If the letter to Philemon was written from Ephesus, it is likely that the affectionate epistle to the church at Philippi was also written from the same place. Why? Timothy is included in the address of Philippians (1:1), and it is known that he was Paul’s helper during the early part of the Ephesian ministry (Acts 19:22; 2 Cor. 1:1). However, Timothy was probably not with Paul in Rome. Luke and Aristarchus were the Apostle’s fellow travellers on his voyage (Acts 27:1, 2), and it is quite certain that Timothy was ministering elsewhere when Paul was enduring his last imprisonment in the empire’s capital city as the two Epistles to Timothy witness. He could not be writing an Epistle with Timothy, if he was also writing two epistles to Timothy.
There’s more even to add to this train of thought. While imprisoned at Rome, Paul was at liberty to preach the gospel (Acts 28:30), for he lived in his own hired house. But while undergoing the severe trial to which he refers in his letter to the Philippians, he himself is not free to preach, although others, some with a good attitude and spirit and some with a not so good motive, are preaching the Word (Philippians 1:12 and on). Philippians, therefore, could not have been written in Rome.
There might have been a good reason why he did not go into any kind of detail in Philippians concerning his distress at Ephesus. The Philippians evidently knew the details of “the things which happened” to him (1:12). How do we know that? A regular exchange of letters and personnel was taking place, as was the case when Paul was in Thessalonica (Philippians 4:16). At least one other letter is assumed in Philippians 3:1. Epaphroditus has been sent to them and has returned (Philippians 4:18). Timothy is shortly to follow (2:19). Paul expects to hear again from them soon, to know how they responded to his instruction. It is clear that without DHL or UPS deliveries in Paul’s time, from such a distance as Rome, this regular exchange of correspondence and messengers could hardly be maintained. I believe the phrase is: “logistically impossible!” It’s just common sense, really. In Philippians 2:24 the Apostle expresses his intention, if God allowed him the privilege, to see the church at Philippi himself “shortly.” However, on the presupposition that he was at this time in Rome writing Philippians we have the contradictory clash with his announced plan to visit Spain, already highlighted previously. It doesn’t make sense to think of Rome. An Ephesian imprisonment makes the entire geographic logic of it all, straight forward.
We do not read that, during his first imprisonment at Rome, Paul entertained any fear of an adverse decision. His appeal to Caesar was taken with the confidence that he had done nothing worthy of death. Even the Roman officials agreed on this point (Acts 26:32). But when he writes the Epistle to the Philippians he is in prison (Phil. 1:13), and is apparently facing a crisis which may result in his death (1:21 on). So, again I say, Paul could not have been writing Philippians from Rome. He weighs the advantages of living or dying. He is “in a strait betwixt two.” But he hopes to live, believing that he is needed still in the development of the Macedonian churches. In this “strait” the Christians at Philippi are following his course sympathetically (1:7; 4:14), and send him a present to help him in his time of trial. Note also Paul’s expression, “sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27). I cannot understand the situation any other way. Paul was in prison at Ephesus.
It is true that this thesis (or rather hypothesis) of an imprisonment at Ephesus may be rubbished and denied by the fact that nothing of a specific statement of it appears in the New Testament. But it must be recalled that there is very little related of the events that attended Paul’s three-year ministry at Ephesus.