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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 16

 

 

Verse 1

1. Came he—Paul is now viewed by Luke as the man; Silas as his second, and Timothy will soon be his minister, as John Mark was once invited to be.

Derbe and Lystra—Leaving Antioch by crossing over the bridge of the Orontes, our apostle, with his new coadjutor, passes into his native Cilicia through what was called the Syrian Gates, being a narrow gorge between the mountains, affording the sole entrance. (See map.) His present mission at his native province done, he would pass out through the Taurus range by the Cilician Gates, another memorable gorge. He would then enter the great Lycaonian plain, and soon find his late founded Churches, commencing at the point of his former termination, Derbe.

Timotheus—(See note on Acts 14:20.)

A Greek—Though the law forbade a Jew to take strange or foreign wives, it was not stringent against a Jewess’ marrying a Gentile husband, like Esther.


Verses 1-8

2. Paul at Derbe and LystraTimothy calledThrough Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia, to Troas, Acts 16:1-8.

Paul now, with a companionship ready to second his own heroic spirit, starting from ANTIOCH, revisits his four posts of Christianity in Asia Minor, and then for awhile pauses, soon to plume himself for a bolder flight. He starts forth thence, Spirit-guided, and finds his way to the Hellespont, dividing the continents, and crosses over into Europe. He plants the first known Church in Europe. PHILIPPI in Macedonia, enjoys that imperishable precedence. Thence, cutting through Southern Greece, he visits ATHENS, the home of ancient classic genius, and CORINTH, the abode of the most voluptuous Grecian refinement. Thence returning, passing through Ephesus, he rallies back to the centre whence he took his first commission, and his second starting-point, ANTIOCH, Acts 18:22.


Verse 3

3. Man of Macedonia, and Crossing to Europe, Acts 16:9-12.


Verse 4

4. Decrees—Conclusions of the Council at Jerusalem; accepted as rules of compromise by all parties. Yet, by some strange reaction, it really took place that the Churches of Galatia, which Paul was now about to found, became Judaistic and almost apostate. (See his Epistle to the Galatians.)


Verse 6

6. Throughout Phrygia—The boundary lines of the provinces of Asia Minor were very vague, and by political changes constantly varying both in name and extent. Phrygia was an extensive range of territory, extended at great length east and west, lying on the north of Cilicia and Pisidia.

Galatia—Lying yet north of Phrygia. (See map.)

Forbidden of the Holy Ghost—By three separate monitions is Paul warned that his field is no longer Asia, but Europe. Two of these monitions are negative, warning him away; one is positive, inviting him onward.

Asia—To our modern ear this word covers the whole continent between Europe and the Pacific. The first known use of the word is in Homer, where the adjective Asian is applied to the meadows near Ephesus. Thence the term enlarged with the enlarged knowledge, by the Greeks, of the eastern regions. At first they distinguished Asia this side the Halys from Asia beyond the Halys. When the Romans conquered western Asia, and governed it by proconsuls, we have proconsular Asia, which included the provinces lining the AEgean, namely Mysia, Lydia, and Caria. The New Testament Asia, the Asia of John’s seven Churches, seems to have coincided with this.


Verse 6-7

6, 7. Our historian here passes hastily, and with large omissions, over an extensive ground of work and travel. Olshausen uniquely remarks that he is “impatient” to get to Europe! The real truth, we think, is, first, that Luke believed he had given a sufficient specimen of the Asiatic work in the former missionary tour; and, second, narrating, as we have maintained, the Gentilizing of the Church down to its establishment in Rome, he recognises the need of brevity in the Eastern field, and wisely hastens to the transit into Europe. There he forthwith deals in minute details and full pictures.


Verse 7

7. Come to Mysia—He had arrived, apparently, at the point where the corners of Phrygia, Mysia, and Bithynia meet. Not yet realizing the fulness of his European mission, Paul modestly makes the trial of Bithynia. But the spirit of Jesus (for such is now generally admitted to be the true reading) vetoes that step. His sole conclusion now points his inquiring way toward the Hellespont.


