Home   e-Library       中文 
e-Library Home |  Browse By Category |  Study the Bible    
Peter and Paul, the Two Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ


I.       Overview

A.     Aims:

An investigation of the life and ministry of Peter and Paul will deepen our understanding of the nature of the divine call and the close relationship between our Lord and the disciples. We learn that the all-out dedication, suffering, faith, stoic magnitude are the necessary spiritual and moral qualities as required of every one of us. To carry out the will of God to evangelize and strengthening the church ministry, we must equip ourselves with the wisdom and power of God and become worthy vessels of God in this eventful age.

B.      Scope:

This four-hour class will concentrate on the details of life and ministry of Peter and Paul, while leaving aside theological studies of the Petrian and Pauline writings as they require a separate treatment.

C.     Method:

Bible reading and discussion (Lecture 60%; discussion and report 40%). A final open-book/note test is given at the end of the class.

II.    Part One: 

The Apostle Peter 

A.     Historical qualifications of the ‘apostles’ (the Greek apostoloi, "messengers", and the Hebrew counterpart ''Selihim, "agents")

B.      Simon

Simon (or Symeon) was Peter’s personal name. "Simon son of John” (John 1:42; 21:15-17). Simon Bar-jona in Matt. 16:17 may well be an abridged form of Yohannan, "John", rather than the equivalent of the Hebrew name Jonah (yonaih, "dove"). The name ‘Peter’ translates an Aramaic nickname Kepha or Cepha (Job 30.6; Jer 4.29) --- "rock", synonymous with the Hebrew sela` ("rock" or "crag") --- appears in the NT (Jn 1.42; 1Cor 15.1.12; 3.22; 9.5; 15.5; Gal 1.18; 2.9,11,14). In Matthew’s account of the confession at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus declared with the Greek Petros: "You are Peter, and on this rock (petra) I will build my church" (Matt. 16:17).

C.     Calling:

The first group of fishermen called to become the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 1.26-20; Matt 4.18-22; detailed narrative in Luke 5.6-11 cf. Peter was summoned by Andrew in John 1.40-42).  In Jesus’ Galilean ministry, Peter was of immediate help: healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1.29-31//Matt 8.14-15//Luke 4.38-39); his boat used for Jesus’ preaching (Luke 5.1-3). 

D.     Role as Leading Disciple:

His name was listed first in lists of the disciples (Mark 3.16; Luke 16.14; Matt 10.2), first of the three members in Jesus’ inner circle: healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 9.2); at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17.1-8//Luke 9.28-36); confession of Jesus’ divinity at Caesaria Philippi (Mark 8.29//Matt 16.16-17//Luke 9.20); at the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26.36-46//Mark 14.32-42); he followed Jesus to the court of the house of the high priest Caiaphas (Matt 26.

E.      Special awareness of Jesus’ teaching

about ‘things which are clean’ (Matt 15.15) and footwashing (Jn 13.1-10); charged to deal with the question about tax (Matt 17.24-27); receiving special instruction about ‘forgiveness’ (Matt 18.21-22); affirming Jesus his master as ‘the Holy One of God’ (Jn 6.67-69).


1.        Simon Peter’s impetuosity (Mark 14.29//Luke 22.33-34//Matth 26.33-35) and his denial of Jesus at the latter’s arrest (Mark 14.53-72). What sort of lesson we learn for our spiritual life and ministerial service?

2.        Through Jesus’ ‘payer’ Peter was ‘rehabilitated’ (Luke 22.31-32). What has it to do with the strength of intercession and love for a restored faith. Specify the role of weakness and the turning point from weakness to strength (e.g. Rom 7.18-25; the Prodigal Son in Luke 15; Paul’s own expression in 2 Cor 12).

F.      Peter and the Commission of the Lord Jesus:

 Peter is said to have taken the initiative in the arrangement to co-opt a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1.15-26); Samaritan mission (Acts 15-17) and Simon the Magus (Acts 8.18-24); Cornelius and the gentle mission (Acts 10); the responsibility to tend the flock of the Lord (Jn 21.15ff).

