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Bible Commentaries
Acts 16

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

Then came he - That is, Paul in company with Silas. Luke does not give us the history of Barnabas, but confines his narrative to the journey of Paul.

To Derbe and Lystra - See the notes on Acts 14:6.

And behold, a certain disciple named Timotheus - It was to this disciple that Paul afterward addressed the two epistles which bear his name. It is evident that he was a native of one of these places, but whether of Derbe or Lystra it is impossible to determine.

The son of a certain woman ... - Her name was Eunice, 2 Timothy 1:5.

And believed - And was a Christian. It is stated also that her mother was a woman of distinguished Christian piety, 2 Timothy 1:5. It was not lawful for a Jew to marry a woman of another nation, or to give his daughter in marriage to a Gentile, Ezra 9:12. But it is probable that this law was not regarded very strictly by the Jews who lived in the midst of pagan nations. It is evident that Timothy, at this time, was very young; for when Paul besought him to abide at Ephesus, to take charge of the church there 1 Timothy 1:3, he addressed him then as a young man, 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no man despise thy youth.”

But his father was a Greek - Evidently, a man who had not been circumcised, for had he been Timothy would have been also.

Verse 2

Which - That is, Timothy. The connection requires us to understand this of him. Of the character of his father nothing is known.

Was well reported of - Was esteemed highly as a young man of piety and promise. Compare the notes on Acts 6:3. Compare 1 Timothy 5:10. Timothy had been religiously educated. He was carefully trained in the knowledge of the holy Scriptures, and was therefore the better qualified for his work, 2 Timothy 3:15.

Verse 3

Him would Paul have ... - This was an instance of Paul’s selecting young men of piety for the holy ministry. It shows:

(1) That he was disposed to look up and call forth the talent in the church that might be usefully employed. It is quite evident that Timothy would not have thought of this had it not been suggested by Paul. The same thing education societies are attempting now to accomplish.

(2) That Paul sought proper qualifications, and valued them. Those were:

  1. That he had a good reputation for piety, etc., Acts 16:2. This he demanded as an indispensable qualification for a minister of the gospel 1 Timothy 3:7, “Moreover he (a bishop) must have a good report of them which are without.” Compare Acts 22:12.
    1. Paul esteemed him to be a young man of talents and prudence. His admitting him to a partnership in his labors, and his entrusting to him the affairs of the church at Ephesus, prove this.
    2. He had been carefully trained in the holy Scriptures. A foundation was thus laid for usefulness. And this qualification seems to have been deemed by Paul of indispensable value for the right discharge of his duties in this holy office.

And took and circumcised him - This was evidently done to avoid the opposition and reproaches of the Jews. It was a measure not binding in itself (compare Acts 15:1, Acts 15:28-29), but the neglect of which would expose to contention and opposition among the Jews, and greatly retard or destroy his usefulness. It was an act of expediency for the sake of peace, and was in accordance with Paul’s uniform and avowed principle of conduct, 1 Corinthians 9:20, “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.” Compare Acts 21:23-26.

Verse 4

And as they went through the cities - The cities of Syria, Cilicia, etc.

They delivered them - Paul and Silas delivered to the Christians in those cities.

The decrees - τὰ δόγματα ta dogmata. The decrees in regard to the four things specified in Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29. The word translated “decrees” occurs in Luke 2:1, “A decree from Caesar Augustus”; in Acts 17:7 “The decrees of Caesar”; in Ephesians 2:15; and in Colossians 2:14. It properly means a law or edict of a king or legislature. In this instance it Was the decision of the council in a case submitted to it, and implied an obligation on the Christians to submit to that decision, since they had submitted the matter to them. The same principles, also, would be applicable everywhere, and the decision, therefore, at Jerusalem became conclusive. It is probable that a correct and attested copy of the letter Acts 15:23-29 would be sent to the various churches of the Gentiles.

To keep - To obey, or to observe.

That were ordained - Greek: that were adjudged or determined.

Verse 5

Established in the faith - Confirmed in the belief of the gospel The effect of the wise and conciliatory measure was to increase and strengthen the churches.

Verse 6

Throughout Phrygia - This was the largest province of Asia Minor. It had Bithynia north; Pisidia and Lycia south; Galatia and Cappadocia east; and Lydia and Mysia west.

And the region of Galatia - This province was directly east of Phrygia. The region was formerly conquered by the Gauls. They settled in it, and called it, after their own name, Galatia. The Gauls invaded the country at different times, and no less than three tribes or bodies of Gauls had possession of it. Many Jews were also settled there. It was from this cause that so many parties could be formed there, and that so much controversy would arise between the Jewish and Gentile converts. See the Epistle to the Galatians.

And were forbidden - Probably by a direct revelation. The reason of this was, doubtless, that it was the intention of God to extend the gospel further into the regions of Greece than would have been done if they had remained in Asia Minor. This prohibition was the means of the first introduction of the gospel into Europe.

In Asia - See the notes on Acts 2:9. This was doubtless the region of proconsular Asia. It was also called Ionia. Of this region Ephesus was the capital; and here were situated also the cities of Smyrna, Thyatira, Philadelphia, etc., within which the seven churches mentioned in Rev. 1–3 were established. Cicero speaks of proconsular Asia as containing the provinces of Phrygia, Mysia, Carla, and Lydia. In all this region the gospel was afterward preached with great success. But now a more important and a wider field was opened before Paul and Barnabas in the extensive country of Macedonia.

