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Acts 16

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Paul revisits Lystra He takes Timothy with him He travels through Asia Minor, 1-11.

Acts 16:1. And behold. The interjection ‘behold’ marks the importance which the writer of the ‘Acts’ attaches to the solemn adoption of Timothy by Paul. Wordsworth happily speaks of the incident ‘as a gift from Heaven to Paul in the place of what he had lost in his separation from Barnabas and Mark.’

A certain disciple was there, named Timotheus. It was during the first visit of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra that Timotheus must have been converted. Paul speaks of him (1 Timothy 1:2) as ‘his own son in the faith.’ His mother’s name was Eunice. She appears to have belonged to a Jewish family, either connected with those Babylonian Jews whom Antiochus settled in Phrygia three centuries before, or else brought into Lycaonia by some of those mercantile or other changes which affected the movements of so many Jewish households at this period (see Conybeare and Howson, ‘Sketch of the Family,’ St. Paul, chap. 8). Her unfeigned faith, as also that of the grandmother Lois, is specially commented upon in 2 Timothy 1:5.

His father was a Greek. These mixed marriages, although very rare in Palestine, were common enough in remote districts like Lycaonia. It is not improbable, however, that the ‘father’ was a proselyte. The strict Jews regarded the offspring of such marriages as illegitimate.

Verse 2

Acts 16:2. Which was well reported of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. Nothing seems to have been left out by Paul in his diligent inquiry into the character and fitness of his young associate. He had made himself, no doubt, thoroughly acquainted, in his first visit to Lystra, with the tone and life of the home of Lois and Eunice, and his heart this we learn from the later correspondence was drawn in a peculiar manner towards the boy convert. During the interval which elapsed between the first and second visit, the young Timothy had doubtless worked for the cause of Christ well and earnestly, and had won himself that ‘good report’ which Paul on inquiry about him received of the brethren. Some, too, of those mysterious prophetic utterances, not unfrequent in the first days of the Church’s history, were spoken over the young disciple at his ordination; perhaps also a similar manifestation of the Spirit had taken place when he was first received into the congregation of the faithful. These strange precious sayings were among the gifts which encouraged the Christians in those early days of bitter trial. In Timothy’s case they appear to have been far-seeing glances into the life-work of the future Christian leader.

Verse 3

Acts 16:3. Him would Paul have to go forth with him, Silas filled the place of his old companion and brother-apostle, Barnabas, but as yet the loving apostle had no one to supply the vacancy caused by the desertion of the shrinking Mark.

Paul longed for the society and comfort of one who might in time become what he once hoped Mark was a son in the faith. How well he chose is shown in the subsequent history of the devoted and brave Timothy.

And circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters. In this act Paul was influenced entirely by considerations connected with the unconverted Jews in that and in other countries, who would quickly learn the particulars concerning the missionary apostle’s trusted companion. The son of a Gentile father and of a Jewish mother, and himself uncircumcised, he would be in danger of being regarded as an apostate from the religion of his mother’s ancestors. This would at once excite of itself a bitter animosity against Paul and his doctrines. This circumcising Timothy was not contrary to the decrees just passed by the Jerusalem Council, for these only declared circumcision was not to be forced on any one as though necessary to salvation. Paul recognised this great truth fully, as we see in his steady refusal to circumcise Titus (Galatians 2:3). In the case of Titus, had he complied with the requirement to circumcise his companion, he would have given his assent to their doctrine that circumcision was necessary to salvation. In the case of Timothy, he assented to no doctrine; he simply carried out his words, ‘To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews’ (1 Corinthians 9:20), knowing that Timothy uncircumcised would probably prove a grave hindrance to his future mission work in Jewish centres. Chrysostom writes of this act of Paul’s as follows: ‘Paul circumcised Timothy in order to abolish circumcision, that is, in order to open an avenue for the gospel to the Jews;’ and Luther, with his own bright ready words, thus comments on the transaction: ‘It is just as if I should now go among the Jews in order to preach the gospel, and should find that they were weak. I might in that case be willing to submit to circumcision, and to eat or to abstain even as they do, but I would do all this in no other case and no longer than while I could be with them and labour for the gospel.’

Verse 4

Acts 16:4. The cities. This would probably include Iconium and Pisidian Antioch.

Verse 5

Acts 16:5. So the churches were established in the faith. So ( οὖν ), as a consequence of the mediating tendency of the decrees of the Apostolic Council, a great bar to the acceptance of the gospel by the mass of Gentiles had been permanently removed.

The religion of Jesus might be accepted by a Roman or Asiatic without the necessary adoption of the Jewish rigorous and exclusive practices.

Established in the faith, and increased in number daily. On these words, which speak of a daily increase in the numbers of Christians, and at the same time of the faith in Jesus taking a firm and ever firmer root in the hearts of men and women, Bengel has one of his pithy telling comments, ‘Rarum incrementum, numero simul et gradu.’

