Yet Another Helper
In Derbe, the last city Paul reached in his earlier missionary journey, he had "taught many" (Acts 14:21), the implication being that many had received the gospel. From Derbe he retraced the steps of his first journey in reverse order, going next to Lystra, where he found an outstanding young man by the name of Timothy. The brethren not only in Lystra but also in the neighboring city of Iconium held Timothy in high regard. It is evident that he had already taken a prominent place in the work of the church. Perhaps one factor contributing to strong faith in this young man was that he had stood among the witnesses when Paul, after being stoned and left for dead, rose again to his feet.
In the opinion of all who knew Timothy, he was ready for larger responsibility. Paul therefore decided to take him along as another helper in his missionary work.
Yet there was one serious question about Timothy's suitability as a helper. Although his mother was a Jewish Christian, his father was a Greek pagan. The writer, Luke, does not actually say that his father was an unbeliever, but his pointed reference to his mother as a believer leaves no doubt that his father was not. In his Second Epistle to Timothy, Paul says that Timothy's faith had resided first in his grandmother Lois and then in his mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5), but he makes no mention of his father.
The hindrance to using Timothy in evangelistic work was not, however, his lack of a godly father. Rather, everyone knew that despite being a Jew on the maternal side of his family, he was not circumcised. Paul realized that if he ushered a man like Timothy into the ministry, some other Jews would raise a clamor.
To silence any possible objections to Timothy's presence on the missionary team, Paul took and circumcised him. Timothy's willingness to accept hardship for the sake of serving God was therefore put to a demanding test right at the outset of his ministry. His willingness to suffer pain in order to fend off destructive criticism is a fine illustration of a principle Paul later taught the Corinthians: "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22).
Helping New Churches
Now with Timothy as their helper, Paul and Silas continued their work of strengthening churches already established. Everywhere they went, they not only fortified believers with good teaching, but also enabled them to continue growing. No doubt both in their teaching and practice they emphasized soulwinning—in their practice by laboring themselves at evangelism, and in their teaching by encouraging all other believers to be witnesses also. The result was that the churches added new people daily.
On a Path to Europe
After Lystra, the missionary team ventured onward until they had gone "throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia."
The next cities the team must have visited to fulfill Paul's objective of revisiting all places of earlier ministry (Acts 15:36) were Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. Then, having completed phase one of this missionary journey—the consolidation of earlier victories in the war for souls— Paul was ready for phase two. Where to preach next? As he stood in Pisidian Antioch, he must have sensed that off in the distance, on a nearly direct line toward the setting sun, was the great city of Ephesus, not only a large city and an important center of Greek religion, but also a provincial capital. It was the seat of government for Asia, a large province occupying the western portion of Asia Minor. For the next sortie by gospel invaders, Ephesus must have seemed like the logical choice. But when Paul submitted his plan to the Holy Spirit, his divine counselor did not agree. The Spirit forbade Paul and his party to preach in Asia.
Evidently Paul felt that the Spirit nevertheless seemed friendly to his overall desire to carry the gospel into new territory. So, instead of moving into the heart of Asia, he together with Silas and Timothy took a course that would lead them to lands beyond. The new plan that formed in their minds was to enter Bithynia, the province along the Black Sea bordering the north coast of Asia Minor. They started by moving north-northwestward until they reached Mysia, the northernmost region in the province of Asia. With rather vague boundaries, it lay along the Aegean coast just below the Dardanelles and the western half of the Marmara Sea. The likely meaning when Paul says they "were come to Mysia" is that they proceeded north until, on their left side, they were opposite the border of this region.4 They were probably in the general vicinity of such modern cities as Eskişehir and Kütahya.5 But again, as they resolved to move forward into Bithynia, the Spirit gave them a sense of His disapproval. The only track they felt the Spirit left open was toward the west. So, they turned westward and proceeded through the heart of Mysia until they reached its principal city, Troas, on the coast of the Aegean Sea. The expression "passing by Mysia" does not mean that they went around it, for in fact they took roads through it leading to Troas. It means, rather, that they passed by Mysia in their work of evangelism.6
In traveling from Derbe to Troas, Paul and his team proved themselves sturdy men indeed. As noted earlier, the distance from Derbe to Pisidian Antioch was about 170 miles.7 Since we do not know the exact route taken, we can only estimate the distance they walked from Pisidian Antioch to Troas, but a sum of three hundred miles as the crow flies would not be much in error.8 Including the 230 miles before they reached Derbe,9 the whole journey from Syrian Antioch to Troas was a formidable hike of seven hundred miles.
Why did the Spirit block preaching in Asia and Bithynia and encourage them instead to move on to Troas? Because He was leading them out of Asia Minor altogether. He wanted the gospel to make a great leap forward to another continent, the continent of Europe. Whereas Paul and Silas wanted to scour a small corner of the world, the Spirit wanted to advance as quickly as possible to the uttermost regions.
At Troas, Paul had a vision during the night. He saw a man of Macedonia who called out, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us." The next day, Paul had no doubt that the vision came from God. Immediately, the men set sail. Embarking from Troas, they went straight to the island of Samothrace, midway between Asia and Europe, and the next day they arrived at Neapolis, a port city in the province of Macedonia.
Before leaving Asia, Paul and Silas added an important new member to their team. The "we" in verse 10 is the first time this pronoun occurs in the Book of Acts. In a humble way, calling as little attention to himself as possible, Luke is revealing when he became Paul's faithful companion. Evidently he was in Troas when the missionary team arrived, and the hand of Providence brought him under their influence, so that he very soon decided to join them as another helper. Whether he was already a Christian when he met Paul, we do not know, but it is unlikely.
Luke coming alongside Paul just before Paul’s departure for Europe was the beginning of a long and very productive relationship. For many years at the end of Paul’s ministry, Luke would accompany Paul and serve as his helper in the work of God. The doctor was God’s perfect provision for the apostle. Because of all the abuse his body suffered (2 Cor. 11:23–28), Paul needed an attending physician.
The small town of Neapolis served as seaport for Philippi, an important city just ten miles inland.14 Therefore after disembarking, the team headed straight for Philippi, intending to make it the first outpost of gospel advance in Europe.
The First Convert in Europe
Doubtless Paul’s intent in Philippi was to follow his usual strategy of presenting the gospel first to Jews and God-fearers. But either Luke or someone he met after coming to the city informed him that it lacked a synagogue. Jewish law did not permit formation of a synagogue unless at least ten men over households would be in regular attendance.18 Wherever no synagogue was available for gatherings, Jews keeping one venerable tradition met for worship at a place outdoors near a body of water, either a river or a sea.19 Therefore, on the next Sabbath, Paul and his helpers went searching for the open-air meeting place of local believers in the God of Israel.
Whether because they learned its whereabouts from someone in the city or because they made a good guess, Paul's team quickly found the local place of prayer. It was "out of the city by a river side." The reference is probably to the Gangites River, the closest to town, off to the west only about a mile and a half from the city center so that going back and forth fell within the limits of a Sabbath day's journey.26 There they discovered a group of women who met for prayer every Sabbath. After introducing themselves, doubtless in such a way as to assure the assembled women that they were qualified Jewish teachers, they began preaching Christ.
One named Lydia, originally from Thyatira in Asia Minor but now a resident of Philippi, listened with special interest. She already "worshipped God," words implying that she was a gentile God-fearer. But God had not only brought her out of paganism and introduced her to the revelation of Himself in the Old Testament; he had prepared her to hear even fuller truth. Therefore when she heard the gospel, she believed it gladly.
Lydia was a successful businesswoman, seller of the purple fabric which was one of the chief products of Thyatira.27 The account says only that she was a merchant dealing in this fabric,28 yet it is probable that she was also a craftswoman active in producing it.29 Selling her own output would have been a considerably more profitable business than reselling cloth imported from another province.
