Understanding The Bible
Introduction to The Pauline Prison and Pastoral Epistles
Dr. Douglas B. MacCorkle, Th.D.

Douglas B. MacCorkle, Th. D.
Introduction to the Pauline
Prison and Pastoral Epistles
Philadelphia College of Bible


Introductory problems facing the student of the Prison Epistles:

  1. The Date of writing in each case
  2. The Place of writing
  3. The Addresses
  4. The Author

  1. The Epistles involved
    1. Ephesians
    2. Philippians
    3. Colossians
    4. Philemon
  2. The Order in which written
    1. Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon – appear to be written about the same time.
      1. Ephesians 6:21, 22; Colossians 4:7-9
      2. Had the same bearer – Tychicus
    2. Position Philippians last?
      1. Time problem – sufficient time must have elapsed from imprisonment to epistle writing:
        1. Allow for Philippi to hear of imprisonment
        2. Allow for Epaphreditus to travel with gifts
        3. Allow for news of Epaphreditus’ illness to get back to Philippi
      2. Aristarchus (Colossians 4:10, 14) Philemon 24) is not mentioned in Philippians. Only Timothy appears to be available as a messenger (Philippians 2:19-21).
      3. Summary:
        1. Appears only to prove it was written late – but not necessarily later.
        2. Argument from silence is precarious.
        3. Position Philippians first?
          1. Philemon (22) Paul speaks of hope of release with greater emphasis than in Philippians
  3. Place of Imprisonment
    1. From Prison
      Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 6:20
      Philippians 1:12, 13, 14, 7
      Colossians 4:18
      Philemon 1
    2. From which Prison?
      1. Paul (2 Corinthians 11:23) speaks of more imprisonments than the other apostles had.
      2. Yet, at that time, Acts had only mentioned the Philippian imprisonment – Acts 16:23-34
      3. Church traditionally - Roman imprisonment scene of writing of epistles.
        Majority view today also.
        1. Internal Evidence
          1. Free to preach Gospel though in chains – Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:12-13 Colossians 4:3-4.
            This was true of Roman imprisonment. See Acts 28:16.
          2. Abundant fruition of the work – Philippians 1:13; 4:22.
          3. Expression “Caesar’s Household” could only be tied to Rome.
          4. Hope of excursion to Philippi and Colossae (Philippians 2:24; Philemon 22) as soon as set free.
            When Paul was in Caesarea he turned in the opposite direction (Rome-Spain, etc.) Acts 19:21; Romans 1:10-15; 15:23-28) This is true of time immediately preceding Caesarean imprisonment (cf. Spain – Romans 15:18) Note also that there is no mention of Phillip whose home was in Caesarea (Acts 21:8).
        2. External Evidence
          1. Traveling companions
            Luke (Acts 27-28) Colossians 4:14
            Aristarchus – Acts 27:2; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24
          2. Certainty of imprisonment there – Acts 28.
      4. Ephesus Imprisonment?
        1. 2 Corinthians 11:28; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10. But these references are too general to make Ephesus a serious possibility.
        2. No mention of Ephesian imprisonment in Acts.
      5. Contemporary Exception #1 – Minority View
        Two year imprisonment in Caesarea – Acts 24:27
        1. External Evidence
          1. After escape from Colossae, Onesimus would more likely take refuge in Caesarea than in Rome, which would be distant.
          2. But this refutes itself – a fugitive slave would tend to get as far away as possible. Cold get lost in Rome, Furthermore Onesimus not so apt to gain access to Paul in Caesarea as at Rome.
          3. Furthermore positive evidence of Caesarea is the missing link.
          4. No promise of release point to in Caesarea.
        2. Internal Evidence
          1. Really against the view. Conditions in Rome differ from that described in Acts of Caesarea, e.g., no preaching mentioned. See Acts 28:30-31.
          2. Fruitfulness of work in Rome differs from description of Caesarea.
          3. No promise of release. See Philemon 22 – “prepare us a lodging.”
          4. Positive evidence missing.
      6. Contemporary Exception #2 Ephesus
        Some scholars assign epistles wholly or in part to the Ephesian (alleged) imprisonment in spite of the fact that Acts does not mention it.
        1. Arguments urged for Ephesus PRO (Imprisonment in Ephesus would have been 55-56 AD)
          1. Paul speaks of many imprisonments not in Acts (2 Corinthians 11:23)
          2. He fought with beasts at Rome (literally thrown into the arena) – 1 Corinthians 15:32
          3. 2 Corinthians 1:8 – Severe trial (gk-thlipsis) which he passed through in Adia.
          4. Priscilla and Aquilla risked their lives for Paul (Romans 16:3-4) most likely at Ephesus.
          5. Clement of Rome mentioned seven imprisonments of Paul (2 Corinthians 5:6).
          6. Traces of tradition say Paul met a lion. Identify this act as happening at Ephesus.
          7. Building in Ephesus being shown as prison of Paul.
          8. Marcionite prologue to Colossians states it was written from Ephesus.
        2. Testing of such evidence CON
          1. The DYING of 1 Corinthians 15:32 is metaphorical. Roman citizens and lions an impossibility. (not fierce wolves in sheep’s clothing).
          2. THLIPSIS – we could be many things – data does not require an imprisonment in Ephesus. Must have happened after conflict of 1 Corinthians 15:32 anyway.
          3. No word of Priscilla – Aquilla in Ephesus after Paul’s arrival there. Not impossible but highly doubtful support.
          4. Prison of Paul in Ephesus without history of origin or course.
          5. Colossian prologue written by a heretic. Independent tradition but solitary as well.

