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Tuesday, June 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 16

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Verses 1-2

‘And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra: and behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewess who believed, but his father was a Greek. The same was well reported of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

Eventually therefore he came to Derbe and Lystra. And there he came across a young man who would be closely connected with him for the remainder of his life. Often in the days to come Timothy was to be Paul's trusted messenger (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:2-6). He was at Rome with Paul when Paul was in prison (Philippians 1:1; Philippians 2:19; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1). Indeed Timothy and Paul had a very special relationship like father and son. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:17) he called him his beloved and faithful child in the Lord, probably indicating that Paul had led him to Christ. When he wrote to the Philippians he said that there was no one whose mind was so much at one with his own (Philippians 2:19-20). Happy indeed are those who enjoy such close affinity with each other. He would later write to him two letters for guidance in his important ministry.

It must be considered possible that his disagreement about taking Mark had made him think about his own responsibility for enabling young men to mature. He may well have thought things over and recognised that perhaps Barnabas had been right after all in insisting on helping Mark. Timothy also would prove to need encouragement and nurturing. And in the event two young men instead of one would grow and be established as Christian teachers whose impact on the future of the church would be great.

As we learn here Timothy was a half-Jew. The mention of so small a place as Derbe may suggest that Timothy actually came from Derbe (as would later Gaius), although it may equally have been Lystra. We cannot be sure (‘there’ could apply to either). Timothy was clearly well known in the churches of both Lystra and Iconium, and well thought of in both, so that he probably ministered acceptably in both cities. Paul saw in this young man the person that he could become.

Verses 1-40

The Expansion Of The Word In Cyprus and Asia Minor, With Satan’s Counterattack Being Defeated at an Assembly In Jerusalem, Which is Then Followed By Further Ministry (13:1-18:22).

Jerusalem having forfeited its Messiah and its right to evangelise the world, the torch now passes to Antioch. For in his presentation of the forward flow of ‘the word’ Luke now had to find the next great forwards movement and he found it at Syrian Antioch. From there at the instigation of the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit too has as it were moved to Antioch) Barnabas and Saul are to be sent out and will successfully and powerfully minister, first to Jews and then to Gentiles throughout Asia Minor, achieving great success, while confirming the dictum that ‘we must through much tribulation enter under the Kingly Rule of God’ (Acts 14:22). Having suffered for Christ’s sake, these Apostles will then finally report God’s great successes back to Antioch. It will then be followed after the Gathering at Jerusalem by a second round of missionary activity reaching into Europe.

The first section of Acts (chapters 1-12) had dealt with the going forward of the Good News from Jerusalem, resulting finally in Jerusalem having rejected its last chance and being replaced in the purposes of God. As we saw it followed a chiastic pattern (see introduction to chapter 1)..

This next section of Acts deals with the going forward of the Good News from Antioch and also follows a chiastic pattern covering the twofold ministry of Paul, with two missions from Antioch sandwiching the Gathering at Jerusalem of the Apostles and elders in order to decide the terms on which Gentiles can become Christians, thus emphasising the freedom of the Gentiles from the Law of Moses. It analyses as follows:

a Paul and Barnabas are sent forth from Antioch (Acts 12:25 to Acts 13:3).

b Ministry in Cyprus results in their being brought before the pro-consul Sergius Paulus who believes their word (Acts 13:4-13).

c Ministry in Pisidian Antioch results in a major speech to the Jews with its consequences, including a description of those who desire to hear him again (Acts 13:14-52).

d Successful ministry in Iconium results in the crowd being stirred up and their having to flee (Acts 14:1-6).

e A remarkable healing in Lystra results in false worship which is rejected and the crowds being stirred up by the Jews. Paul is stoned and flees the city (Acts 14:7-21).

f Ministry in Derbe is followed by a round trip confirming the churches and return to Antioch (Acts 14:21-28).

g The Gathering in Jerusalem of the Apostles and elders of Jerusalem and the Antiochene representatives resulting in acknowledgement that the Gentiles are not to be bound by the Law or required to be circumcised because God had established the everlasting house of David (Acts 13:15).

f Paul and Silas (and Barnabas and Mark) leave Antioch to go on a round trip confirming the churches (Acts 15:36 to Acts 16:5).

e A remarkable healing in Philippi results in true worship which is accepted (the Philippian jailer and his household) and in Paul’s stripes being washed by a Roman jailer. The authorities declare them innocent and they leave the city (Acts 16:6-40).

d Successful ministries in Thessalonica and Berea result in the crowds being stirred up and their having to flee (Acts 17:1-14).

c Ministry in Athens results in a major speech to the Gentiles with its consequences including a description of those who desire to hear him again (Acts 17:15-34).

b Ministry in Corinth results in their being brought before the pro-consul Gallio who dismisses the suggestion that their actions are illegal (Acts 18:1-17).

a Paul returns to Antioch (Acts 18:18-22).

We note here from ‘c’ and parallel the movement from Jew to Gentile in the proclamation of the word. Athens is no doubt partly chosen because although small, its reputation was worldwide.

Verse 3

‘Him would Paul have to go forth with him, and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.’

It was the normal Jewish position that a son would take on the religion of his mother (it certainly became so later), so that Paul would be inclined to see Timothy as a Jew, especially if his father was dead, which the verb might suggest. Recognising that by being circumcised Timothy’s usefulness in evangelising Jews would be greatly increased, he had no hesitation in suggesting that he be so. This would then give him full acceptability with both Jew and Gentile. Uncircumcised there would be a tendency for Jews to frown on his position even more than they would on a Gentile for they would see him as an apostate Jew.

This bring out Paul’s eagerness to maintain connection with the Jews, and to keep them open to the Good News. It demonstrated his own flexibility of mind. While he had firmly rejected the idea that circumcision become binding on Gentiles, and would equally firmly have resisted any suggestion that Timothy could not be a full Christian without being circumcised, he was flexible enough to be willing for a half-Jew like Timothy to be circumcised if it would mean that it would help in the ministry among Jews. In Timothy’s case no principle was at stake. Timothy’s circumcision would be accepted by the Gentiles as being because he was a Jew, and therefore as not affecting their position, and would make the Jews see him as a fellow-Jew. It was a reflection of Paul’s determination to be all things to all men if thereby he could win them to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20), and of his deep concern still to reach the Jews, for whom he had a burning passion (Romans 9:2-3).

We may probably also see it as signifying that Timothy in general, because of the influence of his mother and grandmother, followed Jewish customs and was not averse to the idea, indeed probably welcomed it, wishing to align himself with the Jews so that he could win them for Christ. There is no reason to doubt that the ceremony was carried through with due solemnity and with genuine religious emotion. Not only was Timothy’s mother a Jewess, but also his grandmother Lois. And they had both become genuine believers (2 Timothy 1:5), who would both have brought him up to observe Jewish customs. We may also assume that Paul had recognised that Timothy’s not being circumcised had somewhat hindered his ministry among Jews.

The contrast between Acts 16:3-4 must be seen as deliberate, even emphatic. Even while the decrees not requiring circumcision of Gentiles were being openly declared in the churches, Paul arranged for the circumcision of one who was in Jewish eyes recognised as a Jew. It was a gesture that would quieten many Jewish Christian fears. Paul supported both sides.

