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ISBN-13: 9780891078005
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 10/05/1994
Series: Crossway Classic Commentaries Series , #8
Edition description: Abridged
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.54(d)

About the Author

J. B. LIGHTFOOT(1828–1889) was an outstanding British New Testament scholar. He worked with F. J. A. Hort and B. F. Westcott at Cambridge University to produce a New Testament commentary based on a reliable Greek text. His work in demonstrating the first-century origin of the New Testament books helped demolish the Tübingen school of biblical criticism. Along with his Philippians, his commentaries on Galatians and Colossians/Philemon are still considered landmarks of biblical study and exposition.

Alister McGrath (PhD, University of Oxford) is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and senior research fellow at Harris Manchester College in Oxford. He is also a noted author and coeditor of Crossway's Classic Commentaries series.

J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best-seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.

Alister McGrath (PhD, University of Oxford) is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and senior research fellow at Harris Manchester College in Oxford. He is also a noted author and coeditor of Crossway's Classic Commentaries series.

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St. Paul in Rome

The arrival of St. Paul in the city of Rome marks a new and important epoch in the history of the Christian church. Hitherto he had come in contact with Roman institutions modified by local circumstances and administered by subordinate officers in the outlying provinces of the Empire. Now he was in the very center and focus of Roman influence; and from this time forward neither the policy of the government nor the character of the reigning prince was altogether a matter of indifference to the welfare of Christianity. The change of scene had brought with it a change in the mutual relations between the Gospel and the Empire. They were now occupying the same ground, and a collision was inevitable.

Up to this time the apostle Paul had found rather an ally than an enemy in a power which he had more than once successfully invoked against the malignity of his fellow-countrymen. This precarious alliance was henceforward exchanged for direct, though intermittent, antagonism. The Empire, which in one of his earlier letters he would seem to have taken as the type of that restraining power which kept Antichrist in check (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7), was itself now assuming the character of Antichrist.

When St. Paul appealed from the tribunal of the Jewish procurator to the court of Caesar, he attracted the notice and challenged the hostility of the greatest power which the world had ever seen. The very emperor to whom the appeal was made bears the ignominy of the first systematic persecution of the Christians; and thus commenced the long struggle, which raged for several centuries, and ended in establishing the Gospel on the ruins of the Roman Empire. It was doubtless the impulse given to the progress of Christianity by the presence of its greatest preacher in the city of Rome which raised the church in Rome to a position of prominence and made it a mark for the wanton attacks of the tyrant. Its very obscurity would have shielded it otherwise. The preaching of Paul was the necessary antecedent to the persecution of Nero.

St. Paul's Sense of the Importance of This Visit

It is probable that the apostle Paul foresaw the importance of his decision when he transferred his cause to the tribunal of Caesar. There is a significant force in his declaration at an earlier date that he "must visit Rome" (Acts 19:21). He had "been longing for many years" to visit the imperial city (Romans 1:10-16; 15:22-24, 28, 29,32), and he had been strengthened in this purpose by a heavenly vision ("You must also testify in Rome," Acts 23:11). To prepare the way for his visit he had addressed to the Roman church a letter containing a more complete and systematic exposition of doctrine than he ever committed to writing before or after. And now, when the moment has arrived, the firm and undaunted resolution with which in defiance of policy he makes his appeal bears testimony to the strength of his conviction (Acts 25:11).

The sacred historian, Luke, takes pains to emphasize this visit to Rome. He doubtless echoes the feeling of St. Paul himself when he closes his record with a notice of the apostle Paul's success in the city, deeming this the most appropriate ending to his narrative, as the virtual and prospective realization of our Lord's promise placed in its forefront, that the apostles should be his witnesses to "the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

The State of Rome When St. Paul Arrived

It was probably in the early spring of a.d. 61 that St. Paul arrived in Rome. The glorious five years which ushered in the reign of Nero amidst the acclamations of a grateful people, and which later ages recalled with wistful regret as an ideal of imperial rule, had now drawn to a close. The unnatural murder of Agrippina had at length revealed the true character of Nero. Burrus and Seneca, it is true, still lingered at the head of affairs; but their power was waning. Neither the blunt honesty of the soldier nor the calm moderation of the philosopher could hold their ground any longer against the influence of more subtle and less scrupulous counselors.

