Paul’s Fate After Two Years
Under House Arrest?

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263–339) describes what happened to Paul after his first imprisonment:

  • "After defending himself, [Paul] was again sent on the ministry of preaching, and coming a second time to the same city suffered martyrdom under Nero. During this imprisonment he wrote the second epistle to Timothy, indicating at the same time that his first defense had taken place and that his martyrdom was at hand."

Surveying all the evidence and clues from various sources, including Paul’s writings, the following seems to have been his fate:

The long delay of his hearing before Nero was mainly due to the fact that emperor wandered through southern Italy for 18 months after he murdered his mother Agrippina. He feared the Roman people would stone him for his part in the conspiracy. When he did return to Rome, there was undoubtedly a backlog of cases on the docket, including that of Paul. Moreover, the trial had to wait until Paul’s accusers arrived from Judea. It’s likely that the Jewish officials realized their case was based on flimsy evidence and never bothered to travel to Rome. Besides, by this time, the high priest, Ananias, who made the original charges, had been deposed and his successor, Ishmael, son of Phiabi III, was not interested in pursuing the case. Paul’s opponents in Judea had accomplished their purpose by simply doing nothing. Paul was thousands of miles away. Moreover, Christianity had not yet been declared illegal by the Roman State. Seneca, Nero's chief advisor, may have helped decide the case. The reports from governor Festus and the centurion, Julius, would certainly have been favorable.
There is strong (but not conclusive) evidence that Paul’s trial ended in a sentence of acquittal. This assertion is supported by a passage in Paul’s second letter to his faithful companion and co-worker, Timothy:

“At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them, but the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear, and I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.” (2 Timothy 4:17)

4th century AD church historian Eusebius believed that when Paul wrote this he was referring to a first appearance before Nero in which he was exonerated and released.

Another (fourth) Missionary Journey?
(c. 62-67 AD)

Many scholars believe that Paul took at least one more journey not recorded by Dr. Luke. Evidence for this comes from a number of references in Paul's writings to places he visited that do not fit with the journeys recorded in Acts. For example, several of Paul’s “Prison Letters” (Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians) anticipate visits to specific places or meetings with certain people. Plus, statements in early Christian literature state that he took the gospel as far as Spain. For example, the Muratorian Canon, a parchment fragment written in or around Rome c.180 - 200, states:

"Luke so comprised [Acts and the gospel of Luke] for the most excellent Theophilus because of the individual events that took place in his presence. As he clearly shows by omitting the passion of Peter, as well as the departure of Paul, when Paul went from the city of Rome to Spain.”

Clement of Rome, also known as Pope Clement I (died about 99 AD), wrote:

“Paul … taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place...” (1 Clement 5:5-6)

“West,” to Clement, a resident of Rome, meant Spain or even Britain. Although nothing is certain, it seems probable that Paul was released and made a fourth missionary journey (c. 62-67 AD). His possible itinerary:

c. 62-64 AD – Paul, with Timothy, Titus and other companions, headed west from Rome, across the Mediterranean Sea (sailing against the prevailing winds) to Spain.

Meanwhile the situation in Rome worsened. Seneca, Nero's tutor and advisor, fell out of favor and retired in 62 AD. Afterward Nero ruled unrestrained. Having divorced and murdered his first wife, Octavia, he married Poppaea Sabina, a beautiful woman who used intrigues to become empress. According to Tacitus, Poppaea was ambitious and ruthless, and claimed that she was the reason Nero murdered his mother.

Then, during the night of July 18, 64 AD a fire broke out in the shops clustered around the Circus Maximus. Four of the fourteen districts of Rome escaped the fire; three districts were completely destroyed and another seven suffered serious damage.

In his final work, Annals (c. 116 AD), historian Tacitus (c. 55 - c .117 AD) tells us that Nero wasn’t in Rome at the time, but at his villa in Antium (modern Anzio) to the south. He hurried back to institute energetic relief efforts.

