Acts 12:17 – Where Does Peter Go?

After he is miraculously released from prison, Peter goes to the home of Mary and her son John Mark. This seems to have been a larger home where people have gather to pray for him. While Peter had no problems getting out of the prison, he has some (humorous) trouble getting into the house where Christians are praying for him! (For this story as Greco-Roman Comedy, see J. Albert Harrill, “The Dramatic Function Of The Running Slave Rhoda (Acts 12.13-16) : A Piece Of Greco-Roman Comedy.” New Testament Studies 46.1 (2000): 150-157.)

No, not this one.

No, not this one.

Peter reports to this group what has happened (12:16-17). The scene inside the house is of chaos. Everyone is asking the same question: How did Peter get out of prison? Did he deny the Lord (again)?  He explains to the group how the Lord rescued him. Peter tells the group to report to James what had happened. This request is unexpected at this point in Acts. The reader is not aware that James, the Lord’s brother is a believer. James will, however, become one of the major leaders of the Jerusalem church by Acts 15.

Jesus’ brothers did not believe he was the messiah during his ministry, but after the resurrection at least James and Jude come to understand what Jesus was. Paul reports a tradition 1 Cor 15:3-5 that Jesus appeared his brother James at some point.  This may be a kind of commissioning to ministry since the other two named people on this list (Peter and Paul) are commissioned to a particular ministry. In church history, James has a reputation for being an extremely zealous Jewish believer and a leader among the Pharisees and priests who accepted Jesus (cf. Acts 21:18-25).

After asking for the group to inform James, Peter goes “to another place” (v. 17). This is rather non-specific way to conclude a series of stories about Peter, almost like “riding off into the sunset” at the end of an old movie. There are several possibilities for understanding the phase. First, it might mean Peter simply went to another location in Jerusalem. If he remained in Mary’s home, she could have been in danger for harboring a fugitive. Second, Peter may have left the region, out of Herod Agrippa’s jurisdiction, Keener suggests out of Palestine (2:1952). Third, a traditional view is Peter began travelling as a missionary like Paul will in the next chapter. This might take him as far as Corinth (1 Cor 9:5), Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1) and possibly Rome. This tradition comes from Eusebius (H.E. 2.14.5). But since he is in Jerusalem in Acts 15, he does not seem to have gone far. Perhaps he only returned to the coastal plain and Caesarea, within easy travel of Jerusalem and later made Pauline-like missionary tours.

Fourth, some scholars see this as an indication of a shift in leadership in the Jerusalem community from Peter to James. Luke does have a tendency to briefly introduce characters who will be important later in the story, so there may be simply literary device like foreshadowing. It is fascinating to observe Peter’s absence from the book of Acts after this point, in contrast to James’ importance in chapters 15 and 21. James is not an apostle, but he does seem to be the leader of the Jerusalem community from this point forward.

It is also significant there is no effort to replace James the son of Zebedee after he is killed.  On the one hand, it is at least 13 years after the resurrection, so the pool of individuals who could be witnesses from John the Baptist through the resurrection is diminishing. Even James the brother of Jesus does not qualify as a witness under those requirements!

All this seems to point toward a dramatic shift in the Luke’s story. He is concluding the first major movement of the book and preparing for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles in chapter 13.

Trash

11 thoughts on “Acts 12:17 – Where Does Peter Go?

