Acts 16 Part 2

13. And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.

The phrase here is “the day of the Sabbaths” in Greek. This is a strange phrase to us, and not the usual one used in the Bible. It probably has reference to the Sabbaths that occurred between the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, though which exact day is meant it is hard to say. It seems like Luke is saying that they waited until the time of Firstfruits.

So, they remain in the city until the day of the Sabbaths. What they were doing until that day came we are not told. However, when that day arrived, they did not go to a synagogue, as their custom usually was. This departure from their usual procedure seems noteworthy. It could be that Philippi had no synagogue. The customs at that time were very stringent, and a synagogue required a certain amount of people (probably ten male heads-of-household) in order to exist. It seems that Philippi did not have this many faithful Jewish men present in order to meet the requirement. It could be that there were men of Israelite ancestry in the city, but that they had given up on their culture and community, and so failed to form a synagogue. Or it could be that the Jewish colony in the city was simply quite small. Either way, there apparently was no synagogue present.

So the Lord had sent them to a city that didn’t even have a synagogue. How, then, are they to get His gospel out to the people who are there? It seems that in the days leading up to the Sabbath, they have been able to discover a way to contact the Jewish brethren who are there. On the Sabbath, some leave the city and go to the riverside, where prayer is customarily made. It wasn’t a synagogue, but it was the closest thing that Philippi had, so it is where the apostles go. Luke does not name the river, but it must have been the Gangas, for that is the river near Philippi.

So they arrive at the prayer site and sit down. Yet what they find is not any more encouraging. It seems that whatever Jewish men there are in the city, they care so little for the God of Israel that they are not even willing to attend this prayer service. So the only people they find there are the women!

It is sad when we find an attitude similar to this in our own culture of today. Some men seem to have the idea that “religion is a woman thing,” and they will not have anything to do with God unless their wives drag them to it kicking and screaming. Of course, this is not helped by the fact that what their wives are trying to drag them to is often empty religion, and not the true God. Yet it is the job of all to seek after God, and it is the responsibility of men in the home to set the standard for the family and take leadership in the things of God. When we reach a state like what Paul found here in Philippi, it is probably not long before no one is left who is interested in serving God at all.

Yet no matter how bleak the situation looks in Philippi, Paul and his company know they have been sent there by the Lord’s specific direction, and so they do not hesitate to do the task that He has set before them. If the only audience they can get is this group of women by the riverside, then that is the audience to whom they will proclaim the Word. So they sit, the position always taken by a teacher at that time, and start to speak to them.

14. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

The Lord is not slow to honor the faithfulness of His apostles. We see that one of the women there in attendance was named Lydia, her name meaning “Travail.” She was a seller of purple. By “purple” is meant cloth dyed with a purple dye. Purple dye was very difficult to obtain, and so was very expensive. For this reason, it became known as the color of royalty, since kings and nobles were among the few who could afford it. Most purple dye was extracted from shellfish, but it seems that the Thyatira variety came from a different source, perhaps from the roots of certain plants. This yielded a rather redder end product than the typical purple of the time. Thus Thyatira purple was very famous in those days, and would fetch a good price.

Since she was a seller of purple, Lydia must have been from a very wealthy merchant family, so she was probably one of the leading women of the city. Yet she was also a Jewess, and it seems she was faithful to the God of her fathers and worshiped Him. Therefore she would resort to this riverside for the Sabbath prayers. Now, she hears Paul speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Lord opens her heart to listen to what he is saying.

The city of Thyatira is in the province of Asia. Remember, that is where the disciples had sought to go before Macedonia, but the Spirit had hindered them. Now, in Macedonia, they proclaim the gospel to an Asian, and she believes! The Lord’s ways are indeed sometimes a mystery to us, yet He is working through all that is happening here to fulfill His will.

15. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

So Lydia believes, and she is baptized along with her household. Most would imagine that this means that they went through some kind of water ritual. Those who think this show that they are putting far too much emphasis on the forms of Godliness, and not truly considering the power thereof. The reality of baptism was not a water ritual, but rather an identification. An excellent example of that was just in the last verse, where we saw that a cloth dyed with purple dye was itself called “purple.” It was identified and merged with the purple dye, and so could be called after its name. In the same way, Lydia and her household are now identified with the Lord Jesus Christ. This identification results in a merger, and they are now part of His kingdom. This was the reality of what happened to her and her household.

