee and Perea; and to Archclaus, Judea, Idumea, and Samaria. Archclaus, being accused of cruelty, was banished by Augustus to Vienna in Gaul, and Judea was reduced to a province, and united with Syria. When Philip died, this region was granted by the Emperor Caligula to Herod Agrippa. Herod Antipas was driven as an exile also into Gaul, and then into Spain, and Herod Agrippa received also his tetrarchy. In the reign of Claudius also, the dominions of Herod Agrippa were still further enlarged. When Caligula was slain, he was at Rome, and having ingratiated himself into the favor of Claudius, he conferred on him also Judea and Samaria, so that his dominions were equal in extent to those of his grandfather, Herod the Great. See Josephus, Antiq., book 19, chapter 5, section 1.

Stretched forth his hands - A figurative expression, denoting that "he laid his hands on them, or that he endeavored violently to oppress the church."

To vex - To injure, to do evil to - κακῶσαί kakōsai.

Certain - Some of the church. Who they were the writer immediately specifies.


Ac 12:1-19. Persecution of the Church by Herod Agrippa I—Martyrdom of James and Miraculous Deliverance of Peter.

1-3. Herod the king—grandson of Herod the Great, and son of Aristobulus. He at this time ruled over all his father's dominions. Paley has remarked the accuracy of the historian here. For thirty years before this there was no king at Jerusalem exercising supreme authority over Judea, nor was there ever afterwards, save during the three last years of Herod's life, within which the transactions occurred.Acts 12:1-19 King Herod persecutes the Christians, kills James,

and imprisons Peter, who, upon the prayers of the

church, is delivered by an angel.

Acts 12:20-23 Herod, in his pride assuming the glory due to God,

is smitten by an angel, and dieth miserably.

Acts 12:24 After his death the word of God prospers.

Acts 12:25 Barnabas and Saul return to Antioch.

There were several Herods mentioned in Scripture, being all of the family of Herod the Great, (by whose name they were called), as Herod that killed the children in Bethlehem, called Hecolonita; another that beheaded St. John, and derided our Saviour, this Herod was surnamed Antipas: the Herod here spoken of was called Agrippa; the son, or, as others think, the nephew, of Aristobulus, and was the father of that Agrippa we read of, Acts 25:26, being viceroy, or king, under the Roman emperor. This Herod did not only kill some, but punished others with banishment and blows; and especially the governors of the church, knowing how much all suffer in them.

Now about that time,.... That the famine was in Judea, and Saul and Barnabas were sent thither with what the church at Antioch had collected.

Herod the king; not Herod the great that slew the infants at Bethlehem, nor Herod Antipas that beheaded John, but Herod Agrippa; and so the Syriac version adds here, "who is surnamed Agrippa"; he was a grandson of Herod the great, and the son of Aristobulus: this prince

stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church; Beza's ancient copy adds, "in Judea": it seems to be the church at Jerusalem; perhaps some of the principal members of them; and so the Ethiopic version renders it, the rulers of the house of God. It is scarcely credible that he should lay hands on any of them himself in person; but it is very likely he encouraged his soldiers, or his servants, to abuse them, reproach them, strike and buffet them, as they met with them in the streets; or when at worship, might disturb them, and break them up.

Now {1} about that time {a} Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.

(1) God gives his Church peace only for a short time.

(a) This name Herod was common to all those that come from the stock of Herod Ascalonites, whose surname was Magnus: but he that is spoken of here was nephew to Herod the great, son to Aristobulus, and father to the Agrippa who is spoken of afterwards.

Acts 12:1-2. Κατʼ ἐκεῖνον δὲ τὸν καιρόν] but at that juncture (Winer, p. 374 [E. T. 500]), points, as in Acts 19:23 (comp. 2Ma 3:5; 1Ma 11:14), to what is narrated immediately before; consequently: when Barnabas and Saul were sent to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30). From Acts 12:25 it is evident that Luke has conceived this statement of time in such a way, that what is related in Acts 12:1-24 is contemporaneous with the despatch of Barnabas and Saul to Judaea and with their stay there, and is accordingly to be placed between their departure from Antioch and their return from Jerusalem (Schrader, Hug, Schott), and not so early as in the time of the one year’s residence at Antioch, Acts 11:25. (Wieseler, p. 152; Stölting, Beitr. z. Exeg. d. Paul. Br. p. 184 f.; comp. also Anger, de tempor. rat. p. 47 f.)

Ἡρώδης] Agrippa I., grandson of Herod the Great, son of Aristobulus and Berenice, nephew of Herod Antipas, possessed, along with the royal title (Joseph. Antt. xviii. 6. 10), the whole of Palestine, as his grandfather had possessed it; Claudius having added Judaea and Samaria (Joseph. Antt. xix. 5. 1, xix. 6. 1; Bell. ii. 11. 5) to his dominion already preserved and augmented by Caligula (Joseph. Antt. xviii. 7. 2; Bell. ii. 9. 6). See Wieseler, p. 129 f.; Gerlach in the Luther. Zeitschr. 1869, p. 55 ff. A crafty, frivolous, and extravagant prince, who, although better than his grandfather, is praised far beyond his due by Josephus.

