AGABUS (Ἄγαβος, a word of uncertain derivation)

AGABUS (Ἄγαβος, a word of uncertain derivation)

The bearer of this name is mentioned on two separate occasions in the Acts (11:27–30; 21:10–11) and also by Eusebius (HE ii. 3). He is described as a prophet who resided in Jerusalem, and we find him in a.d. 44 at Antioch, where he predicted that a great famine (q.v.) would take place ‘over all the world,’ i.e. over all the Roman Empire. The immediate effect of this prediction was to call forth the liberality of the Christians of Antioch and lead them to send help to the poor brethren of Judæa (Ac 11:29).

The writer of the Acts tells ns that this famine took place in the reign of Claudius. Roman historians speak of widespread and repeated famines in this reign (Sueton. Claudius, xviii.; Dion Cass. lx.; Tac. Ann. xii. 43), and Josephus testifies to the severity of the famine in Palestine and refers to measures adopted for its relief (Ant. iii. xv. 3, xx. ii. 5, v. 2). Though Syria and the East may have suffered most on this occasion, the whole Empire could not fail to be more or less affected, and it is hypercritical to accuse the author of the Acts of ‘unhistorical generalization’ for speaking of a famine ‘over all the world,’ as is done by Schürer (GJV4 i. [1901] 543, 567; cf. Ramsay, St. Paul, 1895, p. 48f., and Was Christ born at Bethlehem?, 1898, p. 251f.).

Again in a.d. 59 we hear of Agabus at Cæsarea, where he met St. Paul on his return from his third missionary journey. Taking the Apostle’s girdle, he bound his own hands and feet, and in the symbolic manner of the ancient Hebrew prophets predicted that so the Jews would bind the owner of the girdle and hand him over to the Gentiles (Ac 21:10–11). The prophecy failed to move St. Paul from his resolve. There is no means of ascertaining whether Agabus was a prophet in the higher NT sense—a preacher or forth-teller of the Word; or whether he was merely a successful soothsayer. It is difficult to see what good end could be served by the second of his recorded predictions. Tradition makes him one of the ‘seventy’ and a martyr at Antioch.

F. Boyd.

HE Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).

q.v. quod vide, which see.

GJV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).

Boyd, W. F. (1916-1918). Agabus. In J. Hastings (Ed.), Dictionary of the Apostolic Church (2 Vols.) (J. Hastings, Ed.) (1:45-46). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

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