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Acts 16:16-40 – Tumult in Philippi


Paul casts a prophetic spirit out of a slave girl who is being used as a profitable seer by her owners. The ensuing ruckus over the loss of her value to the owners results in the imprisonment of Paul and Silas, who use the opportunity to convert the jailer and his household by their steadfast witness.


In Philippi a slave girl is being used by her owners as a seer or fortune teller. The young woman is possessed by a demon who quite accurately identifies Paul and Silas as "slaves of the Most High God" who have come to reveal "a way of salvation." What is remarkable is the accuracy and understanding of the possessing spirit. It may be an Apollonian or oracular spirit, given its description. But whatever the nature of the spirit, it gets right who Paul and his companions are and what their mission is. Yet, it can be cast out by a mere mortal who relies on the power of the one God. By casting the less powerful demon out of the girl, Paul witnesses to the power of the God he worships.

Because it occasions their economic loss, Paul's deed enrages the girl's owners. They lose no time in arousing the local magistrates by complaining that Paul and Silas are "Jews" who teach unlawful customs that are contrary to the Roman way. In short, they complain that Paul and Silas are interlopers and opposed to all that is good and civilized, namely, all that is Roman. Paul and Silas and their kind represent a danger to the well-being of civic life. The two are thrown into jail, from which they escape after an earthquake and the conversion of the Roman-employed jailer and his household. We learn a lot about the way people choose to defame others, most often not for the stated reasons. We also see how the good character of the Christians (who do not leave the jail even when they might make an escape) is a witness to others concerning the power of their God. Both themes will continue in Acts and in early Christian history.

Acts 16:16-40

Paul and Silas in Prison

16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you* a way of salvation.’ 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ 29The jailer* called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ 32They spoke the word of the Lord* to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

35 When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, ‘Let those men go.’ 36And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.’ 37But Paul replied, ‘They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.’ 38The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; 39so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters* there, they departed.

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