Verses 6-8

Acts 16:6-8. Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia. Phrygia denoted at this time broken portions of a territory under the jurisdiction of three or four distinct governors. It roughly represented the great central space of Asia Minor. Its chief cities mentioned in the books of the New Testament are Colossae, Laodicaea, and Hierapolis. Josephus speaks of numerous Jews who had settled in Phrygia in the times of the Maccabees.

And the region of Galatia. This was a great midland district of Asia Minor inhabited by the descendants of those Gauls who invaded Greece and Asia in the third century B.C. Many of these seem to have settled and become mixed with the Greeks in the centre of Asia Minor. Galatia became a formal province of Rome A.D. 26. Its principal cities were Ancyra, the capital, Tavium, and Pessinus. It was in this missionary journey, accompanied by Silas and Timothy, that Paul laid the foundation of the flourishing Galatian Church. The grave sickness of the apostle, alluded to in such touching terms in the Galatian letter, must have attacked Paul during this sojourn in the country so briefly alluded to in this sixth verse.

It has been often asked why the writer of the ‘Acts’ passes over thus abruptly the story of one of Paul’s most successful missionary works. Various reasons have been suggested for this silence, such as the absence of any record of this period; the definite plan of the ‘Acts,’ which was to recount the march of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome a plan which would exclude all relations of events outside the track marked out. One commentator suggests there were no Jewish residents in these districts, but the argument of the Galatian Epistle plainly contradicts this latter hypothesis. Whatever may have been the reason which determined the writer of the ‘Acts to omit the preaching to and founding of the Galatian Church, it is plain that the writer, under the inspiration of the Spirit, exercised his discretion concerning what acts of Paul and Peter’s life he wove into his history, which we clearly see only professes to recount but a very small portion of the ‘Acts’ of the more distinguished servants of Christ in the early days of the faith.

Were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, Acts 16:7. They assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not. Acts 16:9. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. Among the supernatural signs which were vouchsafed to the first generation of believers, and, with very rare exceptions, to the first generation only, to men and women, many of whom, be it remembered, had seen Jesus, and had had personal contact with Him, must be reckoned those mysterious intimations of the will of the Holy Spirit which guided and directed the course of the infant Church. These intimations came apparently in varied forms to the ‘Twelve,’ in the form of the fiery tongues (Acts 2:1-12), when the house rocked as though under the influence of an earthquake, and the Spirit filled each one present in the praying assembly (Acts 4:31); when the Spirit spoke to Peter on the occasion of the conversion of Cornelius when he was in a trance (Acts 10:16), and then when he was awake and musing on the vision (Acts 10:19-20); when Paul was on his Second Missionary Journey, on the three occasions discussed in this note; through a prophet (as in Acts 21:10-14), etc. See also Paul’s own words in Acts 20:23, where he refers to many such voices and heavenly intimations.

Underlying the brief relation contained in Acts 16:6-9, we can trace a wish of the apostle to preach his Master’s Gospel in eastern lands in preference to the unknown West. Nothing was more natural than such a desire. For an Oriental to pass, on such a mission as Paul was bent, into far western lands, was indeed a difficult and hazardous under-taking. The conditions under which hitherto he had carried out so successfully his arduous task, would have at once been changed; in the western countries across that broad Mediterranean AEgean Sea which washed the land of his forefathers, he knew that he would have to face, in addition to the perils and obstacles which hitherto he had combated with success, new difficulties which would meet him, such as difference of climate, changed habits of life, another race, another language, ideas all strange to him, very formidable considerations to an oriental Jew like Paul, whose life-work was to make known a new religion. The eastern stranger naturally shrank at first from doing this in the far western countries across the sea.

Three distinct intimations from Heaven seem to have been necessary to show Paul in this juncture in his life what was the will of his Master. The first mentioned is in Acts 16:6, where Paul was forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in ‘Asia,’ Asia here signifying the western portion only of the great peninsula known now as ‘Asia Minor.’ It roughly included the ancient provinces of Lydia, Mysia, and Caria, and perhaps a portion of the broad region in the interior known as Phrygia.

Some such Divine intimation as we read of in Acts 4:31 was probably given to the apostle and his companions, on which occasion we read, as they prayed, they were filled with the Holy Ghost.

The second supernatural sign of direction seems to have been a more definite one, and is alluded to in Acts 16:7 as the Spirit of Jesus, for that is the reading of the older authorities. We can form no conception respecting the nature of this special warning voice. The expression, ' Spirit of Jesus, does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. Ewald refers to Revelation 19:10 as giving us a possible hint as to the manner in which the warning revelation was given to Paul.

The third voice from heaven to Paul came in the visions of the night, when by him there stood a ‘man of Macedonia,’ or more accurately rendered, ‘a certain man of Macedonia.’ Various explanations have been suggested respecting this supernatural visitant. Commentators have asked how Paul recognised the country of which his heavenly visitor was a representative? Some have suggested the peculiar dress, others the ‘affecting words’ spoken by him to Paul, ‘Come over,’ or better rendered, ‘Cross over into Macedonia and help us.’ Grotius suggests, not without reason, that ‘the one who appeared to him was the representative or guardian angel of Macedonia, as the “Prince of Persia,” in Daniel 10:0 ’ It was no doubt an angel sent by the King of Heaven to directly guide His devoted servant into western countries.

