Acts 16:37
(37) They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans.--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: "Facinus est vinciri civem Romanum, scelus verberari" (Cic. in Verr. v. 57). The words civis Romanus sum acted almost like a charm in stopping the violence of provincial magistrates. St. Paul was a citizen by birth (see Note on Acts 22:28), his father having probably been wealthy enough to buy the jus civitatis, which brought with it commercial as well as personal privileges. It did not necessarily involve residence at Rome, but makes it probable that there were some points of contact with the imperial city.

There is something like a tone of irony in the "being Romans," echoing, as it did, the very words of his accusers (Acts 16:21). He, too, could stand on his rights as a citizen. The judges had not called on the prisoners for their defence, had not even questioned them. Even if they had not been citizens the trial was a flagrant breach of justice, and St. Paul wished to make the strategi feel that it was so. Here we note that he seems to couple Silas with himself. It is possible, as the Latin form of his name, Silvanus (2Corinthians 1:19; 1Thessalonians 1:1) suggests, that he also was a citizen of Rome, but St. Paul's mode of speech was natural enough, even on the assumption that he only could claim the privilege. We could hardly expect him to say with minute accuracy: "They have beaten us uncondemned, and I, for my part, am a Roman citizen."

Verse 37. - Publicly for openly A.V. δημοσίᾳ, Acts 18:28; Acts 20:20); men that are for being, A.V.; do they now cast for now do they thrust, A.V.; bring for fetch, A.V. Men that are Romans. We have exactly the same phrase in Acts 22:25, on a similar occasion, where also is the only other example of the word ἀκατάκριτος, uncondemned. Ἄκριτος with a like meaning ("untried," "without trial"), is common in classical Greek. The Latin phrase is indicta causa. By the Lex Valeria (A.U.C. 254), "No quis magistratus civem Romanum adversus provocationem necaret neve verberaret," every Roman citizen had a right to appeal (provocare) to the populace against any sentence of death or stripes pronounced by the consuls or any other magistrate; and by the Lex Porcia (A.U.C. 506), no Roman citizen could be scourged. Silas, it appears from the phrase, "us... men that are Romans," was also a civis Romanus. But nothing more is known about it. It does not appear why their exemption as Roman citizens was not made good before; but probably the magistrates refused to listen to any plea in their haste and violence.

16:35-40 Paul, though willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, and without any desire to avenge himself, did not choose to depart under the charge of having deserved wrongful punishment, and therefore required to be dismissed in an honourable manner. It was not a mere point of honour that the apostle stood upon, but justice, and not to himself so much as to his cause. And when proper apology is made, Christians should never express personal anger, nor insist too strictly upon personal amends. The Lord will make them more than conquerors in every conflict; instead of being cast down by their sufferings, they will become comforters of their brethren.But Paul said unto them,.... The sergeants, who were present when the jailer reported to Paul the message they came with from the magistrates; though the Syriac version reads in the singular number, "Paul said to him", to the jailer:

they have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; what the magistrates ordered to be done to them, is reckoned all one as if they had done it themselves; and which was done "openly", before all the people, in the most public manner; to their great reproach, being put to open shame, as if they had been the most notorious malefactors living; when they were "uncondemned", had done nothing worthy of condemnation, being innocent and without fault, as the Syriac and Ethiopic versions render the word; nor was their cause heard, or they suffered to make any defence for themselves; and what was an aggravation of all this, that this was done in a Roman colony, and by Roman magistrates; and to persons that were Romans, at least one of them, Paul, who was of the city of Tarsus: for, according to the Porcian and Sempronian laws, a Roman citizen might neither be bound nor beaten (n); but these magistrates, not content to beat Paul and Silas, without knowing the truth of their case, had cast them into prison as malefactors, and for further punishment:

and now do they thrust us out privily? nay, verily; or so it shall not be: this shows, that the apostle was acquainted with the Roman laws, as well as with the rites and customs of the Jews; and acted the wise and prudent, as well as the honest and harmless part; and this he did, not so much for the honour of the Roman name, as for the honour of the Christian name; for he considered, that should he and his companion go out of the prison in such a private manner, it might be taken for granted, that they had been guilty of some notorious offence, and had justly suffered the punishment of the law for it, which would have been a reproach to Christianity, and a scandal to the Gospel: wherefore the apostle refuses to go out in this manner, adding,

but let them come themselves, and fetch us out; that by so doing, they might own the illegality of their proceedings, and declare the innocence of the apostles.

(n) Cicero orat. 10. in Verrem, l. 5. p. 603. & orat. 18. pro Rabirio, p. 714.

Acts 16:36
Top of Page
Top of Page