Paul, Missionary Journeys
PAUL, MISSIONARY JOURNEYS
Of all the great wayfarers of antiquity, the journeys of Paul of Tarsus (see paul, apostle, st.) are among the best documented. His travels by land and sea in the Roman dominated eastern regions of the Mediterranean during the relatively peaceful era of the Pax Romana are most reliably reconstructed by placing primary reliance upon those epistles judged authentically his (Rom, 1–2 Cor, Gal, Phil, 1 Thess, Phlm). The traditions about Paul's movement in the deutero-Pauline letters function as secondary sources and must be critically evaluated for possible supplementary data. The massive material about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles functions as a secondary source, one most difficult to assess, since its author, Luke, clearly knew much about Paul. Luke implies that he had at times traveled with Paul (see the so-called we-passages in Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16), yet he often gives (or appears to omit) information that does not correlate with Paul's letters.
Paul has long been described (and mapped) as having made three missionary journeys, followed by a fourth as a prisoner, nevertheless indomitably still preaching, when taken under custody to Rome. The superimposition of the three-journey structure upon Paul's life and travels, derived by interpreters of Acts, wherein it is merely implicit in 13:1–14:28; 15:36–18:22 and 18:23–21:14, can be used as a convenient aid for readers of the NT to organize their own understanding of the biblical text (see Brown, 431). This should be recognized as an artificial device that affects how Paul is seen. For example, the division into journeys, in which the demarcation between the second and the third (18:22–23) is not very clear, suggests that Paul's point of initial departure and final return was consistently Antioch, thus that the Antiochene church was his home base. Yet it is uncertain that Paul considered himself so integrally linked to that church, especially after his controversy with Peter there (Gal 2:11–14).
If the conventional three-journey structure has its drawbacks in sketching Paul the missionary traveler, its helpfulness and ongoing widespread use as a framework for his post-Damascus Road years should be balanced with the apostle's own description of what he was doing. Paul's imagery divides his life into two periods rather than a sequence of journeys. In Gal 1 he speaks of a time denoted as "my earlier life in Judaism" (1:14), which he says ended "when God … was pleased to reveal his Son to me …" (1:16). In Phil 3 he describes what he was doing after that revelation as "straining forward to what lies ahead" (3.13), "press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ" (3:14), his goal being "to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings" (3:10) so that he Paul, too, might "attain the resurrection of the dead" (3:11). The resurrection of the righteous dead by God was a belief that Paul as a Pharisee must have held. Resurrection, however, had become for him, once "Christ Jesus had made [Paul] his own" (3:12), attainable not by a righteousness based on the Mosaic law, but by "a righteousness … that comes through faith in Christ," (3:9). As he announced that faith far and wide, Paul unabashedly set forth that he was "not ashamed of the gospel … the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom 1:16).
In Paul's Philippian imagery of pressing on and straining toward completion, expressed as well in Gal 2:2 where he describes his evangelizing work as "running," which he hoped was not "in vain," he sees himself as one always moving urgently ahead, yet not without the great effort of struggling on many levels. It is possible that this language of progressing toward a goal was among Paul's most frequently used and best remembered metaphors for himself since the deutero-Pauline writer of 2 Tim 4:7 represents him as saying near the close of his life: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race." This picture which emerges of Paul the runner, ever contending to stay on course and struggling even against great odds, is not incompatible with a supposed journey structure. Yet Paul's own imagery more vividly conveys a sense of relentless effort in evangelization, even when sidetracked by opposition, his own sickness, disputes with other co-religionists and co-workers, and imprisonment.
Various chronologies compete in dating the events in Paul's life (see Roetzel, 178–183). In spite of the widespread disagreement about timing, the sequence of activity in Paul's cursus vitae is generally similar, a major exception being the question of whether the Jerusalem conference (see jerusalem, council of) preceded or followed the travels described in Acts 15:35–18:22, the "second journey." A traditional chronology and sequence is relied upon here (see e.g. Brown, 428–429; Fitzmyer, 1330–1337; cf. Murphy-O'Connor, 1–31).
