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The Ordering and Chronology of the Ministry and Epistles of Paul, Part 2: The Prison Epistles
As I had explained in the opening presentation in this short series, I had hoped to gather into one place my interpretations of the time and place of the writing of each of the epistles of Paul of Tarsus, as well as a general chronology of the events recorded in the Book of Acts. I had also originally hoped to do that in a single presentation, but it was just not possible. So while we have discussed what I have called Paul’s “travelling epistles”, now we shall discuss the time and place, and also the circumstances, of the writing of the 6 epistles that were written while Paul was a prisoner. Once again, for much of this presentation I am drawing on information which I had already presented in our commentaries for each of the epistles of Paul and in our earlier commentary on the Book of Acts. There are also some new perspectives.
This is important to us for several reasons. First, it is an important reference tool, because in my opinion no other such reference exists which has a truly accurate chronology of the events of the ministry of Paul, the writing of his epistles, and the Book of Acts. As I had also said, there is much misinformation in many popular and supposedly authoritative academic sources concerning the ministry of Paul and the writing of his epistles, and it is convenient to have our own opinions of these things in one single article, or perhaps more accurately, one single source of reference.
But there is one further reason. Once it is realized that we can indeed know where Paul was throughout nearly his entire ministry, that it can all be accounted for in the records of his epistles and in Acts, then we also know where Paul was not. Paul of Tarsus never wrote an epistle to the Egyptians or to the Arabians, or to any other race, and he never visited or preached among them either. There is no Roman Catholic universalism in the ministry or the epistles of Paul, and taking the words “all men” out of context and twisting them into a universalist interpretation is not sufficient evidence. But on the other hand, Paul of Tarsus was never in Britain or Spain, although he had expressed a hope that he may reach western Europe, and the so-called “29th” or “Lost” chapter of Acts is a complete hoax which was perpetrated in recent centuries and used to patronize and to deceive many British Israel and American Christian Identity adherents. We do not need lies to support our assertions or the basis of our faith.
As a digression, one admission I must also make here, is that in my September, 2013 commentary on Acts chapter 13, at verse 1, I did not connect Λούκιος (Lukious) or Lucius of Cyrene to the apostle Luke. But we see that Lucius was considered among the prophets and teachers at Antioch, and after Paul had left Antioch for the council of Jerusalem in 48 AD, Luke was his companion and fellow-worker. Therefore I am compelled to assert that the Lucius of Acts chapter 13 is indeed the apostle Luke. My September, 2014 commentary on Romans chapter 16 does connect the Loukios of Paul’s salutation in that epistle to the apostle Luke, although his name is usually spelled Λουκᾶς (Loukas). That is because there is no other Lucius mentioned after Acts chapter 13, and Luke is clearly with Paul and worthy of mention when the epistle to the Romans was written from the Troad in 57 AD. This is all circumstantial, but the circumstances explain one another fully. Furthermore, as we have pointed out, there are several other men in Scripture whose names are spelled in more than one way, such as Titus and Titius, Silas and Silovanus, and Sopater and Sosipater, where each shorter version of a name is apparently a more familiar form of the longer version.
So in Acts chapter 20, after Paul of Tarsus arrived in the Troad following his 3 months in Greece and an apparently brief journey through Macedonia, we see that many of his fellow-workers had gathered to meet him there, including Luke and his company from Philippi. Timothy is also with him, and Aristarchus. Both of those men will be mentioned later, as they were apparently arrested with Paul in the temple in Jerusalem. Timothy and several others of these men who were with Paul in the Troad are mentioned in the salutation at the end of the epistle to the Romans, and from that we should know that Romans was written during the seven-day period that these men had tarried there, shortly after the Passover in 57 AD. This is the point at which we had left off in our last presentation, with the writing of Romans.
The following chart of the chronology of Acts is more thorough than the one we had provided with our first presentation. Here I have also added the writing of each of the epistles of Paul. Bear in mind that some dates may be off by one year, such as the date for the council of Jerusalem, which may have been in 49, or that of Paul’s arrival in Corinth, which may have been in 51. These possibilities and others are discussed in the notes.
Part 1, from the Travelling Epistles and early chapters of Acts:
- Acts chapter 2: First Christian Pentecost, 32 AD
- Acts chapter 9: Conversion of Paul of Tarsus, 35 AD
- Acts chapter 9: Visit of Paul as a Christian to Jerusalem, 37 or 38 AD
- Acts chapter 9: Paul sent to Tarsus, 38 AD
- Acts chapter 11: Paul retrieved from Tarsus to Antioch by Barnabas, before 44 AD
- Acts chapter 12: Arrest and release of Peter, and the execution of the younger James, no earlier than 41 AD but no later than 44 AD
- Acts chapters 11 to 15: Paul’s ministry with Barnabas began before 44 AD and ended in 48 or 49 AD, after the Council of Jerusalem.
- Acts chapter 15: Council of Jerusalem, 48 AD
- Acts chapter 18: Paul arrives in Corinth, 50 (or 51) AD
- Epistles 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written from Corinth in 50 or 51 AD.
- Acts chapter 18: Paul arrives in Antioch, 52 AD
- Epistle to the Galatians is written from Antioch in 52 AD.