Lydia happens to be the name of the province where Thyatira was located. Thus, we do not know whether Lydia was the woman's birth name, or a name that the Philippians bestowed on her because this province was her original home.32
Soon after Lydia’s conversion, her household also came to Christ. Presumably among them were all who lived with her, whether relatives or servants. Since there is no mention of a husband, we surmise that she was unmarried.33 Still, if she was a widow or separated from her husband, her household may have included children. Immediately, according to the practice of the early church, she and her household were baptized.
With a heart abounding in gratefulness to the messengers of the gospel, she insisted on giving them lodgings, and at last they agreed after she "constrained" them; that is, she kept making her offer until they accepted it.34 Her ability to furnish the whole team with a place to stay suggests that she was wealthy.35 The willingness of the apostles to take up residence in a woman's house leaves no doubt that it was full of people.
In accepting the hospitality of a gentile, although surely not for the first time in their ministry, they were following the precedent set by Peter when he entered the home of Cornelius. They were in effect striking another blow in the continuing effort to demolish the wall between gentile and Jewish believers.36
An Attack of Satan
While the apostles lodged with Lydia, they apparently returned each day to the riverside where they first met her. Luke says that they went for prayer, but perhaps also the riverside became a regular meeting place for all who wished to hear the apostles preach.
One day a girl followed them who cried out repeatedly, "These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation." What she said was perfectly true. Her theology was impeccable. But Paul resented her words. And as she continued to raise the same commotion day after day, her behavior brought him to the point of grief. Why? Because she was possessed by a devil, a spirit of divination. That is, the evil spirit within her enabled her to tell people's fortunes.
Finally, Paul became so irritated with the girl that he turned around and commanded in the name of Jesus Christ that the demon depart from her. As an apostle, Paul had the authority to cast out demons (Mark 16:17). The translation, "And he came out the same hour," leaves the impression that the demon did not obey until an hour later. That is not what Luke is saying. The ancients did not reckon time to the nearest minute, but rather to the nearest hour. Thus, what Luke means is that the demon left without delay, at the very time when Paul spoke.42
The girl did not have her own business as a fortune-teller. Rather, she was a slave whose earnings went to her masters. After the demon left, her prowess in divination vanished. The change was so quick and complete that her clients immediately discovered the loss of her prowess and stopped seeking her counsel. Her income dried up, and her masters were furious.
Holding Paul responsible, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the magistrates. A subtle clue in the narrative confirms that Luke himself escaped arrest. The last time he includes himself in the story by using a first-person pronoun is in verse 17. The next reference to himself does not appear until chapter 20.
Why did the slave owners single out Paul and Silas and leave the other members of the missionary team alone? No doubt these two apostles were prominent as leaders, while the rest stood largely unnoticed in the background.
Standing before the magistrates in the marketplace, the men holding Paul and Silas had to state charges, a difficult task since the apostles had done nothing wrong. The best the girl’s masters could do was to make two vague accusations: first, that as Jews, the apostles were a general nuisance, and second, that they promoted customs unlawful for Roman citizens.
Both accusations were false. The apostles had pursued their work of evangelism quietly, among people who were sympathetic to their message. Moreover, the gospel demanded nothing contrary to Roman law. But the accusers succeeded in igniting within the crowd an antagonism to the apostles, and passions rose, threatening to create an ugly mob.
The citizens of a Roman colony were very proud of things Roman and very disdainful of anyone as non-Roman as a Jew. It especially nettled them that Jews, so peculiar in their dress and habits and worldview, were nevertheless convinced that they were somehow better than Romans. Antisemitism ran high in the ancient world.45
Seeing the danger of mob violence, the magistrates gave in to the demand for action. They tore off the robes of Paul and Silas and commanded them to be beaten by rods.
Here was one of at least three times in Paul’s ministry when he was subjected to this brutal punishment (2 Cor. 11:25). The beating they received was severe, amounting to "many stripes." Their flogging was not limited to forty strokes, as it would have been under Mosaic law (Deut. 25:3). Afterward, they were no doubt reduced to extreme weakness through loss of blood.
