The Lukan Defense Of The Missionary Prisoner Paul -- By: Brian Mark Rapske

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 44:1 (NA 1993)
Article: The Lukan Defense Of The Missionary Prisoner Paul
Author: Brian Mark Rapske

The Lukan Defense Of The Missionary Prisoner Paul1

Brian Mark Rapske

I. Introduction

In the book of Acts, two biographical facts concerning the apostle Paul loom very large: first, Paul was a missionary who pursued his calling with great vigour. By every measure one might wish to choose, Paul is singularly significant as a missionary in Lukan reckoning. Second, Paul was a prisoner quite frequently and for long periods of time. There is general agreement in the literature that Paul’s moves from itinerant missionary to prisoner were neither easy nor without consequence. What is not remarked specifically or with any degree of completeness is the extent to which these two biographical facts did not stand alongside one another at all comfortably, the realms or dimensions within which difficulty occurred as a result, and how Luke wished his readers to relate the facts.

Imprisonment posed serious practical problems and stigmatised individuals in the ancient world and this would have been no less the case for Paul. An unfailing emphasis of the study was to locate the missionary Paul’s experiences firmly within the Greco-Roman context. Luke, it was argued, was keenly aware that imprisonment constituted a serious assault upon both the missionary and his mission. The thesis prosecuted throughout the work was that, in the light of the known and multifarious crises that imprisonment brought upon Paul and his mission, one of Luke’s objectives in Acts was to defend or justify the missionary prisoner Paul to the reader.

II. Going Into Custody

As with litigation in the courtroom, the process of going into custody shared in the general structure and ethos of ancient Mediterranean society—in particular, Roman society. ‘Going to jail’ was a legal and social process having ancient complexity and system to it. Custody was quite varied in its purposes and severity. In consequence, an accused person needed to be properly evaluated by a magistrate before a fair and appropriate custody could be set. This was done using institutionalised and acceptable means—by assessing the seriousness of the crime alleged, the status of accused, and the status of accuser. ‘High’ and ‘low’ status were determined by reference to the measures of one’s citizen and social persona. The sinister forces of power, influence and bribery, while formally deemed unacceptable and punishable under the law, oftentimes intruded upon custodial deliberations, skewing them to the advantage or disadvantage of the various parties concerned.

It was argued that the apostle Paul in Acts is, in his citizen and social persona, an historically c...

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