- Acts chapter 18, Paul arrives in Galatia, and walks through Anatolia to Ephesus, 52-53 AD
- Acts chapter 19: Beginning of Paul’s three year ministry in Ephesus, 53 AD
- Epistle 1 Corinthians was written from Ephesus some time shortly before the Pentecost of 56 AD
- Acts chapters 19 and 20: Paul departs from Ephesus, enroute to Corinth via the Troad and Macedonia, 56 AD
- Epistles to Titus and 1 Timothy were written from the Troad, or perhaps from Macedonia, shortly after the Pentecost of 56 AD
- Acts chapter 20: Paul wintered in Nicopolis of Epirus, north of Corinth, 56-57 AD
- Epistle 2 Corinthians was written from Nicopolis during the winter of 56-57 AD
- Acts chapter 20: Second ministry of Paul in Corinth, 57 AD
- Acts chapter 20: Paul in the Troad with Timothy, Luke and others, 57 AD
- Epistle to the Romans was written from the Troad in 57 AD
Part 2, from the Prison Epistles and the later chapters of Acts:
- Acts chapter 21: Paul arrested in the temple at Jerusalem around Pentecost, 57 AD
- Epistle to the Hebrews was written by Paul in 57 AD or shortly thereafter, in defense of his positions and the differences outlined in the words of James in Acts 21:18-22.
- Acts chapter 24: Felix left office and left Paul bound two years after his arrest, 59 AD
- Acts chapters 26 and 27: Paul was heard by Festus, and then by both Festus and Herod Agrippa II, 59-60 AD
- Acts chapter 27: Paul sent to Rome and being shipwrecked had wintered on Malta, 60-61 AD
- Acts chapter 28: Paul arrived in Rome, where he lived for two years, from 61 AD
- Epistle to the Ephesians is written, perhaps 61 or 62 AD
- Paul defends the faith before Nero in Rome, perhaps 61 or 62 AD
- Epistle 2 Timothy written wherein Paul asked Timothy to come to Rome, perhaps 61 or 62 AD
- Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, who was a Colossian, were all written after Timothy joined Paul in Rome, perhaps 62 or 63 AD
- Josephus, Antiquities, Book 20 (20:200): After the death of Festus, James the brother of Yahshua Christ, the same James whom Paul saw in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 21, was murdered by certain Sadducees in Jerusalem shortly before Lucceius Albinus arrived to assume office of Procurator of Judaea, 62 AD
- Acts chapter 28: Paul executed by Nero in Rome, 63 AD
Many chronologies of Acts suppose that Paul was released from his initial imprisonment in Rome, and had a later ministry during which he was arrested again and then executed. But that is not true. These opinions are based on the chronology of Eusebius of Caesareia, who was writing in the 4th century. Eusebius had merely supposed that Paul was released and later rearrested because, as we demonstrated in the introduction to our commentary on the epistle to the Colossians, his chronology was wrong in other respects. For example, he had dating of an earthquake which had destroyed much of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis three years too late. For that event we have a more accurate witness in the first century historian Tacitus. The earthquake actually occurred in 59 AD, and Paul wrote the epistles to the Colossians and Philemon in 61 AD, or more likely, in 62 AD. At that same time, he also wrote a now-lost epistle to the Laodiceans. If the epistles were written three years after the earthquake, which shall be made evident here, then there was little reason to mention the event.
So according to some sources, the chronicles of Eusebius date the earthquake to the 10th year of Nero, or 63-64 AD. In Book 14 of The Annals of Imperial Rome, the historian Tacitus wrote that “In the Asian province one of its famous cities, Laodicea, was destroyed by an earthquake in this year, and rebuilt from its own resources without any subvention from Rome.” (Annals, 14:27) Evidently Hierapolis was also destroyed, and then rebuilt, but the historian does not mention that city. Laodicea was only ten miles from Colossae, and Hierapolis was near to Laodicea. Tacitus was writing about a period no later than the 7th year of Nero, or 60-61 AD, and he says that the uprising of the Iceni in Britain, which is also generally dated to that same time in 60 or 61 AD, happened in the year following the earthquake. So as Tacitus attested that the earthquake preceded the Iceni uprising by a year, it most likely happened in 59 AD.
Now to return to our narrative of Paul’s ministry:
After the seven days which those who had joined Paul had spent in the Troad, Luke indicated that the entire group had set sail together to Miletus. Paul wanted to see the elders of Ephesus, but did not want to go to Ephesus, probably on account of the troubles with the pagans which he had there the year before and the fact that he did not want to be held there as he needed to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost. So after Paul addressed the elders of the churches of Ephesus in Miletus, with stops in Tyre and Ptolemais the group sailed to Caesareia, from which place they travelled to Jerusalem. Although Timothy was apparently with Paul in Miletus, as he was with him in the Troad and later in Jerusalem, when Paul wrote Timothy several years later from Rome, for some reason he had mentioned leaving Trophimus behind in Miletus because he had fallen ill. However Paul had no other occasion to be in Miletus, and Trophimus was with Paul in the Troad, as he is mentioned by Luke in Acts chapter 20. He is not mentioned again. So while there must be some reason why Paul found it necessary to make that statement in 2 Timothy, this situation does help to explain Luke’s statement in Acts chapter 21, where speaking of Paul he explained that the Judaeans “had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.” But this did not describe Paul’s presence at the templle in Acts chapter 21, as Trophimus was left behind in Miletus this year.
