How Many Herods Are There in the New Testament?

Herod the Great
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The name Herod is mentioned nearly 50 times in the New Testament, but Scripture is not speaking of just one man.

Herod the Great and his lineage feature prominently in the history of ancient Judea. In fact, the well-documented period of influence that these rulers had helps serve as reliable chronological markers when dating the events recorded in the Gospels and the book of Acts.[1]

Their prominence in both secular history and within the Biblical narrative makes understanding the history of the Herodians important to better understanding New Testament times.

Here’s a brief overview of the Herodians and their appearances in the Bible:

Herod the Great (37 B.C. – 4 B.C.)

Herod the Great was a ruler of Judea during the Roman period.[2] Despite being of Idumean decent (from Edom, south of the Dead Sea), Herod became appointed as a ruler by the Romans authorities.[3] The fact that he was a non-Jew, along with his notably cruel manner of ruling, made him largely distrusted and resented by the Jewish people.

Herod the GreatHerod will remain infamous for his cruelty in slaughtering the children of Bethleham (Matthew 2:16-17). He also managed to contribute in some positive ways to Jewish culture. He was responsible for strengthening Jerusalem’s defenses, erecting a harbor city dubbed Caesarea, and even for rebuilding the Temple.[4]

However, his massive building projects did not manage to improve his public image, as they were funded through burdensome taxes.[5] This continued practice of taxation contributed greatly to the Jews’ disliking of tax collectors, who were seen as traitors for their service to the Herodians.[6]

After Herod’s death his sons Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Herod Philip, would split control of Palestine.[7] Two of these sons, Archelaus and Herod Antipas, are seen several times in the course of New Testament events.

(If you’re thinking “Wait a minute, how can he be around after Christ’s birth if he died in 4 B.C.?” you may be interested in this article: What year was Jesus Born?)

Herod Archelaus (23 B.C. – 18 A.D.)

As an ethnarch (a non-King in charge of an ethnic group in a region) Archelaus was in charge of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. However, Archelaus did not remain in power for long. He only held his post from 4 B.C. until being deposed in A.D.6, when the Jews requested that Caesar Augustus replace him.[8] Even so, Archelaus did influence the history of the New Testament. It was fear about his reign in Judea that prompted Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to live in Galilee rather than in Judea (Matthew 2:22).[9]

Herod Antipas (Before 20 B.C. – 39 A.D.)

Herod Antipas became the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, meaning he was one of four appointed regional rulers. He is seen in the New Testament to have been rebuked by John the Baptist for taking the wife of his half-brother, Philip (Mark 6:17-20).  Antipas had John beheaded to fulfill an oath sworn to his daughter (Mark 6:20-29) and later worries that Jesus is John the Baptist back from the dead (Matthew 14:1-12).

Herod's Daughter Receives the Head of John the Baptist, Gustave

“Herod’s Daughter Receives the Head of John the Baptist” by Gustave

Despite this misunderstanding, the Gospel of Luke records that Herod Antipas was interested in seeing Jesus perform a miracle, and was pleased to have had Christ brought before him by His accusers (Luke 23:7-12). However, Jesus performed no miracles nor answered any questions and was sent on to Pontius Pilate. Antipas was not a strong ruler, and was eventually exiled to modern France, then known as Gaul.[10]

Herod Agrippa I (12 B.C. – 44 A.D.)

The Herodian line was carried on by Herod Agrippa I and II.  Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great and also took the name of King Herod.[11] His corruption landed him in prison in Rome, but his friendship with Caligula restored him to power.[12] Agrippa sought to maintain good standing with the Jewish people, ultimately gaining the respect of both the Sadducees and Pharisees.[13] He appears in the New Testament in Acts 12:1-3 when he has James killed and Peter imprisoned. He is eventually struck down for failing to give glory to God (Acts 12:21-23).

Herod-Agrippa-II (27 A.D. – 100 A.D.)

Once old enough, Herod Agrippa II took power from the corrupt procurators holding his place.[14] He would be the last of the Herodians to rule over Palestine, dying around A.D. 100. Seen in Acts 25-26, it is Agrippa II who famously remarks to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” to which Paul replied, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:28-29).

Agrippa II found no fault in Paul worthy of his imprisonment, and remarked that he could have been let go if only he had not appealed to make his case before Caesar (Acts 26:32).

Paul and Agrippa II

Agrippa II hears from the apostle Paul in the painting “Apostle Paul On Trial” by Nikolai Bodarevsky

Conclusion

All told, there are five men who are referred to as Herod in Scripture (six, if you count Herod Phillip being mentioned simply as Phillip in Mark 6:17). Herod the Great and his lineage greatly influenced the political and social landscape of this period and contributed to the history of Judaism and the events of the New Testament in many ways.

Understanding the influence each of these prominent rulers had allows us to better understand the framework within which Jesus lived and preached.


[1] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 124.
[2] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers), 21.
[3] Ibid., 24
[4] Ibid., 25
[5] Ibid.
[6] Carson and Moo, 147.
[7] Lead and Black, 25-26
[8] Ibid., 25
[9] Ibid.
[10] J. Julius Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics), 97.
[11] Ibid., 100
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.

Clayton Kraby
Written by Clayton Kraby
I'm a Pastor in North Dakota and created ReasonableTheology.org to help make theology accessible for the everyday Christian. You can find me on Twitter @ClayKraby.