ARCHEOLOGY & THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH

Copyright, John T. Stevenson, 2000

The Gospels are a tough act to follow. But that is exactly what the book of Acts does. The book of Acts is the bridge that spans the gap between the four Gospels and the Epistles.

The Gospels

Acts BRIDGES the Gap

The Epistles

End in Jerusalem with no church

Directed to churches throughout the Roman world

The gospel is given mainly to the Jews

Churches filled with Gentile believers

Ends in Jerusalem

Ends in Rome

The abrupt ending of the book of Acts indicates that it was written immediately after the events described in the book and prior to the death of Paul or the destruction of Jerusalem. There is no mention of Nero's persecutions which began A.D. 64/65. Indeed, there is no mention of any persecution at the hands of Rome. Neither is there any mention of the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66 which eventually resulted in the fall of Jerusalem.

We conclude that Acts was written immediately after the events described in the book. It was written by Luke who had been an eye-witness of many of the events described in the book. The following dates are helpful for dating the events found in the book of Acts:

A.D. 45 - Herod Agrippa dies suddenly (Acts 12:20-23).

A.D. 49 - Emperor Claudius issues an edict banning all Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2).

A.D. 51 - Gallio appointed as proconsul of Achaia for a one-year term (Acts 18:12-17).

A.D. 59 - Porcius Festus takes the office of Procurator of Judea (Acts 24:27). Paul has already been imprisoned in Caesarea for two years.

 

THE PENTECOST EVENT

The theme of the book of Acts was summed up in Acts 1:8 - it is the account of the witness of the Apostles.

Chapter 1 is prepatory to the witness of the apostles.

Chapter 2 begins that work of being a witness.

Acts 1:1-11

Acts 1:12-14

Acts 1:15-26

Acts 2:1-42

The Church's Work Foretold

The Church's Workers Selected

The Church's Birth

Jesus Identifies the Task

The Church Prepares for the Task

The Apostles Choose a Worker

The Spirit Comes

Promising

Praying

Replacing

Proclaiming

Period of 40 days

Period of 10 days

One day

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1).

When we say the word "Pentecost," we think of charismatics and speaking in tongues and the birth of the church. But the Jews living in the first century had a different idea when they heard this word. Pentecost was not a new concept to them. It was something from antiquity, going back over a thousand years.

Pentecost was one of the festivals which was established by the Lord in Leviticus 23. It took place 50 days after the Passover. For this reason, it was named after the Greek word for FIFTY. It Hebrew it was known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Sevens. It took place after a week of weeks - after seven weeks.

During this feast, Jews would come from all over the world to celebrate the promise of the harvest. It was a celebration of freedom and a celebration of the Law. The Jews would come in their caravans, carrying baskets filled with the firstfruits of their crops as an offering to the Lord.

The Jews had come to associate the Feast of Pentecost with the giving of the Law. The rabbis taught that the Law was given to Moses 50 days after the Passover. There were three Springtime Feasts observed by the Jews:

Passover

Firstfruits

Pentecost

14th of Nisan

First day of the week following the Passover

50 days after Passover

Passover lamb slain & eaten in a meal of remembrance

Sheaves of grain waved before the house of the Lord

Two loaves of bread prepared from the grain

Commemorated deliverance from Egypt

Celebrated the promise of the harvest

Commemorated the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai

And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. (Acts 2:2-3).

It does not say that the wind began to blow. It says that there was a SOUND which sounded like the wind. It was the sound of this wind that filled the entire house.

They saw what appeared to be tongues of fire. These tongues distributed themselves over each of the believers. What was the significance of these tongues of fire? It was a new event. There had never been an instance of tongues of fire in the Old Testament. Or had there? When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they were led in their travels by a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. When they were not traveling, this smoke and fire would position itself over the Tabernacle. This was the place where God manifested His presence. It was the Tent of Meeting. It served as the dwelling place of God. The smoke and the fire were a sign that God was there.

Now it is happening again. But this time there is a difference. This time the manifestation of the flaming presence of God is not positioned over a tent. This time it is over PEOPLE. Why? Because they ARE the new tabernacle and the temple of God.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:4).

What does it mean to speak with other tongues? It simply means to speak in a different language. These disciples were Jews who had grown up in Galilee. They would have been tri-lingual.

At least to some degree, these men could speak these three languages. They probably did so with a Galilean accent. But now something spectacular began to happen. They began to speak in all sorts of other languages. These were languages with which they were not familiar.

The diversity of tongues had first taken place at the Tower of Babel. It had been the result of sin and judgment. It was a curse. Now something has taken place that overturns sin and judgment. And the curse of languages is reversed by the gift of tongues. Where there was confusion of languages, now there will be order. And where men have lived in darkness, they shall see the light of the gospel.

We often come to this passage and see only the issue of tongues. But if we do that, we will miss what is happening here. Tongues was the outward sign. But to what did this outward sign point? It pointed to the SPIRIT.

