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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Acts 16

This chapter has the continuation of the second missionary tour, relating the revisiting of Lystra and Derbe (Acts 16:1-5), the Macedonian call (Acts 16:6-10), the conversion of Lydia and others in Philippi (Acts 16:11-15), the healing of the demoniac girl (Acts 16:16-18), beating and imprisonment of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:19-24), earthquake and conversion of the jailer (Acts 16:25-33), and the concluding of their efforts in Philippi, in which Paul and Silas receive the apology of the authorities, are released, and depart from Philippi after seeing the brethren (Acts 16:35-40).


 
Verses 1, 2
And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra; and behold a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewess that believed; but his father was a Greek. The same was well reported of by brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.

REVISITING LYSTRA AND DERBE

Paul's being stoned at Lystra on the first tour was not an indication of failure, because out of that tragic experience glorious fruit of the gospel appeared. On his second return to Lystra, Paul was rewarded by the emergence of a young convert who was destined to be a faithful companion of the great apostle, and whose name would adorn two of the 27 New Testament books. These verses reveal the good reputation of Timothy, not only in his home community of Lystra, but also in the more important city of Iconium as well.

Mother was a Jewess ...
Her name was Eunice, Timothy's grandmother (Eunice's mother) being Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). Luke did not give the names, since he was primarily concerned with the racial problem relating to the circumcision of Timothy. Despite the fact of Timothy's father being a Greek, Eunice had reared him in the Hebrew faith; and, in this circumstance, Paul decided to circumcise him.


 
Verse 3
Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those parts: for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

To go forth with him ...
Paul, seeing in this promising young man the qualities which would commend him to the work of a missionary, decided to take him along on the journey.

Circumcised him ...
This was not for the purpose of enabling Timothy to become a Christian, for that he already was, having obeyed the gospel on the first tour. Neither was it for the purpose of admitting Timothy into any higher fellowship, or any more abundant grace; the reason for it being simply the one bluntly stated: "because of the Jews that were there."

For they all knew his father was a Greek ...
This is to explain the anticipated objections from Jews. Knowing Timothy's father was a Greek, they would have assumed that Timothy had never been circumcised. Furthermore, they would have raised trouble for Paul over that issue wherever possible; and therefore, purely as a matter of expediency, Paul met it by the circumcision of Timothy. Those who have accused Paul of inconsistency in this, in the light of his adamant refusal to circumcise Titus (Galatians 2:3), have failed to discern the essential differences in the two situations. Titus, a Greek (thought by some to be Luke's brother), had no Jewish connection whatever; and there could have been no excuse at all for circumcising him, except, as the Pharisee Christians demanded, that of making his circumcision a precondition of salvation; and that Paul never for a moment allowed.


 
Verse 4
And as they went on their way through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to keep, which had been ordained of the apostles and elders that were at Jerusalem.

The essential message of those decrees was that Gentiles were not to be burdened by circumcision and law-keeping; and by providing copies of them for the young churches, Paul protected them against the devices of the Judaizers. This was the position Paul had required the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to accept. Even the four prohibitions regarding idols, fornication, blood and things strangled were grounded not in the law of Moses primarily, but in God's teachings which antedated the Mosaic covenant (Genesis 9:3-5).


 
Verse 5
So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

Having been freed, for the time being, from the troublesome insistence of the Judaizers, the churches prospered spiritually and numerically. The issue, however, was not dead; the Pharisee-Christians would trouble the whole world of that day by their efforts to subvert Christianity by mixing elements of Judaism with it; and the issue would not be effectively removed until the armies of Vespasian and Titus removed the Jewish state, the daily sacrifices, and the temple itself in 70 A.D., a full twenty years later. The books of Hebrews and Romans were addressed, in part, to this very issue; and Galatians, written about this time (50 A.D.), is full of it.

How strange it is that the Judaizers have never disappeared. Even now, nearly two millenniums afterward, the Judaizers are still in business: (1) attempting to bind sabbath-observance on Christians, (2) dragging instruments of music into the worship (even though David himself was condemned for that), (3) devising daily "sacrifices," such as that of the Mass, (4) ordaining a "priesthood" separate from the "laity," (5) the lighting of sacred candles, (6) the requirement of certain periods of official, formal fasts, and (7) the imposition of diet restrictions, etc., etc.


