Philippians 1:12 – 14
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard, and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
As the Acts of the Apostle does not chronicle more details about Paul’s imprisonment. Other sources relay these accounts, tangential, such as Paul’s comments in some of his letter’s, or church tradition by writers who may have not directly known Jesus or the Apostles (1). For the story of Paul’s and Peter’s imprisonment, tradition gives us more details, should we choose to believe them.
In the passage from Philippians, Paul refers to imprisonment and being in chains. Tradition places this in the Mamertine Prison next to the Roman Forum. This is just outside the fenced-in ruins of the Roman Forum today, uphill from the Arch of Septimius Severus . Of course, it was made into a church as one time and is now a tourist attraction.
The story goes that while in the prison, a crack in the floor allowed water to enter the prison cell. Peter and Paul used this to baptize fellow prisoners who heard their stories of Jesus and became followers. Given that the Roman Forum is a low point in Rome and has several aquifers forming springs in the Forum area, a leaky prison floor would be very possible. What is significant about this story is that Peter and Paul witness about Jesus where ever they are and under any circumstance. The telling of the Gospel is not just in comfortable homes and churches.
We see Paul on the right, now an old man, half risen from kneeling down to fill a scallop shell with water from the spring in the floor. A man, with his cloak pulled down from his torso, kneels awaiting the baptism. Two other men, appeared to be in prayer, or possibly a praising stance, witness the event. Paralleling, these curving postures are two cloud forms above the, with a ray of light coming from an unseen source above. This image brings us back to the fresco of Saul’s baptism.
(1) In general, the canonical scriptures of the New Testament were considered by 4th and 5th century church leaders to be those from witnesses of Jesus’ and the Apostle’s ministries. These texts are accepted as being written mostly in the later half of the 1st century. There are several other Gospels and Gnostic writings from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, but these are considered to be the writing down of oral histories, thus several degrees of separation removed from those who may have actually began the stories. I have read the Gospel of Thomas, which to me appeared to be a fragmented compilation of “out-takes”, some of which incidents or proverbs that are included in one or more of the four Evangelist’s narratives’ of Jesus’ life, but which do not present a cohesive story, moral code, nor theological statement in itself.