One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.” This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”
And instantly it left her.Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”
A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods.Acts 16:16-22
The questions we have left:
- Why was there no trial for Paul and Silas?
- Why didn’t Paul and Silas claim their Roman citizenship at the beginning and not after they were beaten? I am sure I would have to get out of a beating.
- Where were the rest of the team while this is happening?
- Where were the team when Paul and Silas were in prison?
- What sort of prison was it?
- I can’t work out why this case should be about religion when it seems to be about the loss of earnings. It should just have gone to the small claims court Ian.
- What does “dragged them before the authorities at the market place” mean?
- Shouldn’t they be at the courthouse and not in the market place?
- The one verse later the reference is to city officials. Why is that?
- Man when you really look at the details it gets confusing. Perhaps it is wise not to look after all.
- What customs were they teaching that were illegal?
When we look at the details of what Luke wrote for us we catch his point very easily. As some of you have noted this was not a religious matter. Luke tells us clearly what their problem is. It is monetary! The fact that Paul had cast out the demon is irrelevant to them. The fact that she had a demon who gave her the power to contact the evil world for hidden knowledge was clearly very lucrative. When the demon was cast out INSTANTLY, her masters were left without any more means to earn a lot of money. I suspect this poor girl did not see any (or much) of the money. That is the way the world treats exploited people. Her masters were the ones who were raking in the money. Notice that she had masters – plural, not just one master. This was obviously a partnership or a syndicate of people behind her and likely as not, influential men in Philippi. Ah therein lies the problem. There was a multi-headed organization behind the exploitation of this slave girl who could tell fortunes, soothsay and communicate messages from the dark world while projecting her voice like a ventriloquist. Suddenly this source of income came to an end when the demon left her. She no longer had the power to see into people’s live anymore, so the money dried up. The girl was free of the demon but the masters were free also, of money.
Yes, this case had nothing to do with religion, it was all about the loss of income and the fact that a slave girl was now found in her right mind and not talking with demons. But her masters couldn’t say that. Roman courts were not interested in the religious significance behind any case. If it is a religious issue then these masters needed to take the matter to a religious court. But such a court would not address the issue of the loss of earnings. Such a court would only be interested in the religious principles and laws contravened behind the scenes. That would not do any good for the masters’ lost income. What they actually wanted I am sure was the demon back inside her. Never mind how the girl felt about being free of the demon. That question was never addressed. It is interesting isn’t it that when exploitation and money is involved whatever unstated factors there are behind the screen, they are soon forgotten and replaced by the issue of monetary loss?
I think the authorities acted like a small claims court there in the market place. Most probably purely financial matters: issues of economic wrong doing or damaged goods or failure to supply what was purchased. But these masters skillfully and deceitfully set the case in terms of these men not being Roman. They make it an issue of customs and culture. They say these men are Jews and they are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice. They turn this matter into an issue of cultural practice. Emperor Claudius had passed an edit expelling all Jews from Rome. So it was very easy to turn this matter of a slave girl being freed from a demon into Jewish cultural practices. What were the illegal things that Paul and Silas were teaching? Judsaism was still a legal religion (religio licita) at this point. So the fact that Paul and Silas were clearly telling these people about Jesus, these masters turned the issue into one of proselytizing in the name of Jesus, because Christianity was not yet a legal religion in the eyes of the Emperor in Rome. So by stating the issue as customs illegal for us Romans takes the case away from a religious court and allows local authorities to deal with it. There was no formal trial because to conduct such a trial the charges would have to be stated clearly and this was a clandestine, under the covers operation. Much like the Sanhedrin conducted with Jesus. Who cares about legality when you have an agenda to push, be it religious or economic?
A Roman prison had three parts to it.
- The communiora or the outer part where prisoners had light and air, like the exercise yard outside I guess.
- The interiora which was walled and sealed with iron bars and locked gates and separated from the outer yard.
- The tullianum or the underground dungeon which was kept for those who were not coming out of prison again and who were condemned to die. Prisoners in this part were to be executed in the dungeon.
But in telling you all that I am getting ahead of myself with the verses we are looking at above. Hold it in your memory for what is to come.
A mob quickly forms and Paul and Silas are taken to the city officials where they are stripped and beaten. Hang on a minute. Why has this quickly escalated to the point where they are before the city authorities and on the point of being beaten? No one has checked any facts at all. That is what happens with the involvement of mobs and that is exactly what these masters of the girl want. How many masters? How many in the mob? I don’t know, Luke doesn’t tell us but you can bet the masters were complicit in what was going on.
Where were Luke and Timothy and the rest of the team? I would say trailing along behind the mob taking Paul and Silas to the magistrates. Interesting: like Peter and John, Silas didn’t get a mention even though he was clearly preaching too. The head spokesperson is the one on whom all the attention falls. But in this case Silas gets bundled up along with Paul.
When you really look at the details it gets confusing. Perhaps it is wise not to look after all. No, it is always good to pay careful attention to all the detail and work your way through the confusion. I think I have addressed all the issues you all raised together with the exception of one. And it’s a very good question.
- Why didn’t Paul and Silas let it be known from the outset that they were Roman citizens? Why wait until after the beatings and being held overnight in the cells before letting on that you are a Roman citizen?
That is enough for today. We will move on to the beatings and the scene overnight in the cells in the next Gems. I will leave the matter of Roman Citizenship until Luke and Paul and Silas bring it up; after the event.
Why on earth did they do that? Now there is a question for you to ponder.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.Martin Luther King
God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, he can make something out of us.Martin Luther
I’d rather be rebuked for asking God for something big than to live a small, do nothing, go nowhere kind of life.Rick Godwin
Great vision without great people is irrelevant.Rick Godwin
You need the courage to bring your dreams and visions to reality. That’s where courage comes in.Ian Vail