 
Verse 6
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.

THE MACEDONIAN CALL

Phrygia and Galatia ...
The exact boundaries of these cannot certainly be known, due to the dual usage of the term "Galatia," the view preferred here being that the churches of south Galatia (the larger Roman province) which Paul had founded on the first tour were again revisited in this. It is only fair, however, to note that Lightfoot and many others suppose that the more restricted meaning of "Galatia" as applied to the country north of those churches was at this point visited and evangelized by Paul.

Here they suppose Paul was delayed by illness (Galatians 4:13), and seized the opportunity of preaching and founding numerous Celtic or Gallic churches which are nowhere mentioned in the book of Acts. F1

Forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia ...
The word "Asia" here does not refer to the continent, but to the Roman province of that name which lay west of the cities evangelized in south Galatia on the first tour. In it were the great city of Ephesus, and also the other cities mentioned in Revelation: Sardis, Smyrna, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Pergamum, and Thyatira. It was only natural that Paul should have planned to evangelize those places, but the Holy Spirit forbade him.

How did this prohibition come to Paul? Was it some subjective impression borne inward upon his soul by God's Spirit, or did it come in the direct words of some recognized prophet in the early church? In the light of Luke's own explanation in Acts 20:23 and Acts 21:10, the latter possibility seems the correct one.


 
Verses 7, 8
And when they came over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not. And passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

Mysia ...
was at the northern border between Asia and Bithynia; but when Paul would have passed through Asia into Bithynia, he was again forbidden by the Spirit of God. For more on Troas, see under Acts 20:5.

Spirit of Jesus ...
The Spirit of Jesus is here recognized as exactly the same as the Spirit of God, indicating forcefully that the full deity and godhead of Jesus Christ was fully accepted and received by the Christians at that mid-point of the first century. Plumptre stresses the dogmatic importance of this verse as:

Confirming the doctrine that the Holy Spirit stands in the same relationship to the Son as to the Father, and may therefore be spoken of either as the Spirit of God, or of Christ (Romans 8:9), or of Jesus. F2


 
Verses 9, 10
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There was a man of Macedonia standing, beseeching Paul, and saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And when he had seen the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel unto them.

A vision ...
Here is an instance in which God evidently spoke to Paul subjectively, by means of a vision; but the element of uncertainty persists in the fact that they "concluded" that God's message was in the vision, making the decision to rest, in part, upon their deduction, and not as being based on a firm command of the Father.

Regarding the prohibitions which had been placed in Paul's way, forbidding his preaching in Asia and then in Bithynia, and the natural deduction from themselves that they should not return to lands already evangelized, and all this coupled with the instance of Paul's vision; it is not amiss to discover in the providential guidance thus given Paul a substantial amount of deliberate judgment and common sense; nor does this deny the fact that God actually guided them; it is the manner of his doing so which is apparent here.

Straightway we sought to go into Macedonia ...
Here surfaces the first of the famous "we" passages of Acts, indicating that at Troas Luke became a member of Paul's company. Boles understood this passage as teaching that Luke was already a preacher of the gospel to the Gentiles, basing it on the following:

Concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel unto them ...
By the use of "us," Luke showed that "He included himself with Paul, Silas and Timothy as preachers of the gospel." F3

Further comment on Luke is made in the introduction to his Gospel in my Commentary on Luke, pp. 3-6.


 
Verses 11, 12
Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a straight course to Samothrace, and the day following to Neapolis; and from thence to Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, the first of the district, a Roman colony: and we were in this city tarrying certain days.

No mention is made of Paul's preaching in Troas at this time; yet, a bit later, there is revealed to have been a church there (Acts 20:5). Was that church the result of Luke's preaching? Given the implied fact of Luke's being a preacher of the gospel and the usual reticence of the sacred writers to speak of themselves, it may be supposed that he founded the Troas church, but this is not certain.

