2. The gospel spreads into Palestine, 6:1-12:25

xvii] Persecution in Jerusalem


While the gospel is daily gaining believers in Antioch, the church in Jerusalem is set upon by king Herod. In a fit of spite, Herod has James, the brother of John, arrested and executed. Given that the religious authorities are more than pleased, Herod sets out to arrest and execute another leading-light in the church, namely, Peter. During his incarceration, Peter is released from prison by an angel, and heads to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. In Mary's home, believers are assembled, praying for Peter's safety. Amidst great joy, Peter relates how he was freed, telling the believers to report the events to James, the brother of Jesus, the present leader of the Jerusalem church. As for the soldiers who were guarding Peter, Herod, true to character, has them executed.


Right will ultimately prevail, despite the rage of evil tyrants.


i] Context: See 11:19-30.


ii] Background:

iSigns and Wonders in Acts, 4:23-31.


iii] Structure: Persecution in Jerusalem:

Herod sets out to persecute the Way, v1-5;

Peter is arrested, but set free by an angel, v6-11;

A praying church experiences a joyous reunion, v12-17;

The execution of Peter's captors, v18-19a.


iv] Interpretation:

Luke now winds up the first half of his book on the founding and spread of the church of the Way. To do this, he takes the story back to Jerusalem to recount the end of an epoch. First, he tells us of the execution of the apostle James. Times have moved on and so there is no attempt to replace him; the church is now led by "apostles and elders", and soon, just presbuterouV, "elders". Then we have the account of Peter's arrest and miraculous release. Peter is the central character in the first half of Acts, a key player in the Jerusalem church and its outward thrust into Palestine, but now Luke tells us that "he went off to another place." Finally, Luke recounts the end of the Herodian line with the death of Herod Agrippa. His death is a classic example of "the Gentile folly of confusing the human with the divine", Dunn. The loss of his strong rule will pave the way for the Jewish rebellion and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.


Luke's account begins with Herod's move against the church of the Way. Herod Agrippa I (AD 41-44) was raised in Rome and was on good terms with the Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54). He was the grandson of Herod the Great, and a nephew of Herod Antipas, both of whom had persecuted Jesus. He ended up ruling much of the same area as that of Herod the Great. With Rome on his side, he aligned himself with Israel's religious authorities, and so, persecuting the church of the Way served as a politically expedient move. In executing James, he is not just murdering one of the twelve, but one of the inner circle of three - Peter, James and John. Given the positive response of the religious authorities, Herod has Peter arrested, and only delays the execution because it is the feast of Passover - an interesting alignment with Jesus' death, further reinforcing the sense that this moment is the end of an epoch.

Herod uses the instruments of his power to incarcerate Peter, but the church is using the instrument of prayer, such that this human-divine tussle can have only one end, so demonstrating "the futility of human effort in the face of divine power", Tannehill. Peter plays no part in his miraculous release; he just does what the angel tells him to do. Nothing will stop him walking free, not even the iron gates of the fortress Antonia; they freely open to release him into the city of Jerusalem.

At the home of Mary, the mother of John called Mark (he will join with Barnabas and Saul/Paul on their first missionary journey), the believers have gathered to pray for Peter. On reaching the home, the maid Rhoda, obviously a believer, enthusiastically greets him, but forgets to let him in. The gathered believers are not easily convinced that God has answered their prayers, but Peter soon sets them right. Getting the news out about the Lord's work is the first thing on Peter's mind - "Tell this to James (the brother of Jesus serving as the chief elder of the Jerusalem church), and the brothers (believers)."

Text - 12:1

Persecution in Jerusalem, v1-19a: i] Herod sets out to persecute the church of the Way, v1-5. Herod's reign over Palestine is documented by Josephus in his Antiquities, books 18-19.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative.

kat (kata) + acc. "about [this time]" - according to [that time]. Temporal use of the preposition expressing approximation.

twn gen. "[some] who belonged" - [herod the king laid upon the = his hands (arrested) some] of the ones [from the church]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase "from the church" into a substantive, direct object of the verb "to lay upon = arrest". The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

kakwsai (kakow) aor. inf. "intending to persecute them" - to harm, mistreat. The infinitive is adverbial, final, expressing purpose.


According to tradition, while in prison awaiting execution, James led his jailer to the Lord, with both being executed together (ref. Eusebius). The implication of Luke's record is that there has been peace in the church from the Stephen pogrom up to this moment.

macairh/ (a) dat. "with the sword" - [but/and killed, destroyed = executed james the brother of john] with a sword. The dative is adverbial, instrumental, expressing means.


