Acts 15:37-38 – We are not told why John Mark left Paul and Barnabas on their previous missionary journey, just that he did. (see Acts 13:13)
Acts 15:39-41 – The word for the “sharp disagreement” reported in 5:39 is the word from which we get “paroxiysm: a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity.” While there is no suggestion of violent expression, this word does suggest the strength of feeling behind Paul’s and Barnabas’s thoughts about whether John Mark should be brought on the trip. In Acts 14:40, Paul is noted as being commended by the brothers to the grace of God. Perhaps this is because the following history mostly involves Paul. Perhaps this is because there was never any doubt about Barnabas going with the blessing of the church. Either way, Paul and Barnabas decided to take different routes and visit different churches among all the cities they had visited on their previous missionary journey together. Paul took a land route up to Derbe and Lystra, which would take him through his home town of Tarsus, while Barnabas set sail for the island of Cyprus, which was where he grew up (see Acts 4:36).
Acts 16:1-5 – The dominant incident is this section is where Paul has Timothy circumcised. This is right after the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) wherein it was clearly and unequivocally decided that Gentile Christians did not have to be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws in order to become Christians. The answer is (in short form) that nobody can compel a Christian to do anything to be saved because we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet because we are saved by God’s grace toward us, we see ourselves as servants of all and are willing to go to great though unnecessary lengths to connect people to Jesus. You might also look up the following passages to get a broader scriptural perspective on this principle (including their context): 1 Corinthians 8:13, Galatians 2:11, Romans 14, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 and 1 Corinthians 9:19.
Acts 16:6-10 – Here we see the Holy Spirit guiding the travel of Paul and Co. through various means. We don’t have to make up anything in particular about the look or dress of the Macedonian in the vision. Dreams and visions are such that we can simply know things. Acts 6:10 indicates that a) Paul had thought about and probably discussed the vision with others since we are told that he concluded that God was calling him to Macedonia and b) once the conclusion had been reached they wasted no time in following what they concluded was God’s direction to them.
Acts 16:11 – Did you notice a change in pronoun in Acts 16:11? Now Luke is writing in the first person plural (”we”) as opposed the third person plural that he had been using. Evidently, this is where Luke joined the entourage. Interesting, eh?
Acts 16:12 – We are told that Philippi was a “Roman colony.” Philippi was a Roman city on par with cities in Italy. Its official language was Latin. It was a major city and, evidently, did not have a regular synagogue. In Acts 16:13, likely the first Sabbath after their arrival in Philippi, Paul and company head out the riverside looking for a place where Jews in the region might gather. There were so few Jews in Philippi that they went to the riverside where they “supposed there was a place of prayer.” Ten men are required to form a Jewish synagogue so, evidently, there were less than ten practicing Jewish men in Philippi. (”I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”) Note that they spoke to the women who had gathered there… no men?
About Lydia. She was from Thyatira, which is over nearer Iconium, etc. across the water from Philippi. She dealt in purpls goods, which were very expensive because of the dye involved. This would make Philippi a good market. Lydia evidently had a house there of some size because she prevailed upon Paul and his entourage to stay with her. Did she also have a house in Thyatira? Possibly. She is a Jewish proselyte who was probably first exposed to the Jewish religion in her home city of Thyatira. Paul told her about Jesus and she, along with her household, was immediately baptized. Typically, women could not conduct business at this time unless doing so under a husband. However, Roman law allowed a woman with at least three children to run a business. We don’t know whether Lydia was a widow or not, but her husband is not mentioned.
Acts 16:16-18 – Some things to note: The spirit is never called an ‘evil’ spirit. Perhaps that’s why Paul didn’t cast it out right away. There is much debate on why the girl with the spirit follows them around testifying about Paul and company. But, in the end, we see that Paul is human and gets annoyed, and so casts out the spirit.
Acts 16:19-24 – The girl’s owners were upset not for the girl, who was their property, but for their loss of income. They forcibly took Paul and Silas to the magistrates and charged them with disturbing the city and advocating non-Roman customs, something which hadn’t concerned them until their significant income was interrupted. This will not be the only time we will see that economics are a major force behind persecution. They beat them and put them in prison never inquiring about their citizenship. Paul, for some reason, neglect to mention his Roman citizenship.
Roman Citizenship – Being a Roman citizen was no small matter. Citizenship could be attained through several means. It could be purchased, awarded for special service to the state, being born to a mother who was a Roman citizen, or several other ways. Paul told an office that he was a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 22:28) but we do not know how his family gained citizenship. A citizen had to pay taxes, was promised a fair trial and exemption from certain harsher forms of punishment. A trial was required before a citizen could be executed and crucifixion required an order from the emperor. A citizen could appeal a verdict to the Roman emperor, a right which Paul eventually claimed. A false claim of citizenship was punished very severely, even to the point of execution.
Acts 16:25-34 – Prisons of this time were dark and nasty places. It is interesting to note that not only were Paul and Silas praying and singing, but the other prisoners were listening to them. This must have been some influence because then the doors were opened and the bonds fell off all the prisoners, they all stayed. The jailer was going to kill himself because that would have been his punishment for having let all the prisoners escape. If he killed himself, he would have some control over the manner of his death. His question to Paul and Silas shows that he, too, knows about Paul and Silas, what they have been preaching, and why they are in prison. Such is his trust in Paul and Silas that he takes them to his home and feeds them.
Acts 16:35-40 – Paul turns the tables on these magistrates! They think this is just a normal uprising and beating but it turns out that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens. While Paul and Silas have not displayed any fear in Philippi, first the owners of the slave girl are angry and afraid at their loss of income and now the magistrates are afraid because they have violated Roman law in beating Paul and Silas without a trial! Paul and Silas are forceful but gracious. They expect and receive an apology from the magistrates and when they are asked to leave the city they do so.