The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Acts 16

Act 16:1

WHERE A DISCIPLE...: AV has "And, behold, a certain disciple..." "Behold" = Gr "idou", a word often associated with providential intervention (Acts 1:10; 8:27; 12:7).

TIMOTHY: Upon whom Paul laid hands: 1Ti 4:14; 2Ti 1:6.

WHOSE MOTHER WAS... A BELIEVER: Yet, whatever her circumstances (divorced, widowed, married to an unbeliever), she taught her son well: "From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2Ti 3:15). "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation" (1Pe 2:2).

WHOSE FATHER WAS A GREEK: No other information; not a believer; poss dead by now.

Act 16:3

Paul circumcised Timothy -- son of a Jewess -- because of the Jews (cp 1Co 9:20, to facilitate preaching, allay prejudice) so they could enter synagogues. Ct Gal 2:3: Paul did not compel Titus, a Gentile, to be circumcised, so as not to "give place" to false brethren (cp 1Co 7:19; Gal 6:15).

Act 16:6

HAVING BEEN KEPT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT FROM PREACHING THE WORD IN THE PROVINCE OF ASIA: They evidently desire to go to Ephesus, directly to the west, on the Aegean -- this would take them through the region of "Asia", or Asia Minor. But they were turned aside and traveled northward instead.

ASIA: In the NT, Asia generally refers to the Roman province created c 129 BC after Attalus III had earlier (133 BC) willed his kingdom of Peragomas to Rome. Asia included the countries of Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and most of Phrygia, plus several islands and coastal cities. At first Pergamos was the capital, but the seat of government was later moved to Ephesus. Asia was governed by a procurator or a proconsul appointed by the Senate. The annual assembly of representatives from all districts was presided over by the Asiarch. The city of Smyrna also vied with Ephesus for chief honors.

Act 16:7

MYSIA: A district of nw Asia Minor. Its borders never clearly defined, Mysia was mountainous and heavily forested. In 133 BC it became part of the Roman province of Asia and included such cities as Troas, Assos and Pergamum. The name occurs only in Acts 16:7,8 in the NT.

THEY TRIED TO ENTER BITHYNIA, BUT THE SPIRIT OF JESUS WOULD NOT ALLOW THEM TO: And they planned to continue further north, into the region just south of the Black Sea. But once again they were turned aside, to Troas -- to the west (the embarkation point for Europe).

BITHYNIA: A Roman province (after 74 BC) of nw Asia Minor situated near the Bosphorus and the Propontis (modern Sea of Marmara). It is mentioned only twice in the NT (Acts 16:7; 1Pe 1:1). It is obvious that Christian work was started in Bithynia before AD 63 since 1Pe is addressed to believers in this area by that time. It is possible that Christianity was planted in Bithynia long before Paul attempted to go there. Since Pontus was at that time connected with Bithynia (after 65-63 BC), Christianity could have been introduced there shortly after Pentecost (cf Acts 2:9). At an early period Paul determined not to labor where other missionaries had already laid a foundation of believing Christians before him (Rom 15:20). In the NT period Bithynia was a senatorial province (after 27 BC) and its capital was at Nicomedeia. The propraetor Pliny the Younger was sent by Trajan to Bithynia as Governor (c AD 111-122). He reported that Christianity (which he calls a "superstition") was so strongly rooted in Bithynia at that time that it "has spread not only in the cities, but in the villages and rural districts as well." The strength of the Christian movement then is also shown by the fact that prominent Roman citizens were included in the fellowship of Christians, and it is significant that many of the pagan temples in Bithynia were "almost deserted" according to Pliny.

Act 16:8

WENT DOWN: The classic language of theophany, or Yahweh-manifestation, occurs often in Acts in the context of gospel preaching, as if the witness to the gospel were another manifestation of the Yahweh-Name: Act 8:5; 10:21; 13:4; 14:25; 15:30; 16:8; 18:22; 25:6.