Now this baptism may have included some sort of ceremony, such as a water ritual. If so, then Paul was more than qualified to perform such a ceremony. Yet the truth of what he was doing was identifying these people with Jesus Christ. In order to do this, he must have had authority indeed! We know Paul had such authority. Yet what of those who style themselves as baptizers today? It seems that every two-penny clergyman with a degree in our day styles himself capable of baptizing others, and doing it in a way that will be meaningful in the eyes of God. Yet this is pure imagination, for they were given no such commission by God. Paul had a commission, and when he identified you, you were identified indeed.

This matter of her household being baptized as well might seem strange to us. Yet I do not think it has to be. This woman no doubt brought the apostles home to her house after she believed, and Paul then spoke to all of them the message of life in Christ that he had given by the riverside. Upon hearing the Word, her less faithful household members also saw the truth of it, and believed. Knowing that Lydia had heard and believed it might have helped them take it more seriously from the start, but ultimately, it would have been their own belief in Christ that caused them to be baptized, not Lydia’s. As I said, when Paul baptized someone, he was truly baptized. Paul would not have done this to someone who just said he believed because he wanted to go along with his mistress. If Paul identified these people, then that is enough to tell us that they did truly believe.

Now the woman begs something from Paul. She wishes to be their host all the while they are in Philippi. So she calls upon them, if they truly judge her to be faithful to the Lord, to grant this to her, and to stay with her as they minister there. So Paul, Silas, Luke, and the others are constrained, and they stay with Lydia while they continue their work. Staying in the home of one of the wealthiest women in the city was no mean quarters for these apostles!

16. Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling.

It seems that at least a week passes, and Sabbath comes once again. It is the time for them to go out to the place of prayer by the riverside, and Paul, Luke, and the rest are on their way when they are met by a certain servant girl. Unfortunately, this girl is not alone, for she is possessed with a spirit of divination.

In Greek, this verse says that she has a “python spirit.” What this means is hard to say, for we know little of the spirit world, or the designations that spirits might have. We do know that in Greek mythology the Python was the serpent or dragon that guarded the oracle at Delphi, and was slain by Apollo. The implication does not seem to be that the spirit was somehow similar to a serpent or dragon. According to The Companion Bible, the priestess at the famous temple at Delph came to be known as the “Pythoness,” and this term “Python” came to be equivalent to a soothsaying demon. Thayer’s Lexicon suggests that this could mean that she was a ventriloquist, but this seems to be a desperate attempt to rid the Bible of the supernatural. What we do know from this passage is that this was no natural thing, for she was indeed possessed by a spirit being, here called a python. This spirit allowed her to tell fortunes, a skill that brought in much profit for her masters.

The word for “slave girl” here is not related to the word for slave, doulos, but rather is paidiske, the word for a young girl, or a young maid servant. In this case, we do know that she was not a free maiden, for the passage mentions her “masters.” However, translating this as “slave” is rather overstating the case, since that is not the word the Greek uses. She may well have been a slave, but that is not what the Greek says here.

17. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”

This girl follows Paul, Luke, and the rest, and cries out to all who pass by them these words. She testifies to the fact that they are slaves of the Most High God. This certainly was true, and could not be denied. We wonder why a wicked spirit like this would testify to the truth in this way? Yet I think there could be reasons for this. Consider that the source of a testimony can be just as important as the testimony itself. If someone who has a very poor reputation speaks very highly of you, it might not help your own reputation very much. So certainly for an evil spirit to speak well of you would not help any decent person think well of you. So though this testimony in and of itself may sound good, considering the source, it doubtless was not helpful to Paul and his company at all.

After translating a word for “servant girl” too strongly as “slave” in verse 16, the New King James translators turned around and translated the word for “slaves” too weakly as “servants” here. The girl proclaimed them to be slaves of God, which indeed they were. It seems that the translators were more concerned with the feelings of their readers, not wanting to think of Paul and company as slaves, than they were with accuracy in this case.

