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Bible Commentaries
Acts 16

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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Verses 1-3


1-3. God gave Paul Timothy at Lystra, where they stoned him, a memorable fact, as Timothy was his favorite preacher throughout all his ministry, and, of course, God’s greatest blessing to him, though received at the place where they stoned him, thus reminding us that calamities are but blessings in disguise, and that where the devil fights hardest God gives us the brightest victory. Timothy has a wonderful record, involving doubt as to his ever having lost his infantile justification, owing to the invaluable blessing of his godly mother Eunice and grandmother Lois, who from his infancy had taught him “the Holy Scriptures, which made him wise unto salvation.” Hence we have no record of his conversion, doubtless lost sight of in his early childhood. Here we see a significant fact that, while Paul everywhere defended the Gentile converts against the imperious demand of the Jews to impose on them the Mosaic ordinances, here he circumcised Timothy simply to gratify the Jews, so that he would be the more useful among them, illustrating his favorite maxim, “All things to all men, that he may save some.” We should be perfectly limber on all questions of church rites and ceremonies, to receive them or forego them pursuant to the glory of God through our humble instrumentality, led by the Spirit.

Verse 4

4. In their evangelistic peregrinations, to the unutterable delight and edification of the Gentile converts, they everywhere read to the churches the apostolical decrees, liberating them from all the burdens of ecclesiasticism and conferring on them all the privileges of free grace anticipatory of heavenly glory.

Verse 5

5. This proclamation of universal Gentile freedom from all burdens of Jewish ritualism, gives a universal impetus to the gospel church throughout the Gentile world.


We Americans are all of European extraction. Hence this was really the evangelization of our ancestors.

Verse 6

6. We find here Paul again travels through Galatia and Phrygia, where he had preached the gospel about A. D. 35-38, during his stay at Tarsus, whither he was sent by the brethren at Jerusalem to save his life. “Being forbidden by the Holy Ghost to speak the word in Asia.” This was from the simple reason that God wanted him now to leave Asia, where he had spent all his life, go and establish the gospel in Europe.

Verse 7

7. Here we see the tardiness of the human will to respond to the Holy Ghost, and at the same time a reluctance on the part of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke to leave Asia, their nativity, and embark on the sea for a country they had never seen. Bithynia is back towards the interior, hence we see their indisposition to go directly to the sea, and consequently an effort on their part to turn east and evangelize those Asiatic states. Here we see the identity of the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of Jesus, as they are synonymous in verses six and seven.

Verse 8

8. Mysia borders the Aegean Sea, lying between Asia and Europe, Troas, the capital on the sea-shore, occupying the site of old Troy, so memorable in Homer’s “Iliad.”

Verse 9

9. Here God settles all controversy as to leaving Asia by giving Paul a night vision, in which he saw a Macedonian man standing on a European mountain far away beyond the western sea, and heard him calling, “Having come over into Macedonia, help us.”

Verse 10

10. This clear and unmistakable open vision, both seen and heard, sweeps away all defalcation as to their evangelistic call to preach the gospel in Europe. For this reason, Christian Europe and America are the spiritual children of Paul. No sooner is the vision seen, and the Macedonian voice heard ringing over the sea, than they all prepare for an immediate embarkation.

Verse 11

11. Samothracia is a large island far up near the northern coast of the Aegean Sea, while Neapolis is in Thrace on the European shore, whither the evangelistic quarto disembark.

Verse 12

12. Traveling on foot twelve miles to Philippi, the capital and metropolis of Macedonia, the most northern province in Greece. It is a Roman colony and a free city, ruled by Roman magistrates.

Verse 13

13. These four Asiatic strangers, in their Oriental costume, quite a spectacle in a European city, render themselves still more conspicuous preaching daily on the street. Being native Jews both by race and religion, they everywhere hunt their consanguinity, finding a small synagogue down on the bank of the river Strymon. They resort thither on the Jewish Sabbath and enjoy the service conducted by the women.

Verse 14

14. Lydia, who worshipped God, a pious Jewess, preaching in that synagogue, is converted to the Christhood of Jesus. All the facts of this brief history involve the conclusion that she was a saved woman, knowing experimentally the God of Abraham and Moses, and there faithfully preaching the gospel in the Jewish dispensation, like the saints of all bygone ages trusting the prophetic Christ. Hence she only needed conversion to the historic Christ, i. e., the Christhood of Jesus the Nazarene, whom Paul preached. We Americans and Europeans are the wrong people to depreciate and much less antagonize woman’s ministry when we see here that our gospel came that way. Here was a Jewish synagogue conducted by women [perhaps in the absence of suitable men]. It was free for men as well as women. Hence Paul and his comrades there found an open door to preach the gospel, with results so unlike the awful antagonism they generally met in synagogues conducted by men, as these godly women hailed the gospel as a feast and rejoice in the glad news that the Christ of prophecy has already come in the person of Jesus, whom Paul preached.

Verse 15

15. Hence Lydia the preacher and her family, having joyfully confessed Jesus their Savior in baptism, open wide their doors and welcome these four evangelists to make their house their home.

