on Acts 16 :35
And the magistrates sent the sergeants - The original word, ῥαβδουχους, means the lictors, persons who carried before the consul the fasces, which was a hatchet, round the handle of which was a bundle of rods tied. Why the magistrates should have sent an order to dismiss the apostles, whom they had so barbarously used the preceding evening, we cannot tell, unless we receive the reading of the Codex Bezae as genuine, viz. Ἡμερας δε γενομενης, συνηλθον οἱ Ϛρατηγοι επι το αυτο εις την αγοραν, και αναμνησθεντες τον σεισμον τον γεγοντα, εφοβηθησαν, και απεϚειλαν τους ῥαβδουχους κ. τ. λ. And when it was day, the magistrates came together into the court, And Remembering the Earthquake that Had Happened, they were afraid, and they sent the sergeants, etc. The Itala version of this same MS. has the same reading: so has also the margin of the later Syriac. If this MS. be correct, the cause of the dismissal of the apostles is at once evident: the earthquake had alarmed the magistrates; and, taking it for granted that this was a token of the Divine displeasure against them for their unprincipled conduct towards those good men, they wished to get as quietly rid of the business as they could, and therefore sent to dismiss the apostles. Whether this reading be genuine or not, it is likely that it gives the true cause of the magistrates' conduct.
on Acts 16 :35
And when it was day ... - It is evident from the narrative that it was not contemplated at first to release them so soon, Acts 16:22-24. But it is not known what produced this change of purpose in the magistrates. It is probable, however, that they had been brought to reflection, somewhat as the jailor had, by the earthquake, and that their consciences had been troubled by the fact, that in order to please the multitude, they had caused strangers to be beaten and imprisoned without trial and contrary to the Roman laws. An earthquake is always suited to alarm the guilty; and among the Romans it was regarded as an omen of the anger of the gods, and was therefore adapted to produce agitation and remorse. The agitation and alarm of the magistrates were shown by the fact that they sent the officers as soon as it was day. The judgments of God are eminently suited to alarm sinners. Two ancient mss. read this, "The magistrates who were alarmed by the earthquake, sent, etc." (Doddridge). Whether this reading be genuine or not, it doubtless expresses the true cause of their sending to release the apostles.
The serjeants - ῥαβδούχους rabdouchous. Literally, those having rods; the lictors. These were public officers who walked before magistrates with the emblems of authority. In Rome they bore before the senators the fasces; that is, a bundle of rods with an axe in its center, as a symbol of office. They performed somewhat the same office as a beadle in England, or as a constable in our courts (America).
on Acts 16 :35
16:35 The pretors sent - Being probably terrified by the earthquake; saying, Let those men go - How different from the charge given a few hours before! And how great an ease of mind to the jailer!