The lesson in the current manual selects loosely connected (in a thematic sense) verses from the epistles of Paul to the Philippians and Colossians and to Philemon with a minimum of reference to Paul’s activities during the period he wrote those epistles. The lesson below from Obert C. Tanner’s The New Testament Speaks. Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1935, a seminary text, supplies some of the missing context.
THE TRIAL OF PAUL BEFORE THE LEADERS
Before the Sanhedrin. (Acts 22:30-23:11.)
The captain did not yet know why the Jews had attempted to kill Paul; so he called a meeting of the Sanhedrin, that he might learn the facts in the charges against his prisoner. On the following morning he brought the apostle before the court, released him from his chains and, remaining close by, watched the proceedings.
Paul commenced his address to the Sanhedrin by declaring that in all his actions his conscience was clear of any offense. when he had spoken those words, the high priest commanded those standing by him to smite him on the mouth. Either the priest considered Paul’s words about having lived in “good conscience before God” as a lie, or that the prisoner had commenced speaking before he had been given permission, and was considered out of order. Paul’s reply of calling the high priest a “whited wall” does not sound like that of the “apostle to the Gentiles.” But Paul was human, and sometimes he gave way to his temper. the surprising thing is that he had kept it so well.
Paul’s excuse that he did not know that he had spoken to the high priest is difficult to understand, unless it be attributed to poor eye sight. His apology is not an admission that his opening declaration was untrue, or that his charges against the priest, as a man, were not justified. Rather, it is an admission that he, as a Jew, respected the office of the high priest.
The versatile apostle, ready to take advantage of any chance opportunity which came his way, addressed the assembly again, saying that he was being tried for his belief in the resurrection. this threw the council into discussion, for the Sadducees were opposed to that doctrine while the Pharisees believed it. How Paul could say that he was charged with believing in the resurrection, when as a matter of fact the charges were that he had taught the Jews to disregard the law of Moses, and that he had taken Gentiles into the temple, is an unsolved mystery. the most plausible explanation of his words is, that knowing the difference of opinion existing in the council on that question, he purposely brought the subject up to make a division in the court, and divert the attention away from the real charges. Whatever may have been the motive, the result was that the Pharisees were in favor of freeing the prisoner, while the Sadducees set upon him with such fierceness that the captain, fearing for Paul’s safety, took him back to the tower. It was evident that the chief captain could not expect any great help from the Jewish Sanhedrin in determining the true nature of Paul’s offense.
Paul was deeply despondent when he returned to his cell. the second day of his imprisonment had passed, and the future was filled with promise of greater difficulties. His expectations of a mission to Rome had seemingly been shattered. that night the Lord stood by him in a vision, and in words which must have brought comfort to his discouraged heart, he was told to be cheerful, “for as thou hast testified of mein Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” (acts 23:11)
Paul is Sent to Caesarea. (Acts 23:12-35.)
On two occasions Claudius Lysias had saved Paul from death at the hands of the embittered Jews, and following closely on the second deliverance came a third. More than forty Jews bound themselves with an oath neither to eat nor drink, until they had destroyed the hated Paul. the plot was exposed by Paul’s nephew who, in some unexplained manner, had learned of the conspiracy.
Why the chief captain should send Paul away to Caesarea is not entirely clear. there were enough soldiers in Jerusalem to protect Paul from any immediate danger. However, the presence of the prisoner in Jerusalem might lead to a fanatical uprising, which could be avoided if Paul were sent to the governor in Caesarea.
The escort which left at 9:00 o’clock that evening for Caesarea was made up of four hundred foot soldiers and seventy horsemen, who departed at that hour, because the streets would be deserted and the prisoner and his guards could slip away with little notice. The foot soldiers went as far as Antipatris on the edge of the Judean foothills, forty-two miles from Jerusalem, and then returned. Leaving as Paul did under the cover of night and bound by the need of secrecy, there was little chance for him to say goodbye to his friends and brethren. Nothing is said of any of them going with him, but it may be that some of them were permitted to accompany him. from Antipatris to Caesarea, a distance of twenty-five miles, Paul was guarded only by the horsemen, who delivered both him and Lysias’ letter to Felix the governor.
Claudius Lysias’ letter to Felix is the second letter in the Greek style found in the Book of Acts, the first being in Acts 15:23-29. The usual greeting opens the letter, which is simple and direct in style. Lysias did not keep entirely to the fact when eh wrote to the governor, that he had rescued Paul when he discovered that he was a Roman. Following a brief summary of the events leading to the sending of the prisoner to Caesarea, the writer closed his letter by saying the prisoner was guilty of nothing worthy of bonds or death, and that those who accused Paul had been given orders to appear before the governor with their charges. After reading the letter, Felix made a brief inquiry into Paul’s place of residence, gave orders that he should be kept in Herod’s judgment hall, and set the investigation of the charges for a time when those who had accused Paul might come from Jerusalem.