Straight course to Samothrace ...
This journey in a single day was possible because of a favoring wind; because, "on a later occasion (Acts 20:6), a voyage from Philippi to Troas took five days." F4

Neapolis ...
means "Newtown"; and they continued there from Samothrace, as Neapolis afforded a more favorable route to Philippi.

Philippi ... the first of the district ... a Roman colony ...
It is somewhat difficult to know exactly what is indicated by these words. Some have concluded that by "first of the district" Luke meant the most important town in the district, others supposing that it means merely that this was the first city they came to in their journey inland. Arguments may be cited to prove either viewpoint; and perhaps it was both.

PHILIPPI

From the standpoint of Christianity, this is not merely the first of the district, but the first of Europe, for it was here that the gospel message was planted by means of the conversions related in this chapter. The congregation which developed there was very dear to Paul, and to them he addressed the book of Philippians.

Historically, it was founded by Philip of Macedon and controlled the gold mines of Pangaeus, F5 thus providing the financial muscle to propel the armies of Alexander the Great to world conquest. The Romans possessed the city following the battle of Pydna, 168 B.C.; and it was here that Brutus and Cassius were defeated by Antony and Octavian in 42 B.C. F6 On January 17, 27 B.C., the Roman Senate conferred on this Octavian the title of Augustus Caesar. F7 Philippi was made a Roman colony with many privileges, notably that of citizenship, and was provided with military roads and fortifications. The Egnatian Way, a famous Roman road, passed from Philippi due south some eight miles to the port of Neapolis. F8


 
Verse 13
And on the sabbath day we went forth without the gate by a river side, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down, and spake unto the women that were come together.

On the sabbath day ...
There was no synagogue in Philippi, but whatever Jews might have been in the area could have been expected to observe prayers on the sabbath, and the preachers "supposed" such a place of prayer to be a certain site on the river's edge. If Luke had been a citizen of Philippi, as many have believed, it is rather strange that he would not have known certainly of this place of prayer. Bruce commented that "From this time Luke apparently spent some years in Philippi." F9 The fact of there having been no synagogue means that there were fewer than ten Jewish men living in Philippi, that being the number required before a synagogue could be built. F10 In the absence of a synagogue, the Jews often provided places of prayer by the rivers, or other suitable locations, the custom of going to the rivers for these sites dating from the Babylonian captivity. "Claudius had banished the Jews from Rome and therefore from the colonies (Acts 18:2), and it may be that Philippi had obeyed this order." The river in this case was the Gangites.


 
Verse 14
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul.

Lydia, a seller of purple ...
An expensive purple dye, made of the murex shell, was one of the most valuable commodities of antiquity; and Lydia's engaging in trade of such a product surely indicates some considerable capital. This was the dye that gave rise to the words "royal purple," suggested by the fact that royalty and the extremely rich were the principal purchasers of it.

Of Thyatira ...
What a strange providence is this that, whereas Paul had been forbidden to preach in the province of Asia, in which Thyatira was located, it was nevertheless a citizen of Thyatira who became the first European convert. (Rome of course had many Christians, but it was in character as the great central metropolis of the empire, and not as being in the usual sense European.)

One that worshiped God ...
These words emphasize the deeply religious character of Lydia.

Whose heart the Lord opened to give heed ...
The obvious means by which God opened the heart of Lydia was that of preaching the gospel to her. Since God gave the gospel, the results produced by it were properly said to be God's action. There is not the slightest suggestion in this place that any fiat on God's part, or any direct action of the Holy Spirit, performed any kind of operation whatever upon Lydia, independently of the word of the gospel proclaimed to her.


 
Verse 15
And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

And when she was baptized ...
As DeWelt observed:

The New Testament conversions all end with the baptism of the convert. Not with their prayer experience but with their baptism; not with their testimony, but with their baptism. F11

And why was she baptized? Because the commandment thus to obey the Lord was included in the preaching of these who spoke unto her the word of salvation, there being no other reasonable explanation of why she was baptized.

