Artwork by Douglas Kallerson.
Thursday, 18 May 2023
But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.” Acts 16:37
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
In the previous verse, the jailor told Paul that the magistrates had sent word to let them go. With that, Luke now records, “But Paul said to them.”
As noted in the comments of the previous verse, the rod bearers were obviously with the jailor when he gave them the news of their release because the address is now in the plural. Paul is speaking to the jailor and the rod bearers. In his response, he says, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans.” The word “openly” is more appropriately translated as “publicly.” They were shamed before other citizens and even non-citizens in a manner that was considered wholly intolerable to the laws of Rome.
Of this, Charles Ellicott says –
“By the Lex Porcia (B.C. 247), Roman citizens were exempted from degrading punishment, such as that of scourging. It was the heaviest of all the charges brought by Cicero against Verres, the Governor of Sicily, that he had broken this law.”
As Paul uses the plural, us, it indicates that Silas was also a Roman. It would be wholly inappropriate to speak the plural in this manner if it were not so. How Silas obtained his citizenship is unknown. However, in Acts 22:28, we find that Paul was born a Roman citizen. That carried an exceptional mark. Others became citizens in various ways, but to be born a Roman meant that his father was a citizen before him as well.
In having beaten Paul and Silas, three extremely serious charges could be raised. The first is that it was a violation of Roman law to do so. Second, Paul notes that they were beaten publicly. Third, and certainly most egregiously, they had been disgraced in this manner without any trial having been held. They were stripped of their clothing while at the same time, they were stripped of their rights as Romans. Further, along with these disgraces, Paul says, “and have thrown us into prison.”
Vincent’s Word Studies, citing a scholar named Hackett, says “that almost every word in this reply contains a distinct allegation. It would be difficult to find or frame a sentence superior to it in point of energetic brevity.” Paul’s noting of their being thrown into prison carries with it the cumulation of all the injustices explicitly stated, along with those that went unstated.
They would have been deprived of food. They would not have been properly treated regarding the wounds they received. They were bound like animals in the filth of a Roman cell. These and other injustices would have all come together in their incarceration, heaping up guilt upon those who had allowed the events to occur. Because of this, Paul now contrasts the word “openly” by saying, “And now do they put us out secretly?”
The magistrates had violated the law in an open and disgraceful manner. No matter what reason they had for releasing them from prison so early in the morning, it certainly carried with it a desire to secretly hide away what had occurred. Paul was adamantly not going to allow that to happen. Thus, he says, “No indeed!”
Throughout the ages, the same idea has been communicated in various abrupt but poignant ways. In modern English, we might say, “No way Jose,” “I think not,” or “Not gonna happen.” The succinct nature of the words provides its own emphasis. Such is the case with Paul’s words. With that uttered, he next says, “Let them come themselves and get us out.”
Of this demand of Paul, Albert Barnes provides five valid points to consider –
(1) Because they had been illegally imprisoned, and the injustice of the magistrates should be acknowledged.
(2) because the Roman laws had been violated, and the majesty of the Roman people insulted, and honor should be done to the laws.
(3) because injustice had been done to Paul and Silas, and they had a right to demand just treatment and protection.
(4) because such a public act on the part of the magistrates would strengthen the young converts, and show them that the apostles were not guilty of a violation of the laws.
(5) because it would tend to the honor and to the furtherance of religion. It would be a public acknowledgement of their innocence, and would go far toward lending to them the sanction of the laws as religious teachers.
Life application: As noted in the previous verse, it is ridiculous for Christians to not use the rights allowed to them within their society when they are unfairly treated. For example, Christians are expected to pay taxes. Taxes are used for the various social and legal protections provided by the law. Christians are required to conform to the laws, rules, regulations, and statutes of the land in which they live. These things are imposed on all citizens of a nation to ensure things run smoothly and to ensure people are treated fairly while also being held accountable when they do not conform to the standards of society.
To submit to such things as these, but then not use those same rights and benefits when it is opportune to do so – such as in voting – is, frankly, foolish. If a citizen will be directed in these things by whoever is elected to office, but he is unwilling to vote when he has the right to do so, it means that he may be setting himself up to lose the very protections that he is granted.
This is the state of the United States today. Those on the left are actively working to take away the rights of citizens in general and those of Christians in particular. And yet, weak-kneed, unthinking Christians fail to use their rights and to exercise their responsibilities within the nation they live. When those rights are taken away from them, they will only have themselves to blame. Paul would find such peevishness and absurd self-piety appalling, as is evidenced by his remarks recorded in Acts 16:37.
Heavenly Father, may we use right thinking concerning our lives within our society. If we fail to do so, we will be overcome by tragedy when we find we have squandered our responsibilities and lost our rights as citizens of the nations in which we live. Help us not to be reckoned as peevish examples of folly and foolishness. Amen.