(BRIEF) CHURCH HISTORY #8
PAUL'S MISSIONARY LABORS
The public life of Paul, from the third year after his conver-
sion to his martyrdom, A.D. 40-64, embraces a quarter of a
century, three great missionary campaigns with minor expeditions,
five visits to Jerusalem, and at least four years of captivity in
Caesarea and Rome. Some extend it to A.D. 67 or 68. It may be
divided into five or six periods, as follows:
1. A.D. 40-44. The period of preparatory labors in Syria and his
native Cilicia, partly alone, partly in connection with Barnabas,
his senior fellow-apostle among the Gentiles.
On his return from the Arabian retreat Paul began his public
ministry in earnest at Damascus, preaching Christ on the very
spot where he had been converted and called. His testimony
enraged the Jews, who stirred up the deputy of the king of Arabia
against him, but he was saved for future usefulness and let down
by the brethren in a basket through a window in the wall of the
city. Three years after his conversion he went up to Jerusalem to
make the acquaintance of Peter and spent a fortnight with him.
Besides him he saw James the brother of the Lord. Barnabas
introduced him to the disciples, who at first were afraid of him,
but when they heard of his marvellous conversion they "glorified
God" that their persecutor was now preaching the faith he had
once been laboring to destroy. He did not come to learn the
gospel, having received it already by revelation, nor to be
confirmed or ordained, having been called "not from men, or
through man, but through Jesus Christ." Yet his interview with
Peter and James, though barely mentioned, must have been fraught
with the deepest interest. Peter, kind-hearted and generous as he
was, would naturally receive him with joy and thanksgiving. He
had himself once denied the Lord - not malignantly but from
weakness - as Paul had persecuted the disciples - ignorantly in
unbelief. Both had been mercifully pardoned, both had seen the
Lord, both were called to the highest dignity, both could say
from the bottom of the heart: "Lord thou knowest all things: thou
knowest that I love thee." No doubt they would exchange their
experiences and confirm each other in their common faith.
It was probably on this visit that Paul received in a vision in
the temple the express command of the Lord to go quickly unto the
Gentiles. Had he stayed longer at the seat of the Sanhedrin, he
would undoubtedly have met the fate of the martyr Stephen.
He visited Jerusalem a second time during the famine under
Claudius, in the year 44, accompanied by Barnabas, on a
benevolent mission, bearing a collection of the Christians at
Antioch for the relief of the brethren in Judaea. On that
occasion he probably saw none of the apostles on account of the
persecution in which James was beheaded, and Peter imprisoned.
The greater part of these four years was spent in missionary work
at Tarsus and Antioch.
2. A.D. 45-50. First missionary journey.
In the year 45 Paul entered upon the first great missionary
journey, in company with Barnabas and Mark, by the direction of
the Holy Spirit through the prophets of the congregation at
Antioch. He traversed the island of Cyprus and several provinces
of Asia Minor. The conversion of the Roman proconsul, Sergius
Paulus, at Paphos; the rebuke and punishment of the Jewish
sorcerer, Elymas; the marked success of the gospel in Pisidia,
and the bitter opposition of the unbelieving Jews; the miraculous
healing of a cripple at Lystra; the idolatrous worship there
offered to Paul and Barnabas by the superstitious heathen, and
its sudden change into hatred against them as enemies of the
gods; the stoning of the missionaries, their escape from death,
and their successful return to Antioch, are the leading incidents
of this tour, which is fully described in the 13th and 14th
chapters of the Acts.
This period closes with the important apostolic conference at
Jerusalem, A.D. 50, which will require separate consideration in
the next section.
3. From A.D. 51-54. Second missionary journey.
After the council at Jerusalem and the temporary adjustment of
the difference between the Jewish and Gentile branches of the
church, Paul undertook, in the year 51, a second great journey,
which decided the Christianization of Greece. He took Silas for
his companion. Having first visited his old churches, he
proceeded, with the help of Silas and the young convert, Timothy,
to establish new ones through the provinces of Phrygia and
Galatia, where, notwithstanding his bodily infirmity, he was
received with open arms like an angel of God.