Verse 8

8. Passing by Mysia—The Spirit had forbidden them to preach in Asia, (in which Mysia was included,) but did not preclude their passing through without preaching. Paul from the Bithynian border bent his western course, probably to Adramyttium; thence, taking the Roman road along the gulf, in the regions of Mount Ida, comes down to the Hellespont at Alexandria Troas. Before him lie the waters that divide Asia from Europe. Divine warnings have bidden him away from Asia; shall he now cross the celebrated straits, and set his foot on European soil? Yonder lies the vast continent. First in order is Greece, brightened with points of a rare civilization; next comes Rome, the seat of empire; and central in Europe are the vast hives of barbarians, noble in race, the ancestors of modern Europe and of us, but as yet dividing the forests with the savage beasts. To the margin of this Europe, our apostle comes, charged with a mission pregnant with the hopes of modern civilization. To all his queries now comes a divine answer.


Verse 9

9. A vision—The Greek word does not indicate a dream, nor imply sleep, although these might be suggested by the phrase in the night.

A man of Macedonia—Macedonia is the Greek province on the European shore opposite Troas. It was the realm of Philip of Macedon, the subduer, in spite of eloquent Demosthenes, of classic Greece, and the father of Alexander the Great, conqueror of Asia. It was by crossing this same Hellespont that Alexander went upon his career of Asiatic conquest.

This man in Paul’s night vision is the impersonation, or the representative angel, of this same conquering European Macedon. Grotius holds him to have been the angel of that nation, like the “prince of the kingdom of Persia,” and the “Michael” of Israel in Daniel 10:13. Whether a real objective being or not, he is representative not so much of pagan Macedonia itself, as of the invisible Church of pagan Macedonia; that is, of the human souls in Europe’s moral twilight longing and struggling for the true light. (See our work on The Will, pp. 347-355.) Truly did such souls unconsciously call for Help! So Heber, in his beautiful missionary hymn, represents the cry of those who

Call us to deliver

Their land from error’s chain.”

Perhaps, indeed, this man is the Lord Jesus himself, identifying himself with the sighing sons of Macedon, longing to know the true way of salvation, (Acts 16:17,) and likely to embrace it when presented, as at Saul’s first call he identified himself with his persecuted saints; and now he completes the call then commenced of this same Paul to the Gentile mission.

Come over—Literally, crossing over, help us.


Verse 10

10. We—This is the first of what have been called “the we passages;” that is, passages where the use of the first person plural seems to indicate that the writer was present and engaged in the transactions. The passages are Acts 16:10-17; Acts 20:5-15; Acts 21:1-18; Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16. These passages indicate that Paul found Luke here at Troas, and retaining him as far as Philippi, there leaves him; and that six years afterward Luke again joins him at Philippi, passes with him to Jerusalem, and thence to Rome. The “we” is not in all this route uniformly used, for he still speaks of Paul in the third person in those transactions in which the writer himself is less or not at all included.

Called us for to preach—This us indicates that Luke was not only “the beloved physician,” and Paul’s “fellow-labourer,” and the most eminent historian of Christ and the Church, but that he was “called for to preach,” and so was a minister of the word. When he was left, therefore, by Paul at Philippi, there is no fair room to doubt that he was left as minister to the Churches in Macedonia. (See note on Acts 16:40, and Acts 20:1.)


Verse 11

11. Loosing from Troas—Directly before them lie the isles of the AEgean, celebrated by the genius of Homer, Tenedos, Lemnos, Imbros, and, farther to the northwest, the tall cliffs of Samothrace overlooking the others, and gazing upon the shore of Troas. By a brisk wind from the south, it must have been, that they were able to take a straight course to Samothrace, and to accomplish in two days their trip to Neapolis, which often takes five. Neapolis was a small marine town, (now called Cavallo,) too unimportant to detain the apostle, who had the large metropolis, Philippi, in view. And when Paul debarks at Neapolis, he sets his foot for the first time on the soil of Europe. From Neapolis, moving to the northwest, he ascends a mountain ridge, from which, in the rear, a beautiful view of the sea which they have crossed is spread before their eyes; while in front they behold the vast plain of PHILIPPI, where was fought one of the great decisive battles of the world.


