We know that Paul was held under some brutal conditions—his feet in stocks in one case. Yet he was still able to write many letters from prison. Was this during some of his "nicer accommodations", or did the ethos of the time allow visitors and outside contact (even as they tortured prisoners)?

In contrast, in the US, when someone has done something pretty offensive (murderers to terrorists), there are controversies about and often restrictions placed on their writings (esp. the ability to publish books, but sometimes more general limitations on outside contact, etc.)

  • Interesting question! I suspect that it's not really that different in modern times. Even the most hardened atrocious criminals are allowed to write letters in most countries. The Epistles of Paul were letters, in contrast to books that would have earned him money. I'm interested to see a real answer to this. Jun 25, 2013 at 12:06
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    Some of his arrests were physically rough and involved cells and chains -- and I think he even wrote from those conditions, sometimes through a amanuensis -- but much of the time he was just under some form of house arrest. Some of those cases were roughly equivalent to probation where he was even free to go about a city but not to leave a region. (Now if I just had good sources I'd answer this!)
    – Caleb
    Jun 25, 2013 at 12:22
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    @DavidStratton your point is very fair, but there are cases where books written by regular prisoners are shut down lest they become "Pauline epistles", not just for profit-making purposes. And there's Gitmo.
    – pterandon
    Jun 25, 2013 at 16:15
  • Not just Paul, but several of the apostles ran into issues with the law where they were forbidden to speak/preach of Christ. A properly researched answer to this question would at least touch on how these legal issues played out through various regions as Paul obviously didn't just shut up and go home even when restrictions were placed on his ability to broadcast the message.
    – Caleb
    Jun 26, 2013 at 8:28

3 Answers 3


First of all, Paul was the Roman citizen, and during his imprisonment he was been waiting for Caesar's judgment:

(Acts 25:10-12) Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged (...) I appeal unto Caesar. Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.

His crime was imputed to him not by Roman citizens, but by persons of occupied nation.

So, this wasn't just imprisonment as for ordinal criminal, but it was something like house arrest before sitting of the court. It was quite comfortable restraint of liberty, so Paul could even preach:

(Acts 28:16, 30-31) And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him. (...) And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

  • 1st and 2nd timothy were written under harsh conditions when he was accused of treason by other Romans during his second imprisonment.
    – user4060
    Jun 26, 2013 at 16:12

Rom 16:22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.

Phm 1:23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Phm 1:24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

Most scholars believe He didn't actually write many of the epistles. It is believed he dictated most of his letters to his helpers and visitors even when not in jail.

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    This does not answer the main issue raised in the question. The question is not how he physically managed to write so much as why was he allowed to write at all?
    – Caleb
    Jun 26, 2013 at 8:25
  • @Caleb the question states: "Yet he was still able to write many letters from prison. Was this during some of his "nicer accommodations", or did the ethos of the time allow visitors and outside contact (even as they tortured prisoners)?" My answer was he didn't write in harsh conditions chained to the walls or floors he dictated when he was allowed visitors.
    – user4060
    Jun 26, 2013 at 16:10

Paul mentions having been imprisoned a number of times, but this answer is only concerned with the occasions on which he was given the liberty to write letters. The Epistles to Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon are often called the 'Prison Epistles' because they appear to have been written by Paul while in prison. Of these, only Philippians and Philemon are undisputed.

Most critical scholars date Colossians to the 70s of the first century and Ephesians about ten years later, attributing them to anonymous authors writing in Paul's name. Alvar Ellegard says in Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ, page 148, that many passages in Ephesians seem to be directly copied from the ‘presumably somewhat earlier’ Colossians. Thus, the similarities in the two epistles, including references to imprisonment, result from copying and not from Paul's own experience. Burton L Mack says in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 183, that the letters to the Colossians and Ephesians are not authentic, and that there is not a suggestion of the real Paul in either of them. He says the style is different, the vocabulary is different and the rhetoric is different from authentic Pauline letters. If indeed Colossians and Ephesians were pseudepigraphical, we need only look at Paul's liberty to write in the cases of Philippians and Philemon.

When writing the Epistle to Philemon, Paul was undoubtedly a prisoner, but he also tells us that he expected to be freed soon:

Philemon 22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

Whatever the circumstances, Paul's imminent freedom in this case may well have meant that he was given considerable liberty pending his release.

In Philippians 1:7, we learn that Paul has been imprisoned, but he then says (1:13-14)that his imprisonment has become so well known that it has served to encourage others to proclaim the gospel:

Philippians 1:13-14: So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

The situation is serious for Paul, for it appears he is unsure if he will die, but does not fear death:

Philippians 1:20: According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

There are several possibilities for the location at which Paul was imprisoned when writing Philippians and, among others, those who rely on Acts of the Apostles consider Rome the probable location, but this is far from certain. He might also have been imprisoned at Caesarea or any of several other locations. Either way, the strength of the charges against Paul might have influenced the amount of liberty he was given. Notice that in Philippians 1:7, Paul says his imprisonment had become so well known that it has served to encourage others to proclaim the gospel, and again in 1:14 they are "much more bold to speak the word without fear." As a cause célèbre, Paul might have been given some liberties, including the opportunity to write this letter, in order to placate his followers.

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