Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. The City of Rome described.


              2. Jews and Christians in Rome.


              3. St. Paul’s Release after a Two Years’ Imprisonment.






              1. In the West:

              Visit to Great Britain universally rejected.


                            Visit to Spain very probable.




              2. In the East:

              Order of places visited, uncertain.


                            Second arrest probably at Ephesus.






              1. Second Imprisonment:

              Much more severe than the first.


                            Acquittal in first trial.


                            Sentence of death in second trial.




              2. Death of St. Paul:

              Outside the city.


                            Date of martyrdom (year and month).






              1. Personal Appearance of St. Paul.


              2. Character of St. Paul.


§ 1. First Roman Imprisonment

1. The City of Rome Described. At the time of St. Paul’s arrival in Rome the great imperial city had already lost much of its republican simplicity, and was on the eve of still greater changes, not indeed as regards the main features of its ground, but as regards the general appearance of its private and public buildings. Now, as in bygone ages, the part of the city built in the plain watered by the Tiber was on a much lower level than either its quarters on the three detached hills (the Capitoline, the Palatine and the Aventine), which arose near the river, or those gradually built on the four ridges (the Cælian, the Esquiline, the Viminal and the Quirinal), which ascended beyond to the east and united together in the higher ground on which the prætorian camp was now situated. But since the capture of Corinth (146 B.C.), which supplied Rome with so many masterpieces of Grecian art, and especially since the civil war between Cæsar and Pompey (49 B.C.), when so many successful generals or greedy proconsuls and prætors brought home plunder and wealth, the city had rapidly lost much of its primitive, simple and unadorned appearance. Since Augustus, in particular, a new era had opened for imperial Rome: his example in erecting splendid public buildings had been closely imitated by his successors Tiberius and Claudius, and within a few years Nero, the Cæsar of the time, was to profit by the great fire under his reign to inaugurate those improvements and embellishments of the later emperors which made of Rome the finest city in the world.

The population of Rome under Nero, though very variously estimated, amounted probably to one million, half of which only were free citizens. The great bulk of these—belonging to every nationality and religion—were poor and lived in crowded lodging-houses, while a small and most wealthy aristocracy dwelt in splendid palaces, attended by countless slaves. Indeed, it would have been difficult to imagine a greater contrast between the luxury of the few and the misery of the many, for in ancient Rome the extravagance of the wealthy classes did not even produce, as in a modern city, a general diffusion of work among the free population, because trade in its various branches, and also liberal professions, were entrusted to slaves.

2. Jews and Christians in Rome. Living in the midst of the Roman population, or rather settled mostly in the portion of the city now named the “Trastevere,” or district beyond the Tiber, was a large Jewish community, the first beginnings of which went back at least to the year 63 B.C., when Pompey brought many captives from Judæa to grace his triumph. Soon manumitted, this Jewish element had grown rapidly in numbers and influence under the patronage of Julius Cæsar and of Augustus, and although the Jews had been expelled from Rome in 47 A.D., by an edict of Claudius, they had soon regained ground under Nero. They had no less than nine synagogues in the city, had secured the recognition and toleration of their peculiar customs to which here, as elsewhere, they showed themselves strictly faithful, and despite the popular hatred and contempt in which they were held, had greatly influenced in favor of a more reasonable creed and purer worship many men and women disgusted with heathenism. Finally their expectation of the very near coming of the Messias was also well known to their pagan fellow-citizens, and in so far concurred to prepare them for the glad tidings of salvation in Jesus.

It is quite natural to suppose that this announcement of the Gospel was made in Rome not long after the day of Pentecost, seeing that among those who witnessed the wonders of that great day, recorded in the second chapter of the book of the Acts, there were Roman strangers, both Jews and proselytes; and we know for certain from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, that for a considerable time before his arrival in Rome a large and flourishing Christian community existed in that city. It was also probably because the faithful had greatly multiplied in the Roman capital and had thereby occasioned some hostile movements on the part of the Jews against them, that Claudius published the edict above referred to, and of which Suetonius says, “Judæos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit.”

