Acts Chapter 16: Lydia, Possessed Damsel, and Jailer

Jan 21st, 2012 | By | Category: Acts, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Acts 16:1 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek:

Acts 16:2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.

Acts 16:3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.

Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Although young, he was very zealous and “well reported of by the brethren.” Paul wanted Timothy to enter the work and go with Silas and him. In this regard, Paul thought it would be wise for Timothy to be circumcised because, having a Jewish mother, he would be considered a Jew. Circumcision was not essential now that Timothy was a Christian, but for the sake of expediency, it would be helpful in witnessing to Jews. Otherwise, Timothy might be a stumbling stone. To repeat, it was not wrong for Paul to have Timothy circumcised because others were not pressuring or commanding Timothy and saying that circumcision was necessary for a Christian. A Jew in Christ was like a Gentile in Christ.

There was no difference.

The circumstances were different with Titus, who was a Greek, a Gentile (Gal. 2:3-5). Therefore, it was better that Titus not be circumcised, even privately, for word would spread, and the implication would be that circumcision was essential for a Christian. Paul received a lot of pressure in regard to Titus, but it was wrong to insist that he undergo the procedure. With his great intellect and knowledge, Paul was eventually able to influence many brethren to reason correctly, but in the beginning, it was hard to counteract cultural thinking.

Acts 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.

Acts 16:5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

Acts 16:6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

Acts 16:7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

Acts 16:8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.

Paul and Silas read the Jerusalem council letter in all the cities they visited; hence it was read beyond Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, to whom the letter was addressed (Acts 15:23). Since Antioch had a number of Gentile converts, the problem concerning circumcision was seen as being there, but actually the problem was widespread.

After visiting all of the cities where they had preached on the first missionary tour, Paul went to new places instead of returning to Antioch. He wanted to go up into the heartland of Asia towards Ararat, but twice the Holy Spirit stopped him, possibly by an auricular pronouncement by Silas, who was a prophet, or else by an obvious providence. Asia Minor is present-day Turkey. Asia proper is now Turkey, Ararat, India, Russia, etc. The Lord overruled that Paul went to Troas, which was on the coast of the Aegean Sea.

Acts 16:9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.

Acts 16:10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

Acts 16:11 Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis;

Acts 16:12 And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.

In Troas, Paul received a night vision that called him to Macedonia—and specifically to the chief city, Philippi. Notice the promptness with which Paul obeyed the vision—he left for Macedonia “immediately.” In the vision, a man of Macedonia appeared to Paul and urged him to come to Macedonia and help there. The man in the vision could have appeared as the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:23).

Acts 16:13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.

Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Acts 16:15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

Since there was no synagogue in Philippi, a Roman city, Paul sought the Jews on the sabbath in the place where they met, which was outside the city by a river. There, outdoors, “prayer was wont [accustomed] to be made” by the riverside. Paul and those accompanying him sat down and spoke to the women who were gathered there.

Comment: For the first time, Paul specifically sought out a group of women.

Reply: Evidently, women were more in the habit of praying. Praying women are mentioned several times in the Old Testament.

Lydia, a seller of purple, was from Thyatira. Being temporarily away from home indicates that she was a merchant and evidently a person of means. Perhaps she had a second residence in Philippi. She quickly grasped the message, responded wholeheartedly, and was baptized.

Subsequently, she constrained Paul and Silas to stay at her home. Although Paul was an apostle, it was proper for him not to take hospitality for granted, and he waited until Lydia insisted. Similarly, when Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee, he ignored the apostles until they called out to him, “Master, save us!” (Mark 6:48-51).

Notice that the Lord opened her heart, and “she attended unto the things” that Paul spoke. We are reminded of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who sat at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39). There are other similarities between Jesus and Paul. For instance, Paul sat by the river and talked to Lydia, and Jesus sat by a well and talked to the woman of Samaria. The similarities give us some idea of conditions back there.

Lydia’s influence is shown by the fact that her whole household was baptized. She had wealth, respect, servants, etc., but in addition, she was noble and reverent.

Acts 16:16 And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:

Acts 16:17 The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation.