Verse 8

Acts 16:8. Troas. This famous place bearing the name of the ancient Troy was a seaport on the Hellespont, situated some four or five miles from the supposed site of the ancient city. It was built and named after the great Macedonian king ‘Alexandria Troas’ by two of his successors, Antigonus, who founded it, and Lysimachus, who completed the work and named it. By the Romans in the days of their greatest power it was regarded as New Troy, and was then one of the most important cities of Proconsular Asia. It is reported that Julius Cæsar intended to make it eventually the capital of the Roman Empire, both of the east and west. Some three centuries later, Constantine the Great, before he finally chose Byzantium as the site of his world-capital, had fixed upon Alexandria Troas as the future seat of his vast united empire. Gibbon writes: ‘Though the undertaking was soon relinquished, the stately remains of unfinished walls and towers attracted the notice of all who sailed through the Hellespont.’ In the days of Paul it had not attained to its utmost growth, but it possessed the privileges of a Roman colony, and the law had been assimilated already to that of Italy, these rights having been conferred upon it by Augustus.

Verse 10

Acts 16:10. Immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia. In this verse the ‘writer of the “Acts”’ adopts the style of an eye-witness, and the apostolic memoirs for a time are written in the first person. ‘We endeavoured;’ from this it appears that Luke, the presumed author of these records, joined the missionary band first at Troas. Connecting the severe and dangerous illness of the apostle during the Galatian visit (Acts 16:6 and Galatians 4:13-15) , from which he had so recently recovered, the supposition that the ‘beloved physician’ associated himself with his great master at this juncture and watched over his health is not without foundation. Eusebius and Jerome, gathering their materials from very ancient traditions, both relate that Luke was a native of Antioch, in which city it is very probable he originally met Paul. At Philippi, however, Paul and Luke parted company, the latter apparently remaining behind. In the course of the apostle’s Third Missionary Journey, the writer of these ‘Acts,’ Luke, again apparently at Philippi (Acts 20:6) joined the missionary company; and from that period until the arrival of the prisoner Paul at Rome and the very close of the ‘Acts,’ he was evidently in close attendance upon him. In the last of the apostle’s Epistles (the Second to Timothy), the old man Paul, writing in the full expectation of that violent death which we have good reason to conclude followed very soon after the concluding words of that Epistle were penned, makes mention of this Luke, who with noble constancy and tried friendship stayed with him in that hour of extreme danger when others had left him or forsaken him (comp. 2 Timothy 4:11: ‘Only Luke is with me’).

Macedonia. This country was now a Roman province. The Roman governor of Macedonia resided at Thessalonica, which was the general capital. There were, however, several important cities in this great province, such as Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, and Berea, all visited by Paul.

Assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the Gospel unto them. After the direct intimation given by the appearance of the ‘man of Macedonia’ (Acts 16:9), Paul seems to have had no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that his life-work lay for a time, at least, in Europe.

Verse 11

Acts 16:11. We came with a straight course to Samothracia, or ‘we ran with a straight course.’ The same word occurs again in the same sense in chap. Acts 21:1. Luke, observes Hackett, observes almost a technical precision in the use of such terms. His account of the voyage to Rome shows a surprising familiarity with sea life.

Verse 12

Paul and the Missionary Company at Philippi, 12-40.

Acts 16:12. And from thence to Philippi. This city was built on the site of the ancient village Krenides (the fountains), subsequently known as Datos, by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, who named it after himself. Philippi became known in history as the scene of the decisive battle in which Brutus and Cassius were defeated by Augustus and Antony. The city has long disappeared, and its site is occupied by a small village named Filiba. Travellers speak of extensive ruins still marking the site of the old city.

Which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia. The Greek should here be rendered, ‘Which is a city of Macedonia, the first of the district.’ The words of the original here describe the geographical situation of Philippi, in relation to Paul’s journey, as the first city of Macedonia at which he arrived, rather than as in the English Version the first politically ‘chief city.’ This latter signification cannot possibly be the true one, since Thessalonica was the provincial capital of Macedonia; and even Amphipolis would certainly have ranked before Philippi, if the old divisions of Macedonia into four parts still existed.

And a colony. A Roman colony was a miniature resemblance of the Imperial City, a portion of Rome itself transplanted to the provinces. The inhabitants of this colony, being colonists and the descendants of colonists, were Roman citizens, and were still enrolled in one of the tribes, and possessed the privilege of voting at Rome. In these cities the Roman law was scrupulously observed, and the Latin language was used on their coins and inscriptions; they were governed by their own senate and magistrates, and not by the governor of the province, in which the colony happened to be situated. In certain of these colonies, the land on which the city stood was free from taxation. Such a city being a colony had received the additional privilege of the ‘Jus Italicum,’ which assimilated the land to Italy. ‘Ager Italicus immunis est, ager provincialis vectigalis est,’ was a maxim of Roman law. Philippi and Alexandria Troas both possessed the high privilege of the ‘Jus Italicum.’

