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Paul in Prison
Paul may have spent as much as 25% of his time as a missionary in prison. We know of his brief lock-up in Philippi, two years’ incarceration in Caesarea, and at least another two in Rome. Yet Paul says he experienced “far more imprisonments” than his opponents. To understand Paul, we need to understand where he spent so much time.
The Epistles from Prison
After despatching the Epistle to the Romans, Paul made his way to Jerusalem, where he was attacked in the Temple area, dragged outside by a Jewish mob, and would have been killed if Roman troops had not rescued him. Had the Jews succeeded in their attempt, the Epistle to the Romans would have been his last. Fortunately he was spared to write a number of other letters, seven of which have been preserved.
Imprisonment as a punishment for crime is not known in Mosaic law. The few apparent cases mentioned in the Pentateuch (Leviticus 24:12; Numbers 15:34) refer in fact to the temporary detention of the criminal until sentence could be passed on him. Later, however, during the period of the first commonwealth, a few cases of punishment by imprisonment are recorded (1 Kings 22:27; 2 Chronicles 16:10; Jeremiah 37:15-16; comp. Psalms 107:10). The Hebrew language contains a number of words meaning “prison” or “dungeon,” which would imply that imprisonment was customary among the Jews, as it was likewise among many other nations of antiquity. Nevertheless, it seems to have been an arbitrary punishment inflicted by the magistrates or by the kings upon those who were under accusation or in disfavor.