Lecture 17: Acts 16:16 - 17:9
Login to download lecture and curriculum
After Paul cast the demon out of the servant girl, her owners took Paul and Silas to court. The people of the city beat them and put them in prison. God miraculously released them from prison. When they saw the jailer about to kill himself, they told him about Jesus, and the jailer and his household became followers of Jesus. Paul and Silas then went to Thessalonica.
Lecture 17: Acts Chapters 16-17
A. Chapter 16 – Paul and Silas on the Via Egnatia - Philippi
In the previous session, Paul cast out a pythoness spirit, a powerful manic divining spirit from a girl, who was being exploited by slave holders. In many cultures and circles, you have people over doing this in seeing demons everywhere. By the 3rd century that was pervasive in Judaism where some rabbi talked about thousands and ten thousands of demons. The Dead Sea Scrolls talked about every act is controlled even by the spirit of truth or by the spirit of error. We don’t see that in the New Testament to that degree. But, sometimes, there is a real spirit and it has to be dealt with and Paul did that. He seemed reluctant to; perhaps because he could see what might happen if he did deal with it. In verse 19, the owners of the slave girl got upset because she has been liberated from spiritual bondage. Now they don’t have any profit from her fortune telling. So, they dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates. If you wanted to get somebody in court, you had to drag them to court. Luke and Timothy probably don’t get dragged in, but Paul and Silas do. Notice the charge they were going to raise against them saying that they were advocating customs that were not lawful for them as Romans. The title of magistrates that is used here is strategos, a common Greek title for the Latin praetor. They aren’t judging by themselves; there is a whole crowd of people around them. So these officials want to keep the crowd happy. This is done in the market place but not the Greek commercial Agora. Here, it is the nearby central agora in Philippi which has been excavated. This functioned as a Roman Forum and this is where they would have trials. It was about 230 feet by 485 feet or 70 meters by 150 meters and so, a lot of people could have been standing there. Actually, it was intersected by the Via Egnatia, the Roman Road that was built in the 2nd century BC that crossed Illyricum, Macedonia and Trace. So, the charge that is brought before them was the teaching of unlawful customs. The people don’t know that these are both Jews and Romans.
Sometimes there are situations like that today where people just assume something about someone. Somebody walks into a classroom and assumes that such and such person is the janitor because of the ethnicity or their youth or whatever else and it is their professor on the first day of the class, or something like that. You can have embarrassing situations like that. I actually liked it when students thought I was a student, as it made me feel young. In any case, there is a Jewish Roman contrast and it reflected a common ancient anti-Judaism; it was very pervasive in many parts of antiquity. In Claudius’ degree mentioned in chapter 18:2, may have been something recent; it is where he expelled the Jewish community from Rome. Certainly in Alexandria, there had been major anti-Judaism, major anti-Semitism and in many other places as well. As I have already said, Philippi was a Roman colony and if Claudius could expel Jews from Rome, they wouldn’t be in the most comfortable situation in Philippi either, since they were a Roman Colony which meant that they were citizens of Rome. The Roman’s main complaint about the Jews was that they were converting people. Of course, that was why Paul was there also. From a Christian perspective, it is like what they need and we have to show them the truth. We may risk our lives to get people out of a fiery building for example, but in this case we have to convince them of the truth of the alternative fire and damnation. We can really only warn them about it. This is not always viewed positively by other people. Sometimes, it has been done in inappropriate ways, yet when it is done in the gentlest way; it isn’t always viewed as positive when people come to the Lord as a result of us sharing the Gospel. We share Christ with others because we care about people, not to gain points in heaven. There was a lot of xenophobia in regards to fear of strangers. In most parts of the world today, you have some of that except in some urban areas.
Many native non-Romans lived in Philippi; these were people who weren’t citizens. There seemed to have been only a few Jews living there and so they made an easy target. Other immigrants from the east had settled there and that increased the xenophobia. And again, Jews made a particularly easy target. Philippi was indeed, very Romanized and they were proud of their Roman heritage and so Jews were easily able to stir up the crowd. Over eighty percent of the inscriptions in Philippi were in Latin, even though it was Macedonia, northeast of Greece. As mentioned already, citizens had Roman rights; they followed Roman law and they were exempt from tribute to Rome. There local constitution followed the constitution of Rome, so they were really into being Roman. In 16:22, Paul and Silas are stripped and beaten. Non-citizens could be beaten before trial to secure evidence. In official terms it was called pultatio in Latin. Now, people of lower class had little legal protection. It says that they were beaten with rods; Paul says this in his letters writing that he was sometimes beaten with rods. This is the only one that Luke mentions but Luke doesn’t tell you all that happened to Paul. These rods were from the lictors who were Roman civil servants and a bodyguard of the magistrates. These rods were decorated with fasces. Stripping of clothes was standard for public discipline and these were meant to be humiliating and this was especially true for Judeans and others who were very sensitive about being seen naked. This is why in 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul talks about what he endured in Philippi; he describes it as humiliating.
