Acts Lesson Thirty-six

Acts Lesson Thirty-six: Acts 17:16-34 – Paul in Athens

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is this pseudo-intellectual trying to say?” 

Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection. 

19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new. 

22 Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  

Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it —He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man  He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 

30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.” 

32 When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him. But others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 Then Paul left their presence. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (HCSB)

Paul was not idle in Athens while waiting for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. It’s a trait we see throughout Paul’s Christian life. He was always busy in some manner, either increasing his knowledge after his conversion or sharing the Gospel with those he interacted with during his time in Antioch or during his missionary journeys. I’ll split this lesson into two parts.

  • Preaching at the synagogue and marketplace – verses 16-18.
  • The Areopagus address – verses 19-34.

However, before we get into this passage, let’s look at some facts regarding Athens in Paul’s day.

  • It was recognized as a center of culture and education.
    • There was a famous university there.
    • There were many magnificent cultural buildings.
  • However, it was in a period of decline.
    • It didn’t possess the influence it once had.
    • The glory of its politics and commerce had faded.
  • There were about 5,000 voting citizens but many more nonnative inhabitants.
  • It practiced cultured paganism was fed by idolatry.
    • Greek religion was the deification of human attributes and the powers of nature.
    • It was a religion that ministered to art and amusement and was devoid of moral power.
    • The Greek gods and goddesses had ambitions and were rivals of each, acting much like humans.
  • The city was devoted to philosophy.
    • Socrates.
    • Aristotle.
    • There were two primary schools of philosophical thought.
      • Epicureans – materialistic, atheist, with a life goal of seeking pleasure. Enjoy life.
      • Stoics – rejected idolatry and pagan worship. They believed in a one “World God.” They were pantheists. Pleasure was not good, and pain was not evil. The most important thing was to follow one’s reason and be self-sufficient, often leading to pride. Endure life.
  • It was the overbearing emphasis on idol worship that greatly disturbed Paul.

Preaching at the Synagogue and the Marketplace

Once again, Paul begins with his usual practice; he went first to the synagogue to preach on the Sabbath. However, during the week, he would go to the marketplace and share his message with the Gentiles. Luke doesn’t tell us whether Paul experienced any success or not. However, the point of this section isn’t on Paul’s witness in the synagogue or the marketplace. The point is that he encountered Stoic and Epicurean philosophers there, which led to his being brought to the Areopagus. Let’s look at some points in this section.

  • It’s clear that the philosophers were not impressed by Paul.
    • The term “pseudo-intellectual” was not a compliment.
    • The original Greek used here implies that Paul had heard bits and pieces of information and was repeating it without having an understanding of what he was talking about.
    • They were accusing Paul of being a false intellectual, an imposter.
  • At least some did realize that Paul was talking about a “deity,” although they didn’t understand the message.
  • True to their philosophical foundation, they desired to learn more about a subject that they currently didn’t know or understand.
  • Luke points out that the population of Athens spent a considerable amount of time talking or listening to each other in an attempt to increase their knowledge.
  • The idea of a bodily resurrection would have been a significant stumbling block as both schools of philosophy didn’t believe in it.
    • The Greek word for resurrection is “anastasis.” 
    • They thought Paul was talking about a new goddess named Anastasia and a new god named Jesus.
    • In their minds, Paul was a polytheist just like them.

The Areopagus Address

The philosopher’s “invitation” to address the crowd at the Areopagus is a matter of debate.

  • Was Paul tried before a formal Athenian court called Areopagus?
  • Did Paul deliver a public address from a hill known as Areopagus?
  • The original Greek leaves it ambiguous. 
    • The Areopagus was both a court and a hill.
    • The Council of Areopagus was responsible for both religion and education in Athens.
    • Since Paul was teaching a new doctrine on religion, it was natural for them to question him.
    • The court traditionally met on that hill.
    • The name means “hill of Ares,” the hill of the god of war.
    • The Roman equivalent to Ares was Mars; hence some translations call it Mars Hill.
    • Throughout Acts, Luke presented numerous occasions where Paul appeared before the official legal bodies in numerous cities. Is this another “formal” appearance?
    • Even if it was a formal address, it makes more sense that this wasn’t a trial as Paul was not charged with any crime.
  • Regardless of the formality, Paul was presented with an opportunity to address the crowd.

As Paul begins his address, knowing full well the importance of addressing this audience, he uses an engaging and respectful tone and carefully crafted message.

  • Paul acknowledges that they are “extremely religious.” Even though their religiosity is about idols, Paul doesn’t use inflammatory words.
  • It was standard practice in Greek rhetoric to win the audience’s favor and secure their attention.
  • Although Paul uses Greek philosophical rhetoric, his message is firmly rooted in Old Testament thinking. 
  • Paul focuses on the “unknown god” as a window of opportunity to show them that the triune God is the unknown god. Additionally, the fact the Greeks worshipped an unknown god was admitting ignorance of the god’s nature. This statement highlights two points.
    • Paul referred to “what” they worshiped and not “who” they worshiped. Their worship was focused on a “thing” and not a personal god.
    • There is an emphasis on ignorance. For Greek philosophers, this would be a stinging accusation. The greatest virtue was to discover the truth, and to live in ignorance was the greatest folly in their society.

Paul presents four fundamental truths about God; He is creator, He is provider, He is ruler, and He is Savior.