Verse 12

12. The chief city—Literally, first city. Inasmuch as there is no Greek article before the phrase, it would most properly be translated, as Dr. Alexander suggests, a first city, or, “a first-class city” of that section.

A colony—A body of Roman citizens thither transferred, as a part of Rome itself, with all the rights of Roman citizenship. It proudly flaunted all the insignia of Rome. Its magistrates ambitiously bore the Roman titles, as we shall learn from Luke before his narrative is finished. The city itself aimed to be a miniature Rome. The Romans planted here were the soldiers of Antony, sent by Augustus. Of course, it would be a very serious thing here to violate the sacred person of a Roman.


Verse 13

13. On the sabbath—It is not clear that this was the first Saturday-Sabbath after their arrival at Philippi. That depends on the number of the certain days of Acts 16:12.

By a river side—Of the river Gangas or Gangatis, one of the tributaries of the Strymon, which is nineteen miles distant from Philippi.

Prayer—This may have been simply a customary locality of river side prayer, or there may have been a roofless enclosure, or there may have been a complete edifice. For each of these three were customary; and either would be designated by the same word, namely, a proseucha. (See note on Luke 6:12.) Biscoe says: “The seashore was esteemed by the Jews a place most pure, and, therefore, proper to offer up their prayers and thanksgivings to Almighty God. Philo tells us that the Jews of Alexandria, when Flaccus, the governor of Egypt, who had been their great enemy, was arrested by order of the emperor Caius, not being able to assemble at their synagogues, which had been taken from them, crowded out at the gates of the city early in the morning, went to the neighbouring shores, and, standing in a most pure place, with one accord lifted up their voices in praising God. Now (in Flac., p. 982, D.) Tertullian says that the Jews in his time, when they kept their great fasts, left their synagogues, and on every shore sent forth their prayers to heaven, (De Jejun. chap. 16;) and in another place, among the ceremonies used by the Jews, mentions orationes litorales, the prayers they made upon the shores. (Adv. Matthew 1:13.) And long before Tertullian’s time there was a decree made at Halicarnassus in favour of the Jews, which, among other privileges, allows them to say their prayers near the shore, according to the custom of their country. (Jos., Ant., XIV, 10-23.) It is hence abundantly evident that it was common with the Jews to choose the shore as a place highly fitting to offer up their prayers.”

Women… resorted—The very fact of there being this proseucha, and not a synagogue, (to which Paul would have gone had there been one,) proves the fewness of Jews. The unpopularity of Jews is indicated in Acts 16:20. Of Jews, how many soever there were, none but women were found at the place of prayer; and of those women, one was a foreigner and a proselyte, faithful, perhaps, when the birthright Jews were faithless. And to her the Gospel is to be an exceeding great reward.


Verses 13-40

First Church in EuropePhilippi, Acts 16:13-40.

At Philippi Paul is on the great EGNATIA VIA, or Egnatian Way. This grand thoroughfare, the work of Rome, can be traced upon the map as starting from Cypsela on the Hebrus, and cutting across the entire extent of northern Macedonia, through the great cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Edessa, and terminating at Dyrrachium, on the western coast. Thence a ferriage over sea brought the traveller to Brundusium, on the coast of Italy, and thence the great Appian Way would bring him to the gates of Rome. The Egnatian Way was the nearest approximation the world had yet made to our great railway route across a continent, from New York to San Francisco.


Verse 14

14. Named Lydia—A personal name, often used, derived from the name of the province of Lydia.

Seller of purple—(See note on Luke 16:19.)

Thyatira—The purple traffic in this region was earlier than Homer, and women were the purplers. By the great Roman roads the traffic between Thyatira was, at this time, easy; and inscriptions are still extant describing the trade as it once existed.

Worshipped—In this piety Lydia was remarkably distinguished from the women of her country. Wetstein gives repeated passages from Greek writers affirming that Lydian women were unchaste, all.


