Philippians – Which Imprisonment?

The four letters in which Paul appears to be writing from prison are traditionally assigned to the Roman imprisonment in A. D. 60-62, referred to at the end of the book of Acts.  According to Acts Paul was under house arrest for about 2 years and had considerable freedom while awaiting trial. During this time, according to the traditional view, Paul wrote Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

However, there are at least two other possibilities for imprisonments during which Paul could have written these short letters.  There is no reason to take all four of the prison letters as a unit.  For example, it is possible that Philippians was written from Ephesus, while the other three prison letters came from Rome (this is Polhill’s position, for example.)   I will summarize the evidence for each of the imprisonments, there is more to be said than this, but this is enough to orient our thinking for now.

Rome, A.D. 60-62

  • The traditional view assigns the captivity Epistles to Rome.  We know from Acts that Paul was in fact placed under house arrest in Rome for two years (Acts 28:30).
  • “House arrest” means that he was free to proclaim the gospel (Acts 28:16, 17, 23, 31; Eph 6:18-20; Phil 1:12-18; Col 4:2-4).
  • Paul mentions the “palace guard” and the “emperor’s household” in Phil 1:13 and 4:22, implying he is in Rome.
  • Phil 1:19-26; 2:17, 23 imply that he is under the threat of death, which could very well be the outcome in Acts 28.
  • Paul greets Aristarchus in Col 4:10, in Acts 27:2 he accompanied Paul on the journey to Rome.
  • Col 4:14 states that Luke is with Paul, favoring a Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:14, 16).

Ephesus, A.D. 52-55

  • There is no mention in Acts of any imprisonment in Ephesus, though in 2 Cor 6:5 and 11:23 Paul does say that he has often been in prison. Acts records no imprisonment until Philippi (Acts 16:19-40). Where were the others?  One possibility is that these occur before Acts 13, another is that there was an imprisonment in Ephesus which is not recorded in Acts. As Moises Silva says, no one disputes the possibility that Paul was imprisoned during his three years at Ephesus, but that he wrote the letter of philippians from there is another matter (Silva, Philippians (BECNT, Second Edition; 2005, pg. 7)
  • In 1 Cor 15:32 the apostle speaks about fighting wild beasts at Ephesus. That may be a proverb or merely a metaphor. But if taken literally, it could mean that Paul was actually thrown to the lions in the arena.
  • In 2 Cor 1:8-10 Paul alludes to some serious trouble that overtook him in the province of Asia, and in Romans 16:3, 4 he tells us that Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives to save him. We know that the pair were with Paul in Ephesus, and this opens up the possibility that it was here that they protected him.
  • Ephesus is a natural location to send letters to the cities in the Lycus Valley.
  • Ephesus has a large Christian community which would assist Paul writing the letters (Col 4:10, 11).
  • Paul asked Philemon to have a guest room ready for him in Colossae (Philem 22) when he was released implying that he was nearby.
  • Onesimus is more likely to have fled to Ephesus than Rome.

Caesarea, A. D. 58-60

  • While this appears to be the weakest possibility, Paul was in prison in Caesarea under “open arrest” for more than two years.  Like Rome, he likely had enough freedom to produce short letters.
  • He was under house arrest in Herod’s palace (Acts 24:23) and his friends were allowed free access to him.
  • The best arguments for Caesarea require Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon to be written and delivered at the same time.  The runaway slave Onesimus escaped from Colossae to Caesarea (some five hundred miles, rather than to Rome), Paul sent him back to Philemon with that letter along with Tychicus, the bearer of Ephesians and Colossians. If Ephesians was written from Caesarea, Tychicus and Onesimus would have brought the letters of Colossians and Philemon to Colossae first, then he would move on alone to Ephesus.
  • With respect to Philippians, the distance from Caesarea to Philippi is less than to Rome, but not particularly conducive to several trips implied by the letter.

By way of conclusion, a location of Ephesus for Philippians is attractive, although the fact that there is no clear reference to imprisonment in Acts or the other letters  makes this a tentative suggestion at best.   There are are some exegetical reasons for accepting Ephesus as the geographical and chronological origin of the letter to Philippi.  For example, Philippians 3 seems to be an attack on a group of Judaizers, with interests not unlike Galatians.  An earlier date for Philippians helps to explain how the Judaizers can still be active after Acts 15.   What other elements of the letter to the Philippians would be effected by an earlier or later date?

I will come back to these possibilities for Ephesians and Colossians in the next few weeks.