Paul and His Accusers Before Felix. (Acts 24:1-23.)
The city of Caesarea, where Paul was held a prisoner was built by Herod the Great. Josephus says that in the Jewish war, 66 A.D., its people rose up and killed 20,000 Jews. If the figures are even comparatively correct, and if most of the population were Greeks, it must have had several thousand inhabitants. Not only was it a city of considerable size, but it was also a beautiful one, containing many palaces and public buildings of white stone. On the water front was a beautiful temple, which was visible far out at sea.
Antonius Felix, the governor, was an appointee of Claudius and took office about 52 A.D. The historian Tacitus describes him as a very bad and cruel man, and says that he had a slave’s temper which he had retained from the days when he was a bondman.
Paul’s accusers followed him to Caesarea five days later. In the company was the high priest Ananias and a professional orator named Tertullus, who was to present the Sanhedrin’s case before the governor. His speech is too full of flattery to please modern readers, but was seemingly appropriate as an address to such a man as Felix. although the orator praised Felix by calling him a good governor, history proves him quite the contrary.
Refusing to flatter the governor, Paul commenced his address by paying respect to his knowledge of the law, and then launched into a presentation of the points proving his innocence. Only two weeks had elapsed since he had left Caesarea for Jerusalem, which was too little time to have committed all the crimes of which he was accused. His real accusers, the Jews from Asia, should have been there to present their charges. If they had been present, they could only have proved that he had been in the temple. The only real complaint which could justly be brought against him was, that when he faced the Sanhedrin he had said that he was being tried for his belief in the resurrection.
After hearing both sides, Felix refused to give an immediate decision, saying that he would wait until he had spoken to Lysias. he appears to have been friendly to Paul, and his refusal to render judgment at once may have been a means of turning away the Jews. However, the Jews had succeeded in a way, for they had rid Jerusalem of their hated enemy and placed him at least nominally in jail, where he would presumably be helpless to carry on his work.
Paul Before Felix and Druscilla. (Acts 24:24-27.)
During Paul’s two years in Caesarea, he was given much liberty and was permitted to receive his friends, probably traveling around the city accompanied by a guard. Of his life during that period, nothing definite is known, but judging from what we know of the man, he must have been busy spreading the Gospel of Jesus. In just what way he accomplished that, is not known.
Sometime early in that two-year stay, Paul was called before Felix and his wife Drusilla, and was permitted to speak of the Christian way of life to them. Paul used the opportunity to speak of the moral teachings of the Gospel, stressing judgment and righteousness. The words of this earnest Christian preacher made the governor tremble, but his greed overcame any noble emotion which may have been aroused. Perhaps the impression made upon him was like that of John the Baptist upon Herod Antipas.
Luke says that Felix often called Paul before him, hoping to receive some bribe in return for setting him free; but why he thought the apostle could pay any large sum of money for his liberty is not explained. It is certain that Paul did not possess any great amount of money, or he would not have taken so many hours from his preaching to earn a livelihood by making tents. There is little likelihood that Paul dressed like a man of wealth, for he was a laboring man, working with his hands. Many friends came to visit the prisoner, and it may have been the thought of the governor that those who loved Paul would pay the bribe, which would give liberty to their comrade.
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. What was the purpose of Paul’s trial before the Sanhedrin? Tell what occurred during this trial. What decision was reached?
2. What occurred in Paul’s prison the night after the trial before the Sanhedrin?
3. Why was Paul sent from Jerusalem to Caesarea? give the nature of the conspiracy against him. Explain the manner in which Paul was sent to Caesarea.
4. Give some facts concerning the city of Caesarea.
5. Give a full account of Paul’s trial before Felix.
6. Describe the nature of Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea. How long was he there? Why did Felix repeatedly call Paul into his presence? Why would Felix suppose Paul to have money? What reasons have we to believe that Paul was a poor man in worldly possessions?
THE APPEAL TO CAESAR
Paul and His Accusers Before Festus. (Acts 25:1-12.)
After Paul had spent two years as a prisoner in Caesarea, there came to that city’s new governor, Porcius Festus by name. Felix, the former governor, had gone to Rome to be tried on a charge brought against him by his Jewish subjects, and just previous to his departure had made a last bid for the favor of the Jews by leaving Paul bound as a prisoner. Of the new governor, who took his office about 59 A.D., little is known other than that Josephus the historian describes him as being better than the man Albinus, who succeeded him.
