Paul’s First Journey
(Acts 13:1-14:27 — c. 46-48 AD)
Acts describes how Saul and Joseph (called Barnabas, probably meaning “son of prophesy”) accompanied by Barnabas’ cousin John Mark, set out from Antioch for Cyprus, visiting Salamis and Paphos.
They then crossed to the mainland (modern Turkey), landing at the Mediterranean port of Attalia. From there they proceeded inland to the cities along the military road in southern Asia Minor.
At Perge, for unknown reasons, John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. Saul and Barnabas then stopped at Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, all in the Roman province of Galatia, before retracing their steps to revisit the congregations they had founded earlier.
Then it was back to Perge, where this time they preached the gospel, and Attalia. But, instead of returning to Cyprus, they sailed directly back to Antioch, Syria where they began their odyssey. There, after covering some 1,400 miles, Paul and Barnabas stayed “a long time” (46-49 AD).
The Journey Begins:
Antioch in Syria to Cyprus
With the church firmly established at Antioch in Syria, the time was right for the gospel to be taken farther afield. Acts records that one day while members of the church were worshiping and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them:
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work where unto I have called them (Acts 13:2).
After they had finished their prayers and fasting, the Antioch disciples formally blessed Saul and Barnabas and sent them on their way.
About 45 AD, Saul and Barnabas, with John Mark, set out from Antioch (Acts 13:4) for Seleucia, the port of Antioch, about 16 miles to the southwest:
Seleucia ad Pieria
Seleucia was established as the seaport for Antioch in the 3rd century B.C. and it was normally referred to as Seleucia ad Pieria to distinguish it from nine others towns of the same name, all established during the Hellenistic period by Seleucis I Nicator.
Seleucis had been one of Alexander the Great’s generals, founder of the Seleucid dynasty, who ruled Syria after Alexander’s death. “Pieria” refers to a previous trading center built on the site whose name, in turn, was derived from a special kind of asphalt mined in the area.
The major portion of the town was built on a long, sloping spur of a mountain, and its walls ran down to enclose the harbor (below, north end of ancient Seleucia harbor).
The constant flow of silt down the Orontes River converted the ancient harbor into a level, marshy expanse.
From Seleucia, the trio sailed to the island of Cyprus, undoubtedly at the urging of Barnabas, a Cyprus native who must have known many people there.
Presumably they embarked with the opening of the sailing season near the beginning of March when the winds were most favorable for a direct voyage.
The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus (satellite view below) is 140 miles long and 60 miles wide.
Much of the island is mountainous; the Troodos Mountains (5,900′) dominate the west and central sections, while the Kyrenia Mountains extend along the northern coast.
Historically, Cyprus was an important source of copper and timber, used in shipbuilding.
Between 2000 and 1000 B.C., Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Crete, the Aegean Islands and Greece all conducted trade with Cyprus.
After 1000 B.C., there were several city-states, each ruled by a king. In 707 BC the Cyprus kings submitted to Assyria and thereafter it was controlled by a succession of dominant empires: Egypt, Persian, Alexander the Great and the Ptolomies.
During this later period, many Jews settled on the island, forming an important part of the population.
Then, in 22 BC, the Romans made it a province under the jurisdiction of the Roman senate, governed by a proconsul at Paphos.
As a result of the persecution associated with the stoning of Stephen in Jerusalem, Jewish Christians fled to Cyprus and preached the gospel to the Jewish community, thus setting the stage for the visit of Saul, Barnabas and John Mark.
There were no passenger ships in the 1st century AD, only square-rigged cargo ships that regularly plied the Mediterranean sea between Africa, Asia and Europe.
Most of the space on the ships was taken up by cargo and crew, but there were accommodations for passengers.
The men came ashore at Salamis, a large port city on the eastern shore of Cyprus, some 120 miles southwest of Seleucia.
An influential Jewish colony had been founded there centuries earlier, and the men preached to the Jews in their synagogues.
There may have been a small Christian group as well, founded by disciples who had fled Jerusalem after of the stoning of Stephen and the persecution that followed it.
Salamis (meaning “salt,” probably from Greek salos, “the tossing or swell of the sea”) was located on the east coast of Cyprus, just north of modern Famagusta.
Whereas Paphos was the official capital of the island and the seat of the Roman governor, Salamis was the commercial center.
According to the Homeric epics, Salamis was founded after the Trojan War by the archer Teucer, who came from the island of Salamis, off Attica (the region around Athens, Greece).