The Length of Paul's Stay in Rome

At Rome the apostle remained for "two whole years" (Acts 28:30), preaching the Gospel without interruption, though preaching it in chains. By specifying this period St. Luke seems to imply that at its close there was some change in the outward condition of the prisoner. [The inference in the text will not hold if, as some suppose, St. Luke's narrative was accidentally broken off and terminates abruptly. From this view however I dissent for two reasons. (1) A comparison with the closing sentences of the Gospel shows a striking parallelism in the plan of the two narratives; they end alike, as they had begun alike. (2) The success of St. Paul's preaching in Rome is a fitter termination to the history than any other incident which could have been chosen. It is the most striking realization of that promise of the universal spread of the Gospel which is the starting point of the narrative.]

This change can hardly have been any other than the approach of his long-deferred trial, which ended, as there is good ground for believing, in his acquittal and release. At all events he must have been liberated before July A.D. 64, if liberated at all. The great fire which then devastated Rome became the signal for an onslaught on the innocent Christians; and one regarded as the ringleader of the hated sect could hardly have escaped the general massacre.

Probable Causes of the Delay of Paul's Trial

It will appear strange that so long an interval was allowed to elapse before the trial came on. But while the defendant had no power to hasten the tardy course of justice, the accusers were interested in delaying it. They must have foreseen plainly enough the acquittal of a prisoner whom the provincial governor himself had declared to be innocent (Acts 25:12,25; compare 26:31-32). If they wished to defer the issue, the collection of evidence was a sufficient plea to urge in order to obtain an extension of time. St. Paul was charged with stirring up sedition "among the Jews all over the world" (Acts 24:5). From the whole area, therefore, over which his labors had extended, witnesses must be summoned. In this way two years might easily run out before the prisoner appeared for judgment. But more potent probably than any formal plea was the indolence or the caprice of the emperor himself, who frequently postponed the hearing of causes indefinitely without any clear reason, and certainly would not put himself out to do justice to a despised provincial, laboring under a perplexing charge connected with some "foreign superstition." If St. Paul had lingered in close confinement for two years under Felix, he might well be content to remain under less irksome restraints for an equal length of time, awaiting the pleasure of Caesar.

Stirring Events in Rome

Meanwhile events occurred at Rome which shook society to its foundations. The political horizon was growing every day darker. Death deprived Nero of his most upright adviser in the person of Burrus, the prefect of the palace guards. The office thus vacated was handed over to Tigellinus, with whom was associated as colleague the feeble and insignificant Rufus. By the death of Burrus the influence of Seneca was effectually broken; and though the emperor refused to consent to his retirement, his part in the direction of affairs was henceforth merely nominal. At the same time the guilty career of Nero culminated in the divorce and death of Octavia; and the cruel and shameless Poppaea became the emperor's consort in her place. With a strange inconsistency of character, which tried to atone for profligate living by a fervor of religious devotion, of which that age especially was fertile in examples, she had become a proselyte to Judaism, and more than once advocated the cause of her adopted race before the emperor with zeal and success.

[It is not irrelevant to relate two incidents which occurred at this time, as they illustrate the nature of the communication kept up between the Jews and the imperial court, and the sort of influence which Poppaea exerted on the affairs of this people.

(1) Felix, while procurator of Judea, had brought a trivial charge against certain Jewish priests and sent them to Rome to plead their cause before Caesar. Here they were kept in a lingering captivity, living on the hardest fare but remaining faithful in their allegiance to the God of their fathers. The historian Josephus, to whom these priests were known, then a young man, undertook a journey to Rome for the purpose of procuring their liberation. Like St. Paul, he was shipwrecked in the Adriatic, and like him he also landed at Puteoli. Once he had arrived at Rome, he was introduced to Poppaea by a certain Jew, Aliturus by name, an actor of mimes, who was in great favor with Nero. The empress not only advocated the cause which Josephus had at heart and procured the freedom of his friends, but sent him back to his native country laden with presents. This took place in the year 63 or 64, and was therefore nearly, if not quite, coincident with St. Paul's residence in Rome.

