Was Paul imprisoned in Ephesus? Did he write Prison Epistles (captivity letters) like Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon from Ephesus? Perhaps even Philippians? Or were they written from Rome?
Arguments for Rome
- “The elite ancients, and even some ordinary ancients, were far more mobile than we often give them credit for.” (Witherington)
- Onesimus could have gone from Colossae to Rome for anonymity, or Onesimus may have been sent to Rome by Philemon.
- Luke would not have overlooked an Ephesus imprisonment in Acts.
- Colossians reflects later theological development.
- Tychicus is in Ephesus; why write to the Ephesians if Paul can speak through him?
- Paul would have been willing to change/delay plans of traveling to Spain in order to tend to pressing needs of existing churches.
- “Eusebius says that Paul was brought to Rome and that with him was Aristarchus.” (Porter)
- “Some of the persons named in Philemon (and Colossians) are associated with Rome in other New Testament writings: Mark (if it is the same Mark) is associated with Rome in 1 Peter 5:13; Luke is associated with Rome in 2 Timothy 4:11 (and in Acts 28:16 if Luke is the author of Acts); Demas is associated with Rome in 2 Timothy 4:10; Aristarchus is said to have been with Paul in both Ephesus (Acts 19:29) and Rome (Acts 27:2).” (Powell)
Arguments for Ephesus
- The short distance between Colossae and Ephesus is more plausible: It is a shorter distance for Onesimus (runaway slave) to travel. This also makes better sense of Paul requesting a room from Philemon, and anticipating lodging soon.
- Prison epistles have “air of nearness and intimacy.” Journeys in prison epistles “seem to be treated in a rather casual way.”
- Paul mentions extreme adversarial conditions and previous imprisonments in 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans; these could not have included the later imprisonments in Caesarea or Rome.
- We should not assume Colossians is of later theological development. Colossians and the Corinthian correspondence have substantial parallels.
- Ephesians is circular letter, written not just to Ephesus.
- Aristarchus was dragged before crowd in Ephesus (Acts 19); Paul describes him as fellow prisoner in his letters.
- “Of the ten companions of Paul named in these letters, four (Timothy, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Luke) seem quite certainly to have been in Ephesus with Paul, three (Epaphroditus, Epaphras, Onesimus) could have been there much easier than in Rome, The other three could have been there as easily as in Rome, while for no one of the ten is there any evidence (save inference from these letters) that he was in Rome, at least in Paul’s time.” (Bowen)