EXCURSUS on Circumcision.

The question with which we are faced when we consider circumcision is made very much apparent by putting into juxtaposition two of Paul's statements, and two of his actions. In 1 Corinthians 7:18-19 Paul says, "Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God." Yet in Galatians 5:2 he writes: "Behold, I, Paul, say to you, that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing." What then is the difference between the two statements? The answer lies in asking the question as to whom they are addressed. The first is addressed to both Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles, clearly differentiating the two, the one being circumcised and the other not, the second is addressed to Christian Gentiles warning them not to cross over the line by being circumcised and making themselves Jews. The first is saying that circumcision cannot improve anyone. It is merely a sign of who is a Jew physically. What matters for all is keeping the commandments of God. The second is saying that if a Gentile considers circumcision is necessary, because it is necessary for him to become a Jew in order to be saved, he is bypassing Christ, and Christ will not profit him. He is looking for the wrong thing to save him. He is using circumcision in a way for which it was not intended.

This is also illustrated by Paul’s actions. When he was in Jerusalem in respect of the appeal of the Antioch Church, some Jewish brethren urgently insisted that he should circumcise Titus, a Gentile who was with him. But he sternly refused. Indeed he says, "I gave place to them by subjection, no, not for an hour" (Galatians 2:5). And his reason was so that the truth of the Gospel might remain with them. In other words the truth of the Gospel excluded the requirement for the circumcision of a Gentile in order to make him complete as a Christian. On the other hand in the case of the circumcision of Timothy he circumcised Timothy with his own hand, and this "on account of certain Jews who were in those quarters." But this was because he was born of a Jewish mother and was therefore in the eyes of Judaism a Jew, and as uncircumcised was in their eyes as an apostate. Circumcision was therefore neither frowned on, or required,

This therefore brings us back to the question of the significance of circumcision. We may observe, first, that in the language of Jesus, circumcision "is not of Moses, but is of the fathers" (John 7:22). This distinction is important. The obligation which the Jews were under to observe circumcision did not therefore originate in the Law of Moses, or in the covenant of Mount Sinai. It existed independently of that covenant and the Law, having originated four hundred and thirty years before the Law, and encompassed many who never submitted to the Law.

In fact it is quite surprising how little reference there is in the Law as given at Sinai to circumcision. It was assumed in it, almost incidentally, that once they were in the land, any male child would be circumcised on the eighth day once the impurities of childbirth had been dealt with (Leviticus 12:3). Otherwise it is simply assumed as lying in the background and is only mentioned three times. In Leviticus 19:23 the impression is given that not having been circumcised was seen as a sign of something being not yet ready to fulfil its purpose, as something still not yet available to the community because reserved to God. In Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6 it is used as an illustration of a change of heart towards obedience and loving God. Thus it contains within it the idea of dedication and membership in the community. Earlier it was required of those who would eat the Passover once they were in the land (Exodus 12:44; Exodus 12:48). It was thus the outward sign of membership in the redeemed community, and not directly associated with the giving of the Law.

So the connection of the law with circumcision is not found in the initial setting up of the institution, which occurred hundreds of years before the giving of the Law, and only occurred because the law was later given to one section, and only one section, of the circumcised descendants of Abraham, who eventually, long after the Law was first given, related the two together in their own case. The connection is therefore secondary. We say one section of his descendants, because circumcision was also enjoined on his descendants through Ishmael, and through Esau, as well as on the Jews. Since, therefore, the law did not originate the obligation to be circumcised, or include it specifically as part of its ordinances (although assuming it in the background as a recognised custom), the abrogation of the law could not be seen as annulling that obligation in its original significance. As long therefore as it was not connected with the idea of salvation circumcision could be allowed if it was seen as serving another purpose.

Indeed its perpetuity is enjoined at the time of its institution. Then God said to Abraham, "He who is born in your house, and he who is bought with your money, must necessarily be circumcised, and my covenant will be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:13). An everlasting covenant is one which continues as long as both parties to it continue to exist. This covenant was to be ‘everlasting’, because it was to continue as long as the descendants of Abraham and their households continued physically to exist. In the same way the covenant of Aaron's priestly dignity was everlasting, because it continued in Aaron's family as long as such a priesthood had an existence. Circumcision therefore did not depict the people of the Law, it depicted the physical descendants of Abraham, and those who been bought or adopted in, whether through Ishmael, Esau or Jacob. It was the sign for the future that they still existed and had not died out.

The covenant of circumcision must therefore be everlasting, because it was to continue as long as the flesh of Abraham was perpetuated, and that would be till the end of time, and thus circumcision will not cease, and cannot cease, until that time comes. We could argue, and Christian Jews did argue, that this conclusion that it indicated the physical descendants of Abraham cannot be set aside, unless we can find something in the nature of the Gospel which is inconsistent with it, or some express release of circumcised physical descendants of Abraham from obligation to it.

It is true that Paul says that, "Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while yet uncircumcised" (Romans 4:11). But what it was to Abraham, it never was to any other, for from the time that circumcision was instituted it was carried out on a male child of eight days old who could not possibly have any righteousness of faith while yet uncircumcised, of which circumcision could be the seal. The sign of circumcision, as applied to all his descendants, was rather Abraham’s reward for being righteous, in the indicating of the fact that his seed would never die out, whether Israelite, Edomite or Arab. It had nothing to do with the application of righteousness or the process of being accounted righteous, or of law-keeping.

That is why in Romans 4:10 Paul emphasises that Abraham was reckoned as righteous before he was circumcised. The two were not directly associated. Circumcision was not given at the time as a sign that he was accounted righteous, it was an evidence given long afterwards that he was seen as already approved, as accounted righteous. But that that was not its main significance, except in so far as his imputed righteousness had obtained the benefit of the promises for all generations, comes out in that it was applied to babes and that it was in future to be seen as indicating those who were physically descended from Abraham, or who were adopted permanently into the household of Abraham, and were thus included in the promise of becoming numerous and being permanent.

His righteousness arose because he believed God (Genesis 15:6). He was enjoying that, and the certainty of the promises that went with it, long before he was circumcised. And in fact circumcision was introduced for a different reason, it was introduced precisely so as to include Ishmael within the promises of continued physical descent. Thus his point in Romans is that we who become the children of Abraham by faith, enjoying the righteousness of God which is by faith which Abraham enjoyed, and entering into the promises to Abraham of worldwide blessing, do so without being circumcised, just as Abraham did, because we are not declaring our physical descent from Abraham.

He then goes on to add that it was by submitting themselves to the law as a way of obtaining righteousness that men put themselves under the wrath of God (Acts 4:15). But this submitting of themselves to the law as a way of righteousness did not take place at Sinai. At Sinai they submitted themselves to be obedient to God and keep His commandments as a response to a covenant that resulted from the grace of God. They responded to the grace of God their Saviour as revealed through the redemption of the Passover and the Red Sea, both gifts of God’s grace. They entered into grace. It was centuries after this that they would submit themselves to the law as a way of righteousness, when theologically they began to see the keeping of the law as the way by which they could obtain eternal life, and as the way by which they could become restored to the favour of God. This was when they invented Judaism.

