Friday, June 10, 2011


In the fall of 59 or 60 AD, Luke and Aristarchus accompanied Paul, with 273 other passengers (Acts 27:37), onto a grain-ship bound for Rome. The passenger count included many prisoners escorted by a Roman Centurion named Julius (Acts 27:1-2). Luke’s masterpiece is compared with Homer’s Odyssey, Jonah’s Mediterranean Voyage, and is even called in secular circles “one of the most instructive documents for the knowledge of ancient seamanship.” Bruce says, “Paul’s genius for friendship manifested itself at an early stage in the voyage. He so won the confidence of the centurion that, by the time the ship on which they had embarked at Caesarea put in at Sidon, he was allowed to go ashore on parole and visit his friends.”

After stopping in several cities along the way, the ship came in “early October” (59-60 AD) to Fair Havens, on the Isle of Crete (Acts 27:7). Although Paul warned Julius not to sail the Mediterranean during a dangerous time of the year (September 14 through November 11), the Centurion disregarded his advice and tried to reach a farther port in which to spend the winter (Acts 27:9-12). A brief moment of friendly weather gave way to a fierce storm, which drove them out to sea where they expected to die. For 14 nights they were lost at sea and driven nearly mad, but, as Paul prophesied to the passengers, they would be safe after wrecking their ship off the coast of Malta (Acts 27:14 - 28:1). They wintered for three months on Malta, where Paul was a blessing to everyone. He survived a snakebite and healed many people. The following spring (60-61 AD), everyone made it safely to the Bay of Naples, and to the Italian port city of Puteoli (Acts 28:13; modern day Pozzuoli), where Paul and companions stayed for a week with local Christians. Then they walked the rest of the way to Rome. Christians came from Rome to greet and walk with Paul along the Appian Way (Via Appia) for some 30-40 miles outside the city. And so they came to Rome (Acts 28:14).

Julius delivered Paul to the captain of the guard, or some sort of camp commander, in Rome (Acts 28:16), and he was allowed to live at his own expense, by himself, though constantly guarded by a soldier (house arrest). For two years Paul lived in Rome (60-62, or 61-63 AD), and he was able to receive visitors and continue his preaching of the Gospel (Acts 28:23-31). It appears that some Roman Jews came to speak with Paul, unaware of who he was. They considered Christianity a sect and had heard discrediting remarks about the Way (Acts 28:22). They remained unconvinced after hearing Paul, and so he spoke against them the words of Isaiah 6:10, which had become a widespread rebuke of Jews from Christian interpretation of the passage. Paul said finally to them, “Take knowledge, then, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen to it” (Acts 28:28).

Many scholars think that Paul wrote Hebrews (addressed to the Jewish Christians in Rome?), Ephesians (maybe?), Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon from Rome around 62 AD. And of course, Paul wrote 1 Timothy and Titus toward the end of his stay in Rome (62-63 AD). Meanwhile, Luke may have also finished up his book of Acts during the Roman house arrest timeframe. It is noteworthy that Paul, in these later letters, speaks favorably of Mark, who is linked to Peter and Rome. Papias, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, and Irenaeus all write in the early second century that Mark was Peter’s interpreter. According to Bruce, since the time Paul refused to take him on the second mission trip, Mark “no doubt had matured under the wise and sympathetic guidance of Barnabas and then as aide-de-camp of Peter.” Also, Paul had certainly mellowed in these 12-15 years.

Regarding Philemon, many wonder how and why it made its way into the canon of Scripture. Some speculation is required, but much evidence points to Onesimus himself as a compiler of Pauline writings. In 110 AD, Ignatius, the bishop of Syrian Antioch, wrote to Ephesus, where the bishop’s name was Onesimus. And the letter mimics Paul’s style in Philemon. If Onesimus was 20 years old when he met Paul in Rome, he would have been 70 years old in 110 AD, not a far-fetched age to be a presiding bishop. Some even say that Onesimus had a hand in writing Ephesians. But that’s another story.

Not much has been said about Colossians, primarily because Paul had not been there in person. Colossae was Philemon’s hometown and had been a large and prosperous city in the 400s BC that dwindled to a small town by 50 AD. Today, Colossae is deserted; modern day Honaz is a small town three miles away. Epaphras, a valued colleague of Paul, likely founded the Colossian Church, where some pre-gnostic false teaching erupted as Judaism mixed with non-Jewish philosophy. Some scholars trace this teaching to the Essenes (intellectual exclusiveness, speculative tenets, and asceticism), especially since many specifics mentioned in Colossians are also found in the Qumran texts. Some call it “Jewish non-conformity,” but Paul fights the human traditions by repeatedly and in every way pointing to Christ.