Verse 7

Mysia - This was a province of Asia Minor, having Propontis on the north, Bithynia on the east, Lydia on the south, and the Aegean Sea on the west.

They assayed - They endeavored; they attempted.

Into Bithynia - A province of Asia Minor lying east of Mysia.

Verse 8

Came down to Troas - This was a city of Phrygia or Mysia, on the Hellespont, between Troy north, and Assos south. Sometimes the name Troas or Troad, is used to denote the whole country of the Trojans, the province where the ancient city of Troy had stood. This region was much celebrated in the early periods of Grecian history. It was here that the events recorded in the Iliad of Homer are supposed to have occurred. The city of Troy has long since been completely destroyed. Troas is several times mentioned in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Timothy 4:13; Acts 20:5.

Verse 9

And a vision - See the notes on Acts 9:10.

There stood a man - etc. The appearance of a man who was known to be of Macedonia, probably by his dress and language. Whether this was in a dream, or whether it was a representation made to the senses while awake, it is impossible to tell. The will of God was at different times made known in both these ways. Compare Matthew 2:12; note, Acts 10:3. Grotius supposes that this was the guardian angel of Macedonia, and refers for illustration to Daniel 10:12-13, Daniel 10:20-21. But there seems to be no foundation for this opinion.

Of Macedonia - This was an extensive country of Greece, having Thrace on the north, Thessaly south, Epirus west, and the Aegean Sea east. It is supposed that it was populated by Kittim, son of Javan, Genesis 10:4. The kingdom rose into celebrity chiefly under the reign of Philip and his son, Alexander the Great. It was the first region in Europe in which we have any record that the gospel was preached.

And help us - That is, by preaching the gospel. This was a call to preach the gospel in an extensive pagan land, amid many trials and dangers. To this call, notwithstanding all this prospect of danger, Paul and Silas cheerfully responded, and gave themselves to the work. Their conduct was thus an example to the church. From all portions of the earth a similar call is now coming to the churches. Openings of a similar character for the introduction of the gospel are presented in all lands. Appeals are coming from every quarter, and all that seems now necessary for the speedy conversion of the world is for the church to enter into these vast fields with the self-denial, the spirit, and the zeal which characterized the apostle Paul.

Verse 10

We endeavored - This is the first instance in which Luke refers to himself as being in company with Paul. It is hence probable that he joined Paul and Silas about this time, and it is evident that he attended Paul in his travels, as recorded throughout the remainder of the Acts .

Assuredly gathering - Being certainly convinced.

Verse 11

Loosing from Troas - Setting sail from this place.

To Samothracia - This was an island in the Aegean Sea not far from Thrace. It was populated by inhabitants from Samos and from Thrace, and hence called Samothracia. It was about 20 miles in circumference, and was an asylum for fugitives and criminals.

And the next day to Nepalese - This was a maritime city of Macedonia, near the borders of Thrace. It was about 10 miles from Philippi.

Verse 12

And from thence to Philippi - The former name of this city was Dathos. It was repaired and adorned by Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, and after him was called Philippi. It was famous for having been the place where several battles were fought during the civil wars of the Romans, and, among others, for the decisive battle between Brutus and Antony. At this place Brutus killed himself. To the church in this place Paul afterward wrote the Epistle which bears its name.

Which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia - This whole region had been conquered by the Romans under Paulus Aemilius. By him it was divided into four parts or provinces (Livy). The Syriac version renders it “a city of the first part of Macedonia,” and there is a medal extant which also describes this region by this name. It has been proposed, therefore, to alter the Greek text in accordance with this, since it is known that Amphipolis was made the chief city by Paulus Aemilius. But it may be remarked that, although Amphipolis was the chief city in the time of Paulus Aemilius, it may have happened that in the lapse of 220 years from that time Philippi might have become the most extensive and splendid city. The Greek here may also mean simply that this was the first city to which they arrived in their travels.

And a colony - This is a Latin word, and means that this was a Roman colony. The word denotes “a city or province” which was planted or occupied by Roman citizens. It is a strong confirmation of the fact here stated by Luke, that Philippi had the rank and dignity of a Roman colony, as coins are still extant, in which Philippi is distinctly referred to as a colony. Such coins exist from the reign of Augustus to the reign of Caracalla.

Certain days - Some days.

Verse 13

And on the sabbath - There is no doubt that in this city there were Jews; In the time of the apostles they were scattered extensively throughout the known world.

By a river side - What river this was is not known. It is known, however, that the Jews were accustomed to provide water, or to build their synagogues and oratories near water, for the convenience of the numerous washings before and during their religious services.

Where prayer - Where there was a place of prayer, or where prayer was commonly offered. The Greek will bear either, but the sense is the same. Places for prayer were erected by the Jews in the vicinity of cities and towns, and particularly where there were not Jewish families enough, or where they were forbidden by the magistrate to erect a synagogue. These proseuchoe, or places of prayer, were simple enclosures made of stones, in a grove or under a tree, where there would be a retired and convenient place for worship.

Was wont - Was accustomed to be offered, or where it was established by custom.

And spake unto the women ... - This was probably before the regular service of the place commenced.

