Acts 16:16-As Paul was going to the place of prayer he encountered a slave-girl who had a "spirit of divination" (she was demon possessed). She made a lot of money for her masters by fortunetelling. For many days she followed Paul and was telling people that they were servants of God. Paul became annoyed with her. This sounds like a good thing that she was doing. However, she was under the influence of demonic power...so, Paul didn't want people to accidentally associate them with her, and it could be that she was trying to use them as a source of income. He cast the demon out of her (:18). This made her masters very angry because their source of revenue was now gone. They drug them before the city officials and claimed that they were causing confusion in the city...and teaching customs that were not in keeping with Roman tradition. The officials had them beaten with rods...and put in prison.
This alludes to scourgings inflicted by Gentile magistrates with the vitis, or vine stick, of soldiers, or with the fasces of lictors.
About midnight, Paul and Silas were "praying and singing hymns of praise to God" (:25)...and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, there was an earthquake...the prison doors opened, and the chains restraining them fell off. The jailer woke up and thought that all of the prisoners had escaped...he was going to commit suicide with his sword...but Paul called out for him to stop. When the jailer saw that all the prisoners were still there he fell at Paul's feet and asked what he had to do to be saved (:30). Obviously, the incident had made a profound impact on him. Paul told him that he must believe in Jesus in order to be saved. And it also applied to everyone else in his household. They too must believe in Jesus in order to be saved. They all believed and were baptized at that late hour of the night (:33). There are those who want to use this verse to suggest that because the jailer was saved…his family was included in his salvation. But that is not what it says. Instead, it says that what was true for him…
- They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—
…was true for the rest of the members of his family, as well.11
you and your household.”
The jailer took them home and fed them. The next day the officials sent word for them to be released. But Paul refused saying that they had publicly beaten them without trial...and that they were Roman citizens...and now they were not going to get away with secretly sending them away. The officials became afraid when they heard this. They came to them and begged them to leave. They left the prison and went to Lydia's home.
The Apostle Paul's Roman citizenship
For the first few centuries A.D., Roman citizenship was a highly coveted prize. The book of Acts records that the apostle Paul was apparently proud of his status as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28). However, how did one become a citizen of Rome? How did Paul's citizenship help him AVOID a beating and to receive a fair trial? What were the rights and privileges that came with citizenship?
Acts 22 alludes to two ways of becoming a citizen of Rome. We pick up the story with Paul's visit to Jerusalem's temple with four Jewish converts. Jews see him enter the temple and begin a riot. Roman soldiers save Paul from an almost certain death by beating and take him to a nearby barracks for questioning.
- But as he was being tied with the thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?" 26. Now when the centurion heard this, he went and reported it to the chief captain, saying, "Do you realize what you are about to do? For this man is a Roman." 27. And when the chief captain came up, he said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?" And he said, "Yes." 28. And the chief captain answered, "With a great sum of money I bought this citizenship." And Paul said, "But indeed, I was born free." (Acts 22)
One can become a citizen by either birth or buying the privilege. Paul's birth in a Jewish family occurred in the city of Tarsus within the province of Cilicia (Acts 22:3). Although a Jew, his birth in the city grants him citizenship. This is due to Tarsus' designation as a "free city" by Rome. The commander, however, had to pay a large sum of money to be a citizen.
A third avenue to gain citizenship was through an extended period of military service. In order to attract more soldiers, Rome offered citizenship to those serving in the military for at least twenty-five years and who received an honorable discharge.
A citizen's rights and privileges
Why was obtaining citizenship such a coveted prize? Citizens enjoyed a wide range of privileges and protections which varied over time and place. Some of the more common rights and benefits were:
- The right to vote in assemblies and stand for civil or public office
- The right to make legal contracts and hold property
- The right of immunity from some taxes and legal obligations
- The right to sue (and be sued) in the courts
Citizenship also came with the right to have a legal trial where a person appears before a proper court in which to defend themselves. This right also includes the ability to request Caesar here a case.
Additionally, citizens could not be tortured or whipped (scourged), nor could they receive the death penalty, unless they were guilty of treason. It is this right that kept the apostle from a severe flogging, in order to gain information, at the hands of soldiers (Acts 22:23-29).
Paul's right to a trial before Caesar was used to avoid be tried in Jerusalem. If he went to the city from Caesarea, his murder would almost certainly occur along the way (Acts 25:1-3). Jerusalem also had many people who hated him. We find Paul making use of his Roman citizenship in Acts 25.
- But Paul said, "I stand before the judgment seat of Caesar, where I have the right to be judged . . . 11. For on the one hand, if I am a wrongdoer and have done anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is no truth in their accusations against me, no one can deliver me over to them. I appeal to Caesar." (Acts 25)
Once again, Apostle Paul's Roman citizenship meant he could receive treatment the common person did not have the right to request. He did know, however, there was another citizenship available to ALL that was of infinitely greater value than the empire could offer. To the church in Philippi he wrote:
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)
For a more extensive and interesting study of Roman citizenship see:
Prayer: Lord, it is wonderful to see Paul and Silas praising You even after having been beaten with rods and locked up in prison. You used them to minister to the prisoners and the jailer. Please help me Lord, to give You praise regardless of my circumstances. Help me to give You praise no matter what has happened.