Trophimus was an Ephesian, and here it is evident that he was a Greek, and not a Judaean. Luke made this explanation in regard to a charge which the Jews in the temple had conjured against Paul, that he had “further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.” But if Trophimus was left behind sick in Miletus, that must have happened when Paul stopped in Miletus weeks earlier, in Acts chapter 20, and therefore it is unlikely that Trophimus was in the temple with Paul in the events of Acts chapter 21. Rather, it is evident that Paul having ended his three-year stay in Ephesus only one year earlier, in 56 AD, that during that time he must have had other, unrecorded visits to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, as he was required to do, and must have brought Trophimus to Jerusalem with him on at least some of those occasions. In that same place in Acts, Luke reported that it was men from Asia, the capital of which was Ephesus, who made that accusation, and therefore it is plausible that they were referring to some occasion in the past.
Reaching Palestine in 57 AD Paul and company arrived in Tyre where they had stayed for seven days, where Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem. Then they sailed south to Caesareia, the port closest to Jerusalem, and stayed at the house of Philipp the evangelist. There Luke wrote only that they “tarried there many days”, however those many could not have been much longer than another week or two, as Paul had already been in Miletus for at least a few days, and in Tyre for another week, and then they stopped in Ptolemais for at least a day before reaching Caesareia. As we had said when he left Corinth and arrived in the Troad, he had not much longer than six weeks remaining before the Pentecost for which to get to Jerusalem, and he also had much time consumed in his travel at sea. After a prophet named Agabus had warned Paul that he faced arrest in Jerusalem, Paul and company nevertheless left for the city very soon after Paul had answered him. The remaining time until Pentecost must have been short, since Luke had written in Acts chapter 20 that Paul had “16… hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.” It is also plausible that Paul timed his journey to reach Jerusalem within only a day or two of the feast.
When Paul left Caesareia for Jerusalem, even more of the brethren from there had joined his company, so he must have had quite a number of companions with him, perhaps as many as twenty, since Luke had already mentioned at least a dozen and there must have been a few who were not mentioned, but whose presence was implied in various ways. Then when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he was admitted to see James, and we read the following, from the Christogenea New Testament, from Acts chapter 21: “17 And upon our coming into Jerusalem, the brethren gladly accepted us. 18 And on the next day Paul went in with us to Iakobos [James], and all the elders were present. 19 And greeting them he explained about each one of those things which Yahweh had done among the Nations through his ministry. 20 And those hearing it extolled Yahweh and said to him: ‘You consider, brethren, how many myriads there are among the Judaeans who are believing, and all being zealous of the law. 21 And they are informed concerning you, that you teach departure from Moses for the Judaeans throughout all the Nations, saying for them not to circumcise the children nor to walk in the customs. 22 So what is it? By all means they shall hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do this which we say to you. There are among us four men having a vow upon themselves. 24 Taking them you must be purified with them and pay the expense for them that they shave their heads, and all shall know that that which they are informed concerning you is nothing, but that you yourself also walk in line keeping the law.’”
It was evident from the need for the apostles to hold a council at Jerusalem in Acts chapter 15 that there were Judaizers in Jersualem, and the words of Paul concerning Judaizers in his epistle to the Galatians along with his later having admonished Peter in Antioch, which he also described in that epistle, shows that the Judaizers were indeed enforcing the maintenance of the interpretations of the Pharisees for Judaeans who had turned to Christ. Here it is also apparent that James had become affected by these, and evidently supported their positions. But it is true, that Paul was teaching that those born after the cross of Christ should not be circumcised, or keep the rituals of the law. After informing Paul of this, James, being Paul’s elder, and those who were with him had demanded that Paul cleanse himself ritually in the temple, and Paul being a Judaean was compelled to consent, as it was an aspect of the Pharisaical interpretation of the Mosaic law. Paul himself had professed in his epistles that those who were born under the law had to keep the law so long as they lived, but that those born after the cross of Christ were freed from the law, meaning the works of the law which are found in the rituals. While Paul was compelled to honor James and submit to his counsel, since he was his elder, he did not agree with James. This issue between the apostles informs us of exactly when and why it was that Paul had written his epistle to the Hebrews.
So Paul went to the temple to be cleansed, and his presence there caused a tumult as many of the Judaeans wanted to kill him for what they perceived to be heresy. As we have already mentioned, they also wrongly accused him of having brought Greeks into the temple, which was forbidden by the Judaeans. At this time there were warning signs inscribed in Greek which were posted around the temple in Jerusalem, threatening death to anyone who was not a Judaean who ventured to enter. All or part of at least such two inscriptions have been found, which stated in Greek that “No foreigner may enter within the railing and enclosure that surround the Temple. Anyone apprehended shall have himself to blame for his consequent death!” (There is a copy of this temple warning posted at Christogenea.org. See Biblical Archaeology Review, July-August 2003, p. 36.) Of course, Judaeans at the time were not reckoned by race, but only by circumcision. Paul’s accusers in the temple were Judaeans from Asia (Acts 21:27), which helps to explain how they had known to accuse him of bringing Trophimus the Ephesian into the temple. So James’ demand that Paul be purified in the temple essentially caused Paul to fall into the hands of the wolves, however this too was within the Provenance of Yahweh. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem some time soon before Pentecost, 57 AD. The only reason he was not killed at this time was that the tumult was so great that the Roman soldiers stationed in Jerusalem had noticed. During this very time, writing in Antiquities Book 20 after he had related that Festus replaced Felix as procurator (20:182), Flavius Josephus had also explained (20:192) that because of the frequent insurrections, “the Romans kept guards for the temple at the festivals.” This is one of those festivals, and the circumstances inform us that Paul was in the Temple on or around the time of Pentecost. This also brings us to discuss the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews.