Verse 14

A seller of purple - Purple was a most valuable color, obtained usually from shellfish. It was chiefly worn by princes and by the rich, and the traffic in it might be very profitable. Compare the Isaiah 1:18 note; Luke 16:19 note.

The city of Thyatira - This was a city of Lydia, in Asia Minor, now called Akhisar. The art of dyeing was early cultivated in the neighborhood of Thyatira, as we learn from Homer (Iliad, iv. 141), and as is confirmed by inscriptions found in that city - a circumstance which may be referred to as confirming the veracity of the statements of Luke even in his casual allusions. Several of these inscriptions have been published. See the Life and Epistles of Paul, i. 295.

Which worshipped God - A religious woman, a proselyte. See the note at Acts 13:16.

Whose heart the Lord opened - See the note at Luke 24:45.

Verse 15

And when she was baptized - Apparently without any delay. Compare Acts 2:41; Acts 8:38. It was usual to be baptized immediately on believing.

And her household - Greek: her house ὁ οἶκος ἀυτῆς ho oikos autēs, her family. No mention is made of their having believed, and the case is one that affords a strong presumptive proof that this was an instance of household or infant baptism. Because:

(1) Her believing is particularly mentioned.

(2) It is not intimated that they believed.

(3) It is manifestly implied that they were baptized because she believed. It was the offering of her family to the Lord. It is just such an account as would now be given of a household or family that were baptized upon the faith of the parent.

If ye have judged me to be faithful - If you deem me a Christian or a believer.

And she constrained us - She urged us. This was an instance of great hospitality, and also an evidence of her desire for further instruction in the doctrines of religion.

Verse 16

As we went to prayer - Greek: as we were going to the proseuche, ‘the place of prayer, Acts 16:13. Whether this was on the same day in which the conversion of Lydia occurred, or at another time, is not mentioned by the historian.

A certain damsel - A maid, a young woman.

Possessed with a spirit of divination - Greek: Python. See the margin. Python, or Pythios, was one of the names of Apollo, the Grecian god of the fine arts, of music, poetry, medicine, and eloquence. Of these he was esteemed to have been the inventor. He was reputed to be the third son of Jupiter and Latona. He had a celebrated temple and oracle at Delphi, which was resorted to from all parts of the world, and which was perhaps the only oracle that was in universal repute. The name Python is said to have been given him because, as soon as he was born, he destroyed with arrows a serpent of that name, that had been sent by Juno to persecute Latona; hence, his common name was the Pythian Apollo. He had temples on Mount Parnassus, at Delphi, Delos, Claros, Tenedos, etc., and his worship was almost universal. In the celebrated oracle at Delphi, the priestess of Apollo pretended to be inspired; became violently agitated during the periods of pretended inspiration; and during those periods gave such responses to inquirers as were regarded as the oracles of the god. Others, it is probable, would also make pretensions to such inspiration; and the art of fortune-telling, or of jugglery, was extensively practiced, and was the source of much gain. See the notes on Acts 8:8-10. What was the cause of this extensive delusion in regard to the oracle at Delphi it is not necessary now to inquire. It is plain that Paul regarded this as a case of demoniacal possession, and treated it accordingly.

Her masters - Those in whose employ she was.

By soothsaying - Pretending to foretell future events.

Verse 17

The same followed Paul ... - Why she did this, or under what presence, the sacred writer has not informed us. It may have been:

  1. That as she prophesied for gain, she supposed that Paul and Silas would reward her if she publicly proclaimed that they were the servants of God. Or,
  2. Because she was conscious that an evil spirit possessed her, and she feared that Paul and Silas would expel that spirit, and by proclaiming them to be the servants of God she hoped to conciliate their favor. Or,
  3. More probably it was because she saw evident tokens of their being sent from God, and that their doctrine would prevail; and by proclaiming this she hoped to acquire more authority, and a higher reputation for being herself inspired. Compare Mark 5:7.

Verse 18

But Paul, being grieved - Being molested, troubled, offended. Paul was grieved, probably:

  1. Because her presence was troublesome to him;
  2. Because it might be said that he was in alliance with her, and that his pretensions were just like hers;
  3. Because what she did was for the sake of gain, and was a base imposition;
  4. Because her state was one of bondage and delusion, and it was proper to free her from this demoniacal possession; and,
  5. Because the system under which she was acting was a part of a scheme of delusion and imposture, which had spread over a large portion of the pagan world, and which was then holding it in bondage.

Throughout the Roman empire the inspiration of the priestesses of Apollo was believed in, and temples were everywhere reared to perpetuate and celebrate the delusion. Against this extensive system of imposture and fraud Christianity must oppose itself; and this was a favorable instance to expose the delusion, and to show the power of the Christian religion over all the arts and powers of imposture. The mere fact that in a very few instances - of which this was one - they spoke the truth, did not make it improper for Paul to interpose. That fact would only tend to perpetuate the delusion, and to make his interposition more proper and necessary. The expulsion of the evil spirit would also afford a signal proof of the fact that the apostles were really from God a far better proof than her noisy and troublesome proclamation of it would furnish.

In the name of Jesus Christ - Or, by the authority of Jesus Christ. See the notes on Acts 3:6.

