Last Years of Paul (in Rome)

Last Years of Paul

Traditional Thought

In accordance with the records of Luke, Paul lived (was imprisoned) in Rome for two years (Acts 28:17-31). As soon as Paul arrived in Rome, he called the heads of the main Jewish sects within the city of Rome. He explained he was not here for trouble. He came here in chains in the name of Israel. It is interesting to note the Jews in Rome had not heard much about Paul. They asked to hear his views. Some accepted Paul's teachings; some did not.

During this time of confinement Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Knowing that they could not get a verdict of guilty, his accusers probably never showed up and therefore lost the case by default. Paul could then have been released and become free to engage in the ministry reflected in the pastoral epistles before being rearrested and finally martyred. One of those who met Paul was Onesimus, who became a Christian (Philemon 1:10).

The tradition is Nero (54-68 A.D.) had Paul beheaded. When he was killed has been and will remain a debate between scholars. Was Paul killed immediately after Acts or was there some time, perhaps even after a release, before he was killed? The next sections review several possibilities. They all have some reasonable arguments. Which one is true?

Death Immediately After Acts?

Those who say death after Acts feel Luke probably would not have ended his account of Paul if he lived longer. He was dedicated to Paul and would have carried Paul's life further.

It is felt Luke did not "execute" Paul in Acts because of emotional reasons. Luke perhaps wanted to prevent his readers from the pain of Paul's death. In Ephesus (Acts 20:25) he said farewell never to see then again. Luke would probably have removed that verse had Paul lived longer and returned to Ephesus.

The pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus) were probably written by another Paulinist.

Further Ministry after Imprisonment?

This is actually the more traditional view. Paul was released and carried out further missionary work from Spain to Asia. Why?
  1. Paul left Timothy at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) and journeyed to Macedonia. Only once in Acts did Paul go from Ephesus to Macedonia BUT Timothy was sent ahead (Acts 19:22).

  2. Paul left Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5; 3:12). Titus was later told to meet Paul in Nicopolis for the winter. Nicopolis is not mentioned at all in Acts. It could be Paul fit it in as part of the third journey after the three years in Ephesus.

  3. Before writing 2 Tim (2 Tim 1:16-17; 4:13,20), Paul had left a cloak and books at Troas. He also left Erastus at Corinth and Trophemus in Miletus. These seem impractical in Acts. Paul never stopped at these ports while traveling to Rome. He did not arrive in Rome until two years after Corinth, Troas, and Miletus.

  4. Paul planned to visit Spain after Rome (Rom 15:24).

  5. There is a strong tradition (Clement of Rome, the Muratorian Canon, and Eusebius) that Paul was released and ministered even to Spain.

    Clement of Rome wrote in 96 A.D. that Paul had reached the limit of the west (was that Spain?).

    The Muratoriam canon says Luke fails to tell that Paul set out for Spain from Rome.

    The Apocryphal Acts of Peter, written about 180 A.D., mentions Paul's leaving Italy for Spain by boat.

    Eusebius in the fourth century agreed the above was the tradition.

  6. Another strong possibility is Luke's purpose was to follow Paul to Rome, the capital of the Gentile world.

  7. It could be Luke wrote Acts (and maybe the gospel) the four years in Caesarea and Rome. This was to be used during Paul's trial. Therefore, there would be nothing after imprisonment.

  8. The Jews probably would not have been able to get a judgment in Rome.

    Nero's execution timing is in question. The fire in Rome was 64 A.D. His major persecution was after that time. He blamed the Christians (although he probably started it himself). His accusations carried strongly to Paul and Peter. Carrying this out in time, Paul was probably not executed until 66-67 A.D. This adds about two to four years of Paul unaccountability.

Paul's Death

It appears Paul was released about 62 A.D. had more missionary journeys from Spain to Greece was arrested again by Nero about 65-66 A.D. then was beheaded about 66-67 A.D.

On July 18 or 19 of 64 A.D. a fire broke out in the northeastern end of the Circus Maximus. It burned for five days and completely destroyed three of the fourteen city divisions and severely damaged seven others. Many blamed Nero. Remember Nero was a builder. He probably wanted to rebuild parts of Rome. However, he blamed the Christians (convenient?).

On the subject of the treatment of the Christians after the fire, F.F.Bruce cites from the Roman historian Tacitus:

"Those who confessed were arrested; then, on their information, a huge multitude was convicted. . . . Their execution was made a matter of sport: some were sewn up in the skins of wild beasts and savaged to death by dogs; others were fastened to crosses as living torches to serve as lights when daylight failed. Nero made his gardens available for the show and held games in the Circus, mingling with the crowd or standing in his chariot in charioteer's uniform. Hence, although the victims were criminals deserving the severest punishment, pity began to be felt for them because it seemed they were being sacrificed to gratify one man's lust for cruelty rather than the public weal [welfare]."

Paul was arrested by the madman, Nero. We don't know the circumstances but we do know Paul was considered the Christian leader of the time. We know he was in Nicopolis sometime (Titus 3:12). Maybe be was under arrest there. Either he was taken to Rome or traveled there on his own. The charges probably would have been preaching an unapproved religion. Remember that Rome had to approve religions. Maybe he was accused of starting the fire.

We can be sure this prison time was not with freedoms as before in Rome. Part of the time he was probably in the dungeons on "death row".

He had a hearing (2 Tim 4:16-17) but, of course, no one stood up with him. Automatic death was the sentence if one admitted to be a following Christian of Paul. Paul knew the end had come ( 2 Tim 4:6-7).

According to the tradition that fits the times, Paul was taken in the morning outside and walls on the Ostian Way. An executioner with a large, broad, sharp, double sided blade sword severed his head in one stroke. We know, without a doubt, Paul was immediately with the Lord ( 2 Cor 5:8).).