I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Exodus Typological Observations on Acts 12:1—24: Peter’s exodus and the judgment of Herod Agrippa I

1. Hints from the gospels (Matt and Lk). A Herod representing an antitypal Pharaoh has precedents in the early gospel traditions. Matt 2:13—18 provides a clear example of Herod serving as an antitypal Pharaoh, who tries to kill God’s firstborn Son, Jesus, True Israel.[1] Also, with great peculiarity, Luke, the author of our considered text, uses the term ἔξοδον "exodus" (Lk 9:31) to refer to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation he was about to “fulfill in Jerusalem” (πληροῦν ἐν ᾿Ιερουσαλήμ) (rightly so, NEB).

2. There is a broad framing of this pericope (Acts 12:1—24) that also serves to hint toward the original exodus. First, according to historical criticism, the story is a somewhat questionable, perhaps non-chronological interpolation couched between Paul and Barnabas commissioning and departure from the church in Antioch Syria (11:19—30) and their return from the famine relief mission to the Judean church(es) in 12:25. (There are dating questions with respect to the famine in Palestine [A.D. 41?] and the death of Agrippa I [A.D. 44?] that raise questions about the chronological ‘fit’ of the story of Peter’s imprisonment within the broader flow of the book.) Second, there is the conceptual inclusio that frames the pericope proper. This inclusio begins with Herod stretching out his hands in violence against the church; he killed James of Zebedee, and imprisoned Peter (vv. 1—3). The end cap of the story presents the angel of the Lord stretching out his hands and strikes Herod dead in poetic justice (think lex talionis, of course). A strikingly similar framework surrounds the first exodus story. Exodus 1 – 2 tell of Pharaoh’s tireless efforts to kill all the firstborn of Israel. This section of the book closes with Israel’s Mighty Warrior, YHWH, striking dead the firstborn of Pharaoh and all of Egypt (Ex 12:29—32). Luke, like Moses, frames his pericope with ironic judicial inclusio.

3. Another stirring feature of the narrative that evokes the exodus motif in the reader’s mind is the parenthetical clause of 12:3b, which disrupts the flow of the report. “…[Herod] proceeded to arrest Peter / This was during the days of Unleavened Bread / And when he had seized him…” (vv. 3, 4a, italics added). By the time of writing, the festival of Unleavened Bread and the Passover had nearly become the same event (compare with v 4c). This feature conjures all the cultic imagery of Ex 12:43—13:16. The feast of Unleavened Bread was to be perpetually kept by Israel so as to recapitulate the event when “By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Ex 13:14b KJV, italics added). One can hardly imagine a more appropriate paradigm for the telling of Peter’s deliverance or exodus.

[1]See Peter Leithart’s Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel here, http://www.leithart.com/pdf/jesus-as-israel-the-typological-structure-of-matthew-s-gospel.pdf


  1. Very good stuff. Now for your next assignment in Acts 12 - look for Peter's resurrection experience.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Y. I appreciate the challenge, but I don't think I could surpass the acuity of James Jordan on this point (or many others for that matter!). In fact, he fleshes out the exodus motif much fuller than I have here. These were just some musing that I jotted down a while back. Your challenge, though, is much appreciated; I wouldn’t have discovered this entry by Jordan without it! Thanks for stopping…blessings.