When Did the Philippian Jailer Believe? – a Proposed Chiastic Analysis of Acts 16:31-34


In Acts Ch. 16 we have the exciting account of Paul and Silas’ arrest and subsequent release from prison. In the centre of this narrative, there is the account of the conversion of the Philippian jailer. Because of the current controversy amongst bible-believing Christians about the role of baptism in relation to salvation, this passage, and in particular verses 31-34—which describe both a conversion and a baptism – have been adduced in support of the various viewpoints.

I believe that a structural analysis of the wider passage, as well as of the four particular verses at the centre of the debate would be valuable both intrinsically, as well as also hopefully contributing some background information in the on-going debate. I present one possible analysis of verses 31-34 here, together with some observations, with this twin-fold aim in mind.

The passage itself consists of 66 words in the Received Text (Nestle-Aland has 64 words), and is given below:



1) Pepisteukos in verse 34 is a perfect participle of antecedent action. The clause “having believed in God” describes an event which occurred before the main clause, “and he exulted with all his house”. I think that we only know for certain from the grammar that the believing occurred before the exulting, but the grammar does not tell us how long before the exulting that the believing occurred.

2) I think there is a possible (sub-)chiasm in v.34:

a) having brought   them (aorist participle followed by noun)

b) into his house (house as building)

c) he laid a table   (verb + noun)

d) and (centre of chiasm)

c`) exulted   (verb)

b`) with all his house (house as household! Cf. 2 Sam 7!)

a`) having believed in God   (perfect participle followed by noun)

3) There is a sense of urgency in verses 31-34. This is indicated in particular by the words “in that (very) hour of the night” in v.33, and the word immediately (parachrema) in v. 33. This latter word, an adverb of time, is always translated as “belonging” exclusively to the last two verbs of v. 33 (i.e. washed, and, baptised—with emphasis on the latter). This is, I think reasonable, although the distance of the adverb from these verb, or verbs, means that there may be other, perhaps even better, possibilities. For example, is it possible that the adverb, (as well as pointing “backwards” and “governing” the two, or possibly even three verbs of v.33 as in the conventional translations) also “points forwards”, and governs the first two, or possibly even the first three verbs of v.34? They seem to have an equal claim, (actually rather better!) in terms of distance from the adverb!! (There was, after all, by common consent, no punctuation in the original manuscripts.)

4) There may also be a little (sub-) chiasm in v.33:


Finally, here is an attempted analysis of all 4 verses:



1) The chiasm works very well at a structural/grammatical level, as well as thematically. For example, “having taken them” and “having brought them” in Ba and B`a` respectively, but there are many more such similarities.

2) The total of 66 words is divided equally be the A and B sections. The A sections are about belief, (a command to believe in A, and the “having previously believed” in A`. The B sections comprise all the six actions of this excellent and courageous jailer.

3) “A” consists first of a “banner headline” – “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”. That was, in nuce, what the man desperately needed to hear at that moment of crisis: there was hope! This is followed by the more detailed explanation—referred to here as “the word of the Lord”. However, the two parts of “A” are homologous structures.

4) Luke then cleverly seems to shift topic, and describes a series of six worthy acts on the part of the jailer. What is going on? Well, we don’t have to wait long— the climax to the whole section comes in the last three words: it is because he has believed in God! God here is the final word—literally as well as metaphorically! The contents of BB` are the sort of things that happen when one believes!

5) The sense of urgency in BB`, and the tight linkage between these two sections is emphasised in two ways. The first is the central placement of the word immediately. The second is the use of the “tight-linkage” conjunction “te” at the start of B`, rather than the “looser” connection that would have been provided by, for example, the word kai (and).

6) From this structural perspective, we can see that the perfect participle “having believed” in A` has, structurally, a greater “backwards reach” than is required by strictly grammatical considerations. Structurally, it goes right back to, and links with, the end of section A. Indeed, if we read “helically” (this is a recognised “jargon” term for reading chiastic passages chiastically—i.e. from outer to inner), we see that, we are intended to see the Bs as following A’s, in both chronological and, as the chiastic structure shows, “theological” dependency upon those A’s.

7) Combining structural, grammatical and theological considerations, I conclude that the Philippian jailer came to faith and was saved at the end of verse 32 as a result of believing the word – the logos – of the Lord, in accordance with the promise of v.31.

8) The marvellous consequences of the Philippian jailer’s belief:.

The first thing that the Philippian jailer did on coming to faith was to wash the wounds of Paul and Silas. This took precedence even over the important matter of being baptised. In his kind and gracious acts, there is an interesting link with the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel—words which describe the actions of those righteous ones who Jesus knows and who are blessed of His Father and who were chosen to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from before the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34-36):

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, naked (c.f. Acts 16:22) and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me [note visited =“oversaw”—the same root word as “bishop” in 1 Tim. 3:1 = “one who takes care of”], I was in prison and you came to me”.


This is a wonderful narrative, told by Luke with great skill, in which the drama and the theology of the first recorded conversion of a European is recounted. Was he perhaps the man who Paul saw in his vision in Acts 16:9?!

Categories: Chiastic and Other Structures

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