Then the magistrates cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them under tight security. To assure they would not escape, the jailer put them into the deepest dungeon and locked their feet in stocks.
A Great Deliverance
Both men must have suffered pain greater than most of us have ever known. So great was their physical distress that they could not sleep. But as the night wore on, God strengthened them both in body and spirit. At midnight, instead of moaning or crying as others might have done, they sang praises to God. Their dungeon became a sanctuary; their confinement together became a worship service; their torment became rejoicing. How could they find joy in the midst of such an ordeal? No doubt they remembered the words of Jesus, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for their's is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matt. 5: 10-12). The singing of Paul and Silas was not with feeble voice, but with marvelous strength under the circumstances, for all the other prisoners heard them.
Luke is presumably explaining why these prisoners did not attempt an escape when the coming tremor broke their fetters. Hearing the two strong voices of praise in the midst of a dark, ugly prison must have given them a sense that the singers were truly messengers of a divine being. The earthquake then freeing Paul and Silas must have seemed a vindication of their testimony. So, once released, the other prisoners reckoned that it was safer to heed the men of God by staying inside than to flee at the risk of being caught again and suffering greater punishment.
Suddenly at midnight, the Lord dramatically delivered his two brave servants from bondage. He sent a great earthquake that rocked the foundation of the jail, opened every door, and loosened every chain. Nothing remained to prevent the escape of the prisoners, not only Paul and Silas but the rest as well. The jailer, wakened from sleep by the great shaking of the ground, came quickly and found the doors open. He naturally assumed that he was too late—that the prisoners had already taken advantage of the breakdown in security and made their escape. It therefore seemed to him that all was lost.
He knew full well that if his prisoners got away, he would be held responsible. The normal Roman punishment for failure in guarding prisoners was to suffer severe punishment, no less than death if any escapee faced the death penalty, but possibly death in any case.46 A threat of dire penalty if the jailer failed in his duty was probably implicit in the charge he received to "keep them [the prisoners] safely" (v. 23). These words may reflect a concern that because Paul could rid the girl of her Pythonic gift, he might be able to employ occult power to liberate himself and Silas. Perhaps the magistrates had heard of Jewish magicians such as those active in Cyprus47 or of Jewish exorcists such as those who would become prominent in Ephesus (Acts 19:13–17). What the jailer's overseers told him in essence was that he should take the precaution of posting an all-night watch. Later, when it seemed the prisoners had escaped, he realized how futile it would be to argue in his defense that an earthquake had opened the prison doors, for instead of stationing himself at the entrance as the magistrates desired, he had retired into the comfort of his own quarters.
He therefore resolved to kill himself. He took out his sword with the intent of falling upon it. But before he could commit suicide, a voice rang out, Paul's voice, pleading with him to do no harm to himself and assuring him that all the prisoners remained inside. The voice brought hope to the man's quaking heart. He called for a light and entered the inner prison, where he found that indeed no one was missing. With inexpressible gratitude he fell at the apostles' feet. He too must have understood that the earthquake was no coincidence, but divine intervention to free His servants. So, while filled with joy that he did not, after all, face a death penalty for shirking his duty, he was also filled with fear of the God who had just proved Himself in command of the natural world. He therefore begged to be saved. It appears that the clamor of the demon-possessed girl had at least accomplished one good thing. Everyone in Philippi, including the jailer, knew that Paul and Silas had come to show the way of salvation.48
The answer of the apostles is a classic statement of the gospel in its simplest form: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." They emphasized the need to believe on Jesus' full name, which distinguishes Him from all the Jesuses that have been invented by false religions. The Mormons, the Muslims, the liberals, the Catholics—all have their Jesus, but the figure they promote is not the real Lord Jesus Christ. They all in some measure deny that He is Lord and Christ. As Lord, He is the very God of all. As Christ, He is the sole Savior from sin.
The story has a happy ending. The apostles gave the message of salvation not only to the jailer, but also to his whole household, and they all received the truth gladly, becoming disciples of Christ.