Besides declaring them to be slaves of the Most High God, the girl with the Python spirit also testifies that Paul and his company “proclaim to us the way of salvation.” Again, though this sounds good, it could hardly have helped the apostles, considering its source. Also, it seems doubtful that the spirit meant these words in the highest and holiest sense we could use this word in, that is, of salvation from sin and death. It probably meant this word in the sense of “deliverance.” Paul and his company were Jews, and the Jews tended to long for deliverance from the rule and oppression of Rome. Anyone who heard this girl speak these words might well conclude that Paul and his companions were proclaiming a way of deliverance from Roman rule. This kind of message could have gotten the apostles in considerable trouble with the authorities in this town, for Rome took a very dim view of rebels and rabble rousers in their territories. The apostles have so far escaped trouble with Rome, due to the fact that their message really had nothing to do with the Roman rule, and they followed the Lord’s same policy of never really speaking against Rome or supporting any kind of rebellion or uprising. Yet this girl is making it sound like that is what Paul and his companions are all about, and this could do nothing but cause trouble for them.

18. And this she did for many days.
But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

The servant girl and her python spirit continue this behavior for many days. It seems that Paul and his companions endure this troublesome testimony as best they can, not really being able to do anything about it. The girl neither asks their permission, nor responds to any requests they might make for her to leave them alone. She is not doing anything legally wrong that they could charge her with, and short of physically assaulting her, there is little they can do to stop her from following them repeating her testimony to all who pass them on the streets. Yet this became greatly annoying to Paul, and no doubt to the rest as well. And as I explained above, her words could have neither helped their testimony, nor made them safer from Roman interference.

Finally, Paul can take it no longer. This girl does not appear to have any problem with the python spirit she possesses nor any desire to be free of it. If she had, doubtless Paul would have acted to free her long before this. Yet though she may not have wanted to lose this python spirit of hers, this spirit has bothered the apostles as long as he will be allowed to. So Paul turns at last and speaks to this spirit, commanding it in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of this servant girl. Immediately, the spirit comes out, and they are free from its pestering.

Notice that Paul commands this spirit “in the name of Jesus Christ.” We should think about what it means to do something in someone else’s name. For example, if my brother has purchased something and sends me to pick it up, when I arrive to take the merchandise, I may be asked if I am my brother. If so, I will have to respond that I am not, but am his brother. Nevertheless, I will say that he sent me to pick up this merchandise for him. What I am saying, basically, is that I am picking up what he has purchased “in his name.” In other words, I am doing it in his place, and with his permission. So, when Paul acts here in the name of Jesus Christ, it is in His place, for He might well have done the same thing had He been there. Though we might argue as to what Christ’s exact behavior in this situation would have been compared to Paul’s, we cannot deny at least that Paul did this with Christ’s permission. The apostles were given power over unclean spirits, and so Paul had every right to use this power he had been given. He could truly cast out this spirit “in the name of Jesus Christ.”

When the passage says that the spirit came out “that very hour,” that is not to say that it waited part of an hour before coming out. This is similar to the phrase we use in English when we say, “Stop that this minute!” We don’t mean that the person could wait part or all of sixty seconds before stopping his behavior. What we do mean is that the person should stop his behavior right away, or immediately. So in this case, what this means is that the python spirit came out right away or immediately upon Paul saying this.

19. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

The lords of this servant girl are not happy when they see what Paul has done. They realize that without this python spirit working through her, this girl will no longer be able to tell fortunes, and so this profitable business for them has come to an end. The loss of this income incenses them, as a similar loss can inflame with anger many people even today. So they perform what we might call a citizens’ arrest on Paul and Silas. Though Silas had not cast out the spirit, they must have known that he was Paul’s primary assistant, and so they seize him as well, though they do not seem to have seized Luke, Timothy, or any others who might have been with them. Now that they have Paul and Silas, they drag them into the marketplace. The market was the common meeting place in a city run in the Greek style, and all the authorities of the city are gathered there. In other words, what they did here was drag Paul and Silas into court.

20. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city;

These men bring Paul and Silas before the city magistrates. We do not know if they had to wait to present their case, but when they appear before the magistrates, they argue against Paul and Silas in the words we have recorded here. They are sure to mention that Paul and Silas are Jews, for Jews were not well-liked in the Roman culture, and this would immediately make them appear worse in the eyes of those gathered at the court. Then, they accuse them of “exceedingly” troubling their city. The implication seems to be that they were inciting riot and disturbing the peace. This fell right in line with the testimony of the now-departed python spirit, who claimed they were proclaiming deliverance from Rome. If they had been proclaiming such a thing and people listened to them, it could have caused great trouble for Philippi. Of course, that is not what they were proclaiming, and their ministry does not appear to have had any great success in Philippi. Yet these men are motivated by anger over a loss of income, and they do not care too much if their words against Paul and Silas are true or false.

21. and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”

This charge, of course, was totally untrue, for Paul and Silas were doing nothing of the kind. Yet the common Gentile in the Roman Empire at large did look at the customs of the Jews, both those taught by the law of God and those they had made up on their own, with a mixture of suspicion and disgust, since they were so different from those of all other people in the empire. Most of them probably did not know much about them, but they did not trust them, and so a charge of Jews teaching strange customs would make so much sense to so many people that the emotional vote would immediately be on the side of those making the charge.

Notice that the masters of the servant girl have said nothing at all about their real grievance, or what had truly made them angry at Paul and Silas. They probably figured that stirring up the prejudices of the people would be much more effective than telling the real story. Some in the crowd might have wondered whether this girl might not be better off without the python spirit, and sentiment might have arisen in support of what Paul had done. By hiding the real reason for their outrage and appealing to the prejudices of their hearers instead, these men all but guarantee that things will go their way. In doing so, they bypass justice. Yet justice was not really what they wanted, anyway. Their source of income was lost, and there was nothing that could really be done about it. What they truly wanted now was revenge.

22. Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods.

The underhanded tactics of the girl’s lords works exactly as they planned them to. The multitude is immediately incensed at the thought of these uppity Jews daring to do what these men just suggested, and so they rise up together against them. The magistrates, seeing the way popular sentiment is moving, jump on board with it, as politicians usually do, and use this opportunity to look good before the people. They make a great show of tearing their clothes, and they command Paul and Silas to be beaten with rods. No doubt their tough stand against Jewish crime made them look very good in the eyes of the people of the city. Too bad that justice had to be sacrificed to achieve this, but that was a sacrifice these magistrates were very willing to make.

We notice that Paul and Silas never got the chance to speak or defend themselves. This was not according to Roman law, but was more like mob law. The punishment of being beaten with rods was not an uncommon one. In fact, Paul says in II Corinthians 11:25 that this happened to him three times, though this is the only time we have recorded for us in Acts. In some countries, this is still a punishment today. We Americans were made aware of that some years back when a lawless American boy in Singapore was sentenced to a caning for his destructive actions. This beating with rods was probably a much more serious punishment than that, however.

23. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely.

So the magistrates lay many stripes on Paul and Silas. We are not told how many. God’s law limited a whipping to forty lashes, and the Jews reduced this to thirty-nine in case they ever lost count. Yet there was no such restriction on the Gentile Philippians, and they may have continued the punishment until the angry crowd stopped clamoring for more, or until they were afraid Paul and Silas could not take any more. This was very brutal treatment for the apostles.

Once their beating is over, the magistrates have Paul and Silas thrown into prison. Again, this was doubtless a move made to impress the on-looking crowd, who were clamoring for these men to be punished. Therefore, they also lay a firm charge on the jailer, commanding him to keep Paul and Silas securely as if they were the most dangerous of criminals. No doubt this “tough talk” won them accolades in the eyes of the multitude as well.

24. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The jailer receives this charge, and takes it very seriously. It was his job to keep dangerous criminals, and he knows just what to do with them. Therefore, he puts them in the inner prison. As we have already discussed, they built their prisons one inside another, so that you would have to break out of multiple prisons in order to get out and make an escape. By putting them in the inner prison, he was putting them in the most secure place he could. He also fastened their feet in stocks, a position that was not just awkward, but also would make it even more difficult for them to escape. He was not holding back on every trick he knew to make these prisoners as secure as possible. Yet who can stop the work of the Lord by clever planning? This is just not possible! As Proverbs 21:30 says:

There is no wisdom or understanding
Or counsel against the LORD.