A Deeper Look At Paul’s Missionary Journeys


The Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys reveal a lot about the early church and its struggle to grow and advance. We know that the apostles continually encountered legalistic Jews, an intensely pagan culture, and an oppressive Roman government. Following his conversion experience, Paul’s life can be divided into several general periods.

1. The relatively quiet years, probably extending over ten to twelve years.

2. The work at Antioch.

3. The missionary journeys, and

4. The imprisonments.

Information concerning Paul’s quiet years is obviously scarce. What little is known comes from the facts recorded in Galatians 1:15-24 / 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, and most of the information in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. There is also some information revealed in Acts 9:19b-30 paralleled together with Acts 22 and Acts 26. The fact that Paul was so zealous in ministry leads some people to believe that his silent years were not years of inactivity.

While Paul was in Tarsus, and other places in Syria and Cilicia, the Gospel had already spread from Jerusalem to Syria in Antioch. Acts 11:19-21. Barnabas had been sent to see what had happened there and was instrumental in enlarging the number of converts. But when the work grew too large for him ‘he left for Tarsus to look for Saul.’ Acts 11:25

Together the two worked in Antioch for an entire year.

After his work in Antioch, we come to the beginning of Paul’s missionary journeys. Covering a period of about ten years, Paul’s work was mainly in four provinces of the Roman Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia. In each of these he concentrated on the main cities, the population centres. Once his work began, he then reached out into the surrounding countryside, usually by employing the native converts.

In places where the conditions were friendly, Paul’s methods of founding and establishing churches assumed a fairly regular pattern. We find a summary is in Acts 14:21-23.

1. Preaching the Gospel (evangelism).

2. Strengthening and encouraging believers (edification), and

3. Appointing elders in every church (organization and delegation of authority).

Paul’s first missionary journey. Acts 13-14

The Roman Empire was divided into imperial provinces which were administrated by appointed representatives of the emperor called procurators (e.g. Pilate in Judea), and senatorial provinces, which were presided over by proconsuls appointed by the Roman senate. (Sergius Paulus was the proconsul of the island of Cyprus.)

There were sixteen cities named Antioch in ancient times within the region that is now modern-day Turkey. Antioch in Acts 13:14 was in ancient Pisidia, and is not the same as Antioch in Syria from which Paul was sent in Acts 13:1.

The church at Antioch set apart Paul and Barnabas to do missionary work in the West. In the company of John Mark, the pair set forth on their first journey, leaving from Seleucia Pieria, port city of Antioch. Their destination was the island of Cyprus, home of Barnabas, Acts 4:36, and a large Jewish community.


Cyprus was a senatorial province located on a vital sea link in the eastern Mediterranean. Landing at Salamis, the trio proclaimed the gospel across the island on their way to Paphos, the capital of Cyprus and well known for a temple dedicated to Aphrodite. The Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, resided there.

Acts 11:19 informs us that believers fleeing Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen had planted the Gospel in Cyprus. Barnabas and Paul evangelized the island by preaching in synagogues, but their crowning success was the conversion of Sergius Paulus, Acts 13:12.

Asia Minor

From Cyprus the three travellers set out for Asia Minor, arriving at Perga on the Pamphylian coast. The region was known for its unhealthy climate and marshes, and the trio did not stay long. John Mark unexpectedly returned home to Jerusalem, while Barnabas and Paul pressed northward into the Pisidian highlands to Antioch.

These uplands beyond the western edge of the Taurus Mountains presented considerable challenges to travellers; peaks and valleys harboured brigands, while the rough terrain required careful attention to the pathways.

Perhaps Paul had in mind segments of this journey when he wrote of personal perils he fought while traveling, for example, 2 Corinthians 11:26, ‘danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger in the wilderness’

It is also possible that Paul detoured eastward to take advantage of better roads to reach Antioch. Despite initial success preaching in the synagogue in Antioch, Paul found such intense Jewish opposition to the gospel that he determined to turn his message toward the Gentiles, Acts 13:46.

Leaving Antioch, Paul and Barnabas ventured southeast into Lycaonia. Augustus formed the province of Galatia in 25 B.C., which included Lycaonia, and established several Roman colonies, Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, connected by the Via Sebaste. These cities were isolated and therefore less influenced by Graeco-Roman culture than the cities of the western coast.

Native populations retained their customs and languages more readily in the more isolated villages and towns typical of the region. Many of the inhabitants were descendants of Gauls who invaded the region after 300 B.C. By Paul’s day the province of Galatia had been expanded, stretching from Pamphylia northward to Pontius.

At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas again found opposition from both Jews and Gentiles, escaping a plot to kill them by fleeing to Lystra in the district of Lycaonia. Here, after healing a lame man, the two were mistaken for gods. Their fortunes changed quickly when Jews from Antioch and Iconium led a mob that stoned Paul and left him for dead.

