4. Gospel consolidation and expansion into Greece, 16:1-20:38

ii] Paul and Silas in prison


Following the vision of the man from Macedonia, 16:6-10, Paul crosses the Hellespont and enters Europe. Visiting Philippi, he is able to minister to a small fellowship of Jews and Godfearers and witness the conversion of Lydia, v11-15. Paul's ministry in Philippi enters a difficult phase when he exorcises a demonic power from a slave girl and finds himself, along with Silas, incarcerated for disturbing the peace, or more properly, interfering in legitimate trade. The miraculous release of Paul and Silas further grounds the fledgling Philippian church, although Paul and his missionary team are forced to leave town.


"Nothing can stop the gospel", Williams


i] Context: See 16:1-15.


ii] Background: See 16:1-15.


iii] Structure: This passage, Paul's mission in Philippi goes wrong, presents as follows:

An encounter with a Pythoness, v16-18;

The arrest, punishment and prison, v19-24;

A jailer and his family saved, v25-34;

Official embarrassment, v35-40.


iv] Interpretation:

Luke goes to into some detail telling this story and as Dunn notes, this may have nothing to do with theology, but with the fact that "it was a great story in itself." Tannehill argues that the focus of the story is on the jailor and his conversion. Here we see evident "the joyful experience of God's saving work that marked the earliest church appear now in a Roman environment", Tannehill. Luke's focus may well be on the exorcising of the slave girl, of the power of the gospel to dispel dark powers - the gospel is bigger than magic. The story does show that Paul exorcises demonic powers in like manner to Jesus; "the exorcism of the possessed slave girl is used by Luke to depict the triumph of Christianity over pagan Greco-Roman practices", Fitzmyer. Maybe Luke is taken by the earthquake and the miraculous release of Paul and Silas - human interference cannot thwart the progress of the gospel; "As in Acts 5 and 12, imprisonment is an attempt by the authorities to control the proclamation of the gospel, but in this narrative an earthquake transforms the situation", Peterson. God's hand is certainly evident in their release, although we are left wondering how prison doors can be wrenched open without major damage to the prison and the town in general, or at least Barrett so wonders. Possibly Luke is interested in the gospel's first encounter with Roman power and the justice accorded to the missionaries, although only after some injustice. It is worth nothing that the historic reliability of Acts can be assessed on the basis of Paul's encounters with Roman justice and it is generally felt today that Luke rates favorably in this regard, cf., Bock.


"You will be saved, you and your whole household", v31. As already noted, the salvation of households (family as well as staff?) is a feature of Acts. Here, the idea is boldly presented as a promise. The salvation of the household rests on the faith of the jailer. The faith of the head of a home achieves salvation, not only for himself, but the others in his family. Of course, the promise here should not be generalized. A specific promise to a specific person at a specific point in time, does not necessarily constitute a general promise to everyone for all time. What we have here is a gracious blessing for this particular person, a blessing which reflects the principle that God tends to work within families, and this because he created the family as the basic unit of human association.

Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, gives us another angle of this subject. His statement that a believing partner aJgiazw, "sanctifies", the unbelieving partner, and makes the children aJgioV, "holy", is covered by the indefinite use of the conjunction ei, "to what extent do you know whether you will save (your partner)?", v16. A personal faith in Christ guarantees salvation, but to what extent that salvation extends to family members remains a mystery. I would like to think that as long as members of my extended family do not reject Jesus outright they are then covered by my faith, but in the end I leave the matter in God's hands.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 16:16

Paul's mission in Philippi goes wrong, v16-40: i] Paul's encounter with a fortune-telling slave girl, v16-18. As Paul and Silas preach in Philippi, a "Pythoness" (a person inspired to speak oracles by Apollo) reveals that the apostles are servants of the supreme being. Over a number of days she follows the missionaries, and in a trans-like state, tells all and sundry that these men know the secret way of salvation. Enough is enough, so Paul miraculously removes her powers of divination.

poreuomenwn (poreuomai) pres. part. "[once] when we were going" - [and it happened] going. The participle is adverbial, temporal, as NIV.

eiV thn proseuchn "to the place of prayer" - to the prayer = a prayer place, a house of prayer. Obviously the newly established Christian house-church.

hJmin dat. pro. "we" - [to meet] us. Dative of direct object after uJpantaw which takes a dative of persons.

uJpanthsai (uJpantaw) act. inf. "were met by" - to meet. The infinitive, with its subject "a certain slave girl" in the accusative case, forms a substantival clause which stands as the subject of egeneto "happened"; a certain slave girl ...... met/meeting us happened = a certain slave girl by chance came upon us." For meaning the NRSV renders the phrase in the active voice, "we met a slave-girl." It's a chance crossing of paths, not a formal introduction.

