The Imprisonments Of The Apostle Paul

The Imprisonments Of The Apostle Paul

Whilst there were a number of ‘imprisonments’ that Paul suffered during his life, there are two that were of great significance and duration. These first imprisonment ended in Rome, although it began in Jerusalem and was for a time in Caesarea. We have a lot less detail extant about his second imprisonment in Rome, we do know that it ended in his martyrdom under the Roman Emperor Nero.

Paul speaks of a plurality of imprisonments in his second epistle to Corinth. This epistle was written before his Roman imprisonments. 2Co_6:5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
2Co_11:23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.

It seems that there were other brief times of being imprisoned that are not given to us in Acts or in the epistles. Just as there are times that Paul was shipwrecked that we are not given the details of.

There is speculation that Paul suffered a major imprisonment in Ephesus, with some even postulating the theory that some of the “prison epistles” were written at this time. I do not intend on addressing this theorizing in this paper, except to say that I do not see the evidence for this belief and there has been a lot of time wasted over this debate which seems to me to a matter of “fables, foolish questions and genealogies” (Titus 1 & 4)

Of course, we know well of the imprisonment at Philippi, for Luke gives us the account of this and of the conversion of the jailer of the prison.

The intent of this paper is to look at what is known as the two Roman imprisonments of Paul. In this the paper will attempt to address the lead up to his arrest, the trouble at Jerusalem, the time at Caesarea, the journey to Rome, the first imprisonment at Rome, the prison epistles, his release, the second imprisonment, 2 Timothy, and finally Paul’s martyrdom.

Account Of Paul's Arrest

As Paul came to conclusion of his third missionary journey he set his face to go to Jerusalem, desiring to be there for Pentecost. He met with the elders of Ephesian church at Miletus, on his final leg towards Jerusalem and instructed them on shepherding their flock and informed them that he would not see them again. It was at this time that he stated that he was compelled of the Spirit to go up to Jerusalem.

Act 20:22  And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: 

Act 20:23  Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. 

Act 20:24  But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. 

Act 20:25  And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. 

From Miletus he set course for stopping in at Tyre on the way. Here he met disciples who were moved of the Holy Spirit to warn him not to go up to Jerusalem. He continued on and arrived in Caesarea where he stayed with Phillip the Evangelist. It was whilst at Caesarea that the prophet Agabus came to him and warned him by taking Paul’s belt and tying his own hands, telling Paul that this is what the Jews would do to him if he went up to Jerusalem. Yet Paul still continued on, he went from Caesarea up to Jerusalem and there he stayed with one Mnason. This brought to a conclusion Paul’s third missionary journey.

Paul went and met the elders of the church of Jerusalem and James the bishop of Jerusalem. They pressed him to take on a vow of purity, which he did and as he drew near the end of the days of the vow he was in the temple when it seems that all hell broke loose in Jerusalem over him.

Should Paul Have Gone To Jerusalem?

Much has been made of his going up to Jerusalem and there are two distinct schools of thought as to whether or not he should have gone to Jerusalem. The first hold the view that he was led of the Holy Spirit to go up and therefore he was right in going, the second believe that he did not heed the warnings of the Holy Spirit and that he should not have gone up.
Among those who hold the first view there is also a divided opinion as to whether or not he should have subjected himself to the vow of purification. There are those who believe that he was going back on what he was preaching about the law, and that he had reneged on his stand against Judaism. There view is not so much that he should not have gone to Jerusalem, but that he should not have taken the vow and been in the Temple. 

The second view believe that it was clear that the Lord had instructed him not to go up to Jerusalem, but that his heart was so overwhelmingly desirous of seeing his countrymen saved that he ignored the warnings of the Lord and continued up anyway. It is true that Paul longed for the Jews to be saved and in Romans he even spoke of the fact that he would be accursed if it meant the salvation of his fellow Jews. It is also true that the Lord gave many warnings of what would happen to him if he went up to Jerusalem. 

What are we to make of all this then? Was Paul wrong in going to Jerusalem? Was he right in going to Jerusalem but wrong in taking upon himself the vow? As this is a key part of the first imprisonment of Paul, I believe that it is pertinent to take a small portion of time to address this.