Verse 19

The hope of their gains was gone - It was this that troubled and enraged them. Instead of regarding the act as proof of divine power, they were intent only on their profits. Their indignation furnishes a remarkable illustration of the fixedness with which people will regard wealth; of the fact that the love of it will blind them to all the truths of religion, and all the proofs of the power and presence of God; and of the fact that any interposition of divine power that destroys their hopes of gain, fills them with wrath, and hatred, and complaining. Many a man has been opposed to God and his gospel because, if religion should be extensively prevalent, his hopes of gain would be gone. Many a slave-dealer, and many a trafficker in ardent spirits, and many a man engaged in other unlawful modes of gain, has been unwilling to abandon his employments simply because his hopes of gain would be destroyed. No small part of the opposition to the gospel arises from the fact that, if embraced, it would strike at so much of the dishonorable employments of people, and make them honest and conscientious.

The market-place - The court or forum. The market-place was a place of concourse, and the courts were often held in or near those places.

The rulers - The term used here refers commonly to civil magistrates.

Verse 20

And brought them to the magistrates - To the military rulers στρατηγοῖς stratēgois or praetors. Philippi was a Roman colony, and it is probable that the officers of the army exercised the double function of civil and military rulers.

Do exceedingly trouble our city - In what way they did it they specify in the next verse. The charge which they wished to substantiate was that of being disturbers of the public peace. All at once they became conscientious. They forgot the subject of their gains, and were greatly distressed about the violation of the laws. There is nothing that will make people more hypocritically conscientious than to denounce, and detect, and destroy their unlawful and dishonest practices. People who are thus exposed become suddenly filled with reverence for the Law or for religion, and they who have heretofore cared nothing for either become greatly alarmed lest the public peace should be disturbed. People slumber quietly in sin, and pursue their wicked gains; they hate or despise all law and all forms of religion; but the moment their course of life is attacked and exposed, they become full of zeal for laws that they Would not themselves hesitate to violate, and for the customs of religion which in their hearts they thoroughly despise. Worldly-minded people often thus complain that their neighborhoods are disturbed by revivals of religion; and the preaching of the truth, and the attacking of their vices, often arouses this hypocritical conscientiousness, and makes them alarmed for the laws, and for religion, and for order, which they at other times are the first to disturb and disregard.

Verse 21

And teach customs - The word “customs” here ἔθη ethē refers to “religious rites or forms of worship.” See the notes on Acts 6:14. They meant to charge the apostles with introducing a new religion which was unauthorized by the Roman laws. This was a cunning and artful accusation. It is perfectly evident that they cared nothing either for the religion of the Romans or of the Jews. Nor were they really concerned about any change of religion. Paul had destroyed their hopes of gain; and as they Could not prevent that except by securing his punishment or expulsion, and as they had no way of revenge except by endeavoring to excite indignation against him and Silas for violating the laws, they endeavored to convict thorn of such violation. This is one among many instances, Where wicked and unprincipled people will endeavor to make religion the means of promoting their own interest. If they can make money by it, they will become its professed friends or if they can annoy Christians, they will at once have remarkable zeal for the laws and for the purity of religion. Many a man opposes revivals of religion, and the real progress of evangelical piety from professed zeal for truth and order.

Which are not lawful for us to receive - There were laws of the Roman empire under which they might shield themselves in this charge, though it is evident that their zeal was; not because they loved the laws more, but because they loved Christianity less. Thus, Servius on Virgil, Aeneid, viii. 187, says, “care was taken among the Athenians and the Romans that no one should introduce new religions. It was on this account that Socrates was condemned, and the Chaldeans or Jews were banished from the city.” Cicero (“DeLegibus,” ii. 8) says, “No person shall have any separate gods, or new ones; nor shall he privately worship any strange gods, unless they be publicly allowed.” Wetstein (in loco) says, “The Romans would indeed allow foreigners to worship their own god, but not unless it were done secretly, so that the Worship of foreign gods would not interfere with the allowed worship of the Romans, and so that occasion for dissension and controversy might be avoided. Neither was it lawful among the Romans to recommend a new religion to the citizens, contrary to what was confirmed and established by the public authority, and to call off the people from that. It was on this account that there was such a hatred of the Romans against the Jews” (Kuinoel). Tertullian says that “there was a decree that no god should be consecrated unless approved by the senate” (Grotius). See many other authorities quoted in Dr. Watson’s “Apology (Defense) for Christianity.”

To observe - To do.

Being Romans - Having the privileges of Roman citizens. See the notes on Acts 16:12.

Verse 22

And the multitude ... - It is evident that this was done in a popular tumult, and without even the form of law. Of this Paul afterward justly complained, as it was a violation of the privileges of a Roman citizen, and contrary to the laws. See the notes on Acts 16:37. It was one instance in which people affect great zeal for the honor of the Law, and yet are among the first to disregard it.

And the magistrates - Acts 16:20. They who should have been their protectors until they had had a fair trial according to law.

Rent off their clothes - This was always done when one was to be scourged or whipped. The criminal was usually stripped entirely naked. Livy says (ii. 5), “The lictors, being sent to inflict punishment, beat them with rods, being naked.” Cicero, against Verres, says, “He commanded the man to be seized, and to be stripped naked in the midst of the forum, and to be bound, and rods to be brought.”

And commanded to beat them - ῥαβδίζειν rabdizein. To beat them with rods. This was done by lictors, whose office it was, and was a common mode of punishment among the Romans. Probably Paul alludes to this as one of the instances which occurred in his life of his being publicly scourged, when he says 2 Corinthians 11:25, “Thrice was I beaten with rods.”