Galatians 1:18-24 – Paul and Jerusalem

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]

The word “next” in verse 18 indicates that Paul is setting up a time frame for these events.  He does not want the accusation that he is leaving out events.  The visit Paul makes here is to Jerusalem, for a short time, and is by no means a “formal” conference.  This is undoubtedly the event recorded in Acts 9:26-30.

It is stated that he meets with Peter alone, except for James, the brother of Jesus. This is first an indication of Peter’s  leadership of the Jerusalem church at this point.  By Acts 15 he is in less of a position of leadership and James is “more in charge.”  The reference to James may be because it is unclear whether he is an Apostle or not.  Is everyone who saw Jesus resurrected an apostle, or only those with a special commission?

What did they do in this meeting?  The Greek here is clear.  Paul states that he went to Jerusalem to “interview” Peter.  In Hellenistic Greek this is “to make someone’s acquaintance.” He wanted to meet Peter, let him know what was going on, exchange information, but not be instructed or approved in any way!  It is extremely likely that Peter shared with Paul his experience of meeting the resurrected Jesus, and Paul did the same.  It might be during this time that Paul learned of the events he describes in I Cor. 15:3-5 concerning those who had seen Jesus.

Fifteen days would have been plenty of time for Peter to tell him all that he knew of Jesus and his earthly ministry, something that Paul would not have been as familiar with, and that he would have had no other way of learning.  This is a first hand interview by Paul to get the facts of Jesus earthly ministry.  It is clear from this statement that Paul’s first contact with Jerusalem was minimal, with a limited number of the leadership, and was in no way a confirmation of his call or an instructional time.

After his brief visit with Peter, he sets of for Syria and Cilicia.  The word  region here sometimes is “latitudes,” as in a geographic region.  But since this is not a technical document it likely refers to the Roman province of Syria and Cilicia.  This is parallel to Acts 9:30, and 11:25f.  We are told Paul boarded a ship for Tarsus, and later he and Barnabas went to Antioch.  This period was likely similar to his time in Nabatean Arabia, a period of preaching the Gospel.

Paul includes an unusual line in this section: “with God as my witness, I am not lying.”  This a courtroom oath.  Paul is more or less setting himself in a courtroom scene and swearing a legally binding oath that he is telling the truth.

The point of all of this is to prove his statement in Gal 1:11-12 – he did not receive his gospel from any human, but rather from God. If the Galatian churches defect from that gospel, they are in extreme danger because they are rejecting the only Gospel which has its origins in God himself.

Galatians and Acts

The date for the writing of Galatians will depend on the decision made on the recipients and the relationship of the book to the Jerusalem Council.  Paul gives a great deal of biographical detail in the book, which ought to make determining a date a bit easier.  Alas, that is not the case!  In chapter 2 there are two incidents that may or may not be related to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Luke mentions three visits to Jerusalem:  the initial visit, the famine visit (11:27-30), and the 15 day visit.

In an article published in 1967, C. H. Talbert summarizes the issue into seven positions, five of which I summarize here:

1.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30; the famine visit is not mentioned by Paul in Galatians.  Why is it not mentioned?  Perhaps Paul did not meet with Apostles at that time, or perhaps it was simply to deliver the gift and no real “contact” was made.  To include it would bog down his argument in Galatians with another visit that is neither here nor there with respect to his apostolic authority.

2.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the famine visit of Acts 11:27–30, with the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30 taking place after Galatians was written.  A variation on this is that Gal 2:1-10 is the first visit, the famine visit is not mentioned for the same reasons as under A, and that the Council occurs after Galatians.

3.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30, which Luke has turned into two visits by misunderstanding the parallel nature of two reports he received about the council and so fabricating the visit of Acts 11:27–30.

4.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30, with Acts 11:27–30 being a misplaced report of the collection visit which was originally connected with the material of Acts 21:15–17 but which Luke has chosen to place earlier in order to support his schematic portrayal of the expansion of the church.

5.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30, with Acts 11:27–30 being an invention of Luke (for reasons given in either positions three or four above) and with the Jerusalem Council visit to be identified with the hasty visit of Acts 18:22.

The first and second options seem to be the only options that allow for Luke to be an accurate history.  Luke does not appear to be given to invention or serious error.  Why would Paul omit the trip to Jerusalem to deliver the famine relief gift?  It is really not a major problem, since the meeting to deliver the gift is not related to meeting the apostles.