TROAS: "The name occurs in four passages in the NT (Acts 16:8,11; 20:5-6; 2Co 2:12; 2Ti 4:13), all in connection with Paul's life and travels. A port city in Mysia founded in the 4th century BC by Antigonus, it was located about ten miles south of the ancient Hellespont (Dardanelles). Constituted a Roman colony by Augustus, it was a prominent center, even having been the object of a rumor that Julius Caesar intended to move the seat of government to Troy or Alexandria. Ruins of a wall six miles in circumference, a theater, and an aqueduct are still visible. In the NT, Troas was a pivotal point in Paul's travels. Here he turned to the west (Europe) after having tried to enter the Roman provinces of Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-8), and it was at this time that Luke first joined the missionary party (Acts 16:10, notice the 'we')" (WyE).

Act 16:9

A MAN OF MACEDONIA: The Gr text has "a certain man", a word which implies familiarity. If the man was one whom Paul recognized, it could well have been Luke, "the beloved physician" (Col 4:14), who seems from the narrative itself to have been very familiar with the region, and who (we know) spent a good many years there after this time. (The first "we" passage of Acts starts with the very next verse, as though Luke is implying: "After he -- Paul -- saw the vision of myself, then I arrived at Troas in person to meet him, and immediately we began our journey for Macedonia.")

MACEDONIA: "The first part of Europe which received the Gospel directly from Paul, and an important scene of his subsequent missionary labors and the labors of his companions. So closely is this region associated with apostolic journeys, sufferings, and epistles, that it has truly been called by one of our English travellers a kind of Holy Land... In a rough and popular description it is enough to say that Macedonia is the region bounded inland by the range of the Balkans northwards, and the chain of Pindus westwards, beyond which the streams flow respectively to the Danube and the Adriatic; that it is separated from Thessaly on the south by the Cambunian hills, running easterly from Pindus to Olympus and the Aegean; and that it is divided on the east from Thrace by a less definite mountain-boundary running southwards from Haemus. Of the space thus enclosed, two of the most remarkable physical features are two great plains, one watered by the Axius, which comes to the sea at the Thermaic gulf, not far from Thessalonica; the other by the Strymon, which, after passing near Philippi, flows out below Amphipolis. Between the mouths of these two rivers a remarkable peninsula projects, dividing itself into three points, on the farthest of which Mount Athos rises nearly into the region of perpetual snow. Across the neck of this peninsula Paul travelled more than once with his companions" (SBD).

BEGGING: "Parakaleo" = encouraging, lit "calling alongside".

Act 16:10

WE: Luke now joins the group: "We" passages: Acts 16:10-17; 20:5--21:18; 27:1--end.

Act 16:11

SAMOTHRACE: The KJV spelling is Samothracia. It is a small island with high mountains (up to 5,250 feet) off the coast of Thrace in northern Greece; hence, its name, "Samos of Thrace." It lay near a much traveled sea route from Macedonia to the Hellespont (Dardanelles) on the way to the Black Sea and therefore was a well-known landmark. The island was important as the home of a famous mystery cult featuring two pre-Greek deities known as the Cabiri. These were reverenced as the guides and protectors of sailors. Another attraction of the cult was the enactment of a ritual drama representing the sacred marriage of the Great Mother. Numerous prominent personages, including Philip of Macedon and the Roman emperor Hadrian, were initiated into the Samothracian mysteries.

NEAPOLIS: The "new city," modern Kavalla in northern Greece, which served as the port of Philippi, situated ten miles inland. An ancient aqueduct and other remains indicate its past importance. It is located on a neck of land between two bays of the Aegean Sea. Paul landed here from Troas on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:11), after his call to Macedonia.

Act 16:12

PHILIPPI: "A town of Macedonia 13 miles inland from the Aegean served by its port Neapolis. Philippi was founded by and named after Philip II of Macedonia in 360 BC. It was significant to the Macedonian as the chief mining center in the nearby gold fields; these were largely exhausted by the time Macedonia came under control of Rome in 168 BC. The Romans settled a colony (Acts 16:12) of Roman veterans at Philippi after 42 BC, when Octavius and Anthony defeated Brutus and Casius there.

