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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. Greek words translated ‘prison.’-The term φυλακή is almost invariably rendered ‘prison’ in AV_ and RV_. It is also used in a more restricted sense to designate a portion of a prison, in one instance ‘the first and the second ward’ ( Acts 12:10 AV_ and RV_), traversed by the apostle Peter on his way to freedom; in another, ‘the inner prison’ ( Acts 16:24 AV_ and RV_) in which St. Paul and Silas were immured by the Philippian jailer. The word δεσμωτήριον, frequently applied by Attic orators to the prison at Athens, and used in the Acts interchangeably with φυλακή, is translated ‘prison-house’ in the RV_ ( Acts 5:21;  Acts 5:23,  Acts 16:26). The word οἴκημα (‘a room, in a house’), a polite equivalent in Attic Greek for δεσμωτήριον, is used ( Acts 12:7) to denote ‘the cell’ in which the apostle Peter was confined by order of Herod. Another word for prison, τήρησις, translated ‘hold’ (RV_ ‘ward’), is employed in  Acts 4:3 to designate the place of confinement into which the apostles were thrown by the sacerdotal authorities at Jerusalem; also in  Acts 5:18 qualified by the adjective δημοσία (AV_ ‘common prison,’ RV_ ‘public ward’).

2. The prison in apostolic times.-In most of the instances mentioned in the NT, prisons appear to have been a part of buildings mainly devoted to other uses, such as palaces and fortresses, rather than buildings exclusively set apart for the purpose. The system then in vogue differed in this and other respects from the one that largely prevails at the present day. As a rule, prisons were intended not as places of punishment for convicted criminals, but as places of detention for persons awaiting trial, or pending their execution. In support of this view may be cited the imprisonment of the apostles recorded in  Acts 4:3;  Acts 5:18 ff., that of the apostle Peter in  Acts 12:3-10, and that of the apostle Paul at Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome. Among the Jews, as well as among the Greeks and Romans, it was usual to inflict other penalties than imprisonment for offences against law and order, e.g., fines, scourging, death.

In Philippi, which was a Roman colony, the prison into which St. Paul and Silas were cast seems to have been a separate establishment devoted to the purpose. But it is rash to assume that prisons in the provinces were planned on the same principle as the Mamertine prison at Rome. There is nothing to indicate that ‘the inner prison’ in which the Apostle and his companion were incarcerated was a subterranean dungeon. The reference to ‘doors’ ( Acts 16:26) and to the circumstance that the jailer ‘sprang in’ ( Acts 16:29) points to the fact that their portion of the prison was on a level with the other portions. The narrative affords us one of the few glimpses obtainable into the interior of a Roman prison, with its different cells, provided with the inevitable appurtenances of chains and stocks, and its governor’s house above. In  Acts 12:3-10 an interesting glimpse is also given into the interior of the prison in which the apostle Peter was confined at Jerusalem. This was probably a guard-room in the fortress Antonia, situated at the north-west corner of the Temple area, escape from which could be effected only by passing through ‘the first and the second wards,’ lying between it and the iron gate leading into the city. The place of custody to which the apostles were committed by the Temple guard ( Acts 4:1-3;  Acts 5:18 ff.) was probably attached to the Temple or high priest’s palace, as it would appear to have been adjacent to the court in which the Sanhedrin subsequently met for the trial.

Among the evidences which St. Paul adduces of his pre-eminence in suffering is his ‘more frequent’ confinement ‘in prisons’ ( 2 Corinthians 11:23). Besides his imprisonment at Philippi and other unrecorded instances which preceded the writing of 2 Cor., he became painfully familiar with custody in prison and out of prison at subsequent dates. (1) As the result of the riot in the Temple, set on foot by the fanatical Jews of Asia, he was consigned for a time to the barracks (παρεμβολή, AV_ and RV_ ‘castle’) connected with the fortress Antonia ( Acts 21:34), the scene of St. Peter’s imprisonment at an earlier date. (2) The discovery of the plot aiming at his assassination led to his being transferred to Caesarea, where he was detained for upwards of two years in the praetorium of Herod, now the residence of the procurator ( Acts 23:35). Here the strictness of his confinement was sufficiently relaxed to admit of his friends having free access to him. (3) On his being transferred to Rome, as the result of his appeal to Caesar, a still larger measure of liberty was granted him. ‘He dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him’ ( Acts 28:30). (4) If we are to assume a second imprisonment at Rome-a subject still under discussion-it seems not unlikely, judging from references in 2 Tim., that he was subjected to severer treatment. According to tradition, his place of custody was the Mamertine prison, in the lower dungeon of which, known as the Tullianum, prisoners condemned for crimes against the State were executed.