G.     In his ministry Peter receives power from the Lord:

Peter who makes the speech for the defense before the Sanhed­rin (Acts 4:8-12). When Ananias and Sapphira bring the apostles part of the proceeds from the sale of their land, pretending to hand over the whole amount, it is at Peter’s rebuke that they fall down dead, the one after the other (Acts 5:1-11). Later, Peter embarks on a preaching and healing tour outside Jerusalem, in the area between the capital and the Mediterranean coast. He cures a paralytic at Lydda (Acts 9:32-35) and restores a Christian woman to life at Joppa (9:36-42); Peter miraculously escaped from prison and, after announcing his escape to the disciples who met in Mary's house, and who at that very time were praying for his release, he left for an unknown destination, bidding them give the news of his escape "to James and to the brethren" (Acts 12:17).


1.         Elaborate the historical and theological significance of ‘the apostolic message’ Peter addresses to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.14-36) and other occasions at the Temple or before the Sanhedrin (council) (Acts 3.12-26; 4.23-31; 5.29-32; 10.34-43).

H.     Conference at Jerusalem

After the fifteen days' visit to Peter recorded in Gal. 1:18, Paul went to Syria and Cilicia and did not see Peter again for fourteen, or at least eleven, years. (It is uncertain whether the phrase "after fourteen years" in Gal. 2:1 denotes fourteen years from his previous visit or fourteen years from his conversion). On his second post-conversion visit by Paul to Jerusalem, he and Barnabas (who accompanied him from Antioch) had a private conference with the leaders of the Jerusalem church. In principle, Paul and Barnabas were to evangelize to the Gentile world, just as Peter and Jerusalem leaders were to evangelize Jews. (That Peter's missionary activity was not restricted to Jews is implied here and there in the New Testament. Whatever view be taken of the life-setting of 1 Peter, that letter is addressed in Peter's name to Gentile converts in various provinces of Asia Minor ---including two which were evangelized by Paul).


1.        James, Peter and John are the ‘pillars’ (Gal 2.9), a figure of speech indicating the spiritual qualities needed in the ministry of the true, spiritual temple of God.

I.       Confrontation at Antioch

Some time after the conference in Jerusalem, Peter visited Antioch, and enjoyed table-fellow­ship with Jewish and Gentile Christians alike (Gal 2.11ff). When the ‘circumcision party’ from Jerusalem arrived, Peter with­drew from the Gentile Christians and ate with Jewish Christians only. Peter's example, moreover, was followed by other Jewish Christians there. In Paul's eyes, this was a piece of play-acting, and the effect of this action on Gentile Christians must have been devastating; the Christians at Antioch must have felt themselves relegated to the status of second-class citizens in the church, with no hope of attaining first-class status except by submitting to circumcision.

J.       Appendix 1: Peter's wider ministry

Peter receives no further mention in Acts. Such evidence from this period comes from Paul's Corinthian correspon­dence suggests that, from about mid-century on, Peter engaged in a fairly wide-ranging ministry and was no longer regularly resident in Jerusalem. Early in A.D. 55 Paul received visitors who brought what for him was the disquieting news that factions. One of the parties perhaps from Judaea and Syria claimed Peter as its leader (1 Cor 1). Also, Peter had probably visited the city in person, for in1 Corinthians Paul speaks of certain rights to which, as an apostle, he would certainly be entitled, but which he chose to forgo, such as the right to marry and take his wife around with him on his missionary journeys, expecting the churches to support her as well as himself, like "the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Kephas" (1 Cor. 9.5). Why does he name "Kephas" separately from "the other apostles"? Not because he did not include him among the apostles (a view which has actually been defended) but because the Corinthian Christians had actually seen Peter, and his wife too, on a visit to their city.

K.     Appendix 2: Antioch, Corinth and Rome

There are three places in the Mediterranean world with which Peter's name is specially associated. Antioch and Corinth have already been mentioned; the third is Rome.

