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Early Church History: Part 9--Paul's First Missionary Journey

Aug 06, 2007

In his History of the Christian Church Philip Schaff assumes (without even attempting to prove it) that the apostle Paul was converted in 37 A.D. But we know from reading the first chapter of Galatians, where Paul gives us some personal history, that after his conversion on the Damascus Road, he fled to Arabia--presumably to Mount Sinai (Jabal al-lawz).

There he prayed and pondered about the relationship between the Old and the New Covenants and how a Christian ought to relate to the law. It was the place of Moses' revelation, as well as the place that Elijah fled.

He returned to Damascus the same year (Gal. 1:17). Then after three years he went to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter, staying with him 15 days (Gal. 1:18). No doubt they discussed the great issue of the day--how the Christians were to relate to non-Jews, as well as the Temple, the law, the sacrifices, and the feasts. Peter no doubt filled him in on the Samaritan revival and the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the uncircumcised Romans, including Cornelius.

All of this would have confirmed and solidified what the Spirit had taught Paul in those three years. From Jerusalem, Paul went to "Syria and Cilicia" (Gal. 1:21), and years later Barnabas found him in Tarsus, the city of his birth (Acts 11:25). Barnabas brought him to Antioch, where the Spirit of God was being poured out, and they remained there about a year (Acts 11:26).

Then came the prophecy through Agabus that there would be a great famine in the world, which, we are told, took place during the reign of Claudius (41-54 A.D.). Relief money was sent to the Jerusalem church by the hand of Paul and Barnabas (and Titus), and this was 14 years from Paul's conversion (Gal. 2:1). When they returned to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were sent out on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:2).

Paul was commissioned to the ministry in 47 A.D., fourteen years after his conversion in the latter part of 33 A.D. This happened to be 490 years after Nehemiah had built the wall around Jerusalem in the 20th year of Artaxerxes (Neh. 5:14), or 445-444 B.C. It was a secondary fulfillment of Daniel's 70 weeks.

This also has great relevance to us today, because the year 2006-2007 is 40 Jubilees (490 x 4 years) from Paul's commission. I believe that this year will prove to be the beginning of another commission of the overcomers following the pattern of Paul.

Paul and Barnabas took John Mark with them on their first missionary journey. They went first to Seleucia, the port city for Antioch, the capital of Syria. They set sail for Cyprus and landed at the city of Salamis. (Cyprus "points" to Antioch on the map.) After sharing the Word at the synagogue there, they crossed the island to Paphos, which was the capital of Cyprus.

The Governor, Sergius Paulus, heard of them and called them to the Governor's Mansion to hear what they had to say (Acts 13:7). They showed Him the word of Christ, but were resisted by a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus (i.e., "Son of Jesus"), also called Elymas, "The Knowing One." Luke calls him also a "sorcerer" (Acts 13:8). Paul spoke the prophetic word of judgment upon Bar-Jesus, and this sorcerer was blinded for a season. This was a prophetic judgment upon the Jewish nation itself, which was divinely blinded ("for a season") for usurping the place of Jesus (i.e., as "bar-Jesus")

Sergius Paulus was impressed by the word and the miracle and became a believer (Acts 13:12). The Governor later preached the word in Gaul. His bones are in an old church at Narbonne, a church dedicated to his memory.

Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark then set sail for Perga, the capital of Pamphilia. (This is on the south central coast of what is now Turkey.) There, John Mark withdrew from the missionary journey and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). There was apparently some sharp disagreement that caused this split. After the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, when it came time for Paul and Barnabas to go on their second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along, but Paul did not think so.

This dispute split them up into two missionary bands by the providence of God. Paul took Silas, and Barnabas took Mark, and they went on separate missionary journeys (Acts 15:37-41). In this way, the Gospel was preached to more people more quickly.

At any rate, back in Pamphilia, Mark left the missionary band, and Paul and Barnabas continued to Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14). This is not the same Antioch as the capital of Syria, from which city they had begun their journey. This is a different Antioch, the capital of Pisidia hundreds of miles to the West.

Here they preached the Word in the synagogue, and the next Sabbath, the place was packed out to hear the Gospel. The governors of the synagogue, of course, were quite upset that the people would come to hear the special speakers, but stayed home when the usual leaders were speaking (Acts 13:45). So they opposed the Gospel.

" (46) And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, It was necessary that the Word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles [ethnos, "nations"]. (47) For thus the Lord has commanded us, "I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth." (48) And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

It seems that it was here in Antioch in Pisidia that the turning point arrived where the missionaries were to focus on non-Jewish people outside of the synagogues. They recognized that this was in fulfillment of the prophecy quoted above from Isaiah 49:6. The Jews had been given the advantage in that the Gospel was preached to them first; but now, because they rejected it, Paul and Barnabas recognized that they were to waste no more precious time, energy, and money beating their heads against the wall. Why preach the word to hardened hearts when there were countless other people waiting to hear the Gospel with gladness?

The Jews then stirred up trouble and succeeded in having Paul and Barnabas expelled (Acts 13:50). They shook the dust off their feet and went to Iconium. They spent some time there, preaching the word in Iconium with mixed results. Some believed, and others did not. Finally, however, those who rejected the word appealed to the civil authorities to have Paul and Barnabas stoned to death. So they fled to Lystra, Derbe, and Lycaonia preaching the word.

At Lystra, a crippled man was healed, and the people thought Barnabas was Jupiter, and thought Paul was Mercury (Acts 14:12). They had to restrain the people from offering sacrifices to them. Then Jews came from Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia to convince the Jews in Lystra that Paul and Barnabas were blasphemers. Barnabas somehow escaped, but Paul was stoned to death outside the city.

Nonetheless, he got up and walked away with Barnabas to the town of Derbe. (Acts 14:19). Here Paul benefited from Stephen's cry of forgiveness in Acts 7:60, as he was being stoned (with Saul/Paul consenting). Stephen forgave, and thus, when Paul was stoned, he was miraculously raised from the dead as the disciples stood around him.

From Derbe they retraced their steps to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia, ordaining elders in each place, and finally returned to Antioch in Syria. There they gave their report on the progress of the Kingdom of God. And there they ran into their next great historic obstacle--this time with the Judaizers.


This is the ninth part of a series titled "Early Church History." To view all parts, click the link below.

Early Church History


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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