From Troas, a few miles south of the Homeric Troy and the
entrance to the Hellespont, he crossed over to Greece in answer
to the Macedonian cry: "Come over and help us!" He preached the
gospel with great success, first in Philippi, where he converted
the purple dealer, Lydia, and the jailor, and was imprisoned with
Silas, but miraculously delivered and honorably released; then in
Thessalonica, where he was persecuted by the Jews, but left a
flourishing church; in Bereea, where the converts showed
exemplary zeal in searching the Scriptures. In Athens, the
metropolis of classical literature, he reasoned with Stoic and
Epicurean philosophers, and unveiled to them on Mars' Hill
(Areopagus), with consummate tact and wisdom, though without much
immediate success, the "unknown God," to whom the Athenians, in
their superstitious anxiety to do justice to all possible
divinities, had unconsciously erected an altar, and Jesus Christ,
through whom God will judge the world in righteous ness. In
Corinth, the commercial bridge between the East and the West, a
flourishing centre of wealth and culture, but also a sink of vice
and corruption, the apostle spent eighteen months, and under
almost insurmountable difficulties he built up a church, which
exhibited all the virtues and all the faults of the Grecian
character under the influence of the gospel, and which he honored
with two of his most important Epistles.
In the spring of 54 he returned by way of Ephesus, Caesarea, and
Jerusalem to Antioch.
During this period he composed the two Epistles to the
Thessalonians, which are the earliest of his literary remains
excepting his missionary addresses preserved in the Acts.
4. A.D. 54-58. Third missionary tour.
Towards the close of the year 54 Paul went to Ephesus, and in
this renowned capital of proconsular Asia and of the worship of
Diana, he fixed for three years the centre of his missionary
work. He then revisited his churches in Macedonia and Achaia, and
remained three months more in Corinth and the vicinity.
During this period he wrote the great doctrinal Epistles to the
Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans, which mark the height of his
activity and usefulness.
5. A.D. 58-63. The period of his two imprisonments, with the
intervening winter voyage from Caesarea to Rome.
In the spring of 58 he journeyed, for the fifth and last time. to
Jerusalem, by way of Philippi, Troas, Miletus (where he delivered
his affecting valedictory to the Ephesian presbyter-bishops),
Tyre, and Caesarea, to carry again to the poor brethren in Judaea
a contribution from the Christians of Greece, and by this token
of gratitude and love to cement the two branches of the apostolic
church more firmly together.
But some fanatical Jews, who bitterly hated him as an apostate
and a seducer of the people, raised an uproar against him at
Pentecost; charged him with profaning the temple, because he had
taken into it an uncircumcised Greek, Trophimus; dragged him out
of the sanctuary, lest they should defile it with blood, and
would undoubtedly have killed him had not Claudius Lysias, the
Roman tribune, who lived near by, come promptly with his soldiers
to the spot. This officer rescued Paul, out of respect for his
Roman citizenship, from the fury of the mob, set him the next day
before the Sanhedrin, and after a tumultuous and fruitless
session of the council, and the discovery of a plot against his
life, sent him, with a strong military guard and a certificate of
innocence, to the procurator Felix in Caesarea.
Here the apostle was confined two whole years (58-60), awaiting
his trial before the Sanhedrin, uncondemned, occasionally
speaking before Felix, apparently treated with comparative
mildness, visited by the Christians, and in some way not known to
us promoting the kingdom of God.