Verse 15

15. And her household—There are too many instances of household baptism following forthwith upon the faith of the householder not to justify the belief that it was just such a consequence in the family as circumcision would have been in case of an induction into Judaism. Dr. Schaff well argues, quoting the well-known passages: “Acts 10:2; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 16:15; Acts 16:30-33; Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 16:15. In none of these places, it is said, are children expressly mentioned, and the families concerned might possibly have consisted entirely of adults. But this is, even in itself, exceedingly improbable, since we have here, not one case only, but five, and these given merely as examples, whence we may readily infer that there were many others. A glance at any neighbourhood will show that families without children are the exceptions, not the rule. But, besides, it is hardly conceivable that all the adult sons and daughters in these five cases so quickly determined on going over with their parents to a despised and persecuted religious society; whereas, if we suppose the children to have been still young, and therefore entirely under paternal authority, the matter presents no difficulty at all.”

Come—With perfect Christian purity she invites these holy men, while remaining, to sojourn at her house; that, free of charge, they may propagate the Gospel among its inhabitants.


Verse 16

16. Went to prayer—Went to the proseucha, probably on the following day. But the pythoness repeated this, following the apostles many days, (Acts 16:18.)

Spirit of divination—Literally, a spirit of Python. Python was the name of an ancient mythical earth-born dragon or snake, which in oldest antiquity existed at the Delphic cave in Greece, and gave oracles to men. The god Apollo, son of Zeus or Jupiter, (so says the legend,) slew Python, and became himself the oracular god. Hence he was called Pythian Apollo; and the female priestess who, sitting upon the tripod, over the vapour ascending from the cave, gave prophetic utterance with agitation and frenzy, was called a pythoness. This Delphic oracle, with its pythoness and predictions, was in the zenith of its reputation when the states of Greece were in the zenith of their glory. Princes, statesmen, and philosophers alike reverenced the inspiration of Delphos. But when Christ came, so agreed both pagans and Christians, the oracles became dumb.

But there was no cessation of strolling professional pythons and pythonesses. Generally they were ventriloquists, speaking with deceptive articulations, who, claiming to be possessed with the god, uttered responses from the gastric regions without moving the lips. Whether the maiden thus spoke gastrically is not clear. But when it is said that she had a spirit of Python the words imply possession.

Her masters—Her showmen or exhibiters.

Soothsaying—Uttering predictions as a mantis or pagan prophet.


Verse 17

17. Servants… most high God—Parallel to this are the testimonies of the demons to Christ in Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7. It is as if the inferior and infernal did by a spontaneous necessity confess and do compulsory homage to the superior and divine. And as the cases are similar, so the conduct of Jesus and Paul are similar. They allow the demon to make his necessitated confession, as if to confound the demoniac side, but do not accept the testimony as congenial or worthy. Christ wants no demon-preachers.

Way of salvation—Secular men cannot indulge usually in language so spiritual; but the demons knew the full force of spiritual phraseology. The devils believe and tremble. Yet in this us of the demon there is either a mockery, or the damsel is able to impose a tinge of her own thought into her demoniac utterances.

Salvation—Either from Jews, or from the teachings of the apostles, the meaning of the term salvation had become known both to the pythoness and to the jailer, Acts 16:30.


Verse 18

18. Many days—During which the apostles went to the proseucha, at the river side. Thereby we understand that the Gospel was for a length of time dispensed; a Philippian Church was being formed, and the doctrine of the way of salvation had so rung through the city that when the masters at last appealed to the populace against them as introducers of a new religion the mob was cognizant and ready to spring.

Come out… he came out— The language of both Paul and Luke implies beyond question that a foreign being possessed her frame. This case may answer the question, How is it that demoniac possession is unknown out of Palestine and out of the time of our Saviour’s life? Underlying all the falsehood and deception of heathen myths and oracles, there was a demoniac element. In the frenzy of the bacchanals, the corybantes, and the pythonesses, there was a true possession, modified by the nature of that dispensation. (See specially our note on Mark 5:2.)


Verse 19

19. Gains were gone—An irremediable change had taken place in the girl, showing both power in the apostle and a previous involuntary condition in her. So impressed was the apostolic superiority over the infernal or the pagan that we wonder not that a Church of intense faith arose in Philippi, as we shall find to have been the fact by reading Paul’s most rich and loving EPISTLE to the Philippians. But, alas for these traders in oracles! they are unable to conjure another response from their pythoness.

