May 8 Sermon Resource

Paul and Silas

Main Text: Acts 16:16-34

Accompanying Text: Luke 6:18-19, 22-23


After the dispute between Paul and Barnabas over Mark, “Barnabas and Mark sail away, not only to Cyprus, but right out of the narrative of Acts.  Mark reappears as one of Paul’s co-workers during his Ephesian imprisonment, and a later mention indicates that he had become a valued colleague at last.  Paul knows of Barnabas’s continuing work, but they never team up again.  Paul now chooses a different companion, Silas (or Silvanus), like Paul a Roman citizen, a member of the Jerusalem church, indeed, one of those entrusted with the letter that the Jerusalem leaders had sent to the wider churches.  It made good sense.  The Antioch church sends them on their way, commending them to God’s grace.  They are going to need it.” [1]

Peter describes Silas as the faithful brother to whom the delivery of 1 Peter is entrusted. Silas was also the co-author of 1 & 2 Thessalonians and one of Paul’s companions. “First-century folks preferred not to work or travel alone. The image we have of Paul, both from his letters and from Luke, shows a man who led a team. When his original partner, Barnabas, left him, Paul found a new partner, Silas before he began a new project. It was not that Paul had decided a team approach was best for ministry; it would not have occurred to him to do otherwise. If a team member interjected a comment when Paul was talking, would Paul have snapped, ‘Mind your own business’? We should assume dialogue was a regular part of the letter-writing process. While we would hesitate to interrupt or question ‘Saint Paul, the beloved apostle to the Gentiles,’ his team members had not read the press releases. He was their leader, but they felt free to voice alternative or even dissenting opinions. Their input would not have been ignored”. [2]

“According to Acts, Paul was held in prison at least three times: in Philippi, in Caesarea and in Rome…The conditions of his imprisonment seem to match three kinds of incarceration used by Roman magistrates. The carcer entailed the harshest conditions for the worst criminals. Prisoners feared this form of custody since many died of malnutrition, exposure or disease. There were no food rations or state-issued clothing for criminals or laws governing due process. These prisons operated at the direction of the magistrate; many prisoners were left to rot in jail. Luke’s description of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi sounds as though they were in a carcer. Under these conditions, no one was supposed to aid prisoners in their distress. It was just the opposite care for prisoners under house arrest…military custody was similar to free prisons in that the incarceration could occur anywhere; the only difference was that soldiers were given charge of the prisoners (Philippians 1:13), determining where the criminal would be held…in all three cases, it was the guard (whether military or civilian) who controlled prison conditions, not only allocating food and clothing, but determining whether the prisoner was to be chained, fettered or even isolated from outsiders.” [3]

Thoughts re application today

“Timothy, Silas (or Silvanus), Luke and Paul crossed to Europe…The party stayed ‘for some days’ in the Roman colony of Philippi (Acts 16:12). Lydia was baptised, and they stayed in her home. But their encounter with a fortune-telling slave girl provoked hostility and attack. Paul and Silas were beaten, flogged, and thrown into prison (Acts 16:22-24). Luke’s ‘take’ of the episode in Acts 16:31 suggests Paul’s humour; according to Luke an earthquake blew open all the prison doors, and in reply to the jailer’s question, ‘What must I do to be saved?” Paul exploited a double meaning by replying ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’! Next day the magistrates released Paul, but Paul protested that as Roman citizens, they should not have been flogged. The magistrates apologized, and the group returned to Lydia’s home”. [4]

“The traditional translation of his (the jailer’s) question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ makes it sound more like a plea from a seventeenth century Puritan anxious about how to get to heaven. But the language of ‘salvation’ worked at several levels in the ancient world. The slave girl whom Paul had exorcised had been shouting out that the travelers were announcing ‘the way to salvation’. The Roman Empire offered ‘salvation’ to its subjects, meaning rescue from war, social upheaval, and destitution. Later in Acts, when Luke is describing the shipwreck, he speaks of the whole company being ‘saved’ in the very concrete sense of being rescued from drowning. So it’s natural to take the jailer’s panic-stricken question at the most obvious level: he wants the nightmare to end and to avoid any trouble. But then there is the deeper level, at which believing in Jesus would at once give the jailer and his household membership in the family that was already celebrating Jesus’ victory over sin and death. And there is the ultimate level: Luke and Paul both believed that one day God would rescue the whole creation from its ‘slavery to decay’, bringing it and all Jesus’s people into the full and final new creation.

How much any of this flashed across Paul’s mind at such a bizarre moment it is hard to say, though with his quick wit and his overall sense of an integrated cosmic divine plan he would in principle have been able to glimpse it. What he says works at all those levels: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be rescued — you and your household’’. [5]

Some other Scripture Resources

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:1
  • 1 Peter 5:12
  • 2 Corinthians 11:23-25

Other GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. Tom Wright, Paul: A Biography, published by SPCK in the UK in 2018, 2020:173.
  2. David B Capes, Rodney Reeves and E Randolph Richards, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology, published by IVP Academic in the UL in 2007:77
  3. Ibid:205
  4. Anthony C Thiselton, The Living Paul: an Introduction to the Apostle and his Thought, published by SPCK, UK, in 2009:11.
  5. Tom Wright, Paul: A Biography, published by SPCK in the UK in 2018, 2020:183.
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