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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

 

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PRAETORIAN GUARD

pre-to'-ri-an: "My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other, places" (Phil 1:13 the King James Version). This verse is translated in the Revised Version (British and American), "My bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest," and is noteworthy.
1. Pretorium in Philippians--Usual View:
It has been usual to connect the words, "the soldier that guarded him," Acts 28:16, with this statement in Phil 1:13, that the apostle's bonds were manifest in the whole praetorium, and to understand that the former was the cause of the latter; that the result of Paul's making the gospel known in his own hired house to those soldiers to one of whom he was chained by the wrist day and night, was that it became known in all the praetorian regiment that his bonds were endured for Christ's sake, that it was for conscience' sake that he was suffering wrongfully, that he was no wrongdoer but a prisoner of Jesus Christ. In this way the gospel would spread through the whole of the praetorian guard in that regiment's headquarters which were situated in a permanent camp established by Tiberius in Rome, outside the Colline Gate, at the Northeast of the city. This verse would also mean that the gospel had been proclaimed in the same way to those members of the praetorian guard who were on duty as the bodyguard of the emperor and who were lodged in one of the buildings which adjoined the emperor's palace on the Palatine Hill.
2. Lightfoot on Interpretations:
Thus, Lightfoot, discussing the meaning of the phrase "in the whole praetorium" (Commentary on Philippians, 99 ff), reviews the different interpretations which have been given of the word, and shows (1) that no instance is to be found of its signifying Nero's palace on the Palatine Hill; (2) that there is no authority for the interpretation which would make it mean the praenterinn barracks on the Palatine; (3) that neither is there any authority for making it mean the praetorian camp outside the walls of Rome. In Lightfoot's words (op. cit., 101), "All attempts to give a local sense to `praetorium' thus fail for want of evidence." Lightfoot accordingly defends the interpretation, "the praetorian guard," and the Revised Version (British and American), above cited, follows him in this.
3. View of Mommsen and Ramsay:
One of the meanings of "praetorium" is a council of war, the officers who met in the general's tent (see PRAETORIUM). Lightfoot is very decided in interpreting "praetorium" to mean the praetorian regiment, the imperial guards, and he adds, "in this sense and in this alone can it be safely affirmed that the apostle would hear the word praetorium used daily," and that this sense is in all respects appropriate. But the other meaning, though not appropriate here, namely, a council of war composed of the officers and their general, is much nearer to that which is now accepted by such authorities as Mommsen and Sir W.M. Ramsay, who hold that in this passage "praetorium" means a council, not of war, however, but the council of judgment, the emperor's court of appeal in which he was assisted by his legal assessors (see Mommsen, Berlin Akad. Sitzungsber., 1895, 501; Ramsay, Paul the Traveler and the Rein Citizen, 357; Workman, Persecution in the Early Church, 35). Over this court there presided the emperor or his delegate, the prefect of the praetorian guard, and associated with him were twenty assessors selected from the senators. Formerly their votes were taken by ballot, but Nero preferred to receive from each a written opinion and on the next day to deliver his judgment in person. Such, it is now believed, is the praetorium to which Paul refers.
The meaning, therefore, of the words, "My bonds in Christ are manifest in the whole praetorium," will be that when Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians his first Roman trial was already so far advanced that he had been able to impress upon his judges, the twenty assessors and their president, the fact that he was no evildoer, but that the sole cause of his imprisonment was his loyalty to Christ. It was manifest to all the members of the emperor's court of appeal that Paul was enduring his long imprisonment, suffering wrongfully, but only for the sake of Jesus Christ.
4. Bearing on Paul's Captivity and Trial:
The important bearing will be seen which this signification of "praetorium" in this passage has on the question of the order in which Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon--the epistles of Paul's captivity in Rome--were written. On subjective evidence Lightfoot concludes that Philippians is the earliest of them, basing his opinion largely on the resemblance which exists in many particulars between the thoughts and expressions in Philippians and in the Epistle to the Romans, making Philippians, as it were, a connecting link between Paul's earlier and his later epistles. See Lightfoot, Philipplans, 42 f; he writes: "These resemblances suggest as early a date for the Epistle to the Philippians as circumstances will allow," earlier, that is, than Colossians and Ephesians. But Lightfoot's argument is set aside by the new light which has been thrown upon the real meaning of "praetorium." Sir W.M. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler, 357) writes: "The trial seems to have occurred toward the end of AD 61. Its earliest stages were over before Paul wrote to the Philipplans, for he says, `The things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the Good News; so that my bonds became manifest in Christ in the whole Pretorium, and to all the rest; and that most of the Brethren in the Lord, being confident in my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear.' This passage has been generally misconceived and connected with the period of imprisonment; and here again we are indebted to Mommsen for the proper interpretation. The Praetorum is the whole body of persons connected with the sitting in judgment, the supreme Imperial Court, doubtless in this case the Prefect or both Prefects of the Praetorian Guard, representing the emperor in his capacity as the fountain of justice, together with the assessors and high officers of the court. The expression of the chapter as a whole shows that the trial is partly finished, and the issue as yet is so favorable that the Brethren are emboldened by the success of Paul's courageous and freespoken defense and the strong impression which he evidently produced on the court; but he himself, being entirely occupied with the trial, is for the moment prevented from preaching as he had been doing when he wrote to the Colossians and the Asian churches generally."
5. Bearing on Date of Epistle:
Thus, the correct meaning of "praetorium" enables us to fix the date of the Epistle to the Philippians as having been written close to the end of Paul's first Roman imprisonment. That this inference is correct is confirmed by various other facts, such as his promise to visit that city, and the fact that in Phil 2:20 f the King James Version he says regarding Timothy, "I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." We could not conceive of Paul writing like this if Mark, Tychicus, Aristarchus, and especially if Luke had been with him then, and yet we know (Col 4:7,10,14) that each and all of these companions of the apostle were with him in Rome when he wrote the Epistle to the Colossians. They had evidently, along with others, been sent on missions to Asia or other places, so that Paul now had only Timothy "likeminded" when he wrote to Philippi.
See PAUL, THE APOSTLE; PHILIPPIANS, THE EPISTLE TO THE.
All these facts and considerations confirm us in accepting the signification of "praetorium" as the emperor's supreme court of appeal, before which Paul when he wrote the Epistle to the Philippians had so conducted his defense as to produce a most favorable impression, from which he inferred that he might soon be liberated from imprisonment. And his liberation, as the event proved, soon followed.
John Rutherfurd

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'PRAETORIAN GUARD'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE; 1915.

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