3. St. Paul’s Release After a Two Years’ Imprisonment. The centurion Julius, upon arriving at Rome, naturally delivered without delay Paul and the other prisoners to the prætorian prefect, who was at that time the illustrious Burrhus, and who showed to the Apostle all the indulgence a prisoner could receive. The Apostle was therefore allowed to dwell under military custody in his own hired house, with full permission to receive all that came to him. Without delay he availed himself of that liberty to have an interview with the chief of the Jews, to vindicate his reputation, and at the same time to call forcibly their attention to passages of Holy Writ, which told conclusively for the Messiahship of Jesus. The result of this conference was apparently not very successful, and we are not told whether any such was held between Paul and the Roman Jews during the “two whole years” which the Apostle spent awaiting the judgment of the emperor. During this time, also, he preached freely the Gospel to all comers, and wrote the two epistles to the Colossians and Ephesians, which so closely resemble each other; that to the Philippians; and finally the short but exquisitely delicate note to Philemon.

As the narrative of the book of the Acts ends with the mention of St. Paul’s two years of imprisonment, it is difficult to say what became of him afterwards. Some have supposed that this period closed with St. Paul’s trial and death, and have urged two principal arguments in support of that view: (1) the silence of the writer of the book of the Acts, who must have known of such a release if an actual fact, who, since he speaks of the two years’ imprisonment, had a natural opportunity to mention also the vindication of the Apostle even at the tribunal of Cæsar, and who, indeed, should have mentioned it, because such an acquittal would have constituted a magnificent climax in the long series of instances which he gives of the favorable treatment accorded to St. Paul by the Roman authorities; (2) the silence of all the apologetic writers of the end of the first and of the first part of the second centuries, who used every means to prove that the Christian religion was no enemy to state and society, and yet nowhere referred to a release of St. Paul, that is, to a striking argument in favor of their position, if such a release was known to have occurred.

To these negative arguments—and scholars who deny St. Paul’s liberation at this time have only such to offer—the great majority of scholars, Catholic and Protestant alike, reply by the positive testimonies of a tradition sufficiently early and explicit in favor of a successful termination of St. Paul’s first imprisonment. These same scholars appeal also, and, according to our mind, rightly, to the Pastoral Epistles, which contain many historical facts which cannot be placed before any portion of St. Paul’s life previous to or during his first imprisonment; for even supposing, for argument’s sake, that these epistles were not written by the Apostle to whom tradition ascribes them, yet their very early composition and ascription to St. Paul argue powerfully in favor of his release at this time. To these positive arguments it may be added here by way of confirmation that if it is strange—as every one must grant—that St. Luke should not have recorded St. Paul’s release if it actually occurred, much more strange still must it appear that, if the Apostle was executed after his two years’ imprisonment, the writer of the book of the Acts should not have mentioned the unsuccessful end of the trial and the death of his great hero. Again, as regards the silence of the early apologetic writers above referred to, it seems that the objection based on it loses sight of the fact that these apologists could not appeal to the release of St. Paul as an argument in favor of Christianity without giving ground for the retort that in the person of that very same Paul the cause of the new religion had been ultimately condemned after a more thorough examination of its principles and character: it is therefore possible to account satisfactorily for their silence otherwise than by denying a first release of the Apostle. Finally, it should be noticed that if we take into account the friendly testimony of Julius, the centurion, the favorable reports of Felix, the former, and of Festus, the actual, procurator of Judæa, the liberation of St. Paul appears much more likely than his execution at this time.

§ 2. Last Journeys of St. Paul

1. In the West. The greatest obscurity rests on the journeys undertaken by St. Paul between his first and second Roman imprisonment; yet, as he had long cherished the project of evangelizing the West, it may well be supposed that not long after his release he carried this into effect. Some Protestant writers of this century have endeavored to prove that during these Western travels the Apostle went to England and implanted faith in that island, but, whatever the motives which suggested this supposition, it is beyond doubt that this visit, as Lightfoot puts it, possesses “neither evidence nor probability,” and in point of fact this journey to Great Britain is now universally given up. Not so with a voyage to Spain, which St. Paul had purposed to make after passing through Rome. St. Clement of Rome, a writer of the first century, and perhaps one of the disciples of St. Paul, refers probably to that voyage when he says that the Apostle “went to the extremity of the West,” and the Canon of Muratori, less than a century afterwards, speaks explicitly “of the departure of Paul from Rome into Spain.” True there are no memorials of the missionary labors of the great Apostle in that country, but this should not surprise us, since, on the one hand, we have only a few facts in Spanish history referable to the period before the fourth century, and since, on the other hand, there is likewise no traditional trace of his work in other districts in which, however, he certainly labored. It has been surmised that his stay in Spain was of about two years, but in our utter lack of evidence in this regard it is better to refrain from conjecture.|

