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Part 3
Illegally Imprisoned

Acts 16:23
And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:

…laid many stripes upon them…” Rome had no limit on the number of lashes a prisoner could receive. But we have seen the emotion filling the people in the agora (marketplace), and the magistrates. How much emotion did the floggers have? All provided by the master’s of the damsel because of their profits.

Acts 16:23
After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded.
Holman Christian Standard Bible

The word keep is tereo in the Greek and it means to watch over. In support of this we have the adverb asphalos, which means, to prevent escape, securely, steadfastly. This is the command the jailer received from the magistrates. It was also used of Jesus when he allowed himself to be arrested.

Mark 14:44
And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely.

How securely did they hold Jesus when arrested?

Matthew 26:48
Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast.

“Hold fast” is the Greek word krateo, which means to be strong, rule, be mighty, to take hold, exert power. Both words carry the meaning of force used to securely arrested. Krateo just adds to our understanding of the force that was used to accomplish the arrest.

This is called scripture build-up, whereby another verse, on the same subject, adds to our overall understanding of what took place in a certain event. In this case the arrest of Jesus, which then principally adds to our understanding of Paul’s transfer from the agora to the prison.

Acts 16:24
Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

“Received” is lambano in the Greek and means to receive a thing and use it as intended. “Such” is the Greek word toioutos and means, this kind of. “Charge” is parangelia in the Greek and means, a charge or a command. Having received this kind of a command, they placed them in the inner prison cell and put their feet securely in the stocks.

Acts 16:24
He, having received such a [strict] command, threw them into the inner prison (dungeon) and fastened their feet in the stocks [in an agonizing position].
Amplified Bible

Some theologians say the lower prison, most say the inner prison. In essence, they basically have the same impact. Both are windowless, and are completely dark, and have no ventilation.

When we think of a prison cell in the United States, we see a room that has heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. The inmates get a bed, and a sink, and a toilet, with a door that, many times, is made of bars. Prisoners would also get some time outside each day, and they are served three meals a day. This does not describe a Roman cell, especially an inner prison.

The inner prison was one large room that could hold many prisoners. There were no facilities for human waste. There was no ventilation, so the stench would be overwhelming. With your feet in stocks, you would only have two positions available to you, either sitting up or laying down. Remember, the Romans did not restrict themselves to whipping a man’s back when scourging, they would beat a man all over his body. Which position, if any, would keep any open wounds off the filthy floor? As for food, Rome did not consider it their responsibility to feed a prisoner.

How did Paul feel about his treatment in Philippi?

1 Thessalonians 2:2
But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.

The phrase, “…were shamefully entreated…” is the Greek word hybrizo.

Helps Word-studies says, “hybrízō ("deliberately, spitefully injure") refers to mistreating people, using unfair tactics to inflict undeserved harm. This expresses the work of "one whose insolence and contempt of others breaks forth in wanton and outrageous acts"  

This is Paul’s opinion of what took place with him and Silas in Philippi. Yet look at their response while feeling the effects of a severe beating, and with their feet in stocks, and sitting in a filthy cell, and with the stench of previous prisoners filling their nostrils.

Acts 16:25
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

The word “heard” in the Greek is epakroaomai and it means to listen attentively. In other words, the other prisoners were not yelling at Paul and Silas to shut up, they were curious, if not blessed, with the prayer and singing of hymns.

An important key to this word, “heard” is in the grammar. Grammatically “heard” is in the imperfect tense. “The imperfect tense is the same as the present tense, except it presents the action as continual or repeated in past time.”1  In other words, they wanted to hear more. Since these prisoners are not mentioned again after Acts chapter 16 and they are only mentioned by Paul in verse 28.

Acts 16:28
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

There is more to this incident than God recorded in the Book of Acts. As I have said in previous teachings, the Book of Acts is not everything that occurred as believers in God moved forward with His Word. Rather, these are specific points God has chosen to share with us, so that, we can better understand His heart of love and grace; so that, we can accept His offer of eternal life with Him.

The word “prayed” is once again proseuche. A proseuche prayer is offered only to God, it is your personal devotion to God. This is a personal prayer to God, not generally what you would hear in public. 

What could Paul and Silas be praying for in this situation?