Peter's arrest at the Passover festival aligns with the arrest of Jesus, a point of comparison which Luke obviously intends his readers to note. According to the Mishnah, only murderers and citizens of an apostate city should be put to the sword, so indicating that Herod's actions are political.

idwn (oJraw) aor. part. "when he saw" - [but/and] having seen. The participle is adverbial, temporal, as NIV.

oJti "that" - that. Introducing an object clause, dependent statement of perception expressing what Herod "saw".

toiV IoudaioiV (oV) dat. "[with approval] among the Jews" - [it is pleasing] to the jews. The dative is adverbial, reference / respect.

sullapein (sulambamw) aor. inf. "to seize" - [he added = proceeded] to arrest [and = also peter]. Complementary infinitive, completing the sense of the verb "to add." The phrase "he added to do something" is a common Semitic construction found in the LXX.

twn azumwn (oV) gen. "[the Festival] of Unleavened Bread" - [they (these events) were occurring at the time of the days] of the unleavened bread. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic, "the days associated with unleavened bread", Culy. "It was during the days of unleavened bread that he actually made the arrest", Phillips


It is not clear what Luke means when he says that after Peter's arrest, Herod intended "to bring him to the people." The NIV opts for a "public trial", but Barrett thinks it probably means a public execution of Peter.

piasaV (piazw) aor. part. "after arresting him" - [whom and = also] having seized [he put into jail]. The participle is probably adverbial, temporal, as NIV.

paradouV (paradidwmi) aor. part. "handing him over" - delivering over to. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of his arrest; "handing him over to a guard of sixteen soldiers", Moffatt.

qulassein (fulassw) pres. inf. "to be guarded by" - to guard [him]. The infinitive is adverbial, final, expressing purpose; "handed him over to four squads of four soldiers in order to keep him under military guard."

tetradioiV (on) dat. "squads of four" - [four] squads of four. Dative of direct object after the para prefix verb "to deliver over to."

stratiwtwn (hV ou) gen. "soldiers" - of soldiers. The genitive is adjectival, descriptive, idiomatic / material, limiting "squads of four"; "four squads of four consisting of / made up of soldiers."

boulomenoV (boulomai) pres. part. "[Herod] intended" - wanting = intending. The participle is adverbial, best treated as causal; "because he wanted."

anagagein (anagw) aor. inf. "to bring" - to offer up, bring out [him]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the participle "wanting".

tw/ law/ (oV) dat. "for public trial" - to the people. Dative of indirect object.

meta to "after the" - after the [passover]. The preposition is often used with an articular infinitive to express subsequent time. Although here without the infinitive, subsequent time is probably intended, as NIV.


The men ... de construction gives us the sense that on the one hand Peter is powerless, locked up in jail, but on the other hand, the church is praying ektenwV, "earnestly, fervently, eagerly, intensely / constantly." The divine power possessed by the church transcends Peter's powerlessness.

men oun "so" - therefore on the one hand. See men oun 1:6 + above, men .... de.

en + dat. "in [prison]" - [peter was being guarded] in [the jail]. Local, expressing space.

ginomenh (ginomai) pres. part. "-" - [but on the other hand, prayer was earnestly] being created = offered. The present participle with the imperfect verb to be h\n forms an imperfect periphrastic construction, probably serving to emphasise durative aspect.

uJpo + gen. "-" - by [the church toward god]. Instrumental, expressing agency.

peri + gen. "for him" - concerning [him]. Either expressing advantage, "for him", or representation, "on behalf of him."


ii] Peter is arrested, but set free by an angel, v6-11: Luke's background details serve to increase the wondrous nature of the miracle. The 4-by-4 six hour watch performed by the squad of sixteen soldiers is typical procedure for the time.

oJte "-" - [but/and] when. Temporal conjunction serving to introduce a temporal clause.

proagagein (proago) aor. inf. "to bring [him] to trial" - [herod was about] to go before = to lead out [him]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "to be about." Kellum suggests that the imperfect verb "to be about" is inceptive, so "was going to bring him out to trial / to execution."

th/ nukti (x toV) dat. "-" - in the [that] night. The dative is adverbial, temporal; "during that night."

h\n ... koimwmenoV (koimaw) pres. mid. part. "[Peter] was sleeping" - [peter] was sleeping [between two soldiers]. The present participle with the imperfect verb to-be form an imperfect periphrastic construction, possibly serving to emphasise durative action.

dedemenoV (dew) perf. mid. part. "bound" - having been bound. This participle is often taken with the previous verb to-be h\n to form an imperfect periphrastic construction, "Peter was sleeping between two soldiers and bound with two chains", but Culy argues that a coordinating kai would be used for such a construction, so he classifies it as adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of Peter's "sleeping"; "Peter, fettered with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers", Barclay.

alusesiV (iV ewV) dat. "with [two] chains" - in [two] chains, [and guards before the door were keeping = guarding the prison]. The dative is instrumental, expressing means, "by means of two chains."


The NIV translates idou as an adverb, "suddenly", rather than as an interjection, "behold, pay attention." Given the context, this seems likely. It is also interesting to note the use of the verb patassw, "to strike", for the participle "having struck [the side of Peter]." This is a rather strong physical word and is used later of the angel that "struck" Herod down, v23. The Western text changes it to nuxaV, "nudged"; "a nudge in the ribs", Cassirer.

kuriou (oV) gen. "of the Lord" - [and behold, an angel] of lord [approached, and light shone in the room]. The genitive is adjectival, limiting the noun "angel", either possessive, "belonging to the Lord", or descriptive, idiomatic / source, "an angel who was sent from the Lord"

pataxaV (patassw) aor. part. "he struck [Peter]" - [but/and] having struck [the side of peter, he raised him]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to raise."

legwn (legw) pres. part. "and woke him up" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant, serving to introduce direct speech; for a modal classification see legonteV, 1:6.

en "quick" - [get up] in [haste, quickness]. Adverbial use of the preposition, serving to form an adverb of manner, "quickly".


The sentence is formed around two imperatives, "tighten you belt .... and come with me", TEV. These imperatives, "gird up your loins ....... and follow me", draw on discipleship terminology.

proV + acc. "to [him]"- [but/and the angel said] toward [him]. The preposition is used here to introduce an indirect object.

ouJtwV adv. "[did] so" - [but/and he did] thus, so, in this way. Modal adverb expressing the manner of Peters actions.

moi dat. pro. "[follow] me" - [and he says to him, put on the cloak of you and follow after] me. Dative of direct object after the verb "to follow after." The dative pronoun, autw/, "to him", serves as a dative of indirect object.


Obviously Peter thinks he has had another vision like the one he had at Joppa, but vision or otherwise, he responds as directed.

exelqwn (exercomai) aor. part. "[followed him] out of" - [and] having come out [he was following]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to follow."

oJti "that" - [and he had not known] that [the thing becoming is true = real]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Peter did not think was real.

dia + gen. "-" - through [the angel]. Instrumental, expressing means, "by means of ..."

blepein (blepw) pres. inf. "he was seeing" - [but/and was thinking] was seeing [a vision]. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Peter was thinking.


Peter is led past two guard-posts (the guards are obviously asleep), through the main gate of the fort, and into the city.

dielqonteV (diercomai) aor. part. "they passed" - [but/and] having passed through [first and second]. The participle is best taken as adverbial, temporal; "When they had passed", ESV.

thn ferousan (ferw) pres. part. "leading [to the city]" - [they came upon the iron gate] the one leading [into the city]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "gate".

autoiV dat. pro. "for them" - [which was opened] to them [by itself]. Dative of interest, advantage, "it opened for them", ESV.

exelqonteV (exercomai) aor. part. "when they had walked" - [and] having gone out [they went before = went along one street]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to go before", "they went out and went along one street", although note how the NIV treats both the participle and the verb as a single temporal idea: "they passed out, and after they had gone through one street", Moffatt.

ap (apo) + gen. "-" - [and immediately the angel went away] from [him]. Expressing separation, "away from ..."


It is interesting to note how Luke now separates the Jewish people, rather than the religious authorities, from the people of the Way, and at the same time links them with the evil intent of Herod. The Christian church is no longer just a Jewish sect, but is increasingly becoming a heretical sect apart from Israel.

genomenoV (ginomai) aor. part. "then [Peter] came" - [and peter] having become. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal; "When Peter came to himself", ESV.

en + dat. "to [himself]" - in [himself, he said]. Introducing an idiomatic prepositional phrase with the sense, "[having come] to his senses"; "When he came to his right mind", Barrett.

oJti "that" - [now i know truly] that [the lord sent the angel of him]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Peter now knows.

ek + gen. "from [Herod's clutches]" - [and delivered me] from [hand of herod]. Here expressing separation, "aways from."

tou laou (oV) gen. "[Jewish] people [were hoping]" - [and from all the expectation] of the people [of the jews]. The genitive is adjectival, usually treated as verbal, subjective, with the genitive "of the Jews" being attributive, limiting "the people"; "from all that the Jewish people were anticipating", Moffatt.


iii] A praying church experiences a joyous reunion, v12-17. Luke often describes the church at prayer and may well imply by this reference that their prayers are the activating instrument for the divine power which set Peter free. The John, known as Marcus, is mentioned a number of times in Acts and the Epistles (Col.4:10, other references are probably to the same person, although Mark is a common name). Paul had some issues with him and these caused a split between Paul and Barnabas,15:37-39.

te "-" - but/and. Taken with kai in v11, the conjunction serves to links this verse with v11.

sunidwn (sunarow) aor. part. "when this had dawned on him" - having seen, realised. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal; "When he grasped the situation", Moffatt.

thV mhtroV (hr roV) gen. "the mother [of John]" - [he came upon the house of mary] the mother [of john]. "The mother" stands in apposition to "Mary", while the genitive "of John" is adjectival, relational.

tou epikaloumenou (epikalew) aor. mid. part. "also called [Mark]" - the one being called [mark]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "John", "who was called Mark", Barclay.

sunhqroismenoi (sunaqroizw) perf. mid. part. "[many people had gathered]" - [where many there were] having been assembled [and praying]. Although Kellum treats this, and the participle "praying", as nominative complements of the adjective "sufficient = many", it is usually taken with the verb to-be h\san to form a pluperfect periphrastic construction, "Many had gathered there and were praying", Barclay, so Culy.


The house may be a small walled villa with a single entrance gate. This, with a servant girl, implies that Mary is wealthy, although paidiskh can just mean "young girl", maybe a family member.

krousantoV (krouw) perf. part. "[Peter] knocked" - [but and he] having knocked. The genitive participle, with its genitive subject "he", forms a genitive absolute construction, probably temporal; "And when he knocked on the door of the gateway", ESV.

tou pulwnoV (wn wnoV) gen. "the outer entrance" - [upon the door] of the gateway. The participle is adjectival, partitive.

onomati (a atoV) dat. "named [Rhoda]" - by name [rhoda]. The dative is adverbial, reference / respect.

uJpakousai (uJpakouw) aor. inf. "to answer" - [a young girl came] to hear. The infinitive is adverbial, final, expressing purpose, "in order to"; "A slave girl named Rhoda came to answer the call", Cassirer.


Johnson notes that in Greek theatre, highly charged and conflicting emotions often result in inappropriate action. See Luke 24:41 where the disciples apo thV caraV, "from the (their) joy", do not believe that it is the risen Christ standing before them - possibly a Semitism, so Barrett, with apo classical, expressing cause, means or occasion.

epignousa (epiginwskw) aor. part. "when she recognised" - [and] having known [the voice of peter]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV.

apo + gen. "-" - from [the (her) joy she did not open the gate]. The preposition is probably causal here; "because of her joy."

eisdramousa (eistrecw) aor. part. "she ran back" - [but/and] having run in [she announced, reported]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to announce."

estanai (iJsthmi) perf. inf. "is [at the door]" - [peter] to stand [before the gate]. The infinitive serves to introduce an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Peter is announcing; "announced that Peter was standing outside", REB. "Peter" serves as the accusative subject of the infinitive.


Those in the home who were praying respond to Rhoda, mainh/,"you are out of mind, raving mad, irrational"; "she must be out of her wits", Barrett.

oiJ de ..... hJ de "they [told her]" - but/ and they [said toward her, you are irrational] but/and she. This construction, used three times in this verse, is transitional, indicting a change in subject from the congregation to Rhoda, and back to the congregation again.

ecein (ecw) pres. inf. "that it was [so]" - [she maintained firmly] to be [thus, but/and they were saying, it is the angel of him]. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what she maintained to be true. The adverb of manner ouJtwV, "thus", with the verb "exw", "to have", serves as an affirmation of truth; see 7:1. "She insisted most strongly that she had been telling them the truth, their rejoinder being, 'It must be his angelic counterpart'", Cassirer.


oJ de "but [Peter]" - but/and he [peter]. Again transitional, indicating a change in subject, here to Peter.

krouwn (krouw) pres. part. "[kept on] knocking" - [was continuing] knocking. The participle is complementary, completing the sense of the durative imperfect verb "to continue"; "Peter went on knocking", Barrett. A comic flair on the part of Luke; "Peter continued knocking at the gate while the discussion was ensuing", Kellum

anoixanteV (anoigw) aor. part. "when they opened the door" - [but/and] having opened the gate [they saw him and were amazed]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV.


The comic drama continues with Peter having to quieten the congregation so he can tell them what happened. Of historical interest we have the mention of James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter's "going to another place". Tradition has it that Peter had a long and successful ministry (presumably amongst Jewish expats) before his martyrdom, so his "going" is not an allusion to his death. As for James, Paul tells us that he is one of the three "pillars" of the Jerusalem church - Peter, John and James. He was a witness to the resurrection (1Cor.15:7), presumably it was this occasion that cemented his faith, and then went on to lead the Jerusalem church up to his martyrdom at the hands of the Ananus, the chief priest. He is probably the author of the book of James and may have aligned with the more conservative members of the Jerusalem church, the members of the circumcision party who questioned Paul's antinomian tendencies. Yet, how close he was to this group depends on our understanding of Galatians 2:12. The neuter variant tina, "certain things", rather than "certain men", is probably more likely, such that the problems that developed in the Galatian church are not caused by "certain men" sent from James, but "certain things", namely, the instructions to Gentile churches from the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15.

kataseisaV (kataseiw) aor. part. "Peter motioned" - [but/and] having made a signal. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to tell, describe", "he signalled .... and told [them to be silent]".

th/ ceiri (r, roV) dat. "with his hand" - in = with the hand. The dative is instrumental, expressing means.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - to them. Dative of indirect object.

autoiV dat. pro. "for them" - [told] them. Dative of indirect object.

sigan (sigaw) pres. inf. "to be quiet" - to be silent. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Peter instructed them to do.

pwV "how" - how [the lord led out him from the jail]. Here the particle serves to introduce an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Peter told the congregation, although referencing the manner in which Peter was released, so "how the Lord led him out of prison."

te "-" - but/and [said]. Transitional conjunction closely connecting a second but separate element of what Peter said; "and he also said, 'Report this to James and the other believers.'"

Iakwbw/ (oV) dat. "[tell] James" - [announce, report these things] to james [and to the brothers]. As with "to the brothers", dative of indirect object of the verb "to report."

exelqwn (exercomai) aor. part. "[then] he left" - [and] having gone out [he went, journeyed, into another place]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to go."


iv] The execution of Peter's captors, v18-19a. The consequence of Peter's escape now falls on his guards. As Dunn notes, the brusque brutality for military inefficiency is typical of the times - they were probably executed. The brevity of Luke's account allows the focus to fall on Agrippa and the comparison between the righteous man and his fate, and the fate of a ruthless tyrant.

genomenhV (ginomai) aor. part. "in the morning" - [but/and day] having become. The genitive participle and its genitive subject "day" serve as a genitive absolute construction, best treated as temporal, as NIV; "When day broke", Moffatt.

ouk oligoV adj. "no small [commotion]" - [there was] not little confusion. For rhetorical effect, Luke constructs a litotes (understatement); "there was a great commotion among the soldiers", Moffatt.

en + dat. "among" - in = among [the soldiers]. Local, expressing space.

tiv "what" - what [therefore became = happened to peter]. Serving to introduce a rhetorical question; "What could have become of Peter?", REB.


epizhthsaV (epizhtew) aor. part. "after [Herod] had a thorough search made for [him]" - [but/and] having searched after [him and having not found him]. The NIV takes the participle as adverbial, temporal. Rogers suggests concessive, "although", but that doesn't work with the participial phrase kai mh euJrwn, "and having not found", which obviously stands with "having searched."

anakrinaV (anakrinw) aor. part. "he cross-examined [the guards]" - having questioned [the guards, he commanded them]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to command."

apacqhnai (apagw) aor. pas. part. "that they be executed" - to be led away. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Herod ordered. "Led away" may mean to incarceration, although execution is more likely. "Then he gave the order that they were to be led away to be executed", Cassirer.


Acts Introduction

Exegetical Commentaries


[Pumpkin Cottage]