August 18, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

St. Paul: Trip to Jerusalem ends with prison

Before he could go to Rome, Paul had to take a collection of money to Jerusalem.

He had been collecting that money for several years, and it had grown to a considerable amount. The money was to go to the poor of Jerusalem, and it was the most practical way for Paul to demonstrate his love for the mother Church.

From Corinth, Paul and his party first went to Macedonia so Paul could say goodbye to his communities at Thessalonica and Philippi. He didn’t return to Ephesus, but instead invited representatives of that community to meet with him in Miletus.

He was apprehensive about what might happen in Jerusalem, and he expressed that fear to the Ephesians who met with him. He also decided to leave Timothy behind in Ephesus out of fear that, if something bad happened to Paul, it also could happen to Timothy.

When Paul arrived in Jerusalem before Pentecost in the year 56, he knew that he would have to placate James, the bishop of Jerusalem. The Christians of Jerusalem were converted Jews who continued to follow Jewish laws. They had heard about Paul, and didn’t like the fact that he told Jews that they no longer had to follow the law of Moses.

Paul, therefore, decided to convince James and his followers that he was a practicing Jew. He agreed to perform the seven-day purification ceremony that Jewish law required of anyone coming from pagan territory before he could enter the Temple. This satisfied James, who accepted the collection, not for the direct benefit of the community, but to pay the expenses of four men who wanted to take the Nazirite vow. (See the Book of Numbers 6:1-21 for more about the Nazirite vow.)

Unfortunately, that strategy didn’t work. Non-Christian Jews recognized Paul and accused him of bringing a Gentile into the part of the temple reserved for Jews. They tried to lynch him, but an alert Roman guard saved Paul. The Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, then tried to interrogate Paul, but Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen. The Romans, therefore, took Paul to the Roman procurator, a successor of Pontius Pilate named Felix, who lived in Caesarea.

Paul remained in prison in Caesarea for three years, and we can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for him. There’s no evidence that he had any contact with his communities or even his companions. We don’t know either what happened to the collection after it was designated for the Nazirites because Paul was arrested before he finished his seven-day period of purification.

In the year 58, Emperor Nero recalled Felix and replaced him with Porcius Festus. The Jews of Jerusalem continued to pressure Festus to hand Paul over to them, and eventually Festus called the Jews to Caesarea.

Paul did not want to fall into the hands of the Jews. He said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried” (Acts 25:10).

On hearing that, Festus decided to send Paul to Rome. †


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