  • God is creator – verse 24.
    • It is normal for each of us to ponder three questions. Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Science attempts to answer the first, philosophy wrestles with the second, but only Christianity answers all three.
    • Epicureans, being atheists, believed that this life was all there was.
    • Stoics said that everything was God. He didn’t create anything; He only organized it.
    • Paul affirms that God always was and that He created everything.
    • He is not a distant God.
    • He isn’t locked in His creation.
    • He is too great to be contained in shrines made by humans.
      • This would have been recognized as a jab against the temples in Athens.
      • Not only were there numerous shrines in the city of Athens, but there were also several shrines to Athena on the Acropolis.
    • The main difference between the Greek philosophers’ viewpoint on “god” and Paul was the argument between pantheism and monotheism.
  • God is provider – verse 25.
    • The Greeks and Romans, much like some of us today, pride ourselves on service to God. 
    • However, God is self-sufficient and doesn’t need our help.
    • The pagan temples not only didn’t contain God, but their service in temples also didn’t add anything to God.
    • God gives us life, breath, and all things that we need. 
    • God is the source of everything good.
    • Instead of worshipping the creator and giving Him glory, men worship the creation and give glory to themselves.
    • In one simple statement, Paul effectively undermined the entire Greek religious system.
  • God is ruler – verses 26-29.
    • The Greek gods were aloof and possessed no concern for the problems and needs of humans.
    • Our God is the God of creation and history and geography.
      • He created mankind from one man.
      • All nations came from this one man and the same bloodline.
        • The Greeks felt they were a superior race, different from all other nations.
        • Paul tells them they are no different from any other nation.
      • Their land was a gift from God.
    • God determines the rise and fall of nations.
    • Because God is ruler over all, we should seek Him and come to know Him.
    • Paul then uses quotes from two Greek poets.
      • Paul did this for two reasons.
        • Scripture would not have resonated with the Greek audience he was addressing.
        • Quotes from fellow pagan philosophers would be more effective in reaching them.
      • “For in Him we live and move and exist” is from Epimenides.
      • “For we are also His offspring” is from Aratus.
      • By using these quotes from Greek poets, Paul was pointing out the “Fatherhood of God” in a natural sense; man was created in the image of God.
    • This led to Paul’s logical conclusion.
      • God made us in His image.
      • It would then be foolish for us to make gods in our image.
      • Greek religion was nothing more than the making and worship of gods who were patterned after men and acted like men.
      • Paul pointed out the folly of temples, temple rituals, and idolatry in general.
      • This critique of idolatry would have appealed to the Stoics, who saw idolatry as the folly of religion.
        • However, Paul’s teaching of one creator God would tell the Stoics that they too were idolators.
        • In the Stoic’s attempt to reach the divine through their own effort, they had corrupted the relationship between creator and created.
        • If they realized this corruption, they would also realize their need for repentance.
  • God is Savior – verses 30-34.
    • Paul closes his message by pointing out God’s grace.
    • For centuries, God was patient with disobedience and sinful behavior, even though some were ignorant of these facts.
    • At the same time, ignorance does not remove guilt. Just because were are ignorant of a law, i.e., speeding, doesn’t mean we won’t face punishment for breaking the law.
    • Yet, God, in spite of our disobedience, held back on His judgment.
    • After Paul’s address, the “unknown god” was no longer unknown. If they continued in their worship of idols, they would no longer be guilty of the sin of ignorance but of deliberate sin.
    • The only course of action is repentance. 
    • God is giving all of us time to repent of our sins and turn to Him.
    • God sent a Savior, Jesus, as a means to remove our sins by placing faith in Him.
      • The Savior was killed and raised from the dead.
      • One day Jesus will return and judge the world.
      • The proof is that Jesus was raised from the dead.
    • At the conclusion of Paul’s message, there were three different responses.
      • Some ridiculed Paul.
        • Greeks believed that the body was a prison, and the sooner a person left their body, the happier they would be.
        • Why would a body be raised from the dead to live again? That would continue the prison theme.
        • Why would God bother with judging each person?
        • These viewpoints were not compatible with Greek philosophy.
        • It is likely that the scoffers were the majority as Paul left the Areopagus after his address.
      • Some were interested and wanted to hear more from Paul.
      • A small group believed Paul’s message and placed their faith in Jesus. These included Dionysius and Damaris.


  • We need to tailor and contextualize the Gospel message according to the audience we are trying to reach. In the example of this passage, Paul was addressing a group of “intellectuals” and not people with any background in Christian or Old Testament understanding. Paul made use of phrases and themes that would reach them while not compromising the truths of the Gospel.
  • We need to have our ears and eyes open for opportunities around us to reach others. How often do we miss the “unknown god” moments in our lives? It’s possible those opportunities will never be available again. We need to be sensitive when they present themselves, even if the majority ridicule our message.
  • We should never expect everyone to accept the truth of the Gospel as we engage in evangelism. It’s even possible that the overwhelming majority reject the message. However, that should never prevent us from speaking the message. Listen to Jesus’ words in Luke 15:10 “I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.

Acts Lesson Thirty-five

Acts Lesson Thirty-five: Paul in Thessalonica and Berea – Acts 17:1-15

Then they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As usual, Paul went to the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” Then some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women. 

But the Jews became jealous, and they brought together some scoundrels from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city. Attacking Jason’s house, they searched for them to bring them out to the public assembly. When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus!” The Jews stirred up the crowd and the city officials who heard these things. So taking a security bond from Jason and the others, they released them. 

10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica found out that God’s message had been proclaimed by Paul at Berea, they came there too, agitating and disturbing the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul away to go to the sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed on there. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed. (HCSB)

As Paul continues his second missionary journey, I’ll divide this lesson into three parts.

