A River Runs Near It

Sabbath Study, Part 31

There is one Saturday-Sabbath story in the book of Acts that does not take place in a synagogue. In Acts 16, Paul and his fellow missionaries travel to the city of Philippi. It appears that for some reason the city did not have a synagogue. This didn’t stop the Christians from setting out to find a Jewish gathering where they could preach the gospel.

And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And…she and her household were baptized… (Acts 16:13-15)

Where prayer was customarily made.
This phrase could be translated, “Where there was thought to be a proseuche [i.e., a place of prayer]” (Robert Young).

The sense of this phrase is not that the Christians were in the habit of meeting at a certain place (as I mistakenly used to think). On the contrary, the sense is that the Christians sought out a location frequented by the Jews and proselytes. “It appears that the apostles had heard from some of the Gentiles, or from some of the Jews themselves, that there was a place of prayer by the river side; and they went out in quest of it, knowing that, as it was the Sabbath, they should find some Jews there” (Adam Clarke).

“Places for prayer were erected by the Jews in the vicinity of cities and towns, and particularly where there were not Jewish families enough, or where they were forbidden by the magistrate to erect a synagogue. These proseuchae, or places of prayer, were simple enclosures made of stones in a grove, or under a tree, where there would be a retired and convenient place for worship” (Albert Barnes).

We sat down and spoke to the women who met there.
“Probably this was before the time of their public worship, and while they were waiting for the assembling of the people in general; and Paul improved the opportunity to speak concerning Christ and salvation to the women that resorted thither” (Adam Clarke). “Luke’s use of the first person plural implies that each of the four (Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke) preached in turn, with Paul as chief speaker” (A.T. Robertson).

Lydia…worshiped God.
This woman was a Greek proselyte, not yet a Christian (as is evidenced by what follows). The rest of the women were either Jews or fellow proselytes, or a combination of the two.

The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
She heard Paul preach, and through God’s work in her heart she was enabled to respond to the gospel with saving faith. Following her conversion, “she and her household were baptized.”

For me, this used to be the most confusing story involving Paul’s Saturday missionary activities. It seemed to indicate that Christians gathered together on Saturdays, just like the Jewish synagogue attendees. Learning about the distinction between Gentile Christians and Greek proselytes (see previous post) helped me see the true nature of this and other stories. As we will see in the following posts, genuine Christians met corporately on Sundays, not Saturdays.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
1898 Young’s Literal Translation, by Robert Young
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson