The Story of Paul III The Final Years.
It had to come one day and here it is, The Story of Paul III the Final Years.
This book was much harder to write than I thought it would be. The reason being, there are so few historical facts to work with. Luke writes about Paul in his final chapters of The Acts of the Apostle. Yet his main purpose for writing is to show how the Gospel was taken to Rome rather than the events of Paul’s life. Luke gives us fascinating details particularly when he was personally present, such as in the shipwreck on the Island of Malta. He neatly concludes Acts with Paul a free man in Rome. Traditions of the church claim Paul was beheaded by Nero in Rome. Fanciful legend says his head bounced three times and three fountains miraculously appeared out of the ground. But was he beheaded? Indeed, was he beheaded in Rome even? For information of Paul’s death, we are dependent on early traditions from the second and third century, about when, where, and how. Nothing is certain. In reality, solid evidence is virtually non-existent.
What about Paul’s prison letters? Traditionally, they were thought to have been written from a supposed Roman imprisonment. But Luke does not have him in prison in Rome. If you have read my book The Story of Paul II - the Middle Years, you may recall I think Paul wrote them from a time in prison in Ephesus. I am in good company with some of the most eminent biblical scholars on this one. Paul’s three pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus do however reflect a time at the end of Paul’s life after the close of Acts. They contain tantalising clues about his travels and a possible fourth missionary journey after the close of Acts 28.
Unpicking the so called fourth missionary journey as suggested by the pastorals is at best tricky and every commentator has their own version, for example, N.T. Wright describes the summary of Paul’s final years by the leading Roman Catholic authority on Paul, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, as a ‘novella’. I am therefore in good company. Summarising Paul’s final years is like trying to do a jigsaw with no picture.
What are we left with? A few crumbs from Luke, a few titbits from Paul, and the notoriously unreliable traditions of the early centuries of the church. This is why I have wondered whether I should even attempt writing this book. But I couldn’t let it rest. I felt it reaching out to me and the challenge appealed to my fertile imagination as storyteller. I found myself again asking questions such as, “So what did Luke do while Paul was in prison for two years in Caesarea?” Did Paul ever make it to Spain as he hoped? Clement of Rome, writing sixty years after Paul’s death, said Paul ‘went to the farthest reaches of the west.’ Did he mean Spain? Did Paul die in Rome, and was he martyred?
The outcome once again, like The Story of Paul II the Middle Years, is a fictive historical narrative. As a storyteller, does one merely need to fill in the blanks? If so, it is something I want to attempt in a historically reliable way. In the end, if I am brutally honest, it turned out to be more fictional than I had intended because of the paucity of historical evidence.
I enjoyed attempting to fill in the blanks. I enjoyed developing some of the characters Paul met along the way: Julius the Centurion who escorts him on the ill-fated voyage to Rome and Paul’s fourth shipwreck. Lysias, the commander of the garrison in Jerusalem, became a binding thread. Then, there is the enigmatic Lucina; a woman we know nothing about. She turns up as a one liner from the fourth century, Liber Pontificalis, which states Paul's body was buried outside the walls of Rome, at the second mile on the Via Ostiensis, on the estate owned by a Christian woman named Lucina. This is far too tempting to not bring her into the story.
As before, I have tried to avoid using the word “church” because we have such a twenty-first century model of church in our minds. I try to describe the activities and relationships of believers rather than use the generic word. Likewise, with the word Christian, which was not widely used in the first century. Where the action can be found in the Bible I have added a numbered note which are all listed at the end.
And finally, this book, like all the other books I have written, is ultimately about the revelation of God as Father who wants to have relationship with his sons and daughters. Fictive storytelling allows me the privilege of exploring this in a human context through the way the characters interact and behave and what I imagine they say as they try to come to terms with the amazing revelation that God the Father was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
I found myself shedding a tear at the end as Paul is laid to rest. I felt I was bidding farewell to a dear friend. This is not a spoiler as such because I presume everyone knows Paul finally died.
So here it is, The Story of Paul III - the Final Years. I hope you enjoy it!
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