  • Paul’s arrival in Thessalonica – verses 1-4.
  • Jealousy of the Thessalonican Jews – verses 5-9.
  • Paul’s visit to the Bereans – verses 10-15.

Paul’s Arrival in Thessalonica

As Paul and the team left Philippi, they traveled on the Egnatian Way. Their journey from Philippi was approximately 100 miles as they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia. If they traveled by horse, the cities were approximately one day’s journey apart. If they traveled by foot, the journey would take much longer. We also have to remember that Paul and Silas were recovering from the beating they received in Philippi. Either mode of travel would have been painful but walking would have been a significant burden. From the context of the passage, the team either wasn’t involved in evangelism in the cities they passed through, or Paul expected the believers in Philippi to evangelize the area around their city. Although not explicitly stated, it is highly likely that Timothy remained behind in Philippi as he is not mentioned again until Acts 17:14 in the city of Berea. Let’s look at some information about Thessalonica.

  • Thessalonica was a strategically important city, the capital of Macedonia.
  • It was the largest city in Greece, with a population of about 200,000.
  • It was also an important center for business, with only Corinth as a rival.
  • It was located on several important trade routes and had an excellent harbor.
  • The population was predominately Greek, although controlled by Rome.
  • It was a free city, meaning that it elected a citizen’s assembly, minted their own coins, and there was no Roman garrison within the city walls.

Once they arrived there, we know that Paul was involved in his tent-making trade as referenced in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10. However, instead of focusing on that, let’s look at Paul’s methodology as he evangelized the city.

  • Paul followed his established of going to the local synagogue. He knew he would find two target groups if he went there.
    • Devout Jews.
    • Gentiles – God-seekers and proselytes.
  • The text explicitly states that Paul evangelized in the synagogue for three successive Sabbaths, but from cross-references, it is clear that Paul was there much longer, long enough to receive financial aid several times from the church in Philippi and for their ministry to impact the region.
    • Philippians 4:15-16.
    • 1 Thessalonians 1.
  • From Acts 17:2-3, we see four points in how Paul evangelized in the synagogue.
    • He reasoned with them – he engaged them in dialogue in a question and answer format.
    • He explained – through the use of Scripture, Paul supported what he told them.
    • He showed – Paul proved through his use of Scripture that the Messiah would be killed and resurrected.
    • He proclaimed – Paul proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah that Scripture prophesied.
  • His evangelism efforts proved successful.
    • We shouldn’t focus on the phrase “some of them,” but on the phrase “great number.” The same Greek word is used in Acts 17:12. It’s Luke’s way of saying, “it was a big crowd.”
      • Jews were converted.
      • Greek proselytes were converted.
        • These included Aristarchus and Secundus.
        • Acts 20:4.
      • Influential women were converted. This is important as Macedonian women exerted considerable social and civic influence.
  • We see Silas being mentioned once again. Most likely, this is a reminder that the Jerusalem church endorsed the evangelism of Gentiles without placing the burden of Jewish rituals and restrictions on them.
  • As a consequence of their success, we will now see opposition to their efforts.

Jealousy of the Thessalonican Jews

We now see the pattern from previous locations repeated in Thessalonica. Paul evangelizes a town or city, either in or outside the synagogue, depending on whether one existed in the city or not. A sizable number of those attending the synagogue converted to Christianity. The Jews who don’t convert become jealous and attack the missionary team in some manner. Let’s look at the details of this section.

  • The Jews were jealous of the success of Paul. They lost members of the synagogue in three areas.
    • Jews who converted.
    • Gentile men.
    • Influential Gentile women.
  • Paul had hoped that salvation of the Gentiles would spur the Jews into a deeper study of Scripture and find the truth of Jesus as the Messiah. Instead, it led the Jews to persecute the new believers and their church.
  • The jealous Jews then brought together a mob consisting of “scoundrels” from the marketplace. The scoundrels were likely a form of a gang who hung out in the marketplace extorting from the merchants and those passing through the city.
  • This mob then started a riot in the city.
  • They proceeded to Jason’s house. 
    • We know nothing about Jason except for what’s contained in this section.
    • He was most likely a believer or at least someone who was curious about the faith.
    • He was probably a Jew as Jason was a common name taken by Diaspora Jews.
    • He may have been a fellow tentmaker with Paul since we know that Paul stayed with fellow tentmakers in Acts 18:3, Aquila and Priscilla.
    • We can infer from the context that Paul and Silas were lodging with him.
    • The mob thought they could find Paul and Silas there, but Paul and Silas, likely becoming aware that the mob had moved to another location.
  • Unable to find the target of their anger, Paul and Silas, they proceeded to forcibly take Jason and some other believers before the city officials.
  • The mob leveled three charges against the believers.
    • The first charge was against Paul and Silas – they were troublemakers who had turned the world upside down. 
    • The second was against Jason – he was playing host to the troublemakers.
    • The third was against Paul, Silas, and Jason – they were all acting against Caesar’s decrees.
      • This was the most dangerous charge.
      • In essence, they were being charged with rebelling against the decrees of Caesar.
      • They were declaring there was another “king,” and it wasn’t Caesar.
      • Since Roman law required allegiance to Caesar, this was a charge the magistrates had to address.
  • In their defense, the city officials did demonstrate discretion and restraint in how they handled the situation.
    • It’s clear they didn’t believe the charge of rebellion; otherwise, their response would have been harsher.
    • However, they were aware of the disturbance that was occurring within the city, and they were responsible for keeping order.
    • They approached the solution in a similar manner as the officials in Philippi.
      • They decided to ban the “troublemakers” from the city.
      • In addition, they required Jason to pay a bond that would be forfeit if there was any further disturbance in the city.
      • This required Paul and Silas to leave Thessalonica.
      • Paul may have been referring to this in 2 Thessalonians 2:18 when he referred to “Satan hindered us” from returning to Thessalonica.
    • Paul and Silas were released, and the believers in Thessalonica sent them safely out of the city.

