Acts 16:16-34 - Paul and Silas in Philippi
16One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
The Acts of the Apostles: This book is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. In it, Luke describes, in graphic detail, the life of the early Christian movement. The stories describe a community of people transformed and empowered by their personal and corporate experiences of the risen Christ. Acts was probably written in the generation immediately following the fall of Jerusalem, the middle period of New Testament history. It is generally thought to have been written around 85 A.D. which would have been about 50 years after Jesus’ ministry. The book is concerned with the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. That is seen as the continuation and fulfillment of salvation history.
Philippi: Philippi was a Roman colony in the Greek province of Macedonia. Located about 8 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, Philippi was a center of agriculture known for its fresh water springs and gold mines. The city was founded in 360 BCE by King Philip of Macedonia to mine gold to finance his army. King Philip was the father of Alexander the Great. The town was located on a strategic road between Rome and Byzantium and was the site of the famous battle between Anthony and Octavian on the one side, and Brutus and Casius on the other. Anthony and Octavian won then eventually turned on each other. Octavian finally emerged the victor and became Caesar Augustus. Philippi was a military town in some ways more Roman than Rome. It’s citizens were considered citizens of Rome with all the rights and privileges. There were many religious influences in the area and most were tolerated unless they became too missionary and threatened the cult of the Emperor. Jews were not welcome in Philippi and few lived there. When Paul and Silas arrived on the field, it was their custom to go first to the synagogue. It takes 10 Jewish males to establish a synagogue and there was no synagogue in Philippi. A few Jewish women and other seekers gathered by the river to worship. It was there, with Lydia, that Paul made his first European converts. This mornings text records an incident filled with racial prejudice. It is an example of Christianity confronting pagan beliefs. The liberating and healing work of Christ is bad for business and upsetting to the status quo. Paul and Silas are jailed for disturbing the peace and spreading Jewish propaganda. Our text reminds us that the worst that the world has to offer is no match for the liberating power of God.
Vs. 16 – divination – This interesting word literally means python and was a name given to priestesses of Apollo at Delphi. When a person exhibited behavior which we might label mental illness (trances, babbling, ecstatic utterances etc.) people believed that their minds had been removed and the mind of a god had been placed in them. Therefore what they said was listened to carefully. Later the word came to be used for ventriloquists.
Vs. 17 – Most High God – In Hebrew El Elyon. Pagans commonly used this phrase of the God of Israel. This was the give away that Paul and Silas were Jews.
Salvation – this is the purposeful use of a pagan word, which in a Christian context is completely re-understood.
Vs. 18 – I order you in the name of Jesus – This was the common formula for exorcism.
Vs. 19 – Marketplace – this word often refers to the Courthouse Square.
Authorities – local municipal rulers
Vs. 20 – disturbing the city – The charges are vague. These are really trumped up charges with racial overtones. They are being arrested for being pushy Jews who don’t respect the status quo and are bad for business.
Vs. 23 – jailer – He would have been the governor of the jail, probably a centurion.
Vs. 24 – innermost cell – This would have been underground and more horrible than you can imagine.
Stocks – These were blocks of wood in the walls into which prisoners feet were locked.
Vs. 26 – This is the third miraculous escape from prison in Acts. Luke understood the risen Christ to be first and foremost a liberator.
Vs. 27 – kill himself – The jailer would have faced dishonor and execution for negligence.
Vs. 29 – rushing….trembling – This man is so upset he can’t think straight or even stand up.
Vs. 30 – What must I do to be saved? – This pagan jailer was probably still thinking about what he must do to avoid dishonor and execution. God’s answer is bigger than the immediate problem.
Vs. 31 – Believe – This is the essence of Paul’s theology. Believe means to trust as well as accept as reliable.
Vs. 33 – wounds – literally the stripes of raw flesh left by the beating with rods.
Vs. 34 – entire household – this practice shows baptism of a family upon the faith of its head. Eventually this lead to infant baptism. Baptism modes were not rigidly set at this time.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. In what ways do you observe people being abused for financial gain in our world?
2. What are the resources of faith that you use during times of trouble?
3. In what ways are we called to be “troublers of the city”?
4. How have you experienced release from bondage? How do you still need that release?