After Damascus (Gal 1:16) . Following his Damascus Road experience (c. 36 a.d.) and probably a brief period in Damascus itself, Paul went to Arabia, i.e. Nabatea (Gal 1:17). There he apparently preached on behalf of the risen Jesus, not only to other Jews living there but to Nabateans as well (see Hengel/Schwemer, Paul, 106–113), and in doing so stirred up opposition from the Nabatean king, Aretas IV. Paul returned to Damascus, remaining there for three years (Gal 1:18) until he was forced to escape when Aretas, into whose jurisdiction Damascus had passed under the Emperor Caligula (37–41), tried to arrest him. Paul proceeded to Jerusalem (c. 39), where he stayed with Cephas (see peter, apostle, st.) for fifteen days and says he met no other apostle except James, the brother of the Lord (Gal 1:18–19). Paul's perspective is that he was unknown by sight to the churches of Judea at this time (Gal 1:22) (whether he intends "Judea" to include Jerusalem is not evident). Acts 9:26–30, however, offers a picture of Paul briefly preaching in Jerusalem and encountering problems that led members of the church to escort him to Caesarea Maritima, where they sent him off to his home city of Tarsus in Cilicia. Paul partially confirms the latter element of the Acts narrative in his statement that following this time in Jerusalem he "went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia … proclaiming the faith" (Gal 1:21–22). This period, (see Hengel/Schwemer, passim) during which Paul's activities are not known, has generally been dated from c. 40–44.
In the absence of further information from Paul himself concerning the next five years (c. 44–49), Acts 11:25–26 supplies this scenario: Barnabas went to Tarsus and recruited Paul to minister in the church at Antioch, where he did so for a year (c. 44–45), a year which was followed by or included a visit with Barnabas to Jerusalem to deliver famine relief (11:27–30). This Jerusalem visit, which Acts places about five years after Paul's prior one, is hard to reconcile with Paul's statement in Gal 2:1 that his second trip to Jerusalem in his Christian period was fourteen years after the first, i.e. after his return to Jerusalem following the Damascus Road event.
Proclaiming the Gospel among the Gentiles (Gal 2:2): Paul's "First" Journey. Acts 13:1–3 states that as a result of prayer and fasting in the church at Antioch, the prophets and teachers there determined that the Holy Spirit had set apart and called barnabas and Paul to do certain work. The Antiochene believers therefore "laid their hands on them" (13:3) and sent them off. John Mark (see mark, evangelist, st.), the cousin of Barnabas, went with them. Because Barnabas's name is mentioned before Paul's throughout the Acts narrative up to this point, Barnabas is assumed to have been the senior partner (Daniels, 610).
Barnabas, Paul, and John Mark sailed from the seaport of Seleucia (16 miles west of Antioch) to Salamis in Cyprus, and thence went to the extreme west of the island to the capital city of Paphos. There they contended with a villainous magician, Elymas, and after temporarily blinding him, converted the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus. In Acts more prominence is from this point on accorded to Paul. In 13:13 the group of missionaries is denoted as "Paul and his companions" and Paul is then named before Barnabas several times (13:43, 46, 50). The crowds are also said to have recognized Paul as "the chief speaker" (14:12).
From Paphos the three sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John Mark left to return to Jerusalem (13:13). Acts does not specify John Mark's reasons but does imply that Paul considered this a desertion (15:38). He and Barnabas then continued on to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Because of the opposition they encountered in the synagogues, both said, "We are now turning to the Gentiles" (13:46). From Derbe they retraced their steps through Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, and Perga, setting sail from Attalia for the journey back to Syrian Antioch.
This course has come to be called the "first journey" (13:4–14:28) and widely dated c. 46–49. While Paul's undisputed letters give no information about such a journey, he mentions in 2 Cor 11:25 that he was once stoned, which accords with the report that this happened to him in Lystra (Acts 14:19). Further correlation is found in Gal 2:2, where Paul indicates that he had preached to the Gentiles before the Jerusalem meeting (c. 49), confirming that the debate over the integration of the Gentiles into the Jesus movement was an issue from his earliest evangelizing period.
Paul in Jerusalem (Gal 2:2) . In the Acts narrative, Paul and Barnabas are said to have returned to Antioch only to encounter "no small dissension and debate"(15:2) with certain individuals, presumably pharisees (15:5), Judaizing believers who had come there from Judea. The controversy concerned the conversion of Gentiles and the Mosaic requirement of circumcision. Paul, Barnabas, and others were appointed to go to Jerusalem to discuss this with the apostles and elders (15:2). The resulting meeting, which has come to be called the Council of Jerusalem and dated c. 49, is recounted in Acts 15:6–29. Scholarship has widely, though by no means unanimously, judged Paul's account in Gal 2:1–10 to be of the same event, for both narratives include the involvement of Paul, James the brother of the Lord, and Peter, and both involve a group opposed to Paul and holding that the converted Gentiles should be circumcised.
