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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies
Acts 16



Verse 3

To go forth ( ἐξελθεῖν )

The word is used of going forth as a missionary in Luke 9:6; 3 John 1:7.

Verse 5

Were established ( ἐστερεοῦντο )

Rather, were strengthened. Another word is used for established. See Acts 14:22; Acts 15:32, Acts 15:41; Acts 18:23. There is a difference, moreover, between being strengthened and established. See 1 Peter 5:10.

Verse 6


See on Acts 2:9.

Verse 8

Passing by Mysia

Not avoiding, since they could not reach Troas without traversing it; but omitting it as a preaching-place.

Came down

From the highlands to the coast.

Verse 10

We sought

Note the introduction, for the first time here, of the first person, intimating the presence of the author with Paul.

Assuredly gathering ( συμβιβάζοντες )

See onproving, Acts 9:22.

Verse 11

Came with a straight course ( εὐθυδρομήσαμεν )

Lit., we ran a straight course. A nautical term for sailing before the wind.

Verse 12

Chief ( πρώτη )

Some explain, the first city to which they came in Macedonia.

A colony ( κολωνία )

Roman towns were of two classes: municipia, or free towns, and colonies. The distinction, however, was not sharply maintained, so that, in some cases, we find the same town bearing both names. The two names involved no difference of right or of privilege. The historical difference between a colony and a free town is, that the free towns were taken into the state from without, while the colonies were offshoots from within. “The municipal cities insensibly equalled the rank and splendor of the colonies; and in the reign of Hadrian it was disputed which was the preferable condition, of those societies which had issued from, or those which had been received into, the bosom of Rome” (Gibbon, “Decline and Fall”).

The colony was used for three different purposes in the course of Roman history: as a fortified outpost in a conquered country; as a means of providing for the poor of Rome; and as a settlement for veterans who had served their time. It is with the third class, established by Augustus, that we have to do here. The Romans divided mankind into citizens and strangers. An inhabitant of Italy was a citizen; an inhabitant of any other part of the empire was a peregrinusor stranger. The colonial policy abolished this distinction so far as privileges were concerned. The idea of a colony was, that it was another Rome transferred to the soil of another country. In his establishment of colonies, Augustus, in some instances, expelled the existing inhabitants and founded entirely new towns with his colonists; in others, he merely added his settlers to the existing population of the town then receiving the rank and title of a colony. In some instances a place received these without receiving any new citizens at all. Both classes of citizens were in possession of the same privileges, the principal of which were, exemption from scourging, freedom from arrest, except in extreme cases, and, in all cases, the right of appeal from the magistrate to the emperor. The names of the colonists were still enrolled in one of the Roman tribes. The traveller heard the Latin language and was amenable to the Roman law. The coinage of the city had Latin inscriptions. The affairs of the colony were regulated by their own magistrates, named Duumviri, who took pride in calling themselves by the Roman title of praetors (see on Acts 16:20).

Verse 13

Out of the city ( ἔξω τῆς πόλεως )

The best texts read τύλης ,the gate.


Probably the Gangas or Gangites.

Where prayer was wont to be made ( οὗ ἐνομίζετο προσευχὴ εἶναι )

The best texts read ἐνομίζομεν προσευχὴν , where we supposed there was a place of prayer. The number of Jews in Philippi was small, since it was a military and not a mercantile city; consequently there was no synagogue, but only a proseuchaor praying-place, a slight structure, and often open to the sky. It was outside the gate, for the sake of retirement, and near a stream, because of the ablutions connected with the worship.

Verse 14


An adjective: the Lydian; but as Lydia was a common name among the Greeks and Romans, it does not follow that she was named from her native country.

A seller of purple

On purple, see note on Luke 16:19.


The district of Lydia, and the city of Thyatira in particular, were famous for purple dyes. So Homer:

“As when some Carian or Maeonian dame

Tinges with purple the white ivory,

To form a trapping for the cheeks of steeds.”

Iliad, iv., 141.

An inscription found in the ruins of Thyatira relates to the guild of dyers.

Heard ( ἤκουεν )

Imperfect, was hearing while we preached.

Verse 15

Constrained ( παρεβιάσατο )

Only here and Luke 24:29, on which see note. The constraint was from ardent gratitude.

Verse 16


See on Acts 12:13.