Not long after he assumed office the new governor visited Jerusalem. the priests there, far from having forgotten Paul during his absence, asked that he be brought to their city for trial. Their plans were not to bring him to trial and get a judgment against him, but rather to kill him on the way from Caesarea. For some reason Festus refused their request. It may have been merely a matter of convenience for him. The prisoner was in Caesarea, his capital, and it would be easier for him to hold the trial there, than in Jerusalem. Or it may be that Festus was wiser than the Jews thought, and knew that this trial, which might lead to a serious outbreak in Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, could be settled with much less disturbance in the predominantly Gentile city of Caesarea.
Judging from the words of Festus to Agrippa as given in Acts, the Jews may have requested that he pass judgment against Paul solely on their testimony, or if he felt that he could not do that, they wanted him to turn Paul’s case over to the Jewish court. (Acts 25:15-16) the governor’s reply was that he was soon returning to Caesarea, and that those who were accusing Paul should meet him there.
Upon the governor’s return to his capital, Paul was called before him for a hearing. The Jews who had come from Jerusalem laid many serious charges against the apostle. What these charges were is not mentioned; but judging from Paul’s answer, they very likely were made up of the old accusations that he had broken the Mosaic law, that he had defiled the temple, and that he was dangerous politically. After listening to both sides of the case, Festus asked Paul if he would go to Jerusalem for trial. His reason for suggesting this can only be understood as an attempt to favor the Jews. He had refused this request while in Jerusalem, and at a later day told Agrippa that he found nothing against Paul which he might send to the emperor. (Acts 25:25-27)
Since the governor was willing to hand him over to the Jews, there were only two courses open to Paul. the first was that he passively permit his enemies to take him to Jerusalem and there assassinate him; the second, which he followed, that he stand upon his right as a Roman citizen and appeal his case to the supreme court of the empire, the emperor himself. Paul’s demand perplexed Festus, and he found it difficult to make up any charges against him which could be presented to the emperor. After speaking to his advisers, he agreed that inasmuch as Paul had appealed to caesar, his case should be transferred to the emperor’s court in Rome.
Paul before Agrippa and Bernice. (Acts 25:13-26:32.)
Before Paul’s departure for Rome, there came to Caesarea two royal visitors to the palace of Festus, Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. Agrippa the king was the son of Agrippa I. His capital city was Caesarea Philippi, and he ruled that part of Palestine not under the Roman governor. Drusilla, the wife of the late governor, Felix, was a sister to Agrippa and Bernice.
Later, when Paul spoke to Agrippa as one who should know of the Christian movement, he spoke with more truth than perhaps the king was aware. His great grandfather, Herod, had ordered the killing of the children of Bethlehem in his attempt to destroy the child Jesus. The Herod who had ordered the beheading of the Baptist and to whom Pilate had sent Jesus for trial, was his uncle. And Agrippa I, his own father, had killed the apostle James with the sword, and placed Peter in prison.
Hearing of Paul’s case in his discussion with festus, Agrippa, who was deeply interested in Jewish questions, expressed his desire to hear Paul. this request was gladly granted, partly because it might enable the governor to formulate the charges against the prisoner, a task which was still perplexing Festus. Agrippa, being acquainted with the Jewish law, could understand the complaints against Paul better than could Festus, who was a Roman.
The appearance of Paul before Agrippa and Bernice was not a trial, but an occasion of great show and pomp. Many of the aristocratic class were present. The king and governor and all the guests assembled in their splendor, when the prisoner, presumably still wearing his chains, was ushered in.
In his opening words Paul paid his respects to agrippa’s knowledge of the Jewish law and customs. He then expressed his gratitude for the privilege of showing to one who was acquainted with the Jewish hope of a Messiah, that he was not disloyal to his people when he believed in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Continuing to address his remarks to aGrippa, Paul gave a summary of his early life as a Pharisee, his conversion, and his life as a Christian. It was a story which he loved to tell. He continued to say that in his faithfulness to the vision which had called him to preach to the Gentiles, he was not opposing, but rather acting in accordance with the expectations of the Jewish faith; for Moses and the prophets had foretold that the Christ should suffer death and be resurrected, “to shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.”
Paul had been accused by the Jews of defiling the temple and of breaking the Mosaic law, but in his defense before Agrippa, he passed these charges and said that he was being judged because he taught that the hope of the fathers, that the Messiah would come, had been fulfilled in the person of Jesus. (Acts 26:6) There is no record of any charge of that nature ever being made against him. His words can best be understood by assuming that he had analyzed the situation and concluded that the charges preferred against him were superficial, and that the real underlying cause of the Jewish hatred was his claim that the Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified as a criminal, was their Messiah.
with the mention of the resurrection, Festus interrupted the prisoner’s speech. That doctrine was not new, but Paul’s fervor on the subject made him appear to the governor as one beside himself. Paul appeared perfectly controlled and sane when he replied: “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” (Acts 26:25) Turning again to the king, the prisoner appealed to him, assuming that he was acquainted with the Jewish prophets, and that he knew of Jesus.