In none of these places was Peter directly associ­ated with the founding of the church; yet such was the prestige of his name that all three laid claim to him as apostolic founder - in partnership with Paul.  Thus, in the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions, the first two post-apostolic bishops of Antioch are said to have been Euodius, ordained by Peter, and then Ignatius, ordained by Paul.58 These two ordi­nations are quite unhistorical, but they reflect the desire of the church of Antioch to make the most of the two apostles who, for a shorter or longer period, were present with it in its early days.

Even more remarkably, Dionysius, bishop of Cor­inth, writing to the bishop of Rome about A.D. 170, refers to the Roman church's claim to have been founded by Peter and Paul and makes a similar claim for his own church: "for both of them taught together in this Corinth of ours and were our founders". Paul would certainly have disclaimed any part in the planting of the Roman church, which he recognized to be "another man's founda­tion”60 (Rom. 15.20), but what he would have thought of the suggestion - made by a Corinthian bishop, forsooth - that Peter was joint-founder with him of the church of Corinth taxes one's imagination!

As for Peter's association with the Roman church, this was not only a claim made from early days at Rome; it was conceded by churchmen from all over the Christian world. In the New Testament it is reflected in the greetings sent to the readers of 1 Peter from the church (literally, from "her") "that is in Babylon, elect together with you" (1 Pet. 5:13) ­if, as is most probable, Babylon is a code-word for Rome.

Constantine's erection of the basilica of St. Peter on the Vatican hill was based on the belief that Peter's body was buried there - a belief going back at least to A.D. 180, when the Roman presbyter Gaius said that he could point out Peter's “trophy” or funerary monument on the Vatican hill.67 The actual monument to which Gaius refers may well have been discovered in the course of excavations beneath St. Peter's in 1941 - a simple aedicula comprising three niches, in relation to which Con­stantine appears to have orientated the basilica. If (as seems likely) the monument is of the same date as a small water-channel in its immediate vicinity, it can be assigned to the time of Marcus Aurelius, whose name is stamped on several bricks of the channel - perhaps before his accession to the principate in A.D. 161, since he is designated Caesar, not Augustus.68

The rival site for Peter's burial (along with Paul) near the Memoria Apostolorum ad Catacumbas, on the Appian Way, must not pass unnoticed.69 We cannot here discuss the respective claims of the two sites, but even in their rivalry they do together confirm the antiquity of the tradition of Peter's death and burial in Rome.

III. Part Two:

The Apostle Paul

A.     Chronology of Paul's Apostolic Career

1.        References in Paul’s writings: "Three years" of Gal. 1:18, the "fourteen years" of 2:1, and the other "fourteen years" of 2 Cor. 12:2; "I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost" (I Cor. 16:8) and "Achaia has been ready since last year" (2 Cor. 9:2; cf. 8:10).

In Acts, Barnabas brought Paul to Antioch, and met the church there "for a whole year" before they were sent on their famine-relief mission to Jerusalem (Acts 11:25); an interval of time by tran­sitional formulas like "after some days" (15:36). The chronological details are most precise when Luke described his voyages with Paul; his diary reads like a logbook (cf. 16:11; 20:6-16; 21:1-8; 27:1-39; 28:11-17). Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth (18:11), between two and three years in Ephesus (19:8-10; 20:31), and three months in Greece immediately before his last journey to Palestine (20:2f.). Two years that elapsed between Paul's arrest and Felix's recall from the procuratorship of Judea (24:27; this, and not the duration of Felix's procuratorship, is certainly what is meant), the three months' wintering in Malta (28:11), and Paul's two-year house arrest in Rome (v. 30).

