The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvily’s Commentary on Acts 12:1-11 for the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 25, 2011

The following comes from Bishop MacEvily.  I’ve included his very brief analysis of chapter 12.  I’ve also included at the end of the post a few book suggestions for those interested in learning more about the Acts of Apostles.

Analysis of the entire chapter:

The cruel persecution raised by Herod (1-2). The incarceration of Peter who was closely guarded (3-6). His liberation by the hand of an Angel (7-11). The confusion consequent thereon, and the death of the guards who were on duty (18). The fearful judgment exercised on Herod, who was eaten up by worms (20-23).

Text and Notes on 12:1-11.

Act 12:1  And at the same time, Herod the king stretched forth his hands, to afflict some of the church.

“And at the same time.”  While Paul and Barnabas were ministering at Antioch. The narrative relative to their charitable ministrations is interrupted here by the intervening events recorded as far as v. 24 of this chapter, and is resumed at v. 25. These intervening events are: Peter is liberated; Herod dies a shocking death, these two Apostles had reached Jerusalem.

“Herod the king.”  Agrippa, the son of Aristobulus, and grandson of Herod the Great, the murderer of the Holy Innocents. Agrippa obtained from Caligula and Claudius territories co-extensive with those of his grandfather, Herod the Great.

“Stretched forth his hand”  indicates the violent exercise of power.

“To afflict some” the leading members “of the Church,” as is stated immediately after.

Act 12:2  And he killed James, the brother of John, With the sword.

“With a sword.”  By being beheaded or pierced through. This is said by some to be among the most ignominious kinds of capital punishment among the Jews. It seems King Agrippa had the power of life and death. In the time of the Roman government, only the Roman Procurator had it. The Jews had not.  “James,”  the Greater, in contradistinction to James, the son of Alpheus, called “the lesser,” or “the brother of John,” both sons of Zebedee, in whom were fulfilled the predictions

Act 12:3  And seeing that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take up Peter also. Now it was in the days of the Azymes.

“Seeing it pleased the Jews,” &c. Agrippa’s besetting sin was an inordinate excessive love of popularity. It was from this feeling he meant to put Peter to death. Likely, too, he wished to conciliate the Jews, to whom his dynasty was odious; and thus prevent them from preferring accusations against him with the Roman Emperors, whose creature he was.

“Peter also.”  One of the most conspicuous men in the Church, who had, moreover, made himself obnoxious by his pungent discourses, and success in effecting conversions.

“Now, it was in the days of the Azymes,” that is, within the seven days succeeding the Passover, during which they were not allowed to partake of leavened bread (Exod. xii. 15-18 ; Deut. xvi. 3).

Herod may have apprehended Peter at this particular time to show his attachment to Judaism, and his determination to crush out every other form of religion.

Act 12:4  And when he had apprehended him, he cast him into prison, delivering him to four files of soldiers, to be kept, intending, after the pasch, to bring him forth to the people.

“Apprehended.”  Arrested him.  ” Cast him into prison.”  During the Paschal solemnity no trials of criminals took place, in order that the people might exclusively devote themselves to their religious duties and the ceremonies of the Festival.

“Four files,” &c. The Greek is “four quaternions of soldiers,” each quaternion was made up of four, so he had sixteen soldiers to guard him. Each quaternion, or four, were to relieve one another on guard during the watches of the night.  Two of them were to remain in the prison with Peter (v. 6) who was chained to these two, and the other guard at the door of the prison for three hours-the term of night watch-until they were relieved.  Agrippa, who was educated at Rome, adhered to the Roman system of having four night
watches, of three hours each, during the night.  No precaution for securing Peter was omitted.

“To bring him forth,” &c. Evidently with the view of having him publicly put to death in presence of the people.

Act 12:5  Peter therefore was kept in prison. But prayer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him.

“Without ceasing,” fervent, persevering prayer. Humanly speaking, there was no hope of his deliverance. God was the only resource who did not fail to respond to the prayers of His Church.

Act 12:6  And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.

“Brought him forth,” to be publicly put to death.

“Same night,” immediately preceding the day intended for his execution.

“Bound with two chains.”  His right hand chained to the left of one soldier, and his left to the right hand of the other, which is said to be usual with the Romans for securing their prisoners.

“The keepers,” &c. Besides the two soldiers to whom Peter was bound in prison, two others watched before the door.  It was death for a Roman soldier to be caught sleeping at his post.  The four on guard were relieved, after three hours, by four others in succession.

Act 12:7  And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shined in the room. And he, striking Peter on the side, raised him up, saying: Arise quickly. And the chains fell off from his hands.

“An angel of the Lord,” no particular angel mentioned, “stood by him,” suddenly and unexpectedly.

“A light shone,” &c. Such light, reflected from the glorious body assumed by the angel, generally accompanies angels when they appear on earth (Matthew xxviii. 5 ; Luke ii. 9 ; xxiv. 4), &c. Possibly, Peter only saw it; or, if it filled the prison, the guards sunk in dep sleep did not see it.

Act 12:8  And the angel said to him: Gird thyself and put on thy sandals. And he did so. And he said to him: Cast thy garment about thee and follow me,

“Gird thyself” with thy inner vest.  “Garment,” the outer garment, laid aside when he lay down to sleep.  Dress thyself as usual when preparing for a journey.

Act 12:9  And going out, he followed him. And he knew not that it was true which was done by the angel: but thought he saw a vision.

“True”- a reality-”a vision,” such as presented itself to him before (x. n, 12).

Act 12:10  And passing through the first and the second ward, they came to the iron gate that leadeth to the city which of itself opened to them. And going out, they passed on through one street. And immediately the angel departed from him.

“First and second ward.”  Passed by the soldiers that guarded each ward. They were Providentially sunk in heavy sleep.

“Iron gate.”  The outer gate, secured for greater strength with iron bars.  It opened on the town.

“The angel departed.”  Left him, as he was beyond the reach of danger.

Act 12:11  And Peter coming to himself, said: Now I know in very deed that the Lord hath sent his angel and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

“Came to himself.”  Recovering from the amazement he felt at the entire scene and became capable of reflexion.

“Expectation,” &c. The Jews were anxiously expecting to witness his execution.

Book Suggestions:

Acts Of Apostles. Dennis Hamm’s introductory level commentary.  This new series put out by Collegeville Press, St John’s Abbey, is far superior to their previous series.

Witness To The Messiah.  Stephen J. Pimentel’s outstanding introductory commentary on Acts 1-15.  Designed for private and group study.

Envoy Of The Messiah.  Pimentel’s treatment of Acts 16-27.  I can highly recommend all the books in Emmaus Road Publishing’s Kingdom Series.

Sacra Pagina Series: Acts Of Apostles.  Luke Timothy Johnson.  This work has been well received, however, some of the content may be a bit technical for the average “person in the pew.”  It is not, however, completely out of anyone’s reach.

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One Response to “Father MacEvily’s Commentary on Acts 12:1-11 for the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 12:1-11). […]

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