Acts 12:4 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Acts 12:4, NIV: "After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover."

Acts 12:4, ESV: "And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people."

Acts 12:4, KJV: "And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people."

Acts 12:4, NASB: "When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people."

Acts 12:4, NLT: "Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover."

Acts 12:4, CSB: "After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover."

What does Acts 12:4 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

There are a lot of pronouns here. Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great and king over much of the earlier king's territory. He arrested and beheaded James, one of the first disciples of Jesus. When Herod realizes this act has increased his already significant support from the Sanhedrin, he arrests Peter, as well (Acts 12:1–3). Some translations, such as the NIV, extend Agrippa's intent specifically to bringing Peter to public trial.

It's unclear why Agrippa delays Peter's trial and execution. Three possible reasons come to mind.

First, the trial might fall on a Sabbath. In the list of the Jewish holidays, Passover was meant to be celebrated the fourteenth day of the first month with the Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrated a full week starting the next day. The first and last days of the Feast are holiday Sabbaths, wherein no work is to be done (Leviticus 23:4–8). In time, the terms "Passover" and "Feast of Unleavened Bread" began to be synonymous, representing all eight days. But in all those eight days, only the second and eighth would be holy Sabbaths, along with whichever weekly Sabbath fell in the range. Agrippa would have had plenty of other days to kill Peter.

A second possibility is Passover clemency. On the day of Passover, Pilate offered to release one prisoner, as seen in his ill-fated attempt to save Jesus by comparing Him to the insurrectionist Barabbas (Mark 15:6–15). It's not clear if other rulers continued Pilate's act of clemency. If the pleased "Jews" of Acts 12:3 are the Sanhedrin, it's possible Agrippa waits because he doesn't want the people to demand Peter's release.

The third possibility is unseemliness: avoiding a "bad image." It's more likely Agrippa waits because the entire eight-day period is a celebration of God delivering the Jews from slavery in Egypt; it would be inappropriate to host a significant execution in Jerusalem at this time. Pilate didn't care what the Jews were celebrating; he agreed to crucify Jesus because the Sanhedrin threatened trouble if he didn't (John 18:28—19:16).

"Squad" is from the Greek root word tetradion which just means a foursome; sixteen soldiers guard Peter, probably in shifts, one squad for each watch of the night. Jesus had warned the disciples they would be imprisoned and brought before kings (Luke 21:12), and before his denial Peter expressed his willingness for Jesus' sake (Luke 22:31–34). So far, Peter has been arrested and released twice (Acts 4:1–22; 5:17–40). But those arrests were by the guards of the Sanhedrin, not Roman soldiers. Considering Jesus told him he would die of crucifixion when he is old (John 21:18–19), Peter is probably a bit more concerned this time—How old is "old"? James has been killed; is he next?