After the accession of the new and better procurator, Festus, who
is known to have succeeded Felix in the year 60, Paul, as a Roman
citizen, appealed to the tribunal of Caesar and thus opened the
way to the fulfilment of his long-cherished desire to preach the
Saviour of the world in the metropolis of the world. Having once
more testified his innocence, and spoken for Christ in a masterly
defence before Festus, King Herod Agrippa II. (the last of the
Herods), his sister Bernice, and the most distinguished men of
Caesarea, he was sent in the autumn of the year 60 to the
emperor. He had a stormy voyage and suffered shipwreck, which
detained him over winter at Malta. The voyage is described with
singular minuteness and nautical accuracy by Luke as an
eye-witness. In the month of March of the year 61, the apostle,
with a few faithful companions, reached Rome, a prisoner of
Christ, and yet freer and mightier than the emperor on the
throne. It was the seventh year of Nero's reign, when he had
already shown his infamous character by the murder of Agrippina,
his mother, in the previous year, and other acts of cruelty.
In Rome Paul spent at least two years till the spring of 63, in
easy confinement, awaiting the decision of his case, and
surrounded by friends and fellow-laborers "in his own hired
dwelling." He preached the gospel to the soldiers of the imperial
body-guard, who attended him; sent letters and messages to his
distant churches in Asia Minor and Greece; watched over all their
spiritual affairs, and completed in bonds his apostolic fidelity
to the Lord and his church.
In the Roman prison he wrote the Epistles to the Colossians,
Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon.
6. A.D. 63 and 64.
With the second year of Paul's imprisonment in Rome the account
of Luke breaks off, rather abruptly, yet appropriately and
grandly. Paul's arrival in Rome secured the triumph of
Christianity. In this sense it was true, "Roma locuta est, causa
finita est." And he who spoke at Rome is not dead; he is still
"preaching (everywhere) the kingdom of God and teaching the
things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness, none
But what became of him after the termination of those two years
in the spring of 63? What was the result of the trial so long
delayed? Was he condemned to death? or was he released by Nero's
tribunal, and thus permitted to labor for another season? This
question is still unsettled among scholars. A vague tradition
says that Paul was acquitted of the charge of the Sanhedrin, and
after travelling again in the East, perhaps also into Spain, was
a second time imprisoned in Rome and condemned to death. The
assumption of a second Roman captivity relieves certain
difficulties in the Pastoral Epistles; for they seem to require a
short period of freedom between the first and a second Roman
captivity, and a visit to the East, which is not recorded in the
Acts, but which the apostle contemplated in case of his release.
A visit to Spain, which he intended, is possible, though less
probable. If he was set at liberty, it must have been before the
terrible persecution in July, 64, which would not have spared the
great leader of the Christian sect. It is a remarkable
coincidence that just about the close of the second year of
Paul's confinement, the celebrated Jewish historian, Josephus,
then in his 27th year, came to Rome (after a tempestuous voyage
and shipwreck), and effected through the influence of Poppaea
(the wife of Nero and a half proselyte of Judaism) the release of
certain Jewish priests who had been sent to Rome by Felix as
prisoners. It is not impossible that Paul may have reaped the
benefit of a general release of Jewish prisoners.
The martyrdom of Paul under Nero is established by the unanimous
testimony of antiquity. As a Roman citizen, he was not
crucified, like Peter, but put to death by the sword. The scene
of his martyrdom is laid by tradition about three miles from
Rome, near the Ostian way, on a green spot, formerly called Aquoe
Salvice, afterwards Tre Fontane, from the three fountains which
are said to have miraculously gushed forth, from the blood of the
apostolic martyr. His relics were ultimately removed to the
basilica of San Paolo-fuori-le-Mura, built by Theodosius and
Valentinian in 388, and recently reconstructed. He lies outside
of Rome, Peter inside. His memory is celebrated, together with
that of Peter, on the 29th and 30th of June. As to the year of
his death, the views vary from A.D. 64 to 69. The difference of
the place and manner of his martyrdom suggests that he was
condemned by a regular judicial trial, either shortly before, or
more probably a year or two after the horrible wholesale massacre
of Christians on the Vatican hill, in which his Roman citizenship
would not have been regarded. If he was released in the spring of
63, he had a year and a half for another visit to the East and to
Spain before the outbreak of the Neronian persecution (after
July, 64); but tradition favors a later date. Prudentius
separates the martyrdom of Peter from that of Paul by one year.
