Acts chapter 16

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What does Acts chapter 16 mean?

Acts 16 describes the second segment of Paul and Silas' missionary journey. After their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem and received official instructions from the church leadership there that Gentiles did not have to convert to traditional Judaism; they did not need to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law to follow Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Silas and Judas Barsabbas escorted Paul and Barnabas back to their home church in Syrian Antioch with a letter to that effect. After a falling out over John Mark, Barnabas took Mark to the island of Cyprus and Paul took Silas and a copy of the letter to the churches around Syria and Cilicia, the territories along the northeast Mediterranean Sea (Acts 15).

Paul and Silas take the letter to the churches in Galatia that Paul and Barnabas had planted on their first trip, meet a young man named Timothy, and promptly circumcise him. Since Timothy's mother is Jewish, he is Jewish, but his father is Greek, so he was not circumcised. Paul sees leadership potential in the young man and knows Timothy will have fewer problems with older Jewish Christians if he physically conforms to the Mosaic law (Acts 16:1–5).

Traveling east, the Holy Spirit forbids Paul, Silas, and Timothy from going into Asia, the province on the southwest corner of modern-day Asia Minor, or Bithynia, along the southern coast of the Black Sea. Instead, they go to the port city of Troas where two important events occur. Paul has a vision of a man inviting him to cross the Aegean Sea to Macedonia. And the pronouns of the narrative switch from "they" to "we": Luke has joined Paul's retinue (Acts 16:6–10).

Paul and his team waste no time, sailing to Neapolis on the Macedonian coast and traveling west to Philippi. Apparently, the sizable Roman colony boasts very few Jews—at least, not enough for a formal synagogue—so the team walks to the river where they find a small group of God-worshiping women praying. The merchant Lydia responds to their message immediately. She and her household believe, and the men baptize them. She then invites them to stay at her house (Acts 16:11–15).

Pagan Gentiles of that era may have been tolerant of another's religious beliefs, but not when those beliefs interfered with business. After a demon-possessed, fortune-telling girl harasses Paul's group for several days, Paul expels the demon. Realizing their source of income is gone, the girl's owners accuse Paul and Silas of promoting the worship of an unauthorized deity. The crowd attacks Paul and Silas, the city leaders tear their clothes, law enforcement beats the missionaries, and a jailer chains the two in a prison cell (Acts 16:16–24).

What happens next demonstrates how God works in different ways depending on the situation. In Acts 12:6–11, an angel released Peter from prison and told him to flee. Here, an earthquake frees all the prisoners from their chains and opens their doors—but they stay. The jailer is dumbstruck, knowing if just one prisoner had fled, he would have been executed. He tends to Paul's and Silas's wounds and asks how he can be saved. He and his household believe and are baptized (Acts 16:25–34).

The example of Paul and Silas shows that Christians should prepare to accept persecution, but it is still proper to insist on our legal rights. When the city leaders ask Paul and Silas to leave quietly, the two refuse. They are Roman citizens, and the crowd, the magistrates, and the guards had no right to attack them. Paul and Silas could press charges, but they only demand an official apology. The city leaders comply and allow them to visit Lydia before politely requesting they move on, apparently leaving Luke in Philippi (Acts 16:35–40).

The team will face more opposition and more success as they continue their journey. In Thessalonica, the Jewish leaders drive them out then chase them out of Berea. Paul flees to Athens, where he has a debate with Greek philosophers before meeting up with Silas and Timothy in Corinth. There, he meets Priscilla and Aquila, and the expanded team sails east again to Ephesus. He leaves Priscilla and Aquila, briefly meets with the local synagogue, and sails to Caesarea Maritima on the Samaritan coast. During his hiatus, Paul takes a quick trip to Jerusalem and back north to Syrian Antioch (Acts 17:1—18:22). Acts 19—20 records Paul's third missionary journey. The rest of the book covers his arrest in Jerusalem, imprisonment in Caesarea Maritima, and voyage to house arrest in Rome.
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