Acts 12 – Herod Agrippa I

Herod Agrippa begins to persecute the church in Jerusalem (verse 1). The Herod of Acts 12 is Agrippa I.  Later in Acts we meet Agrippa, he is Herod Agrippa II (Agrippa II is Marcus Julius Agrippa, Acts 25-26). Born about 10 B.C., Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great, the son of Aristobolus and Bernice. He was raised in Rome, and was a fried of Caligula and Claudius as well as Tiberius’ son Drusus. He was able to exploit the relationships in order to gain wealth and power. He sought the favor of Caligula to the point that the Emperor Tiberius imprisoned him for six-months on charges of treason. In A.D. 41 Agrippa used his relationship with Caligula to help prevent the installation of a statue of the emperor in the Temple in Jerusalem. When Caligula was assassinated, Claudius made Agrippa ruler over considerable territory in Judea.

We are not told why he persecuted the church in Jerusalem, although it may be that Agrippa was in some respects interested in his Jewish roots. This piety was demonstrated upon his return to Judea.  He donated a golden chain, given to him by Caligula when he was freed from his imprisonment, to the Temple.  In addition, he undertook the sponsorship of a large number of Nazarite vows in the temple (Antiq., 12.6.1, Schürer 2:155). During a Sabbath year, Agrippa read from the book of Deuteronomy and was moved to tears when he read the words of Deut 17:15, forbidding the appointment of a stranger over the “brothers” (i.e., a non-Israelite over Israel.)  The crowd which witnesses this responded “Thou art our brother!” (See m.Sota 7.8)

“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.” Antiq. 19.7.3

Schürer argues Agrippa was favorable to the Pharisees and even to some extent a Jewish nationalism (2:159).  This may be plausible given his zealous persecution of the Jewish Christians in Acts 12.

That James would be the first of the disciples to be martyred was anticipated even during Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew 20:20-28 James and John ask to sit and the right and left hand of Jesus in the Kingdom. Jesus’ response is to hint at the sort of service which he is about to offer–he is about to drink the bitter cup of God’s wrath as he gives up his life as a ransom for many.

The brothers say that they are able to do so, just as Peter thought that he would be able to go to prison or die for Jesus only a few days later at the last supper.  All three of the inner circle swear ultimate loyalty, and at least initially, all three fail. Jesus grants them at least part of their request – they will drink the same cup, although it will be different for each of the brothers.  James is the first to be martyred, John lives a very long life, and according to an early tradition, was persecuted greatly during the reign of Domitian.

James’ death is about eleven years after the martyrdom of Stephen.  It therefore appears that the people of Jerusalem are no longer supportive of the Jewish Christians. Witherington makes this point; the city of Jerusalem has “turned against” the Jewish church (Acts, 386).  Agrippa is therefore demonstrating his piousness by pursuing the leaders of the Christian community.


Bibliography: David C. Braund, “Agrippa” ABD 1:98-99; Schürer, 2:150-159.





18 thoughts on “Acts 12 – Herod Agrippa I

    • As a Jew who has served Yeshua/Jesus for more than fifty years, I am grieved with the facile manner with which “the Jews” are discussed here as soulless enemies of the gospel and of the Jewish believers in the First Century. This is so easily believed because of the anti-Jewish tilt of Christian theologizing. A few reminders, of which more could be given.

      • As a Jew who has served Yeshua/Jesus for more than fifty years, I am grieved with the facile manner with which “the Jews” are discussed here as soulless enemies of the gospel and of the Jewish believers in the First Century. This is so easily believed because of the anti-Jewish tilt of Christian theologizing. A few reminders, of which more could be given. In Acts 21 James reports to Paul “how many myriads of Jews have believed in Jesus, and all are zealous for the Law.” He also reports that they had four men among them who were under a vow, and needed to go up to the Temple to finish that discipline, enlisting Paul to pay for their sacrifices. Note . . . there are tens of thousands of these Jewish believers in Jesus at this time. They are still interfacing with Temple ritual life. And apparently they are being tolerated, although their status is from time to time precarious. But their condition is NOT the monolithic portrait found in the comments here. In 1962, my earliest Bible teacher commented that Evangelicals have an overdeveloped need for certitude. He was right. (I have a PhD from the largest Evangelical Seminary in the world). But this need for certitude manifests in an incapacity to tolerate ambiguity. However, the truth is often ambiguous and not as absolute as many choose to see things. And the Jews deserve a better deal than they got in this discussion.