Spirit of divination ( πνεῦμα Πύθωνα )

Lit., a spirit, a Python. Python, in the Greek mythology, was the serpent which guarded Delphi. According to the legend, as related in the Homeric hymn, Apollo descended from Olympus in order to select a site for his shrine and oracle. Having fixed upon a spot on the southern side of Mount Parnassus, he found it guarded by a vast and terrific serpent, which he slew with an arrow, and suffered its body to rot ( πυθεῖν ) in the sun. Hence the name of the serpent Python (rotting); Pytho, the name of the place, and the epithet Pythian, applied to Apollo. The name Python was subsequently used to denote a prophetic demon, and was also used of soothsayers who practised ventriloquism, or speaking from the belly. The word ἐγγαστρίμυθος , ventriloquist, occurs in the Septuagint, and is rendered having a familiar spirit (see Leviticus 19:31; 20:6,27; 1 Samuel 28:7,8). The heathen inhabitants of Philippi regarded the woman as inspired by Apollo; and Luke, in recording this ease, which came under his own observation, uses the term which would naturally suggest itself to a Greek physician, a Python-spirit, presenting phenomena identical with the convulsive movements and wild cries of the Pythian priestess at Delphi.

Soothsaying ( μαντευομένη )

Akin to μαίνομαι , to rave, in allusion to the temporary madness which possessed the priestess or sibyl while under the influence of the god. Compare Virgil's description of the Cumaean Sibyl:

“And as the word she spake

Within the door, all suddenly her visage and her hue

Were changed, and all her sleeked hair and gasping breath she drew,

And with the rage her wild heart swelled, and greater was she grown,

Nor mortal-voiced; for breath of god upon her heart was blown

As he drew nigher.”

Aeneid, vi., 45 sq.

Verse 18

Grieved ( διαπονηθεὶς )

Not strong enough. Rather, worn out. Both grieved at the sad condition of the woman, and thoroughly annoyed and indignant at the continued demonstrations of the evil spirit which possessed her. Compare Acts 4:2.

Verse 19

Was gone ( ἐξῆλθεν )

Went out with the evil spirit.

Verse 20

Magistrates ( στρατηγοῖς )

Their usual name was duumviri, answering to the consuls of Rome; but they took pride in calling themselves στρατηγοί , or praetors, as being a more honorable title. This is the only place in the Acts where Luke applies the term to the rulers of a city. See Introduction to Luke.


Who at this time were in special disgrace, having been lately banished from Rome by Claudius (see Acts 18:2). The Philippians do not appear to have recognized the distinction between Christians and Jews.


Verse 21

Being Romans

The Romans granted absolute toleration to conquered nations to follow their own religious customs, and took the gods of these countries under their protection. Otho, Domitian, Commodus, and Caracalla were zealous partisans of the worship of Isis; Serapis and Cybele were patronized at Rome; and in the reign of Nero the religious dilettanti at Rome affected Judaism, and professed to honor the name of Moses and the sacred books. Poppaea, Nero's consort, was their patroness, and Seneca said, “the Jewish faith is now received on every hand. The conquered have given laws to the conquerors.” On the other hand, there were laws which forbade the introduction of strange deities among the Romans themselves. In 186 b.c., when stringent measures were taken by the government for the repression of Bacchanalian orgies in Rome, one of the consuls, addressing an assembly of the people, said: “How often in the ages of our fathers was it given in charge to the magistrates to prohibit the performance of any foreign religious rites; to banish strolling sacrificers and soothsayers from the forum, the circus, and the city; to search for and burn books of divination; and to abolish every mode of sacrificing that was not conformable to the Roman practice” (Livy, xxxix., 16). It was contrary to strict Roman law for the Jews to propagate their opinions among the Romans, though they might make proselytes of other nations.

Verse 22

Rent off their clothes ( περιῤῥήξαντες )

Only here in New Testament. By the usual formula of command to the lictors: Go, lictors; strip off their garments; let them be scourged!

To beat ( ῥαβδίζειν )

From ῥάβδος , a rod.Rev. properly adds, with rods.

Verse 23


See on Acts 5:21.