Firstly, let us note that the Scriptures are silent when it comes to any sort of condemnation of Paul’s actions. Nowhere do we find that the Scriptures condemn either the going up to Jerusalem or the taking of the vow. It is true that the Scriptures are also silent on lauding the actions of Paul, and we cannot take this silence either way as the commentary of whether or not Paul was right. I believe that we can look at certain key pointers to give us a better insight on the matter.

If we take careful notice we would see that Paul states clearly that he was bound in the spirit, this is not the Holy Spirit rather Paul’s human spirit. He was deeply compelled in his spirit to go up to Jerusalem. After stating this he immediately follows on with the observation that the Holy Spirit had given witness in every city that there would be bonds and afflictions. 

Paul was stating that in spite of the clear witness that the Holy Spirit had given him, he was still compelled in his spirit to go. Why would a man who was so led of the Holy Spirit and so consumed by Christ act contrary to the Holy Spirit? The answer I believe is simple, he didn’t, the warnings that the Holy Spirit was giving him, was to prepare him for what was ahead. In spite of what was ahead he was still compelled to go. 

Yes, this was because of his great love for the Jews and because he was seeing the great destruction of the Jewish church at the hands of the Judaizers, so he was deeply desirous of going up to be of some help to them. But we cannot believe that this was the only reason that he was going to Jerusalem, we must allow for the Holy Spirit’s leading of him. Paul makes it clear that he did not know what was going to befall him in Jerusalem Act 20:22  And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: but this was not going to constrain him. I can see no other reason for Paul going up to Jerusalem other than that he was led there of the Holy Spirit and he went in the confidence “that all things would work together for good.”

As for the matter of taking the vow. Was Paul reneging on his preaching against Judaism? Was this a hypocrisy? Did he succumb to the pressure of James? Was he trying too hard to be accepted by the Jews again? Let us look at this calmly. 

First of all, Paul in taking the vow never associates this vow with Christ, never associates the vow with justification or with the maintenance of Salvation. There is nothing in Paul’s words or actions which give the impression that he believes that the law is necessary for Salvation, or that the way to Christ is through the keeping of the law. 

Secondly, Paul’s clear position is that he was willing to become all things to all men, that he may win some. This does not mean that Paul would become a drunkard to a drunkard, or a lewd man to lewd men to win them. What his heart was, that whatever he may do that was honourable before the Lord and would remove an impedance of the gospel to a hearer’s heart he would do. If this meant that he should take a vow of purification as a Jew, then that is what he would do. Remember that Paul was a Jew, and he never told the Jews, that they should not be Jews, or that they should not keep national feasts etc. he just preached the truth that the keeping of the law could not save and was not a means to attain Christ. So there was no hypocrisy in what Paul did.

I believe that we can safely say that Paul as far as he was able was walking according to the leading of the Holy Spirit in these matters. Through this the providences of God unfolded and took him onto Rome, where God had already told him he must witness for Him. We dare not look at this man’s life and believe that for this period of time he had left off walking in the Spirit or that the Lord had left off keeping him and leading him. Paul was a man who moment by moment walked in the Spirit, he was not a man given to rashness or to fleshly wisdom and there is absolutely no reason to suspect that he had failed at this time of his life. Paul entered into this season of imprisonment and trial in the will of God.

Paul's Arrest And Stair Defense

The uproar in the Temple and Jerusalem was over Paul’s presence there. There were Jews from Asia Minor which recognized him and drew attention to his presence and also accused him of stirring up all people against the Jews and of bringing a Gentile into the Temple and thus defiling the Temple. Of course, Paul had done neither of these things. By the providence of God, news of the uproar came to the Captain of the Guard in Jerusalem who sent soldiers to secure him from the mob before they were able to lynch him. Thus began the imprisonment of Paul, although he did not know it at the time, Paul had just begun an imprisonment that would last a great number of years and ultimately take him to Rome.

As the soldiers took Paul to the castle, which we would take to be the Roman stronghold in Jerusalem, Paul was permitted to give a defense of himself to the crowd of Jews. Initially the Jews gave a silent audience to him as he spoke to them in Hebrew and outlined his Jewish credentials, and proceeded to give testimony of his conversion to Christ, but as soon as he came to mention the word “Gentiles” especially in the context that he was sent to the Gentiles, the crowd erupted in vial hostility against him and the soldiers once again had to remove him for his own safety. 