B. Paul & Silas Beaten and Put in Jail
In verses 23-34 we are going to read about prison ministry. In verse 23, the prison director was instructed to keep them very securely. So, he puts them in the inner prison which had no light and their feet were fastened with stocks. There was no way to escape from the inner prison and being put in stocks would make it even more difficult to escape. Some commentators have said that the prison director was a veteran, because of Philippi being a Roman colony. But Philippi had been a Roman colony for many generations; the veterans had been settled there in its’ beginning. He could be a descendant of a veteran but not likely to be one himself. In any case, these places where people were imprisoned were not meant to be places of habitation in antiquity. They were known for their filth, there lack of toilet facilities. If you were in stocks, you went to the toilet where you were and would have to sit probably in it also. You had been beaten and therefore you had wounds which could become infected from the filth that was around you. It would be cold from the floor which was probably stone. The stocks would probably be fastened to the floor; they were something that prevented you from moving. There were extra holes in the stocks that they could fit a person in order to make it more uncomfortable. It was used for low status people and who were definitely not Roman citizens.
In 16:25, we see the ability to glorify God in suffering and shame, this was praised by Jewish people; Greco-Roman philosophers also praised the wisdom of being content and thankful in such situations, recognizing that you couldn’t control it anyway. One thing that they could control was their attitude. In Judaism, it was a way of recognizing that God was sovereign and so they would praise God for their situation. So that is what they do and they are doing this at midnight. They were praying and singing hymns to God, and other prisoners were listening to them and perhaps some were converted as they were influenced by Paul’s ministry. Singing at midnight was usually in the middle of one’s sleep. This was not the usual time of prayer in Judaism. It is interested that Palm 119:61-62 talk about being persecuted and praising God at midnight. So, they are doing this. In verse 26, like in chapter 24 where the place was shaken; so this place was shaken from an earthquake. It is not guaranteed that just because you pray, you can have an earthquake. There was a Jewish story where Abraham was delivered by an earthquake in biblical antiquities. So there were Jewish stories about things like this. Most people in antiquity recognized earthquakes as divine activities and it was often as judgement. Greeks contributed it to Poseidon who was called the earth shaker as well as the God of the sea. Philippi was also an earthquake prone area, so you had earthquakes in that area. But these earthquakes usually didn’t undo prisoner bonds; it could happen, but was this just a coincidence? Was it a coincidence that the Red Sea would part so that the Hebrew Nation could escape the Egyptians? Exodus 14 says God used a strong east wind to blow the sea back by night. In any case, this is clearly divine activity and nobody gets hurt, but their bonds are broken. We do know of prison escapes that were caused by earthquakes in Turkey in 2011 and Haiti in 2013 plus also in Indonesia. So, these kinds of things do happen, but this was specifically divine activity.
A number of other people, earlier in Acts, Peter and other apostles were freed and then in Acts 5 Peter is freed again by an angel of the Lord. In Acts 12, Paul is freed also but there is a difference. Peter was freed and the guards got executed. Paul gets freed but he chooses not to leave; of course his situation was not as deadly as Peter’s, Peter was told to leave and he did. But with Paul, it is going to work out even better. In 16:27 the jailer was about to kill himself but Paul cries out, telling him not to. Execution was the penalty for letting prisoners escape, especially in capital cases. Now, this wasn’t a capital case, but the jailer had been told to guard them securely. As far as he was concerned, all the prisoners may have escaped. He was probably the chief jailer; he had servants working for him. They were probably civic servants. He didn’t go in to the inner part of the prison. All the doors had been broken and he realized that the prisoners could have escaped and apparently would have escaped. This is the idea he gets from the guards who probably were asleep. In any case, Romans considered suicide a noble alternative to execution. In fact Tacitus said that Messalina who was supposed to have been executed was a coward as she was unwilling to fall on her sword. They had to help her do it. So, it was normally considered a noble alternative. Josephus, who writes for a diaspora audience; he sometimes depicted it as honorable as well. It was a noble alternative to some things but not for other things. Certain things were considered ignoble or cowardly. Christian theology that followed much of Jewish theology, not Josephus, has historically rejected suicide, saying that God only has the right to take life. Everyone rejects this as a solution to depression or anything from which one could recover. This is not to say that you can’t understand why some people are driven to this under certain circumstances. Sometimes, it is a premature escape because God still has a plan for your life. Other people that I know and myself have been through serious anguish, we are happy that we lived through it and lived to see that God had a better plan for our lives, a better purpose for our lives. In any case, this man was ready to fall on his sword and Paul exhorts him not to do that.
