The Bible often mentions earthquakes. If they are so, they are also a matter of secular records making these Bible records the same history as found in secular records. This series is designed to explore secular history, archeological digs [discoveries] and scriptural records of Biblical Earthquakes. This series will end with an article or two on End-Time earthquakes. This is article number five in the series.
The Earthquake of Paul and Silas – Acts 16; Philippians; A Prison Letter
When we read the Book of Philippians, written from prison by the Apostle Paul, of an event recorded even in secular history. Many Bible teachers and scholars refer to the Book of Philippians as one of the “Prison Letters. [The other “prison letters” include Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon] Acts 16:16-39 records the same Bible history. We find Paul and Silas in chains due to the fact that they had cast out an evil spirit in a young girl, slave, who was able to predict (foretell) the future. In the Greek it means a μαντεύομαι, manteuomai: a prophet, soothsayer, one who utters spells.
SPECIAL NOTE: It is only fair to inform the reader of this article that the time period of this imprisonment is debatable. Many Bible scholars and well-meaning researchers have affixed multiple dates and places to this particular event. Some suggest it was around 52 A.D. and some go as far as to suggest it to be around 61 B.C. My personal approach in historical research is to look up major earthquakes in this region and connect the dots with Acts 16:26…[NIV] “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.” Secular historians and modern seismologist report such an earthquake around 58 to 61 A.D. in western Turkey near Ephesus.
We should keep in mind that Luke (supposed author of the Book of Acts) writes in Acts 16:16: “Once when we were going to the place of worship…” Note this is not at all specific to where this place of worship is and when it is. It is like telling a friend or group of people who are discussing particular life events that one of the participants simply starts in with the same introduction to the event s/he is going to explain; i.e. “Once when we (I) did such-and-such…”. It isn’t sequential, but it did happen sometime within his or her lifetime; perhaps as a teen, when just married, as an employee of whomever, while on a hunting trip or vacation, etc.
(Acts 16:20, 21) Paul and Silas’s accusers claimed “These men are Jews and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us as Romans.” The fact that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens was unknown to their accusers and the magistrates who gave them a quick and speedy kangaroo trial (read the event in the Acts 16:37, 38 and see the terror that came over their accusers once this fact was revealed to them).
The documented record from the Bible and in Roman and Biblical history states that these men were put in prison with leg stocks; something usually reserved for only the most dangerous law breakers. In case the reader does not recall this recorded history, Paul and Silas were accused of anything but the truth. They had cast out an evil spirit that dwelt within this slave girl. This evil spirit recognized, as is stated in Acts 16:17, “these men are servants of the *Most High God.” She followed Paul and Silas around town with the spirit shouting out this fact.
*The Greek for “Most High” is hupsistos. It means the “Supreme God.” This fallen angel (evil spirit) and agent of Satan had to acknowledge the fact of God being supreme even above its boss, ol’ Satan/Lucifer.
We should also understand that during this time in history the Romans who occupied almost the entire Mediterranean area allowed Judaism and its offshoot of Christianity as Romans thought it to be, to be practiced (and protected). Romans viewed it as just another cult or religion within the massive Roman Empire.
The Romans had many gods including one to “the unknown god” (see Acts 17). Some of the Roman authorities saw the God of Judaism as possibly the unknown god for which the Romans even had a statue. This means from the onset, Paul and Silas were accused of something the Romans did NOT object to AT THIS TIME. The Emperor Nero soon changed all of this.
Historical Note: The Romans and The Romans , during the time of the Maccabees, had made an alliance and agreement to cooperate in most of life’s matters. This secular history can be read in 1 Maccabees 8:19-21, 29. The conclusion… since the Romans initially saw Christianity as an offshoot of Judaism, what Paul and Silas were doing was within the law.
Back to the real reason for Paul and Silas’s kangaroo trial: Acts 16: 17-19… Once the evil spirit was cast out, she (the slave girl) was no longer influenced by the evil spirit therefore incapable of foretelling the future; i.e. the money-making business of her owners and the real reason for bringing charges against Paul and Silas. Consequently these owners of the slave girl were put out of business. This fact was never mentioned in the kangaroo trial of Paul and Silas.
A Reader’s Note: The reader should take a few minutes to examine the scripture surrounding this point in history. It is directly relevant to recorded secular history and the earthquake mentioned in Acts 16:26.
The short of it (the earthquake; v26)… shook the foundations of the prison opening the doors of not only the inner prison room in which Paul and Silas were chained, but all of the surrounding prison cells. In Roman times, this would mean death to the jailor if the prisoners escaped.
The aha-moment in secular and Biblical history…
In all likelihood, Philippi was not the epicenter of this earthquake and it is probable that Paul and Silas were not in prison in Philippi. After all, Paul was writing a letter to them. It may only be a coincident of timing but secular records and historians write that a very significant earthquake sometime around 59 to 61 A.D., the time in history when Paul and Silas were in prison, destroyed Laodicea, Colossus, and Hierapolis. These three cities were totaled as they lay within a natural fault between them and the Aegean Sea; the Northern and Western Anatolia Faults; the Lycus River Valley (http://www.padfield.com/2005/laodicea.html). A look at a map would also tell us that Ephesus was well within the tremors of this devastating earthquake recorded in both secular and Biblical history. After all, they are not separate histories. There is only one history and these coincide.
Scientist and seismologists tell us that tremors can travel thousands of miles and up to speeds of 500 plus miles per hour. The destroyed cities of Laodicea, Colossus, and Hierapolis were only a 90 to 100 miles, or so, from the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea where Philippi is/was almost on the western shores of this same Sea. Ephesus was next door to these cities within Turkey.
Secular records from Pliny, Eusebius, as do the Annuls of Tacitus record the same event within a few years [plus or minus] the earthquake record in the Book of Acts.
Coincidence… perhaps? But the records of the Bible and secularists match quite well. But, don’t take my word for it. Study it yourself. Secular history and Biblical history are not two unconnected stories. They are one history (not a story) recorded as a slice of the same historical pie.
Also see links:
a) Author: Philippians 1:1 identifies the author of the Book of Philippians as the apostle Paul, likely along with the help of Timothy.
b) Date of Writing: The Book of Philippians was written in approximately A.D. 61.