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 St. Barnabas 15. Prison and Angelic Intervention.

Starting in 37 AD and until his death in 41 AD, Emperor Caligula gradually had given kingship rule over all of Palestine to Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, the one who slaughtered the Holy Innocents. Herod Agrippa I is mentioned in Acts 12: “About that time [likely 43 AD] Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.” (Ac 12:1-3.)

Now Barnabas and Saul are still in Jerusalem on their famine relief mission, and it is the week following Passover (Ac 12:3), Easter week for the Church. Luke tells the story solely focusing on Peter: Peter is in prison, asleep, chained between two guards. While the Church was in “earnest prayer” for him, an angel came, the chains fell off, the gates opened, and they walk out of prison. God’s marvelous intervention! Peter goes to Mary’s house. (Ac 12:4-17.) [1]

Interestingly, this story about Peter is sandwiched in between, first, Barnabas’ and Saul’s famine relief visit to Jerusalem (Ac 11:27-30) and, later, their return back to Antioch (Ac 12:25). Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that the tradition of the Eastern Church is that all three of them–Peter, Barnabas, and Saul–were arrested and in the prison, all three rescued by the angel, and all three went to Mary’s house. 

Recall from earlier articles that Mary was Barnabas’ sister and the mother of John Mark (Col 4:10), that Eastern and African traditions tells us that Mary’s husband was related to Peter’s wife, and they all lived together in one large household. 

So why did Peter, perhaps with Barnabas and Saul, go to Mary’s house? It seems that perhaps they were just going home.

That same night Peter “departed and went to another place” (Ac 12:17), undoubtedly to save his life as he was now Herod’s escaped prisoner. Would Barnabas and Saul have gone to “another place” as well? If they were also escaped prisoners, probably yes.

Babylon of Egypt

Many Western scholars believe that Peter went to Rome, probably by way of Antioch. [2] However, again, the African tradition gives an interesting twist. There is a Coptic tradition that Peter went the house to pick up Mark, who was originally from Africa, to be a helper and traveling companion, and that they went to Egypt. A community then called “Babylon of Egypt,” later called “Old Cairo,” had been a center for refugees, even getting its name by the number of Babylonian refugees who had settled there. The nearby area is the biblical “Goshen,” and it was also the place the Holy Family took refuge when they fled to Egypt. It also came to be the first stop for Christian refugees from Palestine, is the location of Cairo’s earliest churches, and for a time was the See of St. Mark. One Egyptian scholar believes this first visit would have established the Church in Babylon, and so, on a later visit by Peter and Mark, Peter would write: “The church that is in Babylon ... salutes you, and so does Mark my son” (1 Pet 5:13). [3] On the other hand, the Western tradition understands “Babylon” here as a euphuism for Rome. And yet even the Western church historian, St. Eusebius (260/263-399/340 AD), places Mark in Alexandra (a bit further West) in 43 AD, the “third year of Claudius.” [4]

With the martyrdom of James, and the imprisonment of Peter, and possibly Barnabas and Saul, Luke records what has been the effect of persecutions of the Church throughout history: “But the word of God grew and multiplied” (Ac 12:24).

Herod died in April of 44 (Ac 12:20-23), so his death threat was over. Wherever Peter, Barnabas, Saul, and Mark had been (if they did all leave Jerusalem), we know at least three of them returned to Jerusalem, because the next thing Luke records is that Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark left from Jerusalem to go to Antioch (Ac 12:25). Note again, Barnabas is still the leader. 

Dibby Allan Green
[2] Carroll, Warren H., The Founding of Christendom, A History of Christendom Vol. 1 (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1985), p. 404.
[3] Oden, Thomas C., The African Memory of Mark, Reassessing Early Church Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), p. 114-116, 120-122.
[4] Oden, Thomas C., How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007) p. 158. 

Originally published in the print edition of the Mojave Desert News  dated August 19, 2021, slightly modified.

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church is located in California City, CA. Visit our website at

Dibby Allan Green has a BA in Religious Studies (Westmont College, 1978) and MA in Theology (Augustine Institute, 2019), is a lay Catholic hermit, and a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.