(2) The second incident almost certainly occurred while the apostle Paul was in the city of Rome. The king's palace at Jerusalem stood in the immediate neighborhood of the temple. Agrippa had recently built a lofty tower, which enabled him to overlook the sacred enclosure and to witness the performance of the holy rites. This was an outrage on Jewish feeling, as well as a breach of longstanding custom, and was resented accordingly. The Jews erected a countervail, which excluded all view from the royal residence. Festus the procurator took the side of the king and ordered the demolition of this wall, but afterwards yielded in order to allow the Jews to refer the case to Nero. An embassy was accordingly sent to Rome, composed of twelve people including Ismael the high priest and Heclias the treasurer. Poppaea interested herself in the success of their mission, and in deference to her entreaties the emperor allowed the wall to stand.]

How far the personal condition of St. Paul, or his prospects at the approaching trial, may have been affected by these two changes, I shall have to consider hereafter. At all events he cannot have been ignorant of such stirring incidents. His enforced companionship with the soldiers of the palace guard must have kept him informed of all changes in the administration of the camp. His intimacy with the members of Caesar's household must have brought to his hearing the intrigues and crimes of the imperial court. It is strange, therefore, that in the letters written from Rome during this period there is not any, even the faintest, reference to events so notorious in history. Strange at least at first sight. But the apostle would not venture to risk his personal safety, or the cause which he advocated, by perilous allusions in his letters which from their very nature must be made public. Nor indeed is it probable that he was under any temptation to allude to them. He did not breathe the atmosphere of political life; he was absorbed in higher interests and anxieties. With the care of all the churches daily pressing upon him, with a deep sense of the paramount importance of his personal mission, with a near and fervid anticipation of his own death and union with Christ, if not of the great and final crisis when heaven and earth themselves shall pass away, it is not surprising that all minor events, all transitory interests, should be merged in those more engrossing thoughts. His life — so he himself writing from Rome describes the temper of the true believer — his life was hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

The Nature of Paul's Captivity

The degree of restraint put upon a person laboring under a criminal charge was determined by various circumstances — by the nature of the charge itself, by the rank and reputation of the accused, by the degree of guilt presumed to attach to him. Those most leniently dealt with were handed over to their friends, who thus became sureties for their appearance; the worst offenders were thrown into prison and loaded with chains. The captivity of St. Paul at Rome was neither the severest nor the lightest possible.

By his appeal to Caesar he had placed himself at the emperor's disposal. Accordingly on his arrival in Rome he is delivered over to the commander of the palace guard, under whose charge he appears to have remained throughout his captivity. He represents himself as strictly a prisoner: he speaks again and again of his chains. [He calls himself a "prisoner" in Acts 28:17, Philemon 1, 9 and Ephesians 3:1 and 4:1; his "chains" are mentioned in Philippians 1:7,13,14 and 17, Philemon 10,13, and Colossians 4:18; compare Colossians 4:3, "for which I am in chains."] According to Roman custom he was bound by the hand to the soldier who guarded him and was never left alone day or night. As the soldiers would relieve guard in constant succession, they were brought one by one into communication with the "prisoner of Jesus Christ," and thus he was able to affirm that his chains had borne witness to the Gospel "throughout the whole palace guard" (Philippians 1:13).

Paul Enjoys Comparative Liberty

One the other hand, the severity of his confinement was not so great as this circumstance alone might seem to imply. It is certain that all had free access to him, and that he was allowed to converse and write without restraint. He was not thrown into prison, but lived in rooms of his own. When he first arrived, he was taken to temporary lodgings; either to a public lodging house or to some friend's house. But afterwards he rented a dwelling of his own, and there he remained apparently till his release.