Verse 24

The inner prison

Some have supposed this to be the lower prison, being misled by the remains of the Mamertine prison at Rome, on the declivity of the Capitoline, and near the Arch of Septimius Severus. This consists of two chambers, one above the other, excavated in the solid rock. In the centre of the vault of the lower chamber is a circular opening, through which it is supposed that prisoners were let down into the dungeon. Modern excavations, however, have shown that these two chambers were connected with a series of large chambers, now separated by an alley from the prison of St. Peter. The opening into the passage leading to these was discovered in the lower dungeon. Under this passage ran a drain, which formed a branch of the Cloaca Maxima, or main sewer. Six of these chambers have been brought to light, evidently apartments of a large prison in the time of the Roman kings. Mr. John Henry Parker, from whose elaborate work on the primitive fortifications of Rome these details are drawn, believes that the prison of St. Peter now shown to tourists formed the vestibule and guard-room of the great prison. It was customary to have a vestibule, or house for the warder, at a short distance from the main prison. Thus he distinguishes the inner prison from this vestibule. With this agrees the description in the Rev. John Henry Newman's “Callista:” “The state prison was arranged on pretty much one and the same plan through the Roman empire, nay, we may say throughout the ancient world. It was commonly attached to the government buildings, and consisted of two parts. The first was the vestibule, or outward prison, approached from the praetorium, and surrounded by cells opening into it. The prisoners who were confined in these cells had the benefit of the air and light which the hall admitted. From the vestibule there was a passage into the interior prison, called Robur or Lignum, from the beams of wood which were the instruments of confinement, or from the character of its floor. It had no window or outlet except this door, which, when closed, absolutely shut out light and air. This apartment was the place into which Paul and Silas were cast at Philippi. The utter darkness, the heat, and the stench of this miserable place, in which the inmates were confined day and night, is often dwelt upon by the martyrs and their biographers.”

Stocks ( ξύλον )

Lit., the timber. An instrument of torture having five holes, four for the wrists and ankles and one for the neck. The same word is used for the cross, Acts 5:30; Acts 10:39; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24.

Verse 25

Prayed and sang praises ( προσευχόμενοι ὕμνουν )

Lit., praying, they sang hymns. The praying and the praise are not described as distinct acts. Their singing of hymns was their prayer, probably Psalms.

Verse 27

Would have killed ( ἔμελλεν ἀναιρεῖν )

Rev., more correctly, was about to kill. Knowing that he must suffer death for the escape of his prisoners.

Verse 29

A light ( φῶτα )

Rev., more correctly, lights. Several lamps, in order to search everywhere.

Sprang in

See on ran in, Acts 14:14.

Verse 33

He took ( παραλαβὼν )

Strictly, “took them along with ( παρά )him:” to some other part of the prison.

Washed their stripes ( ἔλουσεν ἀπὸ τῶν πληγῶν )

Properly, “washed them from ( ἀπό ) their stripes.” The verb λούειν , expresses the bathing of the entire body (Hebrews 10:23; Acts 9:37; 2 Peter 2:22); while νίπτειν commonly means the washing of a part of the body (Matthew 6:17; Mark 7:3; John 13:5). The jailer bathed them; cleansing them from the blood with which they were besprinkled from the stripes.

Verse 34

Brought ( ἀναγαγών )

Lit., “brought up ( ἀνά )His house would seem to have been above the court of the prison where they were. See on took, Acts 16:33.

Believing ( πεπιστευκὼς )

More correctly, having believed; assigning the reason for his joy: “in that he had believed.”

Verse 35

Serjeants ( ῥαβδούχους )

Lit., those who hold the rod. The Roman lictors. They were the attendants of the chief Roman magistrates.

“Ho, trumpets, sound a war-note!

He, lictors, clear the way!

The knights will ride, in all their pride,

Along the streets to day.”

Macaulay,Lays of Ancient Rome.

They preceded the magistrates one by one in a line. They had to inflict punishment on the condemned, especially on Roman citizens. They also commanded the people to pay proper respect to a passing magistrate, by uncovering, dismounting from horseback, and standing out of the way. The badge of their office was the fascesan axe bound up in a bundle of rods; but in the colonies they carried staves.

Those men


Verse 37

They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men that are Romans

Hackett remarks that “almost every word in this reply contains a distinct allegation. It would be difficult to find or frame a sentence superior to it in point of energetic brevity.” Cicero in his oration against Verres relates that there was a Roman citizen scourged at Messina; and that in the midst of the noise of the rods, nothing was heard from him but the words, “I am a Roman citizen.” He says: “It is a dreadful deed to bind a Roman citizen; it is a crime to scourge him; it is almost parricide to put him to death.

Verse 40

They went out

Note that Luke here resumes the third person, implying that he did not accompany them.


Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Acts 16:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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