When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, ‘These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.’Acts 16:19-26
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.
Paul and Silas in Prison
This is one of the most intriguing stories in the book of Acts. In Paul’s letters, we hear his encouragement to trust and pray in all circumstances. Even in his letters from prison, he writes about rejoicing and giving thanks. In this passage, we see Paul exhibit the same qualities he calls us to practice. “Pray without ceasing, rejoice always, and give thanks in every circumstance, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
Paul’s second missionary journey (15:36-18:22) begins with changed personnel. Silas (Silvanus) and later Timothy (16:3), instead of Barnabas (15:36-40), are the companions of Paul. After “strengthening the churches” in Syria and Cilicia (15:41), he revisits Derbe and Lystra. The journey through the enigmatic “region of Phrygia and Galatia” follows, as does the divinely-guided decision to go to Macedonia (or “Europe” as it is known to us today). Paul and the team plant new churches in Philippi and Thessalonica, head to Berea, escape to Athens (where Paul has a run-in with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers), and finally, enjoy a longer and more fruitful stay at Corinth.
Ephesus, destined to be a center for future evangelization, was briefly visited, and Paul sailed for Caesarea, “went up and greeted the church” (18:22), and then “went down to Antioch.” The graphic style and the highlighting of dramatic incidents, such as the stories of the slave girl, the jail delivery at Philippi (16:16-40) and Paul’s address at Athens (17:22-34), give us the authentic flavor of Paul’s mission.
Scripture Notes on Paul’s second missionary Journey (Acts 15:40-18:21)
These verses highlight the beginning of the narrative of the “second missionary journey.” After passing through Syria and Cilicia (15:23), Paul and Silas revisit the churches of the previous mission (14:6-23).
Paul and Silas travel west to Macedonia under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In New Testament times, the Roman province of Asia consisted of the entire western coast of Asia Minor. Luke, however, uses the name “Asia” to mean not the whole area but the territory around the capital city, Ephesus. Thus, Paul, forbidden to preach around Ephesus, moves north toward Bithynia. Then, being banned again, he turns west to go through Mysia to Troas.
From Troas, Paul and his company sailed to Neapolis, stopping overnight on the island of Samothrace. Taking the Via Egnatia (the Roman road to the west), they travel inland some nine miles to Philippi.
The word translated as “place of prayer” is a synonym for “synagogue.” However, Luke is probably describing an area where the river makes a bend providing a small natural amphitheater. This was probably a place where people would go to gather water, bathe and wash clothes. It was a natural place to meet people and share the gospel.
Lydia is the first convert in Philippi. She is described as having a heart to receive the gospel. Her conversion involves the baptism of her relatives and slaves—since the decision of the master is valid for the whole household. The church, which resulted from this conversion, maintained good relations with Paul (Philippians 1:3-5 and 4:10, 15-16).
This section includes one of the most intriguing stories in the book of Acts. Paul and Silas meet a slave girl who uses sorcery to tell fortunes and who brings substantial economic gain for her owners. Paul identifies her possessed soul and casts out the spirits. She becomes the second convert of Philippi.
When the owners realize the loss of income due to her conversion, Paul and Silas are again dragged into the market. Like a Roman forum, the agora of a Greek city was both marketplace and judicial center. The ruins at Philippi include a platform used for public speeches and trials. The missionaries are charged with being Jews who have disturbed the city.
The victims are stripped as a preparation to beat them with rods. The jailer is probably the prison’s warden, perhaps holding the centurion rank. The inner prison was probably underground with no windows; the traditional site can be visited today. The description of feet being put in stocks (literally “wood”) and the other extreme security measures enhance the miracle of escape. When the doors open and the chains fall off, the other prisoners obey Paul’s request to stay, which shows the impression Paul and Silas have made on them.
The jailer’s attempt on his own life is an effort to avoid humiliating judgment, torture and execution by his superiors. His question, which historically would be no more than a call for help, becomes the cry of one ready to obey the gospel: “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is a simple confession of the Pauline faith (Romans 10:9). The prediction in verse 17 that Paul and Silas proclaim the way of salvation is fulfilled.
The jailer takes Paul, Silas and the prisoners to his house to hear more of the gospel. The whole group then goes to where their wounds can be washed, and the entire family can be baptized.
The magistrates send police to release the prisoners. The police are “lictors” (literally “rod bearers), which symbolizes their power to execute the judgments of the magistrates. Paul is told of his release by the jailer, who employs the biblical admonition “Go in peace.” Paul is furious, insisting that officials who have beaten a Roman citizen must come themselves and release them. As a Roman citizen, Paul is referring to his right to a full investigation and fair trial.
Paul and his companions travel west to Thessalonica by way of the Via Egnatia through Amphipolis and Apollonia. The trip is over 100 miles. Thessalonica is the most important city in Macedonia. As well as being the capital of the Roman territory, it was a free city with its own administration.
Following his missionary strategy, Paul begins his preaching in the synagogue. A period of more than three weeks is suggested by Paul’s claim that he worked in the city to support his mission (1 Thessalonians 2:9), and then he received two offerings from Philippi while there (Philippians 4:16).
This section ends when Jason and some local converts are dragged before the city authorities. The charge is ironic. They are accused of disturbing the order—of having turned the world upside down. This is precisely what the early Christians did! The world would never be the same again.
The missionary journey ends with a tour through Beroea, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus. We know of Paul’s work in Corinth and Ephesus through his letters, but little is known of his work in Athens and Berea. Some have assumed that Paul had little success in Athens because of its wealth and widespread pagan practices.
Corinth was similar to Athens with its wealth and reputation for pagan cults and immorality, but it is here that Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla. These two have recently been driven out of Rome by the emperor and dedicated themselves to establishing a church in Corinth and later in Ephesus.
At Corinth, Paul is joined again by Silas and Timothy. This seems to allow Paul to concentrate on preaching. They also could have brought the financial contribution to which Paul refers in II Corinthians (cf. II Corinthians 11:9). This contribution would have provided a much-needed boost to the missionary work in Corinth.
As a result, Paul stays a year and six months in Corinth. According to an inscription, Gallio became governor of Achaia in A.D. 51 or 52. If Paul’s appearance before him occurred at the end of the apostle’s stay in Corinth, the mission must have begun in 50 or 51. Paul leaves Corinth and travels on to Ephesus. Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. The temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, had been built outside its walls. Paul stays in Ephesus for over two years. Afterward, he visits Jerusalem on his way back to Antioch.
Bridges to the 21st Century
In Acts 17, notice the accusation against the Christians that they are turning the world “upside down.” Can you identify ways the 21st-century church is turning the world “upside down”? Are there things we can do in our church to “turn the world upside down”?
In Acts 18:1-23, notice how Paul takes up a trade in Corinth as a tentmaker. His job was the means of providing income for his calling. How does our calling to live for Christ take priority in the 21st century? In verse 18:11, we are told that Paul stays longer in Corinth. Corinth was a city that could be described as the French Quarter of the Roman Empire because of its wild and dangerous atmosphere. Here we see that others besides Paul are also suffering for their faith. Are there ways that we are challenged with “dangerous living conditions” because of our faith in the 21st century?
Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. This passage describes Paul’s life and faith in the face of his hardships. What does it teach us about how we might face adversity?