Note:  The Judean famine of Acts 11:28 is dated in the reign of Claudius (A.D.41-54), and as Acts 12 suggests, near the death of Herod Agrippa I in 44. When he arrived in Corinth Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had recently left Italy because of Claudius's edict expelling Jews from Rome (18:2) - an edict for which Orosius's date of 49. Gallio's proconsulship of Achaia—lasted no longer than a year before being terminated by an attack of malaria (Seneca, Ep. Mor. 104.1)-- coincided with or at least overlapped Paul's stay in Corinth (v. 12).  In a rescript of Claudius to the citizens of Delphi dated to Claudius's twenty-sixth acclamation as imperator (W.Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum, 11 [4th ed. 19601, no. 801). Other inscriptional evidence (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, III, 476; VI, 1256) points to the first seven months of 52 as the period of this acclamation. Since proconsuls normally entered their office on July 1, Gallio probably became proconsul of Achaia on July 1, 51. Paul's Corinthian minis­try may thus have run from the autumn of 50 to the spring of 52, and his Ephesian ministry (which was separated from his Corinthian ministry by a hasty visit to Palestine) from the autumn of 52 to the summer of 55.

Festus's supersession of Felix as procurator of Judea may be dated to 59 by a change in provincial coinage in Nero's fifth year (cf. R W Madden, History of Jewish Coinage [1864], p. 153). Since Paul was sent by sea to Rome shortly after Festus's arrival in Judea, another, more tenuous argument in support of that year is that in A.D. 59 the Day of Atonement appears to have fallen rather late (Oct. 5), as Acts 27:9 suggests: "even the fast (the Day of Atonement] had already gone by”.

With these few aids to fixed dating, the following tentative chronological outline of Paul's career may be drawn up.

 a.      Conversion - A.D. 33

 b.      First Postconversion Visit to Jerusalem - A.D. 35

 c.      Joins Barnabas at Antioch – A.D. 45

 d.      Famine-Relief Visit to Jerusalem – A.D. 46

 e.      Accompanies Barnabas to Cyprus and Asia Minor – A.D. 47-48

 f.       At the Council of Jerusalem – A.D. 49

 g.      Journey with Silas and others to Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth – A.D. 49-50

 h.      In Corinth – A.D. 50-52

 i.        In Ephesus – A.D. 52-55

 j.        At Troas (2 Cor. 2:12)          - autumn of A.D. 55

 k.      In Macedonia and Illyricum – A.D. 55-56

 l.        In Corinth -            winter of A.D. 56-57

 m.     Arrival and Arrest in Jerusalem - May of A.D. 57

 n.      Detention in Caesarea         – A.D.   57-59

 o.      Voyage to Rome – A.D. 59-60

 p.      Under House Arrest in Rome – A.D. 60-62

 q.      Outbreak of Neronian Persecution – A.D. 64

 r.       Last imprisonment, Trial and Execution – A.D. 65 (?)

2.        Paul the Roman Citizen.

 "Saul, who is also called Paul" (Acts 13:9), was born in Tarsus, the principal city of Cilicia in southeast Asia Minor (9:11; 22:3). His description of himself as a "Hebrew" (2 Cor. 11:22), "a Hebrew born of Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5) -- his parents though living in the Diaspora among the Greeks, but remained faithful to the language and customs of Palestinian Jewry. Paul's ancestors belonged to Gischala in Galilee and migrated to Tarsus at the time of the Roman conquest of Palestine (63 B.C.): the accuracy of this tradition is uncertain. Although born into an orthodox Jewish family Paul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28); thus his father must have been a Roman citizen before him.

Note:  On three occasions Paul appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen -- at Philippi (Acts 16:37), to protest his having been beaten with rods by the lictors attendant on the chief magistrates of the colony before he had re­ceived a proper trial; some years later, at Jerusalem (22:25), to avoid being scourged (much more murderous than a beating with rods) by authorities who wanted to know how he had enraged the Jews in the temple court.  He later availed himself of his citizen rights when he appealed to Caesar (25:11).

3.        Paul the Pharisee.

Since Paul's parents were themselves adherents of the party of the Pharisees (23:6), Paul was educated in Jerusalem and became a pupil of the elder Gamaliel, leader of the school of sacred learning founded in the previous generation by Hillel. He claimed that he had outstripped his contemporaries in the knowledge and practice of the Jewish religion (Gal. 1: 14; Php 3.6; Acts 23.1).