At this time the king interrupted with a protest which is very difficult to understand: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28) The thought expressed in this passage in the best manuscripts is: “With few words thou art indeed persuading me to be a Christian.” The words may have been spoken sarcastically, or they may show that the king was really touched by Paul’s words.
Although neither Festus nor the king was touched by Paul’s fervent testimo0ny, no one can doubt that the apostle hoped for the conversion of the king. Only by assuming this can we understand his declaration that he wished that the king and all who heard him were Christians.
No chance was given to Paul to continue to speak further, for the king and those who were with him arose and went into a consultation. Presumably festus had received the help he needed in writing the official complaint to be sent to Caesar. Perhaps, too, Paul was becoming too searching in his remarks to Agrippa. The king’s life would not admit of very close scrutiny, and his desire to stop the direct words of Paul was evidently the reason why he arose and thus closed the interview. Agrippa never became a Christian, but his words show that he felt no bitterness toward the apostle. the governor and his royal guest agreed that Paul was no criminal and that he might have been released, if he had not asked to be sent to Rome.
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. Who was Porcius Festus? What do we know of him?
2. Why did the Jews request Festus to bring Paul to Jerusalem? What are some possible reasons for his refusal?
3. Tell the story of Paul’s hearing before Festus. Why did festus ask Paul if he were willing to go to Jerusalem? Explain the outcome of this trial.
4. Relate the particulars of Paul’s address before Agrippa, giving special attention to its effect upon the rulers. What were the results of this address?
THE VOYAGE TO ROME
From Caesarea to Fair Havens. (Acts 27:1-8.)
Arrangements having been made for Paul’s removal to Rome, he left with a number of other prisoners in late August or early September, of the years 58, 59, or 60 A.D. he and his fellow-captives were under the charge of a centurion named Julius. This centurion is said to have belonged to the “Augustus band,” which evidently meant that he was one of the many officers under the immediate command of the emperor. On the journey to Rome, he was very friendly with Paul and treated him with great kindness and consideration, even saving his life when the soldiers would have killed him.
In the company were two of Paul’s friends who voluntarily accompanied him to the Roman prison, Aristarchus from Macedonia, and Luke, the physician and the narrator of the story. In the last two chapters of the Book of Acts, Luke has given one of the finest accounts which modern readers possess of travel in the Mediterranean Sea in the early Christian times. Another “we section” of acts commences with 27:1, which is an unconscious admission that Luke participated in the experiences which he so graphically portrays.
It may have been that there were no ships at Caesarea bound directly to Rome, which would explain why Julius placed his prisoners on board a small one from Adramytrium, in Asia Minor, which was then bound for home. From Caesarea they sailed north to Sidon, where Paul was permitted to leave the ship and visit his friends. This is the only mention made of Christians in Sidon. Leaving there, they called at no port until they reached Myra in Lycia, five hundred miles from Caesarea. Egypt was the granary of the Roman Empire, and from Alexandria large ships carried the grain to Rome. From Myra in Lycia, the route usually followed by the grain ships led past the island of Rhodes and circled around the south coast of Crete, where there were many harbors of refuge in case of stormy weather. After passing Crete, the path lay along the southern coast of Greece, thence westward to the coasts of Sicily. From there it turned northward through the narrow straits separating Sicily from the mainland and onward to Puteoli, on the mouth of the Tiber river.
The time considered favorable for shipping lasted only four months of the year, from the last of May until the middle of September. But some vessels, more venturesome than others, did attempt to travel as late as the middle of November. At that time all shipping was stopped until spring.
The stormy season had arrived when the Alexandrian ship, with its cargo of wheat and two hundred and seventy-six persons aboard, left Myra for Rome. From Myra to Cnidus the ship was traveling against the wind from th3e west; as a result they made very slow progress. From there they turned southward, seeking shelter in one of the harbors on the southern coast of Crete. Rounding the northeast projection of the island, which was called Salmone, they traveled westward to Fair havens. In this harbor they received shelter from the north and the east. The ship remained there until after the fast of the Day of Atonement had passed. this came on the tenth day of the seventh month, which would be September or October. All shipping closed in the early part of November, and to leave good shelter so late in the season was extremely dangerous.
The Storm and Shipwreck. (Acts 27:9-44.)
At Fair havens there arose a discussion as to where they should pass the winter. All hope of reaching Rome that year had vanished, and the choice of a harbor until spring lay between Fair havens and Phenice, another harbor twelve miles to the west. Paul’s previous experience had convinced him that to sail even that short distance was dangerous, but the captain and the owner favored taking the chance. Judas, the centurion, as a government official, had the final say, and thinking that the captain knew more of shipping than did Paul, agreed that they should sail to Phenice.
