Acts 16:16-34 - Imprisoned by a world that does not care

Updated: Apr 9

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

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

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


This is the mandatory Easter season selection from the Book of Acts, which will be read aloud on the seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will precede a singing of Psalm 97, where David wrote: “Yahweh loves those who hate evil; he preserves the lives of his saints and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” That pair of readings will be followed by the Year C Epistle choice from John’s Revelation. There, the prophet wrote of hearing a voice saying, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” All will accompany the Gospel selection from John, where he remembered Jesus praying, saying “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

I wrote this commentary in response to an online Bible Study class, where a minister addressed this reading. You can view that by clicking on this link. As the focus was on verse thirty-two, rather than the whole, I will offer new observations that see the whole of this reading as relative to the Easter season and when the dead have been raised by receiving the soul of Jesus within their souls.

Verse sixteen begins with the capitalized “Egeneto,” which is the third-person singular Aorist Indicative Active form of “ginomai,” meaning “to come into being, to happen, to become,” implying also “to be born, happen, come about.” This is a standard verb that conveys something else to write about; however, this word is capitalized, which bring a divine elevation to the way it should be read. Certainly something else happened to Paul and Silas, but following the conversion of Lydia and her household at the place of prayer in Philippi (a Roman colony), verse sixteen then placed importance to be noted that “Was Born now,” where “Birth” is the coming of Jesus within upon others; so, other souls can be “Reborn” as Jesus.

When this is followed by Luke writing, “we were going to the place of prayer,” this is the same place of prayer where Paul and the others encountered Lydia and other women, when Paul’s speaking the word of Yahweh (as Jesus reborn) opened their hearts. We read that Lydia was “a certain women,” and now we read that another “certain girl met us.” I firmly believe the use of “tis” (“certain one”) means a Jew. As such, the place of prayer was for Jewish women to go to pray, as there was no Jewish synagogue (nor a rabbi-teacher) in Philippi. This says many of the women there were dispersed Israelites, many in mixed marriages to Roman, as well as women taken as slaves (employees), as they had no Jewish husbands and refused to marry outside their religious beliefs.

When must assume that this girl was not going to the place of prayer with her masters (“kyriois”), as it is unlikely she was kept on a leash and not allowed to go alone outside the gates, to the place of prayer by the river. As one who recognized a need to pray daily, as morning, noon, and evening times, she would have met Paul and fellows without her owner-controllers. Those men would have provided for this girl, as they made money off her ability to prophesy; and, without their care, she would have no one else to turn to for sustenance. Thus, rather than think Paul used his inner Jesus to find out things about this girl, the better way to read this is the soul of Jesus led Paul to engage the girl in conversation, where she openly told the apostles that she was being used by men.

When we are told the girl had “a spirit of Python” (“pneumaPythōna”), this must be read as a statement of a possessing “spirit,” which has a capitalized name that means “Python, a mythical serpent slain by Apollo.” This must be read as confirmation that David’s singing of the Leviathan in the sea of souls is what this girl had been possessed by. It was not a demonic “spirit,” per se, as much as it was an attachment to the girl’s soul, which she did not ask for. One could almost say it was sent to her so the girl would not die of neglect, without parents. A “spirit” that gave her an ability to truthfully prophesy – even if such a ‘spirit possession” was misused by others, it at least provided for the girl’s survival in the world. Thus, we read, “she continued [to shriek the truth of Paul and the others] for days,” there was no immediate need found to cast out a demon “spirit.”

In the story of Jesus’ ministry, when he went to “the region of the Gerasenes” and encountered a man with many demon spirit possessing him, led by one named “Legion,” when Jesus approached the man, his spirit shouted out, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” Here, the girl’s spirit also knew Jesus was with Paul et al and said they were “servants of this of God of this Most High.” The same words of identification were used in two places, at different times, which says Jesus was present in both places, in different ways. The soul of Jesus is readily known to all “spirits,” which means all “spirits” are “elohim” in Hebrew.