Verse 13

Acts 16:13. By a river side. The Gangas, a small river which flows close to the city. It is possible that the Jews worshipped there outside the gates of the city, because the military inhabitants (Philippi was never a commercial centre) would not allow them to worship within. A more probable reason, however, is the quiet and seclusion of the spot, which was especially chosen on account of its proximity to the river Gangas, which served for the ablutions connected with Jewish worship.

Where prayer was wont to be made. The Greek here should be translated, ‘where was wont to be a place of prayer.’ The word προσευχή ( proseucha) is well known as the designation of a slight and temporary structure, frequently open to the sky, erected for the purposes of Jewish worship; in some cases the ‘proseucha’ seems simply a space or inclosure set apart for this solemn purpose. There was evidently but a very small colony of Jews resident at Philippi, owing no doubt to the fact that Philippi was rather a military than a commercial city. This accounts for there being no regular synagogue there; the ‘proseucha,’ or place of prayer by the river side, was the substitute for the ordinary Jewish meeting-house.

Unto the women which resorted there. These were very probably proselytes, not Jews. We have alluded to the fact that the number of Jews resident at Philippi was evidently very small. There may, however, have been a fair number of strangers resident, or sojourners for a time in the place, who, like Lydia of Thyatira, had learned to know the God of Israel in other cities.

Verse 14

Acts 16:14. Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira. The city of Thyatira, on the confines of Lydia and Mysia, and one of the seven churches of Asia addressed in the Apocalypse, was celebrated in very early days for its purple dyes and purple fabrics. Among the ruins of the city has been found an inscription relating to the guild of dyers, curiously testifying to the accuracy of even the unimportant details of the narrative (see Homer, Iliad, iv. 141). The business which brought this Lydia to Philippi was connected either with the sale of the colouring matter or more likely with the fabric already dyed. The purple colour so esteemed in the ancient world included many tints. Thyatira was originally a Macedonian colony founded by Alexander the Great. This would account for the residence of Lydia of Philippi in Macedonia in the inland Asian city of Thyatira. This city was famous in the old world for its dyes.

Which worshipped God, heard (us). This Lydia was a proselyte to Judaism from heathendom, and, with the other Jews of Philippi, was in the habit of attending the Jewish services of prayer, and praise, and instruction; and it was at one of these meetings for the worship of the God of Israel that this devout woman met Paul.

Verse 15

Acts 16:15. And when she was baptized, and her household. This passage has been a little hastily quoted in support of ‘infant baptism.’ It is, however, quite uncertain whether, by the words ‘and her household,’ we are to understand her children, her slaves, or the working-people busied in her industry connected with the purple dyes, or all these collectively. The practice, however, of infant baptism rests on surer ground than on the doubtful interpretation of any solitary text. We have direct allusions to ‘the connections of Chloe’ (1 Corinthians 1:11); ‘the household of Stephanas’ (1 Corinthians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 16:15); the church in’ the house of Aquila and Priscilla’ (Romans 16:5), etc. Is it credible, asks Bengel, that in so many families there was no child? But our Lord’s action, when He laid His hands on the little child-heads (Matthew 19:15), is of all warrants for this most ancient practice the most authoritative. As it has been well said, ‘If infants were capable of spiritual blessings then, why, it may be well asked, should they be thought incapable now?’

She besought (us), saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. As a rule, St. Paul was reluctant to accept anything at the hands of his converts. He was surrounded by enemies, and he determined, at least, that the reproach of mercenary motives should never hinder his work for his Master. Her persistent entreaty perhaps, united with circumstances not known to us, induced St. Paul to deviate for a few days from his stern practice of refusing all kindly help, even from his most loving disciples (see his words, for instance, in Acts 20:33-34; 2 Corinthians 12:17-18). There are other passages which also bear on this point. There were, of course, exceptions to this stern rule of his in the case of dear friends like Philemon, when he was in prison and in captivity (see Acts 24:23; Acts 28:10).

Verse 16

Acts 16:16. As we went to prayer. This should be rendered as in above verse, ‘to the place of prayer.’

A certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us. This was a female slave possessed, to translate the Greek literally, ‘with the spirit of a Pythoness.’ Python was the spirit that traditionally guarded Delphi; it was slain by Apollo, and hence the god’s name Pythias. To be possessed by the spirit of Pythoness was, in other words, to be possessed by a prophetic spirit or demon [ δαιμόνιον μαντίκον ] . The name was subsequently given to any supposed soothsaying demon. Hesychius states that the term came to be used for a soothsaying ventriloquist among the ancients; the power of ventriloquism was often misused for the purposes of magic. Augustine even calls this girl ‘ventriloqua femina.’

