Acts 16:21

I think it was the Pentagon I was trying to get a picture of. Nowadays, we call it Woke Warrior World.

Tuesday, 2 May 2023 

“and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Acts 16:21

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, Paul and Silas were taken to the magistrates and were accused of exceedingly troubling the city. Now, that continues, saying, “and they teach customs.” Rather, the word is kataggelló. It signifies to openly declare or proclaim.

The missionaries weren’t teaching yet but were proclaiming Christ in anticipation of converts. Hence, they were being charged with open incitement of the people. As for the word “customs,” it is ethos and signifies “an unwritten custom; behavior based on tradition (a habit) fixed by the religious social life of a nation” (Helps Word Studies).

The accusation is shrewdly made. Those who brought Paul and Silas forth did so because they had lost their source of revenue. They didn’t care diddly about what was being proclaimed. Rather, they were vindictively seeking to have the source of their loss punished. By making this accusation, they were making a claim that could be legally applied. With that, their words continue, saying, “which are not lawful for us.”

Again, the thought is mistranslated. The verb is singular. Rather than “are,” it reads, “which it is not lawful for us.” The thought, being presented in the singular, is tied to the next words, “being Romans.”

Being a Roman colony, the worship of the citizens was restricted. Rome normally did not interfere in the private religious practices of the people they subjugated, but they did regulate what Roman citizens could apply to their religious life. Albert Barnes, citing Cicero, says, “No person shall have any separate gods, or new ones; nor shall he privately worship any strange gods, unless they be publicly allowed.”

It is this charge, therefore, that is being levied against Paul and Silas. They were supposedly infecting citizens of Rome by proclaiming something unlawful for Romans “to receive or observe.”

The word “receive” gives the sense of welcoming with personal interest. The word “observe” signifies “to do.” The claim is that those things which could not be entertained by Roman citizens were being proclaimed to have them invited into their regular lives, making them a part of their religious practices.

Life application: The excuse used in this verse is still used constantly by those who reject the gospel. When evangelizing someone, you might be told, “My family would never accept this,” or “My culture is set, and we cannot accept such a teaching.” Such statements are as common as mangos in Malaysia. But they are normally just excuses intended to divert attention away from the main issue.

If the gospel is properly preached, it includes the idea that sin is the problem. When someone hears that Christ died for his sins, it 1) means that he is a sinner, and 2) that Jesus has solved the problem for him.

The first idea is often repugnant to some. “I’m not a sinner.” Some people simply don’t want to admit their state of imperfection. The second idea is often repugnant to others. “I can take care of my own issues so that God will like me.” They may admit having sin, but they also want to be their own savior. To yield oneself to another is to admit that the problem is bigger than the individual can handle.

Either way, the fallback is to ignore or misdirect from the main issue. To do this, the matter is obfuscated by introducing family, social, cultural, or national customs as a reason that they don’t want to continue the conversation. One must be ready to directly address this type of issue if a successful gospel presentation is to come about.

Keep bringing the matter back to the main issue. Until someone realizes that sin is the problem and that he cannot fix it on his own, the matter cannot be resolved. Jesus is the answer. Keep proclaiming Jesus.

Lord God, there is a need in all people for the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood. Without His death, our sin remains unatoned for. There is nothing we can do to make up for our state. When we try, we place ourselves as our own redeemers. That is a sad place to be. Help us to properly explain to people that without Jesus, there is no hope. But with Him, eternal peace in Your presence is to be found. Amen.