"Paul preached there on his second missionary journey, speaking first to some devout Jews at a prayer meeting by a riverside (Acts 16:13). Lydia of Thyatira was the first convert (Acts 16:14), and the conversion of a 'fortune teller' led her exploiters to stir up a riot against Paul and Silas. The 300-by-150 foot agora where the judgment scene took place prior to Paul and Silas' imprisonment has been completely excavated by the French School at Athens. Through the agora ran the Egnatian highway which connected Rome with Asia. On the north side of the agora stood the podium where magistrates rendered judgment. Above that towered the 1,000-foot acropolis of the town, on the east slope of which was a large Gr theater...

"The church at Philippi was the first established in Europe, and it was very liberal with its founder, sending gifts to him on various occasions (Phi 4:14-17; 2Co 11:9). The Epistle to the Philippians is in part at least a thank you note for this kindness. Later Paul visited Philippi and kept the Passover with the brethren there (Acts 20:6)" (WyC).

THE LEADING CITY: Gr "prote". "This cannot mean that Philippi was the capital of the province, for Thessalonica held that distinction; nor does it mean that Philippi was the capital of its district, for Amphipolis served that function. Evidence from a later period shows that 'prote' was an honorary title given certain cities, and perhaps this explains Luke's use of the term" (EBC).

Act 16:13

A PLACE OF PRAYER: Evidently, there was no official Jewish congregation in the city. It was customary for such places of prayer to be located near running water.

"The Christian faith was, doubtless, introduced into Thyatira by Lydia, whom Paul and his companions first became acquainted with at Philippi, a city of Macedonia. She was 'a worshipper of God' belonging to Thyatira, but for the time being sojourning at Philippi as 'a seller of purple.' Paul met her at the 'proseuche', by the river side, beyond the city walls. She had gone there with other devout women to offer prayer to the living and true Deity. It was 'on the day of the sabbaths,' or, as we say, on Saturday, by which we may infer, that Lydia was a devout Jewess, or Gentile proselyte, belonging to the synagogue in Thyatira. Luke, who was present, says, that 'the Lord opened her heart to assent to the things being spoken by Paul'; and the result was, that she was baptized. Thus, Paul planted, but the Lord gave the increase; and the case shows under what conditions the increase was given. Certain things were being spoken by Paul. The things being spoken were 'the truth,' or 'Gospel of the Deity, which he had before promised by his prophets in the holy scriptures' (Rom 1:1,2); and that truth, 'as it is in Jesus.' Paul could speak no other things, and none other would have opened Lydia's heart, or understanding to an affectionate comprehension such as the Lord would have acknowledged. The truth spoken is the Lord's instrumentality for the opening of men's hearts; and where the truth is neither heard nor read, there the hearts of mankind remain unopened, and are found to be occupied by all 'the depths of the Satan, as they speak' " (Eur 1:318).

Act 16:14

THYATIRA: Thyatira was located 52 miles ne of Smyrna on a main road joining the Caicus and Hermus river valleys. A great trading city, its height came about AD 100. There is evidence of more trade guilds there than in any other Asian city. Lydia, a seller of purple from Thyatira, probably represented her guild at Philippi (Acts 16:14). The purple she sold was probably made in the region of Thyatira, which produced the well-known Turkey red, obtained from the madder root. Perhaps the city was evangelized from Ephesus. John addressed himself to the church there (Rev 2:18-29), scoring it for too much conformity to the pagan customs and practices of the day.

A WOMAN NAMED LYDIA: In Macedonia women had generally greater liberties than elsewhere (Xd 118:415).

A DEALER IN PURPLE CLOTH: Prob very wealthy, with many employees and servants in her "household".

A WORSHIPER OF GOD: That is, a proselyte.