She was the slave of several joint-owners, who used her unhappy powers as a source of gain for themselves, and appear to have made large sums out of the exhibition of this grievously-afflicted soul.

Paul, when he met her, and had had several opportunities of observing her, recognised that she was one of those many unhappy beings who, in the first days of Christianity, were afflicted with grievous soul maladies. In the Gospels, these wretched ones, called demoniacs, now and again came in contact with Jesus, and at once recognising His power, the indwelling demons set free the soul they were tormenting. On the difficult question of what these demoniacs mentioned in the various books of the New Testament were, and whether they appeared only in that period when our Lord came in the flesh, see the weighty remarks of Archbishop Trench ( Miracles, p. 162 , etc.), where the whole question of demoniacal possession is discussed at length.

Verse 17

Acts 16:17. And cried, saying, These men are servants of the most high God. This testimony on the part of the evil spirit which possessed the unhappy slave-girl to the work and power of Christ and His servants, Paul and Silas, was by no means an unusual incident in the early days of Christianity. On several occasions, during the public ministry of the Lord Jesus, had these ‘devils’ borne loud and public testimony to His majesty and power; they had not only obeyed His voice, and freed their poor victims from their presence, but had, apparently of their own free will, borne witness to the veiled glory of the unknown Teacher, declaring now that He was the Holy One of God, and at another time the Son of God. It is observable that neither Christ nor His servants would ever accept this testimony from demons. On several occasions it is expressly recorded how the Master silenced these evil spirits in the hour of their acknowledgment of His majesty (see, for instance, Mark 3:12; Luke 4:34-35; Luke 4:41).

In like manner we read how Paul here, being grieved or troubled at the demon’s perpetual acknowledgment of his Divine mission, in his Master’s name silenced and expelled the spirit which had made its home in the poor slave of Philippi. A curious question, however, suggests itself, how it was Paul suffered the demon, after he was aware of its presence, so long to remain tormenting the girl? Bengel’s explanation is singular. He concludes that the spirit did not belong to the worst order of spirits, otherwise Paul’s indignation had been more quickly stirred up. But the true explanation seems to be, that there was something in the unhappy possessed one herself which prevented an earlier deliverance. There is but little doubt that these fearful soul-maladies which, in the days of Christ and His servant Paul, apparently raged in strangely-aggravated forms, were often due, in the first instance, to some terrible sin the hapless victim had indulged in. Demoniacal possession, however, seems, in some instances, to have been inherited; ‘The sins of the father were visited on the children.’ Is this heritage of evil an unknown thing among us now?

We know nothing of the circumstances of the possession of this slave of Philippi. There was something doubtless connected with it, which stayed Paul from an earlier exercise of his exorcising power. The words of the narrative seem to suggest that in the end the expulsion of the spirit was determined upon rather to silence the unwelcome testimony of a demon than to benefit the sufferer. In her case, the remittal of the punishment, if it were a punishment, possibly might have been not a blessing. It is, however, more than probable that, during ‘the many days,’ some of the solemn, beautiful words of Christ uttered or explained by Paul penetrated the poor darkened soul of this unhappy one, and awoke in her some sense of her lost and degraded condition. Then she perhaps cried for help, and received it. The whole question of ‘possession by evil spirits,’ insanity in its varied forms, epilepsy, and other kindred maladies, and their connection with sin, is as yet very little understood.

Verse 18

Acts 16:18. I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. ‘In My Name,’ said the Lord (Mark 16:17), ‘shall they cast out devils.’ It is noticeable how differently such acts as these were performed by the Master and His servants. Christ worked His miracles in His own sovereign power; the apostles worked theirs only in the name of Jesus.

Verse 19

Acts 16:19. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone. It was simply revenge that prompted these covetous men to procure the apostles arrest. When the evil spirit had once been exorcised, the power of ventriloquism and of uttering prophecies of future events was gone, and with it their hope of making money out of her.

Drew them into the market-place unto the rulers. That is, into the Forum, where the city authorities, who in a ‘colony’ like Philippi were styled praetors, held their court of justice.

Verse 20

Acts 16:20. To the magistrates. The official title of these provincial officers was ‘Duumviri;’ but the title they preferred and usually assumed was the well-known Roman appellation of ‘Praetor.’

Verse 21

Acts 16:21. These men, being Jews, Acts 16:21. Teach customs which are not lawful for us to observe, being Romans. It was no very easy matter for these angry men to formulate their complaint against Paul and Silas, so they had recourse to the favourite accusation against men of a strange race and nationality they charged them with attempting to stir up political disturbances. It was the old charge of the Jews against the Lord, and many times it was revived with success in the case of His chief followers. This false accusation procured for Paul his long Roman imprisonment, and in the end brought him to a bloody death. ‘The accusation,’ Calvin, quoted by Gloag, strikingly remarks, ‘was craftily composed: on the one hand they boast of the name of Romans, than which no name was more honourable; on the other hand they excite hatred against the apostles and bring them into contempt by calling them Jews, which name was at that time infamous (they had lately been banished from Rome by the Emperor Claudius); for as regards religion the Romans had less affinity to the Jews than to any other nation.’