Peter stands and speaks. It had been Peter who had spoken up in chapter 1 regarding the necessity of appointing a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Once again, he is acting as the leader of the apostles, speaking as their spokesman.

This is the first Post-Resurrection Sermon. These men had preached before. This is not the first sermon that Peter had ever preached. He had been a part of an Israelite Mission Team. He had gone out with many other disciples in a ministry of preaching and teaching and healing and casting out demons.

But something new had happened. Jesus had instituted a NEW Covenant - one involving His own body and blood. No longer would the presence of God as signified by a cloud or a pillar of fire come into a tabernacle or a temple in Jerusalem. From now on, the spirit of God would come and reside in His LIVING temple - the church.

The Pentecost Experience was a renewal of the covenant. That is a part of what Pentecost commemorated - the first giving of the Law and the covenant which accompanied that Law. Remember Sinai? There was fire and noise and a message from God. Now it is happening again.

The Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19).

The Filling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2).

  • Sons of Israel came to the foot of Mount Sinai (19:16).
  • A very loud trumpet sound (19:16).
  • Smoke of a furnace (19:18).
  • They are given the Law through Moses and Aaron (19:24).
  • They were all gathered together in one place
  • A noise like a violent rushing wind
  • Tongues of fire
  • They were all filled with the Holy Spirit
  • And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"

    So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:40-41).

    The church underwent a new birth on this day. They went from 120 meeting in an upper room to 3,000 who were spread throughout Jerusalem. This growth would continue to explode outward until it met persecution from the hands of the Jewish rulers.

     

    GROWTH AND A GROWING OPPOSITION

    Throughout the first 7 chapters of Acts, we continue to see the unprecedented growth of the church. They had no building of their own. Instead they met from house to house and in the Temple. The Temple had a very large outer court known as the Court of the Gentiles. It was given this designation because Gentiles were permitted into this section but could come no further. The Court of the Gentiles was large enough to hold many thousands of people.

    At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. (Acts 5:12).

    Solomon's portico had not been built by Solomon, but was only named after him. It was to the Temple Mount what the Washington Monument is to the Capitol. Located in the outer court - the Court of the Gentiles - it consisted of a series of great colonnades with massive pillars which surrounded the Temple structure.

    This became one of the meeting places for the New Testament Church. They were exclusively Jewish in nature and continued to be a part of the Temple sacrificial system. Acts 3 tells of a healing that took place while Peter and John were coming to the Temple at the appointed hour of prayer.

    Every morning and every evening, there were sacrifices offered in the temple. A sacrifice would be offered, an animal slain, its blood applied to the altar before the Temple, and then a priest would enter the Temple in order to offer incense upon the altar. This incense would be fill the temple with a pleasing aroma and would represent the sweet smell of the prayers of God's people ascending to heaven.

    It was in such a setting that Peter healed a lame man. This immediately caused a stir. What is more, Peter had healed him in the name of Jesus. When questioned about it, Peter delivered a sermon. It is essentially the same sermon which he had preached at Pentecost.

    A Profile of Two Sermons

    Acts 2

    Acts 3

    Men of Judea (2:14)

    Men of Israel (2:22)

    Men of Israel (3:12)

    "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God with miracles and wonders and signs" (2:22)

    "Why do you gaze as us, as if by own power we made him walk... the God of our fathers has glorified His servant Jesus" (3:12-13).

    You nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death (2:23)

    You delivered up and disowned in the presence of Pilate... put to death the Prince of Life (3:13-15)

    God raised Him (2:24,32)

    God raise Him (3:15)

    We are witnesses (2:32)

    We are witnesses (3:15)

    (Several prophecies quoted in verses 25-28 and 34-35)

    God announced by all the prophets (3:18)

    Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (2:38)

    Repent and return that your sins may be wiped away (3:19)

    The promises are for you and for your children and for all who are far off (2:39)

    The covenant God made with your fathers... In your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed (3:25)

    These are the only two sermons which we have of Peter's. They are essentially the same sermon. Peter had one basic message. It was a message about the coming and death and resurrection of Jesus and a warning of future judgment to follow.

    As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

    And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening.

    But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. (Acts 4:1-4).

    The opposition to Peter's preaching came from three groups, all of which were associated with the Temple hierarchy.

    Most of the priests were now Sadducees and all the chief priests since John Hyrcanus had deserted the Pharisees (Josephus, Antiquities 17:10:6; 18:1:4; 20:9:1).

    1. The Priests.

    There were 24 courses of priests which rotated the duties within the temple so that each course served two weeks each year with all of the courses being at the Temple for the major feast days.

    2. The Captain of the Temple Guard.

    It was the "officers of the Temple" who had arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:52). These were officials who were charged with keeping the peace in the Temple precincts.