        Please let this longer comment replace the earlier one awaiting approval, which was sent in error. Thank you.

      • I approved your comment, but you do not seem to have read the article (which was about Agrippa I), and I do not have any “anti-Jewish tilt of Christian theologizing” in this post or any other post on this blog.

  1. I would agree with Witherington that the Jews turned against the Jewish church. In regard to his association with the Jews, You mentioned in class that Herod had kind of a dilemma because he was not completely Jewish and that he was partially a foreigner. Nevertheless he tried to be Jewish. The church posed an opposition to the Jews because they claimed to be correct and the Jews were the ones who crucified the messiah. Herod, wishing to be identified as a Jew persecutes the church by killing James and arresting Peter (Acts 12:2-3). Herod wanted to be identified as a Jew but perhaps he was trying to identify more with the Jewish people than with the God of the Jews. In the end of the chapter he is eaten by worms because he did not give praise to God when the people thought he was a God (Acts 12:22-23). He received recognition from the people which may have been what he was after in the first place.

  2. 2/27
    In Acts 12 we see a man called Herod Agrippa who was persecuting the Jews. It is very interesting to see how this man so opposed the Christians yet wants to be like the Jews. The Jews were the ones who crucified Jesus and because Herod wanted to be like one of the pharisees he too takes it upon himself to persecute the church. It is so sad to see the divide between the people who are for God and those who are against Him. The statement by Witherington is a good one where he states that Jerusalem is against the Jewish Christians. In Acts 12: 21 we see the death of Herod, who was so against the One True God. He is killed and eaten by worms because He was leading people to believe that he was a god and he did not give glory to the real God. In our lives, God will always make known to us when we are in the wrong and going contrary to His will and teachings. This example is a good one to come back to, it reminds us how our words and actions have consequences and how we should not take drastic measures to fit in with the people or go against God. Lets be challenged be people who are not going against God’s plan and purposes and always be supporting the cause of Christian growth!

  3. This post brought about a different perspective on the movement of the gospel. Herod Agrippa I. was an individual who was invested in the Jewish tradition of worship and temple sacrifices. He was well informed on the Law. Understanding this allows us to comprehend why he would persecute the Jews. He was a prominent figure in Rome, and he obverses the Jewish traditions, this makes him a ruler that the Pharisee would want to be buddies with. Naturally, the Pharisees would want to be close to a powerful ruler in the Roman world. They would have a sense of security with Agrippa backing them. When it comes to Agrippa’s stance on Judaism, his peers would have known his participation with these traditions. As a result, if the Pharisees and Sanhedrin really did kill the messiah then he would be on the wrong side. In addition, if Jesus was the messiah and fulfilled the Law, he would look quite foolish, still observing the Law making him look bad in the sight of his peers in the Roman world. As a result, persecuting the Christian community would have been a logical choice for him. Not to mention, the Pharisees might have been inferring the danger that this Christian community was. In Agrippa’s best interest he persecuted the Jews.

  4. Herod Agrippa I. is an interesting biblical character to me, and it is because he has typical Roman qualities of a king as well as qualities that oppose that of Rome. He is a persecutor of Christians, which leads back to the life and ministry of Jesus, and this is something that is a very Roman thing, to oppose and oppress the Jews, as well as Jewish Christians. Being knowledgeable of the Law, Agrippa also had tendencies to accept part of a Jewish lifestyle, and as this post quoted he was even moved to tears upon reading Deuteronomy 17:15. The fact that he was an oppressor to Christians and Jews, yet in some aspects seemed almost tolerant of Jewish traditions or customs, is what I mean when I say he also lived a lifestyle or had acceptance of a lifestyle that opposed the philosophies and militaristic controls of Rome, who were very oppressive of the Jews. This makes Herod Agrippa I. very interesting and honestly kind of cool in my opinion. In the end though, even living a lifestyle where at times he seemed tolerable or acceptable to a degree to the Jews, he still lived a dominantly evil life of persecuting and killing Jews or sentencing Jews to imprisonment or death. In the end, he is struck down by an angel because of his treatment of the Jews, and is eaten by worms from the inside out. This visual description of death makes me think of that of Sheol which is the grave, or death, which is described in Scripture as a place of gnashing of teeth and a place of decay, which would seem fitting since he lived the hostile and cruel life that he did as a king and as an unjust ruler. All this to say, Herod Agrippa’s life from beginning to end is very unique to king’s of the Bible, and that makes him very intriguing to me as a reader.

