Paul’s Response to the Shame and Pain of Imprisonment in 2 Timothy -- By: Gregory S. MaGee

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 165:659 (Jul 2008)
Article: Paul’s Response to the Shame and Pain of Imprisonment in 2 Timothy
Author: Gregory S. MaGee


Paul’s Response to the Shame
and Pain of Imprisonment in 2 Timothy

Gregory S. MaGee

Gregory S. MaGee is a Ph.D. student, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

A wealth of information on Roman imprisonment exists in ancient sources. Books by Rapske, Wansink, and Cassidy report on extensive research in these primary sources and apply this research to a better understanding of Paul’s imprisonments.1 It is surprising, therefore, that recent prominent commentaries on 2 Timothy largely bypass this material when assessing Paul’s experience of confinement reflected in the letter. A number of commentators do not interact significantly with either the primary or secondary sources on Roman incarceration.2 The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how an understanding of Roman imprisonment as portrayed in various ancient sources contributes to an elucidation of Paul’s predicament and outlook in 2 Timothy.

It will be shown that Paul’s second letter to Timothy exhibits characteristics of the shame and hardship of confinement that are illustrated and confirmed by other ancient depictions of prison life. Within this context, though, Paul resisted societal pressures and refused to be ashamed, since his captivity was for the sake of the gospel.

Paul’s Imprisonment in Historical Context

In this section the focus is on how Paul’s imprisonment in 2 Timothy corresponds to the historical context of Acts and Roman judicial norms.

2 Timothy and Acts

Many scholars do not recognize the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles, and so they see no need to fit the events of 2 Timothy into the framework of Paul’s ministry as recounted in Acts. A rejection of the Pauline origin of 2 Timothy sometimes arises from the perspective of the “school of Paul” theory, in which later disciples of Paul supposedly perpetuated a common image of the imprisoned apostle in Acts, Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Timothy.3 This theory will not be examined in detail in this article, but one problem with the theory should be noted. The degree of specificity and severity in the descriptions of Paul’s pain and shame from imprisonment in 2 Timothy finds no parallel in the other supposed later reflections on Paul’s ministry. The portrait of Paul’s confinement in 2 Timothy departs significantly from the milder image of Paul the prisoner in Acts, Ephesians, and Colossians. As will be seen later in this article, the author of 2 Timothy betrayed...

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