3. Metaphorical use of ‘prison.’-The word ‘prison’ is applied in a figurative sense (1) to the place of confinement of the spirits ‘which were disobedient … in the days of Noah’ ( 1 Peter 3:19 f.; cf.  Genesis 6:2-4)._ These are probably to be identified with ‘the angels which kept not their first estate,’ declared in Jude ( Judges 1:6) to be ‘reserved in everlasting chains under darkness to the judgment of the great day,’ and with ‘the angels that sinned,’ who are ‘consigned to Tartarus’ ( 2 Peter 2:4, ταρταρώσας), as distinguished from Gehenna, ‘to be reserved unto judgment.’ The allusion in all these passages appears to be to the Book of Enoch, which represents the fallen angels as undergoing temporary punishment (in Tartarus, xix. 1-3; cf. xx. 2) until the day of their final doom. (2) The term ‘prison’ is also applied to ‘the bottomless pit’ (RV_ ‘the abyss’), in which Satan is bound a thousand years ( Revelation 20:7; cf. v. 1).

Literature.-artt._ ‘Carcer’ in Smith’s DGRA_2, 1875, ‘Prison’ in McClintock-Strong’s Bibl. Cyclopaedia, viii. [1879], in HDB_ iv. [1902], and DCG_ ii. [1908]. For instances of imprisonment in the life of St. Paul, see Lives by Conybeare-Howson (new ed., 1877), F. W. Farrar (1897), and others.

W. S. Montgomery.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

Prison . Imprisonment, in the modern sense of strict confinement under guard, had no recognized place as a punishment for criminals under the older Hebrew legislation (see Crimes and Punishments, § 9 ). The first mention of such, with apparently legal sanction, is in the post-exilic passage   Ezra 7:26 . A prison, however, figures at an early period in the story of Joseph’s fortunes in Egypt, and is denoted by an obscure expression, found only in this connexion, which means ‘the Round House’ (  Genesis 39:20;   Genesis 39:23;   Genesis 40:3;   Genesis 40:5 ). Some take the expression to signify a round tower used as a prison, others consider it ‘the Hebraized form of an Egyptian word’ (see Driver, Com. in loc. ). Joseph had already found that a disused cistern was a convenient place of detention (  Genesis 37:24; see Pit). The same word ( bôr ) is found in   Exodus 12:29 and   Jeremiah 37:16 in the expression rendered by AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘dungeon’ and ‘dungeon house’ respectively; also alone in   Jeremiah 38:8 ,   Zechariah 9:11 .

The story of Jeremiah introduces us to a variety of other places of detention, no fewer than four being named in  Jeremiah 37:15-16 , although one, and perhaps two, of these are later glosses. Rigorous imprisonment is implied by all the four. The first ‘prison’ of   Jeremiah 37:15 EV [Note: English Version.] denotes literally ‘the house of bonds,’ almost identical with the Philistine ‘prison house,’ in which Samson was bound ‘with fetters of brass’ (  Judges 16:21;   Judges 16:25 ). The second word rendered ‘prison’ in   Jeremiah 37:15 (also   Jeremiah 37:4;   Jeremiah 37:18 ,   Jeremiah 52:31 and elsewhere) is a synonym meaning ‘house of restraint.’ The third is the ‘dungeon house’ above mentioned, while the fourth is a difficult term, rendered ‘cabins’ by AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , ‘cells’ by RV [Note: Revised Version.] . It is regarded by textual students, however, as a gloss on the third term, as the first is on the second.

Jeremiah had already had experience of an irksome form of detention, when placed in the stocks ( Jeremiah 20:2; cf.   Acts 16:24 ), an instrument which, as the etymology shows, compelled the prisoner to sit in a crooked posture.   2 Chronicles 16:10 mentions a ‘house of the stocks’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.]; EV [Note: English Version.] ‘prison house’), while   Jeremiah 29:26 associates with the stocks (so RV [Note: Revised Version.] for AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘prison’) an obscure instrument of punishment, variously rendered ‘shackles’ (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), ‘pillory’ ( Oxf. Heb. Lex .), and ‘collar’ (Driver). The last of these is a favourite Chinese form of punishment.