Perhaps Paul went to Jerusalem many times between Acts 9 and 13 for any number of reasons.  If he had lived in Jerusalem he may have had friends and family there, possessions that needed to be collected and taken to Antioch, etc. None of these sorts of visits to the city would be important to the argument since he did not contact the Apostles and have meetings and “training sessions.”

The most difficult part of the first position above is that Paul never mentions the decision of the in the letter to the Galatians.  One would imagine that if the Judaizers claimed to be from James, Paul simply had to hold up the letter from the council and say, “Look here, the man you claim as your authority disagrees with you, go back to Jerusalem as get a bit more education on the issue of Gentiles!”  That he does not is powerful evidence the council has not yet occurred.

It seems best then to see the Jerusalem council as not appearing in Galatians, simply because it has not occurred yet. If one opts for a southern Galatian destination, then usually it is argued the book is written before the Jerusalem council, thus a date of A.D. 49.  Those that see the destination as northern Galatia typically date the book after 1 & 2 Corinthians, about the late 50’s.  The churches founded in the third missionary journey are not detailed in Acts, therefore it is difficult to know how early in the chronology of Acts to place the letter.

Bibliography:
C. H. Talbert, “Again: Paul’s Visits to Jerusalem” NovT 9 (1967) 26, n. 3.

Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC, Dallas, Word, 1990).  Longenecker discusses the five listed above, including the advocates of each position.

Acts 16 and the Letter of Philippians

The four letters in which Paul appears to be writing from prison are traditionally assigned to the Roman imprisonment in A. D. 60-62, referred to at the end of the book of Acts.  However, there are at least two other possibilities for imprisonments during which Paul could have written these short letters.

There is no reason to take all four of the prison letters as a unit.  For example, it is possible that Philippians was written from Ephesus, while the other three prison letters came from Rome (this is Polhill’s position, for example.)   I will summarize the evidence for each of the imprisonments, there is more to be said than this, but this is enough to orient our thinking for now.

Rome, A.D. 60-62

  • The traditional view assigns the captivity Epistles to Rome.  We know from Acts that Paul was in fact placed under house arrest in Rome for two years (Acts 28:30).
  • “House arrest” means that he was free to proclaim the gospel (Acts 28:16, 17, 23, 31; Eph 6:18-20; Phil 1:12-18; Col 4:2-4).
  • Paul mentions the “palace guard” and the “emperor’s household” in Phil 1:13 and 4:22, implying he is in Rome.
  • Phil 1:19-26; 2:17, 23 imply that he is under the threat of death, which could very well be the outcome in Acts 28.
  • Paul greets Aristarchus in Col 4:10, in Acts 27:2 he accompanied Paul on the journey to Rome.
  • Col 4:14 states that Luke is with Paul, favoring a Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:14, 16).

Ephesus, A.D. 52-55

  • There is no mention in Acts of any imprisonment in Ephesus, though in 2 Cor 6:5 and 11:23 Paul does say that he has often been in prison. Acts records no imprisonment until Philippi (Acts 16:19-40). Where were the others?  One possibility is that these occur before Acts 13, another is that there was an imprisonment in Ephesus which is not recorded in Acts.
  • In 1 Cor 15:32 the apostle speaks about fighting wild beasts at Ephesus. That may be a proverb or merely a metaphor. But if taken literally, it could mean that Paul was actually thrown to the lions in the arena.
  • In 2 Cor 1:8-10 Paul alludes to some serious trouble that overtook him in the province of Asia, and in Romans 16:3, 4 he tells us that Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives to save him. We know that the pair were with Paul in Ephesus, and this opens up the possibility that it was here that they protected him.
  • Ephesus is a natural location to send letters to the cities in the Lycus Valley. Epaphras would have the shortest route to reach Paul from Colosse (Col 4:12; Philem 23) and Epaphroditus from Philippi (Phil 2:25-30).
  • Ephesus has a large Christian community which would assist Paul writing the letters (Col 4:10, 11).
  • Paul asked Philemon to have a guest room ready for him in Colosse (Philem 22) when he was released implying that he was nearby
  • Onesimus is more likely to have fled to Ephesus than Rome.

Caesarea, A. D. 58-60

  • While this appears to be the weakest possibility, Paul was in prison in Caesarea under “open arrest” for more than two years.  Like Rome, he likely had enough freedom to produce short letters.
  • He was under house arrest in Herod’s palace (Acts 24:23) and his friends were allowed free access to him.
  • The best arguments for Caesarea require Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon to be written and delivered at the same time.  The runaway slave Onesimus escaped from Colossae to Caesarea (some five hundred miles, rather than to Rome), Paul sent him back to Philemon with that letter along with Tychicus, the bearer of Ephesians and Colossians. If Ephesians was written from Caesarea, Tychicus and Onesimus would have brought the letters of Colossians and Philemon to Colossae first, then he would move on alone to Ephesus.
  • With respect to Philippians, the distance from Caesarea to Philippi is less than to Rome, but not particularly conducive to several trips implied by the letter.