  1. Where did Peter go… I can’t find him! In Acts 12:17, it talks about Peter going off, this to an unknown location. There are several reasons for this idea coming into play. The first, if Peter would have stayed, the guards would have found him, this would be a good place to start looking. Leaving Mary in a difficult situation, because she was holding onto a criminal. Also, she had a ministry going in her house, I feel like in some way this could hurt the ministry in the future as well if he were to stay. Peter was also a smart dude, and he could have known that it was out of Herod’s jurisdiction, so he got out of there fast.
    Also, I think it was just plain sweet that he stopped by the house first. He could have kept going and yet, he chooses to visit them first. Part of this was so they could hear and see the power of God, instead of a letter written later of how he got out. Also, these people held a deep love for each other and had been through a lot. I think about my church body and the love and support they show to me. If I were a crisis, like Peter, I would go back to them. Even if it was just for a second to tell them I was okay.
    Lastly, this shift of leadership from Peter to James. When working in the church I have come to understand the idea of training, guiding and then release. As someone new is coming in and the other is leaving, you have to step away for the other people to cling on and give respect to the new person. Otherwise, the people would still look to the old figure for leadership and guidance. The point made here is that the switch of Peter and James is to let James take the point now.

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  2. I do find it rather peculiar that we do not know where Peter went. However, to expand your point, I don’t know if it necessarily matters in the grand scheme of the book of Acts other than for narrative closure. The logical explanation to me would be that it would be a deliverance from God for Peter to almost “ride off into the sunset” after all of the preaching and good works that he did, and that now it was time for the next phase of the growth of the church and for Paul to go out and do what he did. However, it is something to be said about how interesting it really is, as if it’s like reading a book and the main character that you have been reading about for almost the first half of the book just randomly goes away without any explanation. I definitely believe it is to signify the change in leadership, and also I think it is to help us shift our focus on the next to come who help build up the early church and to see the change and evolution of ministry that we see throughout the book of Acts.

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  3. Acts 12 is a very interesting story to me. It shows how amazing God really is. Peter was arrested and was in chains. His cell was guarded and yet an angel still rescued him. I really wanted to address the part where you talked about the shift in leadership. As you mentioned, this does shift from Peter to James. I completely agree that it is because of the relevance that James has in the Jewish community. People get different leaders from time to time and that’s fine. It all just depends on how it is received.

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  4. 2/27

    Upon reading Acts 12 I am blown away by God’s faithfulness in every situation we face. He is always present and will be with us no matter the adversaries we will endure in this life. Peter is an excellent example of a man who was following God’s leading others to His saving grace. Peter is thrown into prison and despite this he still keeps his faith and God rewards him for this. In Acts 12:8 we see an angel sent by God to help Peter escape. He was able to get out of his chains, away from the guards, through the prison gates and down the streets undetected. This shows God’s power and plan that there is nothing too difficult that He cannot do. God is at work in Peters life and I love how after this takes place Peter states the following: “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angle…everything that the Jewish people were hopping for happened.” (Acts 12:11) I believe that we can get caught up in details of what happened to Peter after this happened and how his ministry continued (which I think without a doubt that after this he was more on fire for God than he had ever been) or we can focus on God’s magnificent power and His miraculous work in an individual’s life. I love how in verse 11 it talks about everything happening that the Jewish people were hopping. Prayer is a powerful thing and when people come together to pray the Lord works. I have seen this displayed in my own life where people who had a little chance of surviving something are miraculously winning the fight. God is great, He is so powerful and prayer truly moves mountains!

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  5. Great topic!!! This is an incredibly important question.

    I’m one of those convinced he went to Rome. John Wenham’s 1972 article, “Did Peter go to Rome in 42 A.D.” deserves careful attention as does George Edmundson’s 1913, “Christianity in Rome in the 1st Century.” Not to mention Wenham’s “Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke: A Fresh assault on the Synoptic Problem.”

    IMO, the political climate of the time, the fact that there was a large population of jews in Rome waiting to be evangelized, and many more reasons convince me that Peter was there, even speaking with Philo as many traditions hold. I wrote about this some time ago, and I’ll share the link. (I’ve changed my mind on some of the dates included).
    “Protecting Peter”
    https://whowrotethegospels.com/2017/02/25/protecting-peter/
    “Did Peter go to Rome in 42 A.D.”
    https://legacy.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/Library/TynBull_1972_23_04_Wenham_PeterInRome.pdf

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    • Thanks for the link to the Wenham article.

