Luke devoted much space to the prisoner Paul. Nearly 25% of Acts concerns Paul's final arrest and imprisonment. When the twenty-four verses of the earlier Philippian arrest and imprisonment are included, the proportion of Acts devoted to Pauline imprisonments approaches 30%. The reader's interest in Luke's intention is heightened when the amount of space devoted to the free and the imprisoned Paul is compared. The last section on Paul's arrest and incarceration 'is slightly longer than that describing his mission'. Maddox has suggested that 'when we read Acts as a whole, rather than selectively, it is Paul the prisoner even more than Paul the missionary whom we are meant to remember'.
This is volume three in the series The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting. It is hoped that it rectifies the concerns expressed when W.C. van Unnik said, 'I am becoming more and more convinced that much critical study of Acts has been done at a distance from, or even without living contact with, Luke's world'. This observation applies particularly to the study of Paul's experiences of custody in Acts. In the past, questions relating to the impact of imprisonment upon Paul and his mission have not concerned scholars. Profound differences between modern and ancient penal practices have not been appreciated, and as a result insights into Luke's intention(s) may well have been overlooked.
In the course of this study it will be shown that imprisonment in the ancient world posed practical problems even apart from stigmatising individuals. Luke's description of Paul's experiences can be firmly placed in their first century context of Roman custody, prison environment and subculture, and contemporary social perceptions. It will be further argued that Luke was keenly aware of the practical and theological threat that imprisonment posed for Paul, and addresses these difficulties. In the light of what may be known about the ancient world, one of Luke's primary objectives in Acts was to defend or justify the prisoner missionary Paul to the reader.
The method of reading Acts from a vantage point informed by ancient sources has received new life and can now take us beyond previous studies. Because of recent technological advances, the present writer had immediate access to nearly all the known Greek and Latin literature of the ancient world and was able to access it with an ease which could have never been imagined even a decade ago Laser data bank discs exist which contain some 8,000 Greek works from 2,900 writers from Homer to 600 ad, some 268 volumes of papyri, and the works of over forty major Latin authors. The information harvested with these tools allows for a reading of Acts which manifests a nuance and depth where previous efforts were limited.
Imprisonment, its consequences, and the reactions it sparked in others and in Paul are more fully appreciated against the backdrop of ancient sources. Roman evidence dating to the century before and the century of Christ's birth is important to our study, particularly passages in which, for example, judicial procedures and prison administration are discussed. Evidence from a broader time frame also illustrates important issues, and thus reference will be made to that material in the text or footnotes. In matters pertaining to prison life more generally—prison appointments, the social, psychological and economic impact of imprisonment, and such—Roman and Greek evidence across a broader time frame is apposite to this study.
Archaeological evidence; classical authors; ancient novels; NT apocrypha; Christian and pagan martyr literature; the writings of the Apostolic and early post-Apostolic Fathers; Jewish literature; Latin juridical texts; inscriptional evidence; and the papyri all contain a wealth of data which would have contributed much to the main studies previously undertaken on our subject. An example of a successful study is F. Millar's more recent analysis of the second-century novel, Apuleius' Golden Ass. He allows ancient novels, plays and the NT apocrypha to shed light on his subject and Millar is able, as a result, to suggest that such sources
may extend beyond purely physical descriptions, to realistic images of social and economic relations, the framework of communal life in a Roman province and even, here and there, to the wider context of what it meant to be a subject of the Roman Empire.
Millar's helpful observations regarding policing and the administration of justice in provincial cities and towns confirm his contention that a variety of sources helps us obtain a picture of life in the early days of the empire.
The electronic innovations already alluded to represent a watershed, for they allow us to adopt a method similar to Millar's while moving us, at least with respect to the primary sources, beyond even the best of the previous studies of Luke's discussion of Paul in prison.
What follows can be divided into three major sections. The first part (chapters 2-4), entitled, 'Custody, the Legal System and Status in the Roman World', deals with custodial deliberations in the ancient world and for Paul in Acts. It is concerned with exploring the impact of legal and social factors upon official Roman deliberations in determining the treatment and custody of accused persons and drawing together what is disclosed of the Pauline legal and social persona in Acts. Then Acts as viewed through the social/juridical template is analysed for indications of sensitivity to status, offence and other influences as Paul goes before Roman magistrates and officials on the way to custody Part two (chapters 5-8), 'Paul on Trial in Acts', examines data relevant to Paul's four major Lukan encounters with authority. Events in Philippi, Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome are discussed in the light of part 1, allowing for detailed interaction with the various groups and magistrates who play a determinative role in Paul's imprisonments.
Part three (chapters 9-15), 'Paul in Prison in Acts', interacts with Luke's handling of a missionary who spent so much time in custody. The thesis of a Lukan defence or justification of the prisoner missionary Paul will be elaborated along three lines. The activities of Paul will be compared with what can be known about activities undertaken by prisoners, arguing that Luke describes a Paul who is not crippled by the constraints of imprisonment, but who remains active for his Lord. Next, we will describe what relations could be like between Graeco-Roman prisoners and those 'on the outside', and what Luke tells us of Paul's own prison helpers. Finally, we will consider indications of divine help for prisoners in antiquity and the ends which that help served.
Incarceration constituted a serious threat to Paul's mission. At a personal level, what sorts of distress would prison have brought? How would his labours have been curtailed beyond preventing him from free travel, removing him from the usual preaching venues, and separating him from churches he had founded? Having lost his freedom, what would have been the consequences of dependence upon others? Further, did the fact and nature of Paul's incarcerations in some way reflect an official assessment of his status and social worth? At the level of interpersonal relations in ministry, would not extended incarceration constitute a frontal assault upon Paul's status, credibility and vocation? In what ways might co-workers, helpers, and churches—both those of his own mission and those outside of it—view differently the missionary now become a prisoner? How would interested unbelievers have viewed his predicament?