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The main feature of this map is the high road from east to west, which we have described as the life-line of the gospel.
The first step in the evangelization of this area had been when Paul and Barnabas landed at Attaleia in 48, and made their way north to Little Antioch; it was at Perga that Mark had left them. Paul and Barnabas had evangelized the east-Phrygian cities of Little Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. They were situated in the Roman province of 'Galatia'; the west-Phrygian cities were situated in the Roman province of 'Asia'.
In 49 he visited them the second time, coming by road from his native city of Tarsus in Cilicia, striking northwest to Troas, and finally reaching Corinth.
In 52 he came along this road again from Antioch, his 'third missionary journey', and reached Ephesus, where he worked for three years. It became the next centre of evangelism. The gospel was heard throughout the province of Asia; but Paul never visited the west-Phrygian cities; nor did he evangelize Smyrna.
Over two hundred miles separated Ephesus from Little Antioch, and it was desirable to have bases of operation at some intermediate point. The evangelist of Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae was an agent of Paul's named Epaphroditus, of whom we hear during Paul's imprisonment at Rome in 59-61. Paul sent an epistle to Laodicea which is lost; and one to Colossae which has been preserved; it has attached to it the Epistle to Philemon. Hierapolis is mentioned.
Mark, who had failed to accompany Paul in the task of evangelizing eastern Phrygia, has now come into contact with the new churches in western Phrygia. Some years later the apostle Philip settled at Hierapolis and made it his headquarters.
The story of the Roman empire in the first half of the first century lends colour to the constant refrain of the Jewish apocalypses that everything was gradually getting worse. The excellent system of administration inaugurated by Augustus was preserved by his successor Tiberius; but the funds which had been accumulated by his frugality were wasted by the extravagance of Caligula. The reorganization of the imperial civil service under Claudius and the careful economy of his management left the administration in a good condition, but it suffered severely under Nero.
Claudius had married a widow named Agrippina with a boy of seven named Nero, who was soon married to his daughter Octavia. When Nero was seventeen, Agrippina arranged for Claudius to be poisoned, so that Nero could succeed him as emperor. Britannicus, the son of Claudius, did not long survive, and neither did Octavia.
During the first eight years of Nero's rule, from 54 to 62, the government was administered under the direction of Seneca and Burrhus. Seneca was the brother of the proconsul Gallic who had acquitted Paul at Corinth or at any rate dismissed the charge against him. He was a philosopher of the Stoic persuasion, and believed in a providence which overruled human affairs. He identified the highest promptings of the human heart with the voice of God. He even tried to teach these views to Nero. Burrhus was a soldier of high reputation, in charge of the praetorian cohort, that is to say the military guards attached to the emperor's person. As 'praetorian prefect', he had the supreme jurisdiction over criminal cases, including such as came from a distance. |167 He was also the head of the Greek secretariat, which meant that he handled the correspondence affecting the eastern part of the empire.
In the time of Augustus the civil service, as we would call it, had been housed in the emperor's palace; by now it overflowed these limits, but the expression 'Caesar's household' was still in use. Ambitious provincials from all over the world found their way into the departments of state; they included Jews, Syrians, Samaritans, and even Christians, since Paul speaks of the saints in Caesar's household. There was scope here for the' freedmen' or ex-slaves, some of whom had made great fortunes and exercised considerable influence. One of these plutocrats was Pallas, the brother of the procurator Felix; and when Felix arrived back in Rome in disgrace it was the influence of his brother that saved him from punishment. So two at least of Paul's judges were in Rome when he arrived there, Felix and Gallio; and it is easy to understand why Luke points out, in the Acts, that they had not taken the case against him seriously.
Two deputations from Caesarea, one Greek and one Jewish, came to Rome in connexion with the case of Felix, and also with complaints against one another; and the Greeks are said to have won their case against the Jews by bribing Burrhus. Josephus, from whose history we glean this information, was in Rome himself a couple of years later, with a deputation of the higher priestly officials from Jerusalem. Affairs in Palestine, therefore, were by no means unfamiliar to official circles in Rome. Members of the Herodian royal family resided there permanently.