ἐπέβαλεν τὰς χεῖρας is not, with Heinrichs, Kuinoel, and others, to be interpreted: coepit, conatus est = ἐπεχείρησε (Luke 1:1; Acts 9:29), because for this there is no linguistic precedent at all (even in the LXX. Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 15:10, the real and active application of the hand is meant, and not the general notion suscipere); but according to the constant usage (Acts 4:3, Acts 5:18, Acts 21:27; Matthew 26:50; Mark 14:46; Luke 20:19; Luke 21:12; John 7:30; Genesis 22:12; comp. Lucian, Tim. 4, also in Arrian., Polybius, etc.), and according to the context (προσέθετο συλλαβεῖν, Acts 12:3), it is to be interpreted of hostile laying hands on. Herod laid hands on, he caught at (i.e. he caused to be forcibly seized), in order to maltreat some of the members of the church (on οἱ ἀπό, used to designate membership of a corporation, see Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 164; Schaef. Melet. p. 26 ff.). Elsewhere the personal dative (Ar. Lys. 440; Acts 4:3; Mark 14:46; Tischendorf, Esther 6:2) or ἐπὶ τινα (Genesis 22:12; 2 Samuel 18:12, and always in the N. T., except Acts 4:3 and Mark 14:46) is joined with ἐπιβαλλεῖν τὰς χεῖρας, instead of the definition of the object aimed at by the infinitive.

On the apostolic work and fate of the elder James, who now drank out the cup of Matthew 20:23, nothing certain is otherwise known. Apocryphal accounts may be seen in Abdiae Histor. apost. in Fabric. Cod. Apocr. p. 516 ff., and concerning his death, p. 528 ff. The late tradition of his preaching in Spain, and of his death in Compostella, is given up even on the part of the Catholics. See Sepp, p. 75.[270]

τ. ἀδελφ. ʼΙωάννου] John was still alive when Luke wrote, and in high respect.

ΜΑΧΑΊΡᾼ] probably, as formerly in the case of John the Baptist, by beheading (“Cervicem spiculatori porrexit,” Abdias, l.c. p. 531), which even among the Jews was not uncommon and very ignominious; see Lightfoot, p. 91.

The time of the execution was shortly before Easter week (A.D. 44), which follows from Acts 12:3; and the place was probably Jerusalem.[271] It remains, however, matter of surprise that Luke relates the martyrdom of an apostle with so few words, and without any specification of the more immediate occasion or more special circumstances attending it (ἁπλῶς καὶ ὡς ἔτυχεν Herod had killed him, says Chrysostom). A want of more definite information, which he could at all events have easily obtained, is certainly not to be assumed. Further, we must not in fanciful arbitrariness import the thought, that by “the entirely mute (?) suffering of death,” as well as “in this absolute quietness and apparent insignificance,” in which the first death of an apostle is here presented, there is indicated “a reserved glory” (Baumgarten), by which, in fact, moreover, some sort of more precise statement would not be excluded. Nor yet is the summary brevity of itself warranted as a mere introduction, by which Luke desired to pass to the following history derived from a special document concerning Peter (Bleek); the event was too important for that. On the contrary, there must have prevailed some sort of conscious consideration involved in the literary plan of Luke,—probably this, that he had it in view to commpose a third historical book (see the Introduction), in which he would give the history of the other apostles besides Peter and Paul, and therefore, for the present, he mentions the death of James only quite briefly, and for the sake of its connection with the following history of Peter. The reason adduced by Lekebusch, p. 219: that Luke wished to remain faithful to his plan of giving a history of the development of the church, does not suffice, for at any rate the first death of an apostle was in itself, and by its impression on believers and unbelievers, too important an element in the history of that development not to merit a more detailed representation in connection with it.

Clem. Al. in Euseb. ii. 9 has a beautiful tradition, how the accuser of James, converted by the testimony and courage of the apostle, was beheaded along with him.

[270] Who, however, comes at least to the rescue of the bones of the apostle for Compostella!

[271] For Agrippa was accustomed to reside in Jerusalem (Joseph. Antt. xix. 7. 3); all the more, therefore, he must have been present, or have come thither from Caesarea, shortly before the feast (ver. 19).

