Paul And His Task In Asia Minor

Paul was born in Tarsus in Turkey. He was a highly educated strong but short man. We understand his intellect from all those epistles written by him and his preaching to Jews and Gentiles. He had a good command of languages.

He was short because when he was with Barnabas in Lystra people of the region called Barnabas, ‘’Zeus’’ and Paul, ‘’Hermes’’ because Paul was the chief speaker and short. However, at the same time he was strong. Because he could travel long distances in the countryside and could survive after all those difficulties. According to his own information, he had been in prison, been flogged, been exposed to death repeatedly. Five times, he received the forty lashes minus one. Three times, he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, three times, he was shipwrecked, and he spent a night and a day in the open sea. He had been constantly on the move.

We hear about him first as a zealous young Pharesee Jew. His actual name was Saul and he was from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a born Roman citizen. He was brought up in Jerusalem and was trained under Gamaliel. When a group of zealous Jews were stoning Stephen, one of the seven deacons, Saul was there waiting their cloaks. He then became persecutor of the Christians. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Finally, on the way to Damascus, he had the vision of Jesus and became follower of him. However, because of the memories of the persecution people did not trust him. 

We read about his missionary journey to Arabia, but it was not explained much, so we do not know what went on.

He returned to Damascus and then went to Jerusalem. He tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. However, Barnabas trusted him and took him to the apostles. Then there was a plot against him, he was taken to Caesarea and was sent off to Tarsus.

If Saul did not have the invitation of Barnabas from Antioch, probably he would pass his life back in Tarsus, his hometown, and that would be it. Antioch (today Antakya) was important economical and political settlement for long centuries already and it became very important settlement for the Christianity as well.

It was the capital of a Hellenistic kingdom and city had its name from kings Antiochus. In Roman period, it was still important city in the province of Syria. It had mainly Greek speaking citizens because of the Hellenization of the area after the Alexander’s Age. In addition, it had a large Jewish population. Some of them were there for centuries already. This Jewish population grew in number lately because of the persecution of the Christians and Jews in Palestine.

The church in Antioch was consisting of Jews and Gentiles together. There were some Gentiles in other early churches as well. Nevertheless, the church in Antioch had huge Gentile participants also, along with them Hellenized Jews were not following the Mosaic Law.

They were asking many questions difficult to handle for Barnabas. We understand about them by reading the Acts and the epistles of Paul. These subjects were brought in repeatedly. The questions were about food, circumcision and division of the Gentiles and Jews in the church. Paul preached about the food with the help of the old psalm of David: ‘’the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’’ He said ‘’be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.’’ He preached on circumcision that ‘’For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’’ Paul also preached unity of the people in one God.

Barnabas and Paul preached there for a whole year. The church in Antioch became different. That is why they called themselves with a new name: the Christians. After the meaning of the title of Jesus: Christ = Messiah = the anointed one. This word was first appeared in the church of Antioch.

Back in Jerusalem, church membership was restricted to the Jews only and converted Gentiles to Judaism. The early Christians were still calling themselves as we understand from the Acts ‘’the Way’’ and the Jews were calling them ‘’the Nazarene sect’’.

The church in Antioch flourished so Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem to provide help during the famine. When they finished their mission there they returned to Antioch taking with them John Mark.

Paul started his first missionary journey with Barnabas. John Mark the cousin of Barnabas was with them as their helper. He wrote later one of the four Gospels. They sailed from Seleucia, port of Antioch to Cyprus and then to Perge in Pamphylia where John Mark left them. From Perge they climbed up to the Taurus Mountain range to Antioch in Pisidia. Paul preached to the Jews and converts to Judaism in synagogue on the Sabbath but the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear him. Then they turned to Gentiles and the word spread to the whole region. Then they went to Iconium (Konya) and Lystra. People stoned Paul there and dragged him outside of the city, thinking he was dead. Paul stood up and walked back to the city. Then he and his companions went to Derbe. From Derbe they returned to Perge and Attalia  (Antalya). From Attalia port, they sailed back to Antioch. This journey took about two years.

