The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody by Brian Rapske

1383542Paul was an almost continuous traveler until he got arrested – a rather common occurrence. The two year imprisonment described in Acts twenty-eight was unusual in the sense that he enjoyed enhanced liberty apart from the soldier to which he was chained. J. B. Lightfoot, William Ramsay and many others following have written extensively about this period and (with some variation of sequence) generally agree that much of the New Testament (including Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians) might have been written during this period when Paul was required to remain in one place.There is general agreement by conservative scholars that Paul was released and conducted a fourth missionary journey, but was subsequently arrested and imprisoned under harsh conditions and eventually martyred (as especially reflected in the language of Second Timothy).

Since the time of Augustus (and perhaps as far back as 640 BC) the official state prison of Rome has been attributed to the structure (now known as Mamertine Prison) located on the northeast edge of the Roman Forum at the base of Capitoline Hill. A small Catholic church named San Giuseppe dei Falegnami was erected there in the Middle Ages and since then has been considered to be place of both Paul and Peter’s final imprisonment before their execution. If they were officially executed by the state, it is not unlikely that they were imprisoned there, but neither is it proven thereby.

Many Bible scholars believe that Second Timothy was written from there, especially given the dire tone of Paul’s writing. Having seen the site, this writer finds it hard to accept that anyone could have produced a letter from that locale for a variety of reasons. The cell area itself is a cistern deep in the ground accessible today by modern stairs, but in the time of its use prisoners accessed it by being thrown or lowered through a narrow hole in the ceiling. The conditions were wet, dark and highly unsanitary with little relief offered by the guards.

Rapske’s outstanding book remains the authoritative voice on this and Paul’s other imprisonments. It is a treasure chest of insight.

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