C. The Philippian Jailer and his Family are Saved
So in verse 30, he brings them out and asked, ‘sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ In saying sirs, the Greek word is kurios, a title showing respect for others; it can mean sir or it can mean lord. But remember Paul and Silas were preaching the true Lord and so Paul corrects him in verse 31; no, believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. This is the true Lord, the true Kurios. This question comes up in different ways in different parts of Luke and Acts; what must I do to be saved? It was with the rich ruler in Luke 18 and with the crowds at Pentecost in Acts 2. The way he can be saved totally depends upon Jesus. The jailer had heard of the slave’s proclamation; they are proclaiming to us the way of salvation and now he wants to know how to be saved. We can all be saved if we trust in Jesus. Now, Romans expected the whole household to follow the religion of the head of the household and that was the husband in their culture. They also expected the head to lead his household in the worship of Roman gods; that would have been an important thing in Philippi, being a Roman colony. This man invited them home and Paul spoke the Word of the Lord to him and the entire household. We see in verses 33 and 34 that he washed their wounds and he was baptized at once, again he and all his family. Now, where would they have washed him in baptism? There were places they could go, public fountains and other places in Philippi. Many well-to-do Roman homes had a pool of water in their courtyard. In view of 16:20 and 21, the jailer risks getting into a lot of trouble, especially after he had been told to guard them securely; in Josephus we read about a time when Herod Agrippa I was actually in trouble for supporting Gaius Caligula saying that he wished he was king instead of Tiberius. He thought Tiberius was dead but Tiberius wasn’t dead yet. So, he was put in prison and the jailer wasn’t being very nice to them. But then the centurion over them got word that Tiberius had died and Gaius Caligula was going to be the next emperor. The centurion realized that this guy was going to be in good with the next emperor, so he becomes nice to Agrippa and has a meal with him. When at first they realize that Tiberius wasn’t dead, he dissociates himself from Agrippa. Then word comes back that Tiberius had in fact died; so he lost all the favor he would have gained.
It was very dangerous to be eating with a prisoner, this being a breach of protocol. So, he was told to believe in the Lord Jesus; this of course has certain implications. It is not just a statement that you believe as we believe a lot of things to be true. We believe that other certain people lived, like Churchill, Stalin, Alexander the Great, etc. So, this isn’t the kind of belief that he is talking about here. We depend upon him for Salvation and then what he saves us from is our sins. He gives us a new life; this is God’s gift and we don’t earn it. But in inviting God to save us, we are inviting God to transform us. We don’t instantly become all that we will be, but we have invited God to work in our lives. We have changed sides from being against God to being on his side and recognizing that he is now the Lord of our life. So, this man is willing to do whatever. Remember in Luke 10, it says that if they receive you, they receive me by welcoming and giving hospitality to agents of the Gospel. The jailer welcomes them into his own home; he feeds them and received them as agents of the true Lord, even though that can be very costly for him. But it is at night and they are not trying to get him into trouble. Afterwards, they will go back to the prison. Since he is not Jewish, they are not eating kosher food. So for them to have table fellowship with him, this is crossing another barrier which shows their welcome of these gentiles. This could even be costly to them in terms to their cultural tastes, etc.