THE LORD OPENED HER HEART: The word "Sabbath" in v 13 is plural, so Lydia probably heard Paul over several days. They "sat down", so the preaching was of a prolonged nature. The riverside was a recognized place of prayer, so the express reason Lydia was there was to pray, demonstrating her faith in God even before hearing Paul. It was her habit to resort there for prayer. She was already a "worshipper of God": a specific term for a Gentile who believed in the Jewish God, without having become a proselyte. Conclusion: THIS was the kind of person whose heart God opened to receive the gospel: one who gave God's word entrance to her heart.

"Here no amount of word-spinning can get away from the simple fact that Lydia had a Bible (she was one of the worshippers), she had the world's very best expositor to show her its meaning, but in addition the Lord opened her heart. It is possible to spend a lot of time showing by what remarkable Holy Spirit constraint and ways of God's providence Paul and Lydia both got to that particular place at that particular time; but having allowed for all that, there is still the additional explicit fact that 'God opened her heart' (her mind) so that she was disposed to take the message seriously. Is the reader expected to invent out of his own head an extra chapter to explain how it came about? Or is he intended to read and simply believe what the words say?" (HAW).

Act 16:15

See Lesson, Acts, conversions.

SHE AND THE MEMBERS OF HER HOUSEHOLD WERE BAPTIZED: The seller of purple-dyed cloth was herself "dyed"!

COME AND STAY AT MY HOUSE: Hospitality of brethren: Acts 17:7; 18:3,7; 21:8,16; 28:14,15.

AND SHE PERSUADED US: Paul's principle was, insofar as possible, to support himself (2Co 11:9) and not accept charity. (The Philippian ecclesia, of which Lydia was the first member, was ever after noted for its generosity: Phi 4:10,16; 2Co 11:9; cp Rev 2:19.)

Act 16:16

Vv 16-40: The events at Philippi were a graphic portrayal of the last days of the Lord Jesus: (1) Though Paul obviously did a work of God (v 18), certain Philippians moved against him because their own vested interests were questioned (cp John 15:22). (2) Paul's trial was a travesty. They hated him without a cause (v 38; Psa 35:19; Joh 15:25). They made false accusations against him -- that he was inciting rebellion against Rome (vv 20,21; John 19:12; Luk 23:2). Then he was taken "from prison and from judgment" (cp Isa 53:7,8). (3) Paul and Silas were beaten with many stripes (v 23; cp John 19:1; Isa 53:5). (4) They were cast into prison -- being as good as dead (v 24; cp Christ put to death: John 19:41). (5) Divine pleasure was indicated by an earthquake which set them free (v 26; cp Mat 27:51; 28:2). (6) They were set free as if by resurrection (v 26; cp Mat 28:7; Acts 2:24). (7) They became the "savour of life" to those with whom they spoke (cp 2Co 2:16; 4:9-12).

Thus, "Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified" (Gal 3:1; cp Gal 1:16).

A SPIRIT BY WHICH SHE PREDICTED THE FUTURE: "A spirit of divination" (AV). Lit, "pneuma pythona". "The Python was a mythical serpent or dragon that guarded the temple and oracle of Apollo, located on the southern slope of Mount Parnassus to the north of the Gulf of Corinth. It was supposed to have lived at the foot of Mount Parnassus and to have eventually been killed by Apollo. Later the word python came to mean a demon-possessed person through whom the Python spoke -- even a ventriloquist was thought to have such a spirit living in his or her belly. Undoubtedly all who knew the girl regarded her as neither fraudulent nor insane but as demon possessed and able to foretell the future. By her fortunetelling, she earned her masters much money" (EBC).

Act 16:20

THEY BROUGHT THEM BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES: This is, plainly, no proper trial.

THESE MEN, BEING JEWS...: Prob spoken with evident contempt. Why, of the 4 men (Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke -- cp v 10), were only these 2 apprehended? Because Luke was not a Jew, and Timothy (although circumcised: v 3) was not really a "Jew" either -- at least insofar as other Jews might typically consider it. (Prob, Paul and Silas also took the lead in all the preaching too.)