    3. The Sadducees.

    The Sadducees were the liberal party within the nation of Israel. Their ranks came mostly from the wealthy aristocracy. The high priest and all of the chief priests in the Sanhedrin were almost exclusively from the Sadducees. They can be best understood when contrasted with the Pharisees.

    Pharisees

    Sadducees

    Name means "separated ones"

    Name means "righteous ones"

    Held to the authority of all of the Old Testament Scriptures

    Viewed the Torah as having greater authority

    Believed in miracles, angels & immortality

    Rejected the miraculous, angels & immortality

    Held to a future resurrection

    Denied any resurrection

    Popular in the synagogues

    Ruled the Temple

    The Sadducees were bothered by the fact that Peter was proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection. If it was true that Jesus had risen from the dead, then their entire doctrinal system would be in error.

    On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent.

    When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?" (Acts 4:5-7).

    Peter and John must have experienced a sense of deja vu. Just a few months earlier they had been in this same court. The same priests had been present. The same jury had been seated. Even Peter and John had been present. Only then it had been Jesus on trial. Jesus is no longer physically present. In His place stand Peter and John. They are his representatives. And yet, the question which is asked by the leaders of the court show that it is still Jesus who is on trial.

    Annas had been appointed to the position of high priest in 6 A.D. by Quirinius, the Roman governor of Syria. Although the high priesthood of Israel was designed to be a lifelong position, the Romans were fearful that the person holding this station would become too powerful and so they deposed Annas when they feared that he had become too powerful.

    Annas' influence was such that he continued to be spoken of as the high priest, even though he had not officially held that office since 15 A.D.

    Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas. He held the office of high priest from 18 to 36 A.D. He had presided over the trial of Jesus and now he is present for the trial of the followers of Jesus. Indeed, it had been his servant whose ear Peter had cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane. I cannot help but wonder if that servant was present on this day. Did he touch his ear in remembrance?

    Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.

    And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. (Acts 4:13-14).

    The Jewish rulers recognize from their simple speech that Peter and John are uneducated and untrained men. This does not mean that they were ignorant. They obviously were not. Neither does it mean that they were lacking in a basic education. For the past 100 years every freeborn Jewish man living in Palestine had been taught to read and to write. But Peter and John had not attended seminary. There was no string of degrees behind their names. They held no titles or honorifics. They were not known as Reverend or Holiness or Father or Pope. And yet, they possess an uncommon sense of authority.

    It soon becomes obvious that they had been with Jesus. Picture their reaction. "Oh, no! Now there are TWO of them!" And to make matters worse, there are ten more in the Upper Room.

    In the end, the apostles were warned against further preaching and released. Instead of quenching the fires of the fledgling church, this served only increase the zeal of the early Christians.

    Acts 3-6 relate a series of problems which struck at the church from both within and without.

    Chapter

    3:1 - 4:22

    5:1-16

    5:17-42

    6:1-7

    Distress in the Church

    External Problem

    Internal Problem

    External Problem

    Internal Problem

    Peter & John

    • Arrested
    • Tried
    • Released

    Sin within the Church

    Apostles

    • Jailed
    • Tried
    • Released

    Schism & Complaint

    Growth in the Church

    Number of believers rises to 5,000

    Fear of the Lord

    Disciples increase in numbers

    Disciples increase & Priests converted

    Of particular interest to us in the realm of New Testament Archaeology is the mention of Gamaliel in Acts 5.

    The apostles had again been arrested because of their persistent preaching. They were again brought before the Sanhedrin and placed on trial. When ordered to cease and desist, they replied that they must obey God rather than men. As the court began its deliberations, one of the members of the Sanhedrin stood and spoke in the defense of the apostles.

    But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. (Acts 5:34).

    We know Gamaliel from other Jewish writings. He was the head of a school of teachers - one of his student was a young man named Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:3). Tradition has it that he was the grandson of Hillel. He would later go on to become the president of the Sanhedrin. He is often quoted in the Mishnah, that body of oral tradition of wisdom which has been passed down by the Jews. His forte was in the practical and his advice always shows a strong degree of common sense.

    In this case, Gamaliel calls for restraint on the part of the court. He urges them to take a "wait and see" approach to Christianity.

     

    PAUL'S CONVERSION AND DAMASCUS

    Evidently not content with his teacher's advice, young Saul of Tarsus became one of the chief Jewish persecutors of early Christianity. He went on a manhunt throughout Jerusalem and Judea searching for Christians. And when he had run out of Christians here, he gained permission to travel to the main governmental center in Damascus to pursue Christians there.

    1. Damascus.

    Damascus is located in a high plain 2200 feet above sea level. It is surrounded on three sides by mountains. The lowlands toward the east give way to marshy lakes and low hills after which comes the desert. Although the rainfall is only 10 inches a year, rivers flow down out of the mountains and allow farmers to irrigate their crops, turning Damascus into an oasis in the surrounding desert.

