Paul and Silas Are Released
The next morning the city officials sent the police to tell the jailer, “Let those men go!” So the jailer told Paul, “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.” But Paul replied, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!” When the police reported this, the city officials were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city. When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.Acts 16:35-40
Why was there no trial for Paul and Silas?
This was a trumped up charge. (Sorry that term now takes on new meaning these days, doesn’t it? No reference intended here to the American President). It is clear from Luke’s account that the authorities intended Paul and Silas to spend the night in the jail and then be released in the morning. So why “beat them to within an inch of their life”? To appease those who had laid the complaint and calm the angry crowd behind them. To do that and then to let Paul and Silas slink away in the morning shows the spinelessness of those in authority.
Where were Paul and Silas when the police came to inform the jailer to release them? The jail had been levelled!
Paul and Silas were most definitely in the house of the jailer. How unconventional is that! But even more so, I suspect (although can’t prove it at this point) so too were the other prisoners who had shared maximum security with our two Christ-followers.
What must the police have thought when they arrived to find the jail levelled and the prisoners either inside the jailer’s home or gone? They must have assumed at first that the prisoners had been killed. If they had had time to investigate they would have found no bodies. But on reporting to the jailer they would have found all the prisoners present and accounted for. Now that in itself would have been impressive.
What does Luke mean by police? That must be an interpretation for the sake of translation. I noticed the word in Greek is [strategoi] Ian. That must be strategic – (my deliberate pun).
Yes “police” is an interpretation of [strategoi] – these guys were members of an elite Roman guard, they were not police as such but were acting in that role. The word is plural for those leading the divisions – perhaps a group of the captains of the guard. The inference is that you send your top officers of the guard to squash any protest at the other end on the part of these prisoners.
It’s a bit like the incident in Acts 5 when the disciples were beaten and told not to speak about Jesus and they go straight back to Temple Court again. The authorities have no idea again what was going on. These officials who ordered their beating the day before don’t even bother to check them out the next day. They might have been dead. How lax can you get? The authorities clearly had no idea what was going on. The officials would have known about the earthquake; wouldn’t they have felt it too? In all likelihood unless this were a small localized earthquake. (I am typing this with tongue in cheek) Did the rest of the town feel the earthquake too or was it a small localized earthquake just felt in the jail?
Or perhaps even tailor-made individually for each prisoner? These are good questions people. There is much behind this still to ponder. Yes indeed, God must have meant for the others to be released as well. God’s intention is always that blessing flow to all. Interesting that after Paul and Silas leave, there are the other prisoners left to bear testimony to what really happened after Paul and Silas sang songs and prayed. Now I am sure that was a thorn in the side of the authorities.
I hope you spent some time putting yourself in the place of those who heard the news at each stage:
- Paul and Silas on hearing: “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.”
- The guards on hearing Paul say: “Roman officials have had us beaten publicly without a trial and have thrown us in jail, even though we’re Roman citizens. Now are they going to throw us out secretly? There’s no way they’re going to get away with that! Have them escort us out!”
- The Romans Officials when the guards reported what Paul had said:
- The Roman officials when heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.
I don’t intend to focus on any of the other apart from Paul and Silas’ reaction. That is the reaction Luke has focused on, leaving us all to speculate on what others thought – jailer, strategoi, Roman authorities, others who heard this story and us readers pondering it now.
Who actually says “Go in peace”? Was it the Roman officials or was it something the jailer himself added?
Luke tells us Paul and Silas heard the statement from the Jailer: “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.” But I suspect the jailer was only repeating what the strategists (my deliberate switch of words) had said to the jailer. The point of all this is that the authorities were trying to hush it up from the beginning. Note Paul’s response. Pointed and unyielding: Roman officials have had us beaten publicly without a trial and have thrown us in jail, even though we’re Roman citizens. Now are they going to throw us out secretly? There’s no way they’re going to get away with that! Have them escort us out!”
Now Paul announces his and Silas’ Roman citizenship. Paul knew the privileges of a Roman citizen, and at proper times, when the interests of justice and religion required it, he did not hesitate to assert them. In all this, he understood and submitted to the Roman laws. He declares that two of his fundamental rights have been violated by what the authorities did to him and Silas the previous day.
The Lex Valeria (509 B.C.) and the Lex Porcia (248 B.C.), reaffirmed in the Lex Julia (23 B.C.), shielded Roman citizens from humiliating punishments in public, such as beating with rods. The Valerian law declared that if a citizen appealed from the magistrate to the people, it should not be lawful for magistrate to beat him with rods, or to behead him. By the Porcian law it was expressly forbidden that a citizen should be beaten. Cicero says that the body of every Roman citizen was inviolable. “The Porcian law has removed the rod from the body of every Roman citizen.” A Roman citizen was always entitled to a trial before punishment was administered. Paul demands that the magistrates come and publicly escort them from prison. This will be a public admission that the magistrates were wrong and that Christians pose no threat to Roman law. Notice the words I emboldened and underlined. They are key to the emphasis in Paul’s response. You beat us, publically and without trial. Now you want to hush it up and slink away. I don’t think so. You are not going to get off that easily.