Judaism was a ‘religio licita’ sanctioned for the Jews, but the Roman policy by no means allowed this strange eastern faith to be propagated among the Roman peoples.

A severe law, if not in force at this time, certainly enacted shortly after, sternly forbade any one not a Jew undergoing the rite of circumcision. Any ‘citizen of Rome’ who was circumcised was liable to perpetual exile and the confiscation of his goods. A master who allowed his slaves to submit themselves to this rite exposed himself to a like penalty. The surgeon who circumcised was to be put to death. Even a Jew who caused his slaves who were not Jews to be circumcised was guilty of a capital offence. Gentle and tolerant though the policy of the Empire on tie whole was to foreign religions, still if the votaries of a foreign religion showed themselves in earnest and wishful to convert others to their faith, at once the state regarded such men as public enemies.

It was this jealous feeling which the enemies of the Christians, fully conscious of, so often and so easily aroused against Christ and His great followers.

It should be observed how, in the words of the accusation here, the Jew, the member of an obnoxious sect, is placed in strong opposition to the Roman, the citizen of the mighty, victorious world empire.

Verse 22

Acts 16:22. And the multitude rose up against them. The citizens and dwellers in that proud and exclusive Roman garrison town of Philippi as usual were at once roused by such an accusation.

The original cause of offence, the damage done to the productive property of the slave-owners, was quite lost sight of in the supposed public offence committed by the eastern strangers.

And the magistrates rent off their clothes. The praetors, without examining into the case, when they heard the nature of the charge, complying with the popular clamour, at once condemned the accused to a painful and shameful punishment before they were imprisoned and formally tried; acting as another and far higher Roman official had once acted when another and greater Captive stood before him accused of a state crime: ‘From thenceforth Pilate sought to release Him…… When he heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment-seat…… Then delivered he Him unto them to be crucified’ (John 19:12-16).

The magistrates in the case of Paul and Silas, as was the custom when criminals were ordered to be scourged, commanded the lictors the executioners violently to pull off the clothes of the condemned. The judicial form was, ‘Summove lictor despolia verbera.’

Verse 23

Acts 16:23. And commanded to beat them. Acts 16:23. And when they had laid many stripes upon them. Literally, ‘to beat them with rods.’ The custom was with the Romans to inflict the blows with rods upon the naked body. In his sad catalogue of the sufferings he had endured for his Master’s dear sake (2 Corinthians 11:25), Paul relates how ‘thrice he was beaten with rods.’ This Philippi experience was one of the occasions. He endured here, we are told, many stripes, there being in the stern Roman practice no such merciful restriction as that existing in the law of Moses: ‘Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one’(2 Corinthians 11:24); and see for the merciful restriction, Deuteronomy 25:3. Hurried and excited by the popular tumult, the arrest, punishment, and subsequent rigorous imprisonment was ordered and carried out with such haste and passion that the plea of Roman citizenship urged with such force by the prisoners on the following day was not listened to even if made.

Verse 24

Acts 16:24. Thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. In a Roman prison there were usually three distinct parts (1) the communiora, where the prisoners light and fresh air; (2) the interiora, shut off by strong iron gates with bars and locks; (3) the tullianum or dungeon. The third was a place rather of execution or for one condemned to die. The prison in which Paul and Silas lay that eventful night at Philippi was probably a damp cold cell from which light was excluded.

The ‘stocks’ alluded to was an instrument of torture as well as confinement. This instrument was a heavy piece of wood with holes, into which the feet were placed in such a manner that they were stretched widely apart so as to cause the sufferer great pain.

Eusebius, H. E. vi. 39, writes of the noble Origen’s sufferings when, under an iron collar and in the deepest recesses of the prison, for many days he was stretched to the distance of four holes in the stocks ( ξύλον , Lat. nervus) .

Verse 25

Acts 16:25. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God. ‘ Peter sleeps in prison between the two soldiers; Paul and Silas sing in the stocks: they cannot raise their hands or bend their knees in prayer, but they can lift up their heart and voice to heaven. Such is the power of joy in the Holy Ghost’ (Wordsworth). ‘The limbs,’ says Tertullian, ‘do not feel the stocks when the heart is in heaven;’ or as another writer has beautifully paraphrased Isaiah 52:7, ‘The feet of those who publish peace are never more beautiful than when they are bound in fetters and in iron.’ Wordsworth suggests the prisoners were singing one of the psalms which are entitled a prayer of David, the 17th or 86th.

The Greek verbs in this verse are in the imperfect, and the literal translation brings the scene that night more vividly before us, thus: ‘Paul and Silas in prayer were singing hymns to God, and the prisoners’ (in the outer prison) ‘were listening to them’ when the earthquake happened.