Drew them—As a plaintiff by ancient law was entitled to drag his defendant.

Marketplace—The agora or forum, where legal business was transacted by the magistrates.

Rulers—The city was, forsooth, a Roman colonia; the dignity of the Roman law was to be maintained, and the magistrates wore the very titles of a true Roman magistracy.


Verse 20

20. Magistrates—The pretors, for so the duumviri, or twin magistrates, claimed to be called. Saying—It was difficult to frame a charge against them. Had a pig been stolen from them there was law in their behalf, but no compensation for a lost demon. To have restored the unhappy maid from her unhappy condition—fit emblem of the salvation she ascribed to them—was a beneficent deed which Roman justice could adjudge to be no crime.

These men—But a mob, with a magistrate to match, will be at no loss for a charge against their common victim.

Being Jews… being Romans— Here is an antithesis amply sufficient to start a temper, and the deeds will easily be supplied with a pretext. The Jews had lately been expelled from Rome as troublers of that city; and why should not this proud little Macedonian image of Rome enact the same measure?


Verse 21

21. Customs… not lawful—Roman law did by most solemn sanctions decree that to the magistrates it should pertain to forbid all foreign rites, and banish all priestlings, (sacrificulos,) and prophets or preachers, from the forum, circus, or city; and should abolish every sacrificial institute not established by ancient Roman custom. All who imported new or unrecognised religions, whether in doctrine or ceremony, by which men’s minds were disturbed, should be punished, the nobler by banishment, the humbler by death. Such was the law our apostles were bound to face.


Verse 22

22. Multitude… magistrates—These Philippians would be no true Romans, their illustrious colonia would be no true miniature of the eternal city, if all the blood in their veins was not now in a magnificent tumult.

Rent… clothes… beat—No time is taken to examine witnesses, or to try the case of the arraigned; no words are they allowed to utter. What need when all parties, except the prisoners, are agreed? Yet this broke the very letter of the Roman law, which declared, as Cicero says, Cognita causa, possunt multi absolvi; incognita, nemo condemnari potest—”The case being heard, many can be acquitted; unheard, none can be condemned.”

The usual sentence after this was concisely and majestically Roman: Summove lictor, despolia, verbera—”Take lictor, strip, scourge.” The wording of this verse, which places the stripping before the commanding, would certainly suggest that the two magistrates on the present occasion did, in the excitement of the moment, perform the lictor’s office so far as

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stripping was concerned. Nothing but our respect for the Roman magistracy prevents this construction.

To beat them—”Happy for us,” says Howson, “that few modern countries know, by the example of a similar punishment, what a Roman scourging was!” The Roman sense of justice was systematic, firm, and high, but in its inflictions needing the gentleness which a true Christianity alone can inspire.

We must not figure this prison after the shape of a modern house or jail, but, according to our cuts, imagine a quadrangular structure enclosing a roofless square yard or court, or courts within. The prison cells are in the ground story, and the jailer resides in an upper story. There is probably a well or fountain in the court. The inner prison may be a subterranean cell in the court. More probably it is the inner row of cells of the ground story which lines the court.


Verse 23

23. Many stripes… into prison—Showing how intense anger demanded cruel satisfaction. What had raised it? A quiet worship and religious teaching at the Jewish proseucha by the river side; a poor girl relieved from demoniac paroxysms.

Howson illustrates this inner prison by that “dungeon in the court of the prison,” into which Jeremiah was let down with cords, and where he “sunk in the mire.” “They were cells, damp and cold, from which the light was excluded, and where the chains rusted on the limbs of the prisoners.”


Verse 24

24. Feet fast in the stocks—The stocks were a wooden frame, often iron-bound, into which the limbs were fastened so as to be immovable. The feet, hands, or neck might be so cramped as to fill the body with weariness and pain.


Verse 25

25. Midnight—When perfect exhaustion from scourge and stocks might have been expected.

Praises unto God—For the high privilege of suffering for Christ. Here, as in the case of Stephen, the joy of the martyr in suffering was displayed for an example to all who should suffer. So by glorious suffering the cause of a suffering Master should triumph. Herein the moral glory of Christianity is unsurpassable. No higher attainment can humanity gain than the power to suffer for righteousness.

