An Earthquake and a Jailer’s Conversion
In Acts 16:22-34, Luke narrates an incident in Philippi that is similar to what happened to Peter and John earlier (Acts 5:17-21): a miraculous deliverance from prison.
Paul and Silas was imprisoned at the instigation of the owners of a slave girl whom they have exorcised (Acts 16:16-18). Because of the exorcism, the slave girl can no longer tell fortunes, a source of great income for her owners. Thus the accussation of the owners against Paul and Silas and the riot at the beginning of the liturgical selection (vv. 22-23a), the imprisonment of the evangelists and their being chained at the feet (23b-24).
The account of the deliverance in prison isn’t as quiet as the one in the case of Peter and John. In the case of Paul and Silas, there was a horrific earthquake that destroyed the jail house and knocked open the chains of the prisoners (vv. 25-26). The jailer was about the kill himself seeing what had happened at his watch — that would have been the honorable thing to do — when Paul stayed his hand( 27-28). What happens next is a story of conversion: Paul preaches the gospel to the jailer and to his household (29-32) and were baptized “without delay” (33). Afterwards, they had a meal in the jailer’s household, (the “agape”, 34a). So just as the deliverance of Peter and John (Acts 5) leads to their preaching the gospel(Acts 5:26.42) and building up the Church, as indirectly indicated in the speech of Gamaliel (Acts 5:35-39).
It is interesting to note too that the jailer and his household was baptized “without delay” in the prison house. So how were they baptized? Was it by immersion in a river? Here is a case where fundamentalists would be wringing their heads in explaining how baptism would have been performed in a closed space with no river. The Didache,1 explains that there were two approved forms of baptism:
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit (Didache, vii).
A final note here by Luke gives us an insight into the man who was the jailer of Paul and Silas: “and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.” (v. 34b.) This final note tells us three things about the man: (a) that before this he did not believe in God, (b) that believing now in God, his family found reason to rejoice, and (c) he now believes after hearing the gospel from Paul and being baptized in an act of repentance.
In The Catechism
Acts 16:31-33 is used in the Catechism in the following paragraphs:
|Bible Verses||CCC Paragraphs|
|Acts 16:31-33||CCC 1226|
|Acts 16:31||CCC 1655|
|Acts 16:33||CCC 1252|
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- The Didache is short for “Didache apostolorum” or “The Teachings of the Apostles”, which is a summary of the contents of the preaching and practices of the apostles compiled around 100 AD. [↩]