4.        Paul Begins to Be a Christian.

 Paul's conversion was followed almost immediately by his call to be Christ's apostle to the Gentiles.  Paul's own account of the matter suggests that he lost no time in beginning to discharge his commission. Jesus' dying the death on which the divine curse rested no longer meant that He could not be the Messiah but instead had to be related to His being the Messiah.  The solution stated in Gal. 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us," must have commended itself to Paul early in his inward readjustment to the revelation that he had received.


1.        The impact of the Lord’s revelation on the way to Damascus (cf. Gal 1.16). What has it to do with the turning point of Paul in his life-long commitment to the Law and the meaning of ‘Messiah’ in Jesus Christ. 

2.        What could Paul have done during his ‘sojourning’ in Arabia?

5.        Paul’s First Missionary Journey (Acts 133-15.35) -- Paul and Barnabas.

 After visiting Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Gal 1.18; Acts 9.26-30), Paul returned to his native Cilicia, and there he disappeared from NT records for some years. The news kept reaching the ears of the disciples in Judea that their former persecutor was propagating the faith that he had once attempted to destroy (Gal. 1:23). To this period (ca. A.D. 42) perhaps belong the ecstatic experience described in 2 Cor. 12:2ff, which left its mark on Paul forever afterward, and at least some of the five beatings inflicted on him by synagogue authorities (2 Cor 11:24).

This obscure phase of Paul's Christian career ended ca. A.D. 45 when Barnabas fetched him from Tarsus to join him in the care of the young church of Syrian Antioch, where a group of Hellenistic believers had some time previously embarked on an extensive program of gentile evangelization (Acts 11: 19-26). About 46 A.D. the Antiochene Christians charged him and Barnabas to convey a gift to their Jerusalem brethren at a time when Judea was hard hit by famine (Acts 11:27-30; Gal. 2:1-10). Shortly after their return to Antioch Barnabas and Paul were sent by its church, in response to a prophetic utter­ance, to evangelize the areas to the west and northwest ­more particularly, the island of Cyprus and the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia in central Asia Minor. This has been described as the Paul’s Missionary Journey. There they preached the gospel and planted churches, among which those of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe are mentioned by name (Acts 13:14-14:23).  

Note: The Antiochene Incident (Gal 2:11-14) occurred during this phase of Paul’s ministry. Paul described what happened in Gal. 2:11-14. Paul reacted sharply because he saw that Peter and Barnabas withdrew from uncircumcised gentile believers when members from Jerusalem arrived. Paul's subsequent references to Barnabas (cf. I Cor. 9:6) do not suggest any permanent breach of friendship, although there was no further collab­oration between the two.

Conference at Jerusalem: The dispute about the Gentile believers and the ordinances had to be settled "at the highest level," and Barnabas and Paul led a deputation from the church of Antioch to discuss the matter with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. In Acts 15, James summed up the debate, and gave his judgment that no conditions were to be imposed on Gentiles as necessary for salvation beyond the condition of faith in Christ. At James's insistence, the letter sent from the Council "to brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia" (Acts 15:23),and her daughter churches included a ruling that gentile Christians should abstain from certain kinds of food that their Jewish brethren would find offensive, and conform to the Jewish marriage laws.

6.        Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15.36-18.22)--Paul in Macedonia and Greece.

 Shortly after the Council of Jerusalem Paul parted company with Barnabas (due to their failure to agree whether to take Mark, Barnabas's cousin, with them on a further visit to the recently founded churches of Asia Minor (Mark had set out with them on their previous journey to Cyprus and Asia Minor but had left them in the course of the journey and had returned to Jerusalem). Paul no longer made Syrian Antioch his missionary base.

