Part 11 Paul ( Part 1)
This is the eleventh in a series that examines the references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible. In this article we will look at Paul the Apostle, probably the best known prisoner in the scriptures. Paul, as we shall see was imprisoned many times and yet considered such suffering to be a privilege that was to be expected of a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because prison played such a prominent role in the ministry of the Apostle Paul it will require two articles to discuss this theme. In this first installment we will consider some of the historical records of Paul’s imprisonments in the book of Acts.
Prison first played into Paul’s life not as him being a prisoner but as him being responsible for others to be in prison. We read in Acts 8:3 and again when he gives his testimony in Acts 22:4 and 26:10 that he broke into the homes of the Jewish believers and carried them off to prison. However, after Paul’s conversion the believers at first did not believe that the person that had persecuted them could now be their ally, but once they were convinced they praised God because of it. There are few stories of conversion more dramatic than that of Saul of Tarsus. He was a man that hated all that had to do with name of Jesus Christ. He believed sincerely that he was doing the will of God by destroying the Church among the Jews. He was a devout Jew that would have believed the Gentiles to be dogs and hopelessly separated from the life of God. Despite that, God in His grace, touched that man and through His power made him into the greatest preacher and spokesman for the gospel of salvation and the cause of Christ.
After Saul was saved and his name changed to Paul God sent him out to be the primary spokesman of the special truth that had been revealed to Him. Specifically that truth is that God had set aside the Jewish nation and was calling people to salvation from all nations and peoples completely by His grace, apart from the nation of Israel, it’s law and rituals. This message did not sit well with the Jews that believed they alone were the chosen people of God and that He would never make his grace available to the Gentiles. As a result Paul often found himself persecuted by the Jews and the one that had had believers thrown into prison was now finding himself a prisoner.
One of the most famous stories in the Bible, found in Acts 16:16-40, tells of how Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. Paul had cast out a demon from a young slave girl. The girl’s owners used her to tell fortunes and they earned money from her tragic circumstances. Once the demon left her and she was unable to divine the future and she could no longer be a source of income for the owners they became enraged and devised fraudulent charges that were used to have Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into the innermost part of a prison.
Instead of being overcome by their circumstances Paul and Silas used the time in prison as an opportunity to give praise and glory to God. We are told that at midnight, while they were praying and singing, an earthquake hit the area and their chains fell off and the doors of the prison flew open. At that moment all the prisoners could have escaped, but none of them had. The jailer was terrified since under Roman law if the jailer was responsible if any of the prisoners in his charge escaped. In terror for his life the jailer cried out to Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” It seems he was probably asking about physical deliverance, since he knew his very life was in jeopardy. Paul on the other hand used that moment of personals crisis to introduce the Philippian jailer to the hope of eternal life and responded that he must “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and he would be saved along with all in his household that would do the same.