And her household ...
The allegation that this household included infants is denied by the earlier statements that the evangelists "spake unto the women that were come together" (Acts 16:13), thus making it mandatory to find Lydia's household in that group of women. The household baptisms of the New Testament afford no support whatever for the notion that infants should be baptized.

She constrained us ...
It is not likely that Paul and company would have accepted any casual invitation to accept accommodations provided by the devout Lydia; however, the manner in which she put the invitation, coupled with her insistence upon it, constrained them. They would not long remain, however; for events would shortly occur which would thrust Paul forward on his journey.


 
Verses 16, 17, 18
And it came to pass, as we were going to the place of prayer, that a certain maid having a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying. The same following after Paul and us cried out, saying, These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim unto you the way of salvation. And this she did for many days. But Paul, being sore troubled, turned and said to the spirit, I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And it came out that very hour.

As we were going to the place of prayer ...
Evidently, Paul and company made daily visits to the place of prayer. This caught the attention of the demoniac girl; and, for some time, she made a habit of following them and crying out an endorsement of their message.

Spirit of divination ...
The Greek here has "A Python spirit," thus Luke identified this unfortunate girl as one coming from the pagan temple at Delphi, where the Pythian Apollo was worshiped, the python being sacred to him, and his devotees being said to have the python spirit. Luke's identification of this girl with that pagan establishment contains no suggestion whatever of any validity in their outlandish claims. Rather, Paul's addressing the "spirit" in her clearly indicates exactly the same kind of demon possession so often healed by our Lord.

Servants of the Most High God ...
The Gerasene demoniacs used this same expression regarding Jesus (Mark 5:7), this speech of the girl thus proving the fact of her being possessed by a demon.

Paul being sore troubled ...
Paul's problem was simple, but difficult as well. The slave-masters who were exploiting this alleged soothsayer were making a lot of money out of her. They knew she was a fraud, else they would have believed it when she identified Luke and Paul and company as servants of the Most High God showing the right way of salvation. Paul therefore knew that if he cast the demon out of her, there would be a sharp conflict with the evil men who owned her. He delayed acting as long as he properly could, hoping perhaps that she would desist; but when she continued, Paul cast the demon out. He, even as the Lord, could not afford an endorsement of one so clearly evil; and furthermore, any sign or miracle that Paul might have performed would have been seized upon by the masters of the girl in an effort to exploit such to their own benefit.


 
Verse 19
And when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they laid hold on Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.

McGarvey, and others, have pointed out a somewhat humorous pun in Luke's Greek at this place. He said, "That when the evil spirit WENT OUT, the masters saw that the hope of their gain WENT OUT." F12

The retaliation Paul had evidently feared took place at once.


 
Verses 20, 21
And when they had brought them unto the magistrates, they said, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive, or to observe, being Romans.

This action was founded on racial hatred, supported by falsehood, aggravated by physical violence on the part of the accusers. The words "rulers" in Acts 16:19 and "magistrates" in Acts 16:20 refer to the same officials, the marketplace corresponding to the forum in Rome. There were two of these magistrates (duumvirs) corresponding to the consuls at Rome. Such officials often "received the courtesy title of `praetors,' which is the title Luke used here." F13

These men, being Jews ...
This was the principal basis of the attack on Paul and Silas, Luke and Timothy apparently being allowed to pass unmolested, because being Greeks (Timothy was half Greek), they would not have had the typical Jewish appearance of Paul and Silas. There was nothing honest or forthright about this brutal movement against Paul and Silas, being simply an exercise in spite, brought on by the spoilation of their evil use of the demon-possessed girl. There was no formal trial of any kind and no opportunity for the accused to defend themselves; it was a case of "mob justice" in which the population willingly participated. The magistrates were shamefully delinquent in their duty in the scene which emerges here.


 
Verses 22, 23, 24
And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrate rent their garments off them, and commanded to beat them with rods. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

Under the system of Roman administration throughout the ancient empire, the police attendants of public officials carried bundles of rods, or cane, bound in a circle around an axe, symbolizing the power of the authorities to chastise and to execute, a representation of this ancient device being visible today on the reverse side of the U.S. dime.