Well, they could be praying for the power of God to be manifested in releasing them from prison. They could be reciting incidents and examples from the Old Testament when God delivered His people. They could be singing songs from a few different Psalms.

Psalm 18:1-7
I will love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so, shall I be saved from mine enemies. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the LORD AND cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.

This is only an example of a Psalm; it is not necessarily one of the Psalms they were singing. What songs or hymns they sang we do not know because God did not tell us.

E.W. Bullinger, says in his Companion Bible, regarding proseuche, “…it is restricted to prayer offered to God, having regard to the power of Him Who is invoked and giving prominence to personal devotion.”2  These inmates have never heard a prayer the likes of which they are hearing from Paul and Silas.

“This aspect of prayer (proseuche) focuses on our personal devotion. The root word is euche, translated ‘prayer’ or ‘vow.’ A vow is a personal commitment one makes to God.”3  

Why aren’t they complaining? 
Why aren’t they angry, with the magistrates?
Anger and complaining are the responses of a natural man.
These are not natural men!

Paul and Silas can carry an attitude that is thankful and full of praise for God because they are holding God’s Word in the heart of their minds.

Philippians 4:6-7
Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer [proseuche] and supplication [deesis –have a lack or a need] with thanksgiving [eucharistia] let your requests [aitema – petitions] be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep [phroureo – guard, protect like a military guard] your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

This is what Paul taught the Philippians. E.W. Bullinger says this about deesis, “a petition for a special object having regard to our necessity rather than to God’s sufficiency to supply it: giving prominence to personal need.”

Philippians 4:8-9
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do and the God of peace shall be with you.

Paul and Silas had a number of needs as they sat with their feet in the stocks. Beginning with release from prison, physical healing of their bodies where they had been beaten, fresh air, new clothes, someone with whom they could speak the Gospel of Grace.

Acts 16:26
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.

It would be utterly amazing if Paul and Silas either prayed for release from prison or sang using the 18th Psalm about the earth shaking and trembling.

“Suddenly,” aphno in the Koine Greek, means, unexpectedly, suddenly. Suddenly there was a great earthquake from God. How do we know the earthquake is from God? First, the results of the earthquake were extremely specific, doors opened, and chains or stocks opened. Second, no one was harmed. We are in the Administration of Grace, not the Revealing Administration which brings a time of judgment.

Deuteronomy 32:4
He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.

God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). His works are perfect! The “bands” were released, and the “doors” were opened, this was no accident! God could have had the chains come off a few of the prisoners or none of the prisoners, except Paul and Silas. God could have opened only a few of the doors or none of the doors, except Paul and Silas. But it happened for all the prisoners, they were all listening attentively, they all wanted to hear more.

Acts 16:27
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

Why had none of the prisoners fled?

The Romans did not take fingerprints. There were no mug shots. In other words, identification of most of the prisoners would be unknown. So, why had they not run as soon as their chains fell off and their cell doors were open? Most people would have been running in an instant. God knew the jailer and his family and servants would believe; He knew that from the beginning.

Why would the jailer be ready to take his own life? 
Because if the prisoners had escaped, he would have paid with his life and taking your own life would be far better than allowing yourself to be turned over to vicious Roman executioners.

Acts 16:28-29
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

There is more happening here than God is telling us in His Word.

The jailer comes into the cell of Paul and Silas. Why? A moment ago, he was going to take his own life fearing the prisoners had escaped. Now he comes to Paul and Silas without securing the other prisoners. The other prisoners are not mentioned again in the remainder of the account. As far as I know, the other prisoners are not spoken of in the rest of God’s Word. 

Did they believe the Gospel of Grace? Is that why they stayed when the doors were opened, and the chains fell away? 

Paul is in the inner cell; how does he know the jailer is drawing his sword to harm himself? He should not be able to see the jailer. Add to this, a light is asked for after Paul’s statement of do yourself no harm.

Acts 16:29
And, having asked for a light, he sprang in, and trembling he fell down before Paul and Silas,
Young’s Literal Translation

How does the jailer know to show respect for Paul and Silas? It was only hours ago that he was so concerned about the charges he received concerning these prisoners, that he put their feet in stocks and locked them in the inner cell. What did the prisoners in the outer cells say to the jailer to produce such a change in attitude?

Acts 16:30
And [the jailer] brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

The jailer woke up because of the earthquake. He had not heard the singing of Paul and Silas, nor their praying. Why is he asking about salvation?

