Did Paul ever leave Rome?

F. M.

Christian Friend vol. 16, 1889, p. 104.

The consideration of such questions as these from a merely intellectual point of view is much to be deplored; so also is the attempt to solve them by any sources of information outside the Word. For apart from the untrustworthy nature of tradition, however ancient, we may be assured that what cannot be proved from the sacred pages themselves is intentionally left dubious by the Holy Ghost, and that we err if we pry into it. The manner of Peter's death (crucifixion) is revealed to us in Scripture. (John 21:18-19.) Complete silence is kept as to that of the disciple whom Jesus loved.

It is in the belief that the Word sheds sufficient light upon the enquiry at the head of this paper, to render its investigation both permissible and profitable, that it is proposed. It is true that we have nothing whatever in narrative form as to his leaving or his not leaving Rome, but the Scriptures do not always present historical facts in this direct manner. Witness, for example, the martyrdom of Peter, alluded to above - a fact made known to us only by the Lord's intimation that it should be so. Having it thus from His lips, we are as sure that the event took place as if we had seen it for ourselves.

Now it is on similar evidence - though instead of the Lord speaking in person, it is the Holy Ghost speaking through the apostle - that the departure of Paul from Rome, and his imprisonment there a second time, are established, I believe, beyond a doubt. Turn to Phil. 1:21-26. Let us read it, for the sake of accuracy, in the New Translation. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die gain; but if to live in flesh is my lot, this is for me worth the while: and what I shall choose I cannot tell. But I am pressed by both, having the desire for departure and being with Christ, for it is very much better, but remaining in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes; and having confidence of this, I know that I shall remain and abide along with you all, for your progress and joy in faith; that your boasting may abound in Christ Jesus through me by my presence again with yon." Remember that these words are inspired. The Spirit of God gives utterance to them through a human mouthpiece. Now what does the apostle say? After telling them that, while for himself he would choose the far sweeter portion of departing to be with Christ, he nevertheless felt desirous to stay a little longer, that he might be of service to them, he concludes with the positive statements of verses 24, 25.

Note particularly that he is not giving his opinion, but facts. "Remaining in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes," not "I think it is." "I know that I shall remain and abide along with you all," not "I think I shall." And verse 26 is most explicit. He is to remain, in order that their boasting may abound in Christ Jesus through him by his presence again with them. How can we doubt therefore that Paul was liberated, quitted Rome, saw again the saints at Philippi, without practically denying the inspiration of this part of the Word? Would the Spirit of God have the apostle to stultify himself by saying that he knew he should remain and see them once more if the event was going to be just the opposite? Far be the thought. There are passages in which the inspired writer is allowed to give his private judgment (see, for example, 1 Cor. 7:25 and other parts of the chapter)* but it is quite a different thing here. The remaining and abiding along with them are spoken of as actual facts that are to have their accomplishment; and inasmuch as we are reading the word of God, and not the word of man, we believe that they did have their accomplishment.†

*"The apostle gives his thoughts and judgment as a spiritual man, his mind animated and guided by the Spirit." - ED,

†It may be objected that Romans 15:28 is as positive a statement that he will go by Rome into Spain. So it is. But why doubt that he went? What more likely than that upon his liberation he proceeded immediately thither, according to his long-formed intention? Wherever the apostle does not feel at liberty to speak with certainty of anything he proposes to do, he says, "I hope," or "If the Lord will," or the like. (1 Cor. 16:7; Phil. 2:19; Philemon 22. )

But it may be asked, "Granted that this passage proves the point in question, what do we gain?" Much. How blessed the grace which, after Paul by his self-willed journey to Jerusalem had been brought a captive to Rome, so orders things that he is free once more, and visits yet again, for their "progress and joy in faith," the beloved Macedonian saints! Sweet and precious to contemplate is this final mercy bestowed by the Lord upon His servant! How He loves to bless us, and to bless us just when by our foolish ways we have demonstrated our unworthiness to be blessed!

The passage in Philippians should surely be conclusive for an intelligent and subject mind. The second epistle to Timothy, however, it is well to note, supplies abundant confirmation. "Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick." (2 Tim. 4:20.) Now it is impossible that the apostle can refer to his visit to Miletus in Acts 20:15-38 - to say nothing of the time which had elapsed since then, which must have been three or four years - because we read (Acts 21:29) that Trophimus was with him when he arrived at Jerusalem. And the narrative in Acts 27 makes it perfectly plain that he did not go near Miletus in his voyage to Rome, Myra in Lycia (v. 5) being the only place in Asia Minor that they touched at. It becomes therefore a matter of absolute certainty that this leaving of Trophimus at Miletus must have occurred when Paul, having been liberated, and having left Rome, was once again in Asia Minor.

Note therefore the largeness of the Lord's grace. Not only was it granted to him to revisit Macedonia, and cause the boasting of the Philippians to abound in Christ Jesus through him by his presence again with them, but also to see once more some, at any rate, of the Asia Minor assemblies, and also that at Corinth. "Erastus remained in Corinth." (2 Tim. 4:20.) There must no doubt have been much sorrow connected with this journey, for when in Rome again he tells Timothy that "all who are in Asia … have turned away from me" (2 Tim. 1:15), but to minister the truth, carried with it a joy that no defection of the half-hearted could take away; and here and there he found a Prisca and Aquila, here and there a household of Onesiphorus. 2 Timothy is the last word from the apostle. In Philippians he says, "I am going to remain;" in 2 Timothy, "I am going to depart." "I am already being poured out, and the time of my release is come." (2 Tim. 4:6, New Translation.) In Philippians he says, "I am coming again to see you;" in 2 Timothy he says, "Come to me before winter." (2 Tim. 4:21 and 9.) Beautiful are his closing words of triumph. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith:" (2 Tim. 4:7.) "The Lord shall deliver me from every wicked work, and shall preserve me for His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen." (2 Tim. 4:18.) Beautiful are his parting salutations to his beloved child. "The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you." (2 Tim. 4:22.) F. M.