Verse 26

Acts 16:26. And suddenly there was a great earthquake. Vain attempts have been made (for instance, by Baur and Zeller) to explain away the miraculous aspect of this event. But the simple words of the narrator can only be understood as an account of a miraculous interference on the part of the King ruling in heaven in behalf of His persecuted servants. The earthquake never loosed the prisoners’ chains or opened those close-barred and chain-protected doors the Divine power which commanded the earthquake loosed the chains and opened the barred-up doors.

Verse 27

Acts 16:27. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had fled. The jailor or governor of the prison seeing the doors open, naturally concluded that his prisoners, of whom no doubt a considerable number were under his charge, and some doubtless on capital charges, had fled; and then knowing that if such were the case a sure death awaited him under the stern Roman law, determined by self-murder to anticipate his doom. Howson remarks that Philippi is famous in the annals of suicide, and quotes the examples of the vast number of voluntary deaths after the great battle of Philippi had destroyed the hopes of the old republicans. Niebuhr relates how the majority of the proscribed who survived the battle of Philippi put an end to their own lives, as they despaired of being pardoned. Among these were Brutus and Cassius. Self-murder among the Romans in the first and second centuries of the Christian era was fearfully common. It was even approved of in Stoic philosophy. Many of the noblest of the Romans ended their days in this manner. It was, in fact, the common resort in trouble and in extreme danger, and was not unknown even in cases where satiety in all life’s pleasures had induced the not uncommon feeling of utter weariness of living.

Verse 28

Acts 16:28. We are all here. The prisoners, we are especially told, had been listening to the sweet, solemn Hebrew hymns of Paul and Silas when the earthquake and its accompanying marvels took place. Then, feeling that what had happened was supernatural and in some measure connected with those eastern strangers whose voices they had been listening to that solemn night with such rapt attention, they made no effort to escape.

The words of Paul stayed the would-be suicide’s hand.

Verse 29

Acts 16:29. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas. The Greek has lights, not a light. The prison governor wished to examine everything minutely. He at once fell at the feet of Paul and Silas, recognising they were under no mortal protection. He would now show all reverence to these messengers of an unearthly King.

Verse 30

Acts 16:30. And brought them out, and said. From the inner prison where they were confined, probably into the court of the prison, and there he asked that celebrated question which has formed the text of so many an earnest and impassioned exhortation in such varied language during some seventeen or eighteen centuries.

Sirs, what must I do to be saved? Hackett, in an admirable and exhaustive note, thus discusses the difficulties which surround this famous question: The answer of the apostles in the next verse shows with what meaning the jailor proposed this question. It cannot refer to any fear of punishment from the magistrates; for he had now ascertained that the prisoners were all safe, and that he was in no danger from that source. Besides, had he felt exposed to any such danger, he must have known that Paul and Silas had no power to protect him; it would have been useless to come to them for assistance. The question in the other sense appears abrupt, it is true; but we are to remember that Luke has recorded only parts of the transaction. The unwritten history would perhaps justify some such view of the circumstances as this. The jailor is suddenly aroused from sleep by the noise of the earthquake; he sees the doors of the prison open; the thought instantly seizes him, the prisoners have fled. He knows the rigour of the Roman law, and is on the point of anticipating his doom by self-murder. But the friendly voice of Paul recalls his presence of mind. His thoughts take at once a new direction. He is aware that these men claim to be the servants of God, that they profess to teach the way of salvation. It would be nothing strange if during the several days or weeks that Paul and Silas had been at Philippi, he had heard the gospel from their own lips, had been one among those at the river-side or in the market whom they had warned of their danger, and urged to repent and lay hold of the mercy offered to them in the name of Christ. And now suddenly an event had taken place, which convinces him in a moment that the things which he has heard are realities; it was the last argument, perhaps, which he needed to give certainty to a mind already inquiring, hesitating. He comes trembling, therefore, before Paul and Silas, and asks them to tell him again more fully what he must do to be saved?’

Verse 31

Acts 16:31. And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. The question of the jailor evidently implies that he was acquainted in some measure with the general purport of the preaching of Paul and his companions; indeed, his question seems to re-echo the monotonous burden of the poor demoniac girl’s constant cry though the streets of Philippi during the ‘many days:’ ‘ These men art the servants of the most high God, and they proclaim to you the way of salvation’ (see Acts 16:17). The Roman official now in his great fear and consternation asks these men, who he feels are servants of the most high God, to tell him what he must do to find the way of salvation. They reply to him by telling him at once of One, even the Lord Jesus, in whom alone there is salvation. They demand from him, if he would indeed be saved, ‘a faith of which His Person is the object nothing more than faith, nothing less ( fide sold, we must remember, was ever the watchword of the Apostle Paul);’ and then the meaning of faith in Jesus was explained, and the gospel was preached to the jailor’s family at midnight, while the prisoners were silent around, and the light was thrown on anxious faces and the dungeon wall; and this Roman, who believed from that hour with all his heart, showed his faith by rendering all the services to these persecuted servants which gratitude and adoring love to their Master could suggest. There is a brief but remarkable comment of Alford’s on Paul’s answer to the Philippian jailor’s question as to how he should be saved: ‘We may remark, in the face of all attempts to establish a development of St. Paul’s doctrine according to mere external circumstances, that this reply, “Faith in Jesus only can save,” was given before any one of his extant epistles was written.’