When we then read, “Paul, very much annoyed,” this says it was Paul who was moved by anger, when that is not the case. The Greek word written is “diaponētheis,” which is the Aorist Participle of the word meaning “to toil through, to be worn out or annoyed,” implying “to be greatly troubled.” The truth of the word says, “bring on exhausting, depleting grief which results in "piercing fatigue.” This more appropriately says Paul was “exhausted” from hearing the girl shout that they were servants of God every day. Paul was trying to recognize the girl spoke the truth; but his fatigue became time for Jesus to erupt from within Paul, telling the “spirit” to leave the girl. When he said, “in the name of Jesus Christ,” that confirmed that everything the girl had shouted was the truth. Paul was reborn as Jesus, having taken on the “name” of Yahweh [Israel], such that the “elohim” within his soul was the Yahweh elohim of Adam-Jesus. We then find that the “spirit” left the girl “that hour.” This means she stopped shouting the truth at the apostles; but after prayers, when she returned to her Roman keepers (within an hour), she was found to no longer have the power of prophecy.

After her “masters’ realized she no longer was possessed by the “spirit Python,” having explained how Paul commanded it to leave her, in the “name of Jesus Christ,” those men immediately went and forcibly grabbed Paul and Silas and took them before “the leaders of the marketplace,” who somehow depended on the girl to forecast the best produce and merchandise to sell, for the highest price. That meant not only had the “masters” of the girl profited from he spirit possession, but so too did the vendors that paid the “masters” for ‘insider trading tips.’ That lack of a ‘cash cow’ meant many men were angered; so, they all led Paul and Silas down to the Roman “magistrate’s” office, to file a complaint.

It must be realized that Paul and Silas were not severely beaten and thrown in prison for freeing a Jewish girl from being possessed by a overwhelming “spirit,” which denied Roman slave owners from profiting. They were punished for being Jewish men coming into a Gentile colony of Romans, telling them about salvation of soul being what they offered; and, those Romans saw no value in that. So, when we read they “had torn off their garments” (where “himation” means “outer cloak or robe”), those were most likely the robs of a Jewish priest. By wearing such identifying outerwear, they would readily identify themselves as Jews, most easily identified by other Jews. The rejection of Jews by Romans mirrored the lower-class standing that Jews had in Rome. Thus, the ministry to Gentiles was primarily those mixed-blood diaspora, who were rejected by the mainstream Jews of Jerusalem. Certainly this story shows Gentiles rejecting Jews; but the women (who were like the Samaritan woman at the well who Jesus spoke to) of Philippi in Macedonia were knowledgeable of the Law, to some degree. The story coming about the jailer becomes the fulfillment of the vision Paul had in Troas, as “a certain man crying out to come help us.”

In verse twenty-five where is says, “About midnight,” the Greek word written, which is capitalized (thus divinely elevated in meaning” is “Kata.” The lower-case spelling means “down, against, according to,” with the word properly meaning: “down from, i.e. from a higher to a lower plane, with special reference to the terminus (end-point).” [HELPS Word-studies] Thus, the divinely elevated statement made is Paul and Silas had gone “Down” from the heights of being priests of Yahweh [Apostles-Saints], as Jesus reborn, to being prisoners with their feet in stocks, in the most hidden away cell in the Philippi jail. Therefore, the word “midnight” brings on the connotations of the “darkness” of a sinful world. Still, in that lack of divine light being allowed to shine in the depths of a jail, Paul and Silas were “praying.”

