Chain or Chains?
The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain, 2nd Timothy 1:16.
There is a difference between a chain and chains. It goes further than just one being the plural of the other. The chain to which the Apostle Paul refers is not a physical chain binding him. He has a legal chain binding him. As usual, the new versions mix this up. The NIV says; May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. The ESV ever eager to obscure truth in the name of simplicity says; May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.
Was the Apostle Paul bound with physical chains as a common prisoner, or was he being held in a legal chain as a Roman Citizen who had appealed to Cesar and was bound thereby? 100 years of commentaries and thousands of sermons depicting Paul in a dank dark prison have managed to obscure the plain truth of the King James Bible. At no time from the time that Paul revealed that he was a Roman citizen until such time as he answered Nero the second time, was the Apostle Paul restrained by chains or common prison. Roman citizens were only held in chains under very rare circumstances.
To understand that statement there is a series of lectures given by A. N. Sherwin-White between 1960 and 1961 and bound into a book titled, Roman Society and Law in the New Testament, the Sarum Lectures. It is available from many outlets. In that series of lectures, Sherwin-White explains that Paul's legal status as a Roman Citizen who had appealed to Cesar exempted him from being held in shackles or prisons. He was bound by law and his only chain was his duty to appear before Cesar. No one but Cesar could break that chain; Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar, Acts 26:32.
The myth of Paul's imprisonment is so prevalent that the obvious witness of scripture has been unable to break its hold on preachers or commentators. Keep in mind, to the Romans the accusations against Paul were all religious babblings. It was only the venal desires of Felix that kept Paul legally bound in the first place (Acts 24:26). In his letter to Claudius Lysias, the chief captain of the castle in Jerusalem said, Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bond, 23:29. By no means would a lowly captain dare to shackle a Roman citizen with such a minor charge against him.
Despite what the commentaries say, the evidence is overwhelming that Paul was granted the rights of a citizen. Felix treated him that way; And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him, Acts 24:23. When Paul appealed to Cesar, it was totally voluntary but it bound him legally to appear at Cesar's court. The Romans would have been very content to have allowed Paul to be tried in Jerusalem for non-Roman religious offenses. Paul knew that such a trip was a sentence of death.
The Apostle Paul was a prisoner, but not one who needed chains. For those of you who need proofs greater than your bible, Sherwin-White explained the almost impossibility of a Roman Citizen slipping into obscurity after escaping from the legal bondage of appealing to Cesar. Historically, it was only attempted a few times and in each case the miscreant was quickly apprehended due to the diligence of Roman law in recognizing and capturing the few fools who ever attempted it.
Look at the biblical evidence. Paul was taken to Rome by Julius the Centurion, And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band, Acts 27:1. A centurion receiving prisoners had his life on the line. If one escaped both he and every soldier under his direction was crucified. That explains why the Philippian Jailor was about to kill himself when he thought that prisoners under his care had escaped.. Suicide was better than crucifixion.
From the start, it was obvious that Julius did not see Paul as a risk. Paul was bound for Cesar's court on a religious charge and other than the ascension of Nero and his subsequent madness, there is no one who would have seen that as a mortal threat to Paul's life. There was no reason for Julius to think that Paul would have risked crucifixion to escape what Paul himself had sought. (For those of you who think that Roman citizens could not be crucified, Sherwin-Williams shows that there were exceptions to that rule. You can be sure that escaping a lawful bondage would have me that criterion.)
Look at Julius's behavior towards Paul. In a port city Julius gave him leave to go into the city by himself. And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself, Acts 27:3. Later, we see Julius intervene for Paul. The prudent thing for the soldiers to do during a shipwreck would have been to kill all of the prisoners. Had a prisoner escaped, at their trial for letting them escape they would have been asked why they didn't just kill the prisoners rather than having let them escape. And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land, Acts 27:42,43. Julius's care for Paul must have been great for him to have risked crucifixion. He trusted him.
When the Apostle Paul got to Rome, he was not thrust into chains. And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him, Acts 28:16. The guard at this point is strictly symbolic. During reconstruction, the Federal Government kept one solitary soldier at a seat outside of the legislative chambers in the South Carolina Statehouse. No one seriously thought that soldier would stop an insurrection. He was symbolic.
To illustrate how free Paul was from chains and prison look at the second to last verse in Acts; And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Acts 28:30. If you are wondering how the good apostle could afford a hired house, think back to his time on Melita. What we now call Malta is a key to controlling Mediterranean shipping. The governor of such an Island would have been politically well connected and would have earned no small revenue from the shipping there. Paul healed that man's father. You can be sure that Paul was well taken care of when he reached Rome. Paul was to say, I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound, Philippians 4:12.
The idea that Paul languished in prison is unscriptural and defies historical understanding. How do people think that he wrote his Roman epistles if he was in chains such as they were taught? He is in a hired house with his friends coming and going as they please. The most that can be said for his bondage is that he was under house arrest. It is the subscript of 2nd Timothy that seems to throw people. The second epistle unto Timotheus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians, was written from Rome, when Paul was brought before Nero the second time, 2nd Timothy 4:22 subscript.
It is obvious that Nero did not like what he heard when Paul came before him the first time. Paul wrote to the Philippians and pondered as to whether it would be better for him to live or die.
Php 1:22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not,
Php 1:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
Php 1:24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
He had been given a choice and how he answered Nero would determine that choice. It's obvious that by the time he wrote 2nd Timothy, he had made up his mind what to say. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand, 2nd Timothy 4:6. It is highly probable that Paul's answer to Nero and Nero's hatred of that answer caused him to lose his mind.
Some myths of Christianity are so imbedded into literature and tradition that they live on despite scripture. The legend of Paul in prison is one of those. The new versions help that along.