Did Peter Go To Rome?: On “Another Place” in Acts 12:17

Acts 12:17 reads: Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. ‘Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,’ he said, and then he left for another place.” (NIV)

Where did Peter go when it mentions “another place?” Some have suggested that this is when Peter went to Rome. I discovered this while reading Markus Bockmuehl’s new book Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory. Some of you are thinking what I was thinking: “Well, that’s a stretch.” Let me quote from Bockmuehl,

“Could this be Rome? Although at first it may sound far-fetched or preposterous, this suggestion has been argued by a steady trickle of scholars. It has been pointed out that the only other occurrence of this phrase in Biblical Greek is in Ezek. 12:3 LXX, where it denotes Babylon, a convenient first-century cipher for Rome, as 1 Pet. 5 and Jewish literature both before and after the NT suggest.” (101-2)

The “trickle of scholars” he refers to are John Wenham (“Did Peter Go to Rome in AD 42?” Tyndale Bulletin 23:94-102); Carsten Peter Thiede (“Babylon, der andere Ort: Anmerkungen zu 1 Petr 5,13 und Apg 12,17.” Biblica 67:532-38); Rainer Riesner (Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans p. 119); and Karen Jobes (1 Peter. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic pp. 34-36, 323).

The only one these scholars that I had immediate access to was the commentary by Jobes. She writes,

“The almost unanimous opinion of scholarship, both Catholic and Protestant, has dismissed this scenario as ‘wholly unhistorical’ and ‘quite inconsistent with known facts,’ as J.B. Lightfoot concludes.” Nevertheless, Wenham, Thiede, and Boltermann are recent scholars who argue in similar terms for Peter’s early arrival in Rome during the reign of Claudius.”

“Following Harnack’s dating of Acts to AD 62, Wenham argues that Luke cryptically refers to Peter’s fleeing to ‘another place’ (Acts 12:17) to avoid disadvantaging his defense of Paul to Roman authorities. Moreover, a cryptic reference would also protect the knowledge of Peter’s whereabouts, given that he was a fugitive from Roman law in Jerusalem, though this was probably less necessary by the time Acts was written.” (34)

“But even if Acts 12:17 is intended only to say that Peter was driven into exile away from Jerusalem, Rome cannot be ruled out as a destination to which he fled. The reference could be intended as a comparison. Just as God’s people had been driven out of Jerusalem and sent into exile in Babylon, the capital city of their oppressors centuries before, Peter himself has been driven from Jerusalem by the Roman powers and is sojourning in exile in the capital city of his oppressors.” (323)

On the opposing side of this “trickle of scholars” stand Oscar Cullman who writes,

“Nevertheless, the wording does not permit the identification of the ‘other place’ with Rome. That the name of Rome was omitted for fear of the pagan authorities, in order to keep secret the place where the head of the Church was staying, might indeed be a possible explanation. Nevertheless, it is purely hypothetical, and would presuppose that The Book of Acts was written during the lifetime of Peter.” Peter: Disciple. Apostle, Martyr, 38 (My page reference is to the World Publishing edition.)

Darrell Bock

“Where Peter goes is debated by scholars: Rome and Antioch are among the possibilities. Peter does not reappear until Acts 15, when he is back in Jerusalem. This makes Rome unlikely, but the lack of reference to Antioch also argues against his staying there for any significant time, although Gal. 2:14 lets us know that he was there at least briefly. Corinth is also an option (1 Cor. 1:12; 9:5). In short, where he as is not clear; and an itinerant ministry is quite likely.” Acts, 429

D.A Carson and Douglas Moo

“Wenham is a representative of those who think that Peter may have come to Rome after his release from prison, recorded in Acts 12. Yet Peter is back in Palestine by the time of the Jerusalem Council in A.D. 48 or 49 (Acts 15), and it is difficult to think that Paul and Barnabas would have taken on the first missionary journey one who had worked closely with Peter in Rome for some years.” An Introduction to the New Testament, 180

The Catholic Study Bible

He left and went to another place: the conjecture that Peter left for Rome at this time has nothing to commend it. His chief responsibility was still the leadership of the Jewish Christian community in Palestine (Gal. 2:7). The concept of the great missionary effort of the church was yet to come (see Acts 13:1-3).” (1548)

Jobes addresses at least one of these objections: that Peter is back in Jerusalem so soon. She says,

“Neither the fact that Peter was not in Rome at the end of the decade of the 40s, when he was in Jerusalem and Antioch, nor his apparent absence from Rome in 57, when Paul wrote to the Roman church, proves he could not have been in Rome previously. It is well documented that people traveled between Rome and the East with relative speed and ease, especially by sea. Repeated trips were not uncommon, as documented even among the less prosperous Christians. The inscription on the tomb of the craftsman Flavius Zeuxis in Asia Minor records that he had sailed seventy-two times to Rome!” (35-36)

On the general notion of Peter going to Rome the Roman historian Michael Grant presents eight reasons which have been “marshaled” as evidence that Peter did not go to Rome. After enumerating them and responding to each he concludes, “These are all points worth bearing in mind, but they do not add up to anything like a demonstration that Peter never went to Rome.” (147-149) Indeed, he says “despite such reasons for skepticism, there is a large measure of agreement that Peter did go to Rome.” Saint Peter, 150

My conclusion

I think there is a strong tradition which testifies to Peter being in Rome. Whether Acts 12:17 makes reference to this, I admit, is speculative but at the same time it is tempting to see it as a possibility. The “steady trickle of scholars” may be on to something.

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Biblical Studies, Church History. Bookmark the permalink.

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