The epistle to the Hebrews
Even commentators who acknowledge that Paul is the author of this epistle claim that it was written while he was under arrest in Rome. One basis for that claim is the penultimate verse of the epistle, at the end of Hebrews chapter 13, where it says “24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.” But in the Christogenea New Testament, this same verse is translated to say “Greet all of your leaders, and all the saints. They from Italy greet you.” The key difference in our interpretation is centered on the preposition translated as from rather than of. In the Greek text of this verse, that preposition is ἀπό, which means from or away from, far from, or apart from. So we would assert that Paul had used it to describe people who had come from Italy and had visited with Paul as this epistle was written, and not people who were in Italy when Paul was writing. At the time, the headquarters of the Roman procurator was in Caesareia, which was also the port city closest to Jerusalem, and it was the place where Paul was held in bonds for over two years, as it is recorded in Acts chapters 23 through 27. So Paul must have had many opportunities for visits from traveling Christians of the circumcision, who had continued to keep the feasts just as Paul had also done.
Although Paul had never yet been in Rome, he had friends among the Romans. For example, Priscilla and Aquila had spent considerable time with Paul on several occasions, and they were dwelling in Rome once again when he wrote his epistle to the Romans shortly before this epistle was written. So Paul is most certainly referring to friends who were visiting him from Rome. While he was under arrest in Caesareia, Luke wrote in Acts chapter 24 in reference to Felix the governor that “23... he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.” So while on the surface that phrase seems to support the assertion that the epistle was written in Rome, once it is translated correctly it is doing precisely the opposite. The word ἀπό denotes separation and origin, and not one’s current location. If Paul were in Italy, he did not need that preposition, but only the Genitive Case of the noun to denote the origin and location of those whom he meant to describe. Using ἀπό, he is actually saying that these individuals were from Italy, and it becomes evident that he is describing people who had originated from Italy but were not in Italy as he was writing.
So the epistle to the Hebrews was written while Paul was under arrest in Caesareia. This is further evident from the closing salutation in the final verses of Hebrews chapter 13. There Paul wrote “23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.” Where it says that Timothy was set at liberty, that means that Timothy was released from prison. Yet at no time are we ever informed that Timothy was arrested, and while Paul was arrested for a short time previously, in Philippi with Silas, that event is recorded in detail, there is no space for the release of anyone accompanying Paul before Paul and Silas were released. It could not have been when Paul had written Hebrews, and it is quite explicit in Acts chapter 16 that only Paul and Silas were arrested at that time.
However while Luke in Acts chapter 21 had only mentioned the arrest of Paul, in Acts chapter 27, when Paul is finally sent to Rome by Festus, we read “1 And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band. 2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.” If Timothy were also in bonds along with them, then surely Luke may have also mentioned him since he was much closer and dearer to Paul than was Aristarchus. Therefore Timothy must have been released before Paul was sent to Rome. Furthermore, Paul still being in prison knew of Timothy’s release because Timothy was in prison with him.
Aristarchus, being a Macedonian of Thessaly, was also a Roman citizen, like Paul. This is the same Aristarchus of Acts chapter 19, where Paul had the troubles in Ephesus and Luke wrote: “29 And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.” So Aristarchus must have been arrested with Paul in Jerusalem, having been with Paul in his travels as it is described in Acts chapter 20, and he remained imprisoned along with Paul until they were both sent to Rome. But Luke’s concise accounts usually only follow the central character, and we have no details concerning Timothy because he was already released.
Later, when Paul wrote his prison epistles from Rome, he mentioned Aristarchus where he described those who were with him, in Colossians and in the epistle to Philemon. But Timothy was not with Paul when he was sent to Rome, because as it says in that passage of Hebrews chapter 13, Timothy had been released. So Timothy did not go in chains with Paul to Rome, although Aristarchus did. Therefore Timothy was released from imprisonment in Judaea, and not in Rome, while Paul remained in prison. Once Paul was settled in at Rome, being under house arrest and managing his own affairs, he wrote to Timothy and asked him to come to Rome to assist him, and that is the letter which we now have in our Bibles as 2 Timothy.
It can be conjectured that Timothy was released because he was not a Roman citizen, and therefore he could be judged in Judaea with no right to appeal to Caesar. When Paul gave his defense before Festus and Agrippa, as it is recorded in Acts chapter 26, we read: “32 Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” Paul’s appeal to Caesar probably saved his life from the Judaeans who wanted to kill him much earlier, when Felix had heard his case, but it was the reason that he was kept in bonds in the time of Festus.
All of these circumstances, taken together, certainly do indicate that Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews from Caesareia, where he was under arrest for over two years. It also seems that he probably wrote it early in that period since he also had expected to be released, so he had evidently not yet been forced to assert his right to appeal to Caesar. Once he appealed to Caesar, he could not possibly have been released until going in bonds to Rome for his case to be heard there, and Paul must have understood that circumstance. The year in which Paul travelled to Jerusalem and was imprisoned was 57 AD, as we have already established. The year that Festus came to office is generally reckoned to be in 59 AD, and Paul’s appeal to Caesar is not recorded until that time. Paul himself was kept in bonds by Felix “to shew the Jews a pleasure”, as Luke wrote in the closing verse of Acts chapter 24, and Paul was forced to appeal to Caesar after Festus came into office, because he would not risk being judged by the Jews.
