Acts 12
Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
'Chap. 12:1-25.] Persecution of the church at Jerusalem by Herod Agrippa. Martyrdom of James the brother of John. Imprisonment and miraculous deliverance of Peter. Death of Herod at Cæsarea. Return of Barnabas and Saul from Jerusalem to Antioch.

1. κατʼ 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.

Ἡρώδης ὁ βασιλεύς] 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 δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς 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 ver. 3) … πραῢς δὲ ὁ τρόπος 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, ver. 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. 6:9.

2. Ἰάκωβον] Of him we know nothing besides what is related in the Gospels. He was the son of Zebedee, called (Matthew 4:21) together with John his brother: was one of the favoured Three admitted to the death-chamber of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37), to the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and to the agony in the garden (Matthew 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 (Luke 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 (Matthew 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.

μαχαίρῃ] 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.

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 πάσ̇χα 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 ἡμέραι, not ἦν ἡμέρα τῶν ἀζ., Luke’s own expression in his Gospel, 22:7,—the intimation of enduring custody in the παραδοὺς … φυλάσσειν 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, ἡ ἑορτὴ τῶν ἀζύμων, ἡ 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.

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 ver. 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 (ver. 1, note) observed rigorously the Jewish customs, would not execute a prisoner during the feast: ‘Non judicant die festo’ (Moed Katon v. 2, Meyer).

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

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

6. ἐκείνῃ] 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. 24:23; see also ch. 28:16, 20.

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

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. 10:30. The light accompanied, or perhaps, as suggested here in syr-marg, shone from, the angel.

9.] ἐξελθών, viz. from the οἴκημα.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 15:13; 21:18; Galatians 2:12. See Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9. He appears also to be mentioned in 1Corinthians 15:7. I believe him to have been one of those ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ κυρίου mentioned Matthew 13:55; John 7:5; ch. 1:14; 1Corinthians 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. 14:4):—and to have been therefore of course distinct from James the son of Alphæus, enumerated (Matthew 10:3 ) among the twelve. The reasons for this belief I reserve for the Prolegomena to the Epistle of James.

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.

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 Γοργοῖ‚ τί γενοίμεθα

Henry Alford - Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

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