D. The Magistrates Learn that Paul and Silas are Roman Citizens
In verses 35 and 36, the authorities told them the next morning that they could go. Perhaps the earthquake was a sign to them. They may or may not have heard about what happened at the jail. It could also be the intercession of Lydia and others praying. There could have been money involved, especially behind the scenes. What the officials were unaware of, however, was that they had actually beaten Roman citizens. While Paul and Silas may not have thought that made a difference, the jailer may have involved them. In Philippi, they took Roman citizenship very serious and that would have made a difference. Or Paul could have decided to wait until afterwards and then they would be in trouble. In the provinces, Roman citizenship was a mark of very high status, especially in the eastern provinces where not many people had Roman citizenship. If Paul and Silas didn’t have citizenship documents with them, it would be on record for Paul in Tarsus. Falsely claiming citizenship was a capital offence. Paul’s family probably received citizenship as descendants of freed Roman slaves. The Roman general at Pompey in the 1st century BC had taken many Judeans as slaves to Rome. Other Jews in Rome collected their money and bought their freedom and as freed slaves of Roman citizens, these Jewish people became Roman citizens. So, there were a large number of Jewish Roman citizens living in Rome; many of them also had left Rome settling elsewhere in the Roman world or went back to Judea; some of the Liberties settled in different places. So, the Julian Law forbids binding, putting in chains and stocks or beating Roman citizens without trial. So, now perhaps Paul and Silas mentioned that they were Roman citizens
There are objectives raised to Paul’s citizenship by those who tend to be more skeptical about Acts. They say that Paul never mentioned his citizenship. The argument isn’t very strong from silence and since Paul doesn’t attach very much significance to Roman citizenship. Even in the Book of Acts, Paul avoids boasting except when compelled and when he does boast, he boasts about his sufferings for the Gospel. He is not going to boast about his Roman citizenship; that would be antithetical to what he is trying to accomplish. It might be presupposed in Philippians 1:7 where he writes back to the church in Philippi where many of the members who probably were Roman citizens like the jailer. He writes back and says that they shared in the outcome of his trial. Because whatever happens to Paul as a Roman citizen is going to set a precedent for other Roman citizens; this would affect them in Philippi as well. So, Paul may not be entirely silent, but even if he were, it is not something that we would expect him to talk about in letters. Some scholars are skeptical about claims saying Luke is trying to establish Paul’s high status. Yes, but just because he wants to establish Paul’s high status doesn’t prove that he is making it up. It might seek to establish it without trying to fabricate it. Paul’s Pharisaism is also high status in a Judean context and yet in Philippians 3:5 Paul declares that he was trained as a Pharisee. They also argue that citizenship was reserved for the municipal elite and therefore it was closed to Jews. This argument misreads the evidence very badly. We have eleven hundred and seventy three Roman citizens in Ephesus’ inscriptions. It was not reserved for the municipal elite and there were various ways to achieve citizenship, including being freed as a slave. Thousands of slaves in Rome every year became Roman citizens while it was difficult for officials in non-colonies in the Roman east.
Some have argued that Jews who were Roman citizens would had to participate in Roman practices, therefore, Paul could not have been a Roman citizen. This is simply false, Josephus in Roman Jewish inscriptions showed that this was false. Philo showed that there was an entire community of Jewish Roman citizens in Rome. So, sometimes with the people that are skeptical of Acts, they are using information that has simply been made up. Sometimes, it simply shows that they have not properly researched the subject. Fifth, Paul never uses the Tria Nomina, the three names of a Roman citizen in his letters; this is unlike inscriptions. Only official documents required that; inscriptions was seeking honor, but Paul wasn’t. Greek and Roman citizens in the east gave their names in Greek ways most often. Of fifty Jewish Roman citizen inscriptions in Rome itself, none of them used the Tria Nomina. Pleney, who is not only a Roman citizen, but also belonged to the senatorial class which was a high level aristocratic Roman citizen. In his letters, he uses only one or two of his names, never three. Correspondence often used just one name in their letters. It is not surprising that Paul does that. Here is a stronger argument against Paul being a citizen. Paul reports that he was beaten with rods; citizens were not allowed to be beaten with rods. But Luke, who reports his citizenship also reports such a beating and Luke would know that citizens weren’t supposed to be beaten. Various other governors did in fact inflict such beatings on known citizens in places where they could get away with it. Florus, governor of Judea, inflicted beating not only on Roman citizens, but on Equestrians, of people of the Roman knight’s class, a rank shared by some governors, when he was governor of Judea. While this is a good argument, it is not good enough.