After this the captain of the guard took him into the castle with the intent of scourging him to find out who he really was. When the captain found out that he was a Roman citizen he left of the intent to scourge him and he was very careful with his treatment of him from then on. This truly was a providence of God, that kept Paul at this time. 

Following this arrest a council was convened of the Jews and he was brought before them to be accused of them. This council ended up in an internal brawl between the Sadducees and the Pharisees fighting over the matter of the resurrection. For the third time the soldiers had to come and take Paul away for his own safety as the Jews threatened to tear him apart in the brawl. Again, we see God’s hand in this keeping Paul through this and unfolding further Paul’s continual witness for Him. 

That night the Lord appeared to Paul and encouraged him with these words “Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” This is another reason why I believe Paul was in the will of God, for why would Christ personally appear to Paul to encourage him if he was in the wrong. Surely the Lord would have said, “Paul, you should not have been here, I warned you”. Yet we find word of comfort here.


The very next day the Captain of the Guard in Jerusalem sent him to Caesarea with an escort of some 470 men. This was due to a plot on Paul’s life that had been uncovered by a nephew of Paul overhearing the plan. How important that encouragement from the Lord must have been to Paul as he faced all of this, then to see God’s perfect hand in the providences that unfolded even that very next day.

In Caesarea Paul was brought before Felix the governor of Judea. For five days Paul was kept in the judgment hall of Herod whilst they waited for his accusers to come from Rome. After 5 days Ananias the high priest came down from Jerusalem with certain elders and one Tertullus who was to be the spokesman in the accusations against Paul. This Tertullus brought his accusation against Paul in a most underhanded manner, attempting to curry favour with Felix through flattery and deceit. Paul answered the matters, again I believe as led by the Holy Spirit. Luk 12:11  And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: Luke 12:12  For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say. 

When Felix saw that he was not going to have any resolution of the matter he dismissed the accusers and held Paul until he would be able to consult with Lysias the Captain of the Guard of Jerusalem. Whilst Felix waited for this opportunity he instructed that Paul be given liberty and that his acquaintances should not be restricted from ministering to him. So although Paul was still a prisoner he had been granted liberties at this time.

Felix and his wife Drusilla came to speak with Paul at this time and Paul was able to preach to him. It was obvious that Felix came under conviction during this time because it is recorded that “he trembled”. But this conviction did not come to fruition in faith and it seems that as time went on this conviction passed and he held onto Paul with the hope that he would receive some sort of payment or bribe for his release. This went on for another two years. With Paul being held prisoner by Felix for all this time, calling on him on occasions in the hope of that payment.

What did Paul do during this time? We don’t have a lot of details given to us of this time, of what he did, or who was with him, or what transpired. But we can see some things. The Jews did let up on their accusations of him, nor did they off their plans and plots to bring Paul to death. For we know at the end of the two years they were still accusing Paul to Felix and then to the new governor Porcius Festus. We can see that God was keeping Paul even at this time, we don’t know how, we aren’t told of what was happening in Jerusalem at this time, but we do know that Paul would have been able to rest in the surety of the words of the Lord, that he would “testify in Rome also”.

After these two years Porcius Festus came to replace Felix as governor of Jerusalem, and Felix again working politically for his own gain left Paul imprisoned rather than freeing him. By now Felix knew that Paul was innocent and that the Jews had no charge against him, but he was acting out of his own interests. The Jews still wanted Paul dead and at the least they wanted him imprisoned and out of the way. As soon as Porcius Festus came up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, the Jews immediately pounced on this new governor to see if they could get further with him than they had with Felix in regards to Paul. Their plot was to get Festus to bring Paul back to Jerusalem with the feigned desire to bring a council for him to answer before, but whilst he was being transported they would ambush him and kill him. Such was the hatred of the Jews for this man of God. Festus wanting to start off his governorship in favour with these power brokers of the Jews was willing to consent to this request and it is at this point that we see another providence of God come about.

When Paul heard that he was to be take to Jerusalem he then appealed to Caesar. As a Roman citizen he had the right to appeal to Caesar and he would be brought by the Romans to Rome to have his case heard by the Emperor. Festus declared “then unto Caesar thou shalt go”.