In Paul's perception the meeting resulted with recognition from the leaders, the "acknowledged pillars" (Gal 2:9), that Paul "had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised" (2:7), i.e. those who once they became Christian would remain uncircumcised, and that even his Gentile companion and apparent co-worker in evangelization, Titus, was not compelled to be circumcised (2:3). Acts 15 correlates with the decision for non-imposition of circumcision upon the Gentiles but describes a letter sent from Jerusalem to Antioch stipulating that believers of Gentile origin in Syria and Cilicia were to observe certain food laws. Paul himself expresses no knowledge of this letter and certainly promotes no stipulations concerning food eaten by believers in his later ministry (see e.g. 1 Cor 8).
The accounts of the Jerusalem conference in both Gal and Acts agree that upon its close Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch. What is strikingly missing from Acts, yet very prominent in Paul's narrative in Gal 2:12–14, is that shortly after the conference Paul had a major public conflict in Antioch with Peter and with Barnabas, who sided with Peter. At issue, at least from Paul's perspective, which is the only one available to us, was Peter's inconsistency in sometimes eating with Gentile believers and at other times, notably when members of the Jerusalem circumcision party were present, eating only with the Jewish Christians. While it is difficult to reconstruct all the dynamics Paul saw at work in this event, it is widely thought that he must have lost the battle about food laws at Antioch since, from that time on, Antioch's role as the base of his missionary operations receded (Brown, 432).
En Route to Illyricum (Rom 15:19): The "Second" and "Third" Journeys . The missionary activity of Paul described in Acts 15:40–21:15, covering the years of c. 50–58, is commonly divided in to the "Second" (15:40–18:22) and "Third" Journeys (18:23–21:15). Paul himself subsumes his activities of these years into a general description covering all of his evangelizing. He envisioned an arc extending from Judea north and west around the Mediterranean, reaching to the Dalmatian coast on the northeastern shores of the Adriatic Sea. Paul alludes to this in writing to the churches of Rome (c. 58), which he had not yet visited. He comments that up to that time in his life "from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum I have finished preaching the gospel of Christ" (Rom 15:19). This could have been meant literally, or it may have been Paul's way of saying that he had evangelized from East to West, since neither the epistles nor Acts indicate that he had actually made it to Illyricum by 58. Either way, Paul perceived that he had covered a vast amount of territory, and both his own letters and Acts 15:40–21:15 support extensive traveling in the years after the Jerusalem conference and his conflict with Peter at Antioch.
While Paul does not tell of his next move after the confrontation over table fellowship with Peter (and Barnabas), Acts 15:36–39 says that after the Jerusalem conference he invited Barnabas to make a return journey to the people they had earlier converted. In agreeing, Barnabas suggested enlisting John Mark again, but Paul refused to take someone who had not been dependable. Thus, he and Barnabas parted company. The tenor of this information from Acts 15:36–39 is corroborated by Paul's remark in Gal 2:13 about Barnabas's apparent hypocrisy at the table fellowship, namely, that it was during their return to Antioch after the council of Jerusalem that Paul and Barnabas had serious disagreements that precluded their continuing ministry together. Acts 15:41 says that Paul chose silas, whom he called Silvanus (1 Thes 1:1; 2 Cor 1:19), to travel with him. The two went through Syria and Cilicia to the churches of southeastern Asia Minor that Paul and Barnabas had previously established. In Lystra Paul converted Timothy, who then joined him and Silas as they went north "through the region of Phrygia and Galatia" (Acts 16:6), probably meaning the area northwest of Iconium. Acts 16:6–7 makes the enigmatic statements that they had been "forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia" and that when they attempted to go into Bithynia "the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them" so that instead they went to the coast at Troas. A choice to make haste, or a divine restriction they felt imposed upon them, or some other reason to not missionize in certain areas they traversed may be reflected in Paul's later comment to the Galatians: "You know that it was [only?] because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you" (Gal 4:13).