Leaving Fair Havens under a gentle south wind, they sailed along peacefully until a terrific northeast wind caught them. So powerful was it that they had no chance but to face their ship with the wind and drive before it. Twenty miles from Crete they found comparative shelter on the south side of the island of Clauda. There they made what safeguards they could to preserve themselves and their ship. First they brought on board with difficulty the small boat which was usually lashed to the stern. Then they “undergirded” the ship, which means that they passed ropes under the boat and tied them around it to support the timbers in the strain of the storm. The wind was from the north, and they feared that they would be driven onto the sand bars of northern Africa. To prevent this, all but the storm sails were lowered. Much of the cargo was thrown overboard, and the next day, with the assistance of the passengers, the utensils and baggage were also cast over to make the ship lighter. Since the sun and stars (the mariner’s only compass) had not appeared for many days, the feeling of being lost added to the perils of the storm, and made those on board feel that hope was in vain. In the midst of that fear and dread came a reassuring word from Paul. An angel had visited him in the night and told him that the promise that he should preach in Rome would be fulfilled. The ship and cargo might be lost, but all those on board would be saved.
One night, after being driven about the sea for two weeks, the sailors detected signs of land. It may have been that they heard the waves breaking on the distant rocks. Lowering the sounding lead, they discovered they were entering shallow water, so they lowered four anchors from the stern to hold them from being driven on the rocks. before daylight came, the sailors attempted to lower the small boat and escape, covering their actions under the ptetence of lowering an anchor. But Paul detected them in the act and said to Julius that the safety of them all lay in the soldiers remaining on board. The centurion ordered the soldiers to cut the ropes, and the boat fell into the sea.
During the two weeks of stormy weather those on board had eaten but little. perhaps they had been too busy, or had lost their appetites in the face of danger. Paul realized that all of them would stand a better chance of surviving, if they strengthened themselves by eating. After giving thanks he broke bread and everyone partook of some food. Following their meal, the remainder of the cargo was thrown overboard to further lighten the ship.
When daylight came, they found themselves facing a land which was strange to them all. But seeing a small inlet and a sandy beach, “a certain creek with a shore” (Acts 27:39), they unfastened the two large steering oars at the stern, cut loose the anchors, raised the sail, and guided the ship for the shore. Even though it had been lightened by throwing over the cargo, it still rode too low in the water to clear the sand, and the prow of the ship plowed into it and stuck fast. The waves beating against the stern began to break it to pieces, and there was nothing to do but to get ashore in the best way possible. The soldiers suggested that the prisoners should be killed rather than take a chance of their escaping, but the centurion who favored Paul refused. all those on board either swam or drifted to shore on some wooden object, and when count was taken all were there. None had been drowned, and none of the prisoners had abused Julius’ humane treatment by running away.
On the Island of Melita. (Acts 28:1-10.)
The island on which they landed has been identified with the one now called Malta. It is sixty miles south of Sicily, and is approximately seventeen miles long and nine miles wide. On the north side of the island is a bay called St. Paul’s Bay. It was late in November when Paul landed there, and the weather was wet and cold. they found the native people unexpectedly kind to them. When they called the people “barbarians,” they did not mean that they were uncivilized. the Greeks called all people who spoke a language other than their own “barbarians,” regardless of their civilization.
The viper which fastened itself to Paul’s hand was very likely a small poisonous snake called “asp,” which is common in Egypt and nearby countries. The words “fastened on” (Acts 28:3), mean “thrust his fangs into.” The superstitious islanders believed that sickness and troubles came as punishment for sin, and they saw in this incident proof that Paul was a murderer suffering the vengeance of the gods. Their same superstitious belief prompted them to say, when he was not harmed, that one who was not overcome by the poisonous bite was more than human.
Publius, the Roman official on the island, extended his hospitality to Paul and Luke. the father of Publius, whom Paul is said to have healed, the Authorized version says was suffering from “fever and a bloody flux,” while the Revised version says “fever and dysentery.” (Acts 28:8) Of the other healings which followed this, Luke merely says: “Others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed.”
Rome. (Acts 28:11-15.)
In those days ships were designated by the images or paintings on the bow. These images were called the “sign.” The ship which carried Paul and his associates to Italy had the sign of “Castor and Pollus,” the twin gods so much favored by seamen. In mythology they were spoken of as the twin sons of Zeus and Leda, and were considered special protectors of sailors.