Nero was twenty-two years old, and was enjoying his unrivalled opportunities of cultivating pleasures of all kinds. He is quite a notable figure in the dreary annals of sex-perversion. His desire to excel in poetry and music and chariot-racing seems to have been genuine; and perhaps he was not without talent. An emperor who was a play-boy was a novelty and won the popular fancy. Shortly after the arrival of Paul in the city, he shocked society by the murder of his mother, who had committed every crime to place him on the throne. His fantastic figure passed into legend, and appears in myth and apocalypse and oracular verse.
When Paul arrived in Rome, early in 58 or 59 according to our computation (or possibly a year later), he was treated with indulgence, and allowed to take up his residence, with the soldier who guarded him, in a house or apartment, of which he paid the rent. This is the final piece of evidence, in the Acts, to show that he had funds at his disposal at this time.
He invited the leaders of the Jewish community to his lodgings and stated his case, making it clear that he had never attacked the old religion and that he had been betrayed into the hands of the Romans, who were prepared to release him, had he not been forced to appeal to Nero by the continued pressure of the Jerusalem authorities on the government at Caesarea. In reply they professed blandly that they had received no letters from Jerusalem, and that none of the brethren who had come from Judaea had brought an adverse report about him. It sounds rather smooth, but there may well have been some truth in it, so far as strictly official communications were concerned. The commotion in the Temple had taken place two and a half years before, the witnesses were dispersed, and there was no case against Paul worth mentioning. Silence and delay might be the best tactics for Paul's opponents.
As for the' sect of the Nazareans', the Jewish leaders went on to say, all they knew was that it was everywhere spoken against. They professed their willingness to hear what Paul had to say in its favour, but naturally there was no agreement. Some believed and some disbelieved, a statement which shows that there were Christians in Rome among the synagogue-rulers themselves. Paul turned to the Gentiles once more.
This narrative rather confirms our impression that no Christian ecclesia had yet been formed in Rome. If various Christian groups or households were loosely attached to the synagogues, or were good members of them, we can understand the reluctance of the Jewish authorities to antagonize Paul. The hiving-off of the believers must have been a financial and social loss to the synagogue as well as a spiritual humiliation; and in view of the disturbances in the reign of Claudius and the consequent banishment of the Jews from Rome, they may have thought it best to keep the peace and let the matter settle itself.
The Acts ends by telling us that Paul lived for two years at Rome in his own house, receiving visitors, preaching about Jesus and the kingdom of God, and meeting with no let and hindrance in his work. This house, or church, became a centre or headquarters for his evangelistic work, not only in Rome, but also in distant lands. He gathered about him some of his old colleagues, and added more. He wrote a number of letters, of which four are preserved. Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians form a single group, and are linked together by obvious literary connexions; Philippians was written independently.
Timothy appears as a co-author in Philemon, Colossians, and Philippians; he had joined Paul in Rome, therefore, and was now his trusted colleague in his apostolic work. Other arrivals from Asia Minor were Tychicus of Ephesus, and an evangelist named Epaphras, who had been at work in Colossae and other Phrygian cities. Still another was Mark, who may have arrived with Epaphras. Luke and Aristarchus were still with him; and there were two new members of his staff, Demas, who was a Gentile like Luke, and Jesus Justus, who was a Jew like Aristarchus. As they all send greetings to Colossae, it would seem that they had some prior connexion with Asia Minor. It looks as if the Pauline household in Rome was an extension of his Aegean mission, though of course Demas and Justus may have been Romans.
The question has been asked whether these Epistles might not have been written in some other place, during some other imprisonment. It has been suggested that they were written during some imprisonment at Ephesus, where all these men might congregate more easily; but no evidence for such an imprisonment can be found. The suggestion that they were written from Caesarea creates no insuperable difficulty; but the picture which we derive from them of a large group of assistants and busy evangelistic activity seems to fit better into the two years at Rome, where there was no impediment to the preaching of the gospel, than into the two years at Caesarea, of which nothing of the sort is said.
