Paul is writing the believers in Philippi from Roman while he is under house arrest waiting for his trial before Emperor Nero (Acts 25:10-12; Acts 28:16, 30). There were four levels of being held in Roman custody:
- Imprisonment - Held in a prison cell as Paul was during his second imprisonment in Rome as is seen in Second Timothy. This could be done without chains since the prisoner was held in a locked cell.
- Military Custody – Held under some kind of house arrest or for traveling purposes while chained to a soldier. (Ignatius gives us details of this in a letter written to the church in Rome in 117 AD. See Chapter Five of Ignatius to the Romans HERE.)
- Supervision – Released into the custody of a trusted Roman citizen
- Parole – Released but held accountable for themselves to pay the penalty or to appear in court.
Paul was held under a form of military custody while living in his own rented apartment. People were free to come and go in order to visit Paul or to attend his classes he held over a two year period in Rome in 60-62 AD (Acts 28:30).
Paul was writing to the church in Philippi, a city that was a Roman colony made up of retired Roman soldiers. Paul tells them that the military custody in charge of his house arrest has helped to advance the Gospel.
“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” – Philippians 1:12
Paul refers to his chains and to the soldiers who were holding him in custody when he mentions the “palace guard” who was overseeing his house arrest.
“It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard (Gr. praitorion) and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” – Philippians 1:13
The English phrase “palace guard” is the Greek word praitorion, a word Paul borrowed from the Latin word praetorium, which suggests he was referring to the technical use of the word which would refer to the emperor’s personal bodyguard, the Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guard was the elite troops whose main purpose was to retain the position of the power of the emperor himself rather than lose it to a republican form of government controlled by the Roman senate. The Praetorium Guard had maintained the imperial power in 41 AD by proclaiming and defending Claudius as the emperor after Caligula had been assassinated. These were the elite troops, the honored troops and the last line of defense for the empire.
So, when Paul says, “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard (Praetorium Guard) and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” he is letting the Philippian military personal know that Paul is making headway as an Apostle to the Gentiles with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even with Rome’s most respected division of the military. Even the Praetorium Guard now understands the Gospel, and undoubtedly, some have responded positively by believing in Jesus Christ.
In fact, Paul says, because he is chained to members of the Praetorium Guard and the Praetorium Guard is hearing Paul teach and reason with his visitors concerning Jesus Christ that “most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” So, instead of Paul’s imprisonment being an embarrassment to the Philippian military personal who have become Christians. Paul is telling the Philippians that there are now followers of Christ among the Praetorium Guard itself in 61 AD!