2. In the East. Much obscurity surrounds likewise the last journeys of St. Paul in the East, although in connection with them the Pastoral Epistles supply some useful data. From Spain it does not seem that he would have any special difficulty in reaching the churches he had formerly founded in Greece, Macedonia, and Asia Minor, for there was at that time “constant commercial intercourse between the East and Massilia (the modern Marseilles); and Massilia was in daily communication with the Iberic peninsula.” He naturally redeemed the promise he had made soon to visit Philippi; then, he might easily cross to Troas, where he tells us that he left his cloak, books, and parchments, and proceed to Ephesus, that great capital of proconsular Asia, which he seems to have also visited when travelling westward, as we learn from his words to Timothy, “I desired thee to remain at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia.” When in Ephesus he would probably visit the church of Colossa, according to his promise to Philemon.| From Colossa he might proceed to Miletus, where he left Trophimus sick, and from Miletus sail to the island of Crete, where he left Titus that he “should set in order the things that are wanting.”* In his epistle to Titus he mentions his resolve to winter in Nicopolis, probably the city of that name in Epirus, in which case he would go to Corinth and thence proceed to Nicopolis.†

Such are the principal Eastern cities and places which the student of New Testament history may feel pretty sure were visited by the great Apostle before his second Roman imprisonment, but the order in which they have been described, although a plausible one, because founded on all our available data, is to a very large extent conjectural. It is also very likely that he went through many other places, particularly of Asia Minor, but we have no means of determining which were those favored spots. The principal reason for admitting that Ephesus was the place of St. Paul’s arrest is that Alexander, a coppersmith of that city, appears as the principal accuser of the Apostle after the magistrates had forwarded him to Rome. Moreover, among the ruins of Ephesus a tower is still pointed out bearing the name of St. Paul’s prison, and in which he is supposed to have been detained until he was sent to Rome; but, of course, not much value can be ascribed to that tradition.

§ 3. Second Imprisonment and Death

1. Second Imprisonment of St. Paul. We have, it is true, no positive information about the exact reason for which the great Apostle was again sent to Rome for trial. Yet it may be supposed with a fair amount of probability that when tried in Ephesus and when about to be condemned especially because teaching a religion whose tenets implied treason against Cæsar, he as a Roman citizen threw in an appeal from that inferior tribunal to that of Cæsar, and was in consequence again forwarded as a prisoner to the capital of the empire.

It is naturally assumed that this second imprisonment was more severe than the first. A tradition which goes back only to the fifth century, and which is found for the first time in the interpolated Acts of the holy martyrs Processus and Martinianus, speaks of the Mamertine prison, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, as the dungeon into which St. Paul was now thrown. This tradition is perhaps grounded on fact; if so, it must be understood to refer to the upper part of that prison, for in it alone the Apostle, not yet entirely debarred from intercourse, could see the friends who had the courage to come and visit him. However this may be, the excellent prætorian prefect Burrhus had died early in 62 A.D. and had been replaced by Tigellinus and Fenius Rufus; the centurion Julius and the procurator Festus could no longer intervene in behalf of Paul, so that it is only natural to suppose that he was kept in close confinement, instead of being allowed, as formerly, to dwell in his own hired lodging and receive all comers.

With the spring opened the regular term for trials, and as by this time accusers and documents had reached Rome St. Paul’s case came up in due order before the imperial tribunal. It is probable that at this preliminary trial he was brought before the emperor himself. Nero still heard in person appeals in criminal causes, and in 2 Tim. (4:17) St. Paul says that he “was delivered out of the mouth of the lion,” a metaphor which some years before had been applied to the Emperor Tiberius, when his death was made known to King Agrippa I., by his freedman Marsyas. It is indeed wonderful that in this first trial the Apostle was not sentenced to death, for while a certain Alexander, a coppersmith, was now a most implacable prosecutor, Paul was in this, his sorriest need, deserted by all. But if no man stood with him, as he tells us, the Lord stood by him, gave special power to his words, and delivered him out of the mouth of the lion. The Apostle was remanded to his prison, and there waited for a second trial, which he rightly conjectured would lead to his execution.

