Crime and Punishment

Acts 16:16-40

As the story continues, Paul, Silas and the rest of their group were teaching in Philippi when one day they were accosted by a slave girl who had a demon. The spirit had been irritating Paul for days, always shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved”. On this particular day, Paul had had just about all of this he could stand, so he drove the spirit out of the girl.

The slave girl and her demon were a real money maker for her owner, because the spirit enabled her to tell the fortunes of paying customers, and when her owner discovered that his slave girl could no longer do this, he realized that he had just lost a key part of his business, and was understandably upset; he brought Paul and Silas before the local magistrate looking for justice, after all, he had suffered actual and verifiable financial damages because of what Paul had done. Certainly in our day, there would ample cause for a legal action, and this was no mere nuisance case. As plaintiffs tend to do, the man exaggerated his claim just a tad, claiming that they had not only damaged him financially, but that they were advocating illegal customs and practices (which was arguably true) and that they had created an uproar in the city (which from the evidence we have to work with, appears to be not quite accurate).

For any good Roman magistrate, the mere hint of a possible public unrest would result in harsh action, so Paul and Silas were ordered to be beaten with rods, a form of torture that killed a man about as often as not, and then had them thrown in prison to bleed to death or die from infection or shock.

During the night there was a severe earthquake and the chains on all of the prisoners came loose; they could all have walked out of the place, but for some reason, they didn’t.

The jailer, assuming that his charges had taken their opportunity to escape was about to kill himself, for a horrible death would surely be his fate when daylight came anyway… but Paul stopped him. When he realized that no one had escaped, he realized that something very amazing had just happened and he asked Paul and Silas how he could be saved; they told him about Jesus.

The jailer and his entire household believed and were saved and Paul and Silas were attended to.

The next morning, the magistrate ordered them to be released, but Paul wasn’t quite finished with the magistrate… In speaking with the messengers who had come to release them, Paul dropped a little bombshell: He and Silas were Roman citizens, and the action of the magistrate was a gross violation of their rights as citizens; the magistrates would have to “make it up to them” and personally escort them out as an acknowledgement of their illegal actions of the day before. Of course there was the obvious implication that if they didn’t, there would be charges filed against them.

The magistrate complied with this demand, and escorted them, and after visiting Lydia’s house, the party moved out of the city.

I’m quite certain that the effect of these events left a powerful testimony for both salvation and God’s glory in that town; I doubt I need to explain this any further at this point.

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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3 Responses to Crime and Punishment

  1. Mel Wild says:

    What’s always interested me about this incident is that what this demon-possessed girl was saying was accurate information, just said with the wrong spirit (some say she said it with a mocking tone, but there’s nothing to indicate that here). Many think that false prophecy must mean the word given is not true or doesn’t come to pass, but we’re told in the New Testament to test the spirits, not the accuracy of the word given (1 John 4:1). Obviously, Paul had such discernment.

    • Don Merritt says:

      I think you’re right Mel; he certainly could discern the spirits as he did in this instance. I’ve also wondered if her constantly saying that might have shiften the listeners’ attention away from the message, causing Paul’s irritation. That’s only a though of course, since Luke didn’t actually say… but it could have been like a sermon through which someone in the audience keeps yelling “Amen, praise God, that’s right…” At first it’s their enthusiasm for the message, but after a time it seems to have more of a “look at me” quality to it, and it’s just a distraction.

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