Acts 13 – 15
In the spring of A.D.48, Paul, Barnabus, and John Mark were sent out by the church in Antioch on the first of a series of missionary expeditions. The trio set sail from Seleucia for Cyprus, the island homeland of Barnabas. They spent several months traveling about and preaching the Word of God in the synagogues. At the end of this text is two maps: Paul’s First Missionary Journey and Asia Minor.
The island of Cyprus measures 60 by 140 miles, and it is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, exceeded in size only by Sicily and Sardinia. Cyprus has two mountain ranges – one that extends along the northern coast and is 2,000 to 3,000 feet in elevation, and another that extends along the southern coast and is 4,500 to 6,400 feet in elevation.
There is a broad and very fertile plain in between the two mountain ranges that serves as the granary of the island. Forests were once one of the main natural resources of Cyprus, and the timber was used mainly for shipbuilding. Copper and silver smelting were also important industries. Actually, the word “copper” is derived from the name Cyprus. The people there enjoy a mild Mediterranean climate, and it is reported that the sun shines for at least a part of every day.
Paul and his missionary team landed at the port of Salamis. It was the main port and commercial center of the island. Roman influence had brought to the city a splendid forum (place of public assembly), gymnasium, public baths, a large theater, and a temple dedicated to Zeus. Salamis was noted for having the largest agora, or marketplace, in the Roman colonial empire.
After they ministered in Salamis, the missionaries journeyed from the east to the west end of the island and preached in the Jewish synagogues along the way. They finally reached Paphos, which was the western port and seat of the Roman government at the time.
Paphos was the worship center for Aphrodite (Venus), the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. According to legend, the goddess was born from the foam of the sea, floated in a shell on the waves, and landed on Cyprus near Paphos. Thousands of pilgrims came annually to visit her temple at that ancient city. It was there at Paphos that the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, believed in Christ according to Acts 13:6-12.
The missionaries left Paphos and sailed to Asia Minor, which is now Turkey. This massive land area is equal to the combined territories of northeastern United States from New England through West Virginia. Asia Minor is a 3000 to 5000 foot plateau that is fringed on all sides by higher mountain ranges. Since the area has few natural resources and is somewhat arid, it is used mainly for grazing and grain.
The surrounding mountains propose a hindrance to communication and transportation, but are a great source of wealth. In addition to timber on their slopes, the mountains house deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, iron, and marble.
The coastal areas have plenty of rainfall and produce the traditional Mediterranean crops of grapes and olives. The main trade route that spanned Asia Minor in Paul’s day went from Ephesus on the coast to Antioch of Pisidia and then split. The northern route continued through Cappadocia to the Euphrates. The southern route continued through Cilicia to Tarsus and then to Syrian Antioch.
Antioch of Pisidia
After Paul and his associates landed on Asia Minor, they journeyed eight miles inland to Perga, where John Mark left the missionary party and returned to Jerusalem according to Acts 13:13. From Perga, Paul and Barnabus then continued north about 100 miles to Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14) in the central plateau area of Asia Minor. There they began evangelizing the southern region of the province of Galatia.
Antioch of Pisidia was actually “near” rather than “in” Pisidia. It became the chief administrative and military center for southern Galatia after Emperor Augustus had made it a Roman colony. This city was an important commercial center on the great trade route linking coastal Ephesus with Syria and the cities of Mesopotamia. It was also a place of pagan worship and contained a great temple dedicated to Men Ascaenus, the chief deity of the city.
Antioch of Pisidia was a highly strategic place from which to spread the gospel. Paul and Barnabas preached there and enjoyed a generally positive response. As a result of their witness, “the word of the Lord spread throughout all the whole region” (Acts 13:49).
After being driven from Antioch of Pisidia by the mob action that had been incited by certain Jews, Paul and Barnabas traveled eighty miles in a southeasterly direction to Iconium (Acts 13:51). This settlement was located in the central plateau region at the foot of the Taurus Mountains, which tower five to six thousand feet in this region.
Iconium had a good water supply and was well situated for defense. As a garden spot in an arid region, Iconium has been called “the Damascus of Asia.” Although a great multitude believed the gospel at Iconium, the city was divided in opinion about the message preached by the evangelists. When a threat was made on their lives, Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra.
This city was located about 18 miles southwest of Iconium. It was not positively identified until the discovery of an inscription at the site in 1885. The town is now just fallen ruins, but it lay in a small valley watered by a stream flowing to the east.
Lystra has once been a military outpost of Rome, but declined in population and importance after the area was subdued. It was off the main roads, and its inhabitants spoke their native Lycaonian language rather than the Greek used by most citizens of the Roman Empire in Paul’s day.
To Paul and Barnabas, this seemed like a good place to wait out the storm of opposition that had been stirred up in Iconium. But Jews from Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia came to Lystra and turned the citizens against them.
Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead.
The day after the stoning, Paul and Barnabas left and went to the secluded city of Derbe, which was located about 7 miles southeast of Lystra. Only recently has it been identified with certainty, and we have little information about the site. Paul preached in Derbe and many people were converted to Christianity, one of whom named Gaius later accompanied Paul on his later journey through Greece.
Rather than taking the most direct return route to Antioch of Syria, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, and encouraged the new converts there. They appointed elders according to Acts 14: 21-23. They also returned to Perga and preached the gospel there before proceeding to coastal Attalia to return home.
Attalia lay southwest of Perga and was an important harbor and commercial center in Paul’s day. From there, Paul and Barnabas sailed for Syrian Antioch, arriving in the autumn of A.D. 49. They had been gone for a year and a half and had traveled an estimated 1,250 miles.