After that persecution the Christians were everywhere exposed to
Assuming the release of Paul and another visit to the East, we
must locate the First Epistle to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus
between the first and second Roman captivity, and the Second
Epistle to Timothy in the second captivity. The last was
evidently written in the certain view of approaching martyrdom;
it is the affectionate farewell of the aged apostle to his
beloved Timothy, and his last will and testament to the militant
church below in the bright prospect of the unfading crown in the
church triumphant above.
Thus ended the earthly course of this great teacher of nations,
this apostle of victorious faith, of evangelical freedom, of
Christian progress. It was the heroic career of a spiritual
conqueror of souls for Christ, converting them from the service
of sin and Satan to the service of the living God, from the
bondage of the law to the freedom of the gospel, and leading them
to the fountain of life eternal. He labored more abundantly than
all the other apostles; and yet, in sincere humility, he
considered himself "the least of the apostles," and "not meet to
be called an apostle," because he persecuted the church of God; a
few years later he confessed: "I am less than the least of all
saints," and shortly before his death: "I am the chief of
sinners." His humility grew as he experienced God's mercy
and ripened for heaven. Paul passed a stranger and pilgrim
through this world, hardly observed by the mighty and the wise
of his age. And yet how infinitely more noble, beneficial, and
enduring was his life and work than the dazzling march of
military conquerors, who, prompted by ambition, absorbed millions
of treasure and myriads of lives, only to die at last in a
drunken fit at Babylon, or of a broken heart on the rocks of St.
Helena I. Their empires have long since crumbled into dust, but
St. Paul still remains one of the foremost benefactors of the
human race, and the pulses of his mighty heart are beating with
stronger force than ever throughout the Christian world.
NOTE ON THE SECOND ROMAN CAPTIVITY OF PAUL
The question of a second Roman captivity of Paul is a purely
historical and critical problem, and has no doctrinal or ethical
bearing, except that it facilitates the defence of the
genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles. The best scholars are still
divided on the subject. Neander, Gieseler, Bleek, Ewald, Lange,
Sabatier, Godet, also Renan (Saint Paul, p.560, and L'Antechrist,
p.106), and nearly all English biographers and commentators, as
Alford, Wordsworth, Howson, Lewin, Farrar, Plumptre, Ellicott,
Lightfoot, defend the second captivity, and thus prolong the
labors of Paul for a few years. On the other hand not only
radical and skeptical critics, as Baur, Zeller, Schenkel, Reuss,
Holtzmann, and all who reject the Pastoral Epistles (except
Renan), but also conservative exegetes and historians, as
Niedner, Thiersch, Meyer, Wieseler, Ebrard, Otto, Beek,
PressensE, deny the second captivity. I have discussed the
problem at length in my "Hist. of the Apost. Church," # 87, pp.
328-347, and again in my annotations to Lange on Romans, pp.
10-12. I will restate the chief arguments in favor of a second
captivity, partly in rectification of my former opinion.
1. The main argument are the Pastoral Epistles, if genuine, as I
hold them to be, notwithstanding all the objections of the
opponents from De Wette (1826) and Baur (1835) to Renan (1873)
and Holtzmann (1880). It is, indeed, not impossible to assign
them to any known period in Paul's life before his captivity, as
during his three years sojourn in Ephesus (54-57), or his
eighteen months sojourn in Corinth (52-53), but it is very
difficult to do so. The Epistles presuppose journeys of the
apostle not mentioned in Acts, and belong apparently to an
advanced period in his life, as well as in the history of truth
and error in the apostolic church.
2. The release of Timothy from a captivity in Italy, probably in
Rome, to which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (13:23)
alludes, may have some connection with the release of Paul, who
had probably a share in the inspiration, if not in the
composition, of that remarkable production.
3. The oldest post-apostolic witness is Clement of Rome, who
wrote about 95: "Paul ... having come to the limit of the West
(Greek is given -Keith Hunt) and borne witness before the
magistrates (Greek - which others translate, "having suffered
martyrdom under the rulers"), departed from the world and went to
the holy place, having furnished the sublimest model of
endurance" (Ad Corinth. c. 5).
