Acts 16:13

St. Thomas Parish Church, Founded 1833.

Monday, 24 April 2023 

And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Acts 16:13

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

In the previous verse, Luke noted the group’s arrival in Philippi, saying that they “were staying in that city for some days.” He now begins to detail things that occurred during that time, saying, “And on the Sabbath day,

It could be that there was a local synagogue and that these men went there as was the usual custom. Not being mentioned by Luke does not mean it didn’t occur. Understanding that, Luke next says of this particular Sabbath, “we went out of the city.” In these words, is a very small change in some Greek texts –

Pylēs – (city) gate.
Poleōs – city.

The meaning is unchanged because by going out of the city gate one goes out of the city. With that noted, it is also seen that Luke continues to include himself in the narrative, meaning that he and all the team went together “to the riverside.” As noted, there may have been a local synagogue and this visit to the river is coming after a visit to it. However, Charles Ellicott notes the following based on a variation in some Greek texts –

“…where an oratory (i.e., a place of prayer) was established. The word, which was the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew ‘house of prayer’ (Matthew 21:13), is used in this sense by Josephus … and was current among the Jews at Rome. Where they had no synagogue, and in a military station like Philippi there was not likely to be one, the Jews frequented the river-banks, which made ablutions easy, and often succeeded in getting a piece of ground assigned for that purpose outside the walls of the city.”

Whether this is simply a visit to a riverside or to a specific place, it was a place “where prayer was customarily made.” It is these words in the Greek that are again slightly different in some texts. Regardless of whether it was a specific place for prayer or a place to simply stop and pray, the fact that it is by a river is the main point. Of this, the Pulpit Commentary says –

“The river is not the Strymon, which is a day’s journey distant from Philippi, but probably a small stream called the Gangas or Gangites, which is crossed by the Via Eguatia, about a mile out of Philippi. The neighborhood of water, either near a stream or on the seashore, was usually preferred by the Jews as a place for prayer, as affording facility for ablutions.”

It is at this place by a river, and which was set aside for prayer, that Luke says, “we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.” The Greek more literally reads, “having sat down, we were speaking to the women having gathered there.” They were gathered and then continued in their discourse for some time. Charles Ellicott provides a well-reasoned explanation for Luke’s careful detail of this situation –

“The fact that there were only women shows the almost entire absence of a Jewish population. Possibly, too, the decree of Claudius, expelling the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2), was enforced, as stated above, in the colonia, which was as a part of Rome, and as Jewesses would not be likely to have settled there without their husbands or brothers, it is probable that the women whom St. Paul found assembled were, like Lydia, proselytes who desired to remain faithful to their new faith, even in the absence of any settled provision for their instruction. Women thus placed would naturally welcome the presence of strangers who, probably, wore the garb of a Rabbi, and who showed when they sat down (see Note on Acts 13:14) that they were about to preach. We note that here also the narrator speaks of himself as teaching. (See Note on Acts 16:10.)”

Life application: Everything recorded in the Bible is given to tell us something about what God wants us to know. Sometimes, that even includes what is not said, such as referring to women but not to men as in this verse. If there was a synagogue, there was no fruit that came from a visit to it. If there was only this place of prayer, noting only the women tells us something else. Ellicott’s analysis would make sense based on the situation in the Roman Empire at the time.

We can’t be dogmatic about what the Bible is silent on, but we are being told to focus on the details and consider them. This is what we should be doing as we read the Bible. Stop and ask “why” from time to time. Think about what is being said (or omitted). If you cannot think of any reason for a particular statement, then read some commentaries. There is usually a suitable answer or two that may help explain why things are recorded.

Keep studying! The Bible is a treasure waiting to be uncovered with every page.

Lord God, thank You for these delights to our minds that are found in Your word. With each verse, we have things that we can consider and then add to our ever-growing knowledge of Scripture. Help us to be faithful in our study and contemplation of this precious gift You have given to us! Amen.