A Roman citizen could travel anywhere without problems, being everywhere protected by the Roman law. He was not subjected to the local law unless he consented and he could take matters into his own courts when these were sitting. He owed allegiance to Rome and Rome would protect him. Further, a magistrate risked losing his office or worse, being disqualified from ever serving in governmental administration again, if he mistreated a Roman citizen. What you did publiclly must be corrected publically. You can’t hide your actions under the carpet.
“Now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!”
- Because they had been illegally imprisoned, and the injustice of the magistrates should be acknowledged.
- Because the Roman laws had been violated, and the majesty of Rome insulted – honour should be done to Roman law.
- Because an injustice had been done to Paul and Silas, and they had a right to demand just treatment and protection.
- Because such a public act on the part of the magistrates would strengthen the young converts, and show all citizens Roman or not that the apostles were not guilty of a violation of the laws.
- Because it would tend to the honour Christ-followers and lead to the spread of the Gospel. It would be a public acknowledgement of their innocence, and demonstrate their protection under Roman law as religious teachers.
Common Roman law stated “Many who are accused of evil may be absolved, when the cause is heard; but unheard, no man can be condemned.” Every principle of the law of nature and the law of nations was violated in the treatment of Paul and Silas at the hands of the magistrates of Philippi. So Paul demands that these same magistrates come personally to release them publicly.
Why didn’t Paul and Silas claim their Roman citizenship at the beginning and not after they were beaten?
Cicero and Quintilian tell of a Roman citizen who cried out that he was a citizen during a scourging, thereby humiliating his oppressors, who had not properly recognized his high status. By waiting until after the beating to inform the authorities that they were citizens, Paul placed the magistrates themselves in an awkward legal position: now the magistrates, not Paul and Silas , are forced to negotiate. Reports of what the magistrates had done could have disqualified them from office and even deprived Philippi of its status as a Roman colony. This strategy would have helped secure the future safety of the new believers in Philippi and Macedonia as a whole. A bold and courageous step on Paul and Silas part.
How was Paul a Roman citizen if he was from Tarsus?
As we saw above the Julian law forbade binding or beating Roman citizens without trial. On the other hand falsely claiming citizenship was a capital offense. If Paul was not a Roman citizen and he couldn’t prove it, it would have cost him his life. Roman citizenship in the provinces in this period was a mark of high status. Because Paul’s family was from Tarsus, not a Roman colony, he must have received it for special service or as a freed person with well-to-do Roman connections. Thus he must have carried on him the paperwork which proved his claim in order for them to readily accept it. The same principle would have applied to Silas.
- Yes indeed these bureaucrats were in deep shtom. But did they get what was coming to them?
- And did the rabble rousing masters of the slave girl get what was coming to them?
- Are you satisfied with the outcome?
- Do you notice the nice little Luke touch at the end?
Notice how Luke closes this little story.
So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city. When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.Acts 16:39-40
They are met by the magistrates who are full of apologies and publicly humiliate themselves and then plead for Paul and Silas to go. Like all the disciples before them when commanded by authorities to leave or to stop preaching, they do the opposite. They go back to Lydia’s house, where no doubt the believers gathered and they taught and encouraged them some more. I will leave you to ponder on what Paul and Silas said to encourage those believers in Philipp. I am sure it is not hard for you to figure that one out. What a pity Luke didn’t tell us! But maybe Luke wasn’t there at that meeting. Notice how Acts 17 starts. The characteristic sign of Luke’s presence, the “royal we” has now disappeared. Luke wasn’t present from this point on for a while. Oh I would so have liked for Luke to have given us a fuller account of the aftermath. But he didn’t. The Annuls of the Acts of the Holy Spirit have given us all we need for our training in Godliness.
After preaching and teaching and encouraging the believers at Lydia’s house, they move on. How appropriate!
If you realized what damage negative thoughts did to your brain you would never think a negative thought again.Dr Carolyn Leaf
Things do not just happen. Things are made to happen. (Either by you as a believer or by God. Ian)John F. Kennedy
Believer: Leave it to God who judges justly. Let God work out your vindication.Ian Vail
A healthy church is not built on the talents of a few but the sacrifices of many.Jose Carol
We are accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying the Kingdom always lies beyond.Bishop Untener
Wow I have just written the 1700th Gem.