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In his defense before Festus, Paul offers a his view on the Servant in Isaiah: The Servant is Jesus, who suffered for our sins (Luke 4:18, Is 61:1). There seems to have been some discussion of who the servant was; recall that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading this text in Acts 8 and the idea of a suffering, dying and rising messiah appears at several points in the book of Acts.  This is anticipated as early as Luke 2:32, Simeon’s blessing on Jesus cites Isaiah and proclaims that this salvation has come to Israel.

But the “Light to the Gentiles” in Acts 26 refers to Paul and his ministry. This is a rather bold statement since it might appear the Servant is the light to the Gentiles. Luke 2:32 has already applied Isaiah 42:6 to Jesus, but here Paul sees his ministry as a participation in Jesus’ messianic office as delivering the “light to the Gentiles.”

Paul describes salvation as “turning to God” and “opening eyes,” are both drawn from Isaiah 42:6, but may allude back to the paradigmatic miracle on Cypress, the blinding of Bar-Jesus (13:4-11).  Like Isaiah, both Jesus and Paul ministered to blind people, both literal and spiritual blindness. The disciples, for example, were in need of healing in their understanding, so they might believe that Jesus is in fact the Messiah.  Paul is sent to preach repentance to both the Jews and the Gentiles (recalling Romans 1:16-17, to the Jew first).

Festus interrupts Paul’s speech: “You are out of your mind!”  It is possible that this means that Paul’s knowledge of esoteric doctrines find things that are not necessarily true. This may reflect the common-sense “down to earth” Roman worldview. Festus is saying that the conclusions to which Paul comes is “beyond common sense,” not that these are strange and outlandish things.

Paul states that he is speaking “true and rational (σωφροσύνη) words.”  This description is good Greek rhetoric, sobriety is a chief virtue in Greek philosophy. Agrippa, on the other hand, understands that Paul’s speech has a persuasive value, which he is trying to convince them both of the truth of the Gospel.  What Paul has done has “not been done in a corner,” but rather out in the open for all to hear and evaluate.  This too is a feature of good philosophy and rhetoric, those who engage in secrets and mysteries are questionable (and probably not sober and self-controlled).

CrayCraySo Paul sees himself as engaged in messianic ministry (although he is a servant of Messiah Jesus; Paul does not see himself as a messiah!) This claim is rational, based on evidence and is both truthful and rational. Festus recognizes Paul’s “great learning” but thinks Paul has gone out of his mind-the opposite of rational. The Greek μανία can refer to madness or even delirium. This was an accusation against a political or philosophical opponent, or as BDAG says, “eccentric or bizarre behavior in word or action.”

For a Roman official like Festus, Paul presents strange ideas in rational manner, and he is impressed but unconvinced. To what extent can Paul claim to be rational in his arguments that Jesus is the Messiah or that he has been called by God to this particular mission? Is there a way to use Paul’s defense before Agrippa and Festus as a model for ministry in a post-modern world?

Agrippa I

The Herod mentioned in Acts 12 as a persecutor of the apostles was Herod Agrippa I (10 B.C.- A.D. 44). He was the grandson of Herod the Great and was educated in Rome. He was a friend of the imperial family, but supported Caligula as the successor to Tiberius and was imprisoned as a result. When Caligula became emperor, Agrippa was released and was given the title of King and the territories formerly held by Herod Philip and Lysanias, and later the territory given to Herod Antipas. Agrippa was a key figure in persuading Caligula to rescind his order to place an image of himself in the Temple (JW 2.206-13, Antiq. 19:236-47).

We are not told why Herod persecuted the church in Jerusalem, although it may be that he 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). According to Josephus:

“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 that 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.

agrippa_i_coin

James’ death is about eleven years after the martyrdom of Stephen, probably about A.D. 41-42. Agrippa may have been motivated toward this persecution by zealous Pharisees (like Paul) who sought to suppress the Jews who taught that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. It even appears that the people of Jerusalem no longer support the Jewish Christians. Witherington makes this point: the city of Jerusalem has “turned against” the Jewish church (Acts, 386 ).

