What does Acts 16:20 mean?
ESV: And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, "These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city.
NIV: They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar
NASB: and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, 'These men, Jews as they are, are causing our city trouble,
CSB: Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews
NLT: The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!' they shouted to the city officials.
KJV: And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,
NKJV: And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city;
Verse Commentary:
Roman rule succeeded, in part, because it left many aspects of a conquered territory untouched. Local custom, language, and religion were mostly tolerated. In other ways, the Roman Empire had a tight rein on its inhabitants. They required rigid adherence to certain laws and considerable taxes. Most who lived under Roman rule were slaves or subsistence workers. But people knew how to game the system. Rome expected a lot from the local rulers they appointed. The reason the Sanhedrin could convince Pilate to crucify Jesus, for instance, was by threatening to accuse Pilate of sedition (John 19:12) or through provoking a riot (Matthew 27:24).

In this verse, we see the owners of a possessed slave girl make a similar play against the magistrates of Philippi. They don't care that Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke are teaching the people that some Jewish man is God. They're not actually offended at claims that Jesus offers forgiveness from sins and reconciliation with God. They care that Paul expelled the demon from their slave girl, and now she can't make them money telling fortunes (Acts 16:16–19). Their complaint uses the Roman law to get revenge.

The Roman Empire made room for many gods, but all had to be authorized by the government. Even Judaism was authorized—though the Romans referred to Jews as "atheists," for rejecting all but one, invisible God. In this verse, the owners of the slave girl claim Paul's team is causing a disturbance because they are "[advocating] customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice" (Acts 16:21). That is, they are teaching that Jesus is God, and Jesus is not one of Rome's approved deities.

Though Judaism wasn't illegal, spreading it was considered against the common good as it drew people away from worshiping the emperor. The slave girl's owners get what they want: the magistrates beat Paul and Silas and throw them in jail. But by characterizing the two men as "Jews," they make a terrible mistake. Paul and Silas are Jews, but they are also Roman citizens (Acts 16:37). To beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial was almost worse than to introduce a new deity. The magistrates have unknowingly violated the missionaries' civil rights, and Paul will be sure the error does not go unnoticed (Acts 16:37).
Verse Context:
Acts 16:16–24 shows that religiously confused Gentiles can hinder Paul's ministry as much as Jews. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke are in Philippi on the border of Macedonia and Greece. When Paul expels a demonic spirit from a slave girl, her owners accuse Paul and Silas of illegally promoting a foreign god. The crowd and the city magistrates beat and imprison the pair. Only later do they realize their mistake: Paul and Silas are both Roman citizens (Acts 16:37), and you can't punish Roman citizens without a trial.
Chapter Summary:
Acts 16 follows Paul and Silas as they take the letter of Acts 15 into modern-day Asia Minor and Macedonia. They collect Timothy in Lystra and Luke in Troas. In Philippi, they meet Lydia and baptize her family. After expelling a demon from a fortune-telling girl, city officials illegally beat and imprison Paul and Silas. An earthquake frees them of their chains, but they stay and bring the jailer and his family to Christ. The next morning, Paul and Silas refuse to leave quietly, politely insisting that their civil rights have been violated. The officials apologize, and Paul, Silas, and Timothy go to Thessalonica.
Chapter Context:
Acts 15 ends with Paul and Silas spreading the news that Gentile Christians don't have to be circumcised. Acts 16 begins with Paul circumcising a Jewish man, Timothy, to prevent difficulties in preaching to older Jews as the boy grows into church leadership. Paul's second missionary trip finds the church growing east, into Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth (Acts 16:11—18:18). On his way back to Syrian Antioch, Paul will stop by Ephesus and soften the Jews for the extended ministry of Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos. During his first trip, Paul planted churches and ordained elders; in his second, he commissions more missionaries.
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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