I just finished reading through Acts (I’m in another NT survey class for college) and was again driven back to John McRay’s excellently researched biography on the Apostle Paul (Paul: His Life and Teaching). He has a compelling argument that Paul was in fact not martyred in Rome after his trial before Cesar. McRay writes,
Paul had already appeared before the Roman procurators Felix (Acts 24:24-27) and Festus (Acts 25:7, 25) in Caesarea Maritima, Israel, and they had found no sufficient grounds to accuse him of disloyalty to the Roman Empire. Paul later said, “When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case” (Acts 28:18). He had previously been taken before Gallio, the Roman proconsul in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17), who also did not find Paul guilty of “wrongdoing or vicious crime” (Acts 18:14) and refused to condemn him. By the close of the book of Acts, Paul had been in Rome for two years under house arrest and has not been condemned by Nero. It is likely that Nero was waiting for Paul’s accusers to come from Israel and charge him, but evidently they had not yet come because Jews in Rome told Paul, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brethren coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you” (Acts 28:21).
Gallio’s judgment, it seems to me, was far less sensitive to the politics than Festus and Felix’s investigation. But really, the whole thing was just cracked up. Gallio blew off the charges, Felix stalled around for whatever reason, and Festus jerked him around for political reasons before pulling King Agrippa onto the case.
SIDENOTE: It kind of cracks me up that, after hearing Paul’s case, Agrippa tells Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Festus was the reason Paul appealed to Caesar! Anybody reading through the book of Acts knows beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul had no legal reason to appeal to Caesar other than the fact that Festus really gave him an unfair shake: Festus offered to take Paul to trial in Jerusalem, a place that hated him so violently, a Roman Chiliarch took a battalion of solders to rescue him from a mob (Acts 23). Roman citizenship aside, I’d have rather gone before the Caesar than those guys any day.
Anyway, in a truly fascinating connection, McRae argues,
It is probably that Nero had alreayd hear about his own proconsul Gallio’s trying Paul and finding no guilt in him, because Nero’s court adviser was Seneca, Gallio’s brother, and he undoubtedly would have given Nero the information favorable to Paul derived from his brother.
All of this mounting evidence for Paul’s innocence leads McRay to conclude that, contrary to popular opinion, Paul did not go to Roman in Acts 28 to stand trial and be executed. Citing Eusebius, He writes,
The most likely scenario, then, is that Luke recods nothing furhter about Paul because this is as far as the story had progressed when he composed ACts. The fourth-century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea wriote, “Luke probably wrote the Acts of the Apostles at that time, carrying down his narrative until the time when he was with Paul. We have said this to show that Paul’s martydom was not accomplished during the sojourn in Rome which Luke describes” [Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.22.6…] Hence, there is nothing in Acts that in any way demonstrates a termination of the life and ministry of this great apostle with whom Luke traveled.
I would add that there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Paul was innocent of any crime against the empire so there was no legal reason to kill him. The local governing body in Jerusalem had an interesting case, but that is light years away from any concern a Roman court would have. And McRay also points out,
On the contrary, the Prison Epistles –Colossians (4:3, 10, 18), Philemon (1, 9, 10, 13, 23), Ephesians (3:1; 4:1), AND Phillipains (1:7, 13, 17, 22) –all mention Paul’s imprisonment but with no anticipation of anything but release and a visit to Colossae and Philippi. It is thus most likely that Paul was released from his house arrest in Rome after two years, with no accusers coming to speak against him, and that he subsequently continued his journeys in the Mediterranean world.
[McRay, John. Paul: His Life and Teaching. P. 251]