Why not reveal their citizenship before the beating? That would yield a prolonged case with more bad publicity. Officials could require certification from Tarsus which would require a long time. Officials might finally decide against them anyway. But after the officials had violated the law, Paul then had the upper hand. So, what are the arguments favoring Paul? Of course Luke mentions it and Luke knew him which should be an argument in favor of it. Paul’s own name favors it. This is argues also by Fitz Meyer, a good Catholic scholar but it is also argues by Derek Reutermann, an atheist New Testament scholar. So, the name favors it. Nearly always, Paulus is a cognomen in inscriptions. When it was a Praenomen, a first name, it was a reused cognomen from the family. People usually went by their cognomen, which Paul did. This was a respectable Roman name; it would suggest but not prove citizenship. It was enough that many in the east would assume Roman citizenship. Paul got his Roman name somewhere and it wasn’t merely for decoration. The strong majority of people who used that name were in fact Roman citizens. Only a citizen could appeal to the Emperor and then be sent to Rome. This happened to Paul; his letters support this act which was written before and after this point. If we put them together, we have the clues that suggest that Paul wanted to visit Rome and he expected Judean opposition; both are shown in Romans 15. Later, probably from Philippians 1, Paul is in custody in Rome. Well, how does Paul get into Roman custody? We have other evidence that Paul was in Rome. He is not simply in Rome but he is in Roman custody. Further, Luke would hardly invent the lengthy Roman custody starting earlier in Judea than necessary because chains in Roman custody were a matter of shame. People normally wanted to disassociate themselves from people in chains or people in Roman custody.
Luke wouldn’t invent Paul’s Roman custody and Luke would have invented it earlier than necessary if he had. Luke wouldn’t spend the entire last quarter of Acts based on fiction, because the last quarter of Acts doesn’t make sense unless Paul was arrested in Judea and then appealed to Rome and that was why he was sent to Rome. Remember, this is the most detailed part Acts. It is part of the ‘we’ narrative with an eyewitness. This one major reason why most scholars recognized that Paul was probably was a Roman citizen. Further, Luke’s implicit information fits the claim. He speaks earlier of the Synagogue of the Freed Person, which included freed people from Sicilia; this included Tarsus. Luke wouldn’t want to invent a slave background for Paul. If he was going to invent a background for Paul, it would not have been a freed person. If you were going to invent an honorable background, perhaps he would belong to the Equestrian class, like a few high class Jews in the municipal aristocracy in Jerusalem. Luke wouldn’t invent the slave background; he doesn’t even specify Paul’s member of the synagogue, even though it seems to be implied in the context. In supporting arguments, Paul succeeds in reaching Roman citizens in a way that most people would not have done if they weren’t Roman citizens. Paul also especially targets Roman colonies and ultimately wants to go to Rome even before he was arrested. Paul’s Roman name; I have talked about this already in Acts 3:9 when it first occurred. It fits Saul where double names were very common; you find them in the papyri in inscriptions. Greek speaking Jews often had Aramaic and Greek names, but Roman citizens could have a signum, a Roman name. Most concur that Paul’s signum was Saul and in the tria nomina; the nomin was the inherited clan name. The praenomen was originally the distinguishing name in the clan. They actually didn’t work too well in distinguishing people because so many people had the same name. So the cognomen became the new distinguishing name by the later republic and early empire. Paul lived in the early empire. The cognomen started as a nickname but in the empire, it was the primary identifying name. Paul was usually a cognomen and usually used only by Roman citizens.
How do Paul’a hearers, these magistrates, react to what Paul says? In 16:38, the guards reported these words to the magistrates, and they became afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. Cicero Quintilian tells us that a Roman citizen cried out that he was a citizen during the scourging and thereby humiliated his oppressors. By waiting until after the beating to inform them, Paul and Silas placed the magistrates in an awkward legal position. Paul did something like this later after he was put into chains when he was about to be interrogated with a beating. That was a different kind of beating which he could have died from. Keep in mind that Paul was a bit older then. And as we get older, sometimes the beatings may have more serious effects than when he was younger. Now the magistrates are forced to negotiate. Luke usually uses the term apostle just for the twelve, but in Acts 14 he makes an exception referring to Barnabas and Paul as well. Usually he doesn’t even call Paul an apostle on applying the term to the twelve. Paul in his writing uses the term a lot more broadly and applies it to others doing the same kind of missionary work that he is doing. So, they are forced to negotiate, the magistrates; if the laws are enforced, reports of what they did could disqualify them from office. In theory, but not very likely in practice, Philippi could be deprived of its status of a Roman colony for something like this. So, why did Paul and Silas bring this up now; why didn’t they leave it at that? They needed to help secure the future safety for the fledging Christian community and this would possible put them somewhat in a better situation. Although we learned from Philippians that the church still had some problems, however persecution may have not been as strong there as in Thessalonica.