In NT times Jewish prisons doubtless followed the Greek and Roman models. The prison into which John the Baptist was thrown ( Matthew 14:3;   Matthew 14:10 ) is said by Josephus to have been in the castle of Machærus. The prison in which Peter and John were put by the Jewish authorities (  Acts 4:3 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘hold,’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ward’) was doubtless the same as ‘the public ward’ of   Acts 5:18 RV [Note: Revised Version.] (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘common prison’). St. Paul’s experience of prisons was even more extensive than Jeremiah’s (  2 Corinthians 6:5 ), varying from the mild form of restraint implied in   Acts 28:30 , at Rome, to the severity of ‘the inner prison’ at Philippi (  Acts 16:24 ), and the final horrors of the Mamertine dungeon.

For the crux interpretum ,   1 Peter 3:19 , see art. Descent into Hades.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [3]

 Psalm 142:7 (b) This type represents the soul that is held in bondage by doubts and fears. He has not been set free either by Christ (  John 8:36), nor by the truth (  John 8:32).

 Isaiah 42:7 (b) The type in this passage represents the soul that is held in the grip of sin by the Devil. (See  Matthew 12:29).

 Isaiah 53:8 (a) This refers to the fact that our Lord Jesus was bound by His enemies in Gethsemane, and was kept as a prisoner until He was nailed to the Cross.

 Isaiah 61:1 (b) Our Lord indicates that the unsaved are so bound by their sins and by black darkness in their lives that they are unable to see GOD's way, nor live according to GOD's plan. They have not been set free either by the Word of GOD, or by the Son of GOD. They are help captive by the will of the Devil, as CHRIST describes in  Luke 11:21.

 1 Peter 3:19 (a) The word is used to describe hell. In the Old Testament hell consisted of two places. One place was a place of comfort, and those in that place were called prisoners of hope, as in  Zechariah 9:12. They knew they would be delivered by the Lord JESUS after He put their sins away at Calvary. He did so and "led captivity captive." The other section of hell is a place of torment or punishment and no one who enters there is ever delivered. It is a permanent prison, from which there is no escape. (See also  Isaiah 24:22;  Isaiah 42:7;  Isaiah 61:1;  Luke 4:18).

Morrish Bible Dictionary [4]

In Egypt, in Babylon, among the Romans, and doubtless in most other nations, these were used as places in which to secure prisoners. Joseph was cast into prison, and his feet were hurt with fetters ( Psalm 105:18 ), though it does not appear that there was any trial as to the crime of which he was accused. God interfered on his behalf, and made the keeper or jailor favourable to him, and he committed all the prisoners into Joseph's care. This was the royal prison, but the condition of the place is not known: he called it 'the dungeon.'

Jeremiah was confined in 'the court of the prison,' a place to which the Jews could come and where they could converse with him.  Jeremiah 32:2-12 . Jehoiachin was in prison in Babylon.  Jeremiah 52:31 . The prison at Jerusalem, under the Romans, is more fully described. Peter was bound by two chains, and lay asleep between two soldiers. It was under military rule, and the soldiers were responsible for the safety of the prisoners. The angel conducted Peter through the first and second guard to the outer iron gate that led into the city. This shows what is meant by the 'inner prison' mentioned elsewhere.  Acts 12 . At Philippi there was a jailor who was responsible for the safety of the prisoners. He, supposing some had escaped, was about to destroy himself, when Paul stopped him.  Acts 16:23-27 .

Fallen angels are said to be kept in 'everlasting chains,'  Jude 6; and there are spirits which are kept in prison.  1 Peter 3:19 . The abyss in which Satan is to be shut up for the thousand years is also called a prison, which may refer to the same place.  Revelation 20:7 .

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [5]

God has given governments the right to send law-breakers to prison ( Romans 13:4), but he forbids brutal or excessive punishments. The punishment must be in proportion to the crime ( Exodus 21:23-25).