Paul’s Visit to the Bereans

Once darkness has fallen, the believers in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas out of the city to Berea. The distance between the two cities was approximately forty-five to fifty miles. The journey on foot would take about three days. Let’s look at some information regarding the city of Berea.

  • The city was on the eastern slopes of Mt. Vermion in the Olympian mountain range.
  • The region was somewhat remote.
  • Although located in a remote area, the city was the most significant one in the region.
  • At one point, it was the capital of one of the four sections of Macedonia from 167-148 b.c.
  • It had a relatively sizable population.
  • There were enough Jews in the city to have a synagogue.

Once Paul and Silas were settled, the normal pattern of evangelism began. Their first visit was to the local synagogue. Let’s consider the characteristics of those who attended the synagogue in Berea.

  • The Jews in Berea were different than those in Thessalonica.
    • Luke used the Greek word that translated to “open-minded.”
    • The Bereans were open to the message that Paul preached to them.
  • Then, they investigated what Scripture said and compared it to the message Paul preached.
    • Their investigation was not a cursory one.
    • They eagerly examined what Scripture had to say about the Messiah.
    • They didn’t meet occasionally; they met daily until they came to a conclusion regarding Paul’s message.
  • The result was that many from the Berean synagogue became believers.
    • Many Jews became believers.
    • Many Greeks, including prominent women, became believers.

However, amidst the success of Paul’s efforts, the enemy appears once again in opposition. The news of Paul’s efforts made its way back to Thessalonica, and those that opposed him journeyed to Berea to stir up attacks on Paul. Let’s consider the details surrounding the attack. 

  • The Thessalonica “gang” stirred up both the Jews who rejected Paul’s message as well as the general Gentile population of Berea.
  • The attack was directed at Paul since he was the primary preacher, as shown in verse thirteen.
  • Although the text doesn’t provide the details, it’s safe to infer from preceding sections that Paul’s life was in danger, and it was time to move on once again.
  • At this point, the team splits up.
    • Paul traveled to Athens.
    • There is some debate as to how Paul got to Athens.
      • There is one group who believe he traveled to the coast (sea) and then followed the coastal road to Athens.
      • Another group believes that he traveled by boat to Athens.
      • In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Paul arrived in Athens.
    • Silas and Timothy remained in Berea.
      • The group of believers who traveled with Paul to Athens were sent back with a message for Silas and Timothy to go to Athens and join Paul there.
      • We also know that at some point, Paul sent both Silas and Timothy out from Athens.
        • Timothy was sent to Thessalonica as found in 1 Thessalonians 3:1.
        • Silas was sent to an unknown location.
        • Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Corinth, as found in Acts 18:5.


  • We see once again that God is a sending God. Evangelism isn’t a passive activity; come and hear the message, it is active in nature, take the message to those that need to hear it. In the same way, we need to be active in our endeavors to share the Gospel. This is especially true in the world we live in today. Relative truth and skepticism are rampant. The lost won’t likely come to church. We need to be the feet and mouth of Jesus to take the truth of the Gospel to the world.
  • Our message must be based upon Scripture. If we try and base it on our ideas or thoughts, it will fail. We see this in Paul’s evangelism to the Bereans. Although they were open to hearing the message, they also were diligent in searching Scripture to see if Paul’s message was true. After confirming the truth of Paul’s message, they became believers. For us to be able to do that, we need to read and understand Scripture. We need to immerse ourselves in God’s Word.
  • When doors close, we need to understand that and move on to the next harvest field. We see this repeatedly demonstrated by Paul. He would go to a city, evangelize it, teach the people, and then move on once he was no longer welcome by the pagans in the city. The mission field works in much the same manner. Outsiders can be successful in bringing the Gospel to an unreached location. However, once locals are converted, they will have better success in continuing the work. We need to “pass the baton” and realize that the converts are not because of us; they’re because of God. We are only a conduit through which the Holy Spirit works.
  • We need to assist our brothers and sisters when the need arises. We repeatedly see where the local believers helped Paul and the team when the situation became difficult. In the same way, we should help out those who are doing God’s work when they run into difficulties.

Acts Lesson Thirty-four

Acts Lesson Thirty-four: Acts 16:16-40 – Paul, the Fortune Teller, and Prison

16 Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the slaves of the Most High God.” 18 And she did this for many days. 

But Paul was greatly aggravated and turning to the spirit, said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out right away.

19 When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas  and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. 20 Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews 21 and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.” 

22 Then the mob joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded. 24 Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured 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. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped. 

28 But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because all of us are here!” 

29 Then the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 

31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the message of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had believed God with his entire household. 

35 When daylight came, the chief magistrates sent the police to say, “Release those men!” 

36 The jailer reported these words to Paul: “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace.” 

37 But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!” 

38 Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town. 40 After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and departed. (HCSB)

As Paul and the team continued their work in Philippi, they encountered their first significant challenge as well as experienced a great victory. I’ll split this lesson into three sections.

