Paul arrives in Rome – in chains

An open bible sitting on a rock.
 on June 1, 2016

After his third missionary journey around the Aegean Sea, Paul returned to Jerusalem to report to James and the other leaders and to present the collected offerings from the mission churches to help the mother church.

Paul continued to face the accusation that he counselled Christian Jews away from the laws of Judaism. This was not true, but widely believed. (Gentile converts did not have to follow all of the laws of Judaism, but Christian Jews were expected to.) James suggested that Paul attend a Jewish purification rite to help dispel this accusation.

Paul, with some others, went through the purification rite. As he entered the temple to offer his sacrifice, he was recognized by some visitors to the temple and they stirred up the crowd against him. They accused him of teaching against the Law, the temple and the Jews, and they attempted to put him to death. He was rescued by Roman soldiers.

In Acts 22, Paul addressed the crowd in their native Aramaic. He gave them his credentials. He was born a Jew, he said, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, the greatest Jewish rabbi of the first century. He had persecuted the Christians until, on the Damascus Road, he met the risen Christ. He related to the crowd all the details of his conversion. He told them of his need to leave Jerusalem and take the Gospel message to the Gentiles. This had been his mission and role in life for the past few years. Finally, he appealed to being a Roman citizen, and the soldiers agreed to bring him before the Jewish Sanhedrin.

At the Sanhedrin, he again defended himself by starting a debate between the two ruling bodies, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the body. This debate became so heated that once again the Romans had to rescue Paul. Later that evening, he had a vision, telling him that he would indeed preach the Gospel in Rome.

The soldiers moved Paul to Caesarea, the local centre of Roman authority. Felix was the governor but not a very good ruler. Kept in protective custody, Paul continued to proclaim the Christian faith to Felix and his wife for the next two years. In 59-60 CE, Felix was recalled to Rome, probably for his misrule. Not wanting to further alienate the Jews, he left Paul in prison. Felix’s successor was Festus.

Festus, wanting Roman justice to prevail, brought a delegation from Jerusalem to try Paul once again. They did not succeed in their accusations, and Paul eventually appealed his case to Rome. He knew that in Jerusalem he would probably be sentenced to death, whereas in Rome he would undoubtedly win his case, which would give the Christians some standing as a religious organization. (At this time in history, Christians were seen as a sect of Judaism.)

Thus Paul was to receive his long-time wish, to preach in Rome, albeit in chains. In Acts 27, he and a few friends and his soldier guards set off for Rome. It was quite an adventure, with storms and shipwreck. They were stranded for a time on the island of Malta. Here they considered Paul a god, as he was bitten by a viper and did not die. He also healed the father of the chief of the island and many others who came to him for laying-on-of-hands and prayer.

After three months on Malta, another ship arrived and took them the rest of the way to Rome. Here Paul appeared to be under house arrest. He had a certain amount of freedom, and the Christians in Rome came freely to visit him in prison. Paul was in prison in Rome for about two years, and Luke ends his account of Acts at this point. This was about 61 CE, and Paul wasn’t martyred until 67-68 CE. What happened in the intervening years? The epistles suggest that he revisited some of the churches in Asia and Europe. He possibly went to the island of Crete. Legend suggests that he went as far as Spain. Clement of Rome, writing in about 100 CE, seemed to confirm this. A lot could have happened to Paul in that six-year period.

During his house arrest in Rome, Paul probably wrote the epistles to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon and possibly 1 Timothy. We will discuss Paul’s possible visit to Spain and the authorship of the pastoral epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, in our next column.


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