ecousan (ecw) pres. part. "who had" - having. The participle is adjectival, limiting "slave girl", as NIV.

puqwna (wn onoV "[a spirit] by which she predicted the future" - [a spirit] a python. One would expect an adjectival genitive, puqwnoV. As an accusative it is probably standing in apposition to pneuma, "a spirit"; "a spirit, that is, a python (a soothsayer)", cf. Barrett. The term is used to describe someone who can predict the future. "A spirit of divination" NRSV. An "evil spirit", "demon-possessed" are possibilities, although that's not what's being said. Plutarch said they were "ventriloquists". It was believed that in their trans-like state they conveyed the words of God.

ergasian pollhn "a great deal of money" - profit/gain much. "Her owners made a handsome profit out of her fortune-telling", Barclay.

toiV kurioiV (oV) dat. "for [her] owners" - to [her] masters. Dative of interest, advantage.

manteuomenh (manteuomai) pres. part. "by fortune-telling" - divining. The participle is adverbial, probably instrumental, as NIV.


katakolouqousa (katakolouqew) pres. part. "[this girl] followed" - [this one / she] following. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "was crying out"; "She followed and cried out"

tw/ Paulw/ (oV) dat. "Paul" - Dative of direct object after the participle "following".

ekrazen (krazw) imperf. "shouting" - was calling out. The imperfect implies that she kept on crying out, ie. a continuous action. "She kept following them and shouting out."

legousa (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance, redundant.

tou qeou tou uJyistou gen. "[servants] of the Most High God" - [slaves] of the God most high. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective. The girl is using the title in a general sense, in the same way as we might use the title "Supreme Being" as a general designation of the divine. The Hebrew equivalent is "El Elyon", Gen.14:18, although Gentiles often used the title for Zeus. So, like all fortune-tellers she is generalizing somewhat.

swthriaV (a) gen. "[the way] to be saved" - [a way] of salvation. The genitive is adjectival, epexegetic, limiting by definition / explanation the noun "way", although requiring somewhat of a guess for what is obviously an idiomatic phrase. The NIV, as with most other translations, treats this substantive phrase verbally, eg. TEV goes all the way with "how you can be saved." Barrett treats the phrase as a substantive, opting for the idiomatic sense "the way to acquire salvation." The NRSV follows the text literally, "a way of salvation", reminding us that i] there is a distinction between preaching "a way" and "a how", and ii] there is a difference between "a way" and "the way." Although there is no definite article in the Greek, it is quite proper to read "way" as "the way", but again, is our fortune-teller being that specific?


epi + acc. "[she] kept this up for [many days]" - Temporal use of the preposition serving to express duration of time.

diaponhqeiV (diaponeomai) pas. part. "became so troubled / annoyed" - having become grieved, angry, troubled, upset, annoyed. Along with the conjoined participle epistreyaV "having turned", the participle is attendant circumstance expressing action accompanying the main verb "said"; "Paul got angry, turned around and said."

eipen (legw) aor. "said" - Paul commanded, exorcised spiritual ability.

tw/ pneumati (a atoV) dat. "to the spirit" - Dative of indirect object.

en onomati "in the name" - "In the name" usually takes the sense "in the authority of"; "with the authority of Jesus I command ..."

exelqein (exercomai) aor. inf. "to come out" - The infinitive forms an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Paul is commanding; "I command that you come out of her."

ap (apo) + gen. "of [her]" - from [her]. Expressing separation; "away from." Due to the prefix ex in the verb, the preposition is virtually redundant.

auth/ th/ wJra/ dat. "at that moment" - in the same hour. The dative is adverbial, temporal. The phrase means "immediately". "And it came out immediately", Phillips.


ii] The arrest, punishment and prison, v19-24: Once Paul has cast out the spirit from the girl, a fairly violent reaction develops over the interference by a traveling Jew in a valid economic pursuit. The two town magistrates (Praetors) dutifully have Paul and Silas chastised for their economic interference. A beating by the Lictors and a night in the stocks is regarded a worthy punishment for the reformation of these social misfits.

idonteV (eidon) aor. part. "when [the owners of the slave girl] realized" - having seen. The participle is adverbial, temporal, as NIV.

oJti "that" - that. Introducing a dependent statement of perception, expressing what they came to realize.

thV ergasiaV (a) gen. "[hope] of making money" - [hope] of gain, profit. The genitive is adjectival, epexegetic, limiting "hope" by definition (appositional).

epilabomenoi (epilambanomai) "they seized" - having seized. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb eiJlkusan, "they dragged"; "they seized ...... and dragged ...."