In the Lycus valley of the Phrygian country, which Paul had passed by on his 'second missionary journey', there were three important cities, Colossae (or Colossi), Hierapolis, and Laodicea. Epaphras had been directing the work of evangelization in these three cities; and in one of them (probably Colossae) there was a church in the house of a man named Philemon, who was also one of Paul's colleagues.' To Philemon our fellow-worker', he writes, 'and to Appia the sister, and Archippus our fellow-soldier, and the church that is in thy house.' We have before us here a little picture of the local unit in the church order; the 'bishop' or 'man in charge', and possibly his wife, since the word 'sister' obviously means a believer; and the house in which he lives, which is both a church and a guest-house. At the end of the Epistle, Paul bids him to prepare a room for him which he can occupy after his release, which he hopes for as the outcome of their prayers. He does not give Philemon the title of bishop, but he was the manager, or even the owner, of a house-church, where Paul claims the right (if he cared to exercise it) to give orders. Archippus, too, had a ministerial position, as we learn from Colossians.
Onesimus was a slave in this household. He was not yet a Christian; but he had taken advantage of his master's forbearance to go off to Rome, following Epaphras perhaps, to seek out Paul in his imprisonment. Paul had received him and given him baptism. It is clear that he was an attractive young man and must have had some education; for Paul would have preferred to keep him as a member of his staff. But this would not have been right, and he had persuaded him to return, giving him a letter to Philemon in which he urged him to take him back, no longer as a slave, but as a brother beloved. ' If you regard me as your partner,' he goes on to say, 'receive him as you would myself; if he has defrauded you, or if he owes you anything, charge it to my account; I will repay it; I Paul; I write it with my own hand.' We observe once more that he has money at his disposal.
This letter, with its personal touches, is unlike any other in the Pauline collection, but it is not altogether a personal letter. It is a letter to a church, like the others; the church in the house of Philemon. It was carried by Tychicus, an Ephesian Christian, who had been one of the seven who were chosen to accompany Paul to Jerusalem. He carried |173 with it the Epistle to the Colossians and the so-called Epistle to the Ephesians. He also carried a letter to the church at Laodicea; but this has not been preserved. They went in the same mail-bag. They are all related, by various small touches, to the same group of persons. They appear as a group in later collections or catalogues of Pauline writings.
Paul had neverTvisited these Phrygian churches, but they had been constantly in his prayers. He was delighted to hear of their faith and their hope and their love; and so intensely real was his prayer-life that he felt that he was actually with them, watching their strong discipline and excellent church order.
As we read the Epistle to the Colossians, we are conscious of still another shift in the direction of Paul's thinking. It is one of the fascinating things about this man that we can see his mind grow and mature and put out new branches. He appears in a purely evangelical phase in Galatians; he passes very close to an adventist phase in Thes-salonians; he was in a church-building and organizing phase in I Corinthians; he went through a crisis of mystical experience in II Corinthians; in Romans he attempted to work out a broad level theology and achieved it; in Colossians he has become a teacher of mysteries. He is still, of course, the servant of Almighty God, and the ambassador of Jesus Christ in the work of evangelization, but this work now includes the task of admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, and this he says because he does not want to see the new converts made the fools of false logic and persuasive speaking, or the prey of philosophy and vain deceit.
We have watched the growth in the Pauline churches of an attitude of mind and a type of teaching and practice which was apt to cause divisions. It has not been sufficiently organized to be called a heresy or a party, but it has produced a crop of talkers, some of them local elders or prophets, no doubt; but others seem to have been professionals passing from church to church and making their living thereby; false copies of the true evangelist or teacher. Such men have appeared in Colossae and |174 Laodicea, and that is why Epaphras has come to Rome for advice and instructions, Nymphas being left in charge at Laodicea, and Philemon with Archippus at Colossae (or Hierapolis?).
There had been previous correspondence with the Colossians in which the name of Mark had been mentioned; if he came to them, they were to receive him. We last heard of Mark ten years previously, when Paul had refused to accept his services and he had gone off to Cyprus with his cousin Barnabas. We do not know what had happened in the interval. Even now it looks as if his status in the Pauline mission was open to question. Paul may be trying to efface some unfavourable impression or to counteract criticism of some sort.