    Damascus was an old city, going back as early as 4000 B.C. It has gone by a variety of names including Sham - some have suggested that this is derived from Shem, one of the sons of Noah. The Ebla Tablets make reference to the city of Dimaski. It had served as the capital of the Aramaean Kingdom during the Old Testament times and for a time served as the seat of the Roman proconsul.

    Damascus was technically a part of the Decopolis - one of the ten "free cities" to the east of the Sea of Galilee. It served as something of a boarder outpost in that there were few Roman holdings to the east. It stood as one of the boarder cities of the Roman Empire. Because of this, there were other kingdoms which were able to exert a strong influence in Damascus. Among these was the Nabatean Kingdom of Aretes (2 Corinthians 11:32).

    2. Saul's Conversion.

    On the road to Damascus, Saul was struck to the ground by a bright light and received instructions from the Lord to come to the city. He was blinded for three days and then healed by a Christian named Ananias who was sent to heal him and to lead him to Christ.

    Saul turned from persecuting Christians to proclaiming the name of Christ. This soon brought about open hostility against him and he was forced to flee the city.

    In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33 and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands. (2 Corinthians 11:32-33).

    Aretas seems to be a dynastic name since there were several kings of the Nabateans who bore this name. Their capital was the city of Petra and they had been ruling in Arabia for 200 years.

    The Romans had been in control of Damascus, but that seems to have changed. There are no Roman coins found in Damascus between the years of 34-62 A.D.

    Josephus tells us that was broke out between Aretas and Herod Antipas after Antipas plotted to murder his wife so that he could legitimize his relationship with Herodias.

    • Herod Antipas has an affair with Herodias and plots to do away with his wife, the daughter of Aretas.
    • The daughter of Aretas learns of the plot and flees to Arabia where she informs her father of the treachery.
    • Aretas eventually goes to war against Antipas and defeats him in battle (36 A.D.).
    • Aretas goes on to defeat two legions under Vitellius (the governor of Syria from 35-37 A.D.).
    • Tiberius dies in 37 A.D. and Vitellius calls for a cease-fire until he can receive new orders from the new emperor, Caligula.
    • Antipas goes to Rome with Herodias and is stripped of his office and banished to Gaul (39 A.D.).

    3. Saul Versus Paul.

    Throughout his early career, we read of Saul. Then in Acts 13:9 we read about Saul, who was also known as Paul. From this time onward, only the name "Paul" is used. What brought about this change.

    It has been customary to think that Paul CHANGED his name from its original "Saul" to "Paul" so that he could better identify with the Gentiles (Saul is a Hebrew name, while Paul is a Latin name). However, I do not believe that this is completely the case. In the days in which Paul lived, all Roman citizens had THREE names.

    Crassus (Fat)

    Longus (Tall)

    Rufus (red)

    Felix (Happy)

    Paulus (Little)

    All Roman citizens possessed three names. Here are a few well-known examples...

    - Gaius Julius Caesar

    - Publius Cornelius Scipio

    - Lucius Sergius Paulus

    As you can see in the above example, PAULUS was a cognomen. It was ALWAYS used as a cognomen. As such, it was a family name.

    Although Paul was a Jew, he had also been born as a citizen of Roman (Acts 22:27-28). At some time in the past, one of his ancestors has been "adopted" into one of the families of Rome and given a Roman name.

    Thus, when Paul uses this name for himself, he is not making it up. He is merely using one of his names which would serve to better identify himself with the Gentiles. It is rightfully his own name.

     

    HEROD AGRIPPA

    Agrippa was the son of Aristobulus, one of the two sons of Herod by Mariamne who was put to death by Herod.

    As a young man, Agrippa lived in Rome where he came to know a young nephew of the emperor named Caligula. One day while riding with Caligula, Antipas expressed the opinion that he secretly wished Tiberius would die and that Caligula could become emperor in his place. Word got back to Tiberius, and Agrippa was thrown in prison.

    The story is told that while he was in prison, Agrippa was leaning against a tree. A German prisoner happened to look over and see an owl sitting in the tree against which Agrippa was leaning. He told Agrippa that it was an omen that he would soon be released, but that the next time he saw such an owl it would mean that he would soon die.

    Tiberius died six months later and Caligula became emperor. Agrippa was released from prison and his iron chains were removed and Agrippa was awarded a gold chain of equal weight. Caligula also gave him the former tetrarchy of his uncle, Herod Philip. Agrippa hung the golden chain in the Temple as a memorial.

    Agrippa's uncle, Herod Antipas, was jealous of his nephew. At the prodding of his wife Herodias, Antipas traveled to Rome with accusations against Agrippa. Meanwhile Agrippa sent word to Rome that Antipas had conducted secret negotiations with the Parthians and that he had stored away enough armor to outfit 70,000 men, in case a Roman-Parthian war involved Judea. When Antipas came before the emperor, he was questioned as to whether this was the case and he was forced to admit that it was. Caligula removed him from office, banishing him to Gaul for the rest of his life; the tetrarchy of Antipas was handed over to Agrippa.