In Bible times all sorts of places were used as prisons. In some cases there were official state prisons ( Genesis 39:20;  2 Kings 17:4;  Mark 6:17;  Acts 12:4;  Acts 16:24), though in other cases a prisoner may have been locked in the soldiers’ barracks at the palace ( Jeremiah 32:2), dropped into an old disused well ( Jeremiah 38:6), or kept under guard in a private house ( Acts 28:16;  Acts 28:30). Often the prison conditions were bad ( Jeremiah 37:18-20), the food poor ( 2 Chronicles 18:26) and the treatment cruel ( Judges 16:21;  Judges 16:25;  Jeremiah 52:11;  Ezekiel 19:9).

Such conditions were not as common in Israel as in neighbouring countries, because the law of Moses encouraged respect for justice and human life. The guilty were to be punished, but they were not to be degraded ( Deuteronomy 25:3; cf.  Numbers 15:34). (For further details see Punishment .)

Easton's Bible Dictionary [6]

 Genesis 39:20-23

The Mosaic law made no provision for imprisonment as a punishment. In the wilderness two persons were "put in ward" ( Leviticus 24:12;  Numbers 15:34 ), but it was only till the mind of God concerning them should be ascertained. Prisons and prisoners are mentioned in the book of ( Psalm 69:33;  79:11;  142:7 ). Samson was confined in a Philistine prison ( Judges 16:21,25 ). In the subsequent history of Israel frequent references are made to prisons ( 1 Kings 22:27;  2 Kings 17:4;  25:27,29;  2 Chronicles 16:10;  Isaiah 42:7;  Jeremiah 32:2 ). Prisons seem to have been common in New Testament times ( Matthew 11:2;  25:36,43 ). The apostles were put into the "common prison" at the instance of the Jewish council ( Acts 5:18,23;  8:3 ); and at Philippi Paul and Silas were thrust into the "inner prison" (16:24; comp 4:3; 12:4,5).

Smith's Bible Dictionary [7]

Prison. [For imprisonment as a punishment, see Punishments.] It is plain that in , special places were used as prisons, and that they were under the custody of a military officer.  Genesis 40:3;  Genesis 42:17. During the wandering in the desert, we read, on two occasions, of confinement, "in ward" -  Leviticus 24:12;  Numbers 15:34, but as imprisonment was not directed by the law, so we hear of none, till the time of the kings, when the prison appears as an appendage to the palace, or a special part of it.  1 Kings 22:27.

Private houses were sometimes used as places of confinement. By the Romans, the tower of Antoni, was used as a prison at Jerusalem,  Acts 23:10, and at Caesarea, the praetorium of Herod. The royal prisons, in those days, were doubtless managed after the Roman fashion, and chains, fetters and stocks were used as means of confinement. See  Acts 16:24. One of the readiest places for confinement was a dry or partially-dry wall or pit.  Jeremiah 35:6-11.

King James Dictionary [8]

PRISON, n. priz'n. L. prendo.

1. In a general sense, any place of confinement or involuntary restraint but appropriately, a public building for the confinement or safe custody of debtors and criminals committed by process of law a jail. Originally, a prison, as Lord Coke observes, was only a place of safe custody but it is now employed as a place of punishment. We have state-prisons, for the confinement of criminals by way of punishment. 2. Any place of confinement or restraint.

The tyrant Aeolus,

With power imperial curbs the struggling winds,

And sounding tempests in dark prisons binds.

3. In Scripture, a low, obscure, afflicted condition.  Ecclesiastes 4 4. The cave where David was confined.  Psalms 142 5. A state of spiritual bondage.  Isaiah 42

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [9]

In the common acceptation of the word, we generally understand by a prison a place of confinement for the body; but in Scripture language there is added to this view of a prison a state of captivity to the soul. Hence the Lord Jesus is said to be come to open the prison doors, and to bring sinners from the captivity of sin and Satan. Believers are sometimes said to be in prison-frames when, from looking off from Jesus, they get into a dark and comfortless state, and are in bondage to their own unbelieving hearts. And when at any time the soul of a poor buffeted child of God is again delivered by some renewed manifestation of the Lord Jesus, when he is brought out of the prison house, he is constrained to cry out,"O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid; thou hast loosed my bonds." ( Psalms 116:16)

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(1): ( n.) A place where persons are confined, or restrained of personal liberty; hence, a place or state o/ confinement, restraint, or safe custody.

(2): ( n.) Specifically, a building for the safe custody or confinement of criminals and others committed by lawful authority.

