Section 5: Supposable Miracle IV.—at Philippi, an Earthquake: Paul and Silas freed from Prison, A.D. 53
The passage, in which these events are related, is in Acts 16:19-40, inclusive.
On this occasion three principal events are narrated;—the incarceration of Paul, an earthquake, and the liberation of Paul. Between the earthquake and the liberation of this prisoner, what was in reality the connection? In the answer there is not much difficulty: The same as that between the earthquake and any other event that took place after it. But, by an answer thus simple, the purpose of the narrator would not have been answered: the purpose was—to induce, on the part of his readers, the belief—that it was for the purpose of bringing about the liberation of the self-constituted Apostle of Jesus, that the earth was made to shake. As to the liberation, by means altogether natural was that event produced: so he himself has the candour to inform us. Of this quasi-miracle, or of the last-mentioned one, Philippi, capital of Macedonia, was the theatre. By order of the magistrates of that town, Paul and his attendant had been beaten one evening, and thrown into prison: next morning, came to the jailor an order of these same magistrates, and in obedience to it the prisoners were discharged. That, in the minds of these magistrates, there was any connection, between the earthquake and the treatment they had given to these adventurers, is not so much as insinuated. The purpose, which it had in view, was answered: it was the ridding the town of a pair of visitors, whose visit to it had produced disturbance to existing institutions.(Acts 16:20-40.)
Be it as it may with regard to the historiographer,—that it was an object with his hero to produce a notion of a connection between the stripes and the imprisonment he had undergone on one hand, and the earthquake on the other, is manifest enough. The person, in whose mind the prisoner had endeavoured to produce the idea of such a connection, was the jailor: and, for its having in this instance been successful, there seems little difficulty in giving credit to the historiographer. Everything that appears to have been said, either of Paul or by Paul, tends to show the wonderful strength of his mind, and the facility and promptitude, with which it enabled him to gain the ascendency over other minds. In the language of the place and time, he had bid the fortune-telling damsel cease her imposture, and the imposture ceased. Acts 16:18. Committed to prison he formed a project for making a proselyte of the keeper: and, in this too, and in so small a compass of time as a few hours, there seems reason to believe he was successful. In his presumption, in daring to execute the sentence of the law upon so holy a person, the keeper saw the cause of the earthquake; and, whether by Paul any very strenuous endeavours were used to correct so convenient an error in geology, may be left to be imagined. Paul, when introduced into the prison, found no want of comrades: how then happened it, that it was to Paul's imprisonment that the earthquake, when it happened, was attributed, and not to any of his fellow-prisoners? Answer: It happened thus.
Of the trade, which, with such brilliant success, Paul,—with this journeyman of his,—was carrying on, a set of songs with the name of God for the burthen of them, constituted a part of the capital, and, as it should seem, not the least valuable. When midnight came, Paul—the trader in godliness—treated the company in the prison with a duet: the other prisoners, though they shared in the benefit of it, did not join in it. While this duet was performing, came on the earthquake; and Paul was not such a novice as to let pass unimproved the opportunity it put into his hand.
The historiographer, if he is to be believed, was at this time in Paul's train, as well as Silas; for so, by the word we, in the tenth verse of this same chapter, he, as it were, silently informs us. The beating and the imprisonment were confined to the two principals; by his comparative insignificance, as it should seem, the historiographer was saved from it. From the relation, given to him by Paul or Silas, and in particular by Paul,—must this conception, formed by the historiographer of what passed on the occasion, have of course been derived. It was coloured of course in Paul's manner: and in his colouring, there was of course no want of the marvellous. By the earthquake, not only were "foundations shaken" and "doors opened," but "bands loosened." The "feet" of the two holy men had been "made ... fast in the stocks:"(Acts 16:24.) from these same stocks, the earthquake was ingenious enough to let them out, and, as far as appears, without hurt: the unholy part of the prisoners had each of them bands of some sort, by which they were confined; for, "everyone's bands were loosed:"(Acts 16:26.) in every instance if they were locked, the earthquake performed the office of a picklock. Earthquakes in these latter days, we have but too many, in breaking open doors they find no great difficulty; but they have no such nicety of touch as the earthquake, which produced to the self-constituted Apostle a family of proselytes: they are no more able to let feet out of the stocks, or hands out of hand-cuffs, than to make watches.
These elucidations being furnished, the reader is desired to turn to the text, and lay before him: to reprint it would require more paper than he might choose to see thus employed.
As to the name of God and the name of Jesus, the two names, it should appear, were not—on the occasions in question—used at random. When the fortune-telling damsel was the subject of Paul's holy labours, she having been in some way or other already gained, ver. 17, the case was already of a sort, in which the name of Jesus Christ, the name under which the self-constituted Apostle enlisted all his followers,—might be employed with advantage.
When Paul and Silas were committed to prison, no such name as that of "Jesus Christ" would as yet have served. Of "Jesus Christ" neither had the keeper as yet heard anything, nor had the other prisoners. But, of God, in some shape or other, they could not but have heard all of them: God accordingly was the name, by which at this time the sensibilities of the persons in question were to be worked upon. When the earth trembled, the jailor trembled likewise: he