Exegetical Notes: Acts 16:22-34

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

The events in these verses are ignited by Paul’s healing of a slave girl who “had a spirit of divination. Scholars tie her divination back to the false god Apollo, (who was represented by a Python snake), the original priestess at Delphi (home of Apollo) was said to have the gift of divination as well. Thus this slave girl is also able to predict future events. She was a source of great profit for her owners and when Paul became aggravated at her following them around for several days, he cast the demon out of the girl. The owners of this girl became angry over their impending profit losses and began a stir in the city of Philippi (v. 12).

“them” – Paul and Silas

“the magistrates” – City officials didn’t waste this opportunity, and sought political gain by ordering the men to be beaten with rods.

23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.

24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

“inner prison” – possibly a dungeon. The jailer took his command to keep them under close watch seriously, locking them in the most secure cell and also binding their feet in stocks to avoid the possibility of escape.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,

What an odd reaction for such a sentence! Yet this type of faith and embracing of suffering seems to be reassuring theme in the book of Acts and writings of Paul. Consider Acts 5:41, Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” and Phil. 3:10, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

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 everyone’s bonds were unfastened.

In this verse, we see God come to the rescue of his followers yet again.

“This supernatural deliverance reminds the reader of the parallel experiences of Peter (cf. 5:18–20; 12:3–11). This was certainly an unusual midnight experience in a prison—the earth quaking, the prison shaking, doors flying open … chains falling off.” Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 400.

27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.

This reaction might seem odd to us. You would suppose him to establish a posse of sorts and immediately begin a search for Paul and Silas. However, the fate of the prisoner would be placed upon those who failed to keep them in chains, thus the guard would rather die at his own hand and save himself from prolonged agony and shame.

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

Another odd response from Paul and Silas.

29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

The culmination of these events has led the jailer to understand that Paul and Silas are representatives of the true God. He responds by asking life’s most crucial question, “what must I do to be saved?”

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

“Believe” – to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance—‘to believe in, to have confidence in, to have faith in, to trust, faith, trust.’ Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 375.

…to rely on.

Note the simplicity of the gospel, yet it becomes one of man’s hardest decisions. QUES: Why is this so?

32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

“the word” – meaning the gospel of Christ.

33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

Here we find a third odd act of behavior. Prisoners of that day were not issued the same rights our current institutionalized criminals enjoy. The jailer’s care for these men must not be overlooked. This is evidence of some of the Spirit’s earliest work in this new believer.

“he and all his family” – there is debate over the nature of this phrase. However, we know there is no patriarchal salvation issued in biblical texts. Each member who committed themselves to the Lord did so under personal conviction and volition.

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

“rejoiced” – the people of God should always respond with joy when the Spirit rescues an individual from sin.