Prison Epistles

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What books did the apostle Paul write in jail?

Paul wrote four of his prison epistles while under house arrest in Rome awaiting his trial. His goal was to present the gospel to the most powerful man of the world at the time, the Roman Caesar. House arrest is slightly different from jail or prison.

Paul couldn’t go anywhere other than the place he was staying. It’s most likely that a Roman centurion or soldier was attached to Paul with chains to make sure he didn’t leave or escape.

But Paul was allowed to have house guests, so he still had an attachment to saints in the Roman city church, as well as his traveling companions doing missionary work with him. He could receive reports on the churches he founded.

The four prison epistles Paul wrote while under house arrest are Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. We get hints in the books about his condition while under house arrest. He talks about being in chains for the gospel. He also mentions his traveling companions and talks about the churches in the letters.

It’s believed by most scholars that Ephesians and Colossians were written together because they have similar material. They both contain the same information concerning household codes dealing with marriages, children, and master/slave relationships.

There are differences in the books that make them unique, but some of the material is the same. This suggests that Paul wrote the books to different city churches while including some of the same material for both churches that applied to both.

Philippians spends much time talking about rejoicing and great joy, even though Paul is under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial. He doesn’t really have any correction or anything bad to say about the city church in Philippi. But the material is unique enough from the other books he wrote while under house arrest.

Philemon is a letter written to a Christian slaveowner named Philemon who had a slave, Onesimus, who had run away and met Paul. He became a Christian under Paul’s ministry and a great help to Paul. His name means, “useful.”

So Paul writes the letter of Philemon to ask Philemon to release Onesimus when he returns to him. The letter would have been sent with the slave back to his slaveowner. Paul argues in the letter that because they are both Christians now, their relationship has fundamentally changed from a master/slave relationship to a brother/brother relationship.

Paul relies on unconditional Christian love instead of his authority as an apostle to change the relationship. He doesn’t demand that Philemon free his slave. He asks him out of Christian love to free him because they’re both Christians now.

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