We may thus see a number of steps in the progress of God’s people:

1) Those who believe within physical Israel enjoy from the beginning the promises given to Abraham, which were to bless all who believe among all the nations of the world whether in physical Israel or not (Genesis 12-15).

2) Circumcision was given as a guarantee of the perpetuity of Abraham’s physical descendants whether from Ishmael, Edom or Israel and was very much linked with physical descent (Genesis 17:0). It could thus be applied to all his descendants whether believers or not. Indeed not to receive it was to be cut off from that physical descent. (Later gross sin would have the same effect).

3) At Sinai, having been delivered from bondage by the gracious acts of God their Saviour through the Passover and the Red Sea (compare1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 10:2), Israel received the ten words which revealed the righteousness now required of them because they were accepted as His redeemed people, as His holy people. They responded to His grace and love by entering into covenant to obey them, not as a means of salvation but because they had been gloriously saved (Exodus 19:5-6; Exodus 20:1-17).

4) From Moses they then received (a) the temporary ordinances which would enable them to remain in a right relationship with God through the grace of God; (b) the temporary laws of cleansing which indicated the higher life, free from all taint of death, to which He had called them; and (c) an expansion on, and more detailed application of, the permanent morality that God required of them (Exodus to Deuteronomy).

5) In later centuries they developed their own doctrine of attaining righteousness by obedience to the Law, applying to it both circumcision and all the ordinances of Moses.

6) In the coming of Christ, the true vine (John 15:1-6), God has provided the means by which all men can enter the Israel of God through Christ, becoming branches of the vine (John 15:1-6), true sons of Abraham through believing (Galatians 3:7-8; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:25-26; Galatians 3:28-29), being grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:17-26) and being united with Christ, thus becoming one with His true people (Ephesians 2:11-22), and thus enjoying the Abrahamic promises. From this new Israel, which is the true Israel, all who do not believe have been cut off, while all who do come to believe are grafted in.

The Good News is that through Christ only 1, 3, 4c and 6 apply to the new Israel of God, because through His death and resurrection Christ has replaced 4a and b and demonstrated that 5 is invalid. Meanwhile 2 remains for those who are physical descendants of Abraham and his household. In so far as there are any benefits in the idea of circumcision, ideas which are not physical (the circumcision of tongue, eyes and heart), these apply to God’s people because they are circumcised in the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11).

That circumcision was never seen as an initiatory rite comes out in that the refusal to be circumcised resulted in being cut off from among the people, precisely because that was an indication that the covenant had been broken. But someone who has not been initiated cannot be cut off. The point was rather that they were initiated into the covenant by birth, and circumcision was simply the outward sign to all men of the fact. Those therefore who refused to accept the outward sign were to be cut off from being seen as physical descendants of Abraham.

Furthermore had it been seen as an initiatory rite it would not have remained unperformed during the whole period in the wilderness. Many who died in the wilderness had never been circumcised. But this did not exclude them from Israel. It simply indicated that they did not carry the sign that they were Abraham’s ‘descendants’. This helps to bring out that the purpose of circumcision was in order to mark off Abraham’s ‘descendants’ (including those who were adopted) so as to keep them as distinct earthly peoples, and to enable the world to identify that they had not ceased, thus confirming that God had maintained His promise of continual seed to Abraham. While they were in the wilderness, so that circumcision could not be a sign to anyone, circumcision had not been required. But, as soon as they entered the populated land of Canaan, where there was a danger of intermingling, the separating mark was to be put on them, and that separating mark was circumcision on the eighth day’. It distinguished those who were in the physical community of Abraham.

Thus circumcision on the eighth day was continually to be seen as the outward sign of the continuation of Abraham’s physical seed, and not as a commitment to keep the Law. For the descendants of Ishmael and Edom made no such commitment. It was later Judaism that introduced this idea that circumcision was the sign of a commitment to keep the Law. Israel were not circumcised at Sinai at the time when they committed themselves to keeping the Law, because that covenant arose from the fact that they had been saved by the grace of God. Being saved by grace, keeping the law in response and circumcision were three separate issues.

When therefore we come to the New Testament this principle is maintained. Those who claim physical descent from Abraham (including descent through those who have been adopted by the tribes) are to be circumcised so as to indicate that God’s promises of seed to Abraham continue to be fulfilled. But his spiritual seed do not need to be circumcised. To them Paul says, "If you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing." Why? Because they are being circumcised for the wrong reason. They are being circumcised so as to bind themselves to become Jews so as to keep the Law. They are not accepting their own freedom as portrayed in the vision of Peter with respect to Cornelius. They are rejecting God’s way of grace. And that leads to disillusionment and not salvation.

It was right that the Apostles were circumcised. It was right that Paul was circumcised. And it was right that any of them should circumcise their children. It was thus right to circumcise Timothy, born of a Jewish mother. These circumcisions were all evidence of physical descendants of Abraham. But it would have been wrong to circumcise Titus. For him it would not have indicated physical descent from Abraham. The only purpose of it would have been so that it could be seen by Judaisers as requiring him to keep the whole Law, as signifying that he had become a proselyte. It would be giving circumcision the wrong significance.

It was this distinction that made James say to Paul, "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe, and they are all zealous of the law. And they are informed of you, that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they (the Jews) ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. Do this, therefore, that we say to you. We have four men which have a vow on them. Take them, and purify yourself with them, and pay their expenses, in order that they may shave their heads, and all may know that the things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself walk orderly, and keep the law" (Acts 21:20-24). This speech shows that James considered it slanderous to say that Paul taught the Jews among the Gentiles not to circumcise their children, and not to obey the law, and Paul's ready consent to the proposition made to him shows that he was ready to agree with James. Yet this occurred after he had written the letter to the Galatians, in which he says, "If you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing." There could not be clearer proof that this last remark was not intended for Jewish Christians.

Furthermore James himself, in the speech from which we have just quoted, makes a distinction, in reference to this rite, between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians. He says: "Concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written, having decided that they observe no such thing, save, only, that they keep themselves from idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication" (Acts 21:25). This remark refers to the decree issued by the Apostles from Jerusalem, which Paul was carrying with him at the time that he circumcised Timothy. It should be observed therefore that there never did arise among the disciples any difference of opinion as to the propriety of circumcising Jews. This was granted by all. The controversy had exclusive reference to the Gentiles, and the fact that the Judaisers (wrongly) based their plea for circumcising Gentiles on the continued validity of the rite among the Jews, confirms that all the disciples considered it should be continued among Jewish Christians. If Paul, in disputing with them, could have said, that, by the introduction of the Gospel, circumcision was abolished even among the Jews, he would have overturned at once the very foundation of their argument. But his argument would have found no acceptance. However, this fundamental assumption that Christian Jews should still be circumcised was admitted and acted on by Paul himself, and no one ever called it into question in the New Testament.

That certain Jews linked circumcision directly with the requirement to keep the Law, and then linked both with the requirements for salvation cannot be doubted. What can be questioned is whether any of the Apostles ever did once they had become Christians. And the answer is a clear ‘no’. They circumcised their children in order to indicate that they were physical descendants of Abraham. They followed the customs of the Jews because they were the customs of their fathers and indicated that they were Jews. But they never looked on either as a requirement for salvation. They recognised that salvation had come to them separately through Jesus Christ.