This literary tradition probably reflects the Sea Peoples’ occupation of Cyprus about 1193 BC, and Teucer perhaps represents Tjekker found in Egyptian records.
Later, the city grew because of its excellent harbor; it became the main trade outlet of Cyprus.
Paul preaches the Gospel in Salamis
At Salamis, Saul and Barnabas established the pattern for later missions by first bringing their message, when possible, to the Jewish community. In Acts, their entire visit is summarized in one verse:
And when they arrived at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister (Acts 13:5).
Note: The plural “synagogues” indicates the size of the city’s Jewish community.
From Salamis the three missionaries crossed the island from east to west, doubtless following the southern coast, to Paphos, a prosperous city on the southwestern coast of Cyprus.
Paphos (Greek, of uncertain derivation, “boiling or hot”) was a port city on the western end of Cyprus some 90 miles from Salamis.
It was named for the son of the mythological Cypriot sculptor, Pygmalion, who carved a woman out of ivory.
According to 1st century BC poet Ovid, his statue was so realistic that he fell in love with it.
He offered the statue gifts and prayed to Aphrodite (Venus), who took pity on him and brought the statue to life. They married and had a son, Paphos.
In the years following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, his successors struggled for dominance.
The Ptolemies of Alexandria, Egypt achieved dominant maritime power in the eastern Mediterranean and took control of Cyprus to secure their trade routes.
They made Paphos the capital of the island and it remained so until the later part of the 4th century A.D. — almost 700 years.
Paphos was the name of two ancient cities. Old Paphos (Greek: Palea Paphos), the older city was located at modern Kouklia. It was probably founded in the Mycenaean period, about 1184 BC (the time of the biblical patriarchs), by Greek colonists.
Excavations have revealed ruins dating from 3000 BC. By Roman times it was superseded by New Paphos (Nea Paphos), 10 miles to the northwest. (This is the “Paphos” mentioned in Acts).
Old Paphos was famous for its shrine to Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love and fertility.
According to tradition, Aphrodite was born from the waves off the coast of Cyprus. The soft breezes of the Zephers then carried her ashore on a shell.
Surviving structures from the Roman period include large private dwellings, the “House of Dionysus,” “House of Theseus,” “House of Orpheus” and “House of Aion,” with splendid mosaic floors portraying scenes from Greek mythology, attesting to the splendor of Paphos at the time of the visit of Paul and Barnabas.
The “House of Aion,” opposite the “House of Dionysos,” has five partially damaged mosaics including the one below.
Also noteworthy is the civic center with an odeum, noted below:
Paul Preaches the Gospel in Paphos
At Paphos the missionary trio met with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, the governor of the island, who Acts describes as an intelligent man.
Intrigued by the arrival of the itinerant preachers, he “sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.”
Like most heads of state, opportunists hung out at his headquarters and one of them was a Jewish prophet and sorcerer named Elymas*, also called Bar-Jesus.
Fearing that he would lose his influence if his employer were converted to Christianity, he tried to stop Saul. But Saul snapped back in some of the strongest language recorded in Acts:
And he said, O full of all subtility and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
And now behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.
And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand (Acts 13:10-11).
Struck with blindness, Elymas was led away. Saul’s action so impressed Sergius Paulus that “he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.”
Beginning at 13:9, the Acts narrative uses the name Paul instead of Saul.
Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him (Acts 13:9).
Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).
This similar sounding name was more familiar to Greeks and Romans who would now be the focus of the gospel message.
It has been suggested that Saul adopted his Roman name because for the first time he testified about his Christian beliefs before a high Roman official and realized that Saul the Jew was a less powerful force in the world than Paul the Roman citizen.
At Paphos his power was validated.
Elymas – A Semitic name meaning “sorcerer” or “magician” or “wise man” (probably a self-assumed designation).
From Paphos, Paul, Barnabas and Mark booked passage on another ship heading northwesterly, about 170 miles, for the southern coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).
Perge in Pamphylia
Perge (Greek “earthy”) was the capital of the province of Pamphylia Secunda, a beautiful area between the Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, and between the provinces of Lycia and Cilicia.
Perge, also spelled “Perga,” was situated 11 miles northeast of Mediterranean port of Attalia (modern Antalya). It was sited inland as a defensive measure against pirate bands that terrorized this stretch of the Mediterranean.
