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Bible Commentaries
Acts 16

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-40

Acts 16:1-2 . Then came he to Lystra, as in Acts 14:6. In their former labours in that city, Lois a jewess, her daughter Eunice, and Timothy her son, had embraced the faith. Now, they found Timothy growing in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord. His grandmother Lois had instructed him in the scriptures from a child; and the spirit of prophecy had already designated him for the sanctuary. Timothy, though now very young, was of good report; but his father being a Greek, had not consented that Timothy should be circumcised. This lovely youth, the future hope of the church, accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, Acts 20:4, and also to Rome, where for a time he suffered imprisonment. Hebrews 13:23. He finally seemed fixed at Ephesus; his record is on high, antiquity being silent of other particulars.

Acts 16:3 . Him would Paul have to go forth with him to the work of the Lord, and took and circumcised him, as a proselyte of righteousness. Timothy could otherwise have had no access to the jews. If this then was an act of prudence rather than a legal obligation, the circumcision of Timothy differs from that of Abraham, which was to him “a seal of righteousness by faith.” To Paul, the ceremonial law was not an obligation of conscience. Therefore to the jews he became as a jew, that he might gain the jews; to the gentiles, without the law, he lived as without the law, that he might gain them; to the weak and scrupulous in regard of meats and drinks, he became as weak. He became all things to all men, respecting rights in themselves indifferent, that he might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:20-22. Christian prudence, in the simplicity of wisdom, shines bright in the ministerial character.

Acts 16:4 . They delivered them the decrees to keep. These were the regulations of life and discipline. A short and happy code, no doubt, and well adapted to the circumstances of the church. These dogmas were of a religious, a moral, and a prudential nature, like the letter to the gentiles in the preseding chapter.

Acts 16:6 . Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia, and Galatia, that is, the old Phrygia, which comprised all the country west of Galatia, as in Strabo, lib. 13., and was bounded on the south by Lycaonia, ancient Troy being one of its cities, they were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, because the Lord pressed and hurried them away to the new and great harvest fields of labour in Macedonia, and in all the ancient cities of Greece. The churches of Asia had pastors who could feed the flock; but it required apostles to bring the south of Europe to the faith of Christ. This great field of labour Luke traverses with only two or three words. The extent of ground from Antioch to the Hellespont, is seven hundred miles. Where is the journal of all those labours; labours full of glory, full of conflicts, clothed with power, and crowned with harvests of success. That St. Peter followed Paul and Barnabas on the same ground is apparent, as Eusebius admits, Hist. Ecclesiastes 1:4, for Peter addresses his first epistle “to the strangers scattered abroad throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, (a province, as in the map) and Bithynia.” This he could not have presumed to do, had he not been their pastor. St. John also followed in the same direction, but chiefly among the seven churches situate in the province of Asia. After his liberation from the isle of Patmos, he returned to Ephesus, but according to Eusebius, he made excursions into the provinces, constituting bishops, setting churches in order, and appointing pastors. In one of those excursions, the story of his reclaiming the young man who had become captain of a band of robbers, occurs. Euseb. cap. 23. The church of Ephesus had been planted by St. Paul, then the chief city of Consular Asia. John made it the final place of his abode, and here he slept in peace.

Acts 16:12 . Philippi, once the metropolis of the Greek empire, which king Philip, father of Alexander the great, had improved, and called by his own name.

Acts 16:13 . On the sabbath day by the river side, where the jews, unable to get a synagogue, had a proseucha, or place of prayer.

