This story happens during Paul's Second Missionary Journey. (See Paul's Mission for a summary of all three journeys).
Paul ran into opposition during his missionary journeys from two main sources. First, the Jews in these towns that did not come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament opposed him regularly. Second, Paul's preaching sometimes had a negative effect on businesses in the area, and those business leaders opposed him. This story falls in that second category.
While Paul and Silas were in the city of Philippi (where the church was that Paul wrote the letter that became the book of Philippians in the Bible), they came upon a female slave. She had some sort of evil spirit that allowed her to tell the future, and her owners were exploiting her by making money off this "gift" of hers. She kept following Paul and Silas around and shouting. Now, what she was shouting was in fact true: "These men serve the Most High God. They are telling you how to be saved." This seems similar to the way people with evil spirits treated Jesus when he walked the earth - they couldn't help but to speak the truth, even though they didn't like it.
Paul eventually became irritated at this woman who was constantly shouting at them. It probably made it very difficult for them to preach! So Paul, most likely guided by the Holy Spirit telling him that his woman had an evil spirit, commanded the spirit to come out of her and it immediately left.
Once her owners found out about this, they were furious that their source of income was gone! They had Paul and Silas arrested based on lies (that they were encouraging people to break Roman laws). The crowd joined in the riot and had Paul and Silas beaten, whipped and thrown into prison. The jailer was told to watch them closely, so he put them deep into the prison and shackled their feet so they couldn't get away.
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns together for the other prisoners. Suddenly, an earthquake shook the prison and the doors came loose and their chains fell off. They were free, but they didn't leave! The jailer woke up, saw all the cell doors open, and thought all the prisoners had escaped. He thought he was going to be in big trouble!
When they turned the lights on, he saw Paul and Silas still in their prison cell and fell down at their feet asking how he could be saved. You see, he must have been listening to those prayers and hymns too. He believed in Jesus and took them to his house for them to hear the word of the Lord as well. His whole family believed and were baptized and they shared a meal together. Then apparently they went back to jail together!
Overnight, the judges must have come to their senses and realized that they had whipped and jailed these two men for no reason. So they ordered them to be freed first thing in the morning. But Paul wasn't happy about being treated so unfairly for no reason. He demanded that he and Silas be brought back before the judges so they could explain themselves to Paul and Silas. You see, Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, and in those days they were protected with certain rights as citizens. When the judges found out about this, they were doubly afraid. Not only did they treat them poorly, they could get in big trouble because they were Roman citizens. The judges apologized and let them out of the prison.
Paul and Silas went to meet with the believers in Philippi (at Lydia's home) and then went along their way.
Has there ever been an earthquake where you live? What did it feel like? If not, what do you think it would be like?
Today, we're going to learn about a time when Paul and Silas were in prison and an earthquake happened!
Read story from a Children's storybook Bible for younger children.
For older children, read the story from an age-appropriate Children's storybook Bible or read directly from the Bible.
Scripture for Kids to Read Aloud Acts 16:16-40
First, ask the children if they have any questions about the story. What to do if you don't know the answer?