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Power Encounters in Philippi
with a jailhouse rock
site of the bema and agora of ancient Philippi
Acts 16:16–34 (NAB)
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl with an oracular spirit, who used to bring a large profit to her owners through her fortune-telling. 17 She began to follow Paul and us, shouting, “These people are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She did this for many days. Paul became annoyed, turned, and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” Then it came out at that moment. 19 When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the public square before the local authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These people are Jews and are disturbing our city 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack on them, and the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After inflicting many blows on them, they threw them into prison and instructed the jailer to guard them securely. 24 When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and secured their feet to a stake. 25 About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, 26 there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew (his) sword and was about to kill himself, thinking that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted out in a loud voice, “Do no harm to yourself; we are all here.” 29 He asked for a light 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?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” 32 So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. 33 He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. 34 He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.
An notable event in Philippi is an exorcism. As I have written elsewhere (Delphi Oracle Voice from the Past), the girl was possessed by a python spirit and was distorting the Gospel. Paul exorcised her and this upset her employers. Paul and Silas were brought before the city magistrates where they were flogged and thrown into prison. Instead of bemoaning their fate, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns around midnight. An earthquake occurred which broke open the prison doors and locks. Philippi and its surrounding regions are prone to earthquakes. Fearing the prisoners had taken advantage of the situation and escaped, the jailer wanted to kill himself. He was saved by Paul who informed him that the prisoners are still in the prison. The jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). An interesting question to ask considering the circumstances. Obviously the jailor did not meant physical death as Paul has stopped him from committing suicide. Could the jailor be asking to submit to Paul’s God who was obviously stronger than his gods which did not protect the jail? Perhaps he had heard Paul’s preaching in the agora. What Luke documented was that he responded to Paul’s answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” He believed and he and his household was saved. He even brought them to his own home to clean and feed them! This is a strong indication that the jailor truly believed and now treated Paul and Silas as his brothers in the faith. The earthquake, a physical phenomenon which accompanied the preaching of the Gospel must have a powerful impact on Philippi.
Paul referred to this incident about being arrested in 1 Thessalonians 2:2
1 Thessalonians 2:2 (NAB)
2 Rather, after we had suffered and been insolently treated, as you know, in Philippi, we drew courage through our God to speak to you the gospel of God with much struggle.
Lydia and the unnamed jailer apparently was the beginning foundations of a healthy church. Paul maintained contact by letters and messengers (Acts 19:22; Phil 2:22-23). On several occasions, Paul visited the church during his travels (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5; Acts 20:1-6). The church in Philippi had a lot of concern and love for Paul. They prayed for Paul’s release from prison in Rome and also sent Epaphroditus with gifts and personally to encourage the imprisoned apostle (Phil 4:15-16) at a time when he needed encouragement the most.
Philippians 4:15–16 (NAB)
15 You Philippians indeed know that at the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, not a single church shared with me in an account of giving and receiving, except you alone.16 For even when I was at Thessalonica you sent me something for my needs, not only once but more than once.
Of the several epistles which Paul wrote to the various churches, his Epistles to the Philippians did not have much scolding but was full of praises. The epistle to the Philippians is encouraging in its content and intent.
traditional site of Paul's prison (likely to be a Roman cistern)
Acts 16:35–40 (NAB)
35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the lictors with the order, “Release those men.” 36 The jailer reported the (se) words to Paul, “The magistrates have sent orders that you be released. Now, then, come out and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, even though we are Roman citizens and have not been tried, and have thrown us into prison. And now, are they going to release us secretly? By no means. Let them come themselves and lead us out.” 38 The lictors reported these words to the magistrates, and they became alarmed when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and placated them, and led them out and asked that they leave the city. 40 When they had come out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and then they left.
Philippi was founded by King Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great when he conquered the city state of Krenides and named it after himself. During the 2nd century B.C. the Romans conquered Philippi. The most important event during this period was when the combined armies of Octavian (who later became Octavian Augustus Caesar) and Mark Anthony defeated the combined armies of Brutus and Cassius (the murderers of Julius Caesar) in the plain just outside the west wall of Philippi. This put an end to the Roman Republic. Veterans from this and previous campaigns were given land around Philippi. Philippi became a Roman colony.
When the magistrates learnt that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens and that they had them imprisoned and flogged without a trial, the magistrates were alarmed and tried to appease them. That may be the reason why Paul and Silas did not try to escape. Paul was not above using the privileges of being born a Roman citizen to his advantage. It may be noted at he travelled mostly with others who had Roman citizenship. There are three major categories of citizenship. The highest was being born a citizen of Roman. Next are slaves who were freedman-manumission. The third category were those who bought their citizenship or had their citizenship conferred after serving twenty years in the Roman armies. Thus being a Roman citizen confers certain privilege and protection. One cannot but notice that Paul seems to choose Roman controlled towns and provinces for his ministry. This may be a deliberate choice on Paul’s part. In demanding an apology from the magistrates, Paul may be demonstrating to the city of Philippi that he was innocent and had not broken any laws. This is important and of reverence to the newly planted church in Philippi that was not associated with any wrong-doing.
source: Clyde Fant and Mitchell Reddish (2003), A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 103
31 May 2015
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