From Malta the ship sailed ninety miles to Syracuse, a Greek city on the southeast coast of Sicily. After three days in this harbor, perhaps for trade or because the winds were not favorable, they continued to Rhegium, located on the toe of Italy. Here they rested overnight and the following day started to Puteoli,t he chief port of southern Italy, located in the Bay of Naples. This was evidently the destination of the “Castor and Pollus,” and Julius took his prisoners ashore to continue the rest of the journey to Rome (129 miles) on foot. Luke’s story of Paul’s journey from Puteoli to Rome reads more like that of an honored nobleman or conqueror than that of a prisoner.
Leaving the beautiful seaport on the Bay of Naples where many wealthy Romans had their homes, Julius led his prisoners along the Appian Way, the great Roman road from southern Italy to Rome. At the Appian Forum, or market, forty miles from Rome, Paul was met by Christian brethren who had come from the city to show their love and respect for this apostle, who had written them a letter while he was in Corinth two years before. Ten miles farther along at the Three Taverns they were joined by others of the Saints who had waited there to greet him. Thus, escorted by his beloved fellow Christians, Paul came to Rome.
Questions for the Chapter Review
1. What was the first port of landing in Paul’s journey from Caesarea to Rome? Give two examples of the treatment accorded to Paul by his centurion guard. Why did Paul and his associates change ships at Myra?
2. Trace the course of the ship from Myra to Fair Havens. Why was such a route taken?
3. What port did the party attempt to reach after leaving Fair havens? Why? What was Paul’s advice concerning this voyage?
4. Tell the story of the shipwreck.
5. How long did the party remain on the island of Melita? How were they treated by the inhabitants there? What were some of the outstanding incidents which occurred on the island?
6. Trace the route which Paul and the others followed after leaving the island of Melita. What occurred on the way from Puteoli to Rome?
PAUL IN ROME
Paul’s Imprisonment. (Acts 28:16-31.)
When Paul arrived in Rome, he was not placed in prison but was fastened with a long chain to a guard, as was a custom in many cases, and permitted to live in his own hired house. Just where he received the money to support himself during his two years’ imprisonment, Luke does not say. Some students think that perhaps his father had died and left him his wealth; others have thought that he was supported by gifts from the Roman Christians and from some of the churches which he had established. Shortly after his arrival in Rome, the Saints at Philippi sent gifts to him by a messenger named Epaphroditus. this man was to remain with Paul and look after his wants. (Philippians 4:18; 2:25)
Claudius, the emperor, had banished all Jews from Rome ten years before, but at his death the edict had been forgotten, and before Paul’s imprisonment many had returned. When the Jewish leaders came to the apostle’s lodging, they said that they had received no word not letters from Judea concerning him. Their statement must have had reference to his arrest at Jerusalem and his appeal to Caesar, for it seems highly improbable that they had heard nothing whatever about him.
The initiative of calling the first meeting with the Jews was taken by Paul, but the second call came as a request from them. They wanted to hear more about the Christian sect against which so much had been said. At the second meeting Paul spoke all day, and as the unbelieving left he denounced them in very strong terms.
With the close of this second meeting, Luke gives no more details of Paul’s stay in Rome. He concludes his book by saying that the apostle lived in his own hired house for two years, teaching all who came to him with confidence; “no man forbidding him.”
Though Luke passes by these two years so lightly, Paul has left in his letters some little light upon what he was doing. In his letter to the Philippians, he mentions that his experiences had aided the growth of the church. (Phil. 1:12) His activity in preaching Jesus from his prison had stirred up the other Christians and given them more boldness in proclaiming the word. (Phil. 1:14) through the guards who watched him or by some other persons, the Gospel had been carried even into Caesar’s court. (Phil. 1:13) The lasting results of Paul’s life in Rome are the letters which he wrote during this time.
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.
The church which Paul established in Philippi always remembered him with kindness. Before his imprisonment they had sent him gifts, and shortly after his arrival in Rome they sent him presents by Epaphroditus, who helped Paul in every way possible. But Rome was not a healthy city, and the servant from Macedonia took sick and had to be sent home. he was reluctant about returning. It looked as if he had failed in his mission. But Paul wrote a kindly letter for him to carry home, explaining why he was returning and acknowledging the help the Philippians had rendered to Paul himself. There is the possibility that in the present book of Philippians we have two letters. The one (Phil. 1:1-3:1), which Epaphroditus carried with him, urges them to harmony and unselfishness; while the other (Phil. 3:2-4:23) is a letter warning them against those who would compel them to follow the Mosaic law.
The letter shows the friendly relations existing between Paul and the Philippians. From the beginning of their acquaintance, they had been as partners in the great missionary work. Often during his travels they had sent him money and whenever his work had been interrupted, they had not stopped their contributions but had increased them. During all his difficulties, both within and without the Church, they had never misunderstood. Philippi was one branch of the Church which had really appreciated Paul.
