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Bible: What Does Acts 16 Teach Us About Paul's Second Missionary Journey?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Apostle Paul

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Timothy and His Mother

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Salvation by What?


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Acts 16: The Second Missionary Journey; Lydia and the Philippian Jailer

Timothy Joins Paul

A stop in Lystra brings Paul into contact with Timothy, a young man with a stellar reputation in his own town and in nearby Iconium(vv. 1a, 2; cf. 14:1-7).

The apostle wants him to join the missionary team, but the fellow’s half-Jewish, half-Greek, uncircumcised upbringing temporarily delays the transaction (vv. 1b, 3).

[Ryrie writes that “it seemed expedient” for Timothy to receive circumcision “in order to enlarge his local usefulness in witnessing” (New Testament Study Bible, 237).]

Once properly “cut,” Timothy accompanies Paul to the rest of the Asian churches, which receive the Jerusalem Church’s “recommendations” (v. 4).

The apostolic team’s visits help strengthen the brethren, resulting in their daily numerical (and spiritual) growth (v. 5).

The Spirit's Leading

At this stage in his second journey, Paul perceives strong prohibitions from the Holy Spirit that he should neither proclaim the gospel in the Roman province of Asia, nor enter a certain region in northern Galatia (Bithynia) [vv. 6-7].

[Whether “circumstances” absolutely prevented Paul from preaching there, or he actually heard the Spirit forbid him from engaging in this ministry, is unknown.

God’s sovereign will operates inscrutably.]

Bypassing the region of Mysia, they travel southwest to the seaport ofTroas(v. 8), where the apostle “sees” (in a vision) a Macedonian pleading for his help (v. 9).

Somehow Paul decides that this experience represented God’s guidance for him to sail to that region (v. 10).

[Luke’s reference to “we” indicates that the author joined Paul’s missionary endeavor in Troas, sailing with him to Samothrace and Neapolis during the next two days (v. 11), and traveling to the major city of Philippi thereafter (v. 12a).]

God Saves Lydia

Luke relates that Philippi was the leading Roman colony in that day (v. 12).

[Ryrie lists other places, all of which afforded its citizens the rights of Italian Romans (New Testament Study Bible, 238).]

While they sojourn there, Paul and the others visit a women’s prayer meeting near a river (v. 13).

As the apostle speaks to the worshipers, God “opens the heart” of Lydia, a devout woman who sold purple fabrics inThyatira (v. 14; cf. Rev. 2:18-29 for more information about late first-century Thyatira).

[The “opening of a heart” means that God enabled Lydia to believe the gospel.]

Apparently, she brings Paul to her home where her entire family trusts Christ, for they all submit to immersion somewhere—perhaps in the river outside the city.

As a result of her salvation, Lydia immediately shows spiritual fruit (namely, hospitality), persuading the missionaries to stay with her for awhile (v. 15; cf. Phil. 4:15-19).

Philippian Jailer: "What Shall I Do to be Saved?"

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Salvation and Suffering

Paul Casts Out a Demon

Presumably on their way to another prayer service, Paul, Luke, and Silas encounter a demonized slave girl, whose inhabitant—a spirit of divination—keeps announcing both the identity of the apostles and their general message (vv. 16-17).

Annoyed by the demon’s persistent harassment, Paul “casts” it out of her (v. 18).


[Did Paul “exorcise” the demon solely for the girl’s sake, or did he do it because the spirit was annoying him?

It seems that if he truly cared about the girl, he would have cast out the demon on the first day.]


Seeing their fortune-telling profits eliminated, the girl’s masters perform a citizens’ arrest of both Paul and Silas, and drag them to the agora (v. 19).


There these anti-Semites accuse the apostles of troublemaking—that is, spreading unlawful Jewish customs among the Roman populace—before the city’s magistrates (vv. 20-21).

Paul and Silas Suffer Persecution

When they hear these charges, not only does the mob (“the multitude”) oppose Paul and Silas, but the magistrates also show their displeasure both by tearing their own clothes and ordering a scourging for the "disturbers of the peace" (v. 22).

[Religious freedom did not exist in the “marketplace of ideas” in this Macedonian city].

After receiving a severe scourging, the pair spends the night in jail under the supervision of a man who not only locks them in an inner prison—presumably a more secure cell—but binds their feet in stocks (vv. 23-24).

[Where was Luke at this time? As a non-spokesman, he remained free; perhaps he continued to stay with Lydia during the apostles’ imprisonment.]

The Salvation of the Philippian Jailer

Seeing that they have a captive audience, Paul and Silas decide to hold a worship service at midnight (v. 25).

Not coincidentally, an unusual earthquake occurs that not only shakes the prison’s foundations, but also opens all the doors and unlooses every chain (v. 26).

The Philippian jailer, roused from sleep, discovers the doors open; believing that all the prisoners had escaped, he prepares to kill himself for what his superiors would undoubtedly consider his incompetence in allowing the mass exodus to occur (v. 27; cf. 12:19).

Knowing what the jailer would do to himself unless he acted, Paul yells, in essence, “Stop!” (v. 28)

[Two observations:

(1) Since the jailer calls for a light, it is apparent that the dungeon had enough light for him to see that the doors were open, but not enough to see that his prisoners stayed put;

(2) An assistant accompanies him, for who else would light a torch for him? (v. 29)]

Convinced now that Paul and Silas represent the Almighty, the jailer humbles himself before them and asks them about salvation (v. 30).

[A combination of the earthquake’s effects and the apostle’s mercy brings him to his knees.]

Belief “on” the Subject of their clear, unmistakable message—Jesus Christ and Him crucified—grants eternal salvation both to the jailer and to his whole household (vv. 31-32).

[Individuals can do nothing to escape eternal damnation but believe on Christ. The jailer's whole household also trusted in the Lord; they did not "ride on his coattails."]

Fruit of the Jailer's Salvation

The jailer’s subsequent ministry—washing the apostles’ wounds—constitutes evidence (the spiritual fruit of mercy) of his salvation; his immediate immersion (and that of his believing family members) identifies him with Christ and His church (v. 33).

He exemplifies full fellowship with the brethren by manifesting another spiritual gift (hospitality); the joy of the Lord’s salvation overflows from both him and his family (v. 34).

Paul Asserts His Rights as a Roman Citizen

On the next day, Paul learns from the jailer that the magistrates decided to release the apostle and Silas (vv. 35-36).

Instead of departing without a word, however, Paul determines to take advantage of his rights as a Roman citizen—which the magistrates had violated not only by not trying him in court, but also by scourging him (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 239)—, demanding that the magistrates formally let them go (v. 37).

The officers (whom the magistrates had sent) report back to them what Paul had dictated, frightening them so much that they beg the apostle not to make public their treatment of him (vv. 38-39).

After achieving justice, Paul leaves the prison and spends some time at Lydia’s residence before departing from Philippi (v. 40).

[At first, Paul surrendered his right as a Roman citizen not to receive punishment without due process; however, he later asserted that right in order to gain leverage against the Philippian authorities.

Asserting one’s rights as a Christian citizen is not only not a wrong practice, but it is also the righteous thing for one to do as a steward of God’s grace.

Claiming Roman citizenship also prevented Paul from experiencing future mistreatment (cf. Acts 25:10, 11.]

© 2013 glynch1

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