The most important portion of it is supplied by Clement, the disciple of Paul, mentioned Philippians 4:3, who was afterwards Bishop of Rome. This author, writing from Rome to Corinth, expressly asserts that Paul had preached the Gospel "IN THE EAST AND IN THE WEST;" that "he had instructed the whole world [i. e. the Roman Empire, which was commonly so called] in righteousness;" and that he "had gone to THE EXTREMITY OF THE WEST" before his martyrdom.
Now, in a Roman author, the extremity of the West could mean nothing short of Spain, and the expression is often used by Roman writers to denote Spain. Here, then, we have the express testimony of Apostle Paul's own disciple that he fulfilled his original intention (mentioned Romans 15:24 - 28) of visiting the Spanish peninsula; and consequently that he was liberated from his first imprisonment at Rome.
We also have the statement of Chrysostom, who mentions it as an undoubted historical fact, that "Apostle Paul, after his residence in Rome, departed to Spain." About the same time Jerome bears the same testimony, saying that "Paul was dismissed by Nero, that he might preach Christ's Gospel in the West."
Those who doubt the liberation of Apostle Paul from his imprisonment are obliged to resort to a gratuitous hypothesis, or to inconclusive arguments from probability. Thus they try to account for the tradition of the Spanish journey by the arbitrary supposition that it arose from a wish to represent Paul as having fulfilled his expressed intentions (Romans 15:19) of visiting Spain. Or they say that it is improbable Nero would have liberated him after he had fallen under the influence of Poppaea, the Jewish proselyte. Or, lastly, they urge, that, if he had really been liberated, we must have had some account of his subsequent labors.
The first argument listed above needs no answer, being a mere hypothesis. The second, as to the probability of the matter, may be met by the remark, that we know far too little of the circumstances, and of the motives which weighed with Nero, to judge how he would have been likely to act in the case.
To the third argument we may oppose the fact, that we have no account whatever of Apostle Paul's labors, toils, and sufferings, during several of the most active years of his life, and only learn their existence by a casual allusion in a letter to the Corinthians (2Corinthians 11:24, 25). Moreover, if this argument be worth any thing, it would prove that none of the Apostles except Apostle Paul took any part whatever in the propagation of the Gospel after the first few years; since we have no testimony to their subsequent labors at all more definite than that which we have above quoted concerning his work after his liberation.
Consequently, we must acknowledge (unless we deny the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles) that after Paul's Roman imprisonment he was traveling at liberty in Ephesus, (1Timothy 1:3) Crete, (Titus 1:5) Macedonia, (1Timothy 1:3) Miletus, (2Timothy 4:20) and Nicopolis, (Titus 3:12) and that he was afterwards a second time in prison at Rome (2Timothy 1:16, 17).
Freedom to travel
Immediately on his liberation it may reasonably be supposed that he fulfilled the intention which he had lately expressed (Philemon 1:22, and Philippians 2:24), of traveling eastward through Macedonia, and seeking the churches of Asia Minor, some of which, as yet, had not seen his face in the flesh.
We have already learnt, from the Epistle to the Colossians, how much Paul's influence and authority were required among those Asiatic Churches. We must suppose him, therefore, to have gone from Rome by the usual route, crossing the Adriatic from Brundusium to Apollonia, or Dyrrhachium, and proceeding by the great Egnatian road through Macedonia; and we can imagine the joy wherewith he was welcomed by his beloved children at Philippi, when he thus gratified the expectation which he had encouraged them to form.
There is no reason to suppose, however, that Paul lingered in Macedonia. It is more likely that he hastened on to Ephesus, and made that city once more his center of operations. If he effected his purpose, (See Philemon 1:22) he now for the first time visited Colossae, Laodicea, and other churches in that region.
Journey to Spain
Having accomplished the objects of his visit to Asia Minor, he was at length enabled (perhaps in the year following that of his liberation) to undertake his long-meditated journey to Spain. By what route he went, we know not; he may either have traveled by way of Rome, which had been his original intention, or more probably, avoiding the dangers which at this period (in the height of the Neronian persecution) would have beset him there, he may have gone by sea. There was constant commercial intercourse between the East and Massilia (the modern Marseilles); and Massilia was in daily communication with the Peninsula.
The apostle Paul, soon after we find that he had been in Crete (which seems to imply that, on his way thither, he had passed through Ephesus), and was now again on his way westwards.
Shortly after leaving Crete, Apostle Paul sent a letter to Titus, the outline of which would equally serve for that of the preceding Epistle. But Apostle Paul's letter to Titus seems to have been still further called for, to meet some strong opposition which that disciple had encountered while attempting to carry out his master's directions. This may be inferred from the very severe remarks against the Cretans which occur in the Epistle, and from the statement, at its commencement, that the very object which its writer had in view, in leaving Titus in Crete, was that he might appoint Presbyters in the Cretan Churches; an indication that his claim to exercise this authority had been disputed.
We see from the letter to Titus that Titus desired to join Apostle Paul at Nicopolis, where the Apostle designed to winter. It seems most probable, however, that Apostle Paul was not permitted to spend the whole of this winter in security at Nicopolis.
In this melancholy journey he had but few friends to cheer him. Titus had reached Nicopolis, in obedience to his summons; and there were others also, it would seem, in attendance on him; but they were scattered by the terror of his arrest.
Demas forsook him, "for love of this present world," (2Timothy 4:10) and departed to Thessalonians; Crescens went to Galatia on the same occasion. We are unwilling to suppose that Titus could have yielded to such unworthy fears, and may be allowed to hope that his journey to the neighboring Dalmatia was undertaken by the desire of Apostle Paul. Luke, (2Timothy 4:11) at any rate, remained faithful, accompanied his master once more over the wintry sea, and shared the dangers of his imprisonment at Rome.