Paul's Imprisonment and the "Prison Epistles"

Paul at Caesarea under Festus

The four letters Paul wrote while a prisoner in Rome are Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians. Earlier in our study we noted that Festus' arrival in office in place of Felix can be put between A.D. 57 and A.D. 60 based on statements by Josephus and Eusebius. (We chose A.D. 59 as a working date.) Beginning with that information, let's try to determine the date of Paul's arrival in Rome.

How long was Paul in Festus' custody?

From Acts 25, answer the following questions:

  1. How much time passed between Festus' arrival in office and his first visit to Jerusalem as governor?

  2. How long did Festus spend in Jerusalem before returning to Caesarea?

  3. How long after returning to Caesarea was it before he had Paul brought before his judgment seat? (Cite two verses that clearly establish the answer to this question.)

  4. What appeal did Paul make on this occasion?

  5. What impression do you get about the amount of time that passed between Paul's appeal and Agrippa's arrival?

  6. What expression does Luke use to describe the passage of time between Agrippa's arrival in Caesarea and Felix's presentation of Paul's case to Agrippa?

  7. And finally, how long after that was it before Paul actually stood before Agrippa?

  8. Read Acts 26:30-27:2 and give your impression of the amount of time that passed between Paul's interview with Agrippa and his departure for Rome.

  9. So how much time in total should we allow for Paul to have been in Festus' custody?

The Voyage to Rome

How long did the voyage to Rome take?

From Acts 27-28, answer the following questions:

  1. How long from Caesarea to Sidon?

  2. What does "sailed under the lee of Cyprus" mean?

  3. Locate Myra on a map. Did sailing "under the lee of Cyprus" increase or decrease the distance to be travelled?

  4. Based on what you know about the trip from Caesarea to Sidon, estimate a rough sailing time from Sidon to Myra, allowing for sailing "under the lee of Cyprus."

  5. Locate Cnidus on a map. Luke describes this leg of the trip as requiring "many days," for they "sailed slowly" and "with difficulty" (27:7)Looking at the map and observing the distance from Myra to Cnidus, and taking into consideration Paul's description of this leg of the voyage, how much time would you allow?

  6. It appears that they did not come to port in Cnidus, but continued on under the lee of Crete, and on to Fair Havens on the southern side of Crete. Luke says that "much time was now spent." Whether he means to refer to the time spent sailing so far, or the time in port at Fair Havens waiting for a favorable wind, or both together, it was getting late in the year to be considering a long voyage to Rome. Locate Fair Havens on a map, consider the distance from Cnidus, and what you have surmised concerning the earlier part of the trip, and estimate how much time was now spent.

  7. Luke says "the Fast was now already gone by" (27:9). "The Fast" was apparently that associated with the Day of Atonement and fell on the tenth day of the 7th month. In terms of our calendar, this would be early October. But Fair Havens did not provide a good place to do what?

  8. Accordingly some urged that they sail for Phoenix, a city a bit further west on the island of Crete. Paul urged that they not do this, but they did, and got caught up in a storm that drove them west past Cauda (or Clauda) through the Sea of Adria and ultimately to Melita.

  9. How soon did they encounter the storm?

  10. What phrase does Luke use in 27:20 to describe the period of time when they saw neither sun nor stars?

  11. Some notes of interest:

  12. What day did they begin throwing things overboard?

  13. What did they throw overboard on the 3rd day?

  14. What time indication do we have in 27:27, and again in 27:33?

  15. Give a range of dates (month and day of the year according to our calendar) during which they must have ended up shipwrecked on Melita.

  16. How many days were they entertained by Publius?

  17. How many months passed before they sailed for Syracuse, and why did they have to wait so long? What had the ship on which they eventually sailed been doing for the past months?

  18. How long would you estimate to Syracuse (look at a map), and how long at Syracuse?

  19. How long would you estimate to Rhegium (look at a map), and how long at Rhegium?

  20. How long would you estimate to Puteoli (look at a map), and how long at Puteoli? How far was Puteoli from Rome? With whom did Paul tarry at Puteoli, and who came from Rome to meet Paul at Three Taverns and escort him to Rome?

  21. So how much time in total should we allow for Paul's voyage to Rome?

  22. If we suppose Paul came into Festus' custody in 59, in what year did Paul arrive in Rome?

  23. Finally, who of Paul's companions escorted Paul?

A Preview of our next lesson:

Who was emperor, and what were the circumstances of Paul's imprisonment? We will consider the freedom he had enroute to Rome, his bonds, his abode, his guard, his visitors.