By way of conclusion, a location of Ephesus for Philippians is attractive, although the fact that there is no clear reference to imprisonment in Acts or the other letters  makes this a tentative suggestion at best.   I will come back to these possibilities for Ephesians and Colossians in the next few weeks.

Polhill on the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15)

I realize I have wrestled with this question quite a bit lately, but I ought to address the Jerusalem Conference and Galatians one more time since I ran across something interesting on the issue.

In Polhill’s chapter on Galatians in Paul and his Letters (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999) it is less than clear if he believes that Galatians comes before or after the Jerusalem council. He gives both sides of the argument and deals with Galatians after the council. I was under the impression that he was opting for the later view, which he states clearly as his view on page 111 of P&HL. In his excellent commentary on Acts, he says “Although the two accounts contain significant differences, the similarities seem to outweigh these, and it is probable that they relate to the same event” and a bit later “it will be assumed in the commentary that follows that Paul and Luke were referring to the same conference” (Acts, NAC 26; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001) page 321.

However, John Pollhill also wrote the notes on Acts for the ESV Study Bible. In this shorter commentary on Acts, he states “Though some scholars think that Paul is referring to this meeting in Gal 2:1-10, it is better to see that passage as referring to private contacts made during his famine relief visit to Jerusalem” (ESVSB, 2114). I suppose this indicates some change of thought for Polhill on the chronology of Acts and Galatians.

It is good to know that scholars develop their ideas over time.

Dating Galatians – Before or After Acts 15?

For many students of the New Testament, the dating of Galatians is tedious work which does not seem to have much pay-off in reading the book itself.  Whether the book is addressed to Northern or Southern Galatia or before or after Acts 15 seems like a pointless question, but it is in fact important since it will influence how we read the conflict between Paul and Peter in Gal 2.

On the one hand, Gal 2:1-10 could refer to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).  This is in fact a  traditional view found in most commentaries. The issue is gentile circumcision and the consensus reached according to Gal 2 is that Gentiles are not required to submit.  As I read Polhill (138-139), he seems to lean toward this view, and the fact that he treats Acts 16:1-5 in a section preceding Galatians implies that he is taking the more traditional / majority view.  If it this is the case, then Paul writes Galatians in response to a report he has heard from the Galatian churches while he is in Ephesus or Corinth, perhaps in 53, but possibly as late as 57.  Assuming the Jerusalem meeting was in 48, this would mean that the Judiazers were still causing problems in Galatia five to ten years after the agreement found in Acts 15.

There are a few problems with the description in Galatians 2.  Paul states in Gal 2:1-2 that he took Titus with him to Jerusalem and that the went to Jerusalem in response to a “revelation.”  Neither item is mentioned in Acts 15, although Galatians 2:1-2 is not incompatible with Acts 15.  In 2:3 we are told Titus was not forced to undergo circumcision, which is more or less the conclusion of the Jerusalem conference.  One other minor point, Paul mentions John as a pillar of the community, but Acts does not include John in the discussion.  Again, these can still be complimentary descriptions of the same event.  Luke is free to describe the events any way he wants to.

On the other hand, Gal 2:1-10 could refer to another incident prior to the Acts 15 conference., perhaps even contributing to the need for the parties involved to meet face to face.  In this view, Paul was in Antioch for some time when he went to Jerusalem with Titus to deliver famine relief sent by the church in Antioch (Acts 11:29-30).  Paul then does ministry in Galatia and establishes churches in Gentile communities.  He then returned to Antioch where he learned that there were people teaching his Gentile converts that they needed to fully convert to Judaism before they were right with God.  Paul writes Galatians then goes up to Jerusalem to discuss the matter formally with James.

This view has the advantage of placing the “Antioch incident” of 2:11ff between the first meeting with James and Peter and the Jerusalem council, and chapter two of Galatians is telling the stories chronologically. In fact, the Antioch Incident might be the point of Acts 15:1-2 – Paul and Barnabas encounter people allegedly from James and have “no little dispute with them,” ultimately resulting in the conference of Acts 15.  Luke chooses not to record the confrontation with Peter since one of his main theological points is unity in the church.

