The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 16:22-34

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 25, 2014


They thrust them into the inner prison and made their feet fast in the stocks (Acts 16:24).

They thrust them into the inner prison and made their feet fast in the stocks (Acts 16:24).

.As we saw in yesterday’s first reading Paul, at a place of Jewish prayer in Philippi, met and converted Lydia and accepted her gracious offer of hospitality (Acts 16:11-15). Later, while (apparently) on his way from Lydia’s house to the place of prayer, he is confronted by a slave-girl who is possessed with an oracular demonic spirit by which her masters make a good income; and he heals her, much to the anger of her masters who drag him and Silas before the city magistrates and issue the following charge: “These men disturb our city, being Jews: And preach a fashion which it is not lawful for us to receive nor observe, being Romans.” This happened in the city market-place and thus attracted a large crowd (Acts 16:16-21). It is at this point that today’s first reading commences.

22. And the people ran together against them; and the magistrates rending off their clothes, commanded them to be beaten with rods.

The people ran together; i.e., they rose up together against the Apostles, and the magistrates had the Apostles’ clothes torn off by lictors, as was customary before flagellation (Livy, viii. 32; Tacitus, Hist. iv. 2y). Paul could have appealed against this beating that he was a Roman citizen, but he preferred to submit to it out of love for Christ.

23. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the gaoler to keep them diligently.

Many stripes, the number of which was not determined by Roman law, but left to the decision of the judges or lictors. Among the Jews scourging was restricted to forty stripes. This should be understood as being the maximum number of stripes allowed, not the required number in every case (lesser crimes merited lesser stripes). Among the Jews it was a common practice to limit the stripes to thirty-nine to protect the inflicter of the punishment from transgressing the maximum allowed .

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

In the stocks; i.e., in pieces of wood containing holes, into which the feet of the prisoners were so fastened that escape was impossible. The image at the top of the page show oriental stocks used as late as the early 20th century.

25. And at midnight, Paul and Silas praying, praised God. And they that were in prison, heard them.

The actions of the afflicted missionaries calls to mind the three young men in the furnace in Daniel 3:24~And they walked in the midst of the flame, praising God, and blessing the Lord. I also recall the actions of St Maximilian Kolbe in the starvation bunker at Auschwitz.

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 the bands of all were loosed.

See the release of the Apostles from prison in Acts 5:17-20; and the rescue of Peter in Acts 12:1-19. The shaking of the earth accompanying prayer and praise of God recalls Psalm 18:7-8. Likewise in the Psalms the shaking of the earth is a sign of God’s rule over all (see Ps 97, especially verses 3-4), and of his kingship (Ps 99:1).

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

Would have killed himself, in order to avoid the great punishment in store for him for having permitted a prisoner to escape. See on Acts 12:19.

28. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying : Do thyself no harm, for we all are here.
29. Then calling for a light, he went in, and trembling, fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas.
30. And bringing them out, he said : Masters, what must I do, that I may
be saved?

Fell down, etc. The soldier was convinced that God had supernaturally intervened in behalf of the Apostles. Perhaps he had also heard of their sanctity, the doctrine they had been preaching, and the miracle they had wrought in the case of the poor possessed girl; hence his question.

Trembling. This, along with fear is often a human reaction to divine theophanies (Ex 14:30-31; 20:18-21; Judges 6:22-24).

What must I do, that I may be saved? The possessed slave girl that Paul had healed had identified the missionaries as the servants of the Most High God, who preach unto you the way of salvation (Acts 16:17). Here, in the jailer’s question, we see that mob violence, persecution, misguided laws and prison stocks cannot thwart that way

31. But they said: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Believe in the Lord Jesus. See on Acts 13:39.

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

They preached the word, etc. ; i.e., they briefly explained to the keeper and his family the doctrines necessary for salvation. It is not clear whether this took place in the prison, or in the keeper’s house; more probably it was in the prison or vestibule of the prison, as would appear from verse 34.

33. And he, taking them the same hour of the night, washed their stripes, and himself was baptized, and all his house immediately.

From the circumstances of time and place it seems more probable that the baptism of the keeper and his family was not by immersion.

34. And when he had brought them into his own house, he laid the table for them, and rejoiced with all his house, believing God.

See Luke 4:38-39; 5:27-32.


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