Undeterred, Paul went to Derbe, where he and Barnabas were received more warmly. After a brief stay, Paul retraced his steps through Lystra, Iconium, Antioch in Pisidia, and Perga, strengthening the believers along the way before returning by sea from the port of Attalia to Antioch in Syria.

The Jerusalem Conference. Acts 15

Reports of Paul and Barnabas’ successes among the Gentiles reached Jerusalem and stirred a controversy, ‘must a Gentile convert submit to circumcision to be a Christian’?

The question was crucial since the issue of salvation was at stake. Paul and Barnabas led a delegation sent from Antioch to a conference convened in Jerusalem to discuss the matter. At the Jerusalem conference, Peter championed salvation by grace apart from any human works, leading the Jerusalem apostles and elders to commend the ministry to the Gentiles unfettered by Jewish legal observance. They requested only that Gentile believers be sensitive to certain Jewish customs, Acts 15:1-29.

‘Paul’s Second Missionary Journey’ Acts 15:36 – Acts 18:22

Rejoicing in this victory for the gospel, Paul returned to Antioch and planned a new venture with Barnabas.

Unfortunately, Paul and Barnabas quarrelled over whether or not John Mark should accompany them. Barnabas took John Mark with him to Cyprus, continuing the work there, while Paul selected Silas to accompany him back to Asia Minor.

Traveling through the Amanus Mountains into the Cilician Plain and then up on the Anatolian Plateau by way of the Cilician Gates, Paul again headed into Galatia, encouraging the churches established on his previous journey.

At Lystra, Paul asked Timothy to join him in his work. A son of a believing Jewish woman and a Gentile father, Timothy became one of Paul’s most steadfast and trusted companions, 1 Corinthians 4:17 / Acts 19:22 / 2 Timothy 1:1-8.

Paul’s initial objective for this trip was to evangelize the populous province of Asia on the west coast of Asia Minor, but the Spirit dictated a more north-westerly direction through Phrygia, south of Bithynia, into Mysia. In the port city of Troas, Paul received a vision of a Macedonian imploring him to cross over into Europe with his message, Acts 16:6-10.

Acts 16:10 introduces the famous ‘we’ passages of Acts, thought by many scholars to reflect the eyewitness account of one of Paul’s companions, Luke, who joined the apostle at this point. Boarding a ship at Troas, Paul and his companions overnighted on the island of Samothrace before arriving at Neapolis, the chief port of Macedonia.

From Neapolis, Paul followed the Via Egnatia inland into the heart of Macedonia. This important military highway carried commercial goods across Macedonia to the Adriatic Sea, a distance of over five hundred miles. Along its length lay important cities of Macedonia, Philippi, Apollonia, Amphipolis, and Thessalonica.

Rome occupied Macedonia as a province in 148 B.C. Later, Augustus re-founded several cities as Roman colonies, Philippi, Pella, and Dion, where he settled Roman veterans as a reward for their service to Rome. Thessalonica and Amphipolis were free cities. At the time of Paul’s visit, Macedonia was a senatorial province.

In his first visit to Macedonia, Paul established churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. His first convert on European soil was Lydia, a dealer of purple-dyed cloth from Thyatira. Paul met her outside the city at Philippi.

Located ten miles inland from Neapolis, Philippi was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Philippi increased in political importance when Mark Antony defeated Caesar’s assassins on a nearby plain in 42 B.C., after which Augustus re-founded the colony as Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensium.

Paul’s visit to Philippi was an eventful one. When Paul delivered a young slave woman from a Pythian spirit, local magistrates imprisoned and beat him and Silas. An earthquake provided an opportunity for the two to escape, but Paul stayed and shared his faith with the jailer.

Paul’s appeal to his Roman citizenship prompted fear among the magistrates and his release from prison. Shortly afterward, Paul and Silas departed for Thessalonica by way of Amphipolis and Apollonia.

Paul had a brief, contentious ministry in Thessalonica, a district capital of Macedonia and a major port. Initial success among God-fearing Gentiles and some Jews in a synagogue agitated a mob who attacked the house of Jason where the two missionaries were staying.

The mob charged Paul with proclaiming a king other than Caesar, an act of treason against the Roman Empire. Although the charge was false, Paul and Silas fled to Berea, where several prominent Greek men and women received the gospel. However, Jewish agitators arrived from Thessalonica, forcing an end to Paul’s first Macedonian mission.

The mission had borne much fruit; three churches were established, two of which were strategically located on the Via Egnatia. The Gospel would travel far along this commercial conduit. Paul developed a deep affection for the Macedonian churches, as revealed in his letters.