"Yet these measures, for all their popular character, earned no gratitude. For a rumor had spread that, while the city was burning, Nero had gone on his private stage and, comparing modern calamities with ancient, had sung of the destruction of Troy."

While the fire raged in Rome, Paul, Timothy and Titus sailed east from Spain (this time with the wind) to the island of Crete. There, Paul worked with Titus, addressed false teaching, appointed elders, then commissioned Titus to remain there as his representative:

“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” (Titus 1:5)

In the wake of the fire, Nero made a new urban development plan. New houses were to be spaced out and built of brick on wide roads. Nero, whose own palace, Domus Transitoria, was destroyed by the fire, began construction on a new palace, the Domus Aurea (Latin "Golden House"), in an area cleared by the fire.

In the center of Domus Aurea was an octagonal room (reconstruction below) with smaller rooms radiating from it. An ingenious mechanism, cranked by slaves, made the ceiling underneath the dome revolve like the heavens, while perfume was sprayed and rose petals were dropped on guests.

Domus Aurea octagonal room

Below, ceiling fresco.

Domus Aurea ceiling

Below, another elaborately decorated room in the Domus Aurea

Domus Aurea room

c. 65 AD – As construction continued on Nero’s Domus Aurea, Paul and his companions were possibly heading from Crete to Miletus (in modern Turkey, not far from Ephesus). From Miletus they journeyed inland some 112 miles east to Colossae (unexcavated mound, below).

Colossae mound

Then Paul backtracked to Ephesus to revisit the important work he and his co-workers had done on his third missionary journey. He placed the spiritual well-being of this awe-inspiring city into the hands of Timothy.

Below, view west from the upper seats of the Ephesus theater toward the now silted harbor.

c. 66 AD – From Ephesus Paul possibly returned to Macedonia by way of Alexandria Troas. During his last visit to Troas Paul was compelled to leave Troas hastily without some personal items, because he requested that when Timothy came to see him in Rome he "bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments" (2 Timothy 4:13).

Spring 66 AD First Jewish Revolt, chronicled by Flavius Josephus, began in Caesarea, provoked by Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue. The Roman garrison refused to intercede and the long-standing Greek and Jewish religious tensions took a downward spiral.

Retracing a portion his second missionary journey he headed west on the Via Egnatia for another pastoral call on the churches in Philippi and Thessaloniki.

From Thessaloniki, it was on to Berea, then Dyrrachium (modern Durres, Albania), the western terminus of the Via Egnatia.

c.66 or 67 AD – Paul then headed south to Nicopolis on the Adriatic coast in western Greece. During his stay he wrote his letter to Titus, who was currently overseeing the churches on the island of Crete:

“When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there.” (Titus 3:12)

The letter was intended to encourage Titus and to give him further instruction for accomplishing his task. The Cretans were particularly difficult to work with and life on Crete had sunk to a deplorable moral level. The Cretan Christians were immature in their faith and required basic instruction concerning immorality and Christian conduct. They were also troubled by false teaching (Titus 1:10-16). The letter was delivered by Zenas and Apollos who were on a journey that took them through Crete.

Below, Nicopolis city wall

Below, Odeum of Augustus at Nicopolis

c. 67 AD – After spending the three winter months in Nicopolis, Paul sailed across the Adriatic Sea to Brundisium, the southern terminus of the famed Via Appia, about halfway down the heel of the Italian boot.

67 AD – Paul returned to Rome and again found himself under arrest. This time, though, he was not given the privilege of house arrest. Legend says he was incarcerated in the dreaded Mamertine Prison (below) with no chance of escape. (the sign reads "prison of the Saints and Apostles Peter and Paul.")

Paul now languished in a cold dungeon, chained like a common criminal. His friends even had difficulty finding out where he was being held. Knowing that his work was done and that his life was nearly at an end, he wrote his farewell letter, Second Timothy.

“Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Timothy 1:4-5)

67 or 68 AD – Paul was executed during a brief, but intense, persecution instituted by Nero to divert suspicion from himself for the devastating fire two years earlier, a persecution vividly described by Tacitus in his Annuls:

"No human effort ... could make that infamous rumor disappear that Nero had somehow ordered the fire. Therefore, in order to abolish that rumor, Nero falsely accused and executed with the most exquisite punishments those people called Christians, who were infamous for their abominations. The originator of the name, Christ, was executed as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius; and though repressed, this destructive superstition erupted again, not only through Judea, which was the origin of this evil, but also through the city of Rome ... first those were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race. And perishing they were additionally made into sports: they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps. Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle and performed a Circus game ... Even though they were clearly guilty and merited being made the most recent example of the consequences of crime, people began to pity these sufferers, because they were consumed not for the public good but on account of the fierceness of one man." Tacitus (c. 55 -117 AD) Annuls

According to tradition, Paul was taken 1-1/2 miles south of the city, near the third milestone of the Ostian Way, or Via Ostensis, and beheaded at a site with three springs known as Aquae Salviae (below), now the Trappist monastery of San Paolo alle Tre Fontane (Three Fountains).

Below, the marble-covered Cestius pyramid, built before 12 BC as a tomb for Caius Cestius Epulo, still stands exactly as it did when Paul passed by on his way to the place of his execution. (The gate beyond was built later.)

Catholic tradition holds that after his execution Paul was buried on the Via Ostiensis and his followers erected a shrine (cella memoriae), over his grave. In 258 AD, when Christian tombs in Rome were threatened with desecration in the persecution of Valerian, Paul’s remains were transferred to the Catacombs (underground burial chambers) on the Appian Way. Later they were returned to their original resting place over which the emperor Constantine built small church in 324 AD. It fell victim to fire in 1823 and was subsequently rebuilt.

Below, basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura or Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, dedicated in 1854.


Saint Paul’s Tomb Found?

February 22, 2005 - A Vatican archeologist believes he has rediscovered the tomb of St. Paul, buried under the main altar of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome. After three years of digging underneath the altar, a sarcophagus (below), more than six-feet long and three-feet tall, was found. It is now on public display.

The sarcophagus, which lay hidden for centuries, was found underneath a tombstone with an inscription, in Latin, “PAULO APOSTOLOMART” (“Paul, Apostle, Martyr”).


“Nobody ever thought to look behind that plaque,” said Giorgio Filippi, a archaeology specialist with the Vatican Museums, who indicated that he and his team were surprised when they found the tomb. "I have no doubt this is the tomb of St. Paul, as revered by Christians in the fourth century."

Presumably the inscription dates from the 4th century AD. The question the comes to mind: was the place of Paul's burial preserved from the 1st century to the 4th, some 300 years?

"Absolute proof that it holds St. Paul's bones is impossible," says Leonard Rutgers, an archaeologist at the University of Utrecht who visited the excavation.

According to textual evidence, St. Paul's remains were removed from the original burial site in 258 AD, reburied in another part of Rome, and then finally moved back to the site of the basilica when it was built in the late fourth century.

"So they were schlepping these bones around a lot," says Rutgers. "It's hard to say if the remains in the sarcophagus itself belong to the saint."

(Information taken in part from an article, dated March/April 2007, in Archaeology, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America.)


Pope: Bone Fragments Found in Tomb Are Paul's
Sunday, June 28, 2009

Human remains found beneath the Vatican have been identified as belonging to St. Paul. The discovery was revealed by Benedict XVI in his homily for vespers on June 28, in the basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls in Rome:

"We are gathered at the tomb of the apostle, whose sarcophagus, kept under the papal altar, was recently made the object of a careful scientific analysis. A tiny perforation was made in the sarcophagus, which had not been opened for many centuries, for a special probe that picked up traces of valuable linen cloth dyed purple, laminated with pure gold and a blue-colored cloth with linen thread. It also detected grains of red incense and of substances containing protein and calcium. Moreover, very tiny fragments of bone, subjected to Carbon-14 dating by experts who were unaware of their origin, were determined to belong to a person who lived between the first and second centuries. This seems to confirm the unanimous and unopposed tradition that these are the mortal remains of the apostle Paul."