thn agoran "marketplace" - marketplace. The place for public meetings. The town square is a possible equivalent for us, but probably the front of a court house is better. Paul and Silas are set upon and dragged publicly before the local magistrate.

epi + acc. "to face" - Spacial; "up to, to, before."

touV arcontaV "the authorities" - Most likely magistrates is intended. A Roman colony, such as Philippi, would have two collegiate magistrates.


prosagagonteV (prosagw) aor. part. "they brought [them]" - having brought. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said", "they brought them .... and said", or adverbial, temporal, "and when they had brought them ....", ESV.

toiV strathgoiV (oV) dat. "before the magistrates" - to the magistrates. Dative of indirect object.

uJparconteV (uJparcw) pres. part. "[these men] are [Jews]" - being [Jews]. The participle is probably adjectival, attributive, limiting "men", "these men who are Jews."

ektarassousin (ektarassw) "are throwing [our city] into an uproar" - are disturbing, causing confusion, causing trouble. Note how Paul and Silas are identified as Jews, a despised people. It is also assumed they are not Roman citizens; a dangerous assumption as it turns out.


kataggellousin (kataggellw) "by advocating [customs]" - preaching, teaching, declaring ... "They are trying to propagate ways of life which ....", Barclay.

ouk exestin pres. "unlawful" - [which] it is not permitted, allowed. The subject of this verb, "it", is the two following infinitives paradecesqai "to accept" and poiein "to do"; "they are preaching customs which to accept or to do is not permitted." It is likely that what is unlawful is the advocating of foreign customs, given that Roman law prohibited the circulation of foreign religious propaganda among Roman citizens. "Since it is unlawful for these Jews to advocate foreign beliefs, it is not proper for us to either listen or act on what they are telling us."

hJmin dat. pro. "for us" - Dative of interest, advantage.

ousin (eimi) dat. "[Romans]" - being [Romans]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting the dative personal pronoun "us"; "for us who are Romans. "Which, as Roman citizens, we cannot possibly accept or put into practice", Cassirer.


sunepesth (sunefisthmi) aor. "joined in the attack" - rose up together [against]. Some commentators suggest the confrontation is physical, others that it is verbal. In 24:9 the same word is used for what is obviously a verbal attack.

kat (kata) + gen. "against [Paul and Silas]" - Here expressing opposition; "against".

perirhxanteV (perirhgnumi) aor. part. "stripped" - having torn off [their garments]. The participle is adverbial, temporal; "after having them stripped", Moffatt. Probably the magistrates ordered that Paul and Silas be stripped and beaten, although it can be read that the magistrates ripped their own clothes and then ordered that Paul and Silas be beaten. The theatrical ripping of togas was not a Roman custom.

rabdizein (rabdizw) aor. inf. "[ordered them] to be ..... beaten" - to be beaten with sticks. The infinitive forms a dependent statement of indirect speech, expressing what the magistrates commanded; "commended that they be beaten".


epiqenteV (epitiqhmi) aor. part. "after [they] had been [severely] flogged" - [and] having inflicted on, layed on [them many blows, wounds]. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal, as NIV. The beating was corporal punishment inflicted by the magistrate's attendants (the Lictors) with the lictor's rod. Their "sheriffs" badge illustrated rods and an axe (rods for beating and an axe for chopping off heads).

autoiV dat. pro. "they" - [having layed on] them. Dative of direct object after the verb epitiqhmi.

tw/ desmofulaki (x akoV) dat. "the jailer" - Dative of indirect object.

paraggeilanteV (paraggellw) aor. part. "was commanded" - having commanded, ordered. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "throw"; "they threw them into jail and commanded the jailer ..."

threin (threw) pres. inf. "to guard [them carefully]" - The infinitive forms an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the magistrate commanded.


labwn (lambanw) aor. part. "upon receiving [such orders] / when he received [these orders]" - having received [such an order]. The participle is adverbial, possibly temporal, as TNIV, even causal; "Since he had received such an order", Barclay.

eswteran fulakhn "inner cell" - inside prison. Possibly the dungeon, but certainly the most secure cell.

hsfalisato (asfalizw) aor. "fastened" - kept safe, made secure.

eiV to xulon "in the stocks" - [the feet of them he fastened] to the wood. This was a rather painful exercise as the leg-holes were often far apart; a very painful business for a person with short legs!