Act 16:21

The charge laid was that Paul and Silas were advocating a "religio illicita" and thus disturbing the Pax Romana. But the charge, being couched in terms that appealed to the latent anti-Semitism of the people ("these men are Jews") and their racial pride ("us Romans"), ignited the flames of bigotry and prevented any dispassionate discussion of the issues.

US ROMANS: They were asserting their rights as Roman citizens. This was a special privilege granted to the people of Philippi.

Act 16:22

BEATEN: "Rhabdizo" means "to beat with a rod (rhabdos)". Hence LXX usage is for the practice of threshing, which was often done with a flail or rod: Rth 2:17; Jdg 6:11.

Act 16:23

See Lesson, Paul in prison.

SEVERELY FLOGGED: "We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition" (1Th 2:2). Cp 2Co 11:25. Notice that beatings and imprisonment was the direct result of the Spirit's guidance (vv 6-11)!

THEY WERE THROWN IN PRISON: Why didn't Paul assert his Roman citizenship sooner? Was it because they were given no chance?

Why wasn't Luke imprisoned? (a) because he was a Gentile, and not a Jew? (b) because he was a professional man, a physician?

Act 16:24

INNER: The Gr is "esoteros", a superlative, meaning the deepest or most hidden.

Act 16:25

SINGING HYMNS TO GOD: "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2Co 6:10; cp 2Co 7:4; Phi 4:4).

"Those men at Philippi knew beyond any doubt that they were not alone. They knew in their deepest hearts that all things were working together for good under the providential hand of God. Bodily they seemed to be in the hand of the jailer, but spiritually they knew they were in the hand of God. As it turned out even the jailer was part of the great purpose: very soon he is washing their stripes. They had an unalterable conviction that nothing could separate them from the love of Christ. They trusted in the profound secret that the city was being built and that one day it would come down out of heaven from God. They knew that no power on earth could prevent it, and they were part of it. Sin was defeated; pardon was full and free; death was vanquished. The King was alive for evermore. This gives cause for joy, and joy gives cause for song" (GD).

Act 16:27

THE JAILER WOKE UP: Had he been put to sleep by the power of God, as had the Roman soldiers that guarded the tomb of Jesus? Thus, Paul's imprisonment is compared to Christ's burial.

Act 16:29

THE JAILER CALLED FOR LIGHTS: And there they were... Paul and Silas, to bring them the "light" of the world!

Act 16:30

SIRS, WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?: He was not so concerned with securing them as was in securing his own freedom! "But how was it that the jailer and his household knew sufficient to accept the responsibilities of the Truth so soon? It is obvious from his question that he was well acquainted with Paul's preaching. It was now well known and widespread for they had been there 'many days' (cp vv 17,18,20,21). The calm faithful demeanour of his prisoners and the singing of praises in jail after cruel stripes no doubt troubled him. Then came the earthquake which set them free. Were not these men indeed the 'servants of the Most High God'? But then they had been honest too and had not made a break for freedom. These men were as different from the common run of mortals as was their message. He was convinced" (LPh 6).

Act 16:33


See Lesson, Acts, conversions.

Act 16:34

THE JAILER BROUGHT THEM INTO HIS HOUSE: Which probably adjoined the jail itself.

Act 16:37

"Why did Paul do this? Was it an act of self-justification? Paul could see further than that. He was soon to leave Philippi, and how would the new little ecclesia fare in that bigoted city? Probably not well. Paul desired to teach these petty rulers a lesson. When he left, the magistrates would certainly hesitate to bring further persecution on them. Cp Prov 13:18: 'He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him...' " (BPh 7).

Act 16:40

AND ENCOURAGED THEM: Or "comforted" (AV). Paul and Silas, who had been beaten, comforted others!

THEY: Luke does not accompany them (cp "we": v 10). He stays behind in Philippi, with Timothy, to consolidate the new ecclesia.

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