Immediately, the jailer showed compassion on the apostles, his new brothers in Christ, by bringing water to wash their wounds. As soon as the apostles were able, although it was the middle of the night, they took the jailer together with his household and baptized them. A common view is that the rite was performed at a well in the courtyard,49 yet it is far more likely that they were baptized in the customary manner, by immersion, which would have required a larger body of water. Perhaps the very river that had been the hub of Christian activity was close by. If so, it was probably the place chosen.
At last, the apostles returned to the jailer’s home and sat down for a meal. No doubt Paul and Silas had not eaten since being arrested. The meal was a joyous time, as the jailer exulted not only in his deliverance from certain death, but also in his admittance to life in Jesus Christ.
Departure from Philippi
On the morning after "a great earthquake" (v. 26) strikes a city, there is much turmoil, as people assess damage and look for victims. But Luke’s account gives no hint that Philippi itself suffered any effects of the earthquake that opened the jail. On the contrary, when the new day dawned, the magistrates had no problem to deal with besides the aftermath of yesterday’s near riot. The severe ground shaking that delivered the apostles was evidently confined to one small place, clear evidence that it was supernatural in character. Perhaps an angel agitated the foundations of the prison.
When the magistrates came together, they pondered what to do with Paul and Silas. Perhaps they felt that the two Jews had already undergone enough punishment to keep them from causing another disturbance. But perhaps also they were uneasy because they flogged and jailed the two men without due process. As Paul said, the apostles were "openly uncondemned." He meant that the magistrates failed to render a formal judgment based on an actual trial, weighing both prosecution and defense. What they did was simply a spur-of-the-moment attempt to placate a mob. Thus, whether from a troubled conscience or from a confidence that they had rid themselves of further trouble, they sent their sergeants to the jailer with word that he should release the apostles.
Paul was not willing to pass over the injustice without protest. For the first time, he revealed that he and Silas were Roman citizens. He knew the impact this revelation would have on the magistrates of a Roman colony. Their primary obligation was to uphold Roman law, and one of its foremost demands was that Roman citizens receive just treatment.59 Paul was therefore blunt in warning the local magistrates that he was determined to stand on his rights. He complained that he and Silas were not only deprived of a fair trial, but also subjected to a beating. Roman citizens were exempt from any degrading form of punishment, such as flogging or crucifixion.60 Paul knew, as the magistrates knew, that if the governor of the province learned how the magistrates handled the case of Paul and Silas, he would view it as a serious breach of duty. Therefore, Paul refused to leave quietly, as if he were accepting the release as an act of mercy. Rather, he insisted that the magistrates come themselves and release the two apostles—a gesture equivalent to admitting that they had acted improperly.
The ultimatum was effective. When the sergeants returned with the information that the jailed men were Roman citizens, the magistrates became very afraid. So, in the hope of appeasing Paul and forestalling any complaint to their superiors, they complied immediately with Paul’s demands. They hurried to the jail, brought out the two apostles, and begged them to leave the city. Now that he had made his point, Paul was willing to go. First, however, he and Silas made a brief visit to the house of Lydia, where they met local believers and consoled them because circumstances did not allow the apostles to remain in their midst. Then with Timothy serving again as their companion, they departed from Philippi and resumed their missionary journey.
How interesting that Luke remembers the apostles as giving comfort, not as receiving comfort! They were the ones who bore nasty wounds. The incident therefore yields a glimpse of their unselfish hearts.
The absence of first-person pronouns in Luke’s further account of Paul’s first missionary journey tells us that the writer stayed behind when Paul left Philippi. Here is another circumstance suggesting that Philippi was Luke’s hometown. The reappearance of such pronouns in Acts 20:5–6 reveals that Luke joined Paul again when Paul revisited Philippi several years later, during his third missionary journey. The likely reason Luke did not continue with Paul after his first visit is that Luke was a new convert, not ready for a key role in advancement of God’s kingdom. Remaining in Philippi gave him a chance for seasoning in the arts of spiritual combat. No doubt he was a central figure in building the new church there.