The nearby Kestros River was navigable in ancient times but, like most Greek colonies in Asia Minor, Perge was deprived of its harbor when it gradually silted up leading to its decline in later times.
According to a clay tablet discovered in the Hittite capital of Bogazköy, Perge was once known as “Parha.”
Greek colonists came here after the Trojan War, and probably displaced the earlier inhabitants.
Alexander the Great passed through Perge during his campaigns and used guides from there.
Second only to Ephesus in wealth and beauty, a temple to Artemis was one of its prominent buildings.
Walking in Paul’s Footsteps — Perge
Today, Perge is a major archaeological excavation and it remains, even in ruins, a majestic site.
Most of the remains belong to the Roman period, 2nd-3rd centuries A.D. Excavations began in 1946 and are continuing today.
In the Footsteps of Paul – Perge
Acts indicates that Paul, Barnabas and John Mark sailed directly from Paphos to Perge. At that time Perge must have had access to the sea by way of the Cestius River.
Otherwise, the missionaries would have landed at the nearby port city of Attalia and walked the remaining seven miles to Perge.
At Perge, Acts says, John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem.
No reason is given, but several theories have been suggested: that he was no longer able to handle the hardships of missionary travel, that he was unwilling to take the gospel to Gentiles, or, as suggested by Paul Maier in his book “First Christians,” he resented Paul taking over leadership of the mission from his cousin Barnabas.
Whatever the cause of the defection, John Mark’s decision was resented by Paul, who would later hold the action against him causing him and Barnabas to go their separate ways at the start of the second missionary journey (Acts 15:37-39).
Without stopping to preach in Perge, the Paul and Barnabas embarked on a difficult trek across the formidable Taurus Mountains into Phrygia, the same route used by Alexander the Great for his invasion of the interior almost 300 years earlier.
Why did Paul and Barnabas avoid preaching in Perge at this time? It has been suggested that Paul may have fallen ill with malaria carried by mosquitoes from the many coastal marshes in the surrounding countryside, necessitating a change in plans.
Paul mentions illness as the reason he first preached to the Galatians:
And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus (Galatians 4:14).
To recuperate, he needed to get to a drier, high-altitude climate, like that of Pisidian Antioch in the Roman province of Galatia, on the edge of the 3,000-foot-high Anatolian Plateau.
(Paul and Barnabas would, however, preach the gospel in Perge on their way back to Attalia near the end of this journey, but no details are given — see Acts 14:25).
From Perge to Pisidian Antioch
Traveling northward from Perge, Paul and Barnabas followed the Roman road known as the Via Sebaste.
With the mountains looming in the distance, the 100-mile journey took them about seven days (traveling about 15 miles a day) and was extremely dangerous.
The rough, mountainous passage, which was infested by thieves and crossed by frightening precipices, caused Antioch to be isolated, since it was the only way in and out of the city.
(Were these mountains daunting to John Mark, and the reason he chose not to continue the journey?).
Pisidian Antioch, or Antioch in Pisidia, was located north-northeast of Perge.
According to written sources and archaeological finds, the city was founded by Seleucus I Nicator in 280 B.C., and was one of seventeen Antiochs he named for his father Antiochus.
The city stood at a junction of two main roads, guarding access from the south, as well as the so called “high road” from Ephesus to Syria.
It was situated in the proximity of the border of Pisidia and Phrygia and served the Seleucids as a border fortress up until the defeat of Antiochus III by the Romans.
This strategic importance combined with its fertile lands meant that it was an important settlement in the region.
From coins minted around that time it is evident that the city rose to a pinnacle of economic prosperity. The population of the city at that time has been put at over one hundred thousand.
First century B.C. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus mentions that Antiochus III ordered 2,000 Jewish families be moved from Babylonia to areas in Lydia and Phrygia because he believed they would be loyal supporters of the Seleucids (Jewish Antiquities 12.146-153).
This would account for the presence of Jews in the city by the time of Paul’s arrival in the 1st century A.D.
Dating to the 1st century AD, the aqueduct ran for nearly 6 miles along the ridge to the north of the city.
Constructed according to the conditions of the terrain, it led to a monumental fountain (Nymphaeum) from where the water was distributed to about two-thirds of the city.
In the Footsteps of Paul — Pisidian Antioch
The remains of the Pisidian Antioch are located just over a half mile north of the modern Turkish city of Yalvaç in the province of Isparta.
The first excavations were carried out in 1913-14 and 1924 by archaeologists W. Ramsay and D. M. Robinson, revealing settlement since the Neolithic Age.
