The Case Of The Imprisonment That Did Not Happen: Paul At Ephesus -- By: Ben Witherington III

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:3 (Sep 2017)
Article: The Case Of The Imprisonment That Did Not Happen: Paul At Ephesus
Author: Ben Witherington III

The Case Of The Imprisonment That Did Not Happen:
Paul At Ephesus

Ben Witherington III*

* Ben Witherington III is Jean R. Amos Professor of NT for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, 204 N. Lexington Ave., Wilmore, KY 40390. He may be contacted at [email protected]

Abstract: While various scholars of late have been proffering the theory that the Captivity Epistles were written while Paul was in prison in Ephesus, there are numerous reasons why this explanation of the situation does not work, not least because Paul was a Roman citizen and there are no texts inside or outside the NT which say Paul was ever imprisoned in Ephesus. The traditional locale for Paul's house arrest and his writing of the Captivity Epistles (Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians), namely Rome, is reaffirmed, as is the date sometime in the early AD 60s.

Key words: imprisonment, house arrest, Roman citizen, “wild beasts,” Roman law

Scholarly theories come and go, wax and wane, gain credence or are discredited. Some of these theories are amazingly popular for a period, until finally the evidence against them prevails, and the discussion returns to the earlier received scholarly wisdom on the matter.1 One such theory currently being embraced by a surprising number of scholars from diverse points of view is the notion of an Ephesian imprisonment of St. Paul, even though no such imprisonment is anywhere directly mentioned in either the NT or in other early Christian sources.

This particular theory has been embraced largely because it seems to solve some of the conundrums about the so-called Captivity Epistles—Paul’s letters to Philemon, to the Colossians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians. These letters have been traditionally thought to have come from the period of Paul’s house arrest in Rome, and so from the period of about AD 60–62. If one or more of these letters were written from an Ephesian imprisonment, then one would have to date a least some of these letters to an earlier period in Paul’s life, if, that is, one considers them genuine Pauline letters.2

Despite the considerable popularity of the theory of an Ephesian imprisonment of Paul today, there are very strong historical reasons to reject this notion, not least because our sources are entirely silent on such an imprisonment. Or are they? As a ground-clearing exercise, let us first consider the main supposed positive evidence from Paul himself that he was imprisoned in Ephesus.

I. What...
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