Articles home page

Herod's death by worms

(Garth D. Wiebe, March 2015)

Regarding King Herod in Acts 12:23, the interlinear Greek reads:

"instantly yet smites him messenger of-Lord corresponding-to which not he-gives the glory to-the God and becoming food-of-worms he-gives-up-soul"

What the angel did was "smite" him, which is Greek πατασσω (Strong's G3960, "patasso") which does not necessarily mean that the angel did more than give him a whack of some sort or another.

To prove this, consider that the angel of the Lord "smote" Peter on his side in the jail in verse 7 (very same chapter!), which is the same Greek word, to wake Peter up. Obviously, this was not fatal.

Whatever the angel did to Herod was not necessarily fatal. The other thing is that it does not say how long it was between the "smiting" by the angel and Herod being eaten of worms. We usually picture it happening on the spot, but the scripture does not say that, either.

So we obviously do not have a lot of details here, but consider this scenario: The angel "whacks" Herod somehow, sobering him up in a big way to his allowing the people to call him "a god." Unregenerate Herod now lets fear, dread, condemnation, and so on take over, which causes him to die of sickness (eaten by worms). In other words, the devil killed him. (After all, the devil wouldn't want Herod feeling convicted of wrongdoing by the angel and repenting, would he?)

Well, again, I'm reading a lot into one sentence of the scripture. My point is not to prove my embellishment (and I can't), but to prove that the scripture does not support the idea of God making him get sick and die.

Here's an interesting account of Herod's death, by Flavius Josephus, the well-known Jewish historian:
Of course, this account is not God-breathed, and I wouldn't give much credibility to the "owl" omen (see Footnote 1). But it is helpful to see an expanded account with more details.

Next, keep in mind that there is really no word for "angel" (heavenly being) in the Greek. The word used is αγγελος = "aggelos" which means "messenger." Context determines whether the αγγελος is a heavenly one, demonic one (like Paul's "thorn"), or human one. In Acts 12:23 it is obviously a heavenly one, but start with "messenger of the Lord."

Finally, another interesting thing is the word used for "die" in Herod's case (Acts 12:23).

Here are some common words that could have been used, yet weren't:

"θνησκω" (die), or "απο-θνησκω" (die-away)
"κτεινω" (kill), or "απο-κτεινω" (kill-away)
"σφαζω" (slay), or "κατ-αφαζω" (slay-down)
But the root word usually translated "died" in Herod's case is:
"εκ-ψυχω" (verb: "out-life")
The verb is the verb form of the noun "ψυχη" ("psuche") which is traditionally translated "soul" (tripartite dogma) but more generally means "life" (as in, your life, the life you are living, not to be confused with "ζωη" = "zoe" = "life" as in being "alive").

There is no way to translate this verb into proper English. In improper English, Herod became "worm-fed and out-life'd" (or "life'd-out.") If you want to use the traditional word "soul" then he "out-souled," or "souled-out."

The point is that it is something that he and/or his body did, and it caused an end to his "life" (the life he was living).

Grammatically, it CANNOT be something that the angel did, at least not directly, for if it was the angel, then the word would have been "kill" or "slay." "Slay" (σφαζω) would have been the appropriate word to either accompany or replace "smite."

Here is what the text of the scripture actually says:

και γενομενος σκωληκοβρωτος εξεψυξεν
kai genomenos skolekobrotos exepsuxen
and becoming worm-fed out-lifes (aorist tense, active voice)
The "active voice" above means that it is something that he does.

Here is how it would have had to have been worded for it to have been the angel that "slayed" or "killed" him:

και γενομενος σκωληκοβρωτος εσφαγη
kai genomenos skolekobrotos esphage
and becoming worm-fed is-slain (aorist tense, passive voice)

και γενομενος σκωληκοβρωτος απεκταβθη
kai genomenos skolekobrotos apektabthe
and becoming worm-fed is-killed (aorist tense, passive voice)

The "passive voice" means that it is something that is done to him.

Another interesting thing: That exact verb+inflection "εξεψυξεν" is used in exactly two more places: Acts 5:5 (Ananias) and Acts 5:10 (Sapphira).

So there you have it. Everything you always wanted to know about Acts 12:23.

No copyrightI grant this work to the public domain.