Acts 16:14 . Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira in minor Asia. Revelation 1:18. Lydia had come from thence to Philippi, a city of Greece, to sell “purple,” a celebrated dye used by the Romans in dyeing their splendid robes; and hence their emperors and nobility were clothed in purple and fine linen, as the papal harlot is clothed in scarlet. The purple dye was produced by a species of shell fish on the shores of the Mediterranean near to Tyre and Sidon, and formed an article of sale in ancient times. Ezekiel 27:16. It is mentioned by Moses as one of the colours pertaining to the tabernacle, and must have been known to the Egyptians. Judges 8:26. Daniel 5:7. A shell fish called murex, or purpura, float on the sea in large shoals, and when they retire beneath the surface they leave a bright reddish purple behind them, which when collected and mixed with the alkali of ammonia produces a deep and beautiful purple. The sale of this article was very lucrative, and several women of Tyre dealt largely in it. Lydia was one of these, and probably frequented the markets at Philippi, as well as in other places; and might also occasionally reside in that city.

Whose heart the Lord opened, to wait for his word in faith and prayer, and with her family to listen to the word with attention and delight. The Lord opened her ears, as in Psalms 40:6. The Lord opened her mind, as the flowers open to the sun, to receive the truth in love. The Lord opened her heart to receive all the promised sweetness and comfort of the word, in regenerating and sanctifying influences. The Lord emboldened her at all hazards to make an open profession of the faith, and to receive his servants into her house.

Acts 16:16 . A certain damsel, possessed with a spirit of divination: πνευμα Πυθωνος , a spirit of Python. The women who delivered oracles in the heathen temples, are by Herodotus in forty places called pythonesses, as stated in the notes on Leviticus 19:31. Isaiah 41:23. Python is but another name for Apollo. Cicero, on the nature of the gods, mentions four of that name; and Plato, in his Cratylus, ascribes to Apollo four principal faculties. The art of divining, as in the text, music, medicine, and archery. He killed a serpent of prodigious magnitude, as the poets are pleased to say. But this girl really had an evil genius which told her things that could not be known in the course of human events. Augustine denies that Satan can know future things; but he fully allows the reality of some heathen oracles. The foretelling of rain he accounts for on the principle, that evil spirits could mark the rising of vapours in the sea earlier than men, and draw praise to themselves by announcing rain in the time of drought. So also these spirits could sometimes announce a victory, or the defeat of an army before any letter could arrive. Thus when mankind worshipped demons in the visible form of idols, it was just in providence partially to surrender them to their power.

Acts 16:20 . Brought them to the magistrates: τοις Στρατηγοις , prefects, pretors, military captains. The magistrates here were military men, this city being now a Roman colony.

Acts 16:22 . The multitude rose up together against them. Mobs in Jerusalem, in Asia minor, and now in Greece, are of the same family. The magistrates, supposing Paul and Silas the ringleaders, rent off their clothes, and gave them the castigation of the lictors. John Albert cites here many testimonies of the severity with which this punishment was often inflicted.

Acts 16:40 . When they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed. Satan was rather too late with his work; a church of brethren, as well as sisters in Lydia’s house, was already founded. The apostles could sing out of prison, as well as in it, “Thanks be to God who always causeth us to triumph in Christ Jesus.” John Albert has a note on the former part of this verse. Εισηλθον εισ την Λυδιαν : they entered in to Lydia. Castellio says, ad Lydiam diverterunt; they turned away, or entered into the house of Lydia, as the English reads; a metonymy, which puts the possessor for the possession, as in 1 Corinthians 12:12, where Christ is put for the church.


This chapter, which leads us to contemplate the introduction of the gospel into Greece, strikingly marks the care of providence in the early progress of the faith. When Paul was undecided whether to pass into Greece or to take some other route, behold, in the wakeful visions of the night, a man of Macedonia stood over against him, and with an honest suppliant aspect implored him to come over the channel and help them. He seemed to say with serious looks, Do come over the Bosphorus and help us, for Satan has gained an almost total ascendency over our morals and worship. We have philosophy in abundance, and are lost in ignorance; we have gods without number, but worship not the true God; and we all follow the vices and superstitions of the age. Do come and help us with better principles, that we may lead better lives.