Acts 12:1. Persecution by Herod; St. Peter’s deliverance.—κατʼ ἐκεῖνον τὸν καιρὸν: “about that time,” or more precisely “at that time,” Rendall, cf. Romans 9:9, so in Genesis 18:10, 2Ma 3:5 : in the early part of 44 A.D.—Ἡρώδης ὁ β., Herod Agrippa I.: only in this chapter in the N.T.: on his character and death, see below Acts 12:3; Acts 12:23. Born in B.C. 10 and educated in his early life in Rome, he rose from a rash adventurer to good fortune and high position first through the friendship of Caligula and afterwards of Claudius. He united under his own sway the entire empire of his grandfather, Herod the Great, while his Pharisaic piety and also his attachment to the Roman supremacy found expression in the titles which he bore, βασιλεὺς μέγας φιλόκαισαρ εὐσεβὴς καὶ φιλορώμαιος. On the pathetic story told of him in connection with the Feast of Tabernacles (A.D. 41) see Hamburger, Real-Encyclopädie des Judentums, ii., 1, p. 28, and the whole article; Schürer, Jewish People, div. i., vol. ii., p. 150 ff., E.T.; Farrar, The Herods, p. 179 ff. (1898).—ἐπέβαλεν τὰς χεῖρας, Luke 20:19; Luke 21:12, and cf. Acts 4:3; Acts 5:18; Acts 21:27, once in Matthew and Mark, in John twice; Friedrich, p. 39, cf. LXX, Genesis 22:12, 2 Samuel 18:12 (so in Polyb.), cf. for similar construction of the infinitive of the purpose Acts 18:10, not in the sense of ἐπεχείρησε, conatus est, but to be rendered quite literally; cf. also the context, Acts 12:3.—κακῶσαι: five times in Acts, only once elsewhere in N.T., 1 Peter 3:13, “to afflict,” R.V., A.V. “vex,” so Tyndale.—τῶν ἀπὸ τῆς ἐκ., for the phrase cf. Acts 6:9, Acts 15:5, Grimm-Thayer, sub v., ἀπό, ii., but see also Blass, Gram., p. 122 and in loco.

Acts 12:1-12. Herod’s persecution of the Church. Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison

1. Now about that time] The events here narrated must have shortly preceded Herod’s death, and so the chronological note here given must refer to some date near a.d. 43.

Herod the king] This was Herod Agrippa I. He was the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great. See Dictionary of the Bible.

stretched forth his hands to vex (injure) certain of the church] Agrippa, according to Josephus (xix. 7. 3), was anxious to be esteemed a devout Jew: “He loved to live continually at Jerusalem, and was exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country. He therefore kept himself entirely pure, nor did any day pass over his head without its appointed sacrifice.” Such a man might easily be roused, by the Jews whom he was so anxious to please, to the perpetration of cruelties upon the Christians.

Acts 12:1. Κατʼ ἐκεῖνον δὲ τὸν καιρὸν, but [now] at that time) The apostolical Church had rest and persecution blended together, of which, when the one or other much prevails, a more severe Divine judgment either will come or is not present.—κακῶσαι, to afflict) The art of the world. Herod did this, influenced by his own mind [over-ruled by Providence], on account of the time [the juncture, which God saw required such a sore discipline,—τὸν καιρὸν], and on account of [the loving purposes of] grace.

Verse 1. - Put for stretched, A.V.; afflict for vex, A.V. The phrase, About that time, as in Acts 19:23, points to what had just before been related (Meyer). The interposition of the narrative in this chapter between Acts 11:20 and Acts 12:25 evidently implies that the bulk or rather the chief of the events narrated happened in the interval. Which of the events was the chief in the mind of the narrator with reference to his general narrative, and what are the coincidences which he wished to note, it is not easy to say with certainty. The narrative in this chapter doubtless overlaps at both ends the embassy of Paul and Barnabas, but perhaps the object was to show the harassed state of the Church from famine and persecution at the time that Paul and Barnabas were at Jerusalem. Herod the king here mentioned is Herod Agrippa I., grandson of Herod the Great, and son of Aristobulus and Bernice. During the reign of Tiberius he resided at Rome, in alternate favor and disgrace, sometimes banished, sometimes a prisoner, sometimes a guest at the imperial court. He was a great friend of Caius Caesar Caligula, and, on his succeeding to the empire on the death of Tiberius, was promoted by him to the tetrarchy of Herod Philip, with the title of king. He was further advanced three years afterwards to the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas; and, on the accession of Claudius to the throne, Judaea and Samaria were added to his dominions, which now comprised the whole kingdom of his grandfather, Herod the Great. Agrippa, in spite of his close intimacy with Drusus, Caligula, Claudius, and other Roman magnates, was "exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country, not allowing a day to pass without its appointed sacrifice;" and he had given proof of his strong Jewish feeling by interposing his whole influence with Caligula to prevent his statue being placed in the holy of holies. This spirit accounts for his enmity against the Church. He was a man of very expensive and luxurious habits, but not without some great qualities. Acts 12:1That time (ἐκεῖνον τὸν καιρὸν)

More correctly, that juncture. See on Acts 1:7. The date is A. D. 44.

Herod the king

Called also Agrippa, and commonly known as Herod Agrippa I., the grandson of Herod the Great.

Stretched forth his hands (ἐπέβαλεν τὰς χεῖρας)

Lit., laid on his hands. The A. V. is wrong, and so is the Rev. Render, laid hand, on certain of the church to afflict them.

Vex (κακῶσαι)

Vex is used in the older and stronger sense of torment or oppress. See Exodus 22:21; Numbers 25:17; Matthew 15:22. Its modern usage relates rather to petty annoyances. Rev., better, afflict.

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