We can now therefore account for Paul's stern refusal to circumcise Titus. He had become a test case. The question being asked was not as to whether he was willing to become a recognised descendant of Abraham by adoption. The question was as to whether he could possibly be saved without it. The Judaisers were demanding of Titus what God had not demanded of Cornelius. They were demanding that all converts entered physical Israel. And indeed, had all Christians been circumcised, its distinctiveness as marking off the physical descendants of Abraham would have been lost.

Yet Paul does distinctly stress the need for Jewish Christians to continue to circumcise their children. He declares quite blatantly, "Is any man called being circumcised, let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision, let him not be circumcised." And it is immediately followed by these words: "Let every man abide in the calling in which he is called." So far, then, is this text from making it indifferent whether a Christian become circumcised or not, that it positively forbids those who had been in uncircumcision before they were called, to be circumcised, while it equally forbids the other party to render themselves uncircumcised, an expression which must mean to act as if they were uncircumcised by neglecting it in reference to their children. For to become literally uncircumcised was impossible. That circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision nothing, means, therefore, simply that it is indifferent to God from the point of view of salvation whether a man had been, before he was called, a Jew or a Gentile, but it is far from indicating that it is right for a Jew to neglect this rite, or for a Gentile to observe it.

And this is so because of the original purpose of circumcision, and that was that it would mark off all the physical descendants of Abraham, whether Ishmaelite, Edomite or Israelite, and those who physically aligned themselves with them, so as to evidence that God had not failed in His promise to Abraham of never ceasing physical seed. It was thus never intended to be an initiatory rite for all who would serve God. It was rather a mark of physical antecedents.

What then does ritual circumcision indicate? It indicates that a person is physically descended either from Abraham, or from those who were physically adopted into one of the Abrahamic tribes. It is a declaration of God’s faithfulness in preserving the physical seed of Abraham and his household.

Does this then mean that Israel and the church are totally separate? The answer to that question is ‘no’. What it means is that physical Israel is separate for it includes both Christians and non-Christians. It is a declaration of the continual existence of physical descendants from Abraham and his household. But that Christians are part of the true Israel, of God’s Israel, and that non-Christian Jews are not, is firmly declared in Romans 11:13-29; Ephesians 2:11-22; Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16; James 1:1; 1Pe 1:1 ; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 21:10-27. It is believers who enjoy the blessings of Abraham. It is they who enjoy the permanent benefits of God’s revelation to Moses. It is they who enjoy the Messiah. But what they do not do is look to observance of the ordinances of the Law as the means by which they can become right with God or become acceptable to God. They recognise that circumcision as signifying any other than physical descent (Colossians 2:11), and the law of commandments contained in ordinances (as seen as replaced, for example, in the letter to the Hebrews), have all been fulfilled in Christ and are therefore no longer applicable. They recognise that they have entered into the grace of God. It is they therefore who are the true Israel, not Judaists.


Verse 4

‘And as they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep which had been ordained of the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem.’

And as they went through the cities they passed on the details of the decisions made in Jerusalem, with Silas there to confirm them. This is in fact the only time that these are referred to as such. The issue of food offered to idols, which would always be offensive to Jews under any circumstances, Paul deals with elsewhere in more detail (e.g. 1 Corinthians 8:0) when he softens its application, and clearly idolatry and fornication were always forbidden. The question of strangulation of meat was a fellowship matter and simply never seems to have arisen as a problem. This would suggest that it was observed where it was felt necessary out of Christian consideration, as was right.

It should be noted that this was the advice of the enquiry sent to churches in areas very much involved with Jewish connections. It is actually nowhere said to be binding on all Christians. Thus among these churches its requirements were very necessary. It would be different among fellowships where Jewish Christians were rare, although we would always expect Christians to take into account people’s idiosyncrasies. It may well be because Paul did not want the advice to become a ‘decree’ that he never mentions it in his letters, even when the issues arise.

Verse 5

‘So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.’

This section now closes with the usual summary section. As a result of all these activities and decisions the churches were strengthened in the faith and continued daily to increase in numbers. The witness to the uttermost part of the earth was going well. It was shortly yet to expand further.

Verses 6-8

Paul Is Guided By The Spirit to Europe And Arrives in Philippi (16:6-12).

‘And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when they were come over against Mysia, they made an attempt to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not, and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.’

As they passed through ‘the region of Phrygia and Galatia’, presumably confirming churches he had previously visited, his intention of going to the province of Asia (and to Ephesus) was somehow hindered. It may have been as a result of prophecy, or because something got in the way. Then he decided to aim for Bithynia, and again he was prevented. Thus he moved on and came to Troas (an Aegean port a few miles from the site of ancient Troy), not sure what to do next.

‘The Spirit of Jesus.’ This phrase is only used here. It emphasises that Jesus has something especially in mind for Paul’s party in the fulfilment of His commission (Acts 1:8), something new and beyond the ordinary. Jesus was now in special and personal control of this party. Note the close linking of Jesus with the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to note that we have in the same context ‘forbidden of the Holy Spirit’, ‘the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not’, and ‘God had called us to preach the gospel to them.’ Three seen as acting as One. And all are united in ensuring that Paul now go to Europe.

‘The region of Phrygia and Galatia’. The two names are adjectival forms limiting ‘region’, only the first carrying the article. This probably therefore means ‘Galatian Phrygia’ in contrast to wider Phrygia, or ‘the Phrygian-Galatic region’ within the province of Galatia. It is doubtful whether it refers to the ethnic kingdom of Galatia. ‘Mysia’ was in north-west Asia Minor, and further north moving north-eastward around the Black Sea were the Black Sea ports of Bithynia. Paul was seeking to move northwards using the Roman roads. He was, however, somehow prevented and arrived in the Aegean port of Troas.

Verses 6-40

The Mission to Europe (16:6-19:20).

Paul’s plans now seemed to begin to go awry. All doors seemed to be closing to him as in one way or another he was first hindered from going one way, and then another. But unknown to him it was to be the commencement of the mission to Europe. Why then does Luke emphasise these negative responses? It was in order to underline that when the move to go forward did come it was decisively under God’s direction. He was saying, ‘the Spirit bade him go’.

We need not doubt that new Christians had already entered Europe, as converts at Pentecost and other feasts had returned to their home cities taking the Good News with them, and that Christian traders and travellers also spread the Good News, but as far as we know this was the first direct Spirit-impelled attempt to evangelise Europe as a whole. Europe, as it were, now lay within God’s sights. It was a prepared Europe, a Europe using one main language, Greek, with good main roads and an established system of justice. What it lacked was the truth.

Verse 9

‘And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There was a man of Macedonia standing, beseeching him, and saying, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” ’

The hindrances were soon explained by a vision in the night. It was the vision of a Macedonian pleading for help for his people. Jesus now wanted Paul in Europe. He wanted him to have a larger vision, ‘to the uttermost part of the earth’.

If Luke was a Macedonian (he remained in Philippi when Paul and Silas left) it is perfectly conceivable that he had been urging Paul to evangelise Macedonia. We can then appreciate why Paul might have had a vision from God in which a Macedonian (Luke?) called on him to come and help Macedonia which would forcefully back up Luke’s original plea. If he saw Luke in vision it would also give fuller significance to the phrase, ‘a certain man of Macedonia’.