A further motivation for the summary execution of James may be the messianic claims of the apostles. If Caligula was inclined to demand his image be honored in the Temple, then perhaps messianic fervor among the Christians was high. Jesus himself predicted an “abomination which causes desolation” similar to the offenses of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Dan 9:25-27, Mark 13:14 and parallels).

Agrippa is therefore acting like a pious devotee of the Jewish faith by pursuing the leaders of the Christian community who promote the teaching that Jesus is the Messiah.  If this is true, how does this play out into the overall themes we have been seeing in Luke? Is Herod the “ultimate fringe” of what it means to be Jewish?

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

If 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.

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.  If Herod is celebrating Claudius’ birthday, then he died about Aug 1, 44 and Peter was arrested in April of 44.  If Herod was celebrating the founding of Caesarea, then he died about March 5 and Peter would have been arrested the previous year at Passover (April 43).

The king Herod of Acts 12 is Agrippa I.  Later in Acts we meet Agrippa II (Acts 25-26; Agrippa II’s full name was Marcus Julius Agrippa).  Born about 10 B.C., Agrippa was the grandson of Herod the Great, the son of Aristobolus and Bernice. He was raised in Rome, and was a friend 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).  According to Josephus:

“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 that Agrippa was favorable to Pharisism 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.

James’ death is about eleven years after the martyrdom of Stephen.  It therefore appears that the people of Jerusalem no longer support 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.  Luke demonstrates that the leadership of Israel has rejected the gift of the Spirit.

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

Agrippa II was the great-grandson of Herod the Great and son of Herod Agrippa, show died in Acts 12.   Agrippa II was raised in the court at Rome, and was a favorite of the Emperor Claudius.  His father died when he was 17, too young to take over management of the provinces of Palestine.  Like the others in the Herodian line, he sought to gain favor from Rome. He was given the title King in 53, and was the Jewish responsible authority.  He was the “custodian of the Temple Treasure”, meaning he had the right to appoint the high priest.

Agrippa was known to have been sensitive to Judaism, even to the point of debating points of law with the rabbis (Anitq., 20.179, 194-196).  But he was also very pro-Roman, having been raised in the Imperial court itself.  When the rebellion began, more he and Bernice sought to stop the rebels, knowing that Rome would not tolerate a rebellion in a minor province.  He is, therefore, the highest ranking political authority in Palestine.  It is appropriate that he present himself before the new Roman procurator Festus.  What is more, he provides Festus with the information he needs in order to write a report explaining Paul’s case to Rome.

Bernice is Agrippa’s sister, also the sister of Drusilla, Felix’ wife. Bernice had been married twice and was now a widow living in her brother’s court.  Rumors were that they were having an incestuous affair.  To stop this rumor, she married for a third time, but quickly returned to her brother. Later she will move to Rome and was the mistress of Titus.  Titus might have married her if not for strong anti-Jewish prejudices in Rome.

What do we know about the Herod of Acts 12?

The king Herod of Acts 12 is Agrippa I Later in Acts we meet Agrippa, he is Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25-26. Agrippa II’s full name was Marcus Julius Agrippa). Born about 10 B.C., Agrippa 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.” Josephus, Antiq. 19.7.3

Schürer argues that Agrippa was favorable to Pharisism 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.

Herod Agrippa’s death is recorded in Josephus, Antiq., 19.343-352 as well as Acts 12. The two accounts are remarkably similar. Josephus gives more details on Herod’s robes (which probably were designed to catch the sun and make him appear as though he is the god Apollos); Luke describes the nature of the illness with a bit more medical detail. When we read Acts 12, it appears that he dies immediately, Josephus describes Agrippa as lingering for five days before dying. In both accounts his robes are “divine”, although Josephus gives us a description of robes as “silver” and adds the fact that he arrived early in the morning to make sacrifices and the sunlight caught the robe in a spectacular way. Both Acts and Josephus agree that Herod accepted the praise of the men who called him a god.

What is the point of the death of Herod? The story indicates that the gospel has gone to the Jews in every imaginable variation, from Temple worshipers to Gentile Godfearers, to Herod, the king of the Jews himself. The good news that Jesus is the Messiah has been rejected, therefore God is going to begin a new work among the Gentiles, using Saul of Tarsus as the “light to the Gentiles.”

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