PHYGELUS, PHYGELLUS (fĭ-jĕl'ŭs, Gr. Phygelos). In his second letter to Timothy (1:15) Paul mentions Phygelus and Hermogenes by name as being among those Christians of Asia (western province of Asia Minor) who had turned away from the apostle. From the context (2Tim.1.13-2Tim.1.14) it may be assumed that the apostasy included the repudiation of Paul’s doctrine. If we connect Phygelus with 2Tim.4.16 (“at my first defense, no one came to my support”), we may infer that he, being in Rome, forsook Paul’s personal cause in the Roman courts at a crucial time when his testimony could have meant much for the future of the church. Some scholars feel that Phygelus may also have been one of the leaders of a group of wayward Christians in Rome (Phil.1.15-Phil.1.16).
PHYGELUS fĭ’ jə ləs, fĭ je’ ləs (Φύγελος, G5869, a fugitive [?]; TR, Φύγελλος). A Christian named with Hermogenes as among those in the Rom. province of Asia who “turned away” from Paul in his need (2 Tim 1:15). Their turning away was prob. not a doctrinal defection but rather a fearful refusal to aid Paul. Their action stands in contrast to that of Onesiphorus (q.v.). Some think the repudiation occurred in Rome; more prob. it took place in Asia. It was either at his arrest or when Paul requested their presence as witnesses at his trial in Rome.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
fi-je’-lus, fi-jel’-us (Phugellos; Tischendorf and Westcott and Hort, The 2Ti 1:15); the ): One of the Christians who deserted Paul at the time of his 2nd imprisonment at Rome. Paul mentions him, along with Hermogenes, as being among those "that are in Asia," who turned away from him then. What is meant may be that Phygelus and Hermogenes, along with other native Christians from proconsular Asia, were in Rome when he was brought before the emperor’s tribunal the second time, and that they had not merely taken no measures to stand by and support him, but that they had deserted him.
The meaning, however, may be that the turning away of Phygelus and Hermogenes from Paul took place, not in Rome, but in Asia itself.
The times during and immediately following the Neronic persecution were more dreadful than can easily be conceived, and the temptation was strong to forsake the Christian name, and to do so in a wholesale fashion. A great community like the Christian church in Ephesus or in Rome felt the terrible pressure of those times, when for a mere word--a word, however, denying the Lord who bought them--men were at once set free from persecution, from the loss of property or of home, and from death. 1 Peter records how the aftermath of the Neronic persecution had extended far indeed from Rome, where it had originated. Peter asks the Christians not to give way under "the fiery trial" which is trying them (1Pe 4:12), and those whom he thus addresses were the members of the church throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1Pe 1:1). The epistles to the seven churches in Asia in the Apocalypse also show how sorely persecution had raged throughout that province.
But in addition to the temptation to deny Christ’s name and to go back to heathenism or to Judaism, there was also another which pressed upon some of the churches, the temptation to repudiate the authority of Paul. Many passages in the New Testament show how the name of Paul was sometimes very lightly esteemed, and how his authority was repudiated, e.g. by persons in Corinth, and in the churches of Galatia.
What is said here is, that among the Christians of proconsular Asia, i.e. of Ephesus and the churches in the valley of the Cayster, there was a widespread defection from that loyalty to Paul which was to be expected from those who owed to him all that they possessed of the knowledge of Christ’s salvation. "All that are in Asia turned away from me; of whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes." On the whole, all the necessary conditions of these words are satisfied by a reference to Rome and to Paul’s environment there, and perhaps this is the more probable meaning.