iii] The conversion of the Philippian jailer and his household, v25-34. In prison, Paul and Silas are singing hymns when all of a sudden the prison is shaken by the hand of God; the prison doors are flung open and Paul and Silas find themselves freed from the stock. The prison warder, fearing the consequences, is about to take his life, when Paul shouts out from the darkness that they are still in the prison. By remaining, rather than running, the warder is opened to the gospel and so he invites the missionaries back to his home. On hearing the gospel he and his family came to put their faith in Jesus.

proseucomenoi (proseucomai) pres. part. "praying [and singing hymns to God]" - praying [were singing God]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "singing a hymn", so "were praying and singing to God", although possibly temporal, "as (while) Paul and Silas were praying and singing to God", Moffatt. The Greek can be rendered "they sang (imperf.) praying (part.) to God" and therefore, possibly "they were singing psalms to God while the other prisoners listened on." This seems better than suggesting that we have here the first example of a hymn sandwich - prayers, hymn, prayers, hymn..... Note the accusative direct object ton qeon, "the God", and the assumed translation "to God". Do we sing hymns "to" God, or do we sing them "directed toward", in "honour of" or even "about" God? We often sing to an audience to entertain, but do we sing to God to entertain him? A purist would argue that only hymns of praise have a valid place in Christian worship. Probably a bridge too far, but we could certainly do without love songs to Jesus (easily identified by replacing Jesus with John or Joan, etc. .....)


afnw adv. "suddenly" - "All of a sudden."

megaV adj. "violent" - great.

wJste + inf. "that [the foundations of the prison were shaken]" - so as [to be shaken]. This construction usually forms a consecutive clause expressing result, "with the result that ...." The shaking is of "the foundations", meaning the substance upon which the building is built, therefore, possibly "so as to shake the ground upon which [the prison] was built." Shaking foundations is a rather strange image.

tou desmwthriou (on) gen. "of the prison" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "with the result that the prison's foundations were shaken."

paracrhma adv. "at once" - immediately [all the doors were opened]. Possibly in the sense of "unexpectedly" rather than the temporal "immediately", Barclay; "in an instant", Moffatt.

tantwn gen. adj. "everyone's" - [the chains] of everyone [were unfastened]. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "every prisoner's shackles fell off."


genomenoV (ginomai) aor. part. "[the jailer] woke up" - [and the jailer] having become [awake]. The participle, along with the conjoined participle "having seen", is adverbial, temporal; "when the jailer started from his sleep and saw the prison doors open", Moffatt.

anew/gmenaV (anoigw) perf. pas. part. "[saw the prison doors] open" - having been opened. The participle forms a dependent statement of perception expressing what the jailer saw; he "saw that the doors of the prison had been opened", Phillips.

spasamenoV (spaw) aor. part. "he drew [his sword and was about to kill himself]" - having drawn [the sword he was about to kill himself]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb hmellen and its infinitive complement anairein "was about to kill [himself]"; "having drawn his sword the jailer was about to kill himself." Either out of honor or fear of what might follow. "He pulled out his sword and was about to kill himself", CEV.

nomizwn (nomizw) pres. part. "because he thought" - supposing, thinking, assuming, presuming. The participle is adverbial, probably causal; "He acted in this manner because he supposed the prisoners had made good their escape", Cassirer.

ekpefeugenai (ekfeugw) perf. inf. "[the prisoners] had escaped" - to have run away. The infinitive forms a dependent statement of perception expressing what the jailer supposed/thought; "he thought that the prisoners had run away."


It's still dark, so obviously the jailer is assuming his prisoners have escaped, although looking out from the dark, Paul can see what the jailer is about to do.

megalh/ fwnh "[Paul shouted]" - [Paul shouted] in a loud voice. The dative is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of his calling out, "with a loud voice", although possibly instrumental, expressing means, "Paul shouted using a loud voice."

legwn (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant.

mhden praxhV (prassw) aor. subj. "don't [harm]" - do no [harm]. Subjunctive of prohibition.

seautw/ dat. ref. pro. "yourself" - to yourself. Dative of indirect object.

gar "-" - for. Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why they should do no harm to themselves, namely because "we are all here."


aithsaV (aitew) aor. part. "called for" - having asked, called for. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "rushed in", but possibly consecutive, "so calling for lights", Moffatt, or even temporal, "then calling for lights he sprang in", Weymouth.

fwta (fwV fwtoV) pl. "lights" - The plural indicates that the jailer has called for "torches" (bundled fire sticks) or possibly "lamps", rather than "lights", since the singular "light" would be used.

genomenoV (ginomai) aor. part. "[fell] trembling [before]" - [trembling] having become [he fell down]. Attendant circumstance participle, + the complement adjective "trembling", completing the verbal sense of "having become" = "trembling with fear", expressing action accompanying the verb "he fell down before"; "He began to tremble and prostrated himself before Paul", TNT. The jailor was obviously trembling with fear and so fell semi-faint at the feet of Paul. The wind was knocked out of him.

