And Herod Killed James with the Sword!

26 Apr

Acts 12 is a pivotal chapter. It is the last time Luke speaks of Peter except for mentioning him in chapter 15 where he defended Paul. After this, the book of Acts is all about Paul and his Gospel to the gentiles.

Chapter 12 begins with the slaying of James the brother of John. For years this had puzzled me. Why was James killed; after all, wasn’t the persecution of the church over (Acts 9:31)? It has been only since I understood Stephen’s message and the reason for his death that James’ death makes sense. Indeed there was an uneasy “peace” between the Jewish religious authorities and the believers in Jerusalem. The hated Hellenistic believers had been driven out of Jerusalem during the persecution, but the believers who had always lived in Palestine had not been driven out, nor were their lives sought as prey, until now. What happened?

The first clue is the method of James’ death. He was beheaded with the sword. He died a traitor’s death, not that of a criminal. A criminal’s death would have been stoning or crucifixion. Secondly, look who was killed—it was James the brother of John. Why is this important? Well, Jesus had surnamed both James and John, Boanerges (Mark 3:17), meaning the sons of thunder. Recall, if you will, in Luke 9 when it was Jesus’ intention to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, it was not well received by the Samaritans. They wanted him to celebrate the feast with them, so they refused to receive him, because they felt he was showing favoritism toward the Jews. Both James and John asked Jesus to allow them to call down fire (lightening) from heaven to destroy them like Elijah had done to his enemies. Jesus chided them by saying they didn’t know what Spirit they were of and merely passed by Samaria.

Knowing this and what occurred in Acts 10 concerning the conversion of Cornelius, this ‘son of thunder’ could never be quiet about what Peter had told them. James was probably discussing and debating God’s receiving the gentiles with Jewish unbelievers for quite some time—3 years to be exact. It was now 43 AD and James was arrested probably for provoking a commotion in the city—perhaps the Temple—and executed as a traitor. When Herod, the crowd-pleaser that he was, understood that the Jewish authorities appreciated what he had done, he then arrested Peter and decided he would meet the same fate after the Passover Holy Days. It was not lawful for any execution to take place during the festival, and Herod prided himself on observing the Jewish laws.

This was Herod Agrippa the Great, the grandson of Herod the Great. He had helped Claudius gain his high office of Emperor of Rome, and Caesar rewarded him by giving him all the territories of his grandfather, allowing him to rule over virtually all the lands ruled by both David and Solomon. It must have been quite an embarrassment for him when Peter escaped his hands. So, he left Jerusalem after the feast days and went to Caesarea. It was there and approximately one year later (44AD) that he met his fate while celebrating the games to honor Caesar. He allowed the crowd to call him a god. This was against the faith of his fathers—Jewish or Edomite. Both families are rooted in Isaac. It was because of this thing that God slew him. Herod Agrippa received the same death of his grandfather before him—a painful disease where worms just ate his body away. Herod claimed to worship the God of Israel, but he permitted others to worship him has god, as well, thus elevating himself to the very throne of God. This would not be permitted to go unpunished. It was one thing for the pagans to worship men as gods, but quite another for one who claimed to worship the true God to embrace this practice.


Posted by on April 26, 2011 in Herod Agrippa


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9 responses to “And Herod Killed James with the Sword!

  1. Ben peter

    September 4, 2016 at 21:56

    Your comments was helpful

    • Eddie

      September 5, 2016 at 07:53

      Ben, hi, and thank you for reading and for your encouraging reply.

      Lord bless you.

  2. Welven

    July 1, 2012 at 21:04

    still confused about this matter what was he beheaded for?

    • Ed Bromfield

      July 2, 2012 at 06:57

      Greetings Welven, and thank you for reading.

      The text isn’t clear about many details, but there is enough surrounding evidence and peculiarities to allow us to suppose what may have occurred. First of all, James was killed with a sword, implying his death (beheading) was for being a traitor. If he was seen as a traitor, then he wasn’t killed for blasphemy, or as a criminal. There were different methods of execution to fit the crime in Jewish tradition. Therefore, if our first supposition is true, then we must look in the text for something that would be both objectionable to the Jewish authorities and would imply James was a traitor to Judaism. We find this in Acts 10 and Peter’s dream. Cornelius and company were admitted into the Church via baptism without their having to be circumcised. This was objected to by some strict believers in Acts 11, but when Peter explained the circumstances and showed all the witnesses to the event in Caesarea, they complied saying God had granted repentance to the gentiles.

      Believers in Christ at this time were considered a sect of Judaism. If they weren’t, then the high priest and other Jewish authorities could have no authority over them. So, because believers were persecuted by the Jewish authorities, it is evident that the first believers in Christ were considered Jews–a part of the Jewish nation. When gentiles began being admitted into the Church without requiring them to become Jews (circumcising them), it was considered blurring the lines between the clean (Jews) and the unclean (gentiles). This was a traitorous act. One was admitting gentiles into the Jewish nation without requiring them to take the responsibility of their traditions–obeying their laws.

      The Gospels show James was a very outspoken person. There would be little doubt that he, as one of the leading Apostles, would be very outspoken about Peter’s vision from the Lord in Acts 10, hoping to get the Jews to recognize the truth about God receiving gentiles into his Kingdom. His frankness labeled him as a traitor among the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem and they influenced King Agrippa to have him slain. It seems clear that the king was hesitant about the matter, because he could have killed all the Apostles at once, but he chose to kill James first and only after seeing that the Jewish authorities were happy about the matter did he decide to reach out for the other Apostles in Jerusalem, namely Peter.

      Hope this helps to clarify my post. Lord bless you,


    • Welven

      July 2, 2012 at 07:08

      Thank you for the further explanation, I understand better now :)


  3. Arie Uittenbogaard

    October 10, 2011 at 05:47

    Hi Ed, Thanks for your riveting post but I seriously doubt that Boanerges means Sons of Thunder (even that it’s Aramaic).
    Take care!

    • Ed Bromfield

      October 10, 2011 at 16:44

      Arie, hi and thank you for reading and for your comment. I looked it up and you are probably correct. Adam Clarke’s Commentary says it is neither Hebrew nor Syriac and believes it may have been copied wrong from the original. Nevertheless, the meaning itself, at least according to Clarke, is “sons of thunder” or a tempest or a reasonable facsimile.

  4. Brenda

    June 23, 2011 at 10:47

    I found your research of interest. I have been studying about Herod and the similarity in the Egyptian slaughter of innocent children. I have a lot to learn on this subject, but like yourself, I enjoy searching the scriptures and the wisdom that God unveils by doing so.

    • Ed Bromfield

      June 23, 2011 at 11:40

      Brenda, hi and thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I have found it helpful too to read the points of view of others and testing it all against Scripture. I wish you the best in your personal study of his word.



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