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Acts 16:21

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

And teach customs - Εθη, Religious opinions, and religious rites.

Which are not lawful for us to receive - The Romans were very jealous of their national worship. Servius, on the following lines of Virgil, has given us correct information on this point; and has confirmed what several other writers have advanced: -

Rex Evandrus ait: Non haec solemnia nobis

Vana superstitio, veterumque ignara deorum, Imposuit.

Aen. viii. v. 185, etc.

King Evander said: - It is not vain superstition, ignorant of the ancient worship of the gods, which has imposed these rites on us.

Duo dicit, says Servius: non ideo Herculem colimus; aut quia omnem religionem veram putamus; aut quia deos ignoramus antiquos. Cautum enim fuerat, et apud Athenienses, et apud Romanos; ne quis Novas introduceret Religiones: unde et Socrates damnatus est: et Chaldaei et Judaei unt urbe depulsi.

"He says two things: we do not worship Hercules because we believe every religion to be true; nor are we ignorant of the ancient gods. Great care was taken, both among the Athenians and Romans, that no one should introduce any new religion. It was on this account that Socrates was condemned, and on this account the Chaldeans and the Jews were banished from Rome."

Cicero, De Legibus, lib. ii. c. 8, says: Separatim nemo habessit deos; neve Novos; sed nec Advenas, nisi publice Adscitos, Privatim colunto. "No person shall have any separate gods, nor new ones; nor shall he privately worship any strange gods, unless they be publicly allowed." The whole chapter is curious. It was on such laws as these that the people of Philippi pleaded against the apostles. These men bring new gods, new worship, new rites; we are Romans, and the laws forbid us to worship any new or strange god, unless publicly allowed.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And teach customs - The word “customs” here ἔθη ethērefers to “religious rites or forms of worship.” See the notes on Acts 6:14. They meant to charge the apostles with introducing a new religion which was unauthorized by the Roman laws. This was a cunning and artful accusation. It is perfectly evident that they cared nothing either for the religion of the Romans or of the Jews. Nor were they really concerned about any change of religion. Paul had destroyed their hopes of gain; and as they Could not prevent that except by securing his punishment or expulsion, and as they had no way of revenge except by endeavoring to excite indignation against him and Silas for violating the laws, they endeavored to convict thorn of such violation. This is one among many instances, Where wicked and unprincipled people will endeavor to make religion the means of promoting their own interest. If they can make money by it, they will become its professed friends or if they can annoy Christians, they will at once have remarkable zeal for the laws and for the purity of religion. Many a man opposes revivals of religion, and the real progress of evangelical piety from professed zeal for truth and order.

Which are not lawful for us to receive - There were laws of the Roman empire under which they might shield themselves in this charge, though it is evident that their zeal was; not because they loved the laws more, but because they loved Christianity less. Thus, Servius on Virgil, Aeneid, viii. 187, says, “care was taken among the Athenians and the Romans that no one should introduce new religions. It was on this account that Socrates was condemned, and the Chaldeans or Jews were banished from the city.” Cicero (“DeLegibus,” ii. 8) says, “No person shall have any separate gods, or new ones; nor shall he privately worship any strange gods, unless they be publicly allowed.” Wetstein (in loco) says, “The Romans would indeed allow foreigners to worship their own god, but not unless it were done secretly, so that the Worship of foreign gods would not interfere with the allowed worship of the Romans, and so that occasion for dissension and controversy might be avoided. Neither was it lawful among the Romans to recommend a new religion to the citizens, contrary to what was confirmed and established by the public authority, and to call off the people from that. It was on this account that there was such a hatred of the Romans against the Jews” (Kuinoel). Tertullian says that “there was a decree that no god should be consecrated unless approved by the senate” (Grotius). See many other authorities quoted in Dr. Watson‘s “Apology (Defense) for Christianity.”

To observe - To do.

Being Romans - Having the privileges of Roman citizens. See the notes on Acts 16:12.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can thereby serve his purposes. But much mischief is done to the real servants of Christ, by unholy and false preachers of the gospel, who are confounded with them by careless observers. Those who do good by drawing men from sin, may expect to be reviled as troublers of the city. While they teach men to fear God, to believe in Christ, to forsake sin, and to live godly lives, they will be accused of teaching bad customs.
Ellen G. White
The Acts of the Apostles, 211-20

This chapter is based on Acts 16:7-40.

