Acts 12 and Luke’s Literary Style

Luke IconIf Luke has been tracking the story of the movement of the Spirit to the “fringes” of Judaism, then we might wonder what the point of chapter 12 is in that development. It is possible to see persecution from Herod (Agrippa I) as a demonstration of how far out of step the leadership of Israel was with the movement of the Holy Spirit. Herod was considered to be the best of his line with respect to Jewish roots. But as we shall see, he was quite Roman in his thinking. With this story, we have in many ways crossed the line to “outsiders,” and it is therefore quite surprising to find the “King of the Jews” on the outside of the growing movement of the Spirit.

Luke collected a number of stories about Peter into a mini-collection (9:32-12:25). In the first of these stories, Peter is something like the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha in that he goes to the boundaries of the nation and finds faithful people even there. In this finals story concerning Peter, he is back in Jerusalem at a time of persecution. Because the death of Herod Agrippa is well know from Josephus, we can date the events of this chapter fairly precisely to A.D. 43-44, some 14 years after Pentecost.

There are several Lukan literary features in this chapter. He introduces two key characters (John Mark and James) by simply mentioning them, knowing he will pick up both characters again in the following chapters. In addition, there are several stories of imprisonment for preaching the gospel, followed by a miraculous escape (twice for Peter, later with Paul in Philippi and Jerusalem, the shipwreck in chapter 27 may also be a miraculous escape story.) Finally, Acts 11:19-29 and 12:25 form a frame around this passage; this may be significant since Luke tells a very brief story of Saul’s involvement with the Antioch church and the growing importance of the ministry in that city.

Acts 12 is more here than an entertaining incident in the life of Peter: it anticipates a major transition in the book, from Peter to Paul.

10 thoughts on “Acts 12 and Luke’s Literary Style

  1. I think Luke writes chapters like this one for a specific purpose. Stories like this, of miraculous escape from prison speak volumes to the power of God in protecting and providing for His people. With Herod, and his persecution of James, this chapter reiterates the fact that these men who proclaimed the name of Jesus as Lord were at odds with not only the Roman government, but also with the Jewish religious leaders (v.3). These people were all trying to shut this movement down and snuff out the flame before it could spread, but nothing they did worked. And with the surplus of guards and chains that guarded and bound Peter in prison, one would think there was no possible way that he could ever escape from such a place, yet Luke tells this story to reaffirm the truth within the Jesus movement that God was on their side, and was more than capable of protecting them from their enemies.

  2. I appreciate how much attention Peter gets in these chapters. I find it kind of comical, more or less ironic, how one of the ones closest to Jesus and a man that is highly praised by God is a man that in the future, betrays Him. And how opposite it is for Paul. I like what Trent has to say about how everyone was against these followers of Jesus. They knew it and it never stopped them. Herod tried to please the Jews by killing and putting the disciples away but it wouldn’t work. God promises He will deliver us. He delivered Moses and his people, Daniel from the lions den, and men like Peter and John. We will be persecuted for His name, but His name is the only name worth being persecuted for.

  3. My pastor back home would describe Luke’s writing like a carousel with a ice cream at one fixed point, you get a taste of the ice cream cone and then move to another point knowing you will eventually end back at the ice cream cone again. Luke being the author he was would seem to put these breaks from Paul to Peter for a reason, While this is a style like the old prophets were written like Peter and Paul were much different.Peter with his focus of bringing a message of hope to the Jews and Paul bringing the message of hope to the gentiles. One may say thats the same thing or is close to the same thing however Jews and gentiles were so much different in almost every way, to reach a gentile as a Jew would be comparing trying to reach a home school kid from the middle of nowhere and trying to reach a Oakland Raiders fan at a tail gate party. Peter himself did not have to change to much to reach his Jewish brothers, however Paul had to do things that werent so kosher to his normal way of life.

  4. I find that Acts 12 is a literary turning point for Luke in the telling of the story of the Holy Spirit’s work through the apostles. Peter’s work mainly deals with the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem (at least at the onset of the ministry). Paul, as we know, will pursue a much broader scheme of ministry to other cities and lands, as well as specific ministry to the Gentile people who do not know who the God of the Israelites is. I honestly think that Peter’s escape to “another place” is Luke’s way of saying, “here ends the tale of Peter, and now I will move on to the next story” (Acts 12:17). Peter must have done quite a bit of ministry after this verse, but his part in the major story must come to an end at some point, and it is here that Luke decides to change his focus toward that of Paul and his ministry work. We also see that persecution in Jerusalem is continually ramping up (Acts 12:1), and that the believers in Jerusalem were continually being spread throughout the surrounding region (which I must believe is one of the ways that God worked to allow the apostles to fulfill the mandate in Acts 1:8).

    The initiation of Paul and Barnabas is the next major turning point. It is from this point on that we will finally focus on the ministry of Paul and where the gospel will go next. We have seen the gospel be effective in Jerusalem, and now it is time to move outward. There will be times that Luke will bring the story back to Jerusalem for moments and stories of Paul returning and James leading the local church, but the major focus will be on the Gentile ministry. This is key in the understanding of God’s love for all people. The Old Testament mentioned that the Gentiles might be part of God’s plan, but it isn’t until Acts 12 that we see the shift to allowing all people to be of equal part in the kingdom of God and that they are thought of as important as the Jews in a religious sense. Paul will seek after the hearts of the Gentiles, and fulfill his calling from God.

  5. Luke’s literary style is unlike anything else in Bible, it makes the two books he wrote a little easier to read because he wrote them in almost a story book style, and yet each chapter is filled with great purpose. Especially Chapter 12, this chapter at first seems like a bunch of little stories about Peter, but I think that Luke was really just showcasing what Peter was doing during his Ministry, while he did go to a few God-fearing Gentiles he mainly focused on the rejects in Judaism, but many of them were still Jews. This chapter really marks another transition in the Book of Acts from Samaria to ends of the earth. From telling the Gospel to Jew to telling to Gentiles.

  6. When reading the book of Acts, or frankly any book of the Bible, it is important for readers to learn about and understand the author’s background to fully understand their language and style of writing. For instance, in understand Luke as the writer of Acts, a reader will also understand his background of being a physician and writing a perspective on the life of Jesus. Both of these aspects of Luke are important to understand because Luke often times writes like a physician through the language he uses and his need to emphasis the realness of Jesus being human and critically analyzing the “science” and understanding behind the power of Jesus and later in Acts, the reasoning behind the miracles performed through the Holy Spirit. Luke’s writings and literary style are to “prove” Jesus and the facts behind what he sees and hears about. For instance, in chapter 12 of Acts, Luke finds himself writing about Peter being imprisoned and his miraculous escape through what could only be identified as an angel of the Lord. For Luke, there is skepticism in understand the logistics on these stories and passages. It is almost as if Luke is trying to convince himself of these mysterious situations more than his audience. Luke also writes the book of Acts from his perspective of being brought up as a Jewish believer and therefore writes in the manner of sharing in a way that the Jewish community of believers would best understand. Referencing the Apostle’s references to the Old Testament and clarifying individuals who are mentioned in relation to the Jewish community. For instance, James the brother of John (Acts 12:2), and Mary the mother of John (Acts 12:12). Luke knew that his Jewish audience would quickly understand who these individuals were that Peter was interacting with and therefore the Luke gains credibility with his desired audience.

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