However little we know for certain about St. Paul’s first trial, we know still less concerning the second one, beyond the assured fact that it ended with his condemnation, and the probability that this time the emperor did not preside over the tribunal in person (as may be inferred from the words of St. CLEMENT of Rome, Corint. V.); all the rest, such as the grounds for condemnation, the quality of the accusers, etc., is involved in deep obscurity. It may well be supposed, however, that the undaunted champion of Christ openly professed his faith, protesting at the same time that he had not violated any law found in the statute book; but as a Christian he was probably pronounced guilty of treason against Cæsar, and as a Roman citizen he was sentenced to decapitation.

2. Death of St. Paul. The unanimous account of St. Paul’s death which has been handed down to us is that he was beheaded outside Rome, on the road to Ostia, at a place called Aquæ Salviæ, and now known as Tre Fontane (the Three Fountains), about 2 miles from the city. On the one hand, this account agrees well with the usage of that time, viz., that the decapitation by the sword was oftentimes inflicted at some distance from Rome on those prisoners whose death might attract too much notice in the capital. On the other hand, it seems to point to a date when Nero’s edict of a bloody persecution against the Christians had not yet been published, rather than to a time when that edict had been already carried into effect, and when, consequently, the Apostle of the Gentiles would probably have been beheaded within the walls by the centurion in charge of the execution. In so far, then, this unanimous account offers a confirmation of what our chronological calculations would naturally lead us to admit, viz., that St. Paul’s martyrdom occurred sometime before the night of 19th of July, A.D. 64, on which began the burning of Rome, which soon occasioned Nero’s ferocious edict against the innocent followers of Christ.

This date is indeed a little earlier—by two or three years—than the dates 66 or 67, usually mentioned in reference to St. Paul’s second trial and death, but it should be borne in mind (1) that there is no year clearly defined by early tradition on this point; (2) that the divergence of three years between the date admitted here and the one more commonly received (67 A.D.) is to be referred to the fact that, with such Catholic scholars as Patrizi and Kellner, and other prominent writers of our day, we think that Festus was appointed governor of Judæa as early as 55 A.D. As to the month of June, in which since the fourth century the Western churches have celebrated the principal feast of St. Paul, together with that of St. Peter, it fits in well enough with what has been said above in connection with the holding of the trial of the Apostle in the spring of the year 64 A.D., and may therefore be retained, although some—among whom DUCHESNE, Les Origines Chrétiennes—have suspected that the 29th of June is simply an anniversary of the common translation of the relics of Peter and Paul which took place in 258 A.D.

§ 4. St. Paul’s Personal Appearance and Character

1. Personal Appearance. It is impossible to describe with anything like fulness and accuracy the personal appearance of St. Paul, for our sources of information are both scanty and late. Yet as the passing descriptions of the great Apostle which have come down to us agree in several particulars, both with one another and with early pictures and mosaics, it cannot be denied that to some extent, at least, they give us correct data respecting St. Paul’s countenance. They all agree in speaking of his small stature, his long face with high forehead, aquiline nose, close and prominent eyebrows. Other features mentioned are partial baldness, gray beard, a clear complexion, and a winning manner. It may also be inferred from a passage of the book of the Acts (14:11) that there was in his face a quick and animated expression, for we read that the inhabitants of Lystra, surmising Barnabas to be Jupiter, probably from his majestic stature, took Paul as the eloquent and active Mercury. Again, many scholars consider it probable that the chronic and painful infirmity of which the Apostle speaks repeatedly was a severe inflammation of the eyes, and appeal with great plausibility to several passages of Holy Writ, such as Galat. 6:11; 4:15; Acts 23:2–5, as bearing them out. Indeed some, taking into account the effects of ophthalmia in Eastern countries, go even so far as to think that at times his eyes must have presented an unsightly and almost loathsome appearance.

