Luke finishes the book of Acts in Rome, with Paul under house arrest. Yet Paul’s life doesn’t finish there. We get some good clues and information from the epistles written after Acts 28 and some hints from the Church Tradition. There will be plenty of arguments that aren’t explained here since this is only the narrative, but if you look at the references, you will find clues there. After this post, we will look into the audience and authorship of the epistle to the Hebrews because I think it ties really well with the 5th missionary trip. Put in a narrative way, here is how Paul’s 5th missionary trip looks as we put together the information we have in 1 Timothy, Titus and 2 Timothy.
Paul was released from the house arrest in Rome (Acts 28) somewhere around 61-62 AD. I don’t think he made it to Spain as we don’t have proof of that from the epistles (yes, I am aware of some Church Fathers hinting at that). We only have his desire stated in Romans 15. Also, Spain would be a major endevour that would take a lot of time and that wouldn’t leave enough time for the places we do know Paul visited.
He leaves Rome and plants the Church in Crete together with Titus (Titus 1:5). After some time, Titus stays there to pastor the church(es) of Crete and Paul goes to Asia Minor in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20b). He then goes to Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3) and asks Timothy to remain there and pastor the church in Ephesus. This was probably the biggest church in the world at that time (who knows if the church in Rome was bigger or not?). Paul goes on a tour to the Grecian churches but hopes to return back to Ephesus (1 Tim. 3:14). He passes through Troas (2 Tim. 4:13), as he goes to Macedonia and Achaea, writing 1 Timothy probably from the former (1 Tim 3:14) in 63 or early 64. In the summer or early fall of 64, he writes to Titus from Corinth (2 Tim. 4:20) and asks him to come from Crete to Nicopolis, a port city on the W coast of Greece about 300km away from Corinth, the city he wrote Titus from. He further sends Titus into new territory, Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10) while replacing him in Crete with Artemas (Titus 3:12, 2 Timothy 4:12). It is possible that Paul intended to go to Dalmatia with Titus since he spends the winter in Nicopolis, but is captured before leaving. In spite of this, Titus goes to Dalmatia in order to break fresh ground there.
The ones taking the epistole of Titus to Crete were Apollos and Zenas. Apollos probably served long term in Corinth as the church was really attached to him and so was he (Acts 18:27, 19:1, 1 Cor. 1:12, 3:4, 16:12). It is possible, given the direction, that Apollos and Zenas are heading to North Africa. If so, probably to Alexandria, Apollos’ city of birth (Acts 18:24), but this is only a speculation. Paul’s missionary vision seems to be in expansion mode as the churches are starting to grow. There are more converts and the Gospel is spreading more and more towards the edges of the empire.
All things seem peaceful in the epistle to Titus, and there is no proof of persecution. But soon after writing to Titus, the persecution starts as Rome was burned down in July 64. The people start gossiping that it was Nero that set the eternal city on fire. According to the Annals of Tacitus the emperor blames it on the Christians in order to have a scapegoat. I don’t think that Nero set Rome on fire. It is irrelevant whether it was him or not, the reality was that he was losing the people’s support and they were blaming him.
What we can observe about the persecution is that it aimed at the leaders of the Church first and foremost. It doesn’t mean that the rest of the church wasn’t persecuted, but the leaders seem to be the first target. Paul and Peter are captured and brought to Rome (2 Tim. 4:22, 1 Pet. 5:13). The fact that they are brought to Rome indicates that Nero was trying to achieve something in the heart of the public.
Paul is imprisoned somewhere between late 64 and 66 (I would go with the year 65), and Peter probably a little later after Paul. Their imprisonment overlapped according to the Church Fathers. Paul writes 2 Timothy in the late Summer or Fall, either 65 or 66. We know this because he asks for his cloak (2 Tim. 4:13) and asks Timothy to arrive before the Winter (2 Tim. 4:21). Knowing that his death is imminent, he asks Timothy to come to Rome as fast as possible together with John Mark. We don’t know if Timothy and Mark made it to Rome before Paul died, but they did make it to Rome. Timothy, while in Rome, ends up being imprisoned in Italy according to Heb. 13:23 (most certainly in Rome) and Mark is mentioned together with Silas in 1 Pet. 5:13. The most important leaders of the Church are in Rome and epistles are being sent back and forth knowing that it is their last days. 1 Peter is written from Rome to the churches in Asia Minor and 2 Peter to the same audience right before Peter is crucified, and possibly after Paul was beheaded (2 Pet. 3:15-16) as Peter is aiming at leaving the Church theological material posthumously (2 Pet. 1:15) and strengthening the authority of the Pauline corpus (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
Some things are more clear than others, but this is my general view of this unknown missionary trip. I believe it is useful to understanding the Church history of the 60s, and the context of the pastoral epistles.
Next: the author and audience of the epistle to the Hebrews. It includes the history of the rest of the decade.