Satan was very much alarmed at the introduction of the gospel into Greece. The messengers of Christ were only three, Paul, Luke, and Silas; nor does it appear that they had either much money, or any letters of recommendation; yet Satan trembled and was embarrassed how to act. He had persecuted and dispersed the saints in Judea, and they had travelled everywhere preaching Jesus; and the persecution had accelerated the propagation of the faith. Satan therefore resolved for once to vary his method, and try what applause would do. He prompted the Pythoness to follow the apostles everywhere, saying, these men are the servants of the most high God. They are doctors come from Asia, and special servants of heaven. Therefore hearken, good people, to their sermons, for they are come to show us the way of salvation. The inference Satan intended was, that the people should silently say, and are these doctors of Asia thy friends? Are you both in one secret? Then we will take care to have nothing to do either with them or with thee.

In the masters of this Pythoness we see the covetousness, the malice, and the insidious wickedness of the human heart. When they saw that Paul had delivered her from the power of the devil, and that she could now tell nothing out of the common way, they resolved on revenge. And did they come to the magistrates and make a fair and honest complaint? Did they give glory to God by relating the miracles, and the loss of their infernal traffic? No, no; but they had recourse to charges of sedition, tumult, and the danger of the state, the usual pretenses of religious persecutors. These were the royal pleas which would blind justice, excite attention, and bring the rod on the backs of the innocent. So vice triumphs for the moment, but righteousness reigns for ever.

The comfort and the hope of the gospel can support believers in the worst of times. Paul and Silas were beaten and sore, their feet were fast in the stocks, and their bodies couched in the lowest cell. And were they not gloomy and dejected? No: but unable to sleep by reason of their sores, they prayed at midnight, and while praying their cup of comfort overflowed. Their Master approached with so much of heaven in his train, that prayer was changed into praise. The songs of paradise resounded through the cell. The doors and bolts were afraid; they all gave way to admit the King of glory. The massy fetters no longer encumbered the feet of the felons. All was light and liberty within. The prison, for once, became the palace of the Lord, and a jubilee attended his presence.

There is an awful difference between good and bad men in the day of visitation. The jailer heard the noise, and awoke. He saw the gates open, and concluded the prisoners were fled. Conscious of the peril to which he was exposed by their supposed escape, he sunk into all the horrors of anguish and despair. He blamed his gods, and cursed his fate. Hear how he raves. My life must now go for their lives, or I must languish in fetters all my days; my family is ruined, and I am for ever undone. Then drawing his sword, he adds, I have no way to attest my innocence but by putting a period to my existence, which I will this moment do: and yet he hesitates and defers. He fears to plunge his soul into greater and surer miseries. How happy then are the men who have counsel and comfort in the providence of God in the day of trouble. A work of terror and alarm often terminates in a gracious conviction of sin. Paul cried with a loud voice, Do thyself no harm, we are all here. All here, the trembling jailer would reply; all here! Surely this work is not human, but divine. Then, worse still, worse for me. I thought my temporal affairs were ruined; but now my soul is ruined. I have lifted up my arm against the Lord, and against his servants. Alas, what must I do what must I do to be forgiven?

We see the excellent temper inspired by true religion. Paul and Silas not only forgave this man, but directed him to believe on the Lord Jesus, the only Saviour and helper of the troubled mind. Hence all penitents in trouble of conscience, should keep a steady eye on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Let them continually look to his person, and offices, and grace; and as a little infant keeps trying and trying to walk till he can step along, so let every one endeavour to venture on the Saviour till he can believe with the heart unto righteousness.

There is an unspeakable degree of love among young converts. The jailer brought into his house the dishonoured apostles, washed their stripes, and nourished them with food; and all his family embraced the salvation of God. Oh how different was the night from the day. How different this brotherhood from the perjuries, the cruelties and stripes of the preseding day. Wherever the love of Jesus reigns in the heart, it makes the little circle of society resemble the paradise above.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 16". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/acts-16.html. 1835.
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