The Saints at Philippi were anxious to know of his safety. but all he could say was that no matter what happened, whether he lived or died, he was serene and without worry. he was sending Timothy to see how they were and hoped to visit them soon himself; he had not lost his faith in once more gaining his freedom. Along with these references to himself, the letter contains much practical instruction. (Phil. 4)
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely * * * think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)
Paul’s Letter to Philemon.
Among Paul’s converts was a young man named Onesimus, a runaway slave. His master, Philemon, was a Christian who lived in the city of Colossae, or the nearby city of Laodicea. After the slave’s desertion he had gone to Rome and there, through Paul’s influence, had become a Christian. The apostle persuaded the young slave to return to his master, but he was fearful of punishment for running away. So Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, which Onesimus carried with him when he returned. In the letter Paul asked PHilemon not to receive Onesimus as a runaway slave, but as a Christian brother – Paul promising to make good anything which the slave had stolen.
To many it seems strange that Paul should ask a slave to return to his owner. It appears that this act put his stamp of approval on the institution of slavery. However, the apostle Paul was looking for the immediate return of Jesus and the beginning of a new order. It may have been Paul’s conclusion that this expected change was so close that it mattered little whether a man was free or a slave. Although Paul did not oppose the ownership of slaves, he stood against cruel or unjust treatment of those who were in bondage.
This, the shortest of all Paul’s letters, is the only one of a purely personal nature. When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he asked them to read the letter which he had written to the church in Laodicea. (Col. 4:16) All traces of a letter to the Christians in Laodicea have been lost, but there are bible students who believe that Philemon lived in Laodicea, and that Paul’s reference in Col. 4:16 is to that letter which he had written to the master of the runaway slave.
Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.
When Paul sent his letter to Philemon, he also sent one to the church in Colossae, a city one hundred fifty miles east of Ephesus. While Paul was in Rome there came to hie one Epapharus, a leader in the Church of Colossae and the nearby cities, perhaps the founder of the Christian work int hat vicinity. He brought word of a strange heresy which was creeping into the churches of his country.
Some of the Christians had come to believe that they could receive a deeper religious experience by worshiping certain angelic beings. The worship of Jesus was accepted, but it was only a stepping stone to a communion with mystical angelic creatures. The followers of this belief scrupulously abstained from certain forms of meat and drink and observed the Jewish holy days. The observance of these ascetic rules, together with their practice of praying to the angels, not presuming to approach the Most High God, gave them a false spirit of humility which was in reality a spirit of self-righteous snobbery.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul told them that not in the worship of angelic beings but in the worship of Jesus was to be found the way to ideal spiritual growth. The Christ stands preeminent in the Church, and in him are all the spiritual joy and growth which some of them foolishly claimed to have received in their vague mystical speculations. Rather than observe these useless rules, they were to live true and righteous lives, having the peace of God in their hearts. All were to serve in their own way, but all was to be done in the name of Jesus.
The letter was to be carried by Tichicus, and Paul introduces him with words of praise, and informs them that he will tell them of the state of his imprisonment and the progress made in his case. An interesting group of friends with Paul at that time sent their greetings to the Saints at Colossae. Among them were Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Epaphras, Demas, and Luke, “the beloved physician.” Following their greetings comes an earnest appeal to some one named Archippus to be diligent in his ministry; also instructions that Colossae and the nearby city of Laodicea exchange their letters, that each might hear all that he wrote to the two.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
Originally this letter was not addressed specifically to the Ephesians. it was an encyclical letter, intended for many churches, including the Ephesians. In the best manuscripts the title does not appear. The personal greetings so common in Paul’s letters are totally absent, which would be natural if the letter was intended not for one church but for many.
There is much discussion concerning its authorship. Westcott and Hort in their Greek text ascribe the letter to Paul; also all the early Christian writers, such as clement of Rome and Origen. Some scholars, however, maintain that Paul could not have been the author, but that the epistle was written long after Paul’s death, to answer a particular situation at that time, and to introduce the Pauline Collection, which was then being collected for publication. Dr. Goodspeed and others of the University of Chicago follow this contention. (See Goodspeed’s “The Story of the New Testament,” pp. 45-47.)
It is impossible here to go into the argument in detail. Whether or not the letter was written by Paul, it is in agreement with his known letters, and it cannot be denied that it masterfully sets forth the gospel as preached by Paul. (Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1) Further, it answers the specific problems which met the Ephesian Saints after the final departure of Paul from them, and so may be studied properly in connection with Paul’s work at Ephesus.