Verse 32

Acts 16:32. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. This refers to the detailed instruction in the religion of Jesus which the apostles forthwith proceeded to give, explaining the practical meaning of ‘faith in Jesus Christ.’ It was something more than a bare assent to a great truth.

Verse 33

Acts 16:33. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. Most likely in that rectangular reservoir or basin called the ‘impluvium,’ which was usually enclosed in the houses of that period. This ‘tank’ received the rain-water which flowed from a slightly inclined roof. Other expositors suggest that allusion is made to a swimming bath which was then no uncommon appurtenance to the public buildings. It is possible that such a bath existed in the prison of Philippi, which was a noted military centre. It is more likely, however, to have been an impluvium. Chrysostom comments thus: ‘The jailor washed them, and he was washed himself. He washed them from their stripes, and he in his turn was washed from his sins.’ This same Greek father conjectures that ‘Stephanas’ (1 Corinthians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 16:15-17) was identical with this Philippian jailor.

Verse 34

Acts 16:34. And when he had brought them into his house. Literally translated, ‘brought them up,’ that is, from the court in which they then were, up into his house which was ‘above’ the prison court.

And rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. This is better rendered ‘and rejoiced, having believed in God.’ This belief was the ground of his rejoicing. It could be paraphrased thus: ‘He with all his house rejoiced that they all had been led to believe in God.’ The jailor had been, of course, a Pagan until his meeting with Paul.

Verse 35

Acts 16:35. And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. There is but little doubt that, subsequently to the tumultuous condemnation of Paul and Silas, the magistrates (Duumviri or Praetores) understood that the men who had been so hastily sentenced after the popular tumult were Roman citizens. It must be remembered the apostles had been resident at Philippi in the house of Lydia ‘many days,’ and therefore many persons in the city would know some details respecting them. When this fact came to the praetors’ ears, their first care was to get quietly rid of these strangers. These Roman officials knew well the grave trouble which might ensue if it were known at Rome that a ‘citizen’ had been beaten publicly. The Porcian and Valerian laws exempted all citizens of Rome from stripes and torture. In a famous passage of one of Cicero’s orations, the following statement occurs: ‘In the midst of the forum of Messina was a citizen of Rome scourged with rods. In the midst of his suffering, and the noise of the rods, the only word which was wrung from the unhappy man was, “I am a Roman citizen”’ (In Verrem). And again, in the same oration, he writes: ‘It is a misdeed to bind a Roman citizen, a crime to scourge him; it is almost parricide that he should be executed.’

It was this knowledge that determined Paul on the following morning, when the magistrates (the praetors) sent to request they would leave Philippi in silence, to require on the part of the Roman authorities a public declaration of his and Silas’ innocence. This acknowledgment was no doubt sought for in order to encourage the little company of converts who might otherwise, after the apostles’ departure, have felt that they in some way were under the displeasure of Rome. Such a state of feeling might have hindered the further spread of the gospel.

Verse 37

Acts 16:37. Being Romans. On the citizenship of Paul, see the note on chap. Acts 22:25, where the question is fully discussed. It is observable that Paul, who five times (2 Corinthians 11:24) submitted to be scourged by his own countrymen, never there pleaded his rights as a Roman citizen. To the Jews he became as a Jew, strictly observing (as we shall see) their ceremonial customs, and submitting to their law.

Verse 38

Acts 16:38. And the Serjeants. Here, as in Acts 16:35, literally, rod-bearers, lictors, officials who attended upon the magistrates and carried out their orders. In a ‘colony’ these officers carried staves, not as in Rome, fasces.

And they feared. Hackett quotes from Lucian a case of false imprisonment, in which the governor of a province not only acknowledged his error, but paid a large sum of money to those whom he had injured, in order to bribe them to be silent.

Verse 40

Acts 16:40. And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia. Even after the magistrates had paid them the respect of an official visit, and had expressed their regrets, the apostles did not at once comply with their request, that in order to avoid any more popular tumult they should leave the place. We find them proceeding, in the first instance, to the home of Lydia, their hostess; there they met the believers in Jesus once more, and for the last time spoke to them the words of life. Timotheus and Luke seem to have stayed behind at Philippi when Paul and Silas left.

Some have supposed Luke remained at Philippi until Paul revisited Philippi on his second visit to Macedonia in the course of his Third Missionary Journey. After Paul left Philippi, the writer relates the story of his work as an historian in the third person until the second meeting, after which Luke writes as an eye-witness till the close of the Book of the ‘Acts.’

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 16". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/acts-16.html. 1879-90.
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