The Conversion of the Philippian Jailor
(Acts 16)

Robby McPeak


The Philippian jailer is a most interesting tale of conversion. The scene is set and the characters are introduced in verses 22 - 24. The magistrates, in response to allegations made against Paul and

It is interesting to note that neither the beating nor the imprisonment shook the faith of Paul nor Silas. In fact at midnight the scriptures say that they were praying and singing hymns to God. This activity is an example of what Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:16 "Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter." It was a testimony of their faith in God, to both the prisoners and the jailer. Maybe this is the reason that no one left when the earthquake opened all the doors and loosed everyone's chains.

Some people are alarmed at the reaction of the jailor upon seeing the doors open. They comment on the absurdity of an individual taking his life over the escaping of some prisoners. However a close look into the Roman law reveals that this reaction was normal. Anyone who had charge of a prisoner and allowed, for whatever reason, that prisoner to escape, had to fill the sentence of that prisoner. Suicide would have been a kinder and gentler way to die, as the Romans sure would have required the life of the jailer in this instance. A case similar to this is found after the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:11-15). The solders who guarded the tomb of Jesus feared being put to death if the lie started by the chief priests and elders reached the governors ears. Paul, being an educated man and a Roman citizen, knew what the reaction of the jailor would be and this is why he said with a loud voice "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here."

The jailor who had been listening to Paul and Silas all night knew who had made the comment and went to them. His question is very interesting to me since it shows great understanding on the part of the jailor when it came to salvation. The first observation is that this question in no way relates to the fear he had from his commanders, because all the prisoners were still in the prison. Secondly, when you break down the question it reveals the true meaning of salvation. "WHAT" shows that something is required on the part of man. "MUST" shows that it is not a matter of choice but of necessity. "I" indicates an understanding that salvation is individual in nature and that he had to take the responsibility for doing his part in salvation. "DO" denotes action. It is not a feeling I will have, or something I will get but rather something I must actively take part in. "TO BE SAVED" this is the object of his desire--salvation. Paul and Silas respond by telling him "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

I fear that many have the understanding that this is where the story ends. And if God's word concurred and ended at this point, then surely the doctrine of "faith only" would have solid ground to stand on. Also, it would be extremely difficult to understand why baptism was not commanded, or administered in this example of conversion. Plus teaching the necessity of baptism would no longer exist. However, this is not where the story ends.

The story continues in verse 32 at the home of the jailor. It is here that Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and all who were in his house. And it was upon hearing the word of the Lord that the jailor took them to wash their stripes, that same hour of the night. Many have claimed this to be an act of repentance on the part of the jailor, and I agree. If he was not the one who had beaten them, it is very likely he watched and consented to the beating. Also he showed no compassion upon them after the beating was over because he locked them in stocks in the inner prison. He had done nothing to ease their pain, and he was now sorrowful that they had suffered for being Christians.

He and his family were then immediately baptized. Many today would have us teach the word of the Lord and exclude baptism. The fact that baptism was administered is proof that you cannot teach the word of the Lord without teaching baptism. All verse 32 says is that Paul and Silas spoke to them "the word of the Lord". Yet from that the jailor learned about repentance and baptism. He also learned the urgency of baptism. Remember it was midnight when the earthquake took place (31), the jailor took them home, listened to what they had to say and "the same hour of the night" the jailor washed their stripes and was baptized (33). Then verse 35 begins by saying: "And when it was day". Making it obvious that the events mentioned between verses 31 and 35 transpired between midnight and daybreak.

Verse 34 is very precious to me and should be to every Christian, because it sets forth the joy experienced when one obeys the gospel. It confirms that the answer given by Paul and Silas had been achieved, "having believed in God with all his household." This was achieved by hearing the word of the Lord, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17), by an act of repentance "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3) and by baptism "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19, 20).

Upon a thorough study of this example of conversion, three conclusions must be drawn. One, that faith only is not taught in this passage. Two, teaching the word of the Lord includes baptism. And three, baptism should be done without delay.

Everyone should study the New Testament. It is simple to read and understand. It contains the commands of the Lord for salvation. Once studied it should be obeyed completely.


e-mail this author at mcpeak@earthlink.net

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