  • Paul’s encounter with the fortune teller – verses 16-24.
  • The prison miracle – verses 25-34.
  • The Philippian magistrates admit their mistake – verses 35-40.

Paul’s Encounter with the Fortune Teller

The beginning of this section continues the narrative of the previous lesson. We don’t know how long the team was in Philippi when this event occurred, but it would appear that it wasn’t immediately after the conversion of Lydia and her household. Now, let’s look at some information regarding the encounter with the slave girl who possessed the spirit of prediction.

  • The English translation of the original Greek says, “slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction.” The original Greek literally meant she had a “python spirit.”
    • The python was the symbol of the oracle at Delphi.
      • It represented the god Apollo, who was believed to give predictions of future events.
      • The python had become an omen of predicting future events.
      • Anyone who was believed to have the gift of predicting future events was described as led by the python.
      • Greeks and Romans placed great belief in omens and fortune-telling.
      • Military commanders would consult oracles before beginning any major military campaign.
      • Emperors would consult an oracle before making an important decree.
    • Because of these factors, the slave girl was an important source of income for her masters.
  • The slave girl understood that Paul and the team were Christians, and they had come to evangelize the city.
    • The possessed girl was able to see the nature of Paul’s preaching and the reality of God being proclaimed by Paul.
    • This is similar to what occurred during the time of Jesus’ ministry and His encounter with demon-possessed people.
      • Luke 4:34.
      • Mark 1:24.
    • She kept declaring that Paul spoke of the way of salvation and were slaves of the most high God. Why would this upset Paul? There are several possible reasons.
      • Paul didn’t want the Gospel or the name of God promoted by a demon-possessed girl.
      • A more likely reason is that the non-Christians hearing her declarations would not understand the true meaning behind the words.
        • Most of those hearing the girl’s words were Gentiles.
        • Although the term “Most High God” was common in the Old Testament, it was equally common in the Gentile world and often was applied to Zeus.
        • The term “way of salvation” would also be confusing to a Gentile as the Greco-Roman world was filled with “saviors,” and the emperor often called himself the “savior” of the people.
        • Although the statements made by the possessed girl were completely factual, they were also easily misunderstood by the pagans who heard the message. 
          • The truth could easily be warped by people with a polytheistic background.
          • Jesus could be seen as just another “savior” in a growing group of Greek “gods.”
        • In response to this danger, Paul commanded the demon to come out of the girl by the power of Jesus’ name.
        • The demon was cast out immediately after Paul made the declaration.

With the demon cast out and the girl no longer possessing the gift of fortune-telling, attention turns from the girl to Paul. Let’s look at some points from this section.

  • Healing a possessed slave girl was not the issue that caused the situation to become tense.
  • The real issue was the economic loss the slave girl’s owners would now incur.
    • There are similarities with the incident involving the Gerasene pigs in Mark 5:16-17.
    • The economic motive can also be found in the incident with Simon Magus contained in Acts 8:19f.
    • It would lead Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths to oppose Paul in Acts 19:24-28.
    • The profit stumbling block is a common obstacle to the Gospel in Acts.
    • The actions of the slave girl’s owners are in stark contrast to the generosity displayed by Lydia in sharing her home with the missionary team and fellow Christians in Philippi.
  • Luke switches from the first-person narrative in verse seventeen and doesn’t reappear until Acts 20. There are two main thoughts on this switch.
    • Luke remained in Philippi and didn’t rejoin Paul until the end of Paul’s third missionary trip.
    • Only Paul and Silas, as the leaders, bore the brunt of the owner’s anger and were dragged before the magistrates.
    • The phrase “They are Jews” may indicate that only Paul and Silas were to blame since they were outsiders in this Gentile city.
    • It makes the most sense that a combination of the latter two reasons is why only Paul and Silas were brought before the authorities.
  • The charge also includes a reference to Jewish practices that weren’t permissible for Romans to practice. Prejudice and racism were alive and well in the first century.
    • We see in the charges brought against Paul and Silas an avoidance of the real reason for their anger.
    • Their loss of income motivated all the charges brought against them, which wouldn’t be a legitimate reason for bringing them before the legal authorities.
    • They also accused them of “disturbing” the city.
  • The charges were false, but they achieved the desired result.
  • The authorities had Paul and Silas stripped for their beating.
    • This beating is likely one of the beatings Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:25.
    • They were then beaten by an instrument that was a bundle of rods with an ax protruding from the middle. The rods were tied together with a red band called a fasces, the same symbol that Mussolini revived and was linked with the fascist movement in Europe.
    • Although not as brutal as the flogging that the Romans inflicted upon Jesus, it was still a severe form of punishment.
  • The question that begs to be asked is, why didn’t Paul inform them that he was a Roman citizen? There are only two logical answers.
    • Because of the mob mentality, there wasn’t time.
    • Paul could have been saving that trump card for later when it might prove more valuable.
  • Once the beating was finished, they were thrown in prison.
  • However, they weren’t just thrown in prison; they were placed in the most secure section of the prison.
    • It’s likely this was the innermost cell of the prison.
    • When we envision this, we should think of the dungeon, the dark, dreary, and coldest part of the prison.
    • Their feet were placed in stocks.
      • The stocks were usually connected to the walls of the prison cell.
      • They contained numerous holes through which a prisoner’s legs would be secured.
      • They allowed for severe stretching of the torso, creating excruciating pain for the prisoner.
    • However, Luke doesn’t indicate that any form of torture took place.
    • The entire emphasis on the description of their incarceration is on the extremely tight security under which they were placed.
    • The incredibly tight security makes their miraculous deliverance all the more amazing.