    Soon after this, Caligula decreed that every man should worship him as a god. Petronius, the prefect of Syria, was ordered to place a statue of the emperor in the Temple in Jerusalem. An embassy of Jews, led by the author Philo, tried to talk Caligula out of it, but he would not listen.

    Petronius was met by a crowd of 10,000 Jews who said that they would die before allowing such a sacrilege and they pleaded for not to do this thing. Petronius was impressed with their loyalty to their faith and agreed to wait while he sent a letter to Rome explaining the Jewish point of view. Agrippa happened to be in Rome at the time and he also went to Caligula to plead for the Jews. Caligula rescinded the order, but because Petronius had delayed in carrying out the emperor's previous orders, he was ordered to commit suicide. Fortunately for Petronius, he did not get the order until after Caligula was assassinated, so it no longer mattered.

    When Caligula was assassinated, it was Agrippa who suggested to the Praetorian Guard that Claudius would make a good candidate for emperor. Claudius responded by enlarging Agrippa's domain to include all of Judea and Samaria in addition to his holdings in Galilee and the lands to the east of Galilee.

    It was after this that a renewed persecution began against the Church.

    Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church, in order to mistreat them.

    And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.

    And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (Acts 12:1-3a).

    Agrippa was a follower of the Jewish ceremonial law and was popular with the people. He sought to increase his popularity by persecuting the early church, putting James to death and arresting Peter. Peter was miraculously released and Herod responded by having the prison guards put to death.

    Both Josephus as well as the New Testament related the death of Agrippa.

    Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king's chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by Herod's country.

    And on an appointed day Herod, having put on royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them.

    And the people kept crying out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!"

    And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:20-23).

    In 44 A.D. Agrippa gave a festival at Caesarea; games were held and prayers were said for the safety and health of Emperor Claudius. The second day began when Agrippa entered the theater wearing "a garment made wholly of silver and of a texture truly wonderful." When the sun shone on this outfit it made him look radiant. The people proclaimed him a god, and he did nothing to stop their flattery.

    At that moment, Agrippa looked up, saw an owl perched on a rope above his head, and remembered the second part of the German prisoner's prediction. He immediately began suffering severe pains, and died five days later.

     

    THE CHURCH AT ANTIOCH

    ...and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:27).

    There were a number of cities throughout the ancient world named "Antioch." They were all named for Antiochus, one of the descendants of Seleucus, the general of Alexander who founded the Seleucid Dynasty.

    This particular Antioch was located in Syria, 15 miles in from the Mediterranean on the Orontes River. Its sister city of Seleucus was actually located on the coast. Antioch stood astride the main caravan routes through the area and had become the center of government for all of Syria.

    Antioch was an international city. Begun as a Greek city, it had been influenced by the Parthians, by the Romans and by the Jews. Herod the Great had assisted in the construction of two magnificent boulevards made of marble. Tiberius had added a line of colonnades to these main streets.

    There was a synagogue at Antioch which had been dedicated to the Jewish martyrs of the Maccabean Wars and there was a strong Jewish influence in the city. There were many among the Gentile inhabitants who had become "god-fearers" people who believed in the God of the Old Testament Scriptures but stopped short of circumcision and fully proselytizing to Judaism. It was from many of these God-fearing Greeks that the early Christians came.

     

    PAUL'S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY

    Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

    And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."

    Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3).

    The church at Antioch was a diverse group. They were Jewish and Gentile, scholar, noble and tradesman. This became the sending group of the first organized mission team.

    1. Cyprus.

    So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Selecucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4).

    The large island of Cyprus has two ranges of mountains. One follows the northern coastline; the other is to be found at the southwest corner of the island. The ancient designation for the island was Kittim (Genesis 10:4; Numbers 24:24; Daniel 11:30). Our English word "copper" seems to be derived from the land in which this metal was once mined . Culture on the island had a history in antiquity. The Phoenicians had a colony there and archaeology reflects a strong Mycenaean influence in the 2nd millennia.

    In Paul's day, Cyprus was a part of the Roman Empire. The island was governed by its own proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). Luke tells us that this proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord (Acts 13:12). Sir William Ramsey found an inscription in 1912 in Antioch reading: "To Lucius Sergius Paullus, the younger, one of the four commissioners in charge of the Roman streets..." Ramsay theorized that this might be a relative of the Sergius Paulus of whom Luke speaks.

    2. Perga in Pamphylia.

    Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John left them and returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13).

    The entire southern coast of Asia Minor is hemmed by steep mountains that offer a forbidding purchase. There are only two places where these mountains give way to coastal plains. The first place is in eastern Cilicia and the other is here in Pamphylia.

