From Neapolis to Philippi.
Sunday, 23 April 2023
and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. Acts 16:12
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
The trip to Macedonia began in the previous verse with the group sailing from Troas to Samothrace and then to Neapolis. They now continue the journey with the words, “and from there to Philippi.” Of this city, Albert Barnes notes –
“The former name of this city was Dathos. It was repaired and adorned by Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, and after him was called Philippi. It was famous for having been the place where several battles were fought during the civil wars of the Romans, and, among others, for the decisive battle between Brutus and Antony. At this place Brutus killed himself. To the church in this place Paul afterward wrote the Epistle which bears its name.”
Concerning the location, Luke next says, “which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia.” This clause has been called into question by deniers of Luke’s historical accuracy, noting that Amphipolis was the chief city. Due to the unusual construction of the Greek, several possibilities arise. First, Albert Barnes notes the following –
“This whole region had been conquered by the Romans under Paulus Aemilius. By him it was divided into four parts or provinces (Livy). The Syriac version renders it “a city of the first part of Macedonia,” and there is a medal extant which also describes this region by this name. It has been proposed, therefore, to alter the Greek text in accordance with this, since it is known that Amphipolis was made the chief city by Paulus Aemilius. But it may be remarked that, although Amphipolis was the chief city in the time of Paulus Aemilius, it may have happened that in the lapse of 220 years from that time Philippi might have become the most extensive and splendid city. The Greek here may also mean simply that this was the first city to which they arrived in their travels.”
Charles Ellicott adds his thoughts to this, saying –
“…it was not the chief city of any one of the four sub-divisions of the Roman province of Macedonia, that rank being assigned to Amphipolis, Thessalonica, Pella, and Pelagonia. As there is no definite article in the Greek, it is possible that St. Luke simply meant to say it was a chief town of the district, the epithet Prôte ( = first) being often found on the coins of cities which were not capitals. The more probable explanation, however, is that he uses the Greek word translated “part,” in the sense of “border-land,” as in the LXX. of Ezekiel 35:7, Ruth 3:7, and that it was the first city of that frontier district, either as the most important or as being the first to which they came in the route by which they travelled. This was precisely the position of Philippi, which, together with Pella and other towns, had been garrisoned by the Romans as outposts against the neighbouring tribes of Thrace.”
As the Greek is unusually worded, it seems likely that Luke was making a general statement concerning Philippi that it is either the first of their main stops or that it is the main city of a lesser district. As Luke will now turn to describe people, locations, and events in Philippi, the former option seems the most likely. They have arrived in Macedonia, and this is the first main area of their evangelistic efforts.
Of this city, Luke next says, “a colony.” Concerning the Roman idea of a colony, Vincent’s Word Studies provides a highly detailed explanation of what this means –
“The colony was used for three different purposes in the course of Roman history: as a fortified outpost in a conquered country; as a means of providing for the poor of Rome; and as a settlement for veterans who had served their time. It is with the third class, established by Augustus, that we have to do here. The Romans divided mankind into citizens and strangers. An inhabitant of Italy was a citizen; an inhabitant of any other part of the empire was a peregrinus, or stranger. The colonial policy abolished this distinction so far as privileges were concerned. The idea of a colony was, that it was another Rome transferred to the soil of another country. In his establishment of colonies, Augustus, in some instances, expelled the existing inhabitants and founded entirely new towns with his colonists; in others, he merely added his settlers to the existing population of the town then receiving the rank and title of a colony. In some instances a place received these without receiving any new citizens at all. Both classes of citizens were in possession of the same privileges, the principal of which were, exemption from scourging, freedom from arrest, except in extreme cases, and, in all cases, the right of appeal from the magistrate to the emperor. The names of the colonists were still enrolled in one of the Roman tribes. The traveller heard the Latin language and was amenable to the Roman law. The coinage of the city had Latin inscriptions. The affairs of the colony were regulated by their own magistrates, named Duumviri, who took pride in calling themselves by the Roman title of praetors (see on Acts 16:20).”
Luke finishes the thought, saying, “And we were staying in that city for some days.” It is this indeterminate amount of time that Luke will provide various details in the verses ahead.
Life application: For every difficult statement in the Bible, there are an innumerable number of people who have spent their time diligently trying to prove it wrong. In the case of this verse, there are several likely options to dismiss the claims of naysayers. If you hear someone call a part of the Bible into question, don’t just drop your faith and walk away from the Lord.
Rather, spend your time reading other commentaries. If the Bible was not trustworthy, these great men of the past would not have spent so much time defending it. After a short amount of time, it would have been dismissed and forgotten. But the Bible continues to share the message of faith while all the detractors of the past have returned to the dust. They will be forgotten while the Bible will be vindicated as the sure word of God until His coming.
Hold fast to what it says and be assured that your faith is not in vain. It is not a faith based on a dubious word. Instead, it is one grounded on a sure and reliable word. In pursuing the words of Scripture, you are not blindly stepping into the darkness. Rather, you are stepping into God’s revealed light. The path is illuminated, and you shall find your way without getting lost.
Lord God, we thank You for the sure word we possess. And we thank You for those who have gone before us and who have provided us with competent analyses of what Your word says. We can have full confidence in this precious and sacred word. And we do! Thank You for Your word that guides us as we walk this path of life. Amen.