It will be remembered that Paul used Ephesus as headquarters for an extensive missionary activity throughout Asia Minor, and it is generally thought that the so-called “Seven Churches of Asia’ were established at that time. With his wide-spread activity, Paul saw the dangers of division and jealousy arising over varied interpretations, local prejudices, and the lack of effective leadership. The entire epistle to the Ephesians breathes one central thought, “a unity of the faith.” There is no doubt but that the author sought to eliminate differences of opinion by simplifying the gospel to those beliefs and practices essential toe very Christian.
The author likens the Church to a body, with Christ as its head. The Church was full of imperfections, but would grow to perfection if all would work toward that end. (4:13) The gospel was for all mankind, and not for any favored race. (3:1-19)
to bring about a unity of the church, the author aims at individual and family reform. The true Christian must (1) be truthful, (2) control his temper, (3) labor honestly and generously, 94) avoid bitterness toward others and the use of foul language, (5) have loving kindness toward family and neighbors, (6) develop a feeling of horror for impurity either in thought or actions. (4:3-5:21)
In addition to the duties of individuals, the author adds some essentials of happy family life. to him the family was the real unit of society, and hence of the Church. The unity within the family should be symbolic of the whole family of Christ’s Church. In the author’s mind this unity of the family centered about the husband, as the logical head. The picture of the life of husband and wife is ideal. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (5:25) “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” (5:31) It is a full acceptance of the duties and responsibilities of marriage as taught by Christ. (See Mark 10:2-12( He exhorts children to love and obey their parents, and parents not to provoke their children. (6:1-4) There is an especial admonition to the servant and the slave to not let the new freedom of the soul lead them to seek to free the body from bondage by any acts of violence. The author was aware that if the Gospel should produce such effects, its growth would be hampered by new persecutions.
The epistle teems with fitting device for all peoples in all ages.
The Trial and Death of Paul.
The abrupt ending of acts is one of the riddles of the New Testament. Some scholars have suggested that perhaps Luke lost his life before Paul, and therefore could not have written of his last days. however, this does not agree with the generally accepted date of Luke’s writings, which places them later than any of Paul’s letters. It has been suggested also that the writing of Acts occurred so closely after the death of Paul, that the details were such common knowledge Luke considered it unnecessary to include it in his account of Paul’s life. But the most plausible explanation seems to lie in Luke’s plan in writing his book. He was not interested in telling of how the Christian leaders died, but int racing the spread of Christianity. Beginning in Jerusalem, he told of its spread to Jews of Palestine, from them to the Gentiles of Asia. After that came the introduction of the Gospel into Macedonia and Greece. the last great step in making Christianity a world-wide movement was taken when Paul reached Rome, the world capital. His plan completed, Luke could see no reason for telling any more.
The only definite information which is known of Paul’s life after Luke closes his narrative comes from his letters and the work of early Christian fathers. Tertullian, who lived in the second century, said: “Paul has for his crown the same death with John (the Baptist).” The Christian Father Origen of the third century said definitely that Paul “suffered martyrdom in Rome under Nero.” Nero was emperor from 54 to 68 A.D., and Paul’s death may have occurred any time between 60 and 68 A.D.
Some scholars have been convinced by their studies that Paul was released from his imprisonment in Rome and traveled extensively before his death. These scholars see in the letters to Timothy and Titus evidence that he once more visited his old friends in Asia Minor, perhaps paying a visit to Colossae. They also claim to have found evidence that he actually lived to accomplish his cherished desire of preaching in Spain, and there are those who hold that he traveled as far as Britain, where he founded the first Christian church in the British Isles. However, these are all shadowy conjectures which may have no basis in truth.
So closes our record of the life of one who had already suffered greatly for his religion, and who could say: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (II Cor. 11;23-27). And as the end drew near he said: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (II Tim. 4:6-7.)
Suggestive Problems for Discussion in Class:
1. Describe the nature of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. How does Acts tell us he was imprisoned there? What other sources than Acts do we have of Paul’s life in Rome?
2. What was the result of Paul’s preaching to the Jews in Rome?
3. What were the great contributions of Paul to Christianity while at Rome?
4. How did Paul come to write a letter to the Saints in Philippi? What are some of the instructions contained in this epistle?
5. Who was Philemon? Why did Paul write to him? Give the principal thought contained in the letter.
6. Locate Colossae on the map. Why did Paul write to this branch of the Church? Who were some of the friends in Rome with Paul at that time, whoa re mentioned in this letter?
7. What is the nature of the letter to the Ephesians? Why was it written?
8. Give some of the practical teachings contained in the letter to the Ephesians.
9. What are the theories concerning the last years of Paul’s life? Of his death?
10. Estimate the position of Paul in church history: (a) as a missionary; (b) as a writer; (c) as a speaker; (d) as a Christian.
11. What, in the life of Paul, appeals to you?