Prisoners heard them—God meant this midnight song not only for the sufferers’ joy, but for the prisoners’ hearing. Let men know how Jesus is glorified in the exultation of his martyrs.


Verse 26

26. And suddenly—What sense, says the Rationalist, in a miracle here where it accomplishes nothing which might not have been attained without one? We reply, with Baumgarten, that the miracle was a true, illustrious, and necessary “Divine Sign,” confirming the apostles in the reality of the divine invitation, from the man of Macedonia, of Christianity into Europe. And Baumgarten also plausibly shows that this whole scene was a symbol and a shadow of the future history of Christianity in Europe. Philippi, as a colonia, is an image, ambitiously so, of the Roman pagan power. She opens the first Gentile persecution against the Church, emblem of the pagan persecution for four centuries. For three centuries the martyred Church sings her songs of triumph in the midnight, the bloodshed, and the stocks. Yet the very foundations of that inner structure are shaken, and by the very majesty of the secular power is the Church at last enfranchised.

A great earthquake—The voice of God answers to the voice of man; the earthquake responds to the hymn. The σεισμος was so much an earthquake as a prison-quake. It was not from below, but from above, as truly as the pentecostal house-shaking. It was not, therefore, a mere indiscriminate jar and crash, but a distinct and specific act of the divine volition by which the foundations of the prison were shaken, the prison doors were flung open, and the fetters all sprung, while the power-bound limbs of the prisoners were unable to escape. Doubtless the city and the magistrates heard and were awed by the concussion; for even the ancient pagan recognised in the earthquake the movement of God. The solemn echoes of the apostles’ preaching had for many days been resounding through the city, convictions and misgivings had disturbed the public heart, and it may be saintly supposed that this immediately following sign should dismay the consciences of the guilty inhabitants and magistrates.


Verse 27

27. Keeper… awaking—Luke omits his rising and hurrying to the prison cells with a dim torch for examination. He has seen at a glance that the doors are open, and hastily concludes that all have fled. He is before the open cell of Paul more visible, by the light of his own torch, to Paul than Paul to him.

Drew out his sword—He forthwith determines to forestall a worse fate by suicide. “By the Roman law,” says Howson, “the jailer was to undergo the same punishment which the malefactors who escaped by his negligence were to have suffered.” From the escape of the apostles alone he may not have dreaded death; but with how many deaths may not the escape of all the prisoners have overwhelmed him!


Verse 28

28. But Paul—Master of the situation here as ever.

Do thyself no harm—A memorable caution, which Christianity addresses, not only to this desperate purposer of suicide, but to every man who is ruining himself by sin, whether in health, in estate, in body, in intellect, in soul. All sinners are suicides, cruel to themselves, relentless upon their own natures.


Verse 29

29. Called for a light—More truly, called for lights, plural. He must have already had light sufficient to have learned the state of things. He now calls upon the servants to bring lights to restore the prison to order while he proceeds to bring the apostles from their inner cell.

Sprang in—Into the cell, where Paul and Silas were.

Trembling—The jailer at once recognises that God has testified for these men as his own ministers and messengers by the terrible shaking he has given the prison. He recognises his own guilt in being the instrument of the magistrates in violating the sacredness of their persons. He fell down before Paul and Silas, not worshipping them as gods, but, like the pythoness, recognising them as the showers of the way of salvation, salvation, namely, from divine justice.


Verse 30

30. Brought them out—From the inner prison, or interior rows’ of cells. He may have brought them into the hall or aisle between the inner and outer rows of cells. The other prisoners probably remained within their cells, as none appear to have escaped, and to none does the word seem to have been preached.

Be saved—Those who make the jailer ask how he shall be saved from punishment for the escape of his prisoners, forget that his prisoners were all safe. Perhaps they forget, too, that the jailer resided in Philippi, where Christian doctrine had been preached many days, (Acts 16:18,) where even the pythoness knew and daily testified that these men showed the way of salvation, and where the whole city knew that they proclaimed a new religion. How the apostles understood the question is shown by their answer.