In the scenes established in John’s Revelation this Easter season, we have read of those who were “inhabitants” of Christianity [the “city descending from heaven”] being those souls who will never need the light of the sun or the moon, because the “lamp of the Lamb” will make it always s nice, sunny day in their souls. This needs to be seen as how the “praying” in the darkness was their talking with Yahweh, through the light of His Son, their souls His Christ (thus true “Christians”). It was then the inner elohim that was the soul of Jesus in both Paul and Silas, who began “singing praising to of this of God,” with their souls joining in on the songs. This must be seen as the Psalm 148 and Psalm 67 themes of praising Yahweh, which I wrote about. This says there was absolutely no darkness surrounding Paul and Silas’ souls, after having been stripped of their robes, beaten severely and locked up like dangerous animals.

Now, without knowing the materials used to construct this jail, if it was made with thick, soundproof walls (of stone and mortar), for anyone else imprisoned in the jail to hear Paul and Silas praying and singing praises to Yahweh, at best they would make dim sounds in a bleak place. This means verse twenty-five saying, “the prisoners were listening to them,” is another example of “autōn” (typically translating as “them,” but means “self, same, and themselves [in the plural],” where a “self” is a “soul,” so the souls of the “prisoners” “were listening” to “the souls” of Paul and Silas singing praises to Yahweh. That means they were all souls hearing songs of praise be led by the inner Jesus in Paul and Silas.

When the story then says: “Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken,” it is important to realize that Greece is a place where earthquakes happen with regularity, then and today. Still, in the Greek text, the literal translation says nothing about “violent.” Instead, it says, “suddenly now a shaking [which can imply an “earthquake”] was born great.” In that, the Greek word “egeneto” is found again, this time in the lower-case. While there can be seen a major earthquake taking place, the connection of “egeneto” to “megas” needs to remind us how were pray over our food saying, “God is great.” Thus, one of Yahweh’s faithful (not everybody) would read these words in Greek and see how the “foundations of the prison house were shaken” by movement caused divinely (not Mother Nature). It was “born” of the “great” Yahweh.

We know this is more than just a natural earth tremor because after a semicolon we are told (literally translated), “(they) were opened now these doors all , kai chains (there) were loosened .” Certainly, in a natural earthquake, where the foundations of a building are greatly moved, walls might collapse and ceilings fall in, but “chains” being “loosened” can only mean the places where chains were attached to walls crumbled, freeing those bolts and rings, so people in chains would be still attached to chains, but able to walk out opened doors, dragging their chains. This means a better translation comes when “doors” is read as “opportunities” and “chains loosened” is seen as “imprisonments abandoned.” This new light is speaking less of Yahweh sending forth a jailbreak chance for Paul and Silas and more about the lost souls that filled that “prison house,” including that of the jailer. Yahweh sent forth an “opportunity” for the lost to turn away from the lifestyles that “imprisoned” their souls, so they could open their hearts to receive salvation.

The element of it being “midnight” and total darkness was everywhere in the rubble, says the soul of the jailer feared his soul was lost forever. His threat to kill himself with his own sword said he assumed he would be blamed for a natural disaster; so, his life being secured with a paying job was over. Without that physical security, he would be better off dead. That speaks loudly as the point in life when all lost souls have reached rock bottom – a personal earthquake has shaken one’s “foundations” of the flesh, which are what “imprison” one’s soul. To die by one’s own sword says one has come to the realization that everything happening in one’s life is not caused by others, but by one’s own lack of self-worth. When darkness surrounds one’s big brain, then the imagination turns to everything bad and worse. The jailer is then a reflection on all readers of this Scripture, who is not a soul married to Yahweh, having received His Spirit and made a Saint, so the soul of Jesus could resurrect within one’s soul.

This is why Paul shouted out to the jailer, when total darkness could not be how Paul knew physically to shout out. Paul and Silas had souls that were forever in the light of Christ (a Yahweh Anointment, not the ‘last name’ of Jesus) surrounding their soul; so, they spiritually saw the soul of the jailer and knew he was in need of help. The fact that the jailer had to bring in fire to light the prison house and physically see that all the prisoners were still there says it was impossible to physically see the jailer pick up his sword to commit suicide. [Presumably he did not holler out, “I am going to kill myself with this sword of mine, if everyone escaped!” That would be spineless; and, spineless wimps are not hired to be jailers.]