With Silas (Silvanus), a like-minded member of the Jerusalem church who appears to have been a Roman citizen like Paul himself, Paul revisited the churches of south Galatia. The westward way to Ephesus, which ap­parently they had hoped to take, was barred to them, so, turning north and northwest, they reached the Aegean coast at Troas and crossed the sea to Neapolis in Macedonia.  By this time Timothy, a young convert of Lystra, was henceforth Paul's faithful lieutenant. Another companion, Luke, the gentile physician of Antioch, modestly indicates his presence with Paul and the others at this stage by using the pronoun "we" instead of "they" in his narrative (Acts 16:10-17).

After landing in Macedonia they made short stays in Philippi and in Thessalonica, the capital of the province. Churches were quickly planted in both cities, and these continued to thrive, although the missionaries, and par­ticularly Paul, were compelled to leave sooner than they wished. In Philippi he and Silas were accused before the Roman magistrates (Philippi being a Roman colony) of interference with citizens' property rights; this was one of the occasions on which Paul (as well as Silas) appealed to his Roman citizenship. In Thessalonica the charge against him and his companions was more serious. The Thessalonian citizens who had given hospitality to Paul were brought before the politarchs and charged with harboring the men who had "turned the world upside down," flouted Caesar's decrees, and proclaimed a rival emperor, one Jesus (Acts 17:6f.). The wording of the accusation, as Luke recorded it, suggests that subversive characters had been active elsewhere among the Jewish communities of the empire, and Paul and his companions were represented as being of their number. Paul's friends took him out of Thessalonica quickly for his own safety - and theirs. The accusation was a most serious one, and the politarchs could not afford to treat it lightly. Paul's two letters to the Thessalonian church, which were written only a few weeks or at most months after his departure from their city, bear witness to an intense escha­tological excitement among the Christians there, and per­haps among the Jews also. In both Epistles Paul found it necessary to insist on a more sober outlook on the last things and pointed out that certain events precede the day of the Lord: "That day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.  

From Thessalonica Paul went to Beroea in Thessaly, and when similar trouble threatened to break out there, he was sent by sea to Athens. There he waited for his companions Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. (Luke apparently remained in Philippi.)


1.        The apologia before the Athenian Areopagus in Acts 17:22-31 as a successful testimonia about the revelation of God in creation and providence, and the need to believe Jesus Christ the Saviour and Judge for eternal life.

But Athens was only a temporary halting-place; after a few days Paul moved on to Corinth, a busy seaport and prosperous city of the province of Achaia. There for the first time since leaving Antioch he found a base where he could stay for a considerable time and both plant and consolidate a center of Christian witness. Some months after his ar­rival in Corinth an attempt was made to restrain him; the leaders of the Jewish community of Corinth accused him before Gallio proconsul of Achaia of "persuading men to worship God contrary to the law" (Acts 18:13). They charged Paul with propagating an illegal religion, implying what he was preaching was certainly not Judaism, which enjoyed the recognition and protection of imperial law except when its practice or propagation endangered public order. Their hope lay in con­vincing him that Paul's activity constituted a contravention of Roman law, which it was Gallio's business to maintain. Gallio, however, summed up the situation quickly and dismissed the case as that of Jewish law he had not intention to meddle with.

For the pastoral issues at Corinth, Paul's task was rendered the more difficult because he had to wage war on two fronts: against those who thought that the gospel emancipated them from all ethical con­ventions, and against those who (partly, no doubt, by way of reaction to the former) went to the opposite extreme and tried in the name of Christianity to set up taboos against marriage, against animal food, and so forth. Thus, on the one hand Paul was doing all he could to restrain the libertarians who misinterpreted Christian liberty to do anything they chose. On the other, he was obliged to deal firmly with the ascetics who wanted to introduce a new set of prohibitions that would have banished Christian liberty altogether. The guiding principle is the truth of the Gospel and spiritual freedom in the Spirit of the Lord.