Excavations were resumed in 1979, and although only ten percent of the city has so far been revealed, this once magnificent ancient capital in the center of Anatolia is a fascinating place to visit.
The city was set atop a precipice described by Sir William Ramsey on his visit at the beginning of the 20th century as “an oblong hill varying from 50 to 200 feet above the plain,” nearly two miles in circumference.
As the eastern, southern and northern slopes of the hill are very steep, it is possible to approach the city only from the west.
The hilltop is not flat; indeed there are several high-points on every side, giving the appearance of seven hills, like Rome.
The majority of buildings were constructed on the slopes of these small hills or in the valleys.
Within the fortification walls, the city is laid out along two main axes, north-south and east-west, which intersect at a right angle. Straight, narrow side-streets cut the main streets at right-angles.
It is interesting that this so-called Hippodamian street-system (streets arranged on a rectangular grid) was skillfully adapted to the terrain.
The remains of many important buildings dating from the Roman and subsequent eras have been revealed.
On the west side of the city are the foundations of the synagogue where Paul gave his first recorded sermon.
In the 4th century A.D. the Church of St. Paul (below) was built on the remains, incorporating its southern wall.
Most of the walls have disappeared, but mosaics and inscriptions entirely cover the floor.
At the center of the mosaic, four Greek inscriptions giving the names of people who made the mosaic floor and the names of priests and dedicators.
One mentions Optimus, a leader and bishop in the Antioch church between 375-381 AD. It is significant that this is the only church in ancient Anatolia built on the site of a synagogue.
The city had two town squares: The Augusta Platea (Square of Augustus) was located at the very highest point of the city and connected to the lower Tiberia Platea (Square of Tiberius) by a monumental staircase of twelve steps.
The Augusta Platea was the site of a temple built in honor of the emperor Augustus (re-created below).
The foundation was carved out of the rock of the hill. At the back of the temple was a two storied, semicircular portico, also quarried out of the rock of the hill.
Around 400 AD, the complex was used as an open-air church.
Paul and Barnabas Preach the Gospel
in Pisidian Antioch
It has been suggested that Paul and Barnabas originally aimed for Pisidian Antioch at the recommendation of Sergius Paulus, the newly converted governor of Cyprus, because archaeology has shown that his family had roots in the city.
Excavations at Antioch uncovered an inscription referring to “Lucius Sergius Paulus the younger,” thought to be the son the Cyprus governor.
Regardless, the missionaries first took the Gospel message to the Jews of Antioch, as was standard procedure on this and all of Paul’s subsequent missionary journeys.
On the Sabbath they went to the synagogue. It was customary in synagogues throughout the empire to invite visiting Jews to address the congregation after the main part of the service:
And after the reading of the Law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on (Acts 13:15).
Paul’s audience included both Jews and God-fearers — Gentiles who respected the Jewish religion but who had not fully converted to it (uncircumcised).
First, he gave them a brief history of Israel, from the Exodus, to the entry into the Promised Land, the period of the “judges,” then the first kings, Paul followed by David, from whose line God promised to send a Messiah who would bring salvation to the world.
Paul then announced that God had fulfilled this promise in Jesus whose coming was foretold by John the Baptist.
In the second half of his sermon Paul described the process by which Jesus was condemned and crucified, then resurrected so that all believers, including those in Antioch, could have eternal life.
Paul’s message (see Acts 13:16-41) had a powerful effect on his audience, and he was invited back for the next Sabbath. Over the following week, word-of-mouth spread so that when the time came, the synagogue was packed.
However, the crowd included some orthodox Jews who tried to disprove Paul’s claims. After what was undoubtedly a heated debate, Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly:
Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth (Acts 13:46,47).
Gentiles in the audience were elated with what they heard, and a congregation was formed.
Paul’s message also aroused hostility among a number of the Jews, although the reason is not specified.
Most likely it was because they resented welcoming the Gentiles into the church as equals to themselves, “God’s chosen people.”
In any case, they incited some of Antioch’s influential citizens to have the missionaries expelled from the city.
Shaking the dust from their feet — an expression of extreme contempt and a sign of that they would not have any further dealings with them — Paul and Barnabas departed for Iconium.
However, as they headed out of town they were elated in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit had worked through them to bring new converts into the body of Christ.
This account concludes with the statement:
And the Disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 13:52).
Iconium was about 60 miles from Pisidian Antioch. It lay on the western edge of a great high plain of the Anatolian Plateau.