Now when it is shown written (NRSV), “Paul shouted in a loud voice,” the truth of the Greek translates literally to this: “summoned now << this Paul >> << great to voice >> ”. In this there are inset double brackets surrounding “this Paul” and “great to voice.” In between is a left right arrow, which says “this Paul” is true if “great to voice” is true. The value judgment of what is true is in seeing “great to voice” (“megalē phōnē”) as being different than “Paul,” but the same as “Paul.” This would be the soul of Jesus calling out to the jailer; and, while the “voice” might or might not have been loud, it spoke loudly to the jailer’s soul. Thus, following is said, “Not (a capitalized word of divine elevation) do to yourself harm.” In that, the soul of Jesus spoke to the soul of the jailer (“yourself” = “your soul”) says he had not yet harmed his soul irreparably. Thus, when we then are shown Paul and Silas speaking, we read “they spoke to his soul this word of this Lord.” The “Lord” is Jesus within their soul-bodies. This relates back to when the pair were in Troas and were hindered from “speaking the word of this Sacred Spirit.”

Thus, the jailer and his family (like Lydia and her household) were all saved. Nobody escaped the prison house. Only souls were freed to return to Yahweh and become His servants.

As a mandatory reading from the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season (this selection only read during this seventh Sunday of the Year C season), it is important to see the souls that were saved by Paul and Silas being imprisoned in Philippi. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he wrote the names Euodia and Syntyche, both women of that assembly of true Christians. The name “Euodia” means “Good Road, Right Way, Good Luck!,” while the name “Syntyche” means “Collective (Mis-)Fortune, Total Happenstance, Completely By Chance.” Because the souls saved by Paul and Silas (Luke and Timothy) had all been women prior to this event in the prison, it is very possible that Syntyche was the name of the girl who was called “a fortune-teller” (“manteuomenē”). The Greek is a combined word, where “Syn” (as “sun”) means “together with,” while “tuche” means “fortune or chance.” As it is most likely her Roman owners would sell her or cast her away, her encounter with the soul of Jesus in Paul would have saved her soul in the same way the jailer’s soul was saved. That makes it probable that Lydia’s house took the girl in; so, Euodia would most likely be one of Lydia’s household.

In a season where the theme is always souls of the dead (lost and unsaved) being raised to eternal life, by the resurrection of Yahweh’s Son in His new servants, it is imperative to see this story being nothing about imprisonment, but instead freedom allowed to a lost soul. The levels this story takes shows how easy it is to become possessed by an “elohim,” who takes the form of a serpent (“Pythōna” or “Python” was a Leviathan swimming in a sea of soul, with the girl his captive [she was imprisoned by that spirit]), which says it is just as easy for us to fall prey to “spirits” that are not offering a soul salvation, as much as bringing in a form of torment that cannot be easily escaped from. The Roman slave-owners who profited from her abilities to prophesy speaks of all the corrupt people in the world who climb on top of the shoulder of the weak, controlling us for their benefits. It is the ”marketplace” that souls are bought and sold; so, vendors are those who are only looking out for their own self-interests (not anyone else’s). The “magistrates” are the government officials who know pleasing those with money, power, and influence is better than serving God or His Laws. Thus, the prison house is where all souls live, when in the flesh on the physical plane. It takes a “great shaking” in one’s soul “foundations” to be reduced to the rubble that sees death as all one has to look forward to.

This is the word spoken by Luke. It is written to shake the foundations of oneself. It is meant for readers to hear the word of this of Yahweh spoken to their souls.

Aside Note: I have been led to write more about the girl who was possessed by the "spirit Python." I feel it is important information that does not fit this commentary, without being a distraction. It is best read separately. The article can be accessed by clicking on this link: The girl having a "spirit Python".

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