The Prison Miracle

Considering their circumstances, it could have been easy for Paul and Silas to bemoan their fate. Instead of complaining or asking God to smite those who mistreated them, they were praying and  singing songs of praise to God. Let’s consider the actions of Paul and Silas and the events as they were in prison.

  • Christians should always be filled with hope; we are on the winning side.
    • Peter slept peacefully the night before his trial in Acts 12:6.
    • Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God.
    • Their actions were a witness of their relationship with God, and the other prisoners were listening.
  • The area around Philippi is prone to earthquakes, but this was no ordinary earthquake.
    • The doors, likely locked by bars, were thrown open by the force of the earthquake.
    • The chains came off the prisoners.
    • Those chains may have been attached to the walls and torn loose by the violence of the shaking.
    • Thinking back to Peter’s miraculous release from prison, we could expect that Paul and Silas would make their way out of the prison and escape. However, that was not the case.
  • As the jailor woke up and saw the open doors, he prepared to kill himself.
    • His first thought is that the prisoners had escaped.
    • Instead of waiting for Roman justice, he prepared to take his own life.
    • Jailers and guards were personally responsible for the prisoners and were held accountable if they escaped, resulting in the execution of the guard who failed in their duty.
  • Instead of taking his own life, he heard Paul tell him not to hurt himself as all the prisoners were still in their cells.
  • The miraculous release didn’t lead to the escape of Paul and Silas and potentially other prisoners. Instead, it leads to the far more significant event of the jailer’s conversion.
  • Upon hearing Paul’s voice, the jailer called for torches to be brought and rushed into the cell, falling to his knees at the feet of Paul and Silas.
    • In contrast to Paul’s reaction at Lystra, contained in Acts 14:15, Paul doesn’t object to the actions of the jailer. 
    • It may have been an act of worship, but more likely a gesture of subservience.
      • Paul had saved the life of the jailer.
      • Paul’s God had, in an instant, reduced all the efforts of securing the prisoners to naught.
  • The jailer’s expression “what must I do to be saved” could be interpreted in two ways.
    • He may have been asking how his life could be spared. But, in reality, his life already had been spared. None of the prisoners had escaped, so he was under no threat of punishment.
    • It is more likely he was asking in a religious sense. 
      • He may have heard the slave girl’s statements that Paul knew the way of salvation.
      • He may have directly heard Paul preach or had heard of Paul’s preaching but didn’t completely understand the message.
      • Maybe he had fallen asleep to the hymns that Paul and Silas were singing.
      • The miracle of the earthquake and the prisoners not escaping now prepared him to receive the message.
      • Paul’s answer was simple and classic – “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
  • There is now a transition, and somehow the jailer’s family enters the scene.
    • An important to emphasize before continuing is the idea of “household” salvation.
      • This verse doesn’t mean that the family is saved through the actions of the jailer.
      • Salvation is very much a personal action.
      • It is also a decision that requires understanding. This means that very young children are not able to make a conscious decision regarding salvation. There is no set age at which a person can understand the Gospel, but it does exist for each person.
      • The phrase “believe on the Lord Jesus” is directed at each member of the household, not just the head of the household.
    • Whether the jailer brought his family to the jail or the evangelism occurred at a location outside of the jail is irrelevant. What we do know is that the entire household did hear and respond to Paul’s message of salvation.
      • Throughout Acts, we see evidence of conversion through action.
      • In this narrative, once conversion took place, the jailer recognized the severity of Paul and Silas’ wounds and attended to them.
      • Luke may also be using a wordplay here. The jailer “washed” their wounds, and the family then were baptized, also a “washing.”
    • The jailer then took Paul and Silas and had the wounds they received from the beating cleaned and dressed.
    • It is clear the family responded to the message Paul preached as after Paul and Silas’ wounds were attended to, the family was baptized.
  • We then see another remarkable event.
    • Paul and Silas are still technically prisoners.
    • The jailer brings them into his house and provides them with a meal.
    • They rejoice together. They could have sung hymns together, prayed together, or possibly Paul and Silas gave further instructions on the faith. We don’t know for sure.
    • What we do know is that the jailer didn’t treat them as prisoners but as brothers in Christ.
  • We can also speculate about the other prisoners.
    • Were they ordinary prisoners, or were some possibly awaiting execution?
    • Although we don’t know, it is possible that some may have come to salvation through the message of Paul and Silas.

The Philippian Magistrates Admit Their Mistake

The narrative now switches to the next day. At some point between the arrest of Paul and Silas and the following morning, the magistrates realized there wasn’t sufficient evidence to keep them in jail and await further punishment. Therefore, they decided to have them released. However, things didn’t go according to their plan.