So the magistrates came and apologized to them in verse 39. They had no legal authority to neither beat them nor expel them without trial. A trial would bring up their breach of law, so they are reduced to pleading. Luke likes positive outcomes; we see that a lot in Luke and Acts, even after difficult things. He may be putting the best face on this but still they are expelled and undoubtedly in pain from their beatings. And now they have a very long walk. They go back and greet Lydia and the others first. They don’t leave directly but the officials have to escort them out. Some people will be witnesses that their shame has been reduced because the officials had to humiliate themselves.
E. Thessalonica – Chapter 17
The next place they go after a very long walk is to Thessalonica where they face turmoil. By the way, in many of these cites, we have really good background that has been done. There has been a lot of research done on Philippi; Jeffery Wyrmite at Calvin College has done a lot of work in his Thessalonians Commentary along with other commentaries. A number of other scholars have written on Thessalonica itself. So, in 17:1 we read about Paul and Silas’ journey to Thessalonica. It is summarized fairly quickly, but it didn’t happen very quickly. It took them a few days to get there with their painful backs. They would be travelling along the Via Egnatia which runs through Philippi and on to the western coast of the Balkans from which they could sail on to Italy. They come to three different cities; the first is Amphipolis which was about 53 kilometers past Philippi. They probably didn’t walk it in one day, especially with their wounds. The next city was Apollonia which was a day’s travel beyond Amphipolis. It was 27 miles or some 40 km further. Thessalonica was 35 miles or 55 km further. So in verse 1, we have a number of days summarized and Luke has to summarize a lot to get through everything. The Via Egnatia continued further west into Illyricum on the western end of the Balkans. Acts reports here only that Paul turned to the south off this road to Berea. We do know that later Paul did visit Illyricum which was mentions in Romans 15:19. That was probably on the very quickly summarized journey that you have in Acts 20:1-3. Probably it was later that he traveled there. Roman roads were usually no more than twenty feet or six meters wide, which by modern urban standards isn’t very wide. But those roads were better and safer than European roads up to 1850. This was a providential time to have to be walking on them.
They reach Thessalonica which was Macedonia’s largest port, a very strategic location for the Good News spreading out from it. It was the capital of Macedonia’s old second district and the residence of the provincial governor. The city had as many as two hundred thousand residents so it was a major city by ancient standards. The synagogue where they are ministering in chapter 17:2; there were a lot of non-Greek cults or religions in Thessalonica. Judaism was more attested archeologically; the cult of Isis and Strafes which were Egyptian cults. All these were found in Thessalonica. It was said that Paul spent three weeks ministering in the synagogue there. They probably spent even longer in Thessalonica in general because he received support from Philippi according to Philippians 4:15 and 16 which was about 95 miles or 145 km away. He probably stayed there for a while. Until that point, he was doing manual labor according to 1 Thessalonians 2:9. What that suggests, he probably was there for a while. Well, things didn’t go too well in the synagogue. In Berea, people were eager to search the Scriptures to see what they actually said. But in Thessalonica they were more interested in defending what they already believed and we have people like that today. Act 17:4 says that some were persuaded and began to be associated with Paul and Silas. Plus Macedonian women had earlier gained the reputation for their insolence. Alexandria’s mother, Olympiacos was particularly known for her power. Upper class women could become patriots within a church or synagogue; their upper class status and their donations made them very well liked. This gave them higher status than was available to those in society at large. It was easier for them to convert.