Whilst awaiting his transport to Caesar it happened according to the providence of God that King Agrippa and his wife came to visit Festus and whilst he was there Festus mentioned this prisoner that Felix had left in bonds and how this prisoner had appealed to Caesar. As a result of this conversation Paul was brought before King Agrippa, and he was able to give the testimony of his conversion to this ruler. At the end of Paul’s message King Agrippa uttered what may be the saddest statement in the Scriptures when he said “Almost thou persuadest me to become a Christian”.

King Agrippa also made an interesting statement to Festus, he said “This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” Again some take this as an evidence that Paul was not acting how he should have been and if he could have been released if he had not acted rashly. To this I declare how can we take the un-proven word of a man uttered on a whim as the evidence of what might have been. God was unfolding Paul’s passage to Rome and Paul was resting in that. Secondly, I believe that this has been included in the Scriptures as a revelation to us, that in spite of what may seem as a wise thing in man’s eyes is not always God’s way, and God’s way in this situation was that Paul was to go to Rome.

The Journey To Rome

It is not my intent to dwell long on this journey to Rome, rather to just highlight some of the happenings along the way which again reveal God’s hand in Paul’s life at this time. This journey is a well known account of the Scriptures and it does not behoove us to spend too much time on it.

There are three elements to this journey we must see. The first being the pressing of the centurion to sail when they should have stayed in port. The ship which they had taken from Alexandria to Italy had pulled into the “Fair Havens” which was a port near the city of Lasea. Due to the lateness of the season it would have been wise to remain here for the winter and wait until the it had passed and sailing was safe once again. But the Roman centurion in charge of the prisoners did not want winter there. 

Paul admonished him and warned him that it would be dangerous to sail not only to the ship and cargo but also to the lives of those on board. Now initially this may seem a strange thing that a prisoner is warning a centurion about shipping. But we must remember that Paul had been with this centurion for some while now and I am sure that his testimony as a man of God and a man in touch with God would have been well known by this centurion. Alas the centurion consulted the master of the ship and was assured by him that it was ok to sail. Iv’e heard one preacher describe this as the centurion listening to the sailor when he should have listened to the seer. So when a nice soft wind blew they set sail, but it was not long before they were in caught in the most dreadful of storms.

This is the second element, the Euroclydon. It seems that storm was a demonically empowered storm that was allowed to come upon Paul and the ship. It is a continuous wonder as to how the Lord works, here we have a man that is walking with the Lord being led by the Spirit and yet it all seems to be going against him. Now he warns of the coming dangers of a trip, is ignored by the centurion and captain of the ship and ends up in a demonic storm. Why is the Lord allowing this? Why did God allow Satan to bring about a storm? If we would look at it humanly and see it without its resolve we may conclude that God was leaving Paul, because Paul had left of following the Lord and was doing his own thing. But because we have the inspired Word of God we know the conclusion of the matter and we can rest in the fact that in spite of this being a storm that was demonically empowered it was not outside of God’s unfolding providence.

The third element of the journey is the shipwreck. This was also in God’s perfect control right down to the preservation of the lives of all on board. Each person was thrown into the violence of the sea and those who could swam to shore and those who couldn’t floated in on broken bits of flotsam from the ship breaking up. What providence this was, that all lives were kept amidst this seeming lost hope. Amidst all of this Paul with great calmness resting in the continual presence of the Lord and sure hope of the Lord’s word that he would go to Rome testified through his manner and his words the glory of his Lord to these sailors, soldiers and prisoners. Could a man even conceive the events and how to bring them about as Paul is making his way to Rome.


Finally, Paul reaches Rome, it has been well over two years since his initial arrest in Jerusalem. When he arrives there he is put in house arrest. That is he was allowed to be in a house but he was bound to guards. Providentially this allowed Paul to have visitors and companions. When he first arrived in Rome Paul called together the Jewish leaders of Rome to speak to them of what had occurred. The Jews responded with a surprising answer, that they had not received letters from Jerusalem, nor had they even heard of what had happened with Paul from those who had travelled from Jerusalem. From this we can see that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were working deceitfully behind the scenes, not wanting to reveal their wicked intentions to the general public. These leaders had been working feverishly to have Paul killed and yet word had not reached Rome of this. What an indication of how the world works and how the Devil works, working and working behind the scenes to plot and war against God’s people. Yet, how often the Christian lives carelessly in the midst of this raging battle. The other side to this, is what confidence we can have in God, that in spite of all the plotting of man and demonic attacks of the Devil, God has providentially delivered Paul to Rome where he is now giving the Gospel to the Jews there also.

