NT, Part 6, The Gospel travels West.
After their devastating loss of John Mark in Perga, Paul and Barnabas headed eastward across Anatolia / Asia Minor, reaching the towns of Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. They then headed back through these same towns, and then sailed from Perga straight home to Antioch in Syria. See map above.
Who were the people of this region of the world and what were they like in the first century A.D.?
“Galatia (above, in green) was a region in north-central Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) settled by the Celtic Gauls c. 278-277 BCE. The name comes from the Greek for “Gaul” which was repeated by Latin writers as Galli…
“The Galatian Celts . . . gradually became Hellenized to the point that they were referred to as Greek-Gauls by some Latin writers. They were conquered by Rome in 189 BCE. . . and later absorbed into the Roman Empire in 25 BCE by Augustus Caesar. It is best known from the biblical Book of Galatians, a letter written to the Christian community there by Saint Paul“ (Source).
“The ancient Celts were various population groups living in several parts of Europe north of the Mediterranean region from the Late Bronze Age onwards. Given the name Celt by ancient writers, these tribes often migrated and so eventually occupied territories from Portugal to Turkey. Although diverse tribes, the ancient Celts spoke the same language and maintained the same artistic tradition, which is characterised by the use of idiosyncratic flowing lines and forms. Celtic languages are still spoken today in parts of the British Isles and northern France” (Source).
Wading right in with these war-like, mystical, and artistic peoples — though now Greek-Gauls — Paul and Barnabas brought the Good News. They went first to the synagogue in each town, always beginning with the descendants of Abraham. And then, they next went to the marketplace — the Agora — which was the gathering place in every first-century town.
Their first effort was in Antioch at Pisidia, not to be confused with their sending church in Antioch in Syria.
Observe this map of the homelands of the Hellenistic Jews. Then look again at the above map for precise town locations. Perga, the sea harbor, is in the country of Pamphylia. Phrygia, Cappadocia, and Pontus are melded into the wider region of Galatia in the map above. The warlike Celts had continued to conquer and to be conquered, spreading wide once arriving here.
The Lord had gone before Paul and Barnabas to prepare a way, orchestrating history for the good of those to whom the Gospel would be delivered. After conquering far and wide, Alexander the Great subjugated Anatolia between 334-333 B.C.E., thus spreading a common language — Koine Greek, street Greek, the language of the common people.
When Paul and Barnabas arrived, this language was already in place, making communication simple, since both spoke Koine Greek in addition to Hebrew. The Celtic language was also a language used in Tarsus of Cilicia, Paul’s family home, so he could converse in both.
A common language is useful for the advancement of the Gospel, especially an extremely precise language like Koine Greek. The Lord prepared the way by allowing Jewish tribes to be dispersed into this region after their captivity in Babylon, resulting in Greek-speaking synagogues already in this region where Paul and Barnabas first offered the Gospel.
The Lord had made a way where there had seemed to be no way.For the first evangelistic journey of Paul and Barnabas, the Lord had made a way where there had seemed to be no way. Providentially, centuries earlier, Koine Greek became the common language. #Providence Click To Tweet
It’s helpful to examine Paul’s first sermon in a synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, their first Galatian city. We know it’s significant, because it’s entirety is recorded by Luke, probably because it was the typical sermon Paul used in each city. Paul followed the history lesson model that Stephen had employed so effectively, working his way through Jewish history, beginning with the Exodus and culminating in Jesus Messiah.
In the next city, Iconium, Luke doesn’t record the sermon, but merely states: “Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greek believed” (Acts 14:1 ESV). This makes it likely that the first sermon was the typical model Paul used, so there was no reason to repeat it each time.
In the synagogue in that first city of Antioch in Pisidia the impact of Paul’s message was incredible:
“As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
“The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. [These perhaps included some of the Hellenistic Jews who resisted the message in Jerusalem after Pentecost.]
“And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.
“But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:42-52 ESV).
Here we see occurring the same thing that Peter and Cornelius were experiencing simultaneously back in Israel and the surrounding regions. The Gentiles were coming to Christ in great numbers, and the Jewish people, their own kinsmen, were often reacting negatively or with jealousy because the Gentiles were also receiving this message of Messiah Jesus.
The Gentiles were delighted and placed their faith in Christ, along with many godly Jews. This varied from place to place. But, when other Jews saw their large crowds, “they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying” (Acts 13:45). At this point in their journeys, persecution was mostly words, arguing, resistance, as well as lies and misinformation. Paul and Barnabas spoke with boldness as they saw so many Gentiles turning toward Christ. In spite of persecution, “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region.”At this point in their journey, persecution was mostly words, arguing, resistance. Paul and Barnabas spoke with boldness as many Gentiles turned toward Christ. In spite of persecution, “the word of the Lord spread through the whole… Click To Tweet
This first journey took them to Perga, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, the towns of Galatia. A significant young man named Timothy lived in Lystra, though he wasn’t mentioned in the account of this first evangelistic trip, for Luke had no idea Timothy would become significant.
We know from later accounts that Timothy was surely impacted when a man who had been crippled from birth was healed before their very eyes.
Paul said, “Stand upright on your feet,” and the man sprang up and walked.
The crowd then attempted to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods, calling Barnabas by the name of Zeus and Paul by the name of Hermes. The priest whose temple was at the entrance to the city brought oxen and garlands to the gates to sacrifice to them with the crowd.
A young man of Timothy’s age would remember that. He would also recall that Paul and Barnabas were barely able to restrain the people from sacrificing to them and that Jews who had come from Antioch and Iconium slandered the two men, persuading them to stone Paul.
After stoning Paul, the people of Lystra dragged him outside the city and left him for dead. Certainly, Timothy would never forget that. People then were familiar with death, and so we know that Paul was gravely injured, even appearing to be dead at a time when people knew death when they saw it. Here Paul, perhaps, acquired the injury he called his “thorn in the flesh.”
When the new believing disciples gathered around Paul, however, he rose and walked back into town. Such an incredibly brave, fearless, and miraculous act would have been remembered by a young man like Timothy. And not only all of that, but rather than giving up and going home, Paul and Barnabas continued undeterred on to Derbe, the next town on their route.
They then doubled back, returning to each town where they had preached, including Lystra, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:22-23 ESV).They returned where they had preached, "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22-23). Click To Tweet
A young man like Timothy would appreciate their bravery, recalling their lack of fear as Paul and Barnabas presented the Gospel and made disciples.
Having witnessed God’s preparation of these Gentile lands through the annals of history, even in the provision of a precise and universal language, and seeing so many Gentiles come to Jesus Messiah, no wonder Paul later wrote:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?‘ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36 ESV).
How would you be impacted if you had witnessed these events?
What do you think you would do if these occurred in your city?
In what ways do you see the Holy Spirit orchestrating the advancement of the Gospel to the Celtic tribes in Galatia?
Consider Timothy’s preparation in witnessing this. In what ways do you think it prepared him for their second journey when he would join them?