“From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.” Acts 16:11,12
The Via Egnatia was the best westward land route from Philippi to Rome. Paul and his companions used this route to travel to Philippi which was about ten to twelve miles inland from Neapolis (modern day Kavalla) and one hundred fifty miles from Troas. Originally built by Philip of Macedonia in 358 B.C., Philippi was a leading urban city of Macedonia. Gold mines contributed to the city’s wealth. In addition, the city also boasted a well known school of medicine which has added to the speculation of Philippi being Luke’s hometown. In 31 B.C., Octavian made Philippi a Roman colony and populated the city with retiring Roman soldiers. He bestowed the highest honor upon this city giving its citizens exemption from poll and land taxes along with the right to self-govern. The area was popularly known for the battle that avenged the murder of Julius Caesar. Mark Antony and Octavian defeated the Roman senator Cassius and and his brother-in-law Brutus in 42 B.C.. After A.D. 44, the city was governed by a proconsul.
“On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.” Acts 16:13
Philippi was a pagan city. Groups followed not only the emperor but also Dionysus, Asiatic Cybele, Diana, and a Thracian deity. A hill near Philippi was called the Hill of Dionysus. The city had no discernible Jewish presence. On the Sabbath, Paul and his companions ventured outside of the city gate to the river Gangites to find a place of prayer. Local restrictions against organized groups inside the city or anti-semitism might have been the reasons behind the need to meet outside the gate. Another possibility for this unusual locale for gathering was the need for water for Jewish water rituals. Paul and his companions encountered these women gathered for worship. They took a participatory posture in the conversation when they sat down among them. In Palestine, a teacher assumed the posture of sitting when he wished to begin his lesson. The fact that these women could meet and hold a religious service hints at the possibility that in Macedonia women might have experienced relative freedom and prominence in religious roles.
“One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God.” Acts 16:14
Luke introduces us to Paul’s first convert on this journey: Lydia. She was a Gentile and a God- fearer though not necessarily a proselyte of Judaism. Lydia was from Thyatira which was a Lydian city. Her name could have been a nickname (an ethnic cognomen – the Lydian woman) from her region of origin. In addition, “Greco-Roman writers rarely used a woman’s personal name unless she held significant status, Lydia probably held some social status.” Her name was also a common name in Rome. Lydia was possibly a freedwoman. Many purple dye merchants in Rome were freedwomen. Those involved in this trade were typically members of Caesar’s household and among the elite of the freedmen and freedwomen in the imperial service. To deal in this color was an imperial monopoly. Luke used the color purple to characterize the wealthy in scripture. This color signified status and wealth in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean worlds. Used as early as 1700 B.C. in Phoenicia, the finest and most highly valued purple dye was Tyrian dye and made from crushed, while alive, murex shellfish and because the liquid dried rapidly, honey was mixed into the expressed fluid. A less expensive purple dye was made from the roots of the local madder plant. Those who worked to obtain the dye were considered among the lower echelon of society. We learn from the passage above, however, that Lydia dealt in purple cloth. She was a seller and not necessarily a dyer.
“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” Acts 16:14,15
After Lydia heard Paul’s message, the Lord opened her heart. She was receptive and ready to receive the good news of salvation. Not only was Lydia baptized but her entire household. She was eager to extend an invitation of hospitality to these men that had led her to the Lord. Since no mention is made of a husband and she is the one offering hospitality, many scholars have speculated that Lydia was a widow. Paul and his companions made the decision not to refuse her hospitality which would have been considered rude. However, for a single woman to host four strange men in her home would have been considered unusual in addition to opening the door for possible gossip and scandal. Paul must have felt her offer was better than their other alternatives.
Lydia’s home offered a vital place for Christians to meet. Early Christianity had no temples, priests, or sacrifices like ancient religions. Therefore, they were viewed as a philosophy or society which met in homes. Paul was encouraging the growth of a foreign religion and a place to meet was crucial to the growth and existence of Christianity. Lydia’s home became the foundation for the church in Philippi.
Questions to Consider
- Paul received a vision of a Macedonian man asking him to come to Macedonia (Acts 16:9) yet his first encounter recorded is with a woman. Why do I think his first encounter is with a woman and not a man? Is there significance in that fact?
- Men and women held various roles in religion in the ancient world. Depending on the location, women were able to hold roles of religious authority in some locales. How do I feel about women holding roles of religious authority?
- Do I find Lydia’s offer of hospitality to these four men unusual? Why or why not?
- What do I think were Paul’s reasons for choosing to stay with Lydia?
- What can I learn about God from this passage?
- Am I hospitable to fellow believers? Would I open my home to them if I don’t know them and they need a place to stay? Why or why not?