So with this, we should imagine that Paul, expecting to be released in Hebrews chapter 13, wrote this epistle before Festus came into office and questioned Paul in 59 AD, and that is also when Timothy had been released, in the time of Felix. This would be two years after his arrest, as Luke also stated in that passage that Paul was bound in the time of Felix for two years, when Festus came into office. Some time after that, Festus heard Paul, and he heard Paul again at another even later time, when Herod Agrippa II had desired to hear him, as it is recorded in Acts chapter 26. All of these procedures must have taken at least a year, since it is not likely that Paul of Tarsus would have been a high priority for an incoming Roman procurator in 59 AD. The event where Paul testified before Agrippa dating to either 59 or 60 AD, we may generally reckon that Paul was sent to Rome in 60, and although it may have been a little later, 60 AD is the most likely year since Paul was sent to Rome at a time close to winter, late in the year, and the ship being delayed with unfavorable winds, was forced to spend the winter in Malta, where it was wrecked. It is far less likely that Paul was held for another full year and not sent until close to winter in 61 AD, that long after having been heard by Agrippa and after it was declared that he would be sent to Rome. Festus died suddenly while still in office in Caesareia in 62 AD, and before his successor could take office, the apostle James was stoned to death by the Sadducees.
Unlike all of his other epistles, this epistle to the Hebrews has no opening salutation. But that too is for an important reason. As the words of James in Acts chapter 21 and the subsequent fate of Paul at the hands of the Judaeans suggest, Paul was utterly despised by them all. So if he put his name to Hebrews, he certainly must have imagined that the epistle would be discarded, and not even read, by his intended audience. Therefore, there is no hint of the author of the epistle until its very last verses, and even there Paul did not use his name. All of this, as well as the defense of Paul’s positions which are set forth in the content of the epistle, show that Paul must have been its author, and that this is when he had written it, while it also accords with all of the circumstances of the times which are described in the Book of Acts. Luke having been with Paul during this entire period, as the Book of Acts informs us, that would account for the style of the epistle. Hebrews is a very eloquent letter, written in the hand of one who was educated in Greek, and Luke is the ideal candidate for its authorship. The opening verses of all three works, the Gospel of Luke, the Book of Acts, and the epistle to the Hebrews, are all very eloquent works of literature written in a style which we would assert is very similar, and the similarities extend throughout each of these works.
Ostensibly, Paul wrote this epistle to the Hebrews to persuade his brethren in Judaea that circumcision and the rituals and ceremonies of the Laws of Moses were no longer necessary in Christ, and that their virtue or righteousness could not be derived or achieved from those things. As we see in Acts chapter 21, the people of Judaea were confused as to why Paul taught many of the things which he did, especially concerning the rituals, or as he called them, the “works of the law”. In Galatians chapter 2, after describing his differences with Peter and the other apostles, Paul contrasted justification in Christ to the justification which is by the works of the law, and that issue is of primary importance throughout this epistle to the Hebrews. The epistle to the Hebrews sets out to explain Paul’s position in answer to those very issues which are raised by James in chapter 21 of the Book of Acts.
Furthermore, while asserting and demonstrating throughout the Scriptures that Yahshua is the Christ, the author of the epistle has the expectation that his readers have already accepted the fact that Yahshua is the Christ, so the intended audience is a Christian audience. He then seeks to establish the consequences of recognizing Yahshua as the Christ, and he gives the reasons for the abolition of the rituals once it is accepted that Yahshua is the Christ, according to the Scripture. The epistle to the Hebrews is clearly Paul’s answer to the words of James which are recorded in Acts chapter 21, and a clarification of the issues with the apostles at Antioch described in Galatians chapter 2. This context further stands to prove that Paul is the author of the epistle. So instead of a salutation as he had made in all of his other epistles, the epistle to the Hebrews instead presents an immediate argument that the Son, referring to Yahshua Christ, is the vessel through which the Word of God now comes into the world, and at great length it describes the consequences of the Gospel of Christ to those who had remained in the law according to the Pharisaical interpretations of the Old Covenant traditions.
Paul arrived at Rome several months after having been shipwrecked at Malta, in the Spring of 61 AD. There were two letters written from Rome before Timothy was with Paul, which are the epistle to the Ephesians and the second epistle to Timothy.
The epistle to the Ephesians
The epistle to the Ephesians was written from Rome, which is evident in 2 Timothy 4:12 where Paul had explained that he had sent Tychicus to Ephesus, and we see that Paul is a prisoner when he wrote Ephesians (i.e. Ephesians 3:1), and Tychicus had brought that letter to Ephesus (Ephesians 6:21) before Paul wrote 2 Timothy (2 Timothy 4:12).
There is contention over whether or not the epistle to the Ephesians was originally addressed to the Ephesians. But it can be ascertained that it was. This stems from the fact that in the oldest surviving manuscripts of the epistle, the 3rd century papyrus P46 and the Codices Sinaiticus (א) and Vaticanus (B), the reference to Ephesus is wanting from the opening verse of the epistle. But once the timing of the writing of this epistle is properly coordinated with the writing of 2 Timothy, Paul's statement that he had sent Tychicus to Ephesus in 2 Timothy 4:12 reveals the recipient of the epistles for us, that Tychicus must have been sent there with this epistle in hand, as it is stated in Ephesians chapter 6.
In 2 Timothy chapter 4 we read: “12 And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.” We are not informed as to whether Tychicus had remained with Paul this entire time up to this point, as Luke had, but Tychicus must have been a free man and in Rome with Paul when the epistle to the Ephesians was written, and there in 2 Timothy we learn that Tychicus had already brought the epistle to Ephesus. So in the closing verses of Ephesians chapter 6 we read: “21 But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things: 22 Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts.”
It is ascertained that Paul was a prisoner when he wrote Ephesians in Ephesians chapter 3 where he said: “1 For this cause I, Paul, captive of Christ Yahshua on behalf of you of the Nations…” Then in the opening verse of chapter 4 he refers to himself as “1 … I who am in bonds in the Prince…” Then, the “full armor of Yahweh” prayer in chapter 6 of the epistle seems to indicate that Paul had not yet defended himself before Caesar, and there is no mention of such a defense in the epistle. But it also indicates that he knew that he was about to make his defense, as he makes a request at the end of the prayer, asking the Ephesians to pray “19 … on my behalf in order that speech may be given to me in the opening of my mouth with freespokenness to make known the mystery of the good message, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that in them I may speak freely as it is necessary for me to speak.” Some time later, after his defense was given, Paul wrote 2 Timothy.
As a digression, while I had long hoped to expand my article explaining the order and chronology of Paul’s epistles, and finally decided to do that earlier this month, I forgot what I had planned as I presented my commentary on 2 Timothy, so I will quote it now:
While we have a rather concise article posted at Christogenea titled Ordering and chronology of the epistles of Paul, we hope to one day expand that greatly, using the detailed explanations which we have presented in the introduction to each of Paul’s epistles as well as the chronological information we included in our presentations of the Acts of the Apostles.
That was written on November 10th, 2017, so here we are, just over four years later.
The second epistle to Timothy
The epistle which we know as 2 Timothy was written from Rome, after Paul had already offered his first defense of Christianity. Paul described himself as a prisoner in 2 Timothy chapter 1 (1:8), and he seems to have already defended himself before Nero, which was the purpose for his having been sent to Rome. As a result of his defense, he was also anticipating the possibility that he may be executed. This we read in 2 Timothy chapter 4: “6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
After that, Paul asked Timothy to come to him in Rome, and in his last three epistles, it is fully evident that Timothy did as Paul had requested. This we find as we read further on in 2 Timothy chapter 4: “9 Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. 12 And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. 13 The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” So this also agrees with our interpretation of his statement that he had sent Tychicus to Ephesus, ostensibly with the epistle to the Ephesians in hand in 2 Timothy 4:12.
Why Aristarchus was not mentioned where Paul wrote “only Luke is with me” cannot be explained, as Aristarchus is mentioned as being with Paul later, in the epistles to the Colossians and Philemon which were written after Timothy had come to Paul. Except that perhaps Paul meant only to refer to free men with those words since in the later epistle to the Colossians, Aristarchus is called by Paul his “fellow prisoner”. It must also be supposed that Demas had returned to Rome after Paul told Timothy that Demas had forsaken him, since Demas is once again with Paul when Colossians was written later on. Here Paul had also asked Timothy to to bring Mark with him, so we see that there must have been something of a reconciliation between Paul and Mark, as Paul’s estimation of Mark’s value was the reason that Paul and Barnabas had split and went their separate ways after the council at Jerusalem and before Paul had begun his eighteen month ministry in Corinth.
Much later, Mark was with the apostle Peter in Babylon when his first epistle was written. By that circumstance and others, we may date both of Peter’s epistles to 63 AD or later, since 2 Peter was written as an explanation of some of the things in 1 Peter, and also contained a seemingly posthumous accreditation of Paul’s epistles. Silvanus, or Silas, who was never mentioned as having been with Paul again after Paul had departed from Corinth in 52 AD, was also with Peter at that time, and may have delivered 1 Peter to the assemblies of Anatolia to whom the epistle was addressed (1 Peter 5:12).
Timothy was present with Paul when he wrote the second epistle to the Corinthians in the winter of 56-57 AD, and that epistle was written “from Paul … and Timothy our brother unto the church of God which is at Corinth,” as it states in its opening salutation. Timothy departed with Paul from Corinth the following Spring, and he was present when the epistle to the Romans was written in the Troad, and he was evidently arrested with Paul in Jerusalem, but released before Paul had written the epistle to the Hebrews. For whatever reason, when Romans was written it is only addressed from Paul. But all of the other epistles Paul had written when the two men were together were addressed from both Paul and Timothy. Perhaps this indicates that Timothy had done the handwriting for Paul, as was the custom on account of Paul’s poor eyesight, but that is not probable since it is not consistent throughout the epistles, notably in Romans where we are informed that Tertius had done the handwriting for that epistle. In my opinion, it seems instead that Paul did this to associate Timothy with him as a partner in his ministry. The only other apostles who had that honor were Silas, or Silvanus, when he was with Paul in Corinth and the epistles to the Thessalonians were written, and Sosthenes, when he was with Paul in Ephesus and the first epistle to the Corinthians was written. Timothy, being with Paul and Silas in Corinth when 2 Thessalonians was written, was mentioned in the opening address in that epistle as well. But not even Luke ever had that honor, who was with Paul for the writing of his last seven epistles, and evidently penned at least some of them.
