Washington Monument in the distance.
Monday, 1 May 2023
And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; Acts 16:20
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In the previous verse, Paul and Silas were dragged into the Agora where the authorities sat. With that, Luke next records, “And they brought them to the magistrates.”
Of the word translated as “magistrates,” Vincent’s Word Studies says –
“Their usual name was duumviri, answering to the consuls of Rome; but they took pride in calling themselves στρατηγοί [strategoi], or praetors, as being a more honorable title. This is the only place in the Acts where Luke applies the term to the rulers of a city.”
Luke’s careful recording of this shows his minute attention to detail. Philippi was a Roman colony. Therefore, it is likely that these were army officers who exercised both military and civil authority. Once brought before these men, they then stated their case, saying, “These men, being Jews.”
This was probably a special poke at them, and it may explain why Luke and Timothy were not nabbed. Though Timothy was circumcised by Paul because his mother was a Jew, he probably looked like any other Gentile in his conduct, dress, and demeanor. Luke was a Gentile. Hence, they would have been overlooked concerning what occurred. But Paul and Silas were Jews.
Around this time, the Jews had been banished from Rome by Emperor Claudius. No distinction between sects of Jews was made. Thus, even though they were followers of Christ, they fell under the greater umbrella of being Jews, as it is even today. As such, a more reliable case could be made against them than if Luke and Timothy were included in the matter. As for the accusation against Paul and Silas, the claim by their accuser is that they “exceedingly trouble our city.”
It is a word found only here in Scripture, ektarassó, coming from ek (out of) and tarassó (to agitate or stir up). Thus, it signifies to exceedingly trouble or agitate. The men are being accused of something leaning towards insurrection as if they wanted everyone agitated to the point where rioting or chaos would ensue. Although that is hardly the case according to the words of Luke, it would be a charge sufficient to get these men tossed into prison.
If Claudius found it acceptable to expel the Jews from Rome, and because this was a Roman colony, it would be simple and expedient to label these Jews as public agitators and have them punished for their perceived wrongdoing.
Life application: The believing Jews at this time were given grief in two directions at once. They received grief from their own countrymen in abundance. But they also received grief from those who found the Jewish people offensive for whatever reason.
Now, two thousand years later, this trend continues. Those Jews who have come to Jesus tend to get grief from their own countrymen at times. But there are many “Christians” who ridiculously reject their conversion as if God has abandoned Israel to the point where Jews are completely cast off from God’s grace.
Obviously, some Jewish converts have taken advantage of the situation by using their Jewishness to heavily profit from the broader Christian faith, claiming they are somehow specialists in Scripture simply because of their Jewish heritage. This becomes problematic for those who point out their faulty doctrine. Suddenly, it is they who are then attacked as if they are antisemites for daring to point out where these Jewish people are wrong.
To avoid such errors in thought, we all need to have at least a basic understanding of critical thinking. But mostly, we should be well-versed in Scripture. If so, we will not be duped by people who claim special insight into Scripture, but who are just opportunists trying to profit off the lack of biblical knowledge of others. At the same time, we can identify those teachers who are sound and stand behind them when they are erroneously accused of something simply because of their culture or heritage.
Lord God, please keep us from making incorrect judgments about people simply because of a particular trait they possess. Help us to evaluate all people based on how they present themselves in whatever subject they are being evaluated on, be it knowledge of Scripture or how they perform their jobs as a plumber or professor. Help us to always consider people fairly. Amen.