Verse 31

31. Believe—And what a mighty amount did that word believe embrace in its simple self! Become a full believer in Christ here in pagan Roman Philippi! It meant full self-surrender, in face of whatever persecution, of body, soul, and spirit, of life, name, and history, over to Christ. Yet, instantly, completely, and probably forever, was this great revolution of soul completed! Even here faith, justification, and inner regeneration by the effusion of the Spirit, preceded and were the condition of the external regeneration by the affusion of baptism.

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And thy house—The apostle to all appearance says this, unknowing whether the jailer had infants or adult offspring. If the former, they were brought under that recognised salvation which both the Old and New Testament presupposes for infants within the nursery of the Church. Their condition under the old dispensation would have been realized forthwith by circumcision; and, by parity, under the new, by baptism. Through Christ the infant is a true member of the spiritual Church; baptism is the visible recognition of that membership.


Verse 32

32. Spake unto him—The apostles lengthened their reply to the jailer’s earnest question by explaining to him in the briefest words the way of salvation. The lights had been brought, and naturally his whole family gather around him and the apostle standing in the hall, so that the word reaches all that were in his house, but not all that were in the prison.


Verse 33

33. He took them—From among the cells, as we conceive, into the court, where the well or fountain often was.

The same hour of the night— Unseasonable as it may have seemed.

Washed their stripes—The word ελουσεν probably signifies a plentiful application of water in successive parts to their entire persons. The vessels in the vestibules of the ancient churches for washing hands were called λουτηρες; the water in pitchers for purifying brides by sprinkling was called λουτρον; the boy who brought it was called λουτροφορος? and a bath wash-basin is called a λουτηριον, pp. 208-211. In all these cases λουω signifies the application of water to the person.

Baptized—It can hardly be supposed that so many persons should be successively immersed at midnight in the same well, fountain, or tank. Nor could they all have gone down to the river, for Paul’s message to the magistrates (Acts 16:37) clearly implies that he had not left the prison limits. Smith’s “Dictionary of Classical Antiquities.” p. 148, has the following words: “The word baptisterium is not a bath sufficiently large to immerse the whole body, but a vessel or labrum containing cold water for pouring over the head,” p. 336. As this present baptism was performed by one Roman citizen upon another, the passage is in point. There is the purifying of the body and the purifying of the soul reciprocally applied.


Verse 34

34. Brought them—The Greek word signifies brought them up: implying that his house was above the prison. All the previous transactions have been below. Rejoiced, πανοικι, whole-housely. Such is the expressive Greek word. And whether these were infants or not, we are to recollect how completely by the Hebrew law, and still more by the Roman law, the family was identified with its head. When Abraham entered into faith with God (Genesis 17:23) he “took Ishmael, his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male, etc., and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the self-same day.” Still more by the Roman law was the personality of the family lost in the father, who could scourge, sell, or execute them at pleasure. Hence, we cannot fairly understand the various phrases here, thy name, Acts 16:31; in his house, Acts 16:32; all his, Acts 16:33; whole-housely, Acts 16:34; otherwise than that all were as infants, with their faith actually submitted to and contained in his faith, under the assumption that all were hereafter to be taught, discipled, and saved in the Christian religion.


Verse 35

35. When it was day—We can easily conceive that after such a day of crime, and such a night of terror, the guilty magistrates, even without any intelligence from the jailer, would be oppressed with fearful misgivings. Their course had broken the Roman law, and degraded their own Roman official dignity. They wish the past undone and their victims well away.

Sergeants—Literally, rod-bearers, sheriffs, or constables, who performed judicial orders, called by the Romans lictors. The provincial lictors carried a bundle of rods as their ensign of office; the lictors at Rome bore rods and axes, implements, for scourging and beheading.

Those men—Words indicative not so much of contempt, as some suppose, as of an awkward feeling of having two unwelcome cases on their hands.


Verse 36

36. Keeper… told this—While the keeper reports the message to Paul the lictors are waiting the reply. They afterward told (Acts 16:38) Paul’s words (reported to them by the jailer) to the magistrates.


