A Brief Bible History/Section 2/Lesson 22


The First Imprisonment of Paul

After the three months which Paul spent at Corinth on the third missionary journey, he went up to Jerusalem in order to help bear the gifts which he had collected in the Gentile churches for the poor of the Jerusalem church. He was accompanied by a number of helpers, among them Luke, the writer of the Third Gospel and the book of The Acts. Luke had remained behind at Philippi on the second missionary journey, and now, several years later, he joined the apostle again. The portions of the journey where Luke was actually present are narrated in The Acts in great detail and with remarkable vividness.

When Paul came to Miletus on the coast of Asia Minor, he sent to Ephesus for the elders of the Ephesian church, and when they came he held a notable farewell discourse. There was a touching scene when he finally parted from those who loved him so well.

Acts 21:15 to 28:31

Despite prophecies of the imprisonment that awaited him Paul went bravely on to Jerusalem. There he was warmly received by James the brother of the Lord and by the church. Acts 21:15–26. But the non-Christian Jews falsely accused him of bringing Gentiles with him into the Temple. Vs. 27–40. There was an onslaught against him, and he was rescued by the Roman chief captain, who took him into the Castle of Antonia which the Romans used to guard the Temple area. On the steps of the castle he was allowed to address the people, ch. 22:1–22, who listened to him at first because he used the Aramaic language instead of Greek, but broke out against him again when he spoke of his mission to the Gentiles.

An appeal to his Roman citizenship saved Paul from scourging, Acts 22:23–29; and a hearing the next day before the sanhedrin, ch. 22:30 to 23:10, brought only a quarrel between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. That night Paul had a comforting vision of Christ. V. 11.

A plot of the Jews to waylay Paul and kill him was frustrated by Paul's sister's son, who told the chief captain. The chief captain sent the prisoner with an escort down to Cæsarea where the procurator Felix had his residence. Acts 23:12–35. Hearings before Felix brought no decisive result, ch. 24, and Paul was left in prison at Cæsarea for two years until Festus arrived as successor of Felix. Then, in order to prevent being taken to Jerusalem for trial, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen by appealing to the court of the emperor. Ch. 25:1–12. Accordingly, after a hearing before Herod Agrippa II, who had been made king of a realm northeast of Palestine by the Romans, v. 13; ch. 26:32, Paul was sent as a prisoner to Rome, chs. 27:1 to 28:16.

On the journey he was accompanied by Luke, who has given a detailed account of the voyage—an account which is not only perhaps the chief source of information about the seafaring of antiquity, but also affords a wonderful picture of the way Paul acted in a time of peril. The ship was wrecked on the island of Malta, and it was not until the following spring that the prisoner was brought to Rome. There he remained in prison for two years, chained to a soldier guard, but permitted to dwell in his own hired house and to receive visits from his friends. Acts 28:16–31.

During this first Roman imprisonment Paul wrote four of his Epistles—to the Colossians and to Philemon, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians. Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians were all written at the same time. Colossians and Ephesians were both sent by the same messenger, Tychicus, and this messenger was accompanied by Onesimus, who bore the Epistle to Philemon.

The Epistle to Philemon

Onesimus was a slave who had run away from Philemon, his master. He had then been converted by Paul, and Paul was now sending him back to his master. The little letter which the apostle wrote on this occasion gives a wonderful picture of the way in which ordinary social relationships like that of master and servant may be made the means of expression for Christian love. Very beautiful also was the relation between Philemon and the apostle through whom he had been converted.

The Epistle to the Colossians

The church at Colossæ, to which the Epistle to the Colossians is addressed, had been founded not by Paul but by one of his helpers, Epaphras. A certain type of false teaching had been brought into the church by those who laid stress upon angels in a way that was harmful to the exclusive position of Christ. In reply, Paul sets forth in the Epistle the majesty of Jesus, who existed from all eternity and was the instrument of God the Father in the creation of the world. This was no new teaching; it is always presupposed in the earlier Epistles of Paul, and about it there was no debate. But in the Epistle to the Colossians, in view of the error that was creeping in through false speculation, Paul took occasion to set forth fully what in the former letters he had presupposed.

The Epistle to the Ephesians

The Epistle to the Ephesians is probably a circular letter addressed to a group of churches of which Ephesus was the center. In this letter the personal element is less prominent than in the other Pauline Epistles; Paul allows his mind to roam freely over the grand reaches of the divine economy. The Church is here especially in view. She is represented as the bride of Christ, and as the culmination of an eternal and gracious plan of God.

The Epistle to the Philippians

The Epistle to the Philippians was probably written later than the other Epistles of the first captivity. The immediate occasion for the writing of the letter was the arrival of a gift from the Philippian church, on account of which Paul desires to express his joy. Paul had always stood in a peculiarly cordial relation to his Philippian converts; he had been willing, therefore, to receive gifts from them, although in other churches he had preferred to make himself independent by laboring at his trade. But the letter is not concerned only or even chiefly with the gifts of the Philippian church. Paul desired also to inform his Philippian brethren about the situation at Rome. His trial is approaching; whether it results in his death or in his release, he is content. But as a matter of fact he expects to see the Philippians again.

Moreover, Paul holds up in the letter the example of Christ, which was manifested in the great act of loving condescension by which he came into the world and endured for our sakes the accursed death on the cross. That humiliation of Christ, Paul says, was followed by exaltation; God has now given to Jesus the name that is above every name.

At the conclusion of the two years in prison in Rome, Paul was released, probably in a.d. 63. This fact is attested not by the book of The Acts, of which the narrative closes at the end of the two years at Rome, but by the Pastoral Epistles of Paul and also by an Epistle of Clement of Rome which was written at about a.d. 95. Clement says that Paul went to Spain. This he probably did immediately after his release. He then went to the East again, for it was in the East that I Timothy and Titus were written.


  1. Outline the events in the life of Paul which occurred between the departure from Corinth and the end of the first Roman imprisonment.
  2. What was the occasion for the writing of Colossians? of Philemon? of Ephesians? of Philippians?
  3. Give outlines of these Epistles.