Online Bible Commentary
The Gospel Comes to Europe
Acts 16:11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." So she persuaded us. (NKJV)
The time is about A.D. 50. Paul is on his second missionary journey. Silas accompanied him from their home church in Antioch, Syria. As they ministered at the churches in Galatia, they were joined by Timothy in Lystra. Now Luke has just joined the party in Troas, Asia.
Through a vision Paul is called to minister in the Roman colony of Macedonia, in Europe, which is located across the Aegean Sea from Troas. So the four missionaries set sail northwest from Troas (v. 11a).
After sailing a relatively short distance they anchored at the island of Samothrace for the night. The next day they sailed to Neapolis, a port city in Macedonia (v. 11b). Neapolis was about 120 miles from Troas.
Paul and his party then travelled overland about twelve miles northwest to Philippi (v. 12a). Philippi was a “foremost” city but Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia (v. 12b).
Philippi was located on the main road from Rome to Asia, the Via Egnatia. In ancient times the city was known for its goldmines in the nearby mountains. Now, for the last hundred years, Philippi was more known as a military town. The four missionaries stayed in Philippi “for some days” (v. 12c).
On the Sabbath the missionaries “went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made” (v. 13a). Apparently there was not a synagogue in Philippi. By the riverside the party “sat down and spoke to the women who met there” (v. 13b).
A woman named Lydia was praying with the group of women (v. 14a). She was from the city of Thyatira in the district of Lydia which was located in western Asia Minor. Thyatira was famous for its dyes and Lydia was a seller of purple dyed cloth (v. 14b). Lydia’s occupation infers that she was a woman of great wealth. The principal deity of Thyatira was the Greek god Apollo.
Lydia was a convert to Judaism, but “the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” (v. 14c). She, “and her household” became believers and Paul baptized them, surely in the nearby river (v. 15a).
Luke does not mention if Lydia had a husband so “her household” may have consisted only of servants. She then “begged” Paul and his party to come stay at her house, and the missionaries accepted (v. 15b). The gracious hospitality of Lydia became well known.
Thus the Gospel is taken to Europe for the first time. This was the farthest the Gospel had spread from Jerusalem. Lydia becomes the first convert to Christianity in Europe, and a new church is planted. Paul would about ten years later write his letter to the Philippians.