What did it mean to be a “fellow-prisoner” with Paul?

What did it mean to be a “fellow-prisoner” with Paul? July 14, 2011

A few times, for example in Romans, Colossians, and Philemon, Paul mentions certain individuals as sharers in his imprisonment. I always assumed this to be rather benign, as in they were regional companions, visiting Paul (daily?) to offer company, provisions, and to learn from him. Another possible view, which I have tended to reject, is that some were actually in prison at the same time as Paul and in his vicinity. Actually, this seems more true of Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7).

What about Epaphras and Aristarchus? I just came across the proposal (and some contextual evidence) that these men may have voluntarily entered into Paul’s prison chamber to keep him company. This is apparently the view that James Dunn takes (Colossians, NIGTC, 275-6) and the potential is confirmed by Brian Rapske (see Lucian, Peregr. 12). Richard Bauckham writes this:

The suggestion I endorse is not that Epaphras and Aristarchus were condemned prisoners, but that they voluntarily spent time with Paul in his prison cell.” (Gospel Women, 171)

Wow! Talk about sharing in the sufferings of others! This suggestion appeals to me on a number of levels, but what kind of confidence can we have? What do you think? How can we know what Paul was intending to say?

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