So perhaps Paul had recounted the deeds of many of his other associates, whether they were good or wicked, in this second epistle to Timothy because he did know that his death was imminent, and if he did not get the opportunity to see him before he was executed, then receiving the epistle Timothy would at least be aware of those deeds, so that he would not be deceived if he later encountered any of those men. But when Timothy arrived in Rome, Paul was still among the living and the epistle to the Philippians was written, as well as the epistles to the Colossians and Philemon. A now-lost epistle to the Laodiceans was also written at this time.
Before Timothy’s arrival, Paul had already written the epistle to the Ephesians, and only mentioned himself in its opening salutation. But now that Timothy had come to Paul in Rome, probably some time in 62 AD, writing the last three of the epistles which Paul had written from Rome in the closing days of his ministry, of all of the others who were with him, only Timothy merited mention as a co-author in the opening salutations of Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.
The epistle to the Philippians:
Philippians was written from Rome while Paul was with Timothy (Philippians 1:1, 7). There, as he had mentioned his first defense of Christianity in 2 Timothy, he did likewise in Philippians chapter 1, after Timothy had come to Rome to be with him. So there we read: “1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi…” and a little further on, “7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.” A few verses later we learn that this defense was indeed before Caesar, where he wrote “13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Even later, in Philippians chapter 2, Paul expressed the hope that he can send Timothy to them, and also that he would hear back from them through Timothy. Doing this, he commended Timothy and showed his exasperation that all of his other fellow-workers had gone elsewhere, or had even abandoned him as he had also expressed when he wrote 2 Timothy, which was probably no more than a couple of months earlier. Thus we read: “19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. 20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.” Then Paul continued his commendation of Timothy and said: “22 But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. 23 Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.” Paul did not know how Nero would judge him.
At this point, while Paul seemed to be sullen at the possibility of being executed in 2 Timothy, here he seemed to be more confident that he may have prevailed in his defense, and we read: “24 But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.” Then, in the closing salutation of the epistle, we read that Paul’s testimony of Christ had prevailed with some of Nero’s servants, or perhaps even members of his court or family, where he wrote: “21 Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. 22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household.”
According to the historical sources, in 64 AD Rome suffered a great fire, which Nero, who had already despised Christians, had then blamed on Christians. Certain ancient historians blamed Nero himself, and claimed that he played the fiddle in celebration while Rome burned, but those accounts can be refuted by other records. While Nero may have been mad at this time, as the same histories have illustrated him, he did use the fire as a pretext to further persecute, arrest and execute hundreds of Christians in Rome. It is unlikely that Paul survived Nero’s hatred for Christianity just a year before, as according to Luke in Acts chapter 28 we may date the end of Paul’s ministry to 63 AD. Describing the account of the fire, the historian Tacitus repeated many of the Jewish slanders against Christians as if he had accepted their veracity.
Apparently, Paul had written the Philippians in response to having heard from them first. In verse 18 of chapter 4 of the epistle to the Philippians, Paul attested that Epaphroditus had brought to him a tithe from Philippi, and there it is evident that Epaphroditus would return the epistle to them. So aside from Timothy, none of Paul’s other companions are mentioned in the letter, as the salutation seems to be unusually brief. There are two remaining epistles to discuss.
The epistle to the Colossians:
The epistle to the Colossians was also written while Timothy was with Paul, and it was written from Rome while Paul was a still prisoner. So we read in the opening salutation in chapter 1: “1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse…” then in the closing salutation, in the last verse of chapter 4 we read in part: “18 The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds….” Aristarchus was still a prisoner along with him. Then later, in chapter 4, we learn that Timothy did bring Mark with him, as Paul had requested in 2 Timothy, and others besides Luke were once again with Paul, some of whom Paul had been bereft of in the epistles which he wrote prior to this one. So we read, in part: “10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;) 11 And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.” Here Aristarchus is named among those of the circumcision.
In the following verse of Colossians chapter 4, an Epaphras is mentioned who is evidently the same Epaphroditus who had earlier come from Philippi, where we read: “12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.” In reference to the Philippians Paul had called Epaphroditos “your apostle”, in Philippians 2:25. It is also evident that Epaphras and Epaphroditos are the same man where Strong in his Concordance informs us that the word Epaphras is only a contraction of the word Epaphroditos.
Then in the very next verse of this chapter of Colossians, we learn that Demas is once again reconciled with Paul: “14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.” A little later, from verse 16 we read of the now-lost epistle to the Laodiceans.
But at the beginning of the salutation, earlier in Colossians chapter 4, we read “7 All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord…” Some time before Paul had summoned Timothy, Tychicus had gone to Ephesus, delivering that epistle. Then Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy that he had sent Tychicus to Ephesus. However here in Colossians 4:7, we can see that Tychicus also delivered this epistle to Colossae, which Paul wrote when he was with Timothy. So Tychicus must have returned to Rome after he delivered the epistle to the Ephesians, and was there with Paul once again while Timothy was present and these last epistles to the Colossians and Philemon were written. This circumstance also informs us that there was a considerable amount of time, at least many months, between the writing of Ephesians, 2 Timothy, and these final epistles, to afford time for both visitation and travel by Tychicus, Timothy and the others coming to Paul from elsewhere.
This brings us to discuss our fourteenth and\the final of Paul’s surviving epistles, which is the epistle to Philemon.