The false teachers who had come to Colossae were Jews,as most evangelists and teachers must still have been, but the Judaism which they promoted was neither of the Law nor of the Gospel. It was a Judaism which had been assimilated to the prevailing oriental philosophy of religion. It was the precursor of what came to be known as 'gnosis' or knowledge; a bold claim to a mystical understanding about unseen worlds and a more holy life in this one. It gloried in 'myth' and was familiar with the names of spirits and daemons and angels – the 'authorities and powers' as Paul calls them. It cultivated the magical, the ascetic and the ritualistic. It was a case of' touch not, taste not, handle not*. The old Hebrew tradition supplied them with names of angels, and even of the deity; it provided fast-days and rituals and forms of asceticism, Sabbaths and new moons and feasts, distinctions of food, and abstinences for certain occasions. Out of such material it was not difficult to build up a magico-philosophic system that seemed to confer superior wisdom and superior holiness. Circumcision was mentioned, apparently; sacrifice apparently not. It was from a ferment of this kind that the Jewish heresies in Palestine emerged.
What place these teachers assigned to Christ in their hierarchy of authorities and powers, we do not know; but Paul is careful in the first part of his Epistle to give him a position of divine sovereignty, superior to any angels or 'thrones or principalities or authorities or powers'; for he is the head and ruler over all things, and in him and through him and unto him were all things created; furthermore he 'cast off' the principalities and powers, and paraded them openly, by triumphing |175 over them in the cross. The passage which we have lamely represented here is conceived in a vein of high imaginative mysticism, which Paul had caught perhaps from the gnostic teachers themselves. When Paul faces a new situation, or enters into a new controversy, we see a new vocabulary emerge to suit the situation and, if we may suggest it, a new personality to suit the controversy. He outdoes the rival teachers themselves in asserting the divine sovereignty of the Christ, and the glory of his triumph on this earth.
But this is not a complete explanation of the new emphasis in his theology. Three years of imprisonment did not leave him unchanged.
He advises the new ecclesia to adhere firmly to the traditions which it had been taught 'in Christ'; and he supplies an interesting text of the baptismal catechism or exhortation. They have died with Christ and risen with Christ in the baptismal waters. They have shared in his exaltation and triumph. They must clothe themselves with the Christ, casting off the sinful self and putting on the new man. They must wear the Christian graces of mercy and kindness and lowliness and humility. They must practise mutual forbearance and love, following the example of Christ. The peace of Christ must reign in their hearts. The word of Christ must dwell in them richly in all knowledge; it must manifest itself in wisdom and sound teaching, in psalms and spiritual hymns, and in eucharistic worship addressed to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus. This is a notable catechetical and eucharistic text, another version of which is given in Ephesians. The word Christ runs through it – the divine king.
He subjoins the code of domestic and social relations, rather elaborating the section on slaves and their masters, perhaps with his eye on Philemon and Onesimus. He ends with the admonition to watch and pray.
There had been times when Paul seemed to embrace a thorough-going apocalypticism and to be absorbed in the dream of the second advent; and there were other times when he seemed to incline dangerously near to the super-spiritual view that the spirit is all and the flesh is nothing. Actually, in spite of many unguarded utterances, he saved the church from falling into either of these extremes, though his too-fervid |176 admirers deviated into the ultra-spiritual heresy. It was as a teacher of wisdom that he was remembered in the sub-apostolic church. The churches valued his admonitions, which touched so many points of real difficulty and perplexity.
What the Roman world saw in Paul, if we may trust Tertullus, was a ringleader of the sect of the Nazareans, a semi-political figure, promoting an international revolutionary form of Judaism which was gaining converts fast and was a menace to law and order. It had even been alleged that he spoke of another king or emperor, a man called Jesus or Christus. Paul did indeed speak of a ' Lord' whom he called Christus – the divine king; but how far is it true that Christianity was a revolutionary force?