7.        Paul’s Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18.23-21.16) 

After his departure from Ephesus in the summer of 55 Paul spent some time revisiting the churches of Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 20:1-3 and Rom. 15:19). He preached the gospel to the areas as far west as Illyricum - the Roman province bordering the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, NW of Macedonia. The interval following his Ephesian ministry is the only one into which a visit to Illyricum can be fitted. It was the latest episode in his missionary activity at the time of writing - ca. early 57. One reason that Paul wrote to the Roman Christians then was to prepare them for a visit that he hoped shortly to pay them. But he told them that before he could set out for Rome he had to discharge a commission in Jerusalem - the delivery to the Christians there of a monetary contribution that he had been organizing in the churches of his gentile mission field for three or four years (Rom. 15:25ff.; cf. I Cor. 16:lff.; 2 Cor. 8:lff.).

8.        Paul Comes to Rome.

Paul formulated his plan to visit Rome toward the end of his Ephesian ministry (Acts 19.21). The reasons are simply as follows. 1) Paul had a settled policy of preach­ing Christ where the gospel had not previously been heard. 2) He is unwilling to "build on another man's foundation," and so most of the other Mediterranean lands would not become targets of his further apostolic activity. 3) No one had carried the Christian message to Spain. To Spain, then, Paul would go. And on his way to Spain he would have an opportunity to realize a long-cherished desire to see Rome, and not only to see it, but, by the goodwill of the Christians there, to make it his base for his Spanish mission (Rom.1.11-15; 15.14-32).

The circumstances in which Paul reached Rome were different from any that he could have foreseen. While he and the delegates from the gentile churches received a friendly welcome from James and his fellow elders in Jerusalem, he was set upon in the temple by some Jews from the province of Asia and charged with violating its sanctity (Acts 21.27-30). He was taken into custody by members of the Roman garrison in the adjoining Antonia fortress (22.34). When their commander discovered that Paul was a Roman citizen and the mob was about to ambush Paul, he sent him under­ armed escort to Felix procurator of Judea at Caesarea (22.22-23.24). The Jewish authorities sent a deputation to Caesarea to press two charges against Paul - the particular charge of sacrilege, which could not be substantiated because the witnesses failed to appear, and the more general charge of being a subverter of public order throughout the whole Diaspora. To both charges Paul returned a firm plea of Not Guilty, but Felix deferred sentence until his recall from office in 59.  His successor Festus reopened the case with every intention of acting in accordance with the highest standards of Roman justice.  When, however, he spoke of holding the trial at Jerusalem and not at Caesarea, Paul was afraid that through the new governor's inexperi­ence he might be put into the power of his enemies.  Accordingly he availed himself of a Roman citizen's privi­lege and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25: 11).

The provincial judge had to send an explanatory state­ment (litterae dimissoriae, "letter of dismissal") along with the accused man. The inexperienced Festus was certainly glad to have the aid in drafting this document of the younger Agrippa, king of the areas NE of the Roman province of Judea. Agrippa had come to Caesarea to pay his respects to the new procurator on the morrow of Paul's appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:13ff.). From 48 to 66 the Jewish high-priesthood was in Agrippa's gift, and he was reputed to be well versed in Jewish religious practice. This king had an opportunity of hearing Paul for himself and agreed that he could not reasonably be convicted on any of the serious charges brought against Paul. Indeed, Paul might have been discharged there and then, had he not appealed to Caesar. But for Festus to prejudge the issue now by discharging him would have been impolitic, if not ultra vires (beyond his authority) (Acts 26:32). To Rome, then, Paul was sent, under the custody of the centurion Julius (27:lff.).

Luke recorded in considerable detail Paul's voyage to Rome, shipwreck on the way, and a three-month winter stay in Malta (Acts 27:1-28:10). When at last he and the other prisoners on board reached Rome, they were handed over by the centurion who had charge of them to the official called "stratopedarch" (Western text of Acts 28:16). Under house arrest, Paul was thus free to receive visitors, although he could not move about freely himself. The pattern of Jewish refusal of the gospel and gentile acceptance of it is recorded definitively in Rome, with Paul's conclusive last word (after his quotation of Isa. 6: 10): "Take knowledge, then, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen to it" (Acts 28:28).

