A brief summary of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys in the Middle East and Europe.
By Mark D. Harris
As Christians read the New Testament, it is easy to forget how much time elapsed between Matthew and Revelation, almost 100 years. Jesus died and rose again around 30 AD, and for two years the church grew, rapidly and in relative peace. The persecution began about 32 AD, and Paul became a Christian in that year. He spent years preaching in Damascus, and then spent quite a bit more time in Arabia before returning to his hometown in Tarsus, Asia Minor. His first missionary journey did not begin until AD 47, covering many cities in Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, and others. After a short return to Jerusalem in AD 49 to help with the Jerusalem Council, Paul left on his second missionary journey. During this mission he wrote Galatians and probably Thessalonians. He began in Asia Minor, but received the call to Macedonia and crossed over into Europe. Paul and his companions ministered in Philippi, where he was imprisoned and beaten, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, where he spoke at the Aeropagus, and Corinth. In 52 AD Paul returned to Syrian Antioch to complete his second journey.
The second half of his missionary career
After a very short delay, Paul’s third missionary journey began in Syrian Antioch (AD 53). He and his colleagues crossed Asia Minor to Ephesus, ministered for three years, wrote Corinthians, and passed in Greece. After a sojourn in Macedonia, he passed back to Asia Minor and into Palestine. Despite repeated warnings that he should avoid Jerusalem, Paul returned there and was imprisoned (AD 57). He was imprisoned at least two years, argued his defense before the Sanhedrin, and argued it again before Felix, Festus and Agrippa. Sometime during this imprisonment he probably penned Romans. Having appealed to Caesar, Paul was taken across the Mediterranean, was shipwrecked on Malta, and was in house arrest in Rome for 2 years. His house arrest gave him the time to write Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians and Philippians. Released from prison in 63, Paul continued to minister and was finally martyred by Nero in around 67 AD.
According to the conversion account in Acts 26, Paul knew from the beginning that he was sent to the Gentiles. From the beginning of His ministry, he preached the gospel to Jewish audiences in synagogues. Before long, he realized that Jews were actively rejecting Christ, and he turned his focus towards the Gentiles (Romans 11).
Historicity of Acts
There has been some debate about the historicity of Acts, but there are many clues in the book proving that, but any reasonable standard, it is a valid historical document. The timing of various monarchs (such as Herod Agrippa) and government officials (such as Festus, Felix, and Caiaphas) in Acts is internally consistent with the rest of Scripture and externally consistent with Josephus and most contemporary history, with few exceptions. Other events, such as Theudas’ revolt, the reigns of the Caesars, and finally the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD help us discover when Paul lived and worked. Tiny clues matter, such as mentions of persecutions.
Paul was adept at using local culture to build a bridge to reach the unbelieving. He spoke Greek and Hebrew, and probably Aramaic and several other languages. He had Timothy circumcised not because Timothy needed it to be saved, but rather to avoid giving offense to the Jews. Paul tailored his message carefully to different audiences, with sermons heavy Old Testament when speaking to religious Jews and sermons referring to Greek thought and even “natural law” on the Aeropagus. Sometimes he abandoned perfectly acceptable activities because he didn’t want to make others stumble. He even supported himself financially with manual labor, a powerful example in Greco-Roman culture which devalued such labor.
The Apostle Paul provides a powerful example today. From his knowledge to his zeal to his consistency, Paul is a model for every believer to emulate. Spreading the gospel was his life, despite beatings, imprisonment, and great adversity. He was not a perfect man, only One was, but Paul demonstrates what a follower of God can do in service to Him.