“When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” Acts 16:19-24
By liberating the slave girl, Paul and Silas threatened the coffers of her owners. They also broke a social norm by interfering with another’s slave. Their actions caused the men to seize Paul and Silas and drag them into the marketplace and before the magistrates to seek justice. They don’t, however, take Luke and Timothy. Isn’t that curious? Paul and Silas were possibly chosen because of their Jewish appearance, their proximity to the owners’ grasp or they were identifiable as the leaders of their company.
The marketplace was located in the center of Philippi and followed the Roman forum model. The area was rectangular in shape rather than square like the traditional Greek public space. The forum would have included a temple of Jupiter, statues, buildings for government and religious meetings, two fountains, public baths and theaters. Prisons were often also found near the court or adjoining the forum. The men would have taken Paul and Silas to the bema, the raised podium, to stand before the magistrates. In an ancient Roman court, the greater the status difference, the greater the weight of the accusation. Paul and Silas lacked friends, political allies, and as tentmakers by trade, they were considered low status. They were strangers among the citizenry of Philippi. The slave girl’s owners would have appealed to the magistrates based on their Roman citizenship and against the customs of these foreigners.
They gave three claims for bringing Paul and Silas before the authorities. Only those with considerable financial and social status would take the risk of going to court with the expectation of winning. The owners could have charged Paul and Silas with the claim of property damage for the removal of the gift of prophecy from their slave or even economic deprivation due to bodily injury of the girl. However, they sought to bring a criminal accusation. They claimed that Paul and Silas were disturbing the peace of the city, an imprisonable offense. Secondly, they claimed that Paul and Silas were preaching customs unlawful for Romans. Roman conversion to Judaism was legally punishable in the late republic though rarely enforced unless the acts were a threat to public peace or welfare. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the owners charged Paul and Silas as Jews and stirred the proverbial pot of xenophobia. Romans held an early belief that the gods would judge them for the introduction of non-Roman deities. They considered Jews particularly superstitious. The Jewish customs of regarding the Sabbath, of circumcision, and of the abstention from pork were often targeted issues by Romans. Jews were also singled out for their revolts and separatism. Ancient anti-Judaism was based more on customs than on racial theories.
“The harshest criticisms of Jews in this period, however, seem to have stemmed from their success at proselytism. In contrast to modern Western notions of religious freedom (including freedom to choose and change religions), polytheistic ethnic religion expected tolerance or even assimilation of others’ gods, but fidelity to one’s heritage demanded retention of one’s own. So long as Jews remained one ethnic religion among many, they were not a threat, but when they achieved popularity at the expense of their conquerors, ….their despised customs became a more potent threat… Roman writers often despised all Eastern superstitions equally, but in their view, Judaism’s proselytizing success threatened Roman stability. That Paul and Silas are charged with introducing foreign customs (Acts 16:21) appealed to these anti-proselytism sentiments.” Keener pg. 2475,2476
After hearing the charges, the magistrates, who worked in pairs and were also called duumvirs (common name) or praetors (title), ordered Paul and Silas stripped, severely flogged, and placed in prison. Those who did the flogging were called lictors. Their role was to ensure proper honor toward the magistrates. In addition, they summoned citizens to court, carried out arrests, chastised, and performed executions. All magistrates except tribunes had lictors. A praetor had six lictors. These men marched in single file before the magistrates and carried out their orders with the highest ranking lictor being in the closest proximity to the official. They followed the magistrate everywhere he went, even in his home or to the baths. The only exceptions for a magistrate to go unescorted by his lictors was in a free city or a higher official’s home. The lictors wore the traditional toga. However outside of Rome, they traditionally wore a red cloak instead of the toga. These men were Roman citizens and their position gave them some status. They carried bundled rods with an ax attached to inflict corporal punishment called a fasces et secures. These bundles served as the symbol of Roman justice and authority.
Roman law forbade the public beating of citizens. Different forms of scourging could be chosen as punishment by the magistrates. “[A] free non-Roman might receive fustigatio, beating with a staff, as opposed to a slave’s punishment by flagellatio, beating with a leather whip with pieces of iron or bone woven in, or an attached spike. The law distinguished between a light “corrective beating” (admonitio/castigatio) and the heavy, harsh verberatio. Paul and Silas must have received the harsher verberatio, since their wounds needed cleansing.(Acts 16:33)” (Keener) The number of lashes given was unlimited unlike the Jews. (see 2 Corinthians 11:24,25) Paul and Silas would have had their clothes ripped off before the beating. This act would have been particularly humiliating for a Jew. (1 Thessalonians 2:2) Following the beating, they would have been paraded through the city to expose their wounds to public view in an effort to regulate public behavior as well as shame them further.
The jailer in Philippi was likely a retired soldier. However, many civilian prison workers were state-owned slaves who also guarded jails for a small salary. Philippi owned many such public slaves. Although some of these guards were civil and treated prisoners decently, most were harsh and profited from bribes. Jails were filthy places. Wounds resulting from beatings would be exposed to infection. The innermost cell was reserved for those who committed a serious crime. Not only would this cell inflict harsher treatment through the use of fetters on the feet, heavy rings about the neck, and bound hands but would also serve to humiliate the prisoner while detained securely. This type of cell also had poor ventilation. Overcrowding led to heat and dehydration of the prisoners as well as sickness. “Until the regulations of Constantine, women were imprisoned in the same cells as men; this, predictably, often led to their sexual abuse. Although it is possible that both men and women could be among the prisoners here, male prisoners were far more common…, and so we cannot say whether women were present.” (Keener)The jailer placed Paul and Silas into an inner cell and fastened their feet in stocks. As a form of torture, the stocks could be adapted to place the legs in a position of more intense physical pain and discomfort. The literal translation in Greek for stocks is wood. Their feet were fastened to the wood. Interestingly, “[c]rucifixion also meant being affixed to “wood,” and it is possible that Luke may intend a parallel.” If so, do you think Paul and Silas gave greater glory to God because they were made to suffer as their Lord had? An idea worth considering, I think.
Questions to Consider
- Why do I think Paul and Silas are seized but not Luke and Timothy?
- Do I think Paul regretted his decision to command the spirit out of the slave girl after his seizure?
- Do I think Paul knew when he commanded the spirit out of the slave girl that he was placing himself and all of his companions in danger? Why or why not?
- Would I risk my physical safety and those with me to liberate another? Why or why not?
- How did Paul and Silas feel about suffering for the Lord’s sake? Was their faith increased or decreased?