There were two dominions or sovereignties in the Christian imagination, the sovereignty of this age or 'aeon', and the sovereignty of God in the higher realms. This sovereignty of God was focused somehow in the person of the Christ, who was exalted as Lord high above every imaginable authority or power which could have dominion over the world. In this evil aeon or cosmos men were enslaved to false gods and to unruly passions and desires. The whole creation was made subject to illusion or vanity, he had said in Romans; it was under the sway of the tyrants called Sin and Death. As Paul meditated in his imprisonment these ideas assumed a more mysterious form. He struggled to express his view of man's tragic situation by the use of other ancient mythological ideas which he freely transformed into a language of the spirit. He took the figure of Adam, who was the symbol of the human race in its evil state; he took the stars of heaven exercising their baneful influence upon the lives of men; the multitudes of unclean deities claiming the homage of mankind; the strain of evil infused into human existence; the world in bondage to evil powers.
He begins to use a new kind of poetry which dramatizes this pessimistic theology of the old pagan world. He does not mention in so many words the hierarchy of the gods, or the seven heavens, or the sinister astrological influences; but he talks in a general way about principalities in the skies which have usurped the dominion of the universe, and about a prince of the power of the air, and a world-ruler of this aeon. The odd thing is that he nowhere appears to touch upon the god-emperor in Rome who was the earthly embodiment of the world-power against which the gospel was now contending, the head of |177 the state and the patron of the false gods. Yet he cannot have omitted the emperor and his subordinate rulers in his meditations; all the more because his imaginative vision of an evil power enthroned in the heavens was a projection into the spirit world of the pagan empire.
Is it possible that he chose the words ' authorities and powers' for their political associations? and that they were intended to suggest more than one meaning? Such a double meaning seems to appear in I Corinthians, in which he speaks of the ' rulers of this aeon' who had crucified the lord of glory; and in Colossians he expands this phrase into more mysterious and more dramatic and more incomprehensible language. The Messiah had stripped bare the authorities and powers; he had shown them up in public; he had triumphed over them in the cross. The picture from which Paul is working is the 'triumph' of a Roman emperor, along the Sacred Way, through the heart of Rome, with captive kings and trains of slaves and prisoners and displays of looted treasure. Jesus was a conqueror and emperor in the spiritual world, and the cross was the sign of this triumph. Over what? Over every conceivable enemy. Over Death and Sin. And surely, too, over the human rulers of this sinful world who had actually crucified the Lord of glory: over Caiaphas and Pilate and Caesar. His was the triumph on Golgotha, not theirs. In the Epistles of the imprisonment there is not a word which actually makes this identification; but it is done in Thes-salonians, and the Revelation and the Ascension of Isaiah; Caligula and Nero are daemonic figures – incarnations of evil. The revolutionary quality of the thinking can hardly be denied. The Christians were united in their loyalty to a heavenly lord or emperor who had been slain on Calvary, was their lord and king, and would come again to assert his sovereignty over the whole world. But they were not belligerent. They were not rebels. They claimed to be model citizens. They accepted the paradox that the civil power was ordained by God and must be obeyed.
Such were the thoughts which were worked up into the communication known as the Epistle to the Ephesians. The title is ancient, though it may not be original. It was in general use by the end of the second century and appears at the head of the Epistle in the Chester Beatty papyrus, which is thought to have been produced not much later than |178 A.D. 200. In Marcion's church it was known as Laodiceans. The original text did not specify the destination, the words 'in Ephesus' having been added later to bring the text into line with the title. It has been suggested that there was a blank in the original manuscript. It looks very much as if it was a general manifesto or encyclical, for use anywhere within the Pauline jurisdiction and particularly in churches which he had not visited himself. Ephesus was probably the centre of distribution.
It is, to some extent, an enlarged and elaborated form of Colossians, the general structure of which is repeated and many phrases used over again. The style is magnificent but rather formal. It contains majestic passages of a liturgical character. We miss Paul's conversational manner: its echoes of the Stoic philosopher and the Jewish Rabbi, and its sudden alternations of rhetoric, and exposition, and colloquial appeal. This is not to say that Paul did not write it, for no other mind but Paul's was responsible for the range of vision and height of genius which it achieved; but possibly it was produced for him by members of his staff or in some literary workshop attached to the Roman church. And what is meant by a Pauline Epistle in any case? Did the apostle always write, or personally dictate, every word of the documents which he sent out? A captive, suffering from chronic bad health and feeling himself to be an old man, may have been glad to accept assistance. We know too, from Corinthians that his style had not made a good impression on everyone; his 'logos' or diction had been criticized; he was said to be unpractised or amateurish in speech. He may have decided to issue an Epistle for general use which would be less open to such criticism.
