Chapter 16

16:1-5  Why did Timothy need to be Circumcised?

In the previous chapter the Council of Jerusalem had settled after a long battle that Greeks and Romans did not need to be circumcised and obey Jewish laws (15:1-2, 19-21). So we wonder why Paul decided it was necessary to have Timothy circumcised? Paul was quite clear that people of other nations must not be forced to be circumcised for religious reasons (Galatians 5:2-4, 6:12-13). In this case Paul's reason was that Timothy's mother was a Jew, and to this day the right to be a Jew depends on the person's mother. Evidently Timothy's father, who was a Greek, refused to let his son be circumcised, but perhaps he had become a Christian. Circumcision was a sign for both Jews and Arabs of male descent from Abraham (Genesis 17:9-10, 23-26). But the church all over the world would be based on the fact that people of each nation would retain their own national identity. Just as Greeks, Romans, and people of other nations, should not be forced to deny their nationality, Jews must remain Jews (as now happens among Messianic Jews). Paul's logic seems to be that since Timothy was a Jew through his mother, he should bear the sign of the children of Abraham (see Ishmael the Arab). This would be very painful, but necessary so as not to give offence in the synagogues they would be visiting.

16:1-2 After passing through his own province of Cilicia, Paul went on to the west and came to Derbe where a church had been planted during the first missionary journey (14:20-21). The next town was Lystra where Paul had been stoned and left for dead (14:8-20). Among the Christians there was a Jewish woman and her son Timothy. Lystra was very close to Iconium, and when Paul moved on to that city he heard that Timothy was a frequent visitor to the city, and appreciated by the church there.

16:3 When the time came to move on to Antioch in Pisidia, Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and decided that since his mother was Jewish Timothy should have the Jewish sign of cicumcision to avoid misunderstanding among Jewish believers (see note above).

16:4-5 The Council of Jerusalem had said that the decrees announcing the compromise should be delivered in the churches of Damascus and Tarsus (15:23), but it seems Paul must have had copies made for all other churches that he would visit during his journey. This encouraged the growth of more Gentile congregations in each place.

16:6-8 Paul and his Team move into Western Turkey

Phrygia stretched to the west, and normally Paul would have moved on into Ephesus the capital of the province of Asia (western Turkey). But, as they prayed, the members of Paul's team (including Silas and Timothy) felt this was not the right time for this (they went to Ephesus later, 18:19).

16:6-8 The team tried to move north into Bithynia (northern Turkey by the Black Sea), but again the Holy Spirit closed the door in that direction (a church was planted there later, 1 Peter 1:1) . So they took the road west through the province of Mysia to the seaport city of Troas (near ancient Homeric Troy). They planted a church there (20:5-12, 2 Corinthians 2:12)., and one of the converts was probably Dr. Luke (see the "we" passages that begin from 16:10). Timothy may have been left in Troas to teach the new believers there, and he rejoined the team in Beroea (17:14). He was sent back to Troas later (2 Timothy 4:13).

16:9-15 Paul and his Team cross over into Europe.

It seems Paul had no intention of crossing the Aegean Sea into Macedonia till he had this vision. Paul assumed that the one pleading for him to come over to Macedonia (to the north of Greece) was a man. He must have been surprised to find it was a Jewish business woman! (16:13-15). The rabbis had made a rule that only men were fit to study the Old Testament Scriptures, so before Saul's conversion he was incensed to find women becoming full disciples (see notes on 5:14, 8:3, 9:2). After his baptism he had to get used to the idea of women being baptized on the same basis as men. Now he was going to be asked to begin a Christian congregation of the Spirit led by a woman. It obviously took time before he came to adopt a model of total mutuality between men and women (set out in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16).

16:9 Peter needed a supernatural vision for the major change of direction that was required of him to welcome a Roman army officer and his family to form a congregation of the Spirit in the church of Caesarea (10:3, 44-48). Now Paul received a vision to go over and plant churches in Europe.

16:10 He shared his vision with the members of his team and they were convinced that God had called them in this direction. Luke must have joined Paul for the journey across the Aegean Sea (perhaps as the physician for the team, Colossians 4:14). From now on Luke will use "we" and "us" in the plural to indicate when he was with Paul and was an eye witness of what he reported (16:10, 11, 15, 16, 17, see the main Introduction to this commentary).

16:11-12 Samothrace was an island 25 miles to the north of Troas, and Neapolis was another day's journey across the Aegean Sea. It was the harbor for the Roman colony of veterans settled a short distance inland in Philippi.

16:13 Very few Jews were living there, and since twelve men were needed to form a synagogue there was no point of contact for Paul. But he did hear that a group women used to gather for prayer by the river. These were probably Gentile "god-fearers" (see note on 10:1-2, 13:48, 16:14). Paul may have heard of Jesus sitting down at the well with the woman of Samaria (John 4:6-9). The Greek verb is an imperfect continuous, so the translation should be "Having sat down with them, we began speaking to them," which indicates a period of explanation before the women began to trust these strange visitors.

16:14 One of these was a business woman who imported purple cloth (in great demand for Roman dignitaries, Mark 15:17, John 19:2) from her home city of Thyatira (Revelation 2:18). She was already a worshiper of God, and Luke says "she began listening to us" (again an imperfect). When God opened her heart she began listening eagerly to Paul's explanation.