For me, the fact that Paul never mentions the decision of the in the letter to the Galatians is a persuasive argument against a later date for Galatians. One would imagine that if the Judaizers claimed to be from James, Paul simply had to hold up the letter from the council and say, “Look here, the man you claim as your authority disagrees with you, go back to Jerusalem as get a bit more education on the issue of Gentiles!”  That he does not is powerful evidence the council has not yet occurred.  It seems best to me, at any rate, to see Galatians as Paul’s response to the Judaizers prior to meeting with James and Peter in Jerusalem.

As many of you know, I am currently infatuated with the ESV Study Bible, and I was please to find that the Galatians notes (written by Simon Gathercole) has the letter written in 48, just prior to the Jerusalem conference.

Factionalism in Rome, Part 1

Factionalism was a problem for the Roman congregations before Paul.  Romans 14:1-15:7 indicates that there are some in Rome who considered food laws important enough to be a matter of contention, while others are not taking the food laws as applicable in Christ.

Romans 14:5-7 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

This may indicate divisions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians we have seen already by Acts 15 and Galatians.  Given the small size of congregations and immense population in Rome, it is likely that the churches functioned as islands of believers (to use Lampe’s word), perhaps initially ethnic enclaves.

Assuming that Philippians was written while Paul was in prison in Rome, it is possible to learn several things about the state of Christianity in Rome in the early 60’s.

Philippians 1:12-14 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Philippians 4:22 All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.

We know that Paul was influential in the household of Caesar.  He states that the whole palace guard has heard the gospel, presumably from solders converted while they were guarding him.  These guards would have been gentiles converted from paganism, as opposed to Jews converted within the synagogue. This indicates that Paul is continuing his two-part mission, to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.

That Paul had success among the Gentiles encouraged the local Roman church to also engage in a similar ministry. As we observed earlier, there was good reason for the Jews to avoid contact with the gentiles based on their expulsion under Claudius in A.D. 49.  Romans seems into indicate that the church in Rome was made up of a series of small house churches (Dunn calls them apartment churches, which is more accurate since the poor did not live in houses!)

There is some evidence in Philippians of factionalism.  Phil. 1:15 says that some people preach the gospel out of “envy and rivalry” and “false motives.” These opponents of Paul try to stir up trouble for Paul while he is in prison, possibly indicating that there are at least some who “preach the gospel,” meaning that Jesus is the Christ, the crucifixion and the resurrection, etc., but they are doing so in a way that is “against Paul.”  This may be personal, but it may also be theological. (Or some combination of the two, of course!)

This may indicate that they disagree with the more radical elements of Paul’s theology, that Gentiles come to Christ apart from the Law, without converting to Judaism.  It may be that these rivals opposed Paul and perhaps even disagreed with the Jerusalem council (or, were ignorant of it; or, did not feel that they ought to be bound by it). That there are Jews who would still oppose Paul in Gentile inclusion may indicate an earlier date for Philippians, or that the issue of Gentile inclusion remained a major sticking point for the early church.

It may be something of a surprise to find that there were some congregations in Rome that were openly hostile to Paul, that seems to be the evidence of the book of Philippians.

There is a bit more evidence of factionalism in 1 Clement.  This letter was written A. D. 95-97 by Clement, a bishop in Rome.  The church of Rome was undergoing persecution when the letter was written (1:1, 7:1) but still felt it important to contact the Corinthian church.  According to tradition, Clement was the third bishop of Rome, although it is not at all clear that there was a single unbroken line of bishops who exerted any kind of authority over all of Roman Christianity before the year A. D. 200.

Clement wrote this letter on behalf of the church of Rome to the church of Corinth for the purpose of advising them on certain church matters.  The letter was considered to have had some level of authority, although we do not know how it was received by the Corinthians.  (In some early canons of scripture, 1 Clement was cited as scripture, Clement of Alexandria, for example.  See Holmes, 24.)  For our purposes here, 1 Clement 5 is the key text, although Clement returns to Paul in chapter 47.

1 Clement 5:5-7 Because of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the way to the prize for patient endurance. (6) After he had been seven times in chains, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, and had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, (7) having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West.  Finally, when he had given his testimony before the rulers, he thus departed from the world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example of patient endurance. (Translation by Holmes, page 33.)

While Clement’s evidence is a bit later than Paul’s time, there is at least some evidence of the fact that Paul face opposition in those two years he was in Rome under house arrest.