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§ 93. The Epistles of the Captivity.


During his confinement in Rome, from a.d. 61 to 63, while waiting the issue of his trial on the charge of being "a mover of insurrections among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5), the aged apostle composed four Epistles, to the Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians. He thus turned the prison into a pulpit, sent inspiration and comfort to his distant congregations, and rendered a greater service to future ages than he could have done by active labor. He gloried in being a "prisoner of Christ." He experienced the blessedness of persecution for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:10), and "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" (Phil. 4:7). He often refers to his bonds, and the coupling chain or hand-cuff (ἅλυσις) by which, according to Roman custom, he was with his right wrist fettered day and night to a soldier; one relieving the other and being in turn chained to the apostle, so that his imprisonment became a means for the spread of the gospel "throughout the whole praetorian guard."11421142    Phil. 1:7, 13, 14, 17; Eph. 3:1 ("the prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles"); 4:1 ("the prisoner in the Lord"); Col. 4:3, 18 ("remember my bonds"); Philem. 10, 13; comp. Acts 28:17, 30. He had the privilege of living in his own hired lodging (probably in the neighborhood of the praetorian camp, outside of the walls, to the northeast of Rome), and of free intercourse with his companions and distant congregations.

Paul does not mention the place of his captivity, which extended through four years and a half (two at Caesarea, two at Rome, and six months spent on the stormy voyage and at Malta). The traditional view dates the four Epistles from the Roman captivity, and there is no good reason to depart from it. Several modern critics assign one or more to Caesarea, where he cannot be supposed to have been idle, and where he was nearer to his congregations in Asia Minor.11431143    So Böttger, Thiersch, Reuss, Meyer, Weiss. Thiersch dates even 2 Timothy from Caesarea, but denies the second Roman captivity. But in Caesarea Paul looked forward to Rome and to Spain; while in the Epistles of the captivity he expresses the hope of soon visiting Colossae and Philippi. In Rome he had the best opportunity of correspondence with his distant friends, and enjoyed a degree of freedom which may have been denied him in Caesarea. In Philippians he sends greetings from converts in "Caesar’s household" (Phil. 4:22), which naturally points to Rome; and the circumstances and surroundings of the other Epistles are very much alike.

Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were composed about the same time and sent by the same messengers (Tychicus and Onesimus) to Asia Minor, probably toward the close of the Roman captivity, for in Philemon 22, he engaged a lodging in Colosae in the prospect of a speedy release and visit to the East.

Philippians we place last in the order of composition, or, at all events, in the second year of the Roman captivity; for some time must have elapsed after Paul’s arrival in Rome before the gospeI could spread "throughout the whole praetorian guard" (Phil. 1:13), and before the Philippians, at a distance of seven hundred miles from Rome (a full month’s journey in those days), could receive news from him and send him contributions through Epaphroditus, besides other communications which seem to have preceded the Epistle.11441144    This is the prevailing view among critics. I have discussed the order in the History of the Apost. Ch. (1853), pp. 322 sqq.

On the other hand, the priority of the composition of Philippians has been recently urged on purely internal evidence, namely, its doctrinal affinity with the preceding anti-Judaic Epistles; while Colossians and Ephesians presuppose the rise of the Gnostic heresy and thus form the connecting link between them and the Pastoral Epistles, in which the same heresy appears in a more matured form.11451145    So Lightfoot (p. 31), followed by Farrar (II. 417). Ewald likewise puts Philippianas before Colossians, but denies the genuineuess of Ephesians. Bleek regards the data as insufficient to decide the chronological order. See his Einleitung, p. 461, and his posthumous Lectures on Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians, published 1865, p. 7. But Ephesians has likewise striking affinities in thought and language with Romans in the doctrine of justification (comp. Eph. 2:8), and with Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12 and 1 Cor. 14) in the doctrine of the church. As to the heresy, Paul had predicted its rise in Asia Minor several years before in his farewell to the Ephesian elders. And, finally, the grateful and joyful tone of Philippians falls in most naturally with the lofty and glorious conception of the church of Christ as presented in Ephesians.



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