Many stripes upon them ...
The actual beating was inflicted upon the bare flesh, hardly any form of punishment being any more savage and brutal. Three times Paul was thus compelled to suffer for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:25).

Inner prison ... stocks ...
The jailer who seems also to have had some knowledge of his prisoners nevertheless resisted any humane impulse that might have come to him; and, instead of "keeping them safely" as charged, added the element of torture to their imprisonment by putting them in stocks. This prevented their being able either to sit up or to lie down, and must have been a most painful and unnecessary humiliation imposed upon them by the pagan jailer. God would speak to him, however, before the night was over.


 
Verse 25
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

This is one of the most thrilling things ever recorded of the apostolic missionaries and has inspired many a sermon and printed article on "Songs at Midnight." The bleeding, suffering apostles uttering their prayers and singing the praises of God under circumstances such as they were in was something which must indeed have amazed and enthralled the other prisoners. It was midnight, not merely in that jail, but throughout the great pagan empire also, a midnight of morals, humanity, and justice, as well as that of night; but within the inner dungeon there were songs of praise to the true God and suffering saints who offered themselves to the Father in prayer. In a wider sense, the prayers and songs raised at Philippi would at last permeate the pagan empire itself and erect the cathedrals of the historical church upon the ruins of the Roman autocracy. Paul and Silas had the grace to forgive, before they were asked, and to trust where they could not see.


 
Verse 26
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison-house were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened; and everyone's bands were loosed.

A great earthquake ...
In some circumstances it is impossible to draw a line between the natural and the supernatural; but the conduct of the mistreated apostles in that jail was such that, when the earthquake came (from whatever cause), every listener who had heard them praying and singing would at once have concluded that God had thus answered their petitions; and we do not hesitate to draw the same conclusion. The circumstance of every door being opened and all stocks being released encourages the deduction that God here acted on behalf of his servants.


 
Verse 27
And the jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.

Pagan that he was, the jailer lived by a harsh code and was willing to die by it. Philippi was the place where "Cassius, unable to survive defeat, covered his face in the empty tent, and ordered his freedman to strike the blow." F14 Here his messenger Titinius held it to be a Roman's part to follow his master as a suicide; and here "Brutus bade adieu to his friends and ended the last struggle for the republic by self-inflicted death." F15 Not many suicides are mentioned in the Bible. There are those of Samson (Judges 16:29,30), Saul and his armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4,5; 1 Chronicles 10:4,5); Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:18). In pagan lands, however, suicide was an accepted manner of solving a problem, as in the case before us.


 
Verse 28
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

The fact of none of the prisoners having fled is itself remarkable, showing that they responded to Paul's evident insistence that none should seek to escape, which would appear from Paul's ability in this matter to speak for all of them.

There having been no light in the dungeon, some have wondered how Paul saw the jailer; but Harrison observed that "Paul from the inner prison could see the outline of the jailer in the doorway." F16 If the doorway was on a line between the jail and the jailer's residence (lights had already been lighted in the residence), Paul's seeing what was going on would have been quite easy.


 
Verses 29, 30
And he called for lights and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

What must I do to be saved? ...
This question occurs at three places in Acts, identically in each instance as to meaning, and varying only slightly in form: (1) "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37), (2) "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30), and (3) "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 22:10). The answers as given in each instance are: (1) "Repent and be baptized every one of you, etc." (Acts 2:38), (2) "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31), and (3) "Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Why this diversity in the answers?

As the late J. H. Childress said, "If one were to ask how to get a Ph.D. degree, a college graduate might be told one thing, a high school graduate another thing, and a boy in grammar school something else, with all of the various answers being strictly true." It is exactly such a thing which is in view in these passages. Salvation, as proclaimed in the New Testament, requires, absolutely, that sinners should:

  1. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
  2. Repent of their sins and transgressions
  3. Be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins.

In (1), above, the people on Pentecost had already met requirement (a), and were therefore told to fulfill (b) and (c). In (2), above, the jailer had fulfilled no requirement at all, so the apostles told him to fulfill (a), not with any view of exempting him from (b) and (c), but as the thing to be done first. Proof that he fulfilled the other two is seen in his repentance and baptism "the same hour of the night." In (3), above, Saul of Tarsus was already a believer and had been in penitent prayer for three days and nights; therefore, the inspired preacher told him to fulfill (c), "Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, etc." (Acts 22:16).