Paul and Silas are in the inner cell. The jailer must go through the outer cells before he reaches Paul and Silas. What did the other prisoners say to the jailer that causes him to ask about salvation?

Acts 16:30
And having brought them out, he was saying, "Sirs, what is necessary of me to do, that I may be saved?"
Berean Literal Bible

Go back and read the account again. There is nothing written in the account that brings the jailer to the place he would ask such a question to Paul and Silas. The jailer had to have stopped for a moment to speak with the prisoners in the outer cells before coming to Paul and Silas. Then he has a basis upon which to ask about salvation.

Acts 16:31
And they said, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Acts 16:31
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
New International Version

One version has the word “Christ,” and the other version does not have the word “Christ.” The word “Christ” is not in most texts, it is a later addition to some manuscripts.

Is this a promise that if the head of the household believes, the entire household will be saved?

No, that is not a promise being made here. 
Then, why would the household become believers? 
They would also hear the Gospel of Grace. 

Acts 16:32
And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

Paul and Silas spoke God’s Word to all that were in the house. Consider Lydia. After Lydia believed, so did her household believe also. Remember, Paul, and Silas, and Timothy stayed in Lydia’s home.

Acts 16:33-34
And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

Wash is a ceremonial cleansing or a literal washing. Used in this context to clean the wounds of Paul and Silas. Then they had a meal together.

Acts 16:35-36
And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, let those men go. And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, the magistrates have sent to let you go now therefore depart and go in peace.

On the surface it sounds like a blessing. But that is not how Paul sees the situation.

Acts 16:37
But Paul said unto them, they have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.

Paul and Silas pull out their Roman citizenship. Now that is a problem for the magistrates. One of the great sources when you are studying God’s Word is A.T. Robertson’s book, Word Pictures of the New Testament. This is how he handled Acts 16:37.

“Unto them (προς αυτους). The reply of Paul is a marvel of brevity and energy, almost every word has a separate indictment showing the utter illegality of the whole proceeding. 

They have beaten us (δειραντες ημας). First aorist active participle of δερω, old verb to flay, to skin, to smite. The Lex Valeria B.C. 509 and the Lex Poscia B.C. 248 made it a crime to inflict blows on a Roman citizen. Cicero says, "To fetter a Roman citizen was a crime, to scourge him a scandal, to slay him--parricide." Claudius had "deprived the city of Rhodes of its freedom for having crucified some citizen of Rome" (Rackham). 

Publicly (δημοσια). This added insult to injury. Common adverb (οδω) supplied with adjective, associative instrumental case, opposed to ιδια or κατ' οικους, Acts 20:20. 

Uncondemned (ακατακριτους). This same verbal adjective from κατα κρινω with α privative is used by Paul in Acts 22:25 and nowhere else in the N.T. The meaning is clearly "without being tried." Paul and Silas were not given a chance to make a defence. They were sentenced unheard (Acts 25:16). Even slaves in Roman law had a right to be heard. 

Men that are Romans (ανθρωπους Ρομαιους υπαρχοντας). The praetors did not know, of course, that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 

Have cast us into prison (εβαλαν εις φυλακην). Second aorist active indicative of βαλλω, old verb, with first aorist ending as often in the Koine (-αν, not -ον). This was the climax, treating them as criminals. 

And now privily (κα νυν λαθρα). Paul balances their recent conduct with the former. 

Nay verily, but (ου γαρ, αλλα). No indeed! It is the use of γαρ so common in answers (γε αρα).

Themselves (αυτο). As a public acknowledgment that they had wronged and mistreated Paul and Silas. Let them come themselves and lead us out (εξαγαγετωσαν, third person plural second aorist active imperative of εξαγω). It was a bitter pill to the proud praetors.”5 

Acts 16:38
And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.

The penalties for what they did to Paul and Silas could have been devastating for the magistrates, and the businessmen, and the city’s population. It could have been as light as fines or as harsh as execution for the magistrates, and a loss of citizenship for the people. So, yes, the magistrates were afraid.

Acts 16:39
And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.