tw/ paulw/ dat. "[fell .... before] Paul" - [he fell down before] Paul. As with "Silas", a dative of direct object after the verb prospiptw, "fall before."


proagagwn (proagw) aor. part. "he then brought [them] out" - having gone before. The participle is adverbial, probably temporal as NIV.

ti "what" - The question is surely theological and not just a request to be directed through a difficult situation. Yet, how much understanding the jailer has at this point in time is difficult to assess. At least he may have heard the words of the fortune-teller.

poiein (poiew) "[must] I do" - to do. The infinitive functions as the subject of the verb dei "it is necessary" = "[what] to do is necessary?" ti, "what", serves as the accusative subject of the infinitive. "What do I have to do to be saved, to really live?" Peterson.

iJna + subj. "to be [saved]" - that I may be saved. Probably forming a purpose clause; "in order that I may be saved."


It is obvious that Peter would have explained the substance of the gospel such that the jailer was able to make a meaningful response. These words are probably only a summary. Still, the summary says it all; salvation is wholly a gift acquired by putting our trust in Jesus. The jailer gets the full details at home, cf v32.

epi + acc. "[believe] in [the Lord Jesus]" - Spacial; "on, upon." Virtually interchangeable with eiV, "into", or en, "in". The key lies with the sense of pisteuw, "believe / put faith in". The sense is to rely on, put one's weight on.

swqhsh/ (swzw) fut. "you will be saved" - The eschatological hope of Israel - new life in the kingdom of God = eternal peace and joy.


kai "then" - and. Coordinative; "and they spoke the word of the Lord."

tou kuriou (oV) gen. "[the word] of the Lord" - The genitive may be taken as adjectival, possessive, "the Lord's word", or ablative, expressing source/origin, "the word from the Lord."

autw/ pro. "to him" - Dative of indirect object. A literal translation is a mite unclear. Peter obviously presented a detailed gospel message to the jailer and later to his family and attendants. "They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master", Peterson.

sun + dat. "and to" - with. Expressing association, "along with"; "as well as to all those who belonged to his household", Cassirer.

pasin toiV dat. "all the others" - all the ones. Dative of indirect object. Barrett thinks that children would not be involved and certainly this would align with cultural convention, although it is an assumption.


en + dat. "at [that hour of the night]" - A temporal use of the preposition; "while it was still night", CEV.

paralabwn (paralambanw) aor. part. "took" - having taken. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "washed". "He took them into the bathhouse / bathroom / courtyard and cleansed their wounds."

apo + gen. "[washed their wounds]" - [he washed] from [the wounds]. Expressing separation; "away from." Elliptical, or probably better, idomatic; "he washed the dirt and infection from the wounds." "He bathed and cleansed their wounds."

kai "then" - and. Coordinative.

paracrhma adv. "immediately" - The account is condensed so it is unclear how the "household" got to hear the gospel in the interval between moving from the jail to the jailer's home (were the buildings combined?) "The washing and the baptism took place after he brought them out of the prison and before he took them into his house, probably at a well in the courtyard", Bruce. The point is, it all happens quickly.

autou gen. pro. "[all] his [family]" - the ones of him all. The genitive is adjectival, relational. See above on the issue of "all of his household, his entire family."


te "-" - and. A common conjunction in Acts used to connect clauses in a narrative; "and then he brought them ..."

anagagwn (anagw) aor. part. "[the jailer] brought [them into his house]" - [and] having led. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he set before"; "he brought them into his house and set food before them."

trapezan (a) "a meal" - a table. Idiomatic of providing a meal for a person in that it was customary to set "an individual table ... beside each guest", Bruce.

hgalliasato (agalliaw) 3 ps. sing. aor. mid. "he was filled with joy" - he was overjoyed, very happy. The NIV seems on the mark, given the person and number of this verb, but a collective sense is possible, "the whole household celebrated their conversion", NJB, see below.

pepisteukwV (pisteuw) perf. part. "because he had come to believe" - having believed. The participle is adverbial, probably causal as NIV. This participle may be taken with either the verb "he was overjoyed" alone, or with the verb and the adverb "with ones entire household". So, Luke is either saying that the jailer, along with his family, was filled with joy, because he believed in God, or that the jailer, along with his family, were filled with joy because he and the family had come to believe in God. NRSV takes the first option, NIV the second. Either way, there's great joy.

tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "in God" - The dative is locative, used as if the preposition en was present.

panoikei adv. "he and his whole family" - with ones entire household. Adverb of manner.


Acts Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]