The Jews heard him willingly, but whilst some believed many did not receive the message of the Gospel and there was much disputing among them. Paul ended his preaching with the observation from Isaiah

Act 28:25  And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, 

26  Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: 

27  For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 

28  Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. 

29  And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves. 

It would seem that once this meeting was completed Paul did not keep pressing to preach to the Jews, but turned his attention to the Gentiles. He had given all he could to his people the Jews. Now in this imprisonment his attention and writings will be turned to the Gentiles.

This is where the account of Paul’s life in Acts ends. The Holy Spirit did not inspire Luke to write any further concerning Paul and Acts ends with Act 28:30  And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, 

Act 28:31  Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

The Ministry in Rome & The Prison Epistles

Even whilst Paul was in prison at Rome he was ministering, preaching and teaching. Again could man conceive to have arranged such a plan. Here was Paul under the protection of the Roman government, in a hired house, able to continuously preach, teach and write and no man was forbidding him.

To understand about this time in Rome we need to turn to the epistles that Paul wrote during this imprisonment.

There are many ways to summarize Paul’s ministry, but at least four matters come to the foreground. Although he was physically confined, Paul continued to minister by preaching the gospel to various dignitaries and to his visitors, praying on behalf of churches and believers around the world, suffering many hardships for the benefit of the church, and of course, writing letters to various churches and individuals around the world. First, Paul preached the gospel during this time.


As we have seen, Paul endured prison mainly to gain new opportunities to proclaim the gospel. And his letters from prison reinforce this idea. We see this not only in his regular identification of himself as Christ’s ambassador in chains, but also in the prayers he solicited from the churches to which he wrote.

For instance, listen to his request in Ephesians 6:19  And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 

Eph 6:20  For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Paul knew that, even in prison, his primary responsibility was to proclaim the gospel.

The asking of the Ephesians to pray for him, so that he would have the strength to fulfill his apostolic responsibility.

Similarly, in Colossians 4:3  Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: 

Col 4:4  That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Paul wanted prayer so that he would have the opportunity to preach the gospel, so that he could take good advantage of the opportunities before him.


Second, Paul was in constant prayer for the churches. According to Paul’s letters, his ministry extended beyond proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. It also included constant prayers for various churches and believers around the world.

Practically speaking, it is very likely that Paul’s imprisonment actually increased the time he was able to spend in prayer. During his missionary journeys, he was generally busy traveling, or even working to support himself. But in prison, he had no job to do, no places to travel, and few distractions. This allowed him a great deal of time to pray. And from the testimony his letters provide, it would appear that Paul considered himself both obligated and honored to spend much of that time praying for others.

Ephesians 1:16  Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 

Eph 1:17  That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 

Eph 1:18  The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 

Paul regularly and consistently prayed for the Ephesians. Paul’s efforts in prayer constituted a vibrant and valuable ministry to those who were not near.

In much the same way, in Philippians chapter 1 verses 3 through 9, he explained that he regularly prayed for the church in Philippi:

Php 1:3  I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 

Php 1:4  Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 

Php 1:5  For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 

Php 1:6  Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: 

Php 1:7  Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. 

Php 1:8  For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. 

Php 1:9  And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;

And in Colossians chapter 1 verse 9, we read of his commitment to the church in Colossae:

Col 1:9  For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 

He also prayed for specific individuals, such as Philemon, Apphia and Archippus in the Colossian church. For example, in Philemon verse 6 he wrote: “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” 

In all these passages, we see that Paul committed himself to praying for his fellow believers, seeking many blessings from God on their behalf.


In the third place, in addition to preaching and praying, Paul’s ministry in prison included suffering on behalf of others. Now, in and of itself, suffering is a hardship, not a ministry. But when the goal and product of suffering is the advancement of God’s kingdom through the promotion of the gospel, and as an example to others, suffering is rightly thought of as a form of Christian ministry.

Christians have always suffered, and always will suffer until Jesus returns. The Bible assures us of this. Now, that doesn’t mean that all Christians suffer equally or to the extent that Paul did. But God has ordained that until Jesus returns to finish his work, until he has consummated his kingdom on earth, his enemies will still fight against him. And this means that Jesus’ people will continue to suffer.