Again, A.T. Robertson. “They became frightened for their own lives when they saw what they had done to Roman citizens. They kept on begging them to leave for fear of further trouble. The colonists in Philippi would turn against the praetors if they learned the facts, proud as they were of being citizens.”6  

Paul was not afraid of being beat nor of being imprisoned, neither did he seek these things. My point is that Paul did not allow the threats of the world to imprison his tongue. He so clearly saw the imminent return of Christ; he could not refrain from speaking about the grace of God and the work of his Lord Jesus.

Acts 20:23-24
Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul considered beatings, chains, imprisonment, part of being a witness of the Gospel of the Grace of God.

Acts 21:10-12
And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, thus saith the Holy Ghost, so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.

What is going to happen if Paul goes to Jerusalem? Yes, you understood that correctly. Now, Paul’s response.

Acts 21:13
Then Paul answered, what mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

The response of the believers.

Acts 21:14
And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, the will of the Lord be done.

Paul had taught them well, as they stood with God’s Word rather than Paul’s emotion.

Consider what God inspired Paul to write in the Epistle to the Philippians.

The Epistle to the Philippians was written to them while Paul was under house arrest (see Acts 28:16, 30) in the city of Rome. 

Philippians 1:12-13
But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.

I want you to know that me being arrested has resulted in the further movement of God’s Gospel of Grace. Of all the believers, the Philippians would understand this as they recalled the arrests of Paul and Silas.

The Greek word translated “palace” is praitorion and refers not to the palace but to the Praetorian Guards, who were responsible for guarding Caesar and thus the palace. Here they also had the charge of guarding Paul. 

The Praetorium Guard were the best soldiers Rome had. That is why they had good housing, the best equipment, and double the pay of the average Roman soldier. In the 60’s A.D. the Praetorian Guard numbered around 7,200 soldiers. 

One guard at a time would be chained to Paul. The guards would be on a rotating shift, rotating a few times a day, every day, for the two years he was under house arrest. By the time Philippians is written Paul’s stand for Christ and his bonds in Christ were known by all the Praetorian guards. This is a figure of speech.

The figure of speech used here is Synecdoche of the whole, meaning the whole is put for all its parts. Specifically, the Praetorian guard, as a whole, is put forth for representing all its parts, the individual soldiers. All 7,200 guards knew of Paul’s stand in Christ and his bonds in Christ. 

Then, through the Praetorian guard, “in all other places” referring to all other parts of Rome had been made aware of the same. Does that mean they were reached with the Gospel of Grace? No. It means they were reached with the knowledge of Paul’s stand upon God’s Word as a prisoner for Christ.

Paul’s “bonds in Christ” is the figure of speech amphibologia7 and means two interpretations. It is speaking of Paul’s freewill commitment to Christ as a doulos and Paul’s bonds physically as a prisoner of Rome. 

Philippians 1:12-13
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 
New International Version

The Romans did not stop anyone from coming to see Paul in his hired house in Rome. Paul received all that came unto him over these two years. It was also during this time that he dictated Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. All this is to say the Praetorian guards got to hear a lot of God’s Word.

Acts 16:40
And they went out of the prison and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

Some have assumed Paul and Silas left town very quickly after leaving the prison, but that is not what verse 40 is saying. There are three things at the end of the verse, 1) seen the brethren, 2) comforted the brethren, 3) departed.

How much time did it take for Paul and Silas to see the brethren? We are talking about Luke. We are talking about Lydia and those from her household. We are talking about the jailer and his household, which would be family and household servants. We are talking about any others from the prayer service at the river, who believed. We are talking about any of the other prisoners who listened so attentively and wanted to hear more. We are talking about others Paul, Silas, and others witnessed to throughout their time in Philippi.

It could have been hours, or it could have been days. The point is, Paul and Silas owned the city of Philippi once the magistrates escorted them from the prison. The point is, they did not depart until after they saw the brethren and comforted each of those brethren. The point is, they were on God’s schedule, not the magistrates. 


1. Englishman’s Greek, chapter 8, The Verb (voice, mood, tense)
2. Companion Bible, Dr. E.W. Bullinger, Appendix 134
3. In Pleasant Places: The Joy of Prayer, Ken Petty, page 44
4. Companion Bible, Dr. E.W. Bullinger, Appendix 134
5. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, Acts 16:37
6. Precept Austin, Acts 16 Commentary, Acts 16:39
7. Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Amphibologia, page 804

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A Journey through the Book of Acts