The advocates of "faith only" as God's plan of redemption for alien sinners take their stand upon the filmsiest of foundations when they attempt to make Paul's instructions to this jailer as to what he should do first a statement of ALL that he was commanded to do. The narrative itself effectively refutes the "faith only" theorists.


 
Verses 31, 32
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house:

Spake the word of the Lord ...
A great deal of teaching was most certainly included in the midnight instructions which the apostolic preacher provided, much of which we may only guess about, with reference to content; but one thing is certain: "the word of the Lord" which they addressed to him included the commandment that he should be baptized into Christ. The fact that men deny this is not any more amazing than Satan's denial of God's word to Eve, when the evil one said, "Ye shall not surely die."


 
Verse 33
And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately.

This is another so-called "household" baptism; but no infants were mentioned; and the fact of Paul and Silas having spoken unto them the word of the Lord (Acts 16:32) proves that no infants are in view here.

The jailer did not merely "believe" in the Lord; he repented of his sins, as indicated by the washing of stripes he himself might have inflicted. That he was also baptized is clearly stated, not as something which he eventually did, but as being done "immediately," the same hour of the night. If there was any device by which the Holy Spirit might have revealed to men any more certainly that baptism was a requirement of this jailer to be met before he could be saved, this writer cannot imagine what it might have been.


 
Verse 34
And he brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.

Having believed in God ...
is used as a synecdoche here for the whole bundle of things by which he had become a follower of Christ; and this use of such a figure to stand for the various things he had already done is exactly the same as the use of it earlier for the various things he was required to do. Thus, here is a perfect example of how Paul and the other New Testament writers used "faith" or "believe" as a short form for a number of related actions.

Rejoiced greatly ...
The rejoicing followed his baptism, as so frequently in the New Testament; and as DeWelt was quoted earlier, "The conversions in the New Testament end, not with the testimony of the converts, but with their baptism." Scriptural conversion does not exist apart from it.


 
Verse 35
But when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, Let these men go.

There could have been some second thoughts on their part about the illegal proceedings of the day before; and by such a release of the prisoners they probably hoped to forestall any repercussions.


 
Verse 36
And the jailor reported the words to Paul, saying, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore come forth, and go in peace.

Go in peace ...
This seems to imply that one of the conditions of their release was that the preachers should leave town; but if that was their intention, the magistrates were in for a shock.


 
Verse 37
But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men that are Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they cast us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and bring us out.

Paul said unto them ...
Not the jailer only, but the sergeants also, were addressed.

Men that are Romans ...
This indicates that Silas also was a Roman citizen, that possibly being one of the reasons Paul had for choosing him for the journey. It is a mistake to suppose that Paul misrepresented the facts in claiming for Silas an equal status with himself as a Roman citizen. One is amazed that some commentators suggest such a thing.

Let them come themselves and bring us out ...
The crime committed by the magistrates in beating and imprisoning Roman citizens without due process of law was a serious one. "The Valerian and Porcian laws exempted Romans from degrading forms of punishment," F17 and these had been in force for centuries. No documentation was required. The simple statement, "I am a Roman citizen," took all proceedings against a prisoner out of the hands" of local authorities. If it be wondered why Paul and Silas did not make such declarations the day before as they were being punished, the answer is that they did. As Hervey said, "The magistrates probably refused to listen"; F18 and it was probably their remembrance of such protests that led to their reversal of judgment so early the next day. There is also the possibility that the ones in charge of the beating did not communicate the protest to the magistrates.

Paul's refusal to leave the jail, however, except on condition of being personally escorted out of it by the magistrates was a master stroke. It did much to establish the legality of their deeds in the popular mind and was doubtless a source of infinite encouragement to the brethren. Moreover, the implied condition (at first) to the effect that they should get out of town was also negated. Despite the fact of Paul's probable intention of soon leaving Philippi, he avoided any appearance of being thrown out of the city.