(3): ( v. t.) To imprison; to shut up in, or as in, a prison; to confine; to restrain from liberty.

(4): ( v. t.) To bind (together); to enchain.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [11]

is represented in the A. V. by the following Heb. and Gr. words:

1. אֵסוּר , Aramaic for אסֵוּר , "a chain," is joined with בֵּית , and rendered a prison (Sept. Οῖκος Δεσμῶν ; Vulg. Carcer ).

2. כְּלוּא כֶלֵא , and כְּלִיא , with בֵּית (Sept. Οῖκος Φυλακῆς ;  Jeremiah 37:15).

3. מִהְפֶּכֶת , from הָפִךְ , "turn," or "twist," the stocks ( Jeremiah 20:2).

4. מִטָּרָה and מִטָּרָא ; Φυλαςή ; Carcer (Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 879).

5. מִסְגֵּר ; Δεσμωτήριον ; Carcer .

6. מִשְׁמָר ; Φυλακή ; custodia; also intens. מִשְׁמֵרֶת ; A.V. "hard."

7. עֹצֶר ; angustia; Ταπείνωσις (Gesenius, p. 1059).

8. פְּקִהאּקיֹח ( Isaiah 61:1), more properly written in one word; Ἀνάβλεψις ; apestio (Gesenius, p. 1121).

9. סֹהִר ; Ὀχύρωνα ; Carcer : properly a tower.

10. בֵּיתאּהִפְּקֻדֹּת ; Οἰκία Μύλωνος ; Domus Carceris . בִּיִת is also sometimes "prison" in the A.V. as  Genesis 39:20.

11. צִינֹק ; Καταῤῥάκτης ; carcer; probably "the stocks" (as in the A.V.) or some such instrument of confinement; perhaps understood by the Sept. as a sewer or underground passage.

12. In the N.T. Δεσμωτήριον , Οἴκημα , Τήρησις , usually Φυλακή .

In Egypt it is plain both that special places were used as prisons, and that they were under the custody of a military officer ( Genesis 40:3;  Genesis 42:17). During the wandering in the desert we read on two occasions of confinement "in ward" ( Leviticus 24:12;  Numbers 15:34); but as imprisonment was not directed by the law, so we hear of none till the time of the kings, when the prison appears as an appendage to the palace, or a special part of it ( 1 Kings 22:27). Later still it is distinctly described as being in the king's house ( Jeremiah 32:2;  Jeremiah 37:21;  Nehemiah 3:25). This was the case also at Babylon ( 2 Kings 25:27). But private houses were sometimes used as places of confinement ( Jeremiah 37:15), probably much as Chardin describes Persian prisons in his day, viz. houses kept by private speculators for prisoners to be maintained there at their own cost ( Voy . 6:100). Public prisons other than these, though in use by the Canaanitish nations ( Judges 16:21;  Judges 16:25), were unknown in Judaea previous to the captivity. Under the Herods we hear again of royal prisons attached to the palace, or in royal fortresses ( Luke 3:20;  Acts 12:4;  Acts 12:10; Josephuts, Ant. 18:5, 2; Machzerus). By the Romans Antonia was used as a prison at Jerusalem ( Acts 23:10), and at Caesarea the praetorium of Herod ( Acts 23:35). The sacerdotal authorities also had a prison under the superintendence of special officers, Δεσμφύλακες ( Acts 5:18-23;  Acts 8:3;  Acts 26:10). The royal prisons in those days were doubtless managed after the Roman fashion, and chains, fetters, and stocks were used as means of confinement (see 16:24, and  Job 13:27). One of the readiest places for confinement was a dry, or partially dry, well or pit (see  Genesis 37:24, and  Jeremiah 38:6-11); but the usual place appears, in the time of Jeremiah, and in general, to have been accessible to visitors ( Jeremiah 36:5;  Matthew 11:2;  Matthew 25:36;  Matthew 25:39;  Acts 24:23). Smith. From the instance of the Mamertine Prison at Rome (q.v.), in which the apostle Paul (q.v.) is said to have been confined, many have rashly assumed that the Roman prisons generally were subterranean; but at Thessalonica at least, even "the inner prison" ( Acts 16:24) seems to have been on the ground-floor ("doors,"  Acts 16:26; "sprang in,"  Acts 16:29). (See Dungeon).

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [12]