It was backed by Bozkr Mountain on the west and enclosed by the interior edges of the central Taurus ranges further south. Today, it is called Konya.
In the Footsteps of Paul – Iconium
Konya, the successor to ancient Iconium, is a large metropolis of brightly painted buildings. The city hasn’t bothered to post distracting street or highway signs.
At about 3300 feet elevation, it gets cool, but it also gets clouds of dust in summer and blizzards in winter.
Christian monuments include the church of Amphilochius inside the city and several shrines nearby. Additionally, Konya retains a number of buildings (now used as museums) from the Selçuk period.
Konya’s most famous building is the Mevlâna museum (below), the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Sufi (a Muslim sect) mystic, also known as Mevlâna or Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi order, better known in the West as the whirling dervishes, so-called for their twirling ritual dance.
Konya’s association with the Dervishes makes it a place of pilgrimage for Muslims. Every year, in the first half of December, a ceremony commemorates the Whirling Dervishes.
The controlled, trance-like whirling of the white-robed men creates a mystical experience for the viewer. The dancers spin round and round in an attempt at total unity with God.
As they twirl, they free themselves from bondage to earthly things. Their costumes are symbolic.
During the ritual they shed their black cloaks representing their escape from the tomb and the bonds of the flesh.
Their long white robes are their burial shrouds and their conical hats are their tombstones.
Paul preaches the Gospel in Iconium When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Iconium they made themselves known to the Jewish community and were invited to speak in the synagogue.
Many of the congregation, both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, were converted to the Gospel.
But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds evil affected against the brethren (Acts 14:2).
Despite the opposition, the two “spent considerable time (in Iconium)” continuing to preach fearlessly for the Lord, “who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.”
It seems the intellectually curious Greeks, ever anxious to hear some new thing, flocked to hear them.
However, the conflict between the apostles and their Jewish opponents polarized the people.
The anti-Christian party prevailed and, with the permission of the “authorities,” a number of Jews and Gentiles plotted to stone the two men.
But the apostles got word of the threat against them and decided that it was time to take their message elsewhere, and they moved on, following the Via Sebaste to Lystra.
At Iconium, the conflict between the Jews and Paul and Barnabas polarized the people.
The anti-Christian party prevailed and, with the permission of the “authorities,” a number of Jews and Gentiles plotted to stone the two men.
But the apostles got word of the threat against them and decided that it was time to take their message elsewhere, and they moved on, following the Via Sebaste to Lystra.
Lystra was located on the eastern part of the high plains of Lycaonia, about 19 miles southwest of Iconium.
The name Lystra presumably goes back to prehistoric times and can be attributed to the Lycaonian language, one of the many surviving Bronze Age tongues spoken in the area.
In fact, Lycaonian was still spoken in the area until the 6th century A.D.
The plain around Lystra was fertile and well-watered, with one stream skirting the west side of the mound on which the town was built.
However, the site had little strategic value. In 6 BC, emperor Augustus decided to make use of the old but inconspicuous settlement to found a military outpost, and conferred on it the title Julia Felix Gemina Lustra, as attested by an inscriptions which later helped archaeologists to identify the lost town site.
In the footsteps of Paul — Lystra
Today Lystra is an unoccupied and unexcavated mound (below) north of the village of Hatunsaray and 9.3 miles north of a small town called Akoren.
A search of the tell reveals church with a cross marked on a wall, a winery, house-like buildings and other ruins of a city located over the top of a hill which is locally called “Alusumas,” though most everything is buried under 2000 years of dirt.
In the 1800’s, a statue dedicated to Zeus and Hermes was found at the site, reminiscent of the city’s identification by the townspeople of Paul and Barnabas with the two gods.
As a Roman colony, Latin was the official language of Lystra, but the people still spoke the native Lycaonian language which was unintelligible to Paul and Barnabas.
A branch of the Roman highway, Via Sebaste, ran through Iconium to Lystra and Derbe, then continued to the Cilician Gates, the famed pass through the Taurus Mountains leading to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus.
It was this road that Paul followed on this missionary journey, also on the early stages of his second and third.
The population of Lystra was mostly uneducated and Gentile, and in the history of Paul’s missionary work, it stands out as the first town he visited with no established Jewish community or synagogue.
Thus the people were completely ignorant of the Jewish scriptures and unable to grasp the idea of worshiping one God.