      I have just read a new book by James Papandrea, one of those “week in the life” novels by scholars IVP has been putting out. In this case, it a “Week in the Life of Rome.” He has Peter there early, along with Mary and John Mark (she move the whole household there), and of course John Mark is taking notes from Peter for a book he is writing. Papandrea is reflecting his kind of tradition in novelistic account of early Roman Christianity.

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      • This is worth noting: the issue of whether Peter made it to Rome as early as 42 is typically viewed along denominational lines: Catholic scholars say 42 and Protestant saying later. I’m not Catholic, but neither am i beholden professionally to any doctrinal statement at all. That said, I’m convinced Peter went there “on the heels of Simon Magus” during the reign of Claudius, as Clement of Alexandria says according to Eusebius.

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      • I thought of that, catholic tradition has a vested interest in getting him there as early as possible. The relationship of the evens of Acts 12 and the death of Herod Agrippa I is part of the problem, he died in AD 44, if Peter’s arrest is closed to the time of his death than his arrival, then the date of 42 is difficult. The “other place” could very well be Rome in 42, but then he must leave again to visit Corinth and the areas he addresses in 1 Peter. (Of course, 1 Corinthians may not mean Peter was physically in Corinth, nor does the address of 1 Peter mean Peter physically evangelized the regions listed.)

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      • When one considers the number of places Paul visited and how quickly travel took place in the empire—except for the winter months—there becomes no difficulty. They were all over the place. Acts describes only a fraction of the total picture of evangelization by all of Jesus’ followers. During Paul’s three year stay in Ephesus he probably had a round trip back to Corinth. The lack of peters whereabouts is an act of “protective anonymity”. He was a fugitive of Agrippa, *and* he had cut off the ear of Malchus— but the Gospels don’t reveal this and nobody except the disciples knew who it was—until after Peters death—revealed in John’s gospel.

        My two cents. Thanks for responding!

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      • Peters arrest would have been Passover of 42. Herod Agrippa took the reigns of Judaea, fairly soon after Caligula’s assassination, January of 41. He was a savvy politician, and had the favor of Claudius. I think he even had a hand in making sure that Claudius became emperor. He was, I believe a favorite of Claudius’ mother. Agrippa was fast friends with Caligula, but wisely backed away when his excesses became apparent. Even so, he still held quite a bit of influence, brilliantly getting Caligula to agree, at least in public, to cancel his plans to put his statue into Temple in Jerusalem, c. 40 AD. The only dates that work out for Peter and Mark to have gone to Rome would be from 42 to 46: the famine relief visit. Once Herod Agrippa was dead, he would have been free to return to Judaea.

        Caligula released Agrippa from prison in 37 after Tiberius died.

        Long story. I’m rambling off the top of my head. Peace.

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  6. It is truly amazing to know the way that Peter got out of the prison cell: being led by an angel of the Lord. However, it never crossed my mind what the others would be thinking about him when he showed up pat the front door. They had been praying that he stays strong and be able to be a witness before the officials, but they were not necessarily praying for his release; so, it would have been quite a shock to hear that he was outside their door. We get to see the full story all at once, but they were unaware that a miracle had just taken place. It would not be a stretch to think that they were questioning what had happened, and why he was out. Peter had already denied Christ before, so he very well could have done it again. This would not be good for the believers that had gathered because this could mean that they were in danger if Peter gave up where they were staying. They were also concerned that if Peter had denied Christ again it would have been in front of officials and leaders and that would reflect poorly on them as well. Who would believe them if one of Jesus’ closest followers was denying him now. As for where Peter goes after this, the Bible does not say. I am not a big fan of “what if” questions because there is no way to get a real answer from them. I believe that God gave us all the information that we need to know. If we are not told where he went after this point, then we simply do not need to know this bit of information because God decided that we did not need to know, and therefore did not include it.

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