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?
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 sixteenth
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.
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