 
Verses 38, 39
And the sergeants reported these words unto the magistrates: and they feared when they heard they were Romans; and they came and besought them; and when they had brought them out, they asked them to go away from the city.

They feared ...
This was natural, because there were instances of very high Roman officials losing their positions and suffering drastic penalties for violating the traditional laws regarding citizens.

They besought them ...
In context, this was humiliating to the magistrates; and their consenting to do it is a measure of their concern over violations they had committed. The facts here, with the words "when they heard they were Romans," strongly suggest that Paul and Silas' protests at the time of punishment were not relayed to the magistrates.

They asked them to go away ...
The words show that the apostles were not ordered, but requested, to leave the city, a request Paul and company honored, after due deliberation, and without doing so hastily.


 
Verse 40
And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them and departed.

Perhaps it was already time for Paul to leave. The hatred incurred by the healing of the demoniac, the unwillingness of the magistrates for them to remain there, and the fact that staunch converts to the faith had already been won; and, over and beyond all this, the call of many cities and villages where the gospel had never been heard - all these things would have inclined Paul to honor the request of the magistrates and depart. He did not leave, however, without returning again to the hospitable home of Lydia, where, probably, the brethren gathered to be comforted and to express their fond farewells.

They comforted them ...
means that the apostles, especially Paul and Silas, comforted the brethren! There is something astounding about this. Those men who had been so shamefully treated, abused, beaten, illegally cast into prison, suffering the torture of stocks in the inner dungeon - those men comforted the brethren! How noble, unselfish and beautiful is that scene in which men whose backs were still raw and bloody from the scourge are cast in the role of comforters for young Christians whose distress at such events, while real enough, was nevertheless mental rather than physical. This is one of the grandest statements in Scripture.


Footnotes for Acts 16
1: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 839.
2: E. H. Plumptre, Elliott's Commentary on the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 104.
3: H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on Acts of Apostles (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1963), p. 255.
4: E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 104,
5: The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1962), p. 985.
6: E. M. Blaiklock, Cities of the New Testament (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1965), p. 39.
7: The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago: William Benton, Publisher, 1961), p. 686.
8: The New Bible Dictionary, op. cit., p. 985.
9: F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1954), p. 330.
10: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 256.
11: Don DeWelt, Acts Made Actual (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1958), p. 219.
12: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1892), II, p. 98.
13: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 840.
14: J. S. Howson, Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers), p. 237.
15: Ibid.
16: Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 444.
17: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 340.
18: A. C. Hervey, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1950), Vol. 18, ii, p. 32.
19: E. M. Blaiklock, op. cit., p. 32.
20: Alexander Campbell, Acts of Apostles (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation), p. 98.
21: W. R. Walker, op. cit., p. 16.
22: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 226.
23: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1892), p. 44.
24: E. H. Trenchard, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 316.
25: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 227.
26: The New Bible Dictionary, op. cit., p. 306.
27: G. H. C. MacGreggor, op. cit., p. 191.
28: E. M. Blaiklock, op. cit., p. 30.
29: E. H. Plumpire, op. cit., p. 92.
30: G. H. C. MacGreggor, op. cit., p. 192.
31: Ibid., p. 193.
32: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 229.
33: E. H. Trenchard, op. cit., p. 317.
34: Sir William M. Ramsay, op. cit., p. 133.
35: Robert Milligan, op. cit., p. 367.
36: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 2, p. 149.
37: A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 359.
38: Jack P. Lewis, Historical Backgrounds of Bible History (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971), p. 144.
39: Ibid.
40: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 5, p. 781.
41: Jack P. Lewis, op. cit., p. 144.
42: A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 360.
43: E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 53.
44: A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 162.
45: John Peter Lange, op. cit., p. 101.
46: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 825.
47: John William Russell, op. cit. p. 295.
48: Alexander Campbell, op. cit., p. 18.
49: As quoted by Campbell, ibid.
50: E. H. Plumptre, The Acts of Apostles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 15.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 16". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ac&chapter=016>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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