Verse 23

And when they had laid many stripes on them - The Jews were by law prohibited from inflicting more than 40 stripes, and usually inflicted but 39, 2 Corinthians 11:24. But there was no such law among the Romans. They were unrestricted in regard to the number of lashes, and probably inflicted many more. Perhaps Paul refers to this when he says 2 Corinthians 11:23, “In stripes above measure.” that is, beyond the usual measure among the Jews, or beyond moderation.

They cast them into prison - The magistrates did this partly as a punishment, and partly with a view hereafter of taking vengeance on them more according to the forms of law.

Verse 24

Thrust them into the inner prison - Into the most retired and secure part of the prison. The cells in the interior of the prison would be regarded as more safe, being doubtless more protected, and the difficulty of escape would be greater.

And made their feet fast in the stocks - Greek: and made their feet secure to wood. The word “stocks,” with us, denotes a machine made of two pieces of timber between which the feet of criminals are placed, and in which they are thus made secure. The account here does not imply necessarily that they were secured precisely in this way, but that they were fastened or secured by the feet, probably by cords, to a piece or beam of wood, so that they could not escape. It is probable that the legs of the prisoners were bound to large pieces of wood which not only encumbered them, but which were so placed as to extend their feet to a considerable distance. In this condition it might be necessary for them to lie on their backs; and if this, as is probable, was on the cold ground, after their severe scourging, their sufferings must have been very great. Yet in the midst of this they sang praises to God.

Verse 25

And at midnight - Probably their painful posture, and the sufferings of their recent scourging, prevented their. sleeping. Yet, though they had no repose, they had a quiet conscience, and the supports of religion.

Prayed - Though they had suffered much, yet they had reason to apprehend more. They sought, therefore, the sustaining grace of God.

And sang praises - Compare the notes on Job 35:10. Nothing but religion would have enabled them to do this. They had endured much, but they had cause still for gratitude. The Christian may find more true joy in a prison than the monarch on his throne.

And the prisoners heard them - And doubtless with astonishment. Prayer and praise are not common in a prison. The song of rejoicing and the language of praise is not usual among men lying bound in a dungeon. From this narrative we may learn:

(1) That the Christian has the sources of his happiness within him. External circumstances cannot destroy his peace and joy. In a dungeon he may find as real happiness as on a throne. On the cold earth, beaten and bruised, he may be as truly happy as on a bed of down.

(2) The enemies of Christians cannot destroy their peace. They may incarcerate the body, but they cannot bind the spirit, They may exclude from earthly comforts, but they cannot shut them out from the presence and sustaining grace of God.

(3) We see the value of a good conscience. Nothing else can give peace; and amidst the wakeful hours of the night, whether in a dungeon or on a bed of sickness, it is of more value than all the wealth of the world.

(4) We see the inestimable worth of the religion of Christ. It fits for all scenes; supports in all trials; upholds by day or by night; inspires the soul with confidence in God; and puts into the lips the songs of praise and thanksgiving.

(5) We have here a sublime and holy scene which sin and infidelity could never furnish. What more sublime spectacle has the earth witnessed than that of scourged and incarcerated men, suffering from unjust and cruel inflictions, and anticipating still greater sorrows; yet, with a calm mind, a pure conscience, a holy joy, pouring forth their desires and praises at midnight, into the ear of the God who always hears prayer! The darkness, the stillness, the loneliness, all gave sublimity to the scene, and teach us how invaluable is the privilege of access to the throne of mercy in this suffering world.

Verse 26

And suddenly - While they were praying and singing.

A great earthquake - Matthew 28:2. An earthquake, in such circumstances, was regarded as a symbol of the presence of God, and as an answer to prayer. See the notes on Acts 4:31. The design of this was, doubtless, to furnish them proof of the presence and protection of God, and to provide a way for them to escape. It was one among the series of wonders by which the gospel was established, and the early Christians protected amidst their dangers.

And immediately all the doors were opened - An effect that would naturally follow from the violent concussion of the earthquake. Compare Acts 5:19.

Everyone’s bands were loosed - This was evidently a miracle. Some have supposed that their chains were dissolved by electric fluid; but the narrative gives no account of any such fluid, even supposing such an effect to be possible. It was evidently a direct interposition of divine power. But for what purpose it was done is not recorded. Grotius supposes that it was that they might know that the apostles might be useful to them and to others, and that by them their spiritual bonds might be loosed. Probably the design was to impress all the prisoners with the conviction of the presence and power of God, and thus to prepare them to receive the message of life from the lips of his servants Paul and Silas. They had just before heard them singing and praying; they were aware, doubtless, of the cause for which they were imprisoned; they saw evident tokens that they were the servants of the Most High, and under his protection; and their own minds were impressed and awed by the terrors of the earthquake, and by the fact of their own liberation. It renders this scene the more remarkable, that though the doors were opened, and the prisoners loosed, yet no one made any attempt to escape.