So you have Paul and Silas and Timothy and a range of converts; now Luke is no longer with them after Philippi. Those who were opposed to them in the synagogue decided to stir up trouble. It was probably for this reason in 1 Thessalonians 2 speaks of how his own country people persecuted the believers in Judea; some people say that this was a later edition. That is an act of convenience for they don’t want that to be in the text. There is no textual evidence for being excluded. Paul had some success in Philippi and Thessalonica but there was opposition in both places. Those who were stirred up were those who were not usually highly viewed in ancient literature. Demagogues who would stir up mops were looked down upon. They stirred up idol unemployed people in the market place. It isn’t always someone fault to be unemployed; we see this with the disabled man in Acts 3. Unemployment was a problem in Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul urges them to work. In this case, they were just being idol in the market place. That was a problem in many cities and it was a problem in Thessalonica. They could be stirred to mop action as other ancient examples attests. Jewish residents were a minority in the city so they needed help to oppose Paul. Well, this mop is stirred up and it refers to them as the demos, the common people or citizen body. That accurately fits of what we know of Thessalonica because they weren’t a Roman colony in contrast to Philippi. It was a bigger city though and it was called a free city. This meant that they could enact their own policies and they had their own rulers locally, even though the Roman governor also lived there. As a free city, it had a gathered citizen body, the demos that acted judicially. They also had local officials who were called Polla Tarks; interestingly there were no list of what officials were called in different regions of the Roman Empire. But Luke gets this right, like all the names of local officials, especially in Thessalonica.
This would get Paul in trouble but they didn’t get to drag Paul in because they couldn’t find him at this point, but they do get his host for they knew where he lived. This was probably a Jewish person who welcomed them into his home and probably became a Jewish believer. In verse 6, it says that they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials and shouted, ‘these fellows who have turned the world upside down have come here, too, and Jason has welcomed them as his guests.’ Jason was a common Greek name but it was also used among Hellenistic Jews. This was probably a Jewish host with whom they stayed while working there. Also, Romans and even many officials didn’t go out looking for things to try. Roman administration didn’t have such a large budget and didn’t waste their money on things like that. In this case, they are going to accuse them before Thessalonica’s own Polla Tarks. This was a local issue. The della torre were the accusers. Under Roman law, somebody who prosecuted a case waited for the accusers to bring the case. What they accuse Paul of doing is proclaiming another king; of course he is proclaiming the Messiah. In verse 3, it says ‘this very Jesus whom I proclaim to you is the Messiah.’ Of course Paul isn’t speaking of political competition to the Emperor; this was considered treason. Claiming another king was considered treason against the Emperor. Putting this in these terms could be a problem for Paul and his associates as it indicated a coming king thus the emperor’s demise. Astrologers were banished from Rome because they would often predict a new ruler with the coming of a comet or a bright star, etc. You read 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Paul speaks of things he had been teaching them. Some of those things had to do with the coming of Jesus and the signs associated with that. So, it isn’t surprising that these accusers twisted his words to mean something else. Jesus had been crucified on a cross claiming to be the king of the Jews for sedition. Luke 22 and 23, Jesus is charged before Pilate as forbidding the paying of taxes to Caesar but we know that he didn’t forbid that from chapter 20. The other charge was claiming to be a king.
Citizens had to pledge loyalty to Caesar and to report any act of treason. Well, you can imagine how this would stir up a mob and nationalist loyalty as members of the empire. The Gospel’s opponents misunderstand here, no less than the misunderstandings of the Stoics and Epicureans in chapter 17:18 when they think Paul is preaching strange gods. In verse 8, we have the polla tarks and also in verse 6, the precise designation of Thessaloniki’s city officials. The title is virtually restricted to Macedonia. Rome gave them freedom to run the city, although they would have to answer to Rome for any inappropriate action because local officials on the eastern Mediterranean were responsible for enforcing loyalty to Caesar. Jason is held responsible for their actions, so he is required to post bond for them as if they were members of their household. A fine was a pretty lenient penalty as far a Roman counts went and a bond to curtail trouble makers wasn’t unusual. Given the charge in verse 7, had Paul himself been caught, officials sometimes chose politics over justice. Paul might have been executed. This was a very serious charge and it isn’t surprising that he is sent away from the town by the believers. This was dangerous; this wasn’t like a beating in Philippi. But the polla tarks probably didn’t take it too seriously because the penalty is very lenient. At the same time the polla tarks’ decision would stand until they left office. For the sake of Jason and the other believers, they don’t dare come back yet. Paul has to send his companions to find out what is going on. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 when he says that they wanted to come back but Satan hindered us and this may have something to do with the decree. But he’s going to get a better response in Berea, the next city he goes to. This was least for a while until some of the people from Thessalonica follow him. He is going to get off the beaten path, not following the Via Egnatia. Just like earlier, he got off the Via Subast and went down to Derby.
If you are enjoying this lecture, would you consider making a donation so others can learn from it as well?
BiblicalTraining is a non-profit and relies on its users for support.