Verse 37

37. Beaten us… Romans—The memorable oratory of Cicero against Verres has universally diffused the knowledge of the fact that the exclamation! “I am a Roman citizen!” exempted the legal utterer from stripes, the punishment of slaves. By the Porcian law the body of a Roman citizen was sacred from stripes or the power of a lictor.

Uncondemned— A second violation of law in the same act. And this fact of their allowing of no trial and no hearing deprived them of all plea of ignorance of Paul’s citizenship. It is a difficult question to decide how Paul, being a Jew, became a Roman; that is, endowed with the rights of a citizen of Rome. This right could at some periods be purchased, and some Jews did purchase it on account of its great protective convenience, but Paul “was freeborn,” Acts 22:27-28. Nor did it arise from his being a Tarsean, for in spite of that known fact (Acts 21:39) the chief captain was ready to scourge him. Tarsus was, by favour of Augustus, “a free city;” that is, under allegiance to Rome it was allowed to choose its own magistrates, pass its own laws, and govern itself; yet this did not endow its inhabitants individually with the immunities of a Roman citizen. His father was such a citizen, it may be, by purchase, or by some public service. There, indeed, is a third supposition. A slave, if emancipated within the city of Rome, became thereby a citizen. Now, as it happens, the Roman general, Cassius, offended at the hostility of Tarsus, sold a large number of the inhabitants into slavery at Rome, and of these Paul’s father may have been one. When Cassius was conquered at Philippi the enslaved Tarsians were emancipated, and thus Paul’s father may have been enfranchised, and Paul “free-born.”


Verse 38

38. Feared, when they heard—But how is it that they were struck with panic at the mere claim by Paul of citizenship? It was, first, because they had already sad misgivings that they had violated the persons of holy men whose word was sacred; and, second, because to make such a claim falsely was punishable with death and confiscation.


Verse 39

39. Came and besought—They are now at the feet of the men whose backs they had scourged without law. And the merciful conduct of these two holy men is full proof that personal revenge or pride has no share in this firm claim of their civic rights. It is the holy cause embodied in their person which prompts them to assert their own dignity.

To depart—Much as the Gadarenes prayed Jesus to quit their coasts. A sense of their own disgrace prompts them to desire the departure of those who are its authors and reminders.


Verse 40

40. They… departed—The use of the third person indicates that Luke was left at Philippi. While Paul and Silas, as leaders, are assailed by the opposers, and shut in prison. Timothy and Luke retire to the house of Lydia. When the chiefs depart with Timothy, Luke is left at Philippi, as Silas and Timothy unquestionably are at Berea, Acts 16:14. That Luke was left to care for the Church for the ensuing six years we have already (Acts 16:10) shown reason to believe. His skill as a physician, his thorough knowledge of the Christ-history, his gentleness and holy character, would all combine to establish Christianity in Macedonia. Luke, Lydia, and the jailer may be well supposed to have largely contributed to make the Church of Philippi that loving and holy communion which Paul in his epistle describes it. When Paul, coming into Macedonia, visited Philippi, and thence wrote his second epistle, beyond all doubt the author of the third Gospel was the brother “whose praise is in the Gospel, throughout all the Churches,” by whose hand that epistle was sent. 2 Corinthians 8:18.

Departed—Deliberately the apostles go out of the prison, pause to return their thanks and adieus to their hostess, Lydia, and then depart in peace, and in genuine, though unostentatious, triumph. In all this scene of suffering and trial Luke and Timothy, as mere attendants, are unmolested.

And now, on the dark shores of Europe the first candle is lighted! There may, indeed, already be the elements of a Church formed at Rome by accidental Christian comers, (probably dispersed, however, by imperial decree—see note on Acts 18:2.) but as the landing of scattered old Northmen on the icy shores of Northern America does not invalidate the fame of Columbus as the discoverer of the continent, so the unknown beginnings at Rome cannot weaken the claim of Paul as the founder of Christian Europe. From Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (which should always be read in connexion with this narrative) we learn that their candle did continue to burn most brightly.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 16:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-16.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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