The Philippian Church According to Acts by Coleman Baker

The author of the book of Acts describes the founding of the Christian community in Philippi in Acts 16:11-40. The story begins with Paul in Troas, a town on the western coast of modern Turkey, where he dreams of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to cross the Aegean Sea and help the people there (Acts 16:8-9). After describing their ship’s route to Macedonia in Acts 16:10-11, the author says they arrived in Philippi, which he notes is “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12). The status of leading city is unclear: Thessalonica, not Philippi, had been the capital of Macedonia since around 168 B.C.E., but Philippi had been a Roman colony since Octavian and Marc Anthony defeated Caesar’s assassins there in 42 B.C.E.

The first clue about the religious community that gave birth to the Christian church in Philippi comes in Acts 16:13. On the Sabbath, Paul and his companions “went outside the gate by the river, where [they] supposed there was a place of prayer.” Whether this “place of prayer” was a proper synagogue or not is unclear, but the majority of commentators maintain that the presence and role of the women here suggests there were not enough Jewish males (10) to constitute a proper synagogue. With little or no Jewish presence in the city, Philippi’s citizens were devoted primarily to the traditional Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.

The author notes that the group speaks to the woman there, and one in particular, Lydia, listens and responds (Acts 16:14-15). Lydia is described as a “worshiper of God” (probably synonymous with “God-fearer,” used elsewhere in Acts) “from the city of Thyatira” (located in Western Asia Minor) and “a dealer in purple cloth” (a luxury item in the ancient Mediterranean). She and her household are soon baptized and offer hospitality to the traveling preachers. Lydia’s house becomes the site for the church in Philippi, with her as its host and perhaps leader.

The church in Philippi grows as the result of a conflict between the Philippian residents and Paul’s entourage when the latter exorcises a demon from a fortune-telling slave girl (Acts 16:16-18), who had brought profit to her owners. Upset about their loss of an important source of income, the owners of the slave girl bring Paul and his companion Silas before the authorities, arguing that “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe” (Acts 16:20-21). While the exact nature of this charge is unclear, it was clearly enough to move the assembly into action. Paul and Silas are arrested, flogged, and imprisoned. This provides the context for the miraculous prison break, during which a sudden and violent earthquake shakes free the prison gates and chains. In its wake, the awed jailer asks Paul to baptize him and his household (Acts 16:19-39). As Paul and his associates prepare to leave the city, they stop briefly by Lydia’s house to encourage the members of the new Christian community there.

According to the book of Acts, Paul and his associates founded the church in Phillipi when Lydia and her household were baptized. One might conjecture that several of the women from the “place of prayer” were among those who joined with Lydia in this new movement. Additionally, the jailer and his household are baptized, but it is not clear whether or not this family joined the group already established at Lydia’s house. Does Acts tell of the founding of one Christian community in Philippi, or two?

Coleman Baker, "Philippian Church According to Acts", n.p. [cited 7 Aug 2020]. Online:


Coleman Baker

Coleman Baker
Program Manager, Brite Divinity School

Coleman Baker is program manager of Brite Divinity School’s Soul Repair Center and teaches biblical studies at Texas Christian University. He is the author of Identity, Memory, and Narrative in Early Christianity and is coeditor (with J. Brian Tucker) of the T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in the New Testament. While his work focuses on the role of biblical texts in identity formation in early Judaism and Christianity, his interests extend to identity formation in contemporary religious communities and culture.

The island-filled sea between Greece and Turkey, which opens to the Mediterranean sea on the south.

A term from late Antiquity, it refers to the western-most part of Asia, bordered by the Black, the Mediterranean, and Agean Seas, in what is now modern-day Turkey.

Title designating an emperor of the Roman Empire.

A territory controlled by a different nation, generally in separate geographic regions.

Supernatural, spiritual beings that appear in the traditions of many cultures. In the Hebew Bible, demons are often fallen angels; the New Testament makes mention of demon possession, where a demon inhabits a human body.

An outpost or territory of the ancient Roman Empire that was annexed but not yet an official imperial province.

Acts 16:11-40

The Conversion of Lydia
11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis,12and from there to Philippi, which is ... View more

Acts 16:8-9

8so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to M ... View more

Acts 16:10-11

10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.The Con ... View more

Acts 16:12

12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.

Acts 16:13

13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gather ... View more

Acts 16:14-15

14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her hear ... View more

Acts 16:16-18

Paul and Silas in Prison
16One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great d ... View more

Acts 16:20-21

20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews21and are advocating customs that are not lawfu ... View more

Acts 16:19-39

19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.20Wh ... View more

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