Verse 27

Would have killed himself - This was done in the midst of agitation and alarm. He supposed that the prisoners had fled. He presumed that their escape would be charged on him. It was customary to hold a jailor responsible for the safe keeping of prisoners, and to subject him to the punishment due them if he suffered them to escape. See Acts 12:19. It should be added that it was common and approved among the Greeks and Romans for a man to commit suicide when he was encompassed with dangers from which he could not escape. Thus, Cato was guilty of self-murder in Utica; and thus, at this very place - Philippi - Brutus and Cassius, and many of their friends, fell on their own swords, and ended their lives by suicide. The custom was thus sanctioned by the authority and example of the great; and we are not to wonder that the jailor, in a moment of alarm, should also attempt to destroy his own life. It is not one of the least benefits of Christianity that it has proclaimed the evil of self-murder, and has done so much to drive it from the world.

Verse 28

Do thyself no harm - This is the solemn command of religion in his case, and in all others. It enjoins upon people to do themselves no harm by self-murder, whether by the sword, the pistol, the halter; by intemperance, by lust, or by dissipation. In all cases, Christianity seeks the true welfare of man. In all cases, if it were obeyed, people would do themselves no harm. They would promote their own best interests here, and their eternal welfare hereafter.

Verse 29

Then he called for a light - Greek: lights, in the plural. Probably several torches were brought by his attendants.

And came trembling - Alarmed at the earthquake; amazed that the prisoners were still there; confounded at the calmness of Paul and Silas and overwhelmed at the proof of the presence of God. Compare Jeremiah 5:22, “Fear ye not me, saith the Lord? will ye not tremble at my presence? etc.”

And fell down - This was an act of profound reverence. See the notes on Matthew 2:11. It is evident that he regarded them as the favorites of God, and was con strained to recognize them as religious teachers.

Verse 30

And brought them out - From the prison.

Sirs - Greek: κύριοι kurioi, lords - an address of respect; a title usually given to masters or owners of slaves.

What must I do to be saved? - Never was a more important question asked than this. It is clear that by the question he did not refer to any danger to which he might be exposed from what had happened. For:

(1) The apostles evidently understood him as referring to his eternal salvation, as is manifest from their answer, since to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ would have no effect in saving him from any danger of punishment to which he might be exposed from what had occurred.

(2) He could scarcely now consider himself as exposed to punishment by the Romans. The prisoners were all safe; none had escaped, or showed any disposition to escape; and besides, for the earthquake and its effects he could not be held responsible. It is not improbable that there was much confusion in his mind. There would be a rush of many thoughts; a state of agitation, alarm, and fear; and in view of all, he would naturally ask those whom he now saw to be men sent by God, and under his protection, what he should do to obtain the favor of that great Being under whose protection he saw that they manifestly were. Perhaps the following thoughts might have tended to produce this state of agitation and alarm:

(1) They had been designated by the Pythoness Acts 16:17 as religious teachers sent from God, and appointed to “show the way of salvation,” and in her testimony he might have been disposed to put confidence, or it might now be brought fresh to his recollection.

(2) He manifestly saw that they were under the protection of God. A remarkable interposition - an earthquake - an event which all the pagan regarded as ominous of the presence of the divinity - had showed this.

(3) The guilt of their imprisonment might rush upon his mind; and he might suppose that he, the agent of the imprisonment of the servants of God, would be exposed to his displeasure.

(4) His guilt in attempting his own life might overwhelm him with alarm.

(5) The whole scene was suited to show him the need of the protection and friendship of the God that had thus interposed. In this state of agitation and alarm, the apostles directed him to the only source of peace and safety - the blood of the atonement. The feelings of an awakened sinner are often strikingly similar to those of this jailor. He is agitated, alarmed, and fearful; he sees that he is a sinner, and trembles; the sins of his life rush over his memory, and fill him with deep anxiety, and he inquires what he must do to be saved. Often too, as here, the providence of God is the means of awakening the sinner, and of leading to this inquiry. Some alarming dispensation convinces him that God is near, and that the soul is in danger. The loss of health, or property, or of a friend, may thus alarm the soul; the ravages of the pestilence, or any fearful judgment, may arrest the attention, and lead to the inquiry, “What must I do to be saved?” Reader, have you ever made this inquiry? Have you ever, like the pagan jailor at Philippi, seen yourself to be a lost sinner, and been willing to ask the way to life?

In this narrative we see the contrast which exists in periods of distress and alarm between Christians and sinners. The guilty jailor was all agitation, fear, distress, and terror; the apostles, all peace, calmness, joy. The one was filled with thoughts of self-murder; the others, intent on saving life and doing good. This difference is to be traced to religion. It was confidence in God that gave peace to them; it was the want of what led to agitation and alarm in him It is so still. In the trying scenes of this life the same difference is seen. In bereavement, in sickness, in times of pestilence, in death, it is still so. The Christian is calm; the sinner is agitated and alarmed. The Christian can pass through such scenes with peace and joy; to the sinner, they are scenes of terror and of dread. And thus it will be beyond the grave. In the morning of the resurrection, the Christian will rise with joy and triumph; the sinner, with fear and horror. And thus at the judgment seat. Calm and serene, the saint shall witness the solemnities of that day, and triumphantly hail the Judge as his friend; fearful and trembling, the sinner shall look on these solemnities with a soul filled with horror as he listens to the sentence that consigns him to eternal woe! With what solicitude, then, should we seek, without delay, an interest in that religion which alone can give peace to the soul!

Verse 31

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ - This was a simple, a plain, and an effectual direction. They did not direct him to use the means of grace, to pray, or to continue to seek for salvation. They did not advise him to delay, or to wait for the mercy of God. They told him to believe at once; to commit his agitated, and guilty, and troubled spirit to the Saviour, with the assurance that he should find peace. They presumed that he would understand what it was to believe, and they commanded him to do the thing. And this was the uniform direction which the early preachers gave to those inquiring the way to life. See the notes on Matthew 16:16. Compare the notes on Acts 8:22.

And thy house - And thy family. That is, the same salvation is equally adapted to, and offered to your family. It does not mean that his family would be saved simply by his believing, but that the offers had reference to them as well as to himself; that they might be saved as well as he. His attention was thus called at once, as every man’s should be, to his family. He was reminded that they needed salvation, and he was presented with the assurance that they might unite with him in the peace and joy of redeeming mercy. Compare the notes on Acts 2:39. It may be implied here that the faith of a father may be expected to be the means of the salvation of his family. It often is so in fact; but the direct meaning is, that salvation was offered to his family as well as himself, implying that if they believed they should also be saved.

Verse 32

To all that were in his house - Old and young. They instructed them in the doctrines of religion, and doubtless in the nature of the ordinances of the gospel, and then baptized the entire family.

Verse 33

And he took them - To a convenient place for washing. It is evident from this that, though the apostles had the gift of miracles, they did not exercise it in regard to their own sufferings or to heal their own wounds. They restored others to health, not themselves.

And washed their stripes - The wounds which had been inflicted by the severe scourging which they had received the night before. We have here a remarkable instance of the effect of religion in producing humanity and tenderness. This same man, a few hours before, had thrust them into the inner prison, and made them fast in the stocks. He evidently had then no concern about their stripes or their wounds. But no sooner was he converted than one of his first acts was an act of humanity. He saw them suffering; he pitied them, and hastened to minister to them and to heal their wounds. Until the time of Christianity there never had been a hospital or an almshouse. Nearly all the hospitals for the sick since have been reared by Christians. They who are most ready to minister to the sick and dying are Christians. They who are most willing to encounter the pestilential damps of dungeons to aid the prisoner are, like Howard, Christians. Who ever saw an infidel attending a dying bed if he could help it? and where has infidelity ever reared a hospital or an almshouse, or made provision for the widow and the fatherless? Often one of the most striking changes that occurs in conversion is seen in the disposition to be kind and humane to the suffering. Compare James 1:27.

And was baptized - This was done straightway; that is, immediately. As it is altogether improbable that either in his house or in the prison there would be water sufficient for immersing them, there is every reason to suppose that this was performed in some other mode. All the circumstances lead us to suppose that it was not by immersion. It was at the dead of night; in a prison; amidst much agitation; and was evidently performed in haste.

Verse 34

He set meat before them - Food. Greek: “he placed a table.” The word “meat” formerly meant “food” of all kinds.

And rejoiced - This was the effect of believing. Religion produces joy. See the notes on Acts 8:8. He was free from danger and alarm; he had evidence that his sins were forgiven, and that he was now the friend of God. The agitating and alarming scenes of the night had passed away; the prisoners were safe; and religion, with its peace, and pardon, and rejoicings, had visited himself and his family. What a change to be produced in one night! What a difference between the family when Paul was thrust into prison, and when he was brought out and received as an honored guest at the very table of the renovated jailor! Such a change would Christianity produce in every family, and such joy would it diffuse through every household.

With all his house - With all his family. Whether they believed before they were baptized or after is not declared. But the whole narrative would lead us to suppose that, as soon as the jailor believed, he and all his family were baptized. It is subsequently added that they believed also. The joy arose from the fact that they all believed the gospel; the baptism appears to have been performed on account of the faith of the head of the family.

Verse 35

And when it was day ... - It is evident from the narrative that it was not contemplated at first to release them so soon, Acts 16:22-24. But it is not known what produced this change of purpose in the magistrates. It is probable, however, that they had been brought to reflection, somewhat as the jailor had, by the earthquake, and that their consciences had been troubled by the fact, that in order to please the multitude, they had caused strangers to be beaten and imprisoned without trial and contrary to the Roman laws. An earthquake is always suited to alarm the guilty; and among the Romans it was regarded as an omen of the anger of the gods, and was therefore adapted to produce agitation and remorse. The agitation and alarm of the magistrates were shown by the fact that they sent the officers as soon as it was day. The judgments of God are eminently suited to alarm sinners. Two ancient mss. read this, “The magistrates who were alarmed by the earthquake, sent, etc.” (Doddridge). Whether this reading be genuine or not, it doubtless expresses the true cause of their sending to release the apostles.

The serjeants - ῥαβδούχους rabdouchous. Literally, those having rods; the lictors. These were public officers who walked before magistrates with the emblems of authority. In Rome they bore before the senators the fasces; that is, a bundle of rods with an axe in its center, as a symbol of office. They performed somewhat the same office as a beadle in England, or as a constable in our courts (America).

Verse 37

They have beaten us openly uncondemned - There are three aggravating circumstances mentioned, of which Paul complains:

(1) That they had been beaten contrary to the Roman laws.

(2) That it had been public; the disgrace had been in the presence of the people, and the reparation ought to be as public.