  • The jailer relays the message that Paul and Silas are to be released. The jailer urges them to go in peace.
  • Paul declines the offer to leave Philippi quietly. It is likely there are a couple of potential reasons behind his decision.
    • Leaving quietly could place the newly established church under a cloud of suspicion. There are several questions the Gentiles could’ve asked.
      • Who were these men?
      • Were they guilty of some crime?
      • Why did they leave so quickly and secretly?
      • What do their followers believe?
      • Paul wanted to leave the church in a positive light before leaving Philippi.
    • The magistrates had overstepped their authority in how they handled the case against Paul and Silas.
      • Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.
      • The magistrates had publicly flogged and thrown them in prison without a trial.
        • This could be done for non-citizens, even without a trial.
        • Roman citizens could be flogged and thrown in prison, but not without a trial.
        • The actions of the magistrates were beyond their authority.
    • Either reason makes sense, and it is likely that both played into the action taken by Paul.
  • Once the magistrates heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were understandably “afraid.”
    • Abusing the rights of a Roman citizen was a serious offense.
      • The magistrates could be removed from office for such an offense.
      • Philippi could have its rights reduced.
      • The emperor could deprive Philippi of all of the privileges normally associated with its status as a colony.
    • The situation was quite ironic.
      • Paul and Silas were treated as criminals but were innocent.
      • The magistrates who condemned them were actually the lawbreakers.
      • The magistrates wasted no time in coming to meet Paul and Silas.
    • The magistrates apologized to both of them. One can only imagine that they were quite animated in demonstrating sincere remorse for their actions.
    • The magistrates were likely still concerned about the events of the previous day and wanted them to quickly leave town to avoid further friction.
    • However, Paul and Silas were now in an advantageous position.
      • They weren’t in a rush to leave town.
      • The magistrates weren’t in a position to give them further trouble.
    • The missionaries now went back to Lydia’s home.
      • They met with the Christians who gathered there.
      • They encouraged them in their faith.
      • Satisfied that the church was in good standing, they left for the next city.
  • One might question whether Paul’s actions were a bit grumpy in his dealing with the magistrates. But let’s consider his actions.
    • It was essential that the fledgling church had a good reputation among the authorities if it was to grow.
    • The Christians didn’t break any of the Roman laws.
    • Paul and Silas were innocent of any wrongdoing.
    • It was essential that the magistrates admitted the innocence of Paul and Silas and cleared the charges brought against them.
    • Luke repeatedly points out throughout Acts that for every charge brought against the Christians, they didn’t break any laws in each occurrence. 

Here are some final thoughts on this passage.

  • Lydia’s home became the central meeting place for the church in Philippi.
  • It is likely the jailer, and his family became members of that church.
  • There were no apostles present.
  • No elders were ordained.
  • Yet, this fascinating mix of believers became a centerpiece for evangelism in Philippi and the surrounding region.
  • Paul’s letter to the Philippians is proof of the health of that congregation.


  • Never compromise on the purity of the Gospel message. The situation with the slave girl is an example. Although she was proclaiming that Paul and the team were the “way to salvation,” the circumstances surrounding this event could have led people to be misled if Paul hadn’t taken the action that he did.
  • Never be afraid of your circumstances if you know that you are walking in step with God’s instructions. False charges were brought against Paul and Silas, yet they never wavered in their faith or trust in God. 
  • Always rejoice regardless of your circumstances. Being locked up in jail could easily have been a discouraging situation. However, Paul and Silas sang and praised God even during this dark time. As it turned out, their actions, along with their miraculous release, led to the salvation of at least the jailer and his household and possibly other prisoners.
  • Ensure that the church of Jesus is never slandered or made to look as if its actions are criminal in nature when no wrong has been committed. This means that our actions and words need to be above reproach.

Acts Lesson Thirty-three

Acts Lesson Thirty-three: Acts 16:6-15 The Holy Spirit Leads Paul to Macedonia

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them. 

11 Then, setting sail from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, a Roman colony, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for a number of days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we thought there was a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there. 14 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (HCSB)

As we continue our journey through Acts, I’ll break this lesson into two parts.

  • The Holy Spirit leads Paul and the team into Europe – verses 6-10.
  • The conversion of Lydia and her household – verses 11-15.

The Holy Spirit Leading Paul and the Team into Europe

Paul’s team visited the churches established on the first missionary journey. As they were traveling, Paul decided to move into Bithynia, but the Lord closed the door to evangelism in that area. Paul likely experienced a mix of emotions when this occurred. On the one hand, it would be  a disappointment that they were prevented from moving into that area. On the other hand, this meant that the Lord would lead them in another direction. The path they now took led them to the port city of Troas. 

During the night, Paul had a vision of a man pleading for help. Scholars have speculated and debated on the identity of the person in the vision. One of the most popular choices is the writer of Acts, Luke. This is based on the text, which uses the phrase “we” for the first time in verse ten, which indicates Luke’s presence with the team. However, tradition connects Luke with Antioch and not Macedonia, and the Philippian narrative gives no indication that Macedonia was Luke’s home stomping ground. There are even some who believe the man in the vision was Alexander the Great since he had a vision of a “one world,” and Paul would attempt to realize that dream through the Gospel. However, we must conclude that there is no definitive position on the identity of the man in the vision. Rather, he was from Macedonia and requested assistance, prompting Paul’s team to begin the journey to Macedonia.

We can conclude from the context of this section that Paul shared the vision he had received with Timothy and Silas, who agreed with Paul that the team should cross over to Macedonia. In the previous paragraph, I highlighted the significance of the term “we.” It would be safe to assume that Luke joined the team at this point as they headed to Macedonia. 

Troas could be viewed as the last port between two major landmasses of the ancient world, Asia Minor and Europe. The two areas were separated by two major bodies of water, The Aegean and Black Seas. The evangelism of Europe would now begin. 

The Conversion of Lydia and Her Household

Paul and his team now set sail from Troas, heading to Macedonia. They sailed northwest from Troas, stopping first at the island of Samothrace, almost halfway to the port of Neapolis. After spending the night at Samothrace, they left for Neapolis, which was the port for the city of Philippi. The distance from Troas to Neapolis was approximately 150 miles, taking two days to make the journey. The city of Philippi was about ten miles inland from the port of Neapolis. Let’s look at some information about the city of Philippi.