The epistle to Philemon
Once again, a little further on in verse 9 of Colossians chapter 4 we learn that Onesimus, the slave on whose behalf Paul had written the epistle to Philemon, was also a Colossian, and that he would go to Colossae with Tychicus when he delivers this epistle. There we read in continuation of the passage we have just cited, where Paul is still speaking of Tychicus: “ 8 Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; 9 With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.”
Therefore Philemon was also certainly a Colossian. So Onesimus, who was also evidently a Colossian, together with Philemon, had delivered this epistle to the Colossians with Tychicus, and therefore he and Tychicus also must have delivered the epistle to Philemon at this same time, since Onesimus was an escaped slave of Philemon and in that letter Paul begs Philemon for his freedom. Onesimus is only mentioned by Paul in these two epistles and outside of them we know nothing of either him or Philemon. We
only know Demas from these same two epistles, and also from the second epistle to Timothy, written not long before this epistle, where Paul had written that “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10). But Demas is not mentioned before then.
To further establish that Philemon was written in order to accompany the epistle written to the Colossians, in the salutation of the epistle we see that Mark, Luke, Aristarchus, Demas and Epaphras are all mentioned as being with Paul, and that indicates that this was indeed written at that same time.
This is also Paul’s very last epistle, so we shall summarize some of our arguments that this is the very last recorded act of his ministry:
Was Paul ever released from imprisonment by the Romans?
With no evidence outside of an interpretation of 2 Timothy chapter 4 by the 4th century ecclesiastical writer Eusebius, and the demonstrably errant chronology which accompanied that interpretation, later Christians have imagined Paul to have been released from his initial imprisonment in Rome, to have then been arrested again, to have written 2 Timothy during a second imprisonment, and then to have been executed. However reading 2 Timothy chapter 4, we cannot find such an interpretation to be a necessarily valid one. And furthermore, why, if 2 Timothy was written after his second arrest, would Paul find a need to explain the fates of all those who were with him leading up to his first arrest?
Rather, the writing of 2 Timothy is consistent with Paul's first and only arrest, and his later having joined Paul in Rome, as requested of him in 2 Timothy, which is when Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written. In 2 Timothy Paul informed Timothy of the status of his relationship with many of the men with whom they had worked together in the past, and he does so whether Timothy should have known of that status or not. Ostensibly, Paul also did this so that it may also serve as a form of public notice. Then when Timothy comes to Rome to be with Paul, all of the surviving epistles which he writes from that time, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, are written no longer from Paul, but from Paul and Timothy. Luke was with Paul. Aristarchus was with Paul. They were Paul's “fellow-workers”. But there are no epistles from “Paul and Luke” or “Paul and Aristarchus”. The second epistle to the Corinthians was also written in this manner, nearly a year before Paul's arrest and even though Titus was also in Nicopolis with Paul when it was written.
What we are informed of in all of this, is that Timothy was chosen by Paul to be the heir to his ministry, the man he hoped would continue his own work, so Paul associated himself with Timothy in these epistles, and probably also in the missing epistle to the Laodiceans. Paul rather explicitly stated in these last epistles that only Timothy was qualifed for this task, although we cannot conjecture as to why some of the others were not, or could not, assume it themselves. Paul had told Timothy in his epistle to him, that he expected his end to come soon, in 2 Timothy chapter 4 where he says: “6 For I am already offered and the time of my departure approaches.” Even if he still held a hope to be released, he was not.
With all certainty, this accounts for the times and places of the writing of all fourteen of Paul’s surviving epistles. But there is one more subject to discuss.
The Lost Epistles of Paul
It cannot be taken for granted that we have all of Paul's epistles. He also must have written many more casual or personal letters to his fellow-workers, such as the note which is mentioned in Acts chapter 17 where we read “15 But those conducting Paul led him unto Athens, and they went out taking an order to Silas and Timotheos that they should come to him quickly.” But in Paul’s 14 epistles there are also several explicit mentions of other and now lost epistles.
The real 1 Corinthians: In 1 Corinthians 5:9 Paul mentioned a previous letter which he had written to them which is apparently now lost. So our first epistle to the Corinthians should have been numbered second, and the second third, but we do not have the first. It was most likely written from Ephesus earlier in Paul’s three-year ministry there.
In 1 Corinthians 16:1 Paul mentioned having given instructions to the assemblies of Galatia, where he said “1 Now concerning the collection that is for the saints, just as I had prescribed to the assemblies of Galatia, in that manner also you should do.” These instructions were apparently in a now-lost epistle because they are not found in the epistle to the Galatians which we do have, and 1 Corinthians was written later than our epistle to the Galatians. So we can assert that what would have been 2 Galatians was probably also written from Ephesus earlier in Paul’s ministry there.
In Colossians 4:16, one of the letters written from Rome, we see that Paul had also written an epistle to the Laodiceans, and Laodicea was not far from Colossae. This epistle is also lost, but in our order of these epistles it would have immediately preceded Colossians.
Finally, there is an allusion to a now-lost epistle to the Ephesians, in Ephesians 3:3 where Paul referred to something "just as I had briefly written before". It would not be fantastic to imagine that Paul had written many more epistles during his ministry, all of which are also now lost. It cannot be determined when this epistle may have been written, but it would have likely been written as early as 56-57 AD, soon after Paul had left Ephesus and passed through Macedonia, or when he had wintered in Nicopolis.
This ends our ordering and chronology of the epistles of Paul.