A Brief Guide to the 4 Different Herods in the New Testament (Plus Pontius Pilate)

I’ve read through the New Testament from beginning to end a handful of times before and am doing it again right now. I’ve always been aware that the various Herods (who I kept confusing with each other) and Pilate obviously held positions of power during their time and Jesus’s time, but I didn’t know what exactly their roles were. Well, I did some research, and now I know.

It’s helpful here to keep in mind that sometimes Judea (the region of Israel where Jesus lived and taught) was ruled by a Herodian king (who were natives to the area), and sometimes it was ruled by a Roman politician (with Pilate being the one we’re focusing on here). This is by no means meant as a comprehensive history. It’s just a quick rundown of who these guys where, how they were related, and what they did.

Herod the Great

Also known as: Herod; Herod I

Position: King of the Roman province of Judea from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. It’s important to note that he was not an independent king of an independent nation. He was a client king of Rome. This is somewhat analogous to being the head of Ukraine or Kazakhstan during Soviet times. He was the head of a country within a country.

How we know him

  • This is the Herod that the three wise men visited [Matthew 2:1–2].
  • He ordered that all of the babies two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem be killed [Matthew 2:16].
  • When Herod died, Joseph is told in a dream to return to Israel with Jesus [Matthew 2:19–20].

Other information

  • He rebuilt/expanded the temple in Jerusalem (aka Herod’s Temple) that we read about in the New Testament.
  • Herod was known for building other things, too. He built the hilltop fortress at Masada and the port harbor of Caesarea.
  • He was a practicing Jew but was an ethnic Arab.
  • He killed several members of his own family.

Herod Antipas

Also known as: Herod; Antipas; Herod the Tetrarch

Position: Tetrarch (ruler) of the Judean regions of Galilee and Perea; Son of Herod the Great

How we know him

  • He thought that John the Baptist was “a just man and an holy” [Mark 6:20].
  • He married his brother’s wife (Herodias), and John the Baptist spoke out about it [Mark 6:18].
  • He had John the Baptist killed at the request of Herodias’s daughter [Mark 6:27].
  • Jesus leaves Galilee in order to avoid being killed by Herod, who he refers to as “that fox” [Luke 13:31–33].
  • Pilate sent Jesus over to Herod when Pilate found out that Jesus was a Galilean (since Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee) [Luke 23:7]. Herod was excited to see Jesus because he had heard a lot about him and wanted to see a miracle [Luke 23:8]. He questioned Jesus, but Jesus wouldn’t answer him [Luke 23:9–10]. Herod and his soldiers then mocked Jesus, put a royal robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate [Luke 23:11]. This act apparently made Pilate and Herod friends [Luke 23:12]

Other information

  • His nephew accused him of conspiring to overthrow the Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile in Gaul (modern day France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, plus parts of Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy), where he died.

Pontius Pilate

Also known as: Pilate; Pontius Pilatus

Position: Prefect of the Roman provinces of Judea, Samaria and Idumæa from 26 to 36 A.D. What does that mean? Well, according to Biography.com

As a Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate was granted the power of a supreme judge, which meant that he had the sole authority to order a criminal’s execution. His duties as a prefect included such mundane tasks as tax collection and managing construction projects. But, perhaps his most crucial responsibility was that of maintaining law and order.

How we know him

  • He was the judge at Jesus’s trial who condemned him to death [Matthew 27:1–26].
  • He examined Jesus and sent him over to Herod Antipas (who was in Jerusalem at the time), who sent him back to Pilate [Luke 23:11].
  • He wanted to release Jesus, but the Jewish people wanted to release Barrabes instead [Matthew 27:16–21].
  • He condemned Jesus to death, but not before washing his hands of the matter [Matthew 27:24].

Other information

  • He wasn’t a local, but was a Roman appointee.

Herod Agrippa

Also known as: Herod; Agrippa; Marcus Julius Agrippa

Position: King of Judaea (41 to 44 AD); Son of Herod Antipas and grandson of Herod the Great

How we know him

  • He threw Peter in jail and was going to kill him [Acts 12:1–19].
  • He executed the apostle James [Acts 12:2].

Herod Agrippa II

Also known as: Herod (are you seeing a pattern here yet?), Agrippa

Position: “Ling of Chalcis in southern Lebanon from 50 AD and tetrarch of Batanaea and Trachonitis in south Syria from 53 AD” [via]; Last Herodian king; Son of Agrippa II and great-grandson of Herod the Great

How we know him

  • He wants to hear Paul’s testimony [Acts 25:22], and Paul bears his testimony to him in Acts 26.
  • Agrippa II says to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28].
  • Agrippa II doesn’t find Paul guilty of anything, saying, “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Cæsar” [Acts 26:32].

So there you have it. To be honest, that’s about twice as many Herods as I thought there were. Let me know if there’s something I got wrong or if there’s something more I should add.


Image source: Flickr user markb120