This is as far as any reasonable criticism need take us in questioning the Pauline authorship. The view that Ephesians was a fictitious composition of a later date is supported principally by the argument from literary style, which is not very strong in this instance. It is also felt that the thought is more carefully worked out and more closely articulated than is usual with Paul; and that it shows a more advanced and reflective theology. This is a matter of opinion; it seems to others that we have here the mind of the apostle himself, still thinking creatively and expressing itself with vigour. It is a piece of original work, not a mere imitation.
The thought of the Epistle is firmly rooted in history. There is a worldwide church which is substantially identified with the old Israel. The Gentile converts are full members of the Israelite state. They are not to be content with the name of 'strangers and sojourners', which Peter does not hesitate to bestow upon them in his Epistle. This was a technical term in Judaism for the alien resident, or even the convert, the 'stranger within the gate', who was referred to in Greek Judaism as the 'proselyte', the one who had approached or come near.
He even goes so far as to say that they were 'no longer Gentiles'. They were fellow-citizens with the saints and native-born with God; the word 'native-born' being the technical term which contrasts with the word 'stranger', as in Leviticus xix. 33. They were citizens of Israel through their membership in the church, which was founded upon the apostles and prophets, the Messiah himself being the chief corner-stone. This phrase is thought by some to be non-Pauline, but it refers to specific historical functions of the apostles and prophets. Paul admits that in previous generations it had not been realized that the Gentiles were to be incorporated into Israel; this truth has now been revealed to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; the Gentiles are to be joint-heirs, one body, and full partners in the promise.
These apostles and prophets are the gift of the ascended and enthroned Messiah to his church; and so are the evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, who are closely associated with them. They are Christian apostles and prophets, of course; Jewish-Christian apostles and prophets so far as we know, though there may have been Gentile prophets by now.
The idea of the expansion of the Israelite state into a world-church by the grace and favour of its divine king is entirely in line with the claims made by Paul for his Gentile converts in the earlier controversies; and it had a strong political and apologetic consequence; Christianity was the true form of Judaism, and as such it was a religio licita, a religion sanctioned by the Roman empire; all of which is easier to understand if the Epistle was composed prior to the persecution of A.D. 64 and the fall of Jerusalem in 70.
In the catechetical parts of this Epistle the new converts are solemnly urged to maintain the unity of Christendom; 'there is one body and one |180 Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.' They are to separate themselves completely from the social and religious life of the pagan world with its foolishness and ignorance, and licentiousness, and uncleanness. They are to walk as children of the light, and have no partnership in the unfruitful works of darkness. They are not 'Gentile' any more.
The Epistle ends with a magnificent picture in which the old apocalyptic imagery suffers yet another transformation in order to paint the picture of the Christian martyr or witness unto death. It is not the Messiah now who confronts the powers of evil in the evil day, as he did once on Calvary according to Colossians, and will do in the future according to Thessalonians; it is Paul himself, his apostle and ambassador in chains. He confronts the imperial power, but his warfare is not merely with flesh and blood; it is with authorities and powers and the evil that is enthroned in the high places of the pagan world. He must take up the spiritual weapons; the breastplate of righteousness; the shield of faith; and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. He must stand fast against all the wiles of the evil one.
The spiritualized apocalyptic of Paul is never at any time mere myth or gnosis. It is not impalpable or dematerialized. It is, to use a modern word, existential. The drama is conceived within the movement of history and the substance of bodily existence; it becomes actual and operative in the cross, and in the proclamation of the gospel in the world by apostles and prophets, and in the growth of the church which he describes as a body, and in the mortal conflict of Christian believers with a sinful world.