    Perga was located eight miles in from the Mediterranean Coast. The reason the city was not built on the coast was because of the history of pirates who had frequented this part of the world prior to the coming of Rome. The city itself was built around a large rocky acropolis which rises 160 feet over the surrounding area.

    Archaeological excavations have uncovered a stadium which was able to seat up to 12,000 people. The marketplace was ringed by Corinthian columns.

    We are not told why it was the John left the mission team to return to Jerusalem. The fact that Paul did not consider it to be a sufficiently good reason is seen in that he felt that John was disqualified for further mission work when it came time to go out on a second missionary journey (Acts 15:38). Some have felt that it was because of the hostile regions to the north which were notorious for its bandits. Another possibility might have been health reasons.

    3. Pisidian Antioch.

    But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. (Acts 13:14).

    Strictly speaking, Antioch was not in Pisidia. But it was commonly called Pisidian Antioch to distinguish it both from Antioch in Syria as well as another Antioch in Phrygia.

    There is a river valley which runs from down from the central highlands of Asia Minor to the coastal plains of Pamphylia. As you follow the path of the Cestrus River to the central highlands, you find a region of great lakes. It is near one of these lakes that the city of Antioch in Pisidia lies astride the main east-west highway through Asia Minor.

    As was the case of many of the cities throughout Asia Minor, Antioch had a mixed population of Phrygians, Greeks, Jews and Latins, the latter who had settled here after having served in the Roman military.

    Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue on two consecutive Sabbaths. When many of the Jews rejected the gospel, Paul and Barnabas took their message to the Gentiles of the city. This caused a persecution at the hands of the Jews and the two missionaries were banished from the city.

    4. Iconium.

    The next stopover took place at Iconium. Located 80 miles from Antioch, Iconium was an ancient Phrygian town that had seen influences of the Greeks and, to a lesser degree, Romans as well as the Jews. It was surrounded by fertile farmlands and forests.

    Paul and Barnabas saw converts both from the Jews as well as fron the Gentiles. Again persecution arose so that the two missionaries were forced to move on.

    5. Lystra.

    Lystra was 24 miles to the south of Iconium. The town was built on a small hill that rises 100 feet above the surrounding plain and near to two small rivers which water the area. In contrast to Antioch and Iconium which were on the major trade route, Lystra was off the beaten path. It lay eight miles to the south of the main road.

    When Paul and Barnabas healed a lame man, the Gentile crowd took them to be an incarnation of Zeus and Hermes, two of the gods of the Greek pantheon. There was an old Phrygian legend that the same two gods had once visited an aged couple who, not recognizing them as gods, had invited them to dinner and had shown them hospitality. In return, they had been delivered from a flood which swept over the area (Ovid, Metapmorphoses 8:626-724). Apparently the people of the area equated the coming of Paul and Barnabas with that myth.

    This period of initial popularity did not last. Paul and Barnabas disclaimed any such deified identity and it was not long before a Jewish delegation from Iconium arrived to brand the two missionaries as troublemakers. This time Paul was stoned and dragged from the city and left for dead.

    6. Derbe.

    All of the cities which Paul visited during this trip into the interior of Asia Minor were Roman cities. Derbe was the last of these. To the east of Derbe were the Cilician Mountains. This made Derbe a frontier town and off the beaten track.

    Paul and Barnabas then retraced their steps, visiting each of these four cities of Asia Minor before sailing home to Syria to finally return to the church at Antioch.

     

    PAUL'S SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY

    Two missionary teams set out from Antioch, one made up of Barnabas and John Mark, the other made up of Paul and Silas. The book of Acts records the travels of this second team. This time they took the land route through Cilicia, moving through the Tarsus Gates and to come to the region of Derbe and Lystra where they added Timothy to their team.

    1. Travels through Asia Minor.

    And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. (Acts 16:6-8).

    We are given a very brief account of the travels of this mission team through Asia Minor. For the most part, only the regions are mentioned and we can only guess at which individual cities were visited.

    It was at Troas that Paul had a vision which directed his team to move across the Dardanelles and into Europe.

    2. Philippi.

    Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. (Acts 16:11-12).

    Named for Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, Philippi was located on a plain between the Strymon and Nestos Rivers. The city itself was situated on the banks of the swiftly flowing Gangites. The Egnatian Way ran through Philippi and reached its eastern terminus at the Port of Neapolis, ten miles away. Philippi enjoyed a booming economy with its position on the major trade route as well as from the gold mines in the mountains to the north.

    Archaeologist have unearthed the forum of the city, on the center of which was a large rostrum. There were two large temples and a Roman theater built into the side of the acropolis.

    Paul's ministry in this city began with a women's prayer group that commonly met outside the city gates by the bank of the river. It was here that he met Lydia, a business merchant who converted to Christianity and who opened her home to the missionaries.