But Paul’s life proves something: our suffering is not in vain.

Suffering for the sake of the gospel is a powerful and purposeful ministry. For one thing, it is an indisputable testimony to the truth of the gospel. This is why we commonly refer to Christians who die for their faith as “martyrs” or “witnesses.” We have already seen a number of ways that Paul’s suffering provided opportunities for him to preach the gospel. But it also encouraged others to proclaim the gospel as well.

Php 1:14  And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 

In addition to this, it is right to think of suffering as a ministry because it secures benefits for others. After all, Jesus Christ suffered on behalf of sinners, and he died to save us. And Scripture teaches us to follow Christ’s example specifically by suffering for the sake of others. As believers, we should be willing to suffer hardship and even death for the benefit of others, and we should be thankful of the suffering that others endure for this cause.

1 John 3:16  Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Paul believed this. And as we have seen, he was willing to go to prison, and even to die, if doing so would bring glory to his Saviour.

Ephesians 3:13  Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. 
Paul’s point here was that his imprisonment allowed him to promote the gospel in new places and to new people, thereby bringing more and more people to faith in Christ. When the gospel spreads and the church grows, it increases the glory that all believers will inherit.

And in Philippians chapter 1 verse 14, Paul indicated that his example in suffering also encouraged the testimony of others. Philippians 1:14  And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

In the third place, Paul’s letters demonstrate that his suffering was a continuation of the suffering of Christ himself. In Colossians chapter 1 verse 24, Paul made the grandest claim of all regarding his suffering:Col 1:24  Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: 

This was not that Paul somehow believed that Christ’s suffering whilst on Earth was efficacious and that he had to fill up the lack, rather that it was for the Christian to suffer until the return of Christ, for we are the body of Christ and His body is still under attack of persecution and suffering. The filling up the lack was the taking up of the suffering on behalf of the body of Christ.


Paul’s writing ministry during the years of his imprisonment is demonstrated by his New Testament letters to the churches in Colossae, Ephesus, and Philippi, and to the Colossian man Philemon. Through these letters Paul continued his pastoral and apostolic ministry to churches and individuals. And since these writings were preserved for us in the New Testament, Paul’s ministry has been multiplied throughout the world for the past two thousand years.

Paul’s writings reveal a rich ministry to churches and individuals with whom he had ongoing relationships. He knew many things about their circumstances and about them personally. And as a result, Paul was able to address many specific issues that concerned his audiences, both personal and theological. He even instructed some individuals by name. Despite his inability to travel, Paul’s ministry was informed and carefully tailored to the specific situations of the churches and individuals to whom he wrote.

Consider, for instance, that in his letter to the Philippians, Paul engaged in pastoral ministry by exhorting two women, Syntyche and Euodias, to reconcile with one another. These were women Paul knew, women who had labored alongside him, but who had come into disagreement with one another. Paul’s concern for them was personal and loving, and his solution to their problem was tremendously tender.

We read his words to them in Philippians chapter 4 verse 2:

Php 4:2  I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. 

In much the same way, Paul also pleaded for reconciliation between believers in the book of Philemon. There he interceded on behalf of a slave named Onesimus, who had fled his Colossian master Philemon. In fact, the entire book of Philemon is dedicated to petitioning Philemon to be gracious to Onesimus.

Apparently after fleeing his master, Onesimus had sought out Philemon’s friend Paul. And under Paul’s ministry, Onesimus had become a Christian. Moreover, Onesimus had remained with Paul and had ministered to him in prison. So, Paul’s ministry to Onesimus and Philemon was deeply personal. And he took care, as their pastor and as their friend, to reconcile their relationship.

Paul also directed his letters to the theological issues that involved the church as a whole, providing authoritative apostolic instruction with a pastoral hand. His teaching ministry as an authoritative representative of Christ did not falter during his imprisonment. Rather, Paul continued to provide infallible revelations of truth during this time, and continued to apply that truth to the church through his letters.