When we come to the letter to the Ephesians, we find his heaviest emphasis on the Holy Spirit. The very presence of the Holy Spirit is evidence of the last days (Joel 2:28). The Spirit confirms that Jesus is the promised Messiah, just as the prophets, including John the Baptist, foretold. The Spirit Himself is the promise, the seal, the deposit, and the guarantee that the resurrection life and glory are by faith in Jesus (Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). But the Spirit is not only an individual’s experience, for He unifies all believers as the Body of Christ. Jesus broke down barriers (Ephesians 2:14) and enabled Gentiles to join with Jews (Ephesians 3:1; Acts 21:27). Paul was charged with bringing a Gentile into the holy place, and there’s no indication that he did. But to Paul, the barrier was gone; there was no reason a Gentile couldn’t go right into the Holy of Holies. Jesus paved the way, and Hebrews and Ephesians are similar in their emphasis of this important truth.

Paul undoubtedly had deep concern for Christian unity, and he brings in language to speak of this unity – light and darkness (Ephesians 5:7-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Colossians 1:12). Of course, this language is replete in John’s writings (John 3:19; 12:35; 1 John 1:7; 2:8) and even in the Essenes’ Qumran texts. It’s a call to – by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit – leave the dark, the old way of sin, and enter the light, the new way of life. “One of the most interesting points of affinity,” says Bruce, “between Ephesians and the Qumran texts lies in the idea of the ‘mysteries’ of God.” Paul speaks often of “mysteries,” things once hidden but now revealed (1 Corinthians 2:6,9; 4:1; Romans 1:2; 15:9-12; 16:25; Colossians 1:26; 2:2; Ephesians 1:9; 2:16; 3:8-11; Isaiah 64:4). For example, when Paul says, “It is written,” in 1 Corinthians 2:9 and proceeds to quote a saying, there is some resemblance to Isaiah 64:4, but early church fathers (Origen, Jerome, etc.) say “the words appear in the Secrets (or Apocalypse) of Elijah… They are frequently quoted in the early centuries AD, especially by Gnostic writers, because they lent themselves readily to Gnostic interpretation.” The words are even ascribed to Jesus in the apocryphal Acts of Peter and Gospel of Thomas. Paul may have quoted the words from a Jewish text, the Coptic Testament of Jacob.

So we come to the end of Paul’s life, which came in Rome by beheading. Some scholars suggest he died on the heels of these two years under Roman house arrest. There is no certainty that his trial ever came before Caesar, though, and many credit court congestion or think the Sanhedrin never showed up to prosecute. Records of the Roman judicial system don’t reveal a specific statute of limitations, but they do show that prosecutors were given 18 months from an assigned court date to appear for the trial or face a stiff fine. If prosecutors still didn’t show up within 2 years, there’s no evidence that Rome would simply release a prisoner. Neither Luke nor Paul tell us specifically what happened, but we can speculate from Paul’s pastoral epistles, namely 2 Timothy, that he was released for a time – perhaps visiting Crete and/or Nicopolis (Titus 1:5; 3:12) and even Spain (Romans 15:28) – and then re-imprisoned in a harsher condition, until he was executed.

A fire broke out in Rome on July 18-19, 64 AD. Nero was away but returned to provide relief. Rumors spread that he had set the fire so he could rebuild the way he wanted, but to avoid this stereotype, according to Tacitus, Nero blamed the Christians. One author said, “Christians were generally disliked for what their neighbors regarded as anti-social attitudes.” Christians, then, under Nero in 64-65 AD, were sportingly executed until public pity kept Nero from continuing this strategy. But what happened to Paul? Was he dead by this time? Had he left Rome only to be brought back in the midst of this persecution? Clement of Rome, writing in vague language to the Corinthians in the mid-to-late 90s AD, some 30 years after his death, said that Paul was exiled, but also that he reached the limit of the west, bore testimony before the rulers, and so departed as “the greatest example of endurance.” In 2 Timothy 1:16-18, Paul was obvious struggling in his prison environment. Onesiphorus, an Ephesian Christian, labored to find him in Rome. Paul’s final words appear in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.”