16:15 She apparently owned a large house (enough to welcome four male visitors) She was herself baptized, and she had her large household baptized to begin learning with her (including her children, relatives, employees, and slaves, as in 10:27, 33, 16:33).

16:16-40 Paul and Silas are imprisoned and freed by an earthquake

This section shows how easily a riot could be mounted against the missionaries. Luke also wants us to see how baptism could be immediate without any probation (in this case in the middle of the night). As a result of the jail governor's faith (see 16:34) his "entire" family was baptized (16:33), and formed into a congregation to begin learning all that Jesus had commanded (as in Matthew 28:19-20). In his Gospel Luke had made clear in his account of the parable of the Sower that there would inevitably be drop outs. Some "believe only for a while" (Luke 8:13, as in John 6:66) but that is not a reason to delay baptism. It seems likely that when Paul and Silas moved on to Thessalonica (17:1) Luke was left to teach the two congregations of the church in Philippi, one at the Jail governor's house, and the other that gathered in Lydia's home in another part of the city.

This church later sent support for Paul in Thessalonica (Philippians 4:10-16). It was soon established with its elders (bishop means overseer, as in 1 Timothy 3:1, Titus 1:5) and assistants (1 Timothy 3:8, Philippians 1:1).

16:16 This slave girl was owned by those who received the considerable proceeds from her fortune telling (manteuomai means to prophesy, divine, give an oracle). The four missionaries would meet her every day on their way to the place of prayer by the river.

16:17 The literal translation of what Luke wrote in Greek is "when she followed us closely she kept crying out with the words 'these men are servants of the most high God, and they announce to us a way of salvation' (the Greek syntax here allows "the way of salvation").

16:18-20 What she said was quite correct, but Paul objected to it being spoken through a medium. After several days Paul ordered the spirit of divination to come out of the girl "in the name of Jesus the Messiah" (as in 3:6, 9:34). She was freed from possession immediately, but her owners realized that they could no longer expect a profit from her. So they seized the two most prominent missionaries, Paul and Silas (leaving Luke the Greek physician free), and dragged them into the market place before the city authorities who charged them in the magistrates' court for disturbing the peace.

16:21 This was a city run for Roman Army veterans, and the charge was that the Jewish missionaries were teaching customs that were not lawful. This was obviously nothing to do with the girl who was freed from the spirit of divination. Perhaps they raised the question of baptism?

Or of refusing to offer incense to the emperor's statue?

16:22-24 The crowd was on their side, and Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten with rods (one of the three occasions mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:25), and then clapped in the innermost cell of the jail with their feet in ankle irons. As Paul later insisted (16:37), this was illegal - no Roman citizen could be beaten or imprisoned without trial.

16:25 In the middle of the night Paul and Silas (in spite of the terrible beating and lacerations, see 16:33) were praying and singing hymns. As Paul later wrote "with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God" (Colossians 3:16). Luke records that "the prisoners were listening to them," which suggests that some of these prisoners came to faith and joined the congregation of the Spirit that Luke was left to shepherd when Paul and Silas moved on to Thessalonica (17:1, see the introduction to this section).

16:26-27 The shaking of the earthquake was so violent that, although the jail remained standing, all the doors and chain fastenings were shaken loose. Earthquakes are common in this area of the Mediterranean, but it is the timing that is significant (as in1 Kings 19:11, Matthew 27:51, 28:2)This earthquake woke up the governor of the jail, and finding the prison doors open, he assumed there had been a jail break. Killing himself was preferable to what the Roman authorities would do to him for letting the prisoners escape.

16:28-30 Paul shouted to assure him that the prisoners were all quiet inside the prison. He had lights brought in, fell down before Paul and Silas, brought them outside and asked what he must do to be saved from the obvious wrath of God.

16:31-33 He was told about Jesus the Lord, who could save him and his family (as in 2:39). It seems his family members and slaves rushed into the jail, and Paul and Barnabas preached to them right there while the jailor tended Paul and Silas' wounds (in the jail infirmary ?). And there and then, still inside the jail, the governor of the jail and his "entire family" were baptized. This illustrates the fact that there was no probation needed for baptism (see notes on 2:41, 8:12, 36-38, 10:47).

16:34 The jailor presumably left the jail guards to secure the prisoners, and he brought the missionaries up out of the jail into his own house where he served them breakfast. Luke makes clear that the family was baptized because of the jailor's faith, but they were all happy for this.

16:35 By morning the magistrates must have been shaken by the earthquake, and by then they may have heard that Paul was a Roman citizen. They tried to do damage control by having the police tell the governor of the jail he could release Paul and Silas.

16:36 But Paul insisted that his rights as a Roman citizen (see 22:22-25) had been grossly violated, and the magistrates should come and offer an apology in person, which they did. They then asked Paul and Silas to leave the city, which they were probably glad to do. Before leaving they went to the congregation gathered at Lydia's home (16:15), encouraged them, and went on their way. Luke stops using the plural "we" and "us" in his account from this point until he joined Paul in Ephesus (21:1) This suggests Luke was left in Philippi to help the two congregations of the church of Philippi (the one that met in the house of the governor of the jail and the other at Lydia's home) for a period of at least eighteen months (this was about the time it took to help a church fly on its own, 18:11, 19:10).

Chapter  17