Paul preaches the Gospel in Lystra
While Paul was preaching at Lystra, probably in the agora or marketplace, a man who had been unable to walk from birth caught his attention.
Paul saw that he had the requisite faith to be healed, so he told him to “stand up.” Immediately, “the man jumped up and began to walk.”
The effect on the onlookers was dramatic. Shouting in their native Lycaonian dialect, they declared that Paul and Barnabas must be gods.
The local priest then arrived at the city gates with several bulls and wreaths prepared to take the two “gods” outside the city to the temple of Zeus to offer a ritual sacrifice to them.
Shocked at being hailed as pagan gods, Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes as a show of disgust and rushed into the crowd, shouting, “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.”
Their purpose in coming to Lystra, they said, was to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ, to turn the people from their worthless idols to the “the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:15).
Despite their impassioned plea, they barely managed to keep the crowd from sacrificing to them.
At some point, hostile Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium arrived and poisoned the Lystrans against the two men. The tactic worked.
They stoned Paul and, believing he was dead, dragged him outside the city walls.
As some of the Lystran converts gathered around his body, Paul came to his senses (evidently he was only knocked unconscious), stood up and walked back into the city.
At this point Acts does not tell us how the people reacted. Perhaps they wondered if he really was a god.
The next day, Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe, but their effort were not completely in vain as indicated by two phrases in Acts: “the disciples had gathered round him” and “they returned to Lystra.”
The only reason they would risk returning to Lystra on their way back to Antioch was that a community of faith had been formed and it needed strengthening and encouragement.
By recounting this incident, Acts provides us with a valuable insight into Paul’s approach to those who worshiped a pantheon of gods and who were without any Jewish background to which he could appeal.
With such people he started from nature to get to the God who was behind it all and who “has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
Years later, on his second missionary journey, he used a similar approach at Athens.
Derbe was a small Lycaonian town on the extreme boundary of the Roman province of Galatia, about 30 miles southeast of Lystra.
Little specific history is known about Derbe. It must have been somewhat Hellenized (Greek-ized), but like the residents of Lystra, the people of Derbe spoke the native language of Lycaonia.
It was thought to have had a large Jewish population. Like Derbe it was part of the Roman province of Galatia at the time of Paul.
But later in the 1st century A.D., it was temporarily given the name Claudio-Derbe in honor of the Roman emperor Claudius.
Although Derbe was inhabited from the Iron Age through the Hellenistic and Roman periods, apparently it was entirely abandoned and forgotten in medieval times.
In the footsteps of Paul — Derbe
The town site (below) is a medium-sized mound called Kerti Hüyük set in the middle of a plain at the foot of the extinct volcano Kara Dagi, about 3 miles north of modern Karaman.
Another inscription on a tombstone dating from the 4th century AD mentions
Gaius, one of Paul’s traveling companions on his third missionary journey, was from Derbe (Acts 20:4).
Paul Preaches the Gospel in Derbe
Acts is very brief in describing the two apostles’ stay in Derbe:
The next day [Paul] and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (Acts 14:20-21).
At this point Paul and Barnabas must have decided to return home.
But, rather than continuing east on the road from Derbe and crossing the Taurus mountains through the Cilician Gates to Tarsus (an easier and shorter journey), they chose instead to retrace their steps to Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch.
In his second letter to Timothy Paul mentions the persecutions and sufferings “in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, but he says nothing about Derbe (2 Timothy 3:10-11).
Paul (with Silas) returned to Derbe in the early stage of his second missionary journey (see Acts 16:1).
Completion of the First Journey
Having preached in Derbe and made some converts, Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps to strengthen the newly-established congregations in Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch.
In spite of the dangers they previously experienced in those cities — the near-death stoning, hostility by the Jews — they were moved by the Holy Spirit into a second phase, that of mission building.
Additionally, they needed to get in the last word, and not let those who would try to thwart the Gospel win.
Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.
We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, they said.
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust (Acts 14:21b-23).
After encouraging the new believers in the three cities to remain true to the faith, they headed back into Pamphylia, stopping to preach in Perge.
Below, overall view of Perge today: theater (lower left), stadium (center), mesa-like acropolis (beyond).
Below, twin towers of Perge’s Hellenistic city gate.
Then they went to the port city of Attalia, booked passage on a ship, and sailed back to Antioch in Syria, where they began.
Below, modern Antalya (ancient Attalia), the port of Perge.
On arriving (in Antioch), they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples (Acts 14:27-28).