Verses 16-18

16-18. A fortune-telling female slave, who brought much money to her owners by her Satanic incantations, continues to follow these evangelists day by day, incessantly crying after them, “These men are servants of the most high God, who proclaim unto us the way of salvation!” Of course, her incessant clamor was seriously impedimental to the intelligent audibility of their street preaching in their daily peregrinations. Ere long forbearance has ceased to be a virtue, and Paul, utterly worn out with her clamor, turns and speaks to the demon of vaticination dwelling in her, and bids him to come out of her. Hence that very hour the demon evacuated the damsel, responsive to the mandate of Paul. This is demonstrative proof of demoniacal possession and supernatural revelation at the present day. Satan, in all ages, has been permitted to demonstrate his personality, thus refuting the infidel dogma of no personal devil, which always proves the antecedent of denying the existence of a personal God. In ancient sorcery, mediaeval witchcraft and modern spiritualism, Christian science, hypnotism, et cetera, we have in all ages the demonstration of demoniacal possessions It is as true and real to-day as in any preceding age. Here you see that the power of vaticination, on the part of this damsel, appertained altogether to this familiar spirit which dwelt in her. Paul did not speak to the damsel, but to the spirit, when he ordered him to come out of her. Hence we see the demon occupied her distinct from and independent of her own human spirit, which throws clear light on all the supernatural incantations of modern spiritualism. They actually possess and hold communion with disembodied demons which throng the air.

Verses 19-24

19-24. After the demon has evacuated the damsel, she has no more power to tell fortunes and practice divination than any other person. Consequently, her owners, seeing that they can get no more money for her fortune-telling, fly with an awful rage against Paul, arouse the rabble, stirring up their European prejudices against these Asiatic intruders, exciting to their very utmost Gentile prejudices against these impudent and meddlesome Jews, accusing them of infringing upon their rights and privileges as Roman citizens. They so manipulate the uncouth rabble as to raise a general uproar against the apostles, maneuvering to deceive the Roman magistrates and precipitate them into a premature and illegal verdict, even foregoing the very form of a trial, so that they simply command the lictors to strip and beat them with their cruel rods pursuant to the Roman custom.

Verses 24-26

24-26. To put a final quietus to all the trouble, they cast Paul and Silas into the deep, dark dungeon of their cruel, filthy old prison, with their lacerated, bleeding backs down on the cold, stone floor, and their feet raised up and wedged fast in great blocks of wood, thus precluding all possibility of escape. If you had been in their place, would you not have concluded that you were mistaken as to the call of God to that place? Paul and Silas, while the hours glide away, tell their experiences, pray to God, get very happy and continue to sing uproariously the praises of God, arresting the attention and astonishing the suffering inmates of those gloomy dungeons, utterly unaccustomed to hear songs of joy. At midnight God answers their prayer with the earthquake shock, disrupting the deep foundations of the prison, snapping all the bars and bolts, and slamming back the ponderous iron doors against the massive stone walls like claps of thunder.

Verses 27-34

27-34. The awakened and panic-stricken jailer, knowing that cruel Roman law will require his life as substitute for the fugitive prisoner, in the absence of Bible light on suicide, and with the noble examples of Cicero, the prince of Roman authors, and Cato, the champion Roman statesman, and many other mighty men who had preceded him in suicide, resolved at once to add his name to the honored catalogue. Through the wide-open doors Paul sees him in the act of killing himself, fortunately in time to save his life. This heathen jailer was a wicked, ungodly, ignorant man, acquiescent in the clamor of the roaring mob, and the verdict of the cruel magistrates; he looked upon Paul and Silas as black with crime, notwithstanding their street preaching had rung in his ears and left upon his memory their attitude as the avowed heralds of the most high God. The awful earthquake and the utter indisposition of the apostles to escape now send a lightning bolt of conviction to the bottom of his heart, precipitating him into a radical, true and hearty repentance, putting him on believing ground as a penitent sinner, where he has nothing to do but receive justification by faith. Therefore Paul commands him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou and thy family shall be saved.” Here you see clearly and unequivocally that faith is the only condition necessary to the justification of a sinner, the exercise of this faith being utterly impossible till he gets on believing ground, which can only be reached by a genuine repentance wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost. Here we see that Paul assures the jailer that not only himself but his family shall be saved on condition of his faith. Parents, take courage, if you are truly faithful to God; here is a promise for the salvation of your families. It does not follow that they will be saved without personal faith, which God in due time will confer on them, pursuant to your faith. Now the jailer is converted and baptized that very hour, along with his family.

Verse 34

34. “And leading them into his house he placed a table by them and rejoiced all over the house, believing in God.” Here we see that the jailer, having received a glorious old-style jumping conversion, leaped round all over the house, shouting uproariously, while Paul and Silas sat at the table enjoying his kind hospitality, feeling much refreshed and relieved physically, because the jailer had not only diligently washed away the clotted blood from the gashes of their lacerated backs, thus expediting convalescence, but has kindly supplied them with a sumptuous meal, which they much needed. The earthquake, the miraculous excarceration of the prisoners and the conversion of the jailer, borne on rumor’s flying pinion, reaches the magistrates, so alarming them that they send the lictors who would thrash them, to request Paul and Silas to depart immediately. This they refuse to do till the magistrates come in person and take them out, which they do, now tremulous with fear, because of their notification that Paul is a Roman citizen, and they are liable to prosecution, dethronement, and punishment for their illegal flagellation of a Roman citizen, amid the impetuosity of the cruel mob. Hence alarmed and deeply penitent for their illegal and precipitant cruelty to the apostles, taking them out of prison with their own hands, they beg them to depart from the city.

Verse 40

40. Paul and Silas now come to the house of Lydia, where they find Timothy and Luke, who, along with the few disciples converted in the woman’s meeting, have spent a night of agonizing prayer and solitude, and now are much delighted to receive them and hear all the good news.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 16". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/acts-16.html.
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