In Acts 12:7, it says that Peters chains fell off his hands. Would it not make more sense to say that the chains fell off his wrists (assuming that chains refers to the whole restraining device, i.e., chains attached to bands secured around the wrist)? Skeptics allege that this must be a mistake. How can we respond?
A. This is another example of skepticism run amok and, once again, there is a failure to appreciate the historical context of Scripture. In this particular case, the skeptics are ignoring the way in which word usage has changed over thousands of years. By this I am not referring to the difference in Greek and English languages. Rather, a Greek word, and a valid translation of that word, may mean something different to ancient and modern speakers. A classic example is apologia. This word entered the English language as apology in the 16th century but means something quite different to us today. Modern speakers tend to use the word as an expression of regret for having done something wrong, whereas for the people of New Testament times apologia meant a defense or well-reasoned argument. Also, people of many cultures and times have used different modes or styles of speech for different occasions. For instance, we do not always operate on the level of scientific accuracy in everyday life (e.g., we look in the vegetable section of the supermarket for tomatoeseven though, technically speaking, the tomato is a fruit).
Although the Greeks had a word for wrist (karpos), we find it only in the Greek Septuagint, not in the New Testament. This may reflect a conscious effort to preserve the Semitic character of someone like Peter (who would have preached on this great rescue story many times), rather than to provide a sanitized version for Greek speakers outside Palestine. Indeed, the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, which is quite closely allied to Peters native Aramaic, seems to lack a specific term for this particular part of the body. For instance, Genesis 24:22 indicates that Abrahams servant gave Rebekah bracelets for her hands (KJV, ASV). This translation of the word is quite valid lexically, although we would understand bracelets as going around her wrists (NASV, NKJV). Interestingly, the NIV does not translate the anatomical reference at all, but simply takes it for granted that rings were for fingers and bracelets were for wrists. The Jewish Talmud has a word for juncture that refers to the hand/arm joint and the foot/leg joint, but this degree of accuracy probably was necessary only for legal purposes (and the Talmud was written much later than the Old Testament).
Thus, the reference to hands in Acts 12:7 can be taken as wrists. Not only is this implied by the way in which the word chains is used (just as it is implied in the word bracelets), but there is a strong Semitic influence to consider. We could apply the same understanding to Luke 24:39, in which the resurrected Christ said, Behold my hands. According to medical evidence, the hand bones could not have supported much weight during crucifixion, and so it is likely that the large iron nails were driven through the wrists. As a physician, Luke could have put a more accurate Greek term in Christs mouth, but he was dedicated to reporting these incidents as they had been delivered to him (Luke 1:1-4). This richness of Gods inspired Word stands in stark contrast to the poverty of most skeptical charges against it.
Copyright © 1999 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may be copied, on the condition that it will not be republished in print unless otherwise stated below, and will not be used for any commercial purpose, as long as the following stipulations are observed: (1) Apologetics Press must be designated as the original publisher; (2) the specific Apologetics Press Web site URL must be noted; (3) any references, footnotes, or endnotes that accompany the article must be included with any written reproduction of the article; (4) textual alterations of any kind are strictly forbidden; (5) Some illustrations (e.g., photographs, charts, graphics, etc.) are not the intellectual property of Apologetics Press and as such cannot be reproduced from our site without consent from the person or organization that maintains those intellectual rights; (6) serialization of written material (e.g., running an article in several parts) is permitted, as long as the whole of the material is made available, without editing, in a reasonable length of time; (7) articles, in whole or in part, may not be offered for sale or included in items offered for sale; and (8) articles may be reproduced in electronic form for posting on Web sites pending they are not edited or altered from their original written content and that credit is given to Apologetics Press, including the web location from which the articles were taken. Further, documents may not be copied without source statements (title, author, journal title), and the address of the publisher and owner of rights, as listed below.
For catalog, samples, or further information, contact:
230 Landmark Drive
Montgomery, Alabama 36117
Phone (334) 272-8558