Acts 16:18 And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

Verses 16-18 describe another incident that occurred in Philippi. “A certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination … followed Paul and us [Silas and Luke], and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. If we put ourselves in Paul’s place, we can see what a distraction the young woman was. At first, the possessed damsel’s words sounded complimentary for Paul, and her spirit of divination was considered a mystic power of perception. She was saying that Paul and the others taught the way of salvation. Why, therefore, was it proper for Paul to cast out the demon when the message was true? (1) If the damsel’s message was allowed to persist, Paul might use it as an aid to his ministry. The situation was like Jesus’ being tempted to cast himself off the pinnacle of the Temple. The Scriptures do say that the angels would protect him lest he dash his foot against a stone, so Jesus could have reasoned, “This suggestion by the Adversary will help to publicize my ministry,” but in both cases, Satan’s strategy was wrong. (2) Paul knew that a demoniac spirit was prompting the damsel to say these things. (3) Based on the final results of this experience (Acts 16:29-24), Satan may have planned the whole scenario, for he would not mind sacrificing some of his own followers if he could accomplish something that would be damaging to the Lord’s cause. In other words, it may have been Satan’s strategy to cause the possessed damsel to speak a message of truth, for he knew that the result would be the imprisonment of Paul and Silas.

Comment: We are reminded of the occasion when Jesus cast evil spirits into a herd of swine. The swine ran off a cliff and drowned. The owners, instead of rejoicing at the cured man, were angry at Jesus for the death of their animals. Satan arranged this incident in advance to bring persecution on Jesus.

Reply: Yes, the Adversary is a cunning, wily mastermind with ulterior motives.

“Paul, being grieved, [finally] turned and said to the [fallen] spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he [the fallen spirit] came out the same hour.” Paul ignored the damsel for “many days” but eventually had to act by exorcising the damsel.

Q: Instead of “divination” in verse 16, the King James margin has “Python,” a proper name. The damsel was “possessed with a spirit of Python.” Verse 18 reads, “Paul … said to the spirit,” as if he was addressing a personality. Therefore, is verse 16 referring by name to a particular fallen angel?

A: Yes, Python would be a fallen angel—and probably one of the Adversary’s chief personalities. A “python” is a snake, and in Satanic worship, vulgar and repulsive titles are used, Python being an example. To us, the names are repulsive but not to those who are cultured in the occult and in tradition. For instance, one of the symbols of the Roman Empire was a dragon, which is a serpent or a snake. Dragons are generally portrayed in a repugnant fashion with big teeth and fire coming out of their mouth, but to a mind indoctrinated in evil or the occult, these characteristics are attractive.

Satan does not compromise the evil he loves but has his cultists address him knowingly as Satan and as the author of evil, lasciviousness, and so forth. To Satan, such titles or identifying marks are flattery and praise, and he accepts them boldly.

Comment: The word “spirit” in verse 16 is the Greek pneuma, that is, an invisible power. The verse would thus read, “A certain damsel possessed with an invisible power of Python … brought her masters [plural] much gain by soothsaying.”

Reply: She had quite a reputation and great mystical capabilities through the knowledge of the fallen angels, particularly in this case.

Acts 16:19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,

Acts 16:20 And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,

Acts 16:21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.

Acts 16:22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.

We get a little clue here as to why there was no synagogue in Philippi, a Roman city, namely, because of animosity toward the Jews. To say to the populace and the magistrates, “These men are Jews,” was like waving a red flag. The people had no qualms about flogging Jews. The magistrates tore the clothes off Paul and Silas to beat them.

Comment: “Masters” (plural) means that the damsel had at least two owners but probably more for them to have drawn Paul and Silas to the magistrates. The damsel’s powers would have supported them all in a lavish way.

Acts 16:23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely:

Paul and Silas were beaten with many stripes and then cast into prison. The jailer was charged “to keep them safely”; that is, he was charged with his life.

Acts 16:24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

Acts 16:25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

Acts 16:26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.

The Philippian jailer was evidently charged in strong terms for the security of Paul and Silas, and for that reason, he took them into the “inner[most] prison,” into the depths of the dungeon, as it were. In addition, he double-locked them by having their feet fastened in stocks. His life was on the chopping block if they escaped.

Comment: Meanwhile, the backs of Paul and Silas were ribbons of flesh from the beating. At midnight, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns. Why “midnight”?

During the daytime, the

y were weakened from being dragged to the prison, thrown down, manhandled, and put in stocks. Midnight, therefore, was probably the hour they started to recover from the beatings. As they revived, they used their strength to pray and sing, in spite of their bleeding backs. Instead of complaining, they rejoiced for the persecution, as Jesus had enjoined, and showed FAITH (Matt. 5:11,12). The prisoners, who would have seen Paul and Silas coming into the prison in a wretched state, now heard them praying and singing. How remarkable!

Comment: God must have overruled in advance to make sure that at least one of them had a good singing voice that would carry.

Reply: With Paul having a weaker voice, perhaps Silas carried the tune.

A great earthquake suddenly shook the prison to its foundations, opening all doors and loosing the bands of all prisoners! (We are reminded of an earlier incident, in which Peter’s chains fell off while he was in prison—Acts 12:7.) The prisoners, immobilized in shock and fear, did not escape but stayed there. They had just heard singing that praised God, and suddenly a great shaking showed that God was angry at the prison keeper. They were stunned. Paul and Silas were in the inner prison and the gates or doors opened all the way out to where the jailer was sleeping. The prison keeper had taken his “charge” so seriously that he had put Paul and Silas in the innermost part of the dungeon and fastened their feet in stocks. Now the doors were open all the way to the outer gate.

Comment: It was a selective earthquake, for the ceiling did not come down on their heads.

Acts 16:27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

Being outside at the outer gate, the prison keeper had probably not heard the singing. In the poor illumination, he could see the open doors, but he could not see into the cells. Fearing that the prisoners had escaped, he was ready to commit suicide, for he knew the Roman authorities would kill him for failing to keep Paul and Silas and the others secure.

Acts 16:28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

But Paul cried from the inner part of the prison with a loud voice, “Do not kill yourself, for we are all here.” Although Paul could not have seen the jailer at this point, he responded under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 16:29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

Acts 16:30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

Acts 16:31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Acts 16:32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

Acts 16:33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

Acts 16:34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

As the jailer brought Paul and Silas out, he would have closed the doors behind them to keep the other prisoners there in jail. The fact he needed a light shows that Paul and Silas had been singing and praying in the dark. Incidentally, Luke, the recorder, was spared, for Paul and Silas were the ones doing the preaching. Notice that not only the jailer but also all of his household were converted.

Q: Wasn’t it unusual for Paul to say, “Believe on [into] the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your house” before he had even met the members of the jailer’s household?

A: That is why the man in the earlier night vision telling Paul to “come over into Macedonia, and help us [plural]” may have been the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:9). Then Paul would have recognized the jailer as that man.

Comment: Paul might have recognized the jailer as he was brought into the prison. Then he would have pondered and prayed to know what the providence meant: “Lord, what would you have me do regarding this jailer?”

Acts 16:35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, Let those men go.

Acts 16:36 And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace.

When the sergeants (a lower form of magistrates) got word of what had happened in the prison, they would have run and told the magistrates. The sergeants may even have said that the jailer washed the wounds of Paul and Silas and fed them. And no doubt the earthquake that mightily shook the prison shook the city environs as well. Hence the magistrates were frightened and wanted to get Paul and Silas out of the city, and they knew the two had been preaching about God. Paul and Silas had been thought of as lowly Jews and troublemakers, but now the magistrates were terrified.

Acts 16:37 But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.

Acts 16:38 And the sergeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.

Acts 16:39 And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.

When the prison keeper told Paul that the magistrates were releasing Silas and him, Paul used an interesting strategy, saying, “We are Romans, and they beat us while we were uncondemned.” (Silas was a Roman too, and Paul’s words show how Roman citizens were favored.) Paul then insisted that the magistrates come in person to release them. Now fearing greatly, the magistrates went to the prison and brought Paul and Silas out and asked them to leave Philippi.

Acts 16:40 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.

Paul and Silas left the prison, but they did not leave the city right away. Instead they went to Lydia’s and saw the brethren and comforted them. Then they departed. It was proper for Paul and Silas not to leave the city in haste, for to do so would have indicated they were afraid and, hence, would have given the wrong message to the other brethren.


(1991–1992 Study)

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