Finally, St. Paul ever wore the Jewish garb, and as this resembled closely the Egyptian dress, it is not surprising that, at the time of his arrest in Jerusalem, the tribune Lysias should have supposed that he was that Egyptian impostor who had hitherto foiled all pursuit.

2. Character of St. Paul. Of all the men mentioned in the Bible, none has been more justly, more constantly and more universally praised than the Apostle of the Gentiles. His character is made known to us in almost all its aspects by the narrative of the book of the Acts and by his own writings, and yet there is hardly one feature of it which we would feel not to deserve our full admiration. Of course, we can point out here only the principal traits of the man, of the Christian, and of the Apostle.

Born in Tarsus of Jewish parentage, he was deeply attached to the city of his birth and to the race from which he sprang; but this did not prevent him from prizing his right of Roman citizenship and desiring to behold other cities besides his native place, and even besides Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judaism and of early Christianity. Frank, sincere, noble-minded, he could not help feeling indignant at the sight of everything low, insincere or selfish, and with his keen sense of what was fair and just, he promptly resented anything that looked like a denial of justice or an underhand interference with his rights. No one can help admiring his singleness of purpose, his strong will and his unflagging energy, so wonderfully combined with tact and courtesy. Endowed with a deeply affectionate heart, he vividly appreciated whatever kindness and service were shown to him;| keenly felt the ingratitude or desertion of his friends or fellow-workers, and evinced the liveliest interest and tenderest love for his faithful friends.* Finally, to a quick, penetrating and versatile mind was joined in him a wonderful power of adaptability to the most varied circumstances of time and place.

Of course all the precious natural qualities of mind and heart which may be noticed in Saul were raised to a higher order of perfection when, shaking off the yoke of Judaism with its exclusiveness and that of Pharisaism with its bigotry, he “put on Christ Jesus,” the Redeemer of all nations. Furthermore, new virtues were implanted in his soul, and under the influence of divine grace, ever fruitful in him,† developed into a Christian life the perfection of which can hardly be imagined, since it made of Paul so faithful a copy of Christ that he could write under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost: “Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ;”‡ and again: “I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me.”§ Great indeed was his compassion for the poor, his forbearance towards his enemies, and his condescension towards the weak; greater still were his humility, which made him look upon himself as less than the least of the believers, and his love of bodily mortification and of the cross, having constantly before his mind the uncertainty of salvation and the absolute necessity of union to Christ’s sufferings here below to share in Christ’s glory hereafter. But what was foremost in his thoughts and in his affections was the love of the Son of God, “Who had loved him and had given Himself up for him.” It was this love of Christ which was the great stimulus of his entire life, which caused him to challenge all creatures to be able to separate him from Christ, the supreme object of his affections, to long for death in order to be forever with Christ; to be ready to die for the sake of His name; and finally, to exclaim: “If any one love not Our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema!”|

But it is especially when we consider St. Paul as an apostle that we are struck with admiration for his lofty character. Through the purest love for God and for souls he looks upon himself as under obligation to preach the Gospel to all: “to the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise,” to the Jews and to the Gentiles. To fulfil this obligation he sacrifices every other purpose in life, gives up all that he has, and is ready to lay down his very life. For this same end he undertakes the most dangerous journeys by sea and by land, exposes himself to all kinds of persecutions, sufferings and privations, becomes “to the Jews a Jew, that he may gain the Jews,” and “makes himself the servant of all, that he may gain the more,” etc. He is full of the tenderest love for his weak converts,* knows how to encourage them either by praise or by reproach, brings down to the level of their intelligence the deepest mysteries which have been revealed to him, and for their sake does not fear to grapple with the most difficult problems of the day. His disinterestedness in pursuing the work of the ministry is probably greater than that of any apostolic teacher of the time, and his ambition to win hearts to the loving service of Christ is coextensive with the ends of the world. He is not satisfied with founding and organizing churches, but he watches over their spiritual interests even when a prisoner far from them, and knows how to urge them to carry out not only the precepts but also the counsels of the New Law. In a word, Paul was indeed “to Christ a vessel of election to carry His name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”

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