Nicopolis, The Lawyer, and Paul…

“When I send Artemas and Tychikus to you, come quickly to me in Nikopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way quickly in order that nothing might be lacking to them.”

(Titus 3:12-13)

As Paul closes out his letter to Titus, we are given a few pieces of information that is useful to us. First of all, he plans to spend the winter in Nikoplolis. In Paul’s day, this was a major port city on the western shores of Greece, one whose location had two harbors and shelter from the worst of the winter weather. Historically, in Paul’s day, it was also a relatively recent city, established by Caesar Augustus and largely supported (financially) by Herod the Great, which provides a Jewish connection to the city as well. Since Paul’s missionary journeys were all on the eastern side of the Greek mainland.

We do not have any other reference of Nikopolis in the Scriptural account, so to determine the time-frame of this event requires inference and a little bit of informed speculation. All of Paul’s missionary journeys record that his travels took place through the eastern portion of the Greek mainland and then into Macedonia and Asia Minor, making this most likely a later account. We also know that by the end of Paul’s life, Titus has left Crete to go to Dalmatia (a Roman province in the area where modern day Croatia and Slovenia are located — see 2 Timothy 4:10). In the same passage of 2 Timothy, we also see Tychikus being sent to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12). Thus, Titus reasonably before these events. Thus, in Paul’s life, it seems that we have two reasonable candidates for this letter taking place.

First, it is clear that Paul had a burden on his heart to take the Gospel to Spain (Romans 15:24,28). Paul wrote to the Romans prior to his trip to Jerusalem and the arrest that would bring him to Rome. Of course, Paul would be taken to Rome from Caesarea (Acts 25:13) under the escort of a faithful Centurion for the purpose of facing trial by the Emperor. It is also clear that Paul would die in Rome as he wrote 2 Timothy from that particular city (2 Timothy 1:17).

What we also know is that the book of Acts, while ending in Rome with Paul under house arrest, does not record either Paul’s trial or his execution. Thus, it has been suggested by some scholars that Paul faced his trial in Rome in the early 60’s, was freed due to no substantial evidence against him, recognizing that Nero had not yet begun his rampage against Christians, and thus set free to travel to Spain. This position is substantiated by 1 Clement 5:5-7, which speaks of Paul reaching “the furthest limits of the west,” which is most naturally (from a Roman mindset), Spain. Clement was the Bishop of the church in Rome in the 1st century AD and is mentioned as a fellow Christian laborer by Paul in Philippians 4:3). That would make Nikopolis a possible meeting point for Paul and his team to meet before they traveled westward to Spain. Later, Paul would return to Rome and be arrested for propagating Christianity and executed by Nero…the context that sparks Paul’s second letter to Timothy.

The second candidate has this letter written from Caesarea, just before Paul’s trip to Rome. This speculates that Paul is expecting to winter in Nikopolis on his naval journey to Rome. Of course, if you recall the challenges of this nautical journey recorded in Acts 27, and all of the changes of route that ended up needing to be made because of the weather (with them ending up on Malta, south of Italy). What Paul anticipates does not take place and the meeting never takes place. This latter view has the strength of Paul’s double encouragement that Titus meet with him quickly (presuming that Artemas and Tychikus are both Paul’s messengers and the ones who will replace Titus in Crete and the admonition that Zenas the lawyer and Apollos also move quickly to meet with Paul, recognizing that the letter has to first travel with the messengers to Crete before these men can act and travel to meet with Paul). Note, too, that Tychikus is from Asia (modern day Turkey), just to the north of Caesarea, which makes it reasonable to presume his interaction with Paul at the point of the letter’s writing.

The other advantage of this position has to do with the people he is asking to come to him. We know nothing of Zenas from the scriptures other than he is a lawyer…or an expert in the law. We know a great deal about Apollos from the scriptures, but what is most important is that he is a man known for his eloquence and his competence in the Jewish Scriptures (Acts 18:24). If perchance, Paul is preparing to mount a legal defense with the impending Roman trial, who better to serve as his lawyers? Remember, one of the Corinthian church’s complaints was that Paul was “unskilled in speaking” (2 Corinthians 11:6).

In the end, both of these views are speculative, though were push come to shove, I would likely lean toward the second, given that Paul is requesting Zenas and Apollos to join him. Either way, it is clear that Paul was planning to head toward Nikopolis, and is not writing from Nikopolis, as he speaks of wintering there.

What we must be careful about is speculating either without sufficient Biblical (or in the case of 1 Clement, historical) grounding or without plain reason. All too often people get lost in speculation. At the same time, the scriptures do not furnish us with an explicit to every question we might ask (as in this case), though it gives us sufficient clues to draw some reasonable conclusions. In addition, the digging we do to find those clues, draws us more deeply into the Word of God, which is always a good thing.

Finally, Paul instructs Titus that Zenas and Apollos have nothing lacking when it comes to their coming to Paul. Paul does not go into detail as to what he is referring — perhaps the resources to get to Nikopolis or perhaps the resources they need to defend Paul at his trial…we just do not know. What we know is that Titus is supposed to equip them to that end (arguably through the church) to come and meet up with Paul.

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