    When Paul healed a demon-possessed girl, he and Silas were dragged before the magistrates of the city and beaten and thrown into prison. An earthquake during the night brought about a respite and the jailer's conversion. The next day they were released after Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship.

    3. Thessalonica.

    Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews (Acts 17:1).

    As you traveled westward on the Egnatian Way, you came to Thessalonica, the Roman capital of Macedonia. It was an old city, having been founded by Cassander in 315 B.C. and named for his wife, the daughter of Philip of Macedon and half-sister of Alexander. It was a port city and had served in its day as the naval base for Macedonia.

    During the Roman Civil Wars, Thessalonica had sided with Antony and Octavius against Cassius and Brutus. Because of this, the city had been granted a degree of independence and was ruled by a board of five or six "politarchs" ( ) - they are mentioned as the rulers of the city in Acts 17:6-8.

    Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica and, as was their custom, Paul entered the synagogue and began proclaiming Jesus as the promised Messiah. A number of people believed, including Greeks and some of the "leading women."

    The Jews responded to these conversions by instigating a mob which dragged their host, Jason, to the politarchs of the city. The case was dismissed and Paul and Silas left town for Berea.

    4. Berea.

    Cicero describes how the Roman governor Piso was so unpopular that he was forced to leave Thessalonica and withdraw to this same town of Berea (Against Piso 36).

    And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea (Acts 17:10a).

    Berea was both politically and strategically insignificant. It was several miles off the Egnatian Way, located in the foothills of Macedonia.

    They found a temporary respite in Berea along with a much more open-minded attitude toward the gospel. But eventually, trouble from Thessalonica necessitated Paul leaving and traveling south to come at last to Athens.

    5. Athens.

    Athens was a thoroughly pagan city. The crown of the city was its Parthenon, dedicated to the city's namesake, the goddess Athena. As usual, Paul began ministering to those within the city's synagogue. But soon he found an audience among the Greeks.

    So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.

    And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. And some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities," because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:17-18).

    There are two philosophical groups mentioned here who had dealings with Paul in Athens.

    Epicureans

    Epicurus founded a school in Athens in 300 B.C. His philosophy was that of 1 Corinthians 15:32 - "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." They denied a future judgment or even that God has a hand in any present actions. There is no afterlife and when you are dead, you are dead so enjoy the present.

    Emphasized pleasure

    Stoics

    Zeno (342-270 B.C.) founded this philosophy. All reality is that which is corporeal - that which is sensory. To learn of such reality required a high morality.

    Emphasized virtue

    And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; we want to know therefore what these things mean."

    Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:19-21).

    The term "Areopagus" is taken from Ares, the Greek god of war (corresponding to the Roman "Mars") and pagus, the word for "hill." The Areopagus was a large outcrop of limestone rising 380 feet above the city. It is connected to the Acropolis by a low, narrow ridge and overlooks the agora of the city. The Areopagus was the courthouse of Athens.

    It was to this location that Paul was brought to share his teaching concerning Jesus. His sermon was to a completely Gentile audience and he begins by pointing out a Gentile phenomenon -- they are so religious that they have erected an altar to "the unknown god." He then proclaims to them the God about which they have no knowledge.

    6. Corinth.

    After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. (Acts 18:1).

    The city of Corinth lay astride a narrow isthmus which connected mainland Greece to the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Today there is a canal which has been cut through the isthmus to allow ships to pass, and the digging of such a canal had been attempted, but the technology of the day found it too costly of a task. Instead, there was a port located at each side of the isthmus so that cargo could be off loaded at one port and then carried the four intervening miles to the other port. This allowed ships to avoid the long and dangerous passage around Cape Malea at the southern end of the Peloponnesian Peninsula.

    Just south of the isthmus was a high plateau known as the Acrocorinth, an acropolis rising to a height of 1800 feet. This was the original site of the city, though Corinth in Paul's day was sprawled out on the plain beneath the plateau. The isthmus put Corinth on the map as the central trading city for all of Greece.

    The Romans had destroyed the city in 146 B.C. and it lay abandoned for a hundred years until Julius Caesar ordered its rebuilding in 46 B.C. Under Roman rule, Corinth had now become the capital city for all of Achaia. The Isthmus Games were re-instituted and the Temple of Aphrodite, located at the top of the acropolis, became renown for its temple prostitutes. Notorious for its immorality, the term ("to act like a Corinthian") came to refer to an act of fornication.

    Archaeological excavations since 1995 have revealed buildings with marble floors and inlaid frescos, fountains and Corinthian columns. The picture is one of extravagant luxury.

    7. The Decree of Claudius.

    And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tentmakers. (Acts 18:2-3).

    Claudius had become emperor of Rome in 41 A.D. following the assassination of his nephew, Caligula. The Roman historian Suetonius records the events which led up to Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome.

    Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from that city. (Suetonius 5).

