Paul after Acts

The Biblical account of the Paul’s life ends with him in Rome: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31, ESV). Some think that he was then tried and executed but that Luke didn’t record those events because he wanted to end Acts on a triumphant note.

However writing from prison Paul told the church in Philippi and Philemon in Colossae that he hoped to visit them soon (Philippians 2:24; Philemon 22), and so he must have expected to be released. Also some of the details given in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus don’t fit into the account of his life given in Acts and suggest that he returned to Crete, Asia Minor (Turkey), and Greece after that account. Moreover tradition indicates that he visited Spain.

Here I’ll summarize what is known and surmised about Paul’s life after his stay in Rome described in the book of Acts. My main sources are “Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey,” NIV Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2011, pages 2028-29) and The Fourth Missionary Journey: What Happened to Paul after Acts? at The Good Book Blog, the faculty blog of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.

After being under house arrest in Rome for two years, Paul was released, possibly after appearing before Nero in fulfillment of the promise made to him in a vision by an angel that he would stand before Caesar (Acts 27:24). Both of the sources referred to above speculate that on Paul’s release he visited Spain. In his letter to the Romans written about five years earlier, he’d expressed his intention to visit Rome and Spain after delivering a gift from the churches in Greece to the church in Jerusalem (Romans 15:23-29). As well Clement, writing about A.D. 96, described Paul as “reaching the limits of the West” (1 Clement 5:7), probably referring to a place west of where Clement was (Rome). Paul likely stayed some time in Spain preaching and teaching.

Perhaps on his return from Spain Paul sailed to the island of Crete, where he ministered with Titus. However he didn’t stay long enough to follow his usual practice of appointing elders in the churches and left Titus to do so, reminding him of this in Titus 1:5, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Subsequently Paul visited Miletus, Colossae, and Ephesus in Asia Minor. Some passages indicating or suggesting that he visited them are:

I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20).
At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (Philemon 22; written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, to Philemon, master of Onesimus, who according to Colossians 4:9 lived in Colossae).
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith (1 Timothy 1:3).

On his way from Ephesus to Macedonia (the northern part of Greece), Paul passed through Troas, where he left his cloak and parchments with Carpus (2 Timothy 4:13). In Macedonia he probably visited the churches in Philippi (fulfilling the wish that he’d expressed in Philippians 2:24), Thessalonica, and Berea, which he’d established on his second missionary journey. From there he went on to Corinth, where he left Erastus (2 Timothy 4:20), and headed for Nicopolis, the port city on the west coast of Greece where he planned to spend the winter (Titus 3:12).

However either on his way to Nicopolis or shortly after arriving there, Paul was arrested and imprisoned in Rome again. His asking Timothy to bring his cloak and to try to get to him before winter (2 Timothy 4:13, 21) suggests that he was imprisoned just before winter set in. This time he was not in his own rented house but probably in “the dank, gloomy chamber of horrors then called the Mamertine Prison” (Charles Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Nashville, Tennessee: W Publishing Group, 2002, page 316). And this time he wasn’t released but instead was executed by beheading.

As F. F. Bruce observes in his outstanding portrayal of the life of Paul (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977, page 446), Paul’s last words have been preserved in 2 Timothy 4:6-8:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

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