From Troas, via the island of Samothrace, Paul and his co-workers crossed over to Macedonia. Reaching the port of Neapolis, they went into the nearby city of Philippi, and thence, following the Egnatian Way (Via Egnatia), to Amphipolis, Apollonia, and Thessalonica. If Paul had continued west along this major Roman route as far as the Adriatic coast at Dyrrhachium, he would have been just south of the border of Illyricum. Nothing in his own letters nor in Acts, however, suggests this extended journey west either at this point nor later in his travels (see below) when he retraced his Egnatian route, although this would have been Paul's obvious route to Illyricum. The Acts' traditions instead indicate that Paul departed from the Egnatian Way at Thessalonica and went southwest to Beroea. Then, leaving Silas and Timothy behind, Paul went to the coast and shipped out to Athens. After preaching there with little success, he went on to Corinth, where Silas and Timothy eventually joined him. The tradition in Acts 18:12–17 that in Corinth Paul was brought before Gallio, the Roman proconsul of Achaia, has become the pivotal point in determining Pauline chronology since Gallio's proconsulship can be dated to a relatively narrow period, i.e. c. June through October of 51. The 18 months Paul is said to have stayed in Corinth (Acts 18:11) are therefore generally assessed as falling with the years 51–52.
Because Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (1 Thess) during his months in Corinth and would later write to the Philippians (Phil) and the Corinthians (1–2 Cor), a large legacy of his own literary evidence exists to illuminate this period and to compare it with the narrative of the same time in Acts 16:11–18:17. Within the limitations of this brief overview, it is important to point out that these were the travels in which Paul met and, in some cases converted, various important church leaders and some of his prominent co-workers, such as Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:14–15; 40), Prisca and Aquila in Corinth (Acts 18:1–4), and probably at this time as well, Phoebe, who lived in the Corinthian port of Cenchreae (Rom 16:1–3) (see F. Gillman, passim).
Paul had worked at his trade of tent-making along with prisca and aquila (a practice of self-support he followed throughout his missionary years). When he decided to leave Corinth in 52 to return to Syria, Prisca and Aquila left as well. They accompanied him as far as ephesus. Paul sailed on to Caesarea Maritima, while Prisca and Aquila stayed in Ephesus (Acts 18:19), where they led a church (1 Cor 16:19). It was during their Ephesian tenure that the eloquent, but theologically misinformed Apollos of Alexandria visited that city and preached. Prisca and Aquila corrected Apollos and became his references when he moved on to Corinth to address the Christians there (Acts 18:26–28). His presence in Corinth would eventually lead to factions in the church, a problem over the years for Paul (1 Cor 1:12).
Acts 18:22 says that after Paul's arrival in Caesarea he went to Jerusalem to greet the church and then proceeded on to Antioch. Because Acts 18:23 says he spent "some time" in Antioch (between 53–54), and because that city had earlier been his base of operations, this Antiochene "break" has become the conventional separation between the second and third journeys. But seeing an end to one trip and the beginning of another here is merely an interpretative perspective. In any case, Paul moved on, once more visiting galatia (confirmed by Gal 4:13 which implies that Paul made at least two visits there) and Phrygia, and then settling for a long period (c. 54–57) in Ephesus (see 1 Cor 16:8–9 and compare with Acts 19:1–20:1).
Much of Paul's known correspondence derives from this Ephesian period. It is widely held that he wrote galatians (c. 54) rather early in his stay. Much of Pauline scholarship would also place the writing of philippians and philemon from this city as well. If that judgment is accurate, since both letters were written when Paul was imprisoned, the suspicion that 1 Cor 15:32 and 2 Cor 11: 23–26 allude to an Ephesian period of incarceration for Paul would be validated. Paul's extensive correspondence with the corinthians, with whom he was involved in multiple serious disagreements, also began in Ephesus, from which he certainly wrote 1 Corinthians (c. 57; cf. 1 Cor 16:8) and probably the so-called "former" (1 Cor 5:9) and "tearful" letters (2 Cor 2:4). Paul may also have made a brief visit under painful circumstances to the Corinthians in this period (2 Cor 2:1).
Acts 19:8–10 situates Paul's preaching in Ephesus first in a synagogue, where he spoke out boldly for three months (19:8). In the face of opposition within the congregation, Paul moved to the hall of Tyrannus where he "argued daily" for some two years (18:9). Acts also says that Paul converted former disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus where he came into conflict with itinerant Jewish exorcists (the seven sons Sceva) and caused a riot among the silversmiths who made shrines of Artemis, the great mother goddess of the Ephesians [see diana (artemis) of the ephesians]. Sometime after Pentecost (see 1 Cor 16:8), in the late springtime of 57, Paul departed for Troas to catch a ship to Macedonia, having sent his companions Timothy and Erastus on ahead. After meeting up with Titus in Macedonia (in Philippi? see 2 Cor 2:12–13), who informed Paul a reconciliation had been effected between him and the Corinthians, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians (at least in part; some judge this letter to be a composite). Paul then proceeded to Corinth, where he stayed for three months (Acts 20:2–3), i.e. late 57 into 58.