First Thessalonians commends the church for spreading the Gospel in Macedonia and Achaia, 1 Thessalonians 1:8. Paul’s love and gratitude for the Philippian Christians resonates in his warmest letter addressed to the church at Philippi, penned during a later imprisonment. Philippians 1:3-11 / Philippians 4:10-20.

Paul left Macedonia and journeyed on to Athens, probably by sea, leaving Silas and Timothy behind in Berea. Athens was still an intellectual centre, but the city had already lost its political and commercial leadership in Greece.

Depressed by paganism’s grip upon the ancient city, evidenced by a multitude of idols, Paul preached in the synagogue and daily debated Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the marketplace. His message attracted the attention of members of the Areopagus, a body of men concerned with investigating new ideas espoused in Athens.

You will notice that Paul doesn’t mention Jesus at all by name, which I believe was a missed opportunity, as he tried to take on the sceptics with his own intellect, instead of trusting in the power of the Word.

Originally, the Areopagus met on a hill northwest of the Acropolis, Mars Hill, but by Paul’s day the members likely met in one of the stoas which was colonnaded buildings open on one side, in the civic agora or marketplace. Paul invoked Greek poets as he preached before the members of the venerable council; one member of the council, Dionysius, became a believer. However, most members of the Aeropagus scoffed at the idea of a resurrection, Acts 17:22-34.

Paul soon left Athens for Corinth, fifty-five miles to the southwest, whether by land or sea is not stated. Corinth was the proconsular capital of Achaia and one of the major commercial centres of the Roman world.

Here Paul met fellow tent makers Aquila and Priscilla, recently forced to leave Rome by an edict of Claudius banishing Jews. Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth, the second-longest recorded stay of his missionary activities. Silas and Timothy re-joined Paul at Corinth just as the apostle encountered great resistance to his message in the local synagogue.

Paul then moved into the home of Titus Justus and concentrated his efforts on the Gentiles. While at Corinth, Paul also penned two of his earliest New Testament letters, 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Near the end of Paul’s stay, the Jews brought charges against him before Gallio, the proconsul, who found no merit in their claims. The Roman proconsul dismissed the charges as religious matters of no concern to Rome.

An inscription found at Delphi mentions Gallio’s proconsulship and provides a firm date for the Pauline chronology. According to data from the inscription, Gallio commenced his duties July 1, A.D. 51., a fact that allows us to date Paul’s arrival in Corinth sometime in A.D. 50.

Paul left Corinth for the nearby port of Cenchreae accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla. There he kept a vow before sailing back to Syria. Paul stopped briefly at Ephesus, where he parted with his friends and sailed on to Caesarea.

‘Paul’s Third Missionary Journey/’ Acts 18:23 – Acts 21:14

After a brief stay at Antioch, Paul resumed his missionary endeavours, traveling northwest into Asia Minor. He revisited the churches of Galatia and strengthened the believers in the face of a threat posed by the Judaizers described in Galatians. Paul’s destination, however, was Ephesus, the great commercial emporium located on the western coast of Asia Minor.

This third journey actually was an extended stay of over two years in Ephesus, Acts 19:10. Paul’s work in Ephesus advanced the Gospel along the valleys that descended westward from the Anatolian Plateau, Hermus, Cayster, and Meander Valleys, and perhaps the Caicus Valley as well.

Paul sent disciples such as Epaphras up the valleys to evangelise key cities, Colossians 1:7. Many of the churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 must have been established in these years.

Paul approached Ephesus from the east, perhaps traveling by Pisidian Antioch through Phyrgia into Asia and then down the Cayster Valley. A city of over a quarter million people, Ephesus controlled important land and sea routes. Thousands of pilgrims came to Ephesus yearly to honour the great goddess Artemis, whose temple stood in Ephesus.

Paul’s stay in Ephesus was fraught with anxieties and danger. He wrote about being ‘burdened immensely, beyond our strength’, 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and compared his experiences in Ephesus to ‘fighting wild beasts’, 1 Corinthians 15:32

Despite the obstacles, Paul persevered, preaching first in the synagogue and then teaching daily in the lecture hall of the rhetorician Tyrannus. Paul extended his ministry through letter writing, 1 and 2 Corinthians, possibly Romans, and by dispatching assistants by sea to the troubled church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 4:17, and to Macedonia, Acts 19:22.

In Ephesus, Paul’s labours affected local magicians, who subsequently burned their books containing magical incantations. Moreover, Paul’s preaching caused a reduction in the sale of idols of Artemis to pilgrims visiting the temple of Artemis, Diana, prompting a riot led by Demetrius the silversmith. Calmer heads prevailed when the city clerk persuaded the mob that they courted Roman reprisals for such unlawful actions.

Shortly thereafