Historically, this passage is at least semi-accurate. There were a bunch of Herods that spanned the time of the New Testament. There was Herod the Great who was said to be the one from the nativity stories. Herod the Great died in 4 BC. Herod Antipas would have been in rule at the time of the crucifixion, as he was in power from 6AD-39AD, assuming the crucifixion took place sometime between 28-35AD. Scholars agree that the Herod in Acts 12 was Herod Agrippa, who died in 44AD following while on a trip to Caesarea. He died rather suddenly from some sort of violent stomach aliment, dying 5 days after being initially struck. Re-reading Josephus’ historical account, it almost sounded like a burst appendix. Historical accounts also tell that he came down with the aliment following an interaction with the crowd about his divinity. Check out this Wikipedia article for more details. Suffice it to say, the account in Acts account is not that far off, and gives us a time frame for when things happened. In other words, we can guess that the events of Acts 12 happened in 44AD, at least 10 years after the beginning of Acts.
Although it is close to other historical accounts, it is not the same, and the story of Herod Agrippa’s death was clearly understood very differently by the Christian community then it was in say, the jewish community. Which account is right? We may never know, even today, news agencies can report on events and present them in very different ways, and that is with the help of all sorts of recording equipment and ways to verify events. So what is there to learn in telling this story in this way? It seems as though this story is an effort to re-enforce the sovereignty of God. The early church surely would have emphasized the kingship of Christ and Herod’s death following assertions of divinity only strengthens that important claim.
- What lesson might people today be able to yield from the story of the executed guards?
- Why do you think the people would have considered Herod Agrippa a God? Is this story still applicable today?
- What might have been the effect of Saul/Paul returning to Jerusalem?