The Work in Philippi: Part 9 of 14
by John Lowe
PAUL AND SILAS SENTENCED
22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.
None of the charges were valid, but they had their effect. The mob was infuriated. To think that a couple of vagabond Jews could come into a Roman colony and interfere with the right of a Roman to do what he wished with a slave—his own purchased property. To think, too, that they dared propagate their foreign ideas in a Roman city in defiance of laws that forbade such non-Roman religious propaganda. When the owners of the slave girl had made their charges, the crowd attacked Paul and Silas (“the multitude rose up together against them”).
The appeal to anti-Jewish sentiments and to nationalistic Roman pride won over the crowd. The insinuation of a threat to civil order evidently won over the “magistrates.” Magistrates were charged with the responsibility of enforcing Roman laws, however, in this case, they did not uphold Roman justice. They did not investigate the charges, conduct a proper hearing, or give Paul and Silas the chance to defend themselves. The magistrates were easily swayed. Furiously they had the two prisoners stripped. Some commentators hold the opinion that the prisoners “clothes” were not torn off, but rather the magistrates tore off their own clothes as a sign of their rage. Their clothes were torn off and the lictors5 (rod-bearers) were summoned. In Roman cities, the lictors carried a bundle of rods tied together around an axe—a symbol made familiar to the modern world by Mussolini and the Italian Fascists. Rods and ax symbolized the right of the Roman magistrate to inflict corporal punishment and to invoke the death sentence. The rods were not mere decorations or symbols but were used in scourgings.
Paul and Silas were to be taught a lesson. They were to be given a severe beating.
PAUL AND SILAS SCOURGED
23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
The lictors got to work. Paul and Silas were thoroughly trashed, beaten until their poor backs were a mass of cuts, welts, and bruises. Then with every nerve screaming with pain, they were locked up in jail. Now they could think over their misdeeds in case they might dare to repeat them. This probably was one of the three instances Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:25 when he received the Roman punishment of a flogging with rods.
PAUL AND SILAS IMPRISONED
24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
The “jailer” would correspond to the warden of the prison and would perhaps be a centurion. It was impressed upon the jailer that these were particularly dangerous criminals. Woe to him if they escaped. Naturally enough, with such an abomination before him, the jailer took special care. He put them in the maximum security ward (dungeon), and to make doubly sure, he thrust their “feet” into the “stocks,” which were likely fastened to the wall, and made sure the stocks were locked. Often such stocks were used as instruments of torture; they had a number of holes for the legs, which allowed for severe stretching of the torso and thus created excruciating pain. Luke did not indicate that any torture was involved this time. The entire emphasis is on the tight security in which the two men were held. This makes the miracle of their subsequent deliverance all the more remarkable. With one last glare at them, he slammed and locked the door, leaving them broken and bleeding in the dark, in a cramped and uncomfortable position. His duty was done. He went off to his own comfortable home and congenial family. Little did that tough jailer realize that, after this night, he would never be the same man again. Probably he was a pensioner from the Roman army. No doubt he was a fine enough fellow, with a good heart and many striking qualities. Life in the barracks and on the battlefield would instill many admirable traits of character into such a man. He would be brave, dependable, and chummy to his peers, but he could be rough and callous. Not a thought would he have for his two prisoners except that they couldn’t possibly escape. That’ll teach them, would be his thought, as he slammed and locked the final gate. Now for supper.
And we can be sure he had no thought for his soul. Luke has shown us, at Philippi, how the Holy Spirit dealt with a tender soul and how He dealt with a tormented soul; now he is going to show us how He deals with a tough soul. Nothing short of an earthquake and the prospect of immediate death along with a quality of life infinitely superior to anything he had never known could reach this man.
Paul heard a great noise in Philippi when he healed the slave girl, but it was not the noise of praise. Men do not applaud this sort of work when their financial interests are at stake. They raise a protest and it will frequently lead the lawless element against those who might have done some good thing.
1 The plural, “masters” has been needlessly thought to imply that the girl was employed by a business syndicate. It may mean simply “master and mistress.”
2 Augury refers to divination from signs or omens.
3 An oracle was a person believed to provide wise counsel or prophetic predictions or foreknowledge of the future, inspired by the gods.
4 Among the Hellenistic Jews and Gentile worshippers of God, “Most High” was the name for Yahweh.
5 Member of an ancient Roman class of magisterial attendants, probably Etruscan in origin and dating in Rome from the regal period. Lictors carried the fasces* for their magistrate and were constantly in his attendance in public; they cleared his way in crowds and summoned and punished offenders for him. They also served as their magistrate’s house guard. In Rome the lictors wore togas; during a consul’s triumph or while outside Rome they wore scarlet coats.
* Insignia of official authority. It was carried by the lictors, or attendants, and was characterized by an ax head projecting from a bundle of elm or birch rods about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and tied together with a red strap; it symbolized penal power.