            The kind of imprisonment reflected in Prison epistles is distinctive. 2 Corinthians 11:23 could only have passed Philippian imprisonment at time of writing.
  4. Date of Epistles (based upon Roman imprisonment)
    No absolute chronological system can be established for Pauline Epistles, thus no precise dates (cf. Guthrie, p. 13).
    1. Generally – between 61-63 AD
    2. specifically – (based upon order chosen)
      1. Colossians (61 AD), Philemon (61 AD), Ephesians (61 AD), Philippians (63 AD) (MacCorkle’s Choice)
      2. Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon
      3. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians

        *Canonical arrangement has merit for study purposes and for development of doctrine.
  5. Introduction to Ephesians
    1. Authenticity of Epistle
      1. Traditional View (until 19th Century)
        1. Self-claims
          1. Salutation (1:1-2) identical with 2 Corinthians and Colossians. Claims to be Paul, Apostle by the will of God.
          2. 3:1 (as in 2 Corinthians 11:1; Galatians 5:2; Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; Philemon 9).
          3. First person statements abound in 3:1 ff. Gives picture of the Apostle and author reader relationships.
        2. External attestation
          1. Marcion – who accepted only Paul (although to him it was Laodices) - 140 AD
          2. Muratorian Canon – 180 AD
          3. Allusions to Epistle in Fathers. Therefore must have preceded Clement of Rome (AD 95).
        3. Its Pauline Structure
          Typical Pauline sequence: opening, greeting, thanksgiving, doctrinal exposition, ethical exhortations, concluding salutations and benedictions. Epistolary pattern. Basing of moral appeal on doctrinal-theological ground. Integral part of Apostle’s approach.
        4. Its Language and Literary Affinities
          Vocabulary common to other Pauline epistles.
          Paradoxical antithesis (6:15; 20)
          Free citations from OT (4:8-11)
          Adaptation of OT language (1:22; 2:13, 17; 4:25; etc.)
        5. Its Historical Data (Ephesians 2 – three arguments – silence)
          1. No reference to fall of Jerusalem – in light of argument of dividing wall – 2:4 ff.
          2. No reference to persecution of readers.
          3. Absence of ecclesiastical organization.
            Summary: Impression of early setting.
        6. Theological Affinities
          1. Only new emphasis on Church
          2. Identical developments of Father, Son, and Spirit
      2. Cast Against Pauline Authorship
        1. Linguistic and Stylistic Arguments
          1. Linguistic – diabolos is not in other non-Pastoral Pauline letter. Also other hapaxlegomena.
          2. Stylistic –
            Goodspeed – reverberating and liturgical, not at all direct, rapid, Pauline give-and-take.
            Mitten – artificial eloquence, which Paul elsewhere seems to avoid deliberately. Also some redundant expressions.
        2. Literary Arguments
          1. Maintained that over ¼ of words of Ephesians are borrowed from Colossians. More that 1/3 of words in Colossians reappearing Ephesians. No parallel in any other Pauline epistles.
          2. Frequency of parallel terms used in a completely different sense. Mystery in Colossians is Christ; in Ephesians the mystery is the Church.
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