Philippi was a favourite congregation of Paul's, being the first of his Aegean churches to be founded. This church had sent him a substantial gift by the hand of one of its leading members, Epaphroditus, who was another old colleague. The means at his disposal were perhaps dwindling. He remarks, in acknowledging the gift, that he had had experience of both poverty and riches; he knew 'how to lack and how to abound'. Epaphroditus had fallen seriously ill, and the news of this had got back to Philippi. Paul writes to tell the Philippians about Epaphroditus and himself; it is a personal letter, written in his old familiar style.
|181 The cause of the gospel is making progress. He sends greetings from the 'saints in Caesar's household', that is to say the Christians in the palace or in the civil service. He had become a well-known figure in Rome now, and was pointed out in his chains as one of the sights of the praetorium or military headquarters.There was bitter opposition on the part of Christian Jews; but controversy had only served to spread the knowledge of the gospel.
He shows no signs of undue optimism about his case. He is fully prepared for whatever may befall him. He feels now that he is an old man; ' such a one as Paul the aged', as he wrote to Philemon. He has a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ; and yet it may be necessary, for the good of his churches, that he should remain in the flesh. We detect here a note of weariness after so much labour and suffering and delay, but there is a change that is taking place in his mind. The simple nai've apocalyptic of the Jerusalem prophets no longer satisfied him; there had been a time when he naturally thought of remaining alive until the advent of the Lord, but what he wanted now was to depart from the body and make his home with the Lord. Yet he seems to think that he will be acquitted. He trusts that he will soon visit Philippi.
Not very many names are mentioned in this Epistle. There are two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, who do not get on very well together; perhaps they were two 'deacons' or 'patronesses', like Phoebe at Cen-chrea, who had preceded him to Rome. He reminds them how they were in the forefront of the battle with him when the gospel came to Philippi, using the Greek verb athlein, to play the part of an athlete, which was destined to become a technical term in the vocabulary of martyrdom. With them he associates a certain 'Synzygos' (or does the word simply mean a yoke-fellow or team-mate?), and of course his colleague or fellow-worker, Clement, whom some identify with the Clement who was the leader of the Roman church thirty years later.
The new departure is the inclusion of bishops and deacons in the form of address. The word 'bishop' (episkopos) had been used in the speech to the Ephesian elders three or four years previously; or so we
|182 are told in Acts. It meant a watchman or superintendent or manager; but it is related in the apostolic texts to the idea of the shepherd. The word 'deacon' (diakonos) meant a servant or attendant, and was used by Paul in a very general way of assistant ministries in the church, even of the lady who carried his Epistle to the Romans three or four years previously. These words are now applied to definite ministries in the church, but we do not know how their offices were defined. Perhaps the author of the Acts would have alluded to the bishops as elders; Paul had referred to such officers in earlier letters simply as rulers. All we can say is that some clarification was taking place. Clement of Rome alludes to this period or earlier when he says that the apostles appointed the first-fruits of their mission to be bishops and deacons of the future believers.
What was the outcome of the imprisonment of St Paul? The last verses of Acts say that he remained at Rome for two years in his own hired house (or at his own expense) receiving guests, and evangelizing and preaching without impediment; an easy form of imprisonment. Does this imply that Paul was then released? Or that he was beheaded? Or that no decision had yet been made? The third is the most natural explanation; and if it is correct, Acts was written during the two-year period with the object of presenting the case for Paul and the case for Christianity. But this common-sense explanation has not passed unchallenged. Let us consider it first.
This theory of the writing of Acts accords well with its plan and style. It is deeply interested in the history up to the two-years' imprisonment. Christianity has an even chance of securing toleration from the authorities. The claim can be made out that it is a form of Judaism and therefore a religio licita. The attitude of the Roman officials is fair or at any rate neutral. This whole picture was changed in 64 by the sudden fierce persecution launched by the Emperor Nero. If Acts was composed later than 64, it is hard to believe that no sign of these altered circumstances would appear. And yet it might be that a Christian writer, under Vespasian, might wish to present for consideration and as an argument in favour of toleration the policy of the earlier period.
But if it was written at a later date, why should it not state clearly |183 what happened to Paul at the end of the two years? Why should it devote so much labour to the task of working up to the crisis of his imprisonment and presenting the case in his favour in every detail, when the case had been decided years ago and it was no longer a crisis of great importance? And why does it not refer to later events? Why is it silent about Paul's martyrdom? And why is there nothing about the later labours and martyrdom of Peter? There is a perfect answer to these questions; Luke intended to write a third volume which would have dealt with these points. But this is a hypothetical answer. No evidence exists to prove that he had any such intention.