  • It was a Roman colony, meaning it was a “Rome away from Rome.”
    • The emperor organized the colonies by ordering Roman citizens, especially retired military personnel, to live in them to establish and maintain a strong pro-Roman presence.
    • Although they were living on foreign land, they were expected to remain loyal to Rome, obey Roman laws, and give honor to the emperor.
    • In return for their loyalty, they were given various political privileges, one being an exemption from taxes.
  • There was an abundance of copper and gold deposits in the region.
  • It came under Roman control in 168 b.c. and was expanded in 42 b.c.
  • It was known for its agricultural industry.
  • The location was of strategic commercial importance to Rome.
  • A famous medical school was located there.

It is interesting to note that the team didn’t begin their evangelism efforts as soon as they arrived. Although they knew that God had sent them to the region, they weren’t ready yet to begin their work. This is likely due to several reasons.

  • They needed some rest after their journey.
  • They needed to spend some time in prayer and make their plans for this new area of evangelism.
    • It isn’t enough to know where God wants us.
    • We also need to know when and how He wants us to work.

Now let’s consider some facts as the team began to work in Philippi.

  • They found a place to live and waited until the following Sabbath to begin their evangelistic efforts.
  • The Jewish population must have been very small in Philippi as there was no synagogue located there. Jewish law required at least ten male heads of households to form a congregation.
  • The only place of prayer was outside of the city, next to the river.
    • The river was likely the Gangites, located about 1 1/4 miles from the city gates.
    • Romans were often uneasy about foreign cults.
    • Judaism was a recognized religion, but because there wasn’t a formally established synagogue, the women were forced to meet outside the city gates.
    • If there were no Jews in Philippi, a possibility, and all the women were Gentile “God-fearers,” gathering in the city may have drawn even more suspicion from the Roman authorities.
    • It was customary in cities where no synagogue existed for believers to gather in the open near some type of body of water so other believers could easily find them.
  • Regardless of the circumstances, this gathering was the closest thing to a synagogue that Paul’s team would find in Philippi.
    • Paul then took the normal position of a speaker or teacher in a synagogue; he sat down.
    • Most likely, the meeting took place in an open-air environment next to the river.

The first convert was Lydia, one of the women who heard Paul’s message. Let’s look at some information concerning Lydia.

  • Lydia was a successful businesswoman from the town of Thyatira.
  • Thyatira was a city well-known for its purple dye.
  • From the context of the passage, it would appear that she was in charge of a branch office of her trade in Philippi.
  • This would make Lydia someone who was successful in business.
    • Purple goods were expensive and often associated with royalty.
    • This would make the business a lucrative one.
  • She “worshipped God,” which meant that she was not a full Jewish proselyte, but she did openly worship with the Jews.
    • Thyatira contained an extensive Jewish community.
    • It is likely that she became a worshipper of God there.
    • Similar to the conversion of Cornelius, God responded to her faith and “opened her heart” to receive and understand the Gospel message.
  • She was seeking truth.
  • Women in Greek and Roman society could achieve an elevated status, unlike Jewish society.

After Lydia and her household were baptized, she persuaded the team to stay at her home. Let’s consider what the invitation meant.

  • The acceptance of her hospitality was a test of whether or not the missionary team really believed she had become a follower of Christ. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
  • We see later in this chapter, verse 40, that her home became a gathering place for the Philippian Christian community.
  • She may very well have been the wealthiest member of the Philippian church.
  • She embraced the ideal of the early church, freely sharing her resources with her brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • She also shared her faith, which we see in the fact that her household also became believers.
  • This is the first time the baptism of a “household” is mentioned in Acts. 
    • However, we shouldn’t use this event as support for infant baptism.
    • Throughout Acts, baptism is based upon individual faith and commitment.
  • The phrase “she persuades us” could indicate the team’s hesitancy in staying based on several possible reasons.
    • She was a woman.
    • She could have been a single woman.
    • Maybe some members of the team didn’t want to stay in the house of a Gentile, even a believing Gentile.
    • Whatever the reasons were, they were overcome, and the team agreed to stay at Lydia’s house.

Let’s consider a few other facts about the Philippian church and support to Paul’s efforts in general.

  • Of all of the churches that Paul established, the Philippian church stood out for its generosity.
  • They continued to send support to Paul as his journeys took him to other locations.
    • Philippians 4:15-18.
    • 2 Corinthians 11:8.
  • Women like Lydia were actively engaged in supporting Paul’s ministry efforts.
    • The women of Thessalonica – Acts 17:4.
    • The women of Berea – Acts 17:12.
    • Damaris in Athens – Acts 17:34.
    • Priscilla in Corinth – Acts 18:2.


  • We must be sensitive and obedient to where the Spirit would lead us and what the Spirit would have us do for the advancement of the Gospel.
  • We must be flexible in how we engage the lost. In this lesson, we see that Paul’s standard method of starting at the local synagogue wouldn’t work because there wasn’t a synagogue. Additionally, the initial target audience was a group of women. Both of these were new avenues for Paul to explore.
  • Are we like Lydia? Do we extend hospitality to those in need, and do we support efforts to advance the Gospel? All of us have various ways to reach the lost. Although many of us will not travel far in our evangelistic efforts, we can still evangelize those close to us. Additionally, we can support those who are sent to other countries. Often these missionaries make do with much less than we have.