St. Paul's Stay at Rome

A natural desire has been felt to determine a locality so fraught with interest as the place where St. Paul stayed in Rome. Some have imagined him a prisoner within the barracks attached to the imperial residence on the Palatine. Others have fixed his dwelling-place in the great camp, the headquarters of the palace guard, outside the walls to the northeast of the city. The former conjecture seems hardly consistent with the mention of his own hired house. The latter is less unlikely, for the camp was large and might have contained within its precincts lodgings rented by prisoners under military custody. Yet the reference to the "palace guard" does not require this, and the circumstances seem naturally to point to a separate dwelling. Within the camp, then, his abode may have been, near to the camp it probably was, for in the choice of a locality the convenience of the soldiers in changing guard would naturally be consulted (see the separate note on the meaning of "palace guard" on page 113.)

Thus, his captivity did not materially impede the progress of his missionary work. On the contrary he himself regarded his confinement as a powerful agency in the spread of the Gospel. Beyond the dreary monotony of his situation, which might well have crushed a spirit unsustained by his lofty hopes and consolations, he was not very badly treated. It was at least an alleviation that no restriction was placed on the visits of his friends.

Friends of Paul Resident in Rome

Of these friends not a few names might be supplied by conjecture from the long list of greetings in the letter to the Romans. Did he fall in once again with Aquila and Priscilla, his fellow workers and fellow-sufferers, who "risked their lives" for Paul (Romans 16:3)? Did he still find in Rome his countrymen, perhaps his kinsmen Andronicus and Junias and Herodion (Romans 16:7, 11)? Did he experience once more the tender care of the mother of Rufus, who in times past had treated him as her own son (Romans 16:13)? Did he renew his intimacy with those former friends of whom he speaks with affectionate warmth — Epenetus his well-beloved, Urbanus his helper in Christ, Mary who worked very hard for him, Ampliatus, Stachys, and Persis (Romans 16: 5, 6, 8, 9,12)?

His Personal Companions and Other Associates

Of Roman residents, however, beyond a general reference to the members of "Caesar's household" (Philippians 4:22), he makes no mention in his letters written from the city. They would probably be unknown to his distant correspondents. But of occasional visitors in Rome, his converts or his colleagues in the Gospel, the companions of his travels and the delegates of foreign churches, not a few are named. His youthful disciple and associate Timothy, the best loved of his spiritual sons, seems to have been with him during the whole or nearly the whole of his captivity. [His name appears in the opening greetings of the letter to the Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon; compare also Philippians 2:19-23. It may perhaps be inferred from St. Luke's silence in Acts 27:2 that Timothy did not accompany St. Paul on his journey to Rome, but joined him soon after his arrival.] Another friend also, who had shared with him the perils of the voyage, Luke, "our dear friend ... the doctor," now his fellow-laborer and perhaps his medical attendant, hereafter his biographer, is constantly by his side (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24). His two favorite Macedonian churches are well represented among his companions: Philippi dispatches Epaphroditus with financial aid, welcome to him as a relief of his needs but doubly welcome as a token of their devoted love (Philippians 2:25-30; 4:14-18; and see below, page 71). Aristarchus is present from Thessalonica (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24), a tried associate who some years before had risked his life with St. Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:29) and now shared his captivity at Rome.


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Table of Contents

Series Preface, vii,
Introduction, ix,
Editor's Introduction, xi,
Preface to the First Edition, xvii,
1 St. Paul in Rome, 21,
2 The Order of the Letters of St. Paul's Captivity, 45,
3 The Church of Philippi, 61,
4 The Character and Contents of the Letter, 76,
5 The Genuineness of the Letter, 84,
Commentary and Notes,
Philippians 1:1-26, 91,
Philippians 1:27-2:16, 119,
Philippians 2:17-30, 143,
Philippians 3:1, 149,
Philippians 3:2-4:1, 156,
Philippians 4:2-9, 171,
Philippians 4:10-20, 180,
Philippians 4:21-23, 185,

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