Verse 10

‘And when he had seen the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.’

Paul was immediately responsive. This call explained the prohibitions that they had been facing, and was a clear message from God. So concluding that God had called him to proclaim the Good News to the Macedonians he prepared to embark.

We note at this point that the pronoun changes to ‘we’. It is apparent that Luke has joined the party, and feels himself an essential part of it. He was a physician and if the hindrances to Paul had been because of his health may well have ministered to Paul. He travelled with them to Philippi and went with them to the place of prayer, but seemingly remained in Philippi when they moved on, being still there when they returned and returning to Troas with them (Acts 20:5-6). From then on he remained with Paul on his journey to Jerusalem, and was again with him from Caesarea to Rome (Acts 27:1 - Acts 28:16).

Verses 11-12

‘Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a straight course to Samothrace, and the day following to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, the first of the district, a Roman colony.’

The necessary voyage is now outlined for us, well remembered by the writer. Taking boat from Troas, they sailed for Samothrace, a high, rocky, forested island lying between Troas and Philippi, then on to Neapolis on the Aegean coast and from there inland the few miles to Philippi which was in Macedon. Philippi was important both agriculturally and as a source of gold, it had a strategic location on both sea and land routes, and possessed a famous school of medicine. It is pointed out that Philippi was a Roman colony, partly settled by retired legionnaires who were Roman citizens, and a prominent city in the area. Here at least as themselves Roman citizens they might have expected just treatment. It was not to be. Luke probably mentions that it is a Roman colony because ‘being Roman’ lies at the heart both of the accusation against Paul, and his final response.

‘Made a straight course (because the wind was favourable and behind them).’ The wind was with them, an indication that the Spirit was with them too. God’s pleasure was expressed in the wind. In contrast with all the delays it could only be seen as striking. Paul knew that he had got it right at last.

‘On to Neapolis.’ Who could have dreamed that when the ship moored at Neapolis and the gangplank was let down, the little bald-headed man with bow legs who came down it to stand on the soil of Europe for the first time was about to change the face of Europe. God’s triumphs are rarely trumpeted beforehand. This was not an Alexander. A greater than Alexander was here. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.

‘The first of the district.’ Unless this means simply in one district, this may have been a touch of local pride, for Thessalonica was the provincial capital. But the writer may well have had in mind its fame and what it said about itself rather than its political distinction. Such claims to be ‘first’ among cities were typically Greek.

Verses 12-13

There appear to have been no synagogues in Philippi, presumably due to the lack of the necessary ten adult male Jews who could form a synagogue, and on the Sabbath day Paul and his party, with the writer, made for the riverside where they would expect to find a place where the Jews met for prayer. This meeting at the riverside appears to have been the custom where there were insufficient males to form a synagogue (‘we supposed’), although the later Rabbinic requirement would simply be under the open sky. Psalms 137:1 may well have provided the impetus for the idea of meeting by rivers in foreign places, and such places were usually ‘without the gates’ and therefore undefiled.

They were correct in their surmise for they discovered there a group of women who came together regularly for formal Jewish prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. It is noticeable that even though it was the Sabbath no men are mentioned as present. It was a company of women. So sitting down with the women, and being recognised, possibly from their clothing, as being Jewish teachers, they began to teach them.

These women would be pleased to see a seemingly prominent Jewish teacher among them willing to come and teach them. Faithfully week after week, month after month, and even possibly year after year, they had met there, praying and reading the Scriptures, aware that no man came among them, and in their tiny women’s group looking off to God they must often have prayed for male support. They knew that they were in a large world, and were looked on as an irrelevance by all but God, but they kept on praying and believing. And now this man had come. It would seem to them as a brief ripple in the flow of time. And soon he would go and they would be left with the pleasant memory of what he had taught until the next one came, and the trouble was they came so rarely. How would this be different from any other time? But what they did not realise was that this one had brought ‘the Name’. He had brought Jesus Christ among them, the One Who would never leave them or forsake them. That was why it would be different.

‘We sat down.’ Who would have believed in former days that Saul of Tarsus, whose daily prayer as a Pharisee had been, ‘I thank God that you have not made me a Gentile, or a slave, or a woman’ would have come to join such a woman’s meeting, in which only women were present and a God-fearing Gentile woman was prominent along with her women slaves. But it was different now, for God had so changed his life that he saw it, not as ignominious, but as a glorious opportunity. He had already learned that God used what was weak to confound the mighty.

So there in that quiet place by the riverside there met that small group of women, and that once proud Pharisee with his followers, and together they launched the official work of Christ in Europe. None among them, except perhaps Paul, could have dreamed that they were just about to become the vanguard of the greatest spiritual movement that Europe had ever known. Big oaks from little acornesses grow.

Verses 12-40

Ministry in Philippi From the House of Lydia (16:12b-40).

The arrival in Europe was clearly seen by Luke as very important. He illustrates the successful ministry there by a threefold description of Paul’s effectiveness which covers a wealthy businesswoman, a slave girl and a jail proprietor, three different grades in a multiple society. And two of these along with their households, included servants and slaves. The threefoldness stresses the completeness of the success of the ministry. They would form the solid nucleus of a small but multi-layered church grouping.

It was also seen as important by Satan. He first of all seeks to attack the new mission through the testimony of a spirit--possessed girl, and when that fails he raises persecution against Paul and Silas. But both attempts fail and as a result of his activity an important household is added to the church.

It may be asked why, when Paul usually (but not always) selects thriving cities where there are synagogues, he chose Philippi. The answer may well lie, firstly in Luke’s recommendation (Paul had never been in this area before), secondly in the fact that it was the nearest large city and therefore a good place to ‘test things out’ so as to ensure that God really was behind this venture into Europe, and thirdly, and certainly, because it was of God’s doing.

Verse 14

‘And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, one who worshipped God, heard us, whose heart the Lord opened to give heed to the things which were spoken by Paul.’

Among those who listened was Lydia, a dealer in purple dyes and dyed cloth from Thyatira, that centre of syncretistic religion (compare Revelation 2:20), who had a house in Philippi, and who was a true ‘worshipper of God’, a ‘God-fearer’. And her heart was opened by God to Paul’s words and she drank them in and in her innermost soul she responded fully, knowing that this was what she had waited for, for so long.

Verse 15

‘And when she was baptised, and her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.” And she constrained us.’

‘And when she was baptised.’ From the very beginning there had never been any doubt that she would be. Her every look and response had revealed it.

She was clearly well-to-do, as her trade suggested, and having a number of servants and slaves, who no doubt joined with her at the place of prayer, she and her household were baptised, possibly that very day in the river by which they had prayed so often. Then she begged him and his party, if he was satisfied with the genuineness of her faith, to come to her house as honoured guests to stay there while they were in Philippi. Hospitality was a regular feature of ancient life for inns were not abundant, and were often only rough and ready. It was not therefore unusual for well-chaperoned wealthy woman to offer hospitality. He yielded to her persuasion. No doubt he remembered the Lord’s words concerning searching out those who were worthy (Matthew 10:11). And thus for the remainder of their time in Philippi they stayed at the house of Lydia (Acts 16:40).