During this Corinthian period Paul envisioned himself on the verge of a major transition. He wrote to the romans in 58, indicating that having proclaimed the good news of Christ from Jerusalem to Illyricum, he saw "no further place for [himself] … in these regions" (Rom 15:23) and thus he would proceed to Spain. He planned to visit the Roman Christians on the way, although he would first make a trip to Jerusalem to deliver a collection he had been taking up for the believers there (Rom 15:24–26). Acts says that when he was about to set sail to the east, however, he heard of a plot against him and therefore retraced his steps through Macedonia, sailing from Philippi to Troas, and then to Miletus, where he gave a farewell address to the elders of the church of Ephesus (Acts 20:18–38). From Miletus, Paul sailed to Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Tyre, Ptolemais, finally arriving at Caesarea, where he stayed with the evangelist Philip and his four prophesying daughters. The Acts traditions imply a foreboding of imprisonment and death during Paul's return trip from Miletus to Caesarea. This may reflect the knowledge of the author of Acts in retrospect, yet accords with Paul's statement in Rom 15:30–31, where he asks for prayers concerning his visit to Judea that he might be "rescued from the unbelievers in Judea" (Brown, 435).
The Road to Rome (Rom 15:23) . When Paul sensed in 58 that his work in the east-northeast quadrant of the Mediterranean was over, he was correct, although the ensuing years, c. 58–64, played out differently than he planned. This period is chronicled only by Acts 21:15–28:31, unless Philippians and Philemon were not written during the Ephesian imprisonment but come from Paul's detentions in Caesarea (58–60) or in Rome (61–63). Of the plans Paul was making in 58, he did manage to reach Rome and to "reap some harvest" (Rom 1:13) among the Christians there, albeit in shackles. But his intention to evangelize in Spain after turning over his collection in Jerusalem were thwarted by his arrest and subsequent imprisonment at Caesarea (c. 58–60).
The story of Paul's transferal to Rome, due to his "appeal to the emperor" (Acts 25:12), offers one of the most detailed narratives of an ancient maritime journey. Following storms, shipwreck, and a winter marooned on Malta, Paul, under the guard of a centurion named Julius, disembarked at Puteoli, near the Roman naval base at Misenum. He was escorted into Rome, where he lived as a prisoner, but was able to continue his Christian proclamation. Acts ends abruptly, and puzzlingly, in 28:30–31 with the statement that Paul lived thus for two years (c. 61–63), implying in the judgment of many that he was released after that. If that is indeed what happened, it remains uncertain whether Paul went on further missionizing travels, either to Spain or elsewhere in the Mediterranean. clement of Rome (c. 95) observed that Paul had preached in "the furthest limits of the West" (1 Cor 5:7), although what Clement meant by this is not clear. As for information about Paul's death, history has relied upon information from Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 2.25) that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the Neronian persecution. If there is any historical data underlying the tradition that Paul's death and burial took place on the Ostian Way (Via Ostiensis), near the basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, then the very last leg of Paul's decades of dedicated missionary travel was on that busy, major Roman road going to and from Rome's seaport of Ostia. From the Damascus Road to the Ostian Way, the race to the finish had been completed by an indefatigable sprinter.
Bibliography: h. d. betz, "Paul," ABD V, 186–201. r. e. brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York 1997) 422–442. j. b. daniels, "Barnabas," ABD I, 610–611. j. a. fitzmyer, "Paul," NJBC, 1329–1337. f. m. gillman, Women Who Knew Paul (Collegeville 1992). j. l. gillman, "Silas," ABD VI, 22–23; idem, "Timothy," ABD VI, 558–560. m. hengel and a. m. schwemer, Paul between Damascus and Antioch (Louisville 1997). j. murphy-o'connor, Paul: A Critical Life (New York 1996). c. roetzel, Paul: The Man and the Myth (Minneapolis 1999).
[f. m. gillman]
"Paul, Missionary Journeys." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 17, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paul-missionary-journeys
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