The time had come for the gospel to be proclaimed beyond the confines of Asia Minor. The way was preparing for Paul and his fellow workers to cross over into Europe. At Troas, on the borders of the Mediterranean Sea, “a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” AA 211.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 406

We shall meet opposition arising from selfish motives and from bigotry and prejudice; yet, with undaunted courage and living faith, we should sow beside all waters. The agents of Satan are formidable; we shall meet them and must combat them. Our labors are not to be confined to our own country. The field is the world; the harvest is ripe. The command given by Christ to the disciples just before He ascended was: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” 3T 406.1

We feel pained beyond measure to see some of our ministers hovering about the churches, apparently putting forth some little effort, but having next to nothing to show for their labors. The field is the world. Let them go out into the unbelieving world and labor to convert souls to the truth. We refer our brethren and sisters to the example of Abraham going up to Mount Moriah to offer his only son at the command of God. Here was obedience and sacrifice. Moses was in kingly courts, and a prospective crown was before him. But he turned away from the tempting bribe, and “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” 3T 406.2

The apostles counted not their lives dear unto themselves, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ. Paul and Silas suffered the loss of all things. They suffered scourging, and were in no gentle manner thrown upon the cold floor of a dungeon in a most painful position, their feet elevated and fastened in the stocks. Did repinings and complaints then reach the ear of the jailer? Oh, no! From the inner prison, voices broke the silence of midnight with songs of joy and praise to God. These disciples were cheered by a deep and earnest love for the cause of their Redeemer, for which they suffered. 3T 406.3

As the truth of God fills our hearts, absorbs our affections, and controls our lives, we also will count it joy to suffer for the truth's sake. No prison walls, no martyr's stake, can then daunt or hinder us in the great work. Come, O my soul, to Calvary. Mark the humble life of the Son of God. He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Behold His ignominy, His agony in Gethsemane, and learn what self-denial is. Are we suffering want? so was Christ, the Majesty of heaven. But His poverty was for our sakes. Are we ranked among the rich? so was He. But He consented for our sakes to become poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. In Christ we have self-denial exemplified. His sacrifice consisted not merely in leaving the royal courts of heaven, in being tried by wicked men as a criminal and pronounced guilty, and in being delivered up to die as a malefactor, but in bearing the weight of the sins of the world. The life of Christ rebukes our indifference and coldness. We are near the close of time, when Satan has come down, having great wrath, knowing that his time is short. He is working with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish. The warfare has been left in our hands by our great Leader for us to carry forward with vigor. We are not doing a twentieth part of what we might do if we were awake. The work is retarded by love of ease and a lack of the self-denying spirit of which our Saviour has given us an example in His life. Co-workers with Christ, men who feel the need of extended effort, are wanted. The work of our presses should not be lessened, but doubled. Schools should be established in different places to educate our youth preparatory to their laboring to advance the truth. 3T 406.4

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Ellen G. White
The Acts of the Apostles, 213-7

Dispossessed of the evil spirit and restored to her right mind, the woman chose to become a follower of Christ. Then her masters were alarmed for their craft. They saw that all hope of receiving money from her divinations and soothsayings was at an end and that their source of income would soon be entirely cut off if the apostles were allowed to continue the work of the gospel. AA 213.1

Many others in the city were interested in gaining money through satanic delusions, and these, fearing the influence of a power that could so effectually stop their work, raised a mighty cry against the servants of God. They brought the apostles before the magistrates with the charge: “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.” AA 213.2

Stirred by a frenzy of excitement, the multitude rose against the disciples. A mob spirit prevailed and was sanctioned by the authorities, who tore the outer garments from the apostles and commanded that they should be scourged. “And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely: who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” AA 213.3

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Ellen G. White
Early Writings, 204-5

Her masters were pleased that she cried after the disciples; but when the evil spirit left her, and they saw her a meek disciple of Christ, they were enraged. They had gathered much money by her fortunetelling, and now the hope of their gain was gone. Satan's object was defeated; but his servants caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the market place, unto the rulers, and to the magistrates, saying, “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city.” And the multitude rose up together against them, and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely, who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison and made their feet fast in the stocks. But the angels of the Lord accompanied them within the prison walls, and caused their imprisonment to tell to the glory of God, and show to the people that God was in the work, and with His chosen servants. EW 204.1

At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and I saw that immediately the angel of God loosed everyone's bands. The keeper of the prison, upon awaking and seeing the prison doors open, was affrighted. He thought that the prisoners had escaped, and that he must be punished with death. But as he was about to kill himself, Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” EW 204.2

The power of God there convicted the jailer. He called for a light, and springing in, came trembling and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” The keeper of the prison then assembled his whole household, and Paul preached unto them Jesus. Thus the jailer's heart was united to those of his brethren, and he washed their stripes, and he and all his house were baptized that night. He then set food before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. EW 205.1

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Ellen G. White
The Acts of the Apostles, 201-20

This chapter is based on Acts 15:36-41; 16:1-6.

After spending some time in ministry at Antioch, Paul proposed to his fellow worker that they set forth on another missionary journey. “Let us go again,” he said to Barnabas, “and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.” AA 201.1

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The Second Missionary Journey of Paul