and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar.'
The title "Caesar" was given to a number of Roman rulers. To which Caesar does the text refer?
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Assuming the reliability of the text, Paul appeared before Nero.
It could not be an emperor later than Nero
1 Clement, a first century text from Rome, references the martyrdom of Paul (and of Peter) in the context of the Neronian persecution of Christians (1 Clement 5:1-6). Numerous later sources are even more explicit in speaking of Paul’s death under Nero.
Nero died in AD 68, which serves as an upper bound on when the martyrdoms of Peter & Paul occurred.
Could it be an earlier emperor?
Much of the Pauline chronology is relative—we know about how many years between this event and that event, but there are only a handful of points where we can nail down when an event in Paul’s life took place in conjunction with an event that can be firmly dated on the Julian calendar.
Here are 3 pretty good candidates:
1. Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews from Rome
During Paul’s 2nd missionary journey:
And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. (Acts 18:2)
Dio Cassius tells us of this event and also indicates that it wasn’t thoroughly enforced (i.e. perhaps only a few prominent Jews & Christians were made to leave. Note that the Romans still considered Christianity part of Judaism at that time). See Roman History 60.6.6-7
Paulus Orosius dates this event to the 9th year of Claudius—presumably AD 49 (Historiae adversum paganos 7.6.15-16), although some have questioned his accuracy.
If this event occurred in AD 49 (or even just relatively close to it), that would put Paul in Corinth in the early 50s. Paul’s travels between the beginning of Acts 18 and his arrival in Rome occupy far too much time to get him to Rome before the death of Claudius in 54, meaning Nero was the emperor when Paul went to Rome.
2. The Gallio inscription
In Acts 18:12-16 Paul appears before Gallio, the deputy of Achaia. Thanks to an inscription we know with fairly decent precision when Gallio was in office and can date this event in Paul’s life to approximately AD 51 (maybe 52). See a detailed discussion on the inscription and its significance here (pp. 33-34)
This provides a relatively certain point from which Paul’s chronology can be aligned with the Julian calendar, based upon which we can conclude that Paul arrived in Rome in approximately AD 60, during the tenure of Nero.
3. The procuratorship of Porcius Festus
Paul remained imprisoned in Caesarea under Felix, and it is only after Felix was replaced by Festus that Paul was sent to Rome (see Acts 24:27). Although we do not know precisely when Festus came into office (AD 59 is a reasonable estimate), Josephus does tell us that Felix was recalled under Nero. (Antiquities 20.8.9) That puts the subsequent chronology firmly within Nero’s reign. A more detailed discussion by Robinson is found here (pp. 40-43).
Could it be an earlier emperor? No.
But doesn’t it say Paul appealed to Augustus?
Some have been confused by the statement in Acts 25:21, 25, indicating that Paul appealed to Augustus. Does this mean Augustus Caesar? Zero chance of this, Augustus Caesar died in AD 14. However, we should note that Augustus was a title, not his name. Augustus’ name was Octavian.
“Augustus”, like “Caesar”, was a title given to a number of Roman emperors. In other words, there would be no difference between saying “Paul appealed to Augustus” vs “Paul appealed to Caesar” vs “Paul appealed to the emperor”.
Of Augustus - The reigning emperor at this time was Nero. The name Augustus Σεβαστός Sebastos properly denotes "what is venerable, or worthy of honor and reverence." It was first applied to Caesar Octavianus, who was the Roman emperor in the time when our Saviour was born, and who is usually nailed Augustus Caesar. But the title continued to be used of his successors in office, as denoting the veneration or reverence which was due to the rank of emperor.
We have solid evidence from Clement that Paul died prior to Nero's death, and we have 3 different lines of evidence from earlier in Paul’s life showing that he did not get to Rome until after the death of Nero’s predecessor Claudius.
Paul appeared before Nero.
Paul's journey to Rome (via Crete and being shipwrecked off Malta) is dated between 59 and 60 A.D. Acts 28:30 says Paul was under house arrest for two years before his case came to trial.
Nero was the fifth Roman emperor, ruling from 54 to 68.
If the dates ascribed to the events in Acts Chapter 27 are correct, then Paul came before Nero. However, there are indications he was released from imprisonment and then went to Spain. There is a view that Paul died a martyr’s death in the mid-to-late AD 60s in Rome. Nero was emperor till 68.
Edit: When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome from Corinth (Greece) during his third missionary journey (cf. Acts 20:2; Rom. 16:23), he expressed an intense longing to visit them (Rom. 1:10-11; 15:22ff). Therefore he was taken to Rome AFTER his third missionary journey. Here is a brief extract from an article that suggests Paul might not have appeared before Caesar after he was imprisoned in Rome. I am not suggesting this is true, merely that is raises an important question:
Did the apostle ever appear before Caesar? Some have contended that probably he didn’t. It is surmised that his accusers from Judea never showed up to press their case, so the charges were dropped. There is no evidence for this view, and it runs counter to the testimony of the angel who informed Paul, “You must stand before Caesar” (Acts 27:24). Also, by studying the final letters of Paul — 1 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Timothy — we are able to conclude that the apostle was released from that initial Roman confinement. Subsequently, he was able to further evangelize the antique world of the empire. It is generally conceded that during this time-frame the apostle penned four epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, though not necessarily in this sequence. During his final imprisonment, the apostle instructs Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes to Rome because “he is useful to me” (2 Tim. 4:11). The past was forgotten. Mark had redeemed himself. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/144-pauls-two-year-roman-imprisonment
Here is a time-line of the events recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and post-Acts:
Paul’s 3rd missionary journey 53-57 AD
Imprisonment in Caesarea 58-60 AD
First Imprisonment in Rome 61-63 AD Wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians from Rome
“Fourth Journey” (post Acts) 63-65 AD Wrote 1 Timothy (from Macedonia) and Titus (from Nicopolis)
Second Imprisonment in Rome 66-67 AD Wrote 2 Timothy (from Rome)
If these dates are accurate, then Nero was emperor until he took his own life in 68 A.D.
P.S. I dug up some additional information on the various emperors that came after Nero. Here are the basic facts, just in case you have any other questions regarding the Roman emperors up to June 79.
Nero was succeeded by Galba, from 68 to 69, the first emperor in the Year of the Four Emperors. He seized the throne following Nero's suicide. However, his reign was short-lived - a mere sevem months. Otho took over, but only between 15 January 69 and 16 April 69. Vitellius was next, but was executed in Rome by Vespasian's soldiers on 22 December 69. Vespasian was Roman emperor from 69 to 79. The fourth and last in the Year of the Four Emperors, he founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire for 27 years.
Perhaps the most infamous of Rome's emperors, Nero Claudius Caesar (37-68 A.D.) ruled Rome from 54 A.D. until his death by suicide 14 years later. It's believed that Paul wrote the letter to the early Christian church in Rome at the same time Nero was in rule. It was probably composed at Corinth in about 57 ce. I think this is a strong indication that Nero was the Caesar of whom Paul appeared before.