    Suetonius does not go on to further elaborate as to the identity of Chrestus. Many scholars believe that this is a reference to Christ. If this is the case, then the issue over which the Jews were evicted from Rome was the Jewish persecution of Christians.

    8. Lucius Junius Gallio.

    While Paul was in Corinth, the Jews brought Paul to trial before the Roman proconsul.

    But while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat, 13 saying, "This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law."

    But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of wrong or of vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you; 15 but if these are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters."

    And he drove them away from the judgment seat. (Acts 18:12-16).

    The Jews attempted to put Paul on trial, but Gallio refused to hear the case, being only concerned with infractions of Roman law.

    The various pieces of the Gallio Inscription was discovered in Delphi. It was not until 1905 that a doctoral student in Paris was sorting through these and other inscriptions. He happened to notice that four separate fragments, if joined together, formed the nucleus of an imperial letter. Written by the Emperor Claudius, the inscription affirms that Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia.

    Language

    Greek

    Medium

    Limestone

    Length

    11 lines of writing

    Genre

    Imperial Decree

    Author

    Tiberius Claudius Caesar

    Date

    52 A.D.

    Place of Discovery

    Delphi, Greece

    Date of Discovery

    9 fragments found between 1885-1910

    Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus G[ermanicus, Highest Priest, invested with tribunician auth]ority [for the twelfth time, acclaimed Imperator for t]he twenty-sixth time, F[ather of the Fa]therland, Consul for the fifth time, Censor, sends greetings to the city of the Delphians.] For a long time I have been well disposed toward the city of Delph[i, but also solicitous for its [pro]sperity, and I have always protec[ted th]e cul[t of t]he [Pythian Apol[lo .... But] now [since] it is said to be desti[tu]te of [citi]zens, as [L. Ju]nius Gallio, my fr[iend] an[d procon]sul [recently reported to me; and being desirous that Delphi] should continue to retain [inta]ct its for[mer rank, I] ord[er you to in]vite [well-born people also from ot]her cities [to Delphi as new inhabitants and to] all[ow] them [and their children to have all the] privi[leges of Del]phi as being citi[zens on equal and like (basis)]. For i[f] so[me . . .] were to trans[fer as citi]zens [to these regions, ...]

    This inscription helps us to date the proconsulship of Gallio. It is written after the 26th acclamation of Claudius as emperor, making it 52 A.D.

    Following Gallio's term in Achaia, he traveled to Egypt where the dryer climate helped him to heal from a lung hemorrhage. Returning to Rome, he served as consul during Nero's reign. When he was implicated in a plot to overthrow Nero, he was put to death (Dio Cassius, History 62:25).

    9. Ephesus.

    And Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Piscilla and Aquila. In Cechrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.

    And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there. No he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. (Acts 18:18-19).

    This is Paul's first visit to Ephesus. He would spend much more time here during his Third Missionary Journey.

    The city of Ephesus was located at the mouth of the Cayster River on the southwest coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). There were three major river valleys leading from the west coast of Asia Minor into the high country. Major cities grew up at the entrance to each of these valleys.

    Hermus River

    Smyrna

    Cayster River

    Ephesus

    Maeander River

    Miletus

    She had been a historic trading city in the past, though recent silt deposits in her harbor were bringing present economic pressures to bear. The harbor would eventually become completely clogged and unusable and the city would ultimately be abandoned.

    In Paul's day, Ephesus was the seat of the local Roman proconsul for the province of Asia. It was also the center of a pagan cult which was associated with a meteorite thought to have fallen down from the god Zeus (Acts 19). The most significant feature of the city was its temple to the goddess Artemis (Diana of Roman mythology), the fertility huntress-goddess. This temple was said to be four times the size of the Parthenon at Athens.

    The religion of Ephesus reflected both east and west in that it was a mixture of Greek paganism and oriental mysticism.

    Paul had first come to this city with Priscilla and Aquila during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19). After preaching in the Jewish synagogue, he had been invited to remain, but he had declined the offer, continuing instead to Caesarea and then to Antioch. Priscilla and Aquila did remain in Ephesus where they met and discipled a young preacher named Apollos.

    Paul returned to Ephesus during his third missionary journey (Acts 18:1) and stayed for a period of three years, teaching daily Bible classes in the school of Tyrannus so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 18:10). Paul's ministry was so successful that the silversmith trade which manufactured pagan idols fell sharply. The local idolater's labor union staged a picket line and even went so far as to incite a mob to demonstrate against the Christians.

    Paul returned to Miletus near Ephesus a final time on the last leg of his third missionary journey. He called for the elders of the church at Ephesus and they traveled to Miletus to meet with him and be exhorted and encouraged by him (Acts 20:17-38).

     


    About the Author
    Return to the Stevenson Bible Study Page
    Return to Biblical Archaeology Table of Contents
    Have a Comment?