In his second missionary journey, Paul took the land route from Antioch to Derbe and Lystra. This time his companion was Silas. Timothy joined them in Lystra. Paul would write two epistles to him when Timothy was in command of the church in Ephesus. They visited the churches established in the first missionary journey and traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia.

Paul became ill in Galatia and was welcomed as if he was an angel. Phrygia is the central western Turkey and it used to be the land of Phrygians between 9th and 6th centuries B.C. It was under Roman rule in the time of Paul. Galatia is the central Turkey. Galatians had come from central Europe and settled in Turkey in 3rd century B.C. in Hellenistic period. They were part of the Gaelic people who lived all over Europe. According to Livy the Roman historian, three tribes of Gauls moved to Anatolia: The Tolostobogii, the Trocmi and the Tectosages. They were originally warlike people but bloodily subdituted by the Roman military machine

in 2nd century B.C. They were Hellenized and became peaceful farmers in the time of Paul. Ankyra (Ankara) was important Galatian settlement of the time.

When Paul and his companions came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia but according to Luke, the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. Prusa (Bursa), Nicaea (Iznik) and Nicomedia (Izmit) were the important towns of Bithynia. Therefore, they went through Mysia to Troas. Troas was the name of the region and Alexandria Troas -founded by Alexander the Great- was important port town of this region. Troy was not big town any more but was important religious centre.

From this point, we must believe Paul’s dear friend Luke the physician, the evangelist and the writer of the Acts joined them as well. Because in that page Luke starts to write ‘we traveled’ instead of, ‘they traveled’.

They sailed from Alexandria Troas to Philippi in Macedonia. Outside of the city gate by the river, they met a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. The western Christian writers today praise her as the first convert on the European soil. She was actually from the province of Asia. Thyatira (Akhisar) is northeast of Smyrna (Izmir).

On the way back to Antioch, Paul had a stop in Ephesus, went into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. This journey took about 3 years.

In the third missionary journey, Paul traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia visiting the churches that he established and went to Ephesus. He baptized twelve men in the name of Jesus. Then went into the synagogue and preached there for three months. Then left there by taking the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the Lecture Hall of Tyrannus for about two years. 

Meanwhile miracles went on and sorcery scrolls were burned publicly. ‘’A great door for effective work has opened’’ to Paul. It was a great time for the church in Ephesus. It grew in number and this disturbed artisans who did silver shrines of Artemis and related trades. A silversmith named Demetrius led an uprising. People rushed from the streets to the theatre shouting ‘’Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians’’. In the theatre, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘’Great is the Artemis of the Ephesians.’’ Paul felt ‘’under great pressure.’’

When uproar had an end, Paul set out for Macedonia. On the return journey, he sailed from Philippi to Alexandria Troas. He stayed there seven days. Paul’s preaching went on until midnight. A young man was sitting on a windowsill and was sinking into deep sleep as Paul kept talking. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. ‘’He is alive!’’ he said and kept on talking until daylight.

He went to Assos on foot and from Assos sailed to Miletus. From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church in Ephesus. He said that none of them would ever see him again. Then Paul torn himself away from them and sailed to Jerusalem to complete his task. The ship made a stop at Patara (on Mediterranean shore of Turkey) on the way.

On Paul’s journey to Rome in chains, his companions, some other prisoners and a Roman centurion boarded a ship, which was from Adramyttium (on Aegean shore of Turkey). Then they sailed off Pamphlian and Cilician shores of Turkey, landed at Myra (on Mediterranean shore of Turkey) in Lycia, and changed ships. They passed off Cnidus (on Aegean shore of Turkey) as well.

Paul stayed in Rome for about two years and was beheaded there in about 67 A.D. in the time of Nero.

Paul left behind many churches established all over. He was a hard working, self-sufficient preacher. Even if he could not go some places, he supplied them with letters: He wrote letters to Colossae and Laodicia to be read in both churches and in the church in Hierapolis. He was a black tent maker and said about himself boldly ‘’you yourself know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.’’

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