As we have seen, both Acts and Paul’s New Testament letters indicate that Paul was actively involved in ministry during his imprisonment. He did not pine away or despair that his incarceration hindered his ministry. Rather, he knew that God had provided prison to him as an opportunity spread the gospel and to provide an example for the saints. And inspired with this knowledge, he conducted a robust ministry of preaching, praying, suffering and writing, through which he faithfully discharged all his duties as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

Paul's Temporary Release

There is little known about this period of time. Aside from a few isolated verses of Scripture which may give insight, we can only go on secular writings and traditions concerning this period in Paul’s life. The Book of the Acts terminates abruptly; and the subsequent history of Paul is involved in much obscurity. Some have contended that the apostle was never released from his first imprisonment at Rome, and accordingly consider that he was one of the earliest Christian martyrs who suffered under the Emperor Nero. 

But this theory is encumbered with insuperable difficulties. In his letters written after his first appearance in Rome, Paul evidently anticipates his liberation; and in some of them he apparently speaks prophetically. Thus, he says to the Philippians — “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better — nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you — and having this confidence I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.” The apostle had long cherished a desire to visit Spain; and there is evidence that he actually preached the gospel in that country; for Clemens Romanus, who was his contemporary and fellow-labourer, positively affirms that he travelled “to the extremity of the west.” 

Clemens appears to have been himself a native of the great metropolis; and as he makes the statement just quoted in a letter written from Rome, it cannot be supposed that, under such circumstances, he would have described Italy as the boundary of the earth. 

The Second Epistle to Timothy, which is generally admitted to have been written immediately before Paul’s death, contains several passages which obviously indicate that the author had been very recently at liberty. Thus, he says-“The cloak that I left at Troas, with Carpus, when thou comest bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” These words suggest that the apostle had lately visited Troas on the coast of Asia Minor. Again, he remarks — “Erastus abode at Corinth, but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.” Any ordinary reader would at once infer from this observation that the writer had just arrived from Miletum. The language of the concluding verses of the Acts warrants the impression that Paul’s confinement had ended some time before the book was completed; for had the apostle been still in bondage, it would scarcely have been said that, when a prisoner, he dwelt for two whole years in his own hired house — thereby implying that the period of his residence, at least in that abode, had terminated. And if Paul was released at the expiration of these two years, we can well understand why the sacred historian may have deemed it inexpedient to give an account of his liberation. The subjects of Rome at that time were literally living under a reign of terror; and it would perhaps have been most unwise to have proceeded farther with the narrative.

We have seen that Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner in the beginning of A.D.61; and if at this time his confinement continued only two years, he must have been liberated in the early part of A.D.63. Nero had not then commenced his memorable persecution of the Church; for the burning of the city took place in the summer of A.D.64; and, until that date, the disciples do not appear to have been singled out as the special objects of his cruelty. It is said that Paul, after his release, accomplished his intention of visiting the Spanish Peninsula. 

There is speculation that he once more visited Jerusalem, travelling by Corinth, Philippi, and Troas, where he left for the use of Carpus the cloak with the books and parchments which he mentions in his Second Epistle to Timothy. Passing on then to Colossae, he may have visited Antioch in Pisidia and other cities of Asia Minor, the scenes of his early ministrations; and reached Jerusalem by way of Antioch in Syria. He perhaps returned from Palestine to Rome by sea, leaving Trophimus sick at Miletum in Crete. (Killen)

The Second Imprisonment In Rome

How did Paul end up back in prison? There are a number of theories as to this. One being that he returned on agreement because his case had never come before Caesar and he had to come back for that hearing. Another is that due to the persecution of the Christians by Nero which began in AD 64 after the fires in Rome, Paul was arrested as a leader of the Christian ‘sect’ and brought again to Rome, (Nicopolis is sometimes given as a place of his arrest). Whatever the reason, God’s providence brought him back to Rome, but it was under very different circumstances this time from what it had been during his former confinement; for he was deserted by his friends, and treated as a malefactor. When he wrote to Timothy he had already been brought before the judgment-seat, and had narrowly escaped martyrdom. “At my first answer,” says he, “no man stood with me, but all men forsook me. I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. 

Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” The prospect, however, still continued gloomy; and he had no hope of ultimate escape. In the anticipation of his condemnation, he wrote those words so full of Christian faith and heroism, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight — I have finished my course — I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

If we look at the climate in Rome at this time, it will give us some insight as to what Paul faced. On July 19, AD 64, a fire broke out in Rome, destroying ten of the city’s fourteen districts. The inferno raged for six days and seven nights, flaring sporadically for an additional three days. Though the fire probably started accidentally in an oil warehouse, rumors swirled that Emperor Nero had ordered the inferno so he could rebuild Rome according to his own liking. Nero tried to stamp out the rumors—but to no avail. He then looked for a scapegoat. And since two of the districts untouched by the fire were disproportionally populated by Christians, he shifted the blame to them.

Roman historian Tacitus tells the story:

But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. . . . Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty [of being Christians]; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much for the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.

The accusation that Roman Christians hated humanity likely took root in their refusal to participate in Rome’s social and civic life, which was intertwined with pagan worship. Whether for that reason or for the fire, once Nero’s madness inflamed, he continued his persecution of Rome’s Christians. And as a “ringleader” (Acts 24:5), Paul was rearrested at some point and placed, according to church tradition, in the Mamertine Prison.

The Mamertine Prison could have been called the “House of Darkness.” Few prisons were as dim, dank, and dirty as the lower chamber Paul occupied. Known in earlier times as the Tullianum dungeon, its “neglect, darkness, and stench” gave it “a hideous and terrifying appearance,” according to Roman historian Sallust.

Prisoners in the ancient world were rarely sent to prison as punishment. Rather, prisons typically served as holding cells for those awaiting trial or execution. We see this throughout Scripture. Mosaic Law made no provision for incarceration as a form of punishment. Joseph languished in an Egyptian prison for two years, presumably awaiting trial before Pharaoh on a charge of rape (Genesis 39:19–20; 41:1). Jeremiah was imprisoned under accusation of treason (Jeremiah 37:11–16) but was transferred to the temple guardhouse after an appeal to King Zedekiah, who sought to protect the prophet (37:17–21). And though Jeremiah was later thrown into a cistern, the purpose was to kill him, not imprison him (38:1–6).

During Paul’s first imprisonment, he awaited trial before Roman governors Felix and Festus (Acts 24–26). He then was under house arrest in Rome for two years (28:30), awaiting an appearance before Nero. Scholars believe Paul was released sometime in AD 62 because the Jews who had accused him of being “a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension” (24:5) didn’t press their case before the emperor. However, during Paul’s second imprisonment in the Mamertine dungeon, he had apparently received a preliminary hearing and was awaiting a final trial (2 Timothy 4:16). He didn’t expect acquittal; he expected to be found guilty, in all likelihood, for hating humankind. From there, Paul believed only his execution would be left (4:6–7), which was probably carried out in AD 68. As a Roman citizen it is believed that Paul was beheaded which was in keeping with the execution of someone of the status of citizen. (Jeter)

Can one write a better conclusion than that which Paul wrote himself. 2Ti 4:7  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 2Ti 4:8  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Perhaps the best conclusion that was not divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit was that written by Coneybeare and Howson “Their prisoner, now at last and forever delivered from his captivity, rejoiced to follow his Lord ‘without the gate’. The place of execution was not far distant; and there the sword of the headsman ended his long course of sufferings, and released that heroic soul from that feeble body. Weeping friends took up his corpse, and carried it for burial to those subterranean labyrinths, where, through many ages of oppression, the persecuted Church found refuge for the living, and sepulchres for the dead.

Thus died the Apostle, the Prophet, and the Martyr; bequeathing to the Church, in her governments and her discipline, the legacy of his Apostolic labours; leaving his Prophetic words to be her living oracles; pouring forth his blood to be the seed of a thousand Martyrdoms. Thenceforth, among the glorious company of the Apostles, among the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, among the noble army of the Martyrs, his name has stood pre-eminent. And wheresoever the Holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge God, there Paul of Tarsus is revered, as the great teacher of a universal redemptions and a catholic religion – the herald of Glad-tidings to all mankind” (Howson)


Howson, Coneybeare and. The LIfe and Epistles of St. Paul. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 16th Print 1980.

Jeter, Derek G. “Historical Background of Paul’s Final Imprisonment.” n.d.

Killen, William Dool. “The Ancient Church.” n.d.

Spence, H.T., Th D. “Pauline Epistles Lectures.” Foundations Bible College, Spring 2020.

Jeremy Searle

Jeremy Searle