Acts 16:38
And the sergeants told these words to the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(38) They feared, when they heard that they were Romans.—It is clear that the strategi did not consider their ignorance of St. Paul’s citizenship a sufficient defence. They had acted illegally, and the consequence of that illegality went further than they counted on; but they could not, therefore, shake off their responsibility. They were liable to a prosecution, such as that which Cicero, for like offences, instituted against Verres. The tables were turned; the accused had become a possible accuser, and they, instead of hushing the matter up, were compelled to make something like a formal apology. We may well believe that St. Paul’s motive in insisting on this, was less the satisfaction of his own honour, than a desire to impress upon the strategi that they were not to over-ride or strain the law to gratify the passions of a mob.

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.They feared when they heard ... - They were apprehensive of punishment for having imprisoned them in violation of the laws of the empire. To punish unjustly a Roman citizen was deemed an offence to the majesty of the Roman people, and was severely punished by the laws. Dionysius Hal. (Ant. Rom., ii.) says, "The punishment appointed for those who abrogated or transgressed the Valerian law was death, and the confiscation of his property." The emperor Claudius deprived the inhabitants of Rhodes of freedom for having crucified some Roman citizens (Dio Cass., lib. 60). See Kuinoel and Grotius. 38. they feared when they heard they were Romans—their authority being thus imperilled; for they were liable to an action for what they had done. For the Romans (under whom these magistrates were) made it by their laws to be treason thus to abuse any of their citizens. God overruled their fear of man for the deliverance of his servants. And the sergeants told these words unto the magistrates,.... They returned to them, and acquainted them with what the prisoners said:

and they feared when they heard that they were Romans; they were not concerned for the injury they had done them; nor for the injustice and cruelty they had been guilty of; nor did they fear the wrath of God, and a future judgment; but they were put into a panic, when they found the men they had so ill used were Romans; lest they should be called to an account by the Roman senate, and be found guilty, and have their places taken away from them, and their persons punished.

{21} And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.

(21) The wicked are not moved with the fear of God, but with the fear of men: and by that means also God provides for his, when it is needed.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 16:38-39. Ἐφοβήθησαν] The reproach contained in ἀκατακρίτους did not trouble them, but the violation of citizenship was an offence against the majesty of the Roman people, and as such was severely punished, Dion. Hal. xi. p. 725; Grotius in loc.

Acts 16:39. What a change in the state of affairs: ἐλθόντεςπαρεκάλεσαν (namely, to acquiesce) … ἐξαγαγόντεςἠρώτων!

ἐξέρχεσθαι with the simple genitive, as in Matthew 10:14. Very frequent with Greek writers since subsequent to Homer. On παρακαλεῖν, to give fair words, comp. on 1 Corinthians 4:13.Acts 16:38. ἀνήγγειλαν, see critical notes.—ἐφοβήθησαν, so the chief captain, Acts 22:29; and no wonder, for the illegal punishment of Roman citizens was a serious offence. If convicted, the magistrates would have been degraded, and incapable in future of holding office; cf. Cicero, In Verrem, v., 66; Rep., ii., 31; and see Blass, note on Acts 22:29, Grotius, in loco, and O. Holtzmann, Neutest. Zeitgeschichte, p. 99. In A.D. 44 the Rhodians had been deprived by Claudius of their privileges for putting some Roman citizens to death (Speaker’s Commentary, in loco).38. and they feared] Because each Roman citizen had the right of appeal to the Emperor, and the penalty for outraging the rights of such a man was severe.Verse 38. - Reported for told, A.V.
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