(3) That it had been done without a trial, and while they were uncondemned, and therefore the magistrates ought themselves to come and release them, and thus publicly acknowledge their error. Paul knew the privileges of a Roman citizen, and at proper times, when the interests of justice and religion required it, he did not hesitate to assert them. In all this, he understood and accorded with the Roman laws. The Valerian law declared that if a citizen appealed from the magistrate to the people, it should not be lawful for magistrate to beat him with rods, or to behead him (Plutarch, Life of P. Valerius Publicola; Livy, ii. 8). By the Porcian law it was expressly forbidden that a citizen should be beaten (Livy, iv. 9). Cicero says that the body of every Roman citizen was inviolable. “The Porcian law,” he adds, “has removed the rod from the body of every Roman citizen.” And in his celebrated oration against Verres, he says, A Roman citizen was beaten with rods in the forum, O judges; where, in the meantime, no groan, no other voice of this unhappy man, was heard except the cry, ‘I am a Roman citizen’! Take away this hope,” he says, “take away this defense from the Roman citizens, let there be no protection in the cry I am a Roman citizen, and the praetor can with impunity inflict any punishment on him who declares himself a citizen of Rome, etc.”

Being Romans - Being Romans, or having the privilege of Roman citizens. They were born Jews, but they claimed that they were Roman citizens, and had a right to the privileges of citizenship. On the ground of this claim, and the reason why Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen, see the notes on Acts 22:28.

Privily - Privately. The release should be as public as the unjust act of imprisonment. As they have publicly attempted to disgrace us, so they should as publicly acquit us. This was a matter of mere justice; and as it was of great importance to their character and success, they insisted on it.

Nay, verily; but let them come ... - It was proper that they should be required to do this:

(1) Because they had been illegally imprisoned, and the injustice of the magistrates should be acknowledged.

(2) Because the Roman laws had been violated, and the majesty of the Roman people insulted, and honor should be done to the laws.

(3) Because injustice had been done to Paul and Silas, and they had a right to demand just treatment and protection.

(4) Because such a public act on the part of the magistrates would strengthen the young converts, and show them that the apostles were not guilty of a violation of the laws.

(5) Because it would tend to the honor and to the furtherance of religion. It would be a public acknowledgement of their innocence, and would go far toward lending to them the sanction of the laws as religious teachers. We may learn from this also:

(1) That though Christianity requires meekness in the reception of injuries, yet that there are occasions on which Christians may insist on their rights according to the laws. Compare John 18:23.

(2) That this is to be done particularly where the honor of religion is concerned, and where by it the gospel will be promoted. A Christian may bear much as a man in a private capacity, and may submit, without any effort to seek reparation; but where the honor of the gospel is concerned; where submission, without any effort to obtain justice, might be followed by disgrace to the cause of religion, a higher obligation may require him to seek a vindication of his character, and to claim the protection of the laws. His name, and character, and influence belong to the church. The laws are designed as a protection to an injured name, or of violated property and rights, and of an endangered life. And when that protection can be had only by an appeal to the laws, such an appeal, as in the case of Paul and Silas, is neither vindictive nor improper. My private interests I may sacrifice, if I choose; my public name, and character, and principles belong to the church and the world, and the laws, if necessary, may be called in for their protection.

Verse 38

They feared when they heard ... - They were apprehensive of punishment for having imprisoned them in violation of the laws of the empire. To punish unjustly a Roman citizen was deemed an offence to the majesty of the Roman people, and was severely punished by the laws. Dionysius Hal. (Ant. Rom., ii.) says, “The punishment appointed for those who abrogated or transgressed the Valerian law was death, and the confiscation of his property.” The emperor Claudius deprived the inhabitants of Rhodes of freedom for having crucified some Roman citizens (Dio Cass., lib. 60). See Kuinoel and Grotius.

Verse 39

And they came and besought them - A most humiliating act for Roman magistrates, but in this case it was unavoidable. The apostles had them completely in their power, and could easily effect their disgrace and ruin. Probably they besought them by declaring them innocent; by affirming that they were ignorant that they were Roman citizens, etc.

And desired them to depart ... - Probably:

(1) To save their own character, and be secure from their taking any further steps to convict the magistrates of violating the laws; and,

(2) To evade any further popular tumult on their account. This advice Paul and Silas saw fit to comply with, after they had seen and comforted the brethren, Acts 16:40. They had accomplished their main purpose in going to Philippi; they had preached the gospel; they had laid the foundation of a flourishing church (compare the Epistle to the Philippians); and they were now prepared to prosecute the purpose of their agency into surrounding regions. Thus, the opposition of the people and the magistrates at Philippi was the occasion of the founding of the church there, and thus their unkind and inhospitable request that they should leave them was the means of the extension of the gospel into adjacent regions.

Verse 40

They comforted them - They exhorted them, and encouraged them to persevere, notwithstanding the opposition and persecution which they might meet with.

And departed - That is, Paul and Silas departed. It would appear probable that Luke and Timothy remained in Philippi, or, at least, did not attend Paul and Silas. For Luke, who, in Acts 16:10, uses the first person, and speaks of himself as with Paul and Silas, speaks of them now in the third person, implying that he was not with them until Paul had arrived at Troas, where Luke joined him from Philippi, Acts 20:5-6. In Acts 17:14, also, Timothy is mentioned as being at Berea in company with Silas, from which it appears that he did not accompany Paul and Silas to Thessalonica. Compare Acts 17:1, Acts 17:4. Paul and Silas, when they departed from Philippi, went to Thessalonica, Acts 17:1.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 16". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-16.html. 1870.
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