Paul in prison
Paul may have spent as much as 25% of his time as a missionary
in prison. We know of his brief lock-up in Philippi, two years' incarceration in
Caesarea, and at least another two in Rome. Yet Paul says he experienced "far
more imprisonments" than his opponents. To understand Paul, we need to
understand where he spent so much time.
Roman imprisonment was preceded by being stripped naked and
then flogged, a humiliating, painful, and bloody ordeal. The bleeding wounds
went untreated; prisoners sat in painful leg or wrist chains. Mutilated,
blood-stained clothing was not replaced, even in the cold of winter. In his
final imprisonment, Paul asked for a cloak, presumably because of the
Most cells were dark, especially the inner cells of a prison,
like the one Paul and Silas inhabited in Philippi. Unbearable cold, lack of
water, cramped quarters, and sickening stench from few toilets made sleeping
difficult and waking hours miserable.
Male and female prisoners were sometimes incarcerated
together, which led to sexual immorality and abuse. Prison food, when available,
was poor. Most prisoners had to provide their own food from outside sources.
When Paul was in prison in Caesarea, Felix, the procurator, gave orders to the
centurion that "none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his
Because of the miserable conditions, many prisoners begged for
a speedy death. Others simply committed suicide.
The Privileged Few
All of this could be mitigated to some extent if the prisoner
was important or paid a bribe (as Governor Felix hoped to receive from Paul in
A prominent individual, or one expected to be released, might
be kept under house arrest if he or she could afford the rent. In Rome, where
housing prisoners was excessively expensive, Paul was given the privilege of
house arrest, and he paid the rent himself (exactly how, we don't know). He
probably lived in a third-floor apartment; first floors were used for shops, and
the second floor was expensive.
In his final imprisonment in Rome, though, Paul's life came to
an end in the woeful conditions of a Roman prison (John McRay, "Paul and His
Times," Christian History, No 47).