But what of the "two full years" of Paul's detention?  What happened at the end of this period? Some have assumed quite confidently that it ended with Paul's trial, conviction, and execution (cf. J. V. Bartlet, Expos., 8th ser., 5 [1913], 464ff.). Others have thought that it ended with his release, either because he was tried and acquitted or because the case went against his accusers by default (cf. K. Lake, Interpreter, 5 [1908/091, 147ff.; W. M. Ram­say, Teaching of Paul in Terms of the Present Day, 346ff.; H. J. Cadbury, BC, V, 297ff., esp. 326ff.). The prolongation of Paul's stay in Rome over two full years could have been due to congestion of court business as much as anything else; if indeed he was discharged without being tried, this act could have resulted from Caesar's exercising his imperium. "Perhaps Paul benefited from the clemency of Nero, and secured a merely casual release. But there is no necessity to construe Acts to mean that he was released at all" (A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the NT [1963], p. 119).  Paul's Epistles must be examined to discover if they throw any more light on the question than Acts does.

If Paul was released after his two years of captivity in Rome, where did he go next? The possibilities are as follows: 1) His letter to Philemon (if it belongs to his Roman captivity) indicates that he expected soon to be discharged and to revisit his friends in the province of Asia. "Prepare a guest room for me," he said, "for I am hoping through your prayers to be granted to you" (Philem. 22); 2) The Pastoral Epistles provide unmistak­able references to some activity by Paul in the eastern Mediterranean, which cannot well be dated anywhere be­fore his arrest in Jerusalem and voyage to Rome. In addi­tion to the province of Asia, he appears to have visited Macedonia (I Tim. 1:3), Crete (Tit. 1:5), and Epirus (Tit. 3:12).  In Acts 20, Paul told the elders of the Ephesian church when he took his leave of them at Miletus that they would never see him again (Acts 20:25, 38), but at that time he was planning to set out for Spain as soon as he had completed his business in Jerusalem and did not foresee the disruption in his plans that his arrest in Jerusalem would cause.

Was he ever able to fulfill his hope of preaching the gospel in Spain? To this question no certain answer can be returned. Two Roman documents suggest that he did go there. Clement of Rome in his epistle to the Corinthians (ca. 96) reminded them how Paul "went to the limit of the West" and bore his testimony before rulers before he departed from the world (I Clem. 5:7). Whether Clement meant "the limit of the West" or was speaking simply of Paul's reaching "his goal in the West," as a Roman writer he likely was referring to a place farther west than Rome. The second document, Muratorian Canon (ca. 190), also seems to say that Luke omitted both Peter's martyrdom and Paul's departure from the capital for Spain (lines 37-39). This apparent assumption that Paul did set out for Spain could, however, be nothing more than an inference from Rom. 15:24, 28; indeed, the same might be said, though with less proba­bility, of Clement's mention of his going to "the limit of the West." The question must remain open.

On the final scene of Paul's life there is more certainty. The Roman Christian writer and presbyter Gaius (late 2nd cent.) said that he could point out on the Vatican hill and by the road to Ostia the "trophies" (funeral monuments) of the apostles (i.e., Peter and Paul, respectively). Eusebius, a 3rd century ecclesiastic historian, quoted Gaius to this effect (HE ii.25.7) by saying how Dionysius bishop of Corinth (ca. 170) in a letter to the Roman church recalled the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Italy around the same time - presumably in the persecution under Nero that broke out in 64. 2 Tim. 4:6-18 may well refer to a second im­prisonment and trial of Paul at Rome which issued in his condemnation and execution. As a Roman citizen, Paul would have been beheaded with the sword.  But that would have been a small matter in the eyes of one who had long recognized that "to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21); what filled him with joy was that his appearance in court gave him one more opportunity to bear witness to the gospel: "the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it" (2 Tim. 4:17).