Considering that Clement wrote in Rome, the most natural
interpretation of "the extreme west," is Spain or Britain; and as
Paul intended to carry the gospel to Spain, one would first think
of that country, which was in constant commercial intercourse
with Rome, and had produced distinguished statesmen and writers
like Seneca and Lucau. Strabo (II. 1) calls the pillars of
Hercules; and - Velleius Paterc. calls Spain "extremus nostri
orbis terminus." See Lightfoot, 84 Clement, p.50. But the
inference is weakened by the absence of any trace or tradition of
Paul's visit to Spain. Still less can he have suffered martyrdom
there, as the logical order of the words would imply. And as
Clement wrote to the Corinthians, he may, from their geographical
standpoint, have called the Roman capital the end of the West.
At all events the passage is rhetorical (it speaks of seven
imprisonments), and proves nothing for further labors in the
(But we do have evidence and histories [that Schaff would ignor}
that Paul did come to Britain and did preach the Gospel there.
These histories are covered in other studies on this website -
4. An incomplete passage in the fragmentary Muratorian canon
(about A.D. 170): "Sed profectionem Pauli ab urbe ad Spaniam
proficiscentis ... " seems to imply a journey of Paul to Spain,
which Luke has omitted; but this is merely a conjecture, as the
verb has to be supplied. Comp., however, Westcott, The Canon of
the N. Test., p.189, and Append. C., p.467, and Renan,
L'Antechrist, p.106 sq.
5. Eusebius (d. 340) first clearly asserts that "there is a
tradition that the apostle, after his defence, again set forth to
the ministry of his preaching, and having entered a second time
the same city [Rome], was perfected by his martyrdom before him
[Nero]." Hist. Eccl. II. 22 (comp. eh. 25). But the force of
this testimony is weakened first by its late date; secondly, by
the vague expression "it is said," and the absence of any
reference to older authorities (usually quoted by Eusebius);
thirdly, by his misunderstanding of 2 Tim. 4:16,17, which he
explains in the same connection of a deliverance from the first
imprisonment (as if were identical with ); and lastly by his
chronological mistake as to the time of the first imprisonment
which, in his "Chronicle," he misdates A.D.58, that is, three
years before the actual arrival of Paul in Rome. On the other
hand he puts the conflagration of Rome two years too late, A.D.
66, instead of 64, and the Neronian persecution, and the
martyrdom of Paul and Peter, in the year 70.
6. Jerome (d. 419): "Paul was dismissed by Nero that he might
preach Christ's gospel also in the regions of the West (in
Occidentis quoque partibus)." De Vir. ill. sub Paulus. This
echoes the Tippa of Clement. Chrysostom (d. 407), Theodoret, and
other fathers assert that Paul went to Spain (Rom. 15:28), but
without adducing any proof.
These post-apostolic testimonies, taken together, make it very
probable, but not historically certain, that Paul was released
after the spring of 63, and enjoyed an Indian summer of
missionary work before his martyrdom. The only remaining
monuments, as well as the best proof, of this concluding work are
the Pastoral Epistles, if we admit them to be genuine. To my mind
the historical difficulties of the Pastoral Epistles are an
argument for rather than against their Pauline origin. For why
should a forger invent difficulties when he might so easily have
fitted his fictions in the frame of the situation known from the
Acts and the other Pauline Epistles? The linguistic and other
objections are by no means insurmountable, and are overborne by
the evidence of the Pauline spirit which animates these last
productions of his pen.
The last of Paul's epistles are genuine and inspired. And we do
have histories that relate Paul came indeed to the furthest point
of the West and the Roman Empire - to Britain.
The common and wrong perseption of Britain at the time is a bunch
of wild savages living there. Nothing could be further from the
truth of the matter.
I have produced for you some of these ancient histories of
Britain in other studies on this website.
To be continued