A third characteristic also points to an early date. There is a certain historical perspective about the book. The earlier narratives down to the Jerusalem council are lucidly told and are perfectly convincing; but they have not got the detail and sharp definition of the later ones. As we come down to the last chapters we are dealing with vivid and recent memories; the events are virtually contemporary and it is expected that the reader will understand the local references. The book stops short at this point. Peter has been allowed to drift out of sight; it has never been explained who James is; we know that he is the brother of the Lord, but it is not Acts that tells us this. The last reference to Mark is far from self-explanatory. Apollos remains something of a mystery. The Alexander of the Ephesian riot is never identified. The reader is supposed to know all these things. That is not how a book would have been written to satisfy the curiosity of the eighties or nineties; but it is exactly how it might have been written in the early sixties.
There is a partial answer to this. The features we have mentioned are features of the sources of the Acts, and these sources were left as they were in spite of the abrupt effect which they give. Or perhaps the sources were worked up into a first draft to serve a useful purpose in Rome in the early sixties to be used again later in a completed book.
The character of the Acts is best explained by the theory that it was composed at this early date, but there is a strong argument against it. It comes from the field of literary criticism. It is assumed that the Acts was written after the composition of the Gospel, which it refers to as the former treatise or first volume; but the Gospel was not written as we know it till after the author had come across Mark's Gospel, and most scholars do not date Mark's Gospel before 67-70. We have to allow time for Luke to study the work of Mark and to insert the greater |184 part of it into the draft which he had already made; and for this reason few scholars at present would accept the early date of Acts.
We shall, therefore, without denying that Luke must have done a great deal of work on the Acts and on the Gospel during Paul's imprisonment, nevertheless defer our consideration of it as a finished work of literature to the period of the seventies.
No certain conclusion can be drawn from the abrupt ending of the Acts with regard to the fate of Paul; for while the case against him, as we see it in the Acts, would not warrant a condemnation, we must allow fully for the legal ability of any prosecutors who may have appeared against him, and also for political and financial influence. On the other hand, no prosecutors may have appeared, and if so the case would lapse after the expiry of a stated period. We do not happen to know what the length of that period was, but it is possible that it was the two years which are referred to in the Acts. There are, however, two other ways of approaching this problem.
There is a Roman document of the end of the second century, called the Muratorian Fragment, which definitely states that Paul visited Spain. The belief of the Roman church at so late a date could not be taken as conclusive evidence by itself, since it might have come into being as a deduction from the passage in Romans in which Paul expresses his intention of going on from Rome to Spain; but Clement of Rome, writing about 96, speaks of Paul as teaching the whole world righteousness, and coming ' even to the boundary of the west and bearing witness before rulers', before he departed from the world. It has been suggested that the boundary of the west is used here for Rome itself; but it is rather hard to believe that a Roman writer could have thought of Rome in this way. Perhaps Paul did visit Spain, and if so, the visit has to be placed after his Roman imprisonment.
We also have to find a place for the movements of Paul which are mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles, namely those which are addressed to Timothy and Titus. These events cannot plausibly be fitted into Paul's history prior to his Roman imprisonment. The attempt has been made, but it can only be done by cutting the passages in question into smaller fragments, and allotting each fragment to a separate context. |185 Whether these Epistles were written by Paul himself exactly as they stand, or whether they were worked up into their present form by another hand at a later date, does not concern us here. These movements and activities of Paul and his colleagues require a further period of missionary activity in Asia.
As a decision has to be made in the arrangement of a history, we shall follow the indications in the evidence, such as they are, and assume that Paul was released, as he, on the whole, seemed to expect when he was writing to the Philippians and to Philemon. We shall find that he feels very differently in the imprisonment from which he writes in certain passages in 2 Timothy.
The theory that Ephesians, the Pastoral Epistles, and 1 Peter are 'pseudonymous' works, that is to say fictitious literature composed by a skilled writer who impersonates the apostle, will be discussed in chapters 14 and 15.
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