Everyone in this passage is bound by something or someone. This passage asks us to consider who is bound and who is really free.

Read the passage here.

The Young Girl

She is bound physically to slavery, which was common in Rome. We are unsure of how she was enslaved. Slaves included those born into slavery, prisoners of war, individuals who were sold, or those abandoned at birth. Click here to read more.

Pythia of the Oracle of Delphi, John Collier (public domain) Retrieved here.

She is bound spiritually by the “spirit of Python.” English translations often have, a “spirit of divination,” which is true but obscures an important detail.

Python is a link to the Pythia, the priestess of the Oracle of Delphi, Temple to Apollo, some 300 miles away from Philippi. The Pythia would go into a trance and speak of the future. Many were drawn to that place. Even Military commanders would travel to the Oracle to seek whether or not to go to war. So much money was spent by people seeking to get an audience with the Pythia that even the area cities flourished.

The girl is bound by a spirit and is bound in slavery by men who are bound by greed as they make money off of her oppression.

She followed Paul and the team for several days, perhaps loudly shrieking. The text does not say how she acted, only that it depleted Paul to the point of grief (Once again, the English translation is “annoyed” which is not necessarily the case).

She tells the truth, “These men are slaves to the Most High and are going to teach you the way of salvation.” The person spiritually and physically bound announces that these Christians are bound to God and are going to talk about being free.

Paul, perhaps getting a clearer appreciation of her holistic oppression, exorcises the demon.

Paul and Silas

By exorcising the demon, Paul and Silas angered her owners, who lay hands upon them and elicit mob violence to get their way. The magistrates are bound by the intimidation of others.

Notice the complaint is not, “They healed my slave girl and now she’s healthy and I can’t oppress her anymore.” Instead, they reference Paul and Silas’ ethnicity and religious practices.

They are bound by the bias and ignorance that suggests that if someone doesn’t look like you, worship like you, or talk like you, then they must be an outsider who is dangerous to your country.

Paul and Silas are Roman citizens and are having their rights violated (a topic Paul picks up after this passage). They are taken to a prison and put in the lowest portion of the prison. Jails were sometimes built over former cisterns. A hole was cut through the first floor at ground level and prisoners were taken to the darkest, dampest, the most inaccessible portion of the prison.

Paul and Silas are put in stocks and perhaps unable to sleep because of the pulsating pain from being beaten with rods, they realize they are free to sing, pray, and praise God. Their worship fills the dark space. The jailer goes to sleep that night to the sound of an unbound gospel.

The Jailer

At midnight he awakes to the reality of an earthquake. The wall collapsed and surely the prisoners escaped. Who would stay there? Perhaps in a panic, he speaks aloud to those under his employ and to his family members (they seem to be in proximity as if the jailer and his family leave on the top floor) that he must kill himself, for if he doesn’t it will be done for him by others.

“Don’t do it!” Paul cries. “We are here.”

The jailer just came face-to-face with a death sentence. He just got his life back. He realizes he had all the keys to the prison and yet was not free. What must I do to be saved?

The answer is NOT to go to Delphi and spend all your money because freedom and security are expensive. The answer is not in Delphi to the west; the answer comes from Jerusalem in the east: the salvation God announces through Jesus is free. Believe this!

Paul and Silas further explain this good news to the jailer and his household (family and slaves). They believe and are baptized and rejoice in such unbound salvation.

The jailer unbinds them, cleans their wounds, and gives them a meal. The unbound gospel binds us to one another. Grace transforms hostility into hospitality.

Us

The jailer takes the light into the dungeon and unbinds Paul and Silas. We often find ourselves in dungeons we dig ourselves, yet the gospel meets us there, shines a light, and offers us healing and a way out.

The gospel helps us see that we can have lots of money but have spiritual poverty or poverty of humanity. We can have all the keys and still be a prisoner. We can be in the darkest moment of our life and realize that through the presence and grace of God we are always free.

Our friends in recovery do us a favor by reminding us that we are helpless if left to ourselves; we need God.

God is always about liberating us, of proclaiming good news to the captive. Because of grace, we are more than our mistakes. The light can shine and lead us out.

May our praises be as unbound as God’s love.


This passage is the gospel lesson for the Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary. This is Paul’s second missionary journey during which the first converts in Europe to Christianity are mentioned. Paul and the others are in Philippi spreading the news of God’s love in Jesus. May you enjoy this boundless love and truth.

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