And unknown to her shortly would come through her doors a gnarled and middle-aged retired Roman centurion, the Philippian jailer, together with his household, and after him many another, both freedmen and slaves. She did not know it but her quiet life now was at an end, for her dreams were coming to fruition. Here were the beginnings of that flourishing church which would later receive from Paul his ‘Letter to the Philippians’.

Attempts are often made to connect her with people mentioned in that letter, (e.g Euodia or Syntyche (Philippians 4:2), or even the ‘true-yokefellow’ of Philippians 4:3), but none with any sound foundation. By the time of the letter the church had expanded greatly, and she would be that much older, and even possibly dead. But her most important work had already been done, and none could take it away from her.

Verse 16

‘And it came about that, as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain maid having a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by the giving of oracles.’

We may assume here that some weeks had passed, with the ministry continuing by the riverside, and no doubt steadily growing. And then one week they were met by a woman possessed by a ‘divining spirit’, literally the ‘Python spirit’. The Python was a mythical serpent who was said to have guarded the Delphian oracle and to have been slain by Apollo, and the name had come to be used of those through whom the spirit of Apollo was supposed to speak. Such people generally spoke with the mouth closed, uttering words completely out of their control and were known as ‘ventriloquists’. This ‘gift’ resulted in her bringing much gain to her masters by her fortune-telling. She was one of many people who were seen as having contact with the gods and as being able to foresee the future.

No doubt she was fairly well known, and feared. Here was one who was a portal to the unseen world. Thus when she began to follow Paul and his companions about many would take notice. And they would know that these men whom she was following were Jews. Thus when she began to cry out they would probably interpret it in that light.

‘The giving of oracles.’ A word only here in the New Testament and referring to demonically inspired oracular utterances.

Verses 16-18

The Healing of the Girl Possessed With The Python Spirit (16:16-18).

But Paul could not land in Europe in the power of the Holy Spirit without expecting opposition. Following Luke’s usual necessary pattern (necessary because this is how Satan constantly works) things could not continue to go on quite so smoothly. At some stage the emissaries of Satan had to arrive. And this time it would be in the form of a poor spirit-possessed girl.

Verse 17

‘The same following after Paul and us cried out, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” ’

The spirit within this woman recognised in the Pauline party messengers of the true God. From such they could not be hidden. It was probably also deeply concerned that they should be here and wanted to give a warning to the people. The result was that it caused her to follow them and begin to shout after them, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”

The description was probably intended to be detrimental, and to be a warning to the people of Philippi. ‘The Most High God’ was a title used of the God of Israel by foreigners (Daniel 3:26; Daniel 5:18; Daniel 5:21; Genesis 14:18-22), and the spirit was warning the people that these Jews, the servants of the Most High God, had come claiming to bring them a way of salvation, a way that was best avoided. There were few Jews in Philippi (no synagogue), possibly because it was known to be antagonistic towards Jews. Let them then beware of these Jews. It spoke a form of truth but its intention was to deceive men into rejecting s ‘Jewish salvation’.

Others, however, see this as an attempt by Satan to ally himself with the Gospel with the aim of destroying it by later introducing error. If the Gospel could be linked with the spirit of Apollo it could become just another aspect of idol worship, with Jesus linked with the Python spirit. We see similar attempts in spiritualism today to distort the truth about Christ by making Him simply another spirit.

As regularly in the Gospels, we see here that evil spirits were aware of the presence of Christ. They could not help but testify of Him and His saving power, for they feared Him. But they did not do so in a friendly way. It was always in fear and antagonism. Thus here it was probably intending by its words to express a warning concerning something that it saw as wholly detrimental. ‘Be careful,’ it was saying, ‘ or these men will save you by a Jewish salvation,’ and this in what was clearly an anti-Semitic city. Not wanting to have anything to do with Jesus itself, it assumed that no sensible man would want to either.

‘The Most High God’. This was a title used by evil spirits of God in Mark 5:7, in the Psalms of God as exalted in Israel (Psalms 78:56) and was a title by which the God of Israel was known to Gentiles (Daniel 3:26; Daniel 5:18; Daniel 5:21; Genesis 14:18-22; Hebrews 7:1). It could be used as a title of fear, of worship and as a designation for the One God Whom the Jews claimed to worship. It could, however, be used as a title of Zeus, and of other gods. It was therefore an enigmatic title. Thus different hearers would interpret it in different ways. But the spirit probably intended by it a hated name.

Verse 18

‘But Paul, being sore troubled, turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.’

But at some stage Paul became distressed at her activity, and it took a lot to upset Paul. It may be that it had come to his notice that people were saying things and that it was getting them a bad reputation. Lydia may have mentioned that the girl was well known and have gathered from comments that she was hindering the ministry. Or it may be that he had gradually identified the source of the cries, and from being used to them had come to a point of feeling sorry for her, and upset at her condition. Or it may be that God brought home to him the power of evil at work through the girl. It is not really likely that he was just annoyed because he was exasperated. Something deeper than that is called for here, something sufficient to make him decide to confront this spirit. It is the first time we actually learn of him seeking to cast out an evil spirit, and while it had no doubt happened (compare the signs and wonders of Acts 14:3; Acts 15:12. But there they ‘laid hands on’ people and spirits were never dealt with in that way) it was not something he was constantly used to. But now he felt impelled, and turning, ordered the spirit to come out of her.

Once he did really become aware of the details of the situation, he would recognise that he must enable all to see that this spirit was indeed contrary to Jesus and His ways. He could not allow anyone to be in doubt that this spirit must not be seen as having Jesus’ approval in any way, and could not even be accepted as being a rival or as having a parallel ministry. It had to be made clear once and for all that this spirit, and all like it, were in total contrast with Jesus. Thus he cast it out in the Name of Jesus Christ, thus stressing the total opposition of the One to the other, and revealing that Jesus was more powerful than Apollo.

So in the end Paul turned to the spirit and charged it in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of the woman. And to everyone’s astonishment the spirit came out and she was made whole. They had never experienced anything like it before, not with a girl empowered by the Python. Thus here in Philippi the power of the name of Jesus Christ was seen to be as effective as in Galilee and Judaea in the subjugation of evil spirits. They were just as much subject to Him in Europe as in Palestine. One blessing would come from this among many. We need not doubt that here was another candidate for the infant church in Philippi.

Verse 19

‘But when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they laid hold on Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers,’

Her masters, who were no doubt already wealthy and influential, were angry when they realised that the source of their profits had been removed, and they had Paul and Silas dragged into the market place before the authorities, the ‘archontes’, the chief men. The marketplace was often the place where justice was carried out, because the marketplace was the focal point in any city. Archaeological discoveries in ancient Philippi may in fact well have unearthed this very ‘place of justice’.

Verses 19-34

Arrest and Imprisonment Lead To Additions To The Church In Philippi (16:19-34).

But the problem was that what he had done would hit at men’s pockets. They did not care about the girl herself, they had not cared that she was making a nuisance of herself, they were not too concerned about what it meant to the gods, but they were concerned about one thing , and that was Mammon. What had happened would lose them a great deal of money and the result was that they were angry. They were a picture of the greed and lack of compassion of people over things that concerned themselves.

Verses 20-21

‘And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive, or to observe, being Romans.” ’

This being a Roman colony the men before whom they were brought are correctly called the strategoi (Latin - praetores), the two chief magistrates. The charge being brought was that these Jews were forcing their beliefs and customs on those who were Romans, and thereby causing trouble in the city, subverting Romans and disturbing the Pax Romana.

This was in fact a turbulent time for Rome in dealings with the Jews. In 41 AD the Emperor Claudius had written a threatening letter to the Alexandrians, saying he would take measures against Jews who were "stirring up a universal plague throughout the world". In 44 AD there had been a number of public disturbances in Palestine in the wake of Herod Agrippa I's death, and Palestine was constantly a hotbed of trouble. In A.D. 49 Claudius expelled Jews from Rome because of public disturbances in the Jewish community at the instigation of "Chrestus" (Suetonius Claudius Acts 25:4). And these were no doubt not the only examples. Thus a charge against troublesome Jews would be listened to.

What noble men these accusers were! All they cared about was that Rome was being undermined, and Romans led astray. But in fact the truth is that they were liars, as all men are, using religion and patriotism to hide their main concern. Until the girl had been healed they had not cared a jot about the activities of these men. Their real cause for concern was the loss of profit they had suffered, and their aim was rather more to stir up the people against Paul and Silas in order to gain revenge. They were simply angry because they had lost the source of their profits and they wanted to take it out on these men.

The irony of the situation is that it was they who were the more in breach of Caesar’s desires. The Emperors Augustus and Tiberius had been very sensitive about the activities of astrologers and other prognosticators and had issued decrees forbidding predictions and enquiries affecting the affairs of state or the emperor's personal well being.While not all of that kind of activity had been banned, it clearly came under Imperial diapproval (Dio Cassius Roman History 56:25:5-6; 57:15:8; Tacitus Annals 6:20; 12:52).

Verse 22

‘And the multitude rose up together against them, and the magistrates tore their clothes off them, and commanded to beat them with rods.’

These men clearly took pains to incite the crowds in the market place, who responded to the charge and expressed their disapproval of ‘these Jews’. The danger of an uproar probably persuaded the magistrates to act. They therefore had them stripped and beaten with rods. This would be done by the ‘lictors’ (a kind of police who were the magistrates’ assistants). It was a high-handed treatment quite regularly meted out to ordinary people ‘in trouble with the law’ whether they were innocent or not. It was looked on with careless unconcern as a salutary reminder to them that they must treat the law, together with the courts and their deliberations, seriously. It would also help to settle the crowds. Justice could be sorted out later. Roman citizens were in fact exempt from it, but no one would listen to any protests while tempers were so enflamed (Cicero gives an account of a similar case of a Roman citizen who was beaten while all ignored his claims).

Roman justice was undoubtedly better than most other systems, (that was why they were eventually released), but it still left a lot to be desired.

Verses 23-24

‘And when they had laid many stripes on them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely, who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.’

The beating that they were given was not a mild one (‘many stripes’) and then, in view of the serious nature of the charge, that they had been seeking to lead Romans astray from their worship of Roma and of the other gods of Rome, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. They had to be seen as taking such a charge seriously. Being a Jew was not illegal, but trying to turn Romans from the worship of Roma and the emperor was. They dared not ignore such a charge.

The prison would probably be a specially adapted private residence. Many prisons in those days were private enterprises, and the jailers, who owned the prisons, were often ex-soldiers. They were paid by the authorities to look after prisoners for the state, and were held fully and personally responsible for the secure holding of any such prisoners. It may well have been only for temporary prisoners to be kept in while awaiting charge and only have held a few prisoners.

Recognising the seriousness of the charge, the jailer was so concerned to keep them safe that he set their feet in stocks in the ‘inner prison’. This was probably a strongly built underground room in his prison house. But while intent on keeping them safe he was not so concerned to attend to their wounds. They were just another two troublemakers. He was a hard man who had lived a hard life, a man whom nothing could move, and he was used to injury and blood. No doubt they would survive, he would think causally. Prisoners usually did.

Verses 25-26

‘But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison-house were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.’

However, being deprived of their opportunity of worship at the riverside, Paul and Silas, in spite of the pain that they must have been suffering, took the opportunity provided by their situation to pray, that is, to worship, and to sing hymns to God, probably mainly in Greek, but also possibly in Hebrew. And it seems that many prisoners listened interestedly to what they said and sang. This last is Luke’s way of indicating that the word was still being effective, even in that prison cell.

That prison had witnessed cursings and imprecations, it had witnessed groanings and cries, it had witnessed pleadings and grovellings. But it had never witnessed anything like this. No prison could hold men who behaved in this way, and suddenly there was a great earthquake which shook the prison house to its foundations. All would recognise that it must be the result of their God Who was responding to His servants. The doors were broken open, and the chains which were fastened to the floors and walls became loosened. The point being stressed here was that God had stepped in and that Paul and Silas had been miraculously made free in response to prayer. The lesson was that no one could hold the servants of God, unless He allowed it. But it was a demonstration rather than a jail break, for they made no attempt to escape. It is in complete contrast with previous description of ‘jail breaks’ where those who were freed were led out (Acts 5:19; Acts 12:7-10).

The doors would only be held by wooden bars so that the movement of the ground causing the doorposts to widen would necessarily release the bars, with the result that the trembling would force the doors open. The cracking of the walls would ensure the release of the chains which were attached to them. In one sense there was no miracle. It was simply a natural catastrophe. It was all in the timing.

Yet the prisoners did not escape. This confirms both the reality of the earthquake, which left conditions such that escape was not so simple as it sounded, and the condition which it left the building in, which clearly made escape difficult, especially in pitch darkness. Furthermore while they may no longer have been fastened to the walls and floors of the prison, the prisoners would still be handicapped by chains and fearful of any guards who would show no mercy to escaping prisoners, and none knew where the guards were or whether there would be another quake. It was safer to remain where they were until morning came. The prison had withstood the shock well and appeared safe enough.

Verse 27

‘And the jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.’

The jailer, aroused by the earthquake, came from his room (his family living quarters would be a part of the prison), and no doubt carrying a small lamp, went down into the prison, and taking one look at the conditions caused by the earthquake, and fearing the worst, decided that there was only one thing to do. It appeared to him that he must have lost all his prisoners, and that he would be publicly disgraced and probably himself be put to death in a most painful way. A jailer who allowed prisoners to escape was subjected to the penalty that they were due to receive. He did not stop to consider the niceties of the law, or whther he would be held responsible for an ‘act of God’. Suicide was better than the future that he saw ahead of him. He drew his short sword and prepared to plunge it into himself.

Verse 28

‘But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” ’

Paul, seeing him in the light of his glowing lamp, recognised his intention and yelled to him not to harm himself as all the prisoners were still safe. Those that were there were possibly traumatised and sheltering from falling masonry, and, hindered by their manacles, unable to find a way to climb out of the dungeon, or even afraid to do so, and they may only have been but few.

The jailer would undoubtedly be astonished that this man sought to save his life. He had known such care and concern from comrades-in-arms but never from a prisoner whom he had treated so brutally. Here were these men who had caused these strange occurrences and instead of cursing him and bringing down maledictions on him they were concerned to save his life. It was all very strange. Indeed it was uncanny.

Verses 29-30

‘And he called for lights and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, “Sirs (lords), what must I do to be saved?” ’

The jailer immediately called for lights (and thereby assistance) and it seemingly came home to him that the earthquake must have been the result of these two men and their prayers. He would know that they were there on a charge of having by some supernatural power cast out an evil spirit who had declared them to be servants of the Most High God, and their worshipping and singing would have further affected him (especially if some of it was in Hebrew). He probably wished that they were elsewhere, but his ruined prison proved otherwise. And being fearful at what must be the power and awesomeness of their God, he recognised the danger that this fact placed him in. Falling before them he asked what he must do to be saved from the anger of this mighty God.

Contrary to some commentators this could hardly simply mean saved from the consequences of what had happened to the prison. That was all clearly in hand. What he was concerned about went deeper. His question was as to how he could be spared from the wrath of this Most High God whom Paul and Silas worshipped and clearly influenced. If they could destroy a prison with their incantations, what could they not do to him? But Paul had already demonstrated good will towards him. Perhaps then they would arrange for him to be spared. It was clear from what had happened that this powerful God was able to save His own servants. There must be some way by which he could be persuaded to spare him too.

‘Sirs/lords.’ He probably intended a little more than ‘sirs’. He recongised that the men had contact with the gods. They were important emissaries who could speak to him authoritatively from the gods.

Verse 31

‘And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your house.” ’

The reply came back immediately. Paul and Silas declared to him that the way in which both he and his house could be saved was by response to ‘the Lord, even Jesus’. That was the ‘Lord’ he should look to. Only in Jesus, ‘the Lord’ (which would be recognised by a Gentile as denoting someone who was divine), was there safety, security and salvation. Note that the saving of all depended on the belief of each. This is speaking of those of an age to respond. All who believe will be saved (compare Acts 11:14; Acts 16:15; Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 16:15). In those days it would be normal for the household to follow the lead of its head, and we must remember that this was a time of especially powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

In Roman Acts 10:9 Paul declares, if you will confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved’. For that is the essence of what is necessary for salvation. It is the same message as here. A recognition of the Lordship of Christ, and the fact that as the risen Lord He can save. This is not a question of whether we see Jesus ‘as Saviour or as Lord’ as though there was an alternative. We are not talking here about our petty responses and attitudes. We are talking about a recognition of the One with Whom we are dealing. Salvation is by faith, and it is only as we see Him as the Lord with power to save that we will respond for salvation. We may then leave to Him both the saving and the exertion of His Lordship. If we have truly responded He will bring about both. If He leaves us still in our chains we need to ask what we wanted from salvation. If we want it simply as a fire insurance we need to read the fine print.

Verse 32

‘And they spoke the word of the Lord to him, with all that were in his house.’

They then proceeded to speak ‘the word of the Lord’ (Acts 8:25; Acts 13:48-49; Acts 15:35-36; Acts 19:10) to all who were in the house, providing full teaching, no doubt including both the cross, the resurrection and enthronement, on which they could base their belief. Chronologically this presumably mainly follows Acts 16:33, although it may have begun at once.

Verse 33

‘And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptised, he and all his, immediately.’

Meanwhile the jailer had taken them immediately from the prison and washed their wounds. He was a changed man. We are probably to see that he did the washing himself. Unbeknown to him he was following in the footsteps of a Greater than he (John 13:1-5). This would presumably be done at a well in the courtyard of the house, and having heard more of ‘the word’ he and all his family and servants were baptised. ‘Immediately’ means that there was no delay. It does not mean that they were not instructed first.

Verse 34

‘And he brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.’

Furthermore he also brought them into the part of the prison building which was his home, and set food before them. And he and all his house were rejoicing greatly ( a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. This work was genuine) because they had believed in God.

We see here that the jailer was already a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Never before had he bathed prisoners wounds, fed them at his table, and rejoiced greatly in God. He was a new man. And many a prisoner in the future would have cause to rejoice in it. As another has said, ‘I care not a jot for that man’s religion whose very dog and cat are not the better for it’. His prison would never treat people in the same way again.

Verse 35

‘But when it was day, the magistrates sent the lictors, saying, “Let those men go.” ’

Next day the lictors were sent by the magistrates with instructions that the two might go free. It was no doubt recognised that the case having been looked into it was seen as questionable, even frivolous, and they presumably felt that the lesson had probably been learned. The men were free to go.

Verse 36

‘And the jailor reported the words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore come forth, and go in peace.” ’

The jailer was no doubt delighted to learn this and reported the situation to Paul probably expecting that he too would be delighted.

Verse 37

‘But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Romans, and have cast us into prison; and do they now cast us out privily? No, truly, but let them come themselves and bring us out.” ’

But Paul felt it necessary to stand his ground. They had, as Roman citizens, been illegally beaten, and made a public disgrace. If they departed like that the disgrace would still attach to the local church. This must now be put right for the sake of Lydia and the other believers. It should be noted that the charge against them included the fact that they had behaved badly towards Romans. Paul therefore wants it publicly known that they too were Romans, which makes the charge look foolish. This was the first time that charges had been brought against him by men claiming to be Romans which may explain his first use of the defence. It removed from the situation any suggestion of either him or the church being anti-Roman.

So he insisted that the magistrates themselves be made aware of the situation and themselves come to bring them out. Their imprisonment taken place publicly. Their release as innocent must be equally made public.

This emphasis on the fact that once the activities of Christians were properly considered they were constantly cleared of all charges of misconduct is one of the themes of Luke, partly, of course, because it was true.

Verses 38-39

‘And the lictors reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and besought them, and when they had brought them out, they asked them to go away from the city.’

When the magistrates learned that Paul and Silas were Romans they were afraid. They recognised that they also could now be accused of acting against Roman law. Thus they came and sought to make all right between them, publicly arranged their release and then asked them to leave Philippi. The last was presumably in order to prevent further actions by the mob so that good order might be maintained and Romans not be assaulted. They were not forbidden to return. The main concern was for law and order.

We do not know full details of the rights of Roman citizenship, but they certainly included protection for them from treatment meted out quite happily to lesser people. Presumably a Roman citizen carried with him some kind of certificate in order to prove his status. On the other hand, as all knew, an appeal to Caesar was not necessarily to the advantage of the appellant, thus the observation of the rules was probably mainly caused rather by consent and a theoretical fear of what could happen if such a citizen did appeal to Caesar. Other cases of Roman citizens having been illegally beaten are known, and disapproved of, but with no apparent central action having been taken.

Verse 40

‘And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.’

But the agreement to leave was amicable. They were not escorted from the city. Thus they returned to Lydia’s house, gathered the believers together to say farewell, exhorted and encouraged them, and then left Philippi with honour intact, probably leaving Luke behind to aid in the nurturing of the young church (the ‘we’ section ceases). Luke would not carry stigma in Philippi as ‘a Jew’.

‘The brethren (the brothers and sisters).’ We have here the suggestion of a nucleus of believers who now formed a church. The three highlighted conversions, together with households, were not the only conversions in Philippi. The word of God had continued to prevail.

The deep love that these disciples had for Paul comes out in Philippians 4:15-16. Their love, and practical demonstration of it in sending him constant material support, made them stand out from all the other churches.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 16". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/acts-16.html. 2013.
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