  5. Herod Agrippa’s actions make sense yet not all at the same time. But when it comes to persecuting Christians sadly during that time his intentions were probably to try and stick to his Jewish heritage. And through persecuting the Christians he could connect with the Jews and honestly stabilize his kingdom. These Christians were seen to be starting riots and turning Jews from the religion. Yet if Herod sided with the Jews he could better “serve” his Jewish attendants. I find it so interesting how serious he took his Jewish background including reading the scriptures and persecuting the Christians. If you look at Paul when he was first persecuting Christians it was because of his Jewish roots that made him see a threat in this new religion. I would think that this is what Herod is doing, especially if he sided with the Pharisees.

  6. Phillip,
    Your image of Marcus Agrippa is that of the Roman general of Augustus. I think you’re confusing the image with Herod Agrippa I. Just to let you know. 🙂 Wikipedia images here:

  7. Why is everyone called Herod? Didn’t they realize they were contributing to the demise of future students who were unable to keep them all straight?
    The opening verses of chapter 12 tell us that James has been killed and others in the church have been treated violently. Because of the response after killing James, Herod has Peter arrested.
    I wonder how much of is motivation was political and how much was for personal gratification – especially as it seems Herod was a Jew.
    It is hard for me to understand how this story fits into the greater narrative of Acts as defined earlier – the spread of the gospel across places and people. Is this passage supposed to inform our understanding of the gospel in relation to Herod? Clearly it shows that the gospel will spread and cannot be stopped by a king, armed guards, or a prison cell. It also demonstrates the willingness of Herod to persecute Jewish Christians. Is this because of his own Jewish association? Is he worried about the Christians spreading the gospel because of its implications on Judaism (as we saw with Paul earlier)? It might be, but based on the context of the passage it seems like this is more of a shrewd political move. But is it more than just a political move? Does this demonstrate that Herod’s heart was hardened, and he refused the gospel? (A parallel to the Egyptian pharaoh perhaps?)

  8. I had never explored the character of King Agrippa very in depth before. All I had ever known about him was that he died of worms, which I was equally disgusted by and fascinated with as a child. One aspect that caught my attention was that Herod Agrippa was responsible for the martyrdom of James. I must admit that I had never taken the time to study or even read about how each of the disciples died or lived out the remainder of their lives. I found the point very interesting that James, John, and Peter all drank the same cup of Jesus only in very different ways (Long).
    Back to my fascination about how Herod Agrippa died. Being a Jewish Christian persecutor, Herod had many ties back to the Jewish leaders. As Long mentions, Agrippa was favorable to the Pharisees, a plausible conclusion “given his zealous persecution of the Jewish Christians in Acts 12”. This I have found to be an interesting link to pride with which the Jewish leaders conducted themselves throughout Jesus ministry. Agrippa was struck with worms to die due to his acceptant of the praises and glory that should only be given to God (Acts 12:22-23). Although not necessarily correlative evidence it is interesting to note the attitude similarities between the religious leaders and King Agrippa.

  9. This King that this particular blog post is about is actually really interesting to me, someone who never really had heard about him, what he did, or how he died, even in Sunday school…which I feel would be a huge story for little kids. I agree with Em as well, I never really took the time to understand and know how each of the disciples had died other than John and Judas so hearing about James and also how Stephen sort of had a similar death was really interesting to me. After reading the blog post, I was intrigued to read that all three: Peter, John, and James all swore their loyalty to Jesus but failed and that the outcomes of their lives were completely different than how they thought was going to happen. Anyways, this character is very interesting to me because while he has some characteristics of being a King and being a Jew, he was persecuting the new Christians, like sentencing them to death. It is only ironic that he died all in the same chapter by worms and also because he was accepting the praise that should only be given to God and not to any human.

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