Well after his death, Paul’s legacy lives on. The apocryphal Acts of Peter, likely composed around 180 AD, describes Paul’s departure from Italy by sea for Spain. The Roman Presbyter Gaius, quoted by Eusebius, in response to a claim that one could visit the tombs of Philip the evangelist and his daughters in Asia, said, “I can point out the trophies (tombstones) of the apostles (Peter and Paul, who are traditionally recognized as the founders of the Roman Church, though neither actually did): [on] the Vatican Hill (Peter) [and] the Ostian Way (Paul).” There are churches at those sites today. A memorial chapel was built on the Ostian Way at Aquae Salviae (now called Tre Fontane), near the third milestone, where, tradition asserts, Paul was beheaded. They say his head bounced three times, forming the three fountains after which the place is named. Excavations of the site revealed two concrete slabs which had engraved on them, “To Paul, Apostle and Martyr.” Though the writing dates only back to the fourth century, the location is in what was a pagan necropolis, not a place pious people would have chosen to commemorate such a legacy if they were inventing the tale.

In time, Peter’s value to Rome was more and more greatly appreciated, while “Paul’s contribution to early Christianity was in practice increasingly overlooked. To be sure,” Bruce says, “Paul with the sword of the spirit stands in the forecourt of St. Peter’s Basilica, alongside Peter with the keys of the Kingdom, just as Peter faces Paul in front of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls – more congenial associates in death, perhaps, than they were in life. But there may be a symbolical fitness, it has sometimes been said, in the location of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Paul might have understood and approved; he was well accustomed to being odd man out.” Paul’s pride and joy was found in his converts. People mattered most to Paul, and that may have been the case because Paul mattered most to Jesus. Jesus humbled Paul, not by removing his pride, but by changing the things he would boast in. Taming his impetuousness, Jesus made Paul meek. And it didn’t happen by rules or regulations, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

2 Timothy 1:15 shows that people in Asia turned away from Paul; this happened as Paul spent time in prison, and no one was there to adequately take his place. John and Philip made their way into Asia and stabilized things by the mid-to-late 60’s AD. The Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 AD put an end to Jerusalem’s authority, at least until 135 AD, and Paul’s legacy was rightly restored. Early in the second century AD, an unknown Christian (either Onesimus or someone from Alexandria) compiled ten of Paul’s letters into one volume and circulated them throughout the known world, resulting in both orthodox and heterodox authors using Paul’s letters to make their points. Marcion, for a heterodox example, said in 144 AD that Paul’s ten letters and Luke’s gospel made up the New Testament. In response, orthodox church fathers named thirteen letters of Paul, four gospel accounts, Acts, Peter’s letters, James, and John’s letters as authoritative. Even Hebrews was included – as Paul’s – by 180 AD. Around 150 AD, an Asian presbyter recorded, out of love for Paul, a fictional account of his ministry – the Acts of Paul. Some believed it to be true, even the part where Paul was put in the arena to be killed by a lion, but he befriended and baptized the lion instead. Paul’s legend was often embellished, but his message never changed, which proves his abiding greatness. Augustine, Luther and the Reformers, the Wesleys in the Great Awakening, and even American democracy relied heavily on Paul’s teaching that grace changes people; grace without change (antinomianism) and attempts to change without grace (legalism) always fail.

Bruce concludes, “Although he was rabbinically trained, his reappraisal of the whole spirit and content of his earlier training was so radical that many Jewish scholars have had difficulty in recognizing him as the product of a rabbinical education. They have found it easier to appreciate the Prophet of Nazareth (who, indeed, was not rabbinically trained) than the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul presents an enigma with which they cannot readily come to terms… Paul looked forward to the day when the racial, religious, sexual, and social prejudices or discrimination to which on principle he denied any place in the Christian fellowship would be banished from the whole new creation. And he placed a higher valuation on human personality than social or political democracy could ever do when he insisted that the weaker members of the community should received special consideration because each of them, however insignificant in other respects, was ‘the brother (or sister) for whom Christ died’ (1 Corinthians 8:11). Campaigner for spiritual liberty that he was, he gave one thing precedence even over liberty, and that one thing was love. But spiritual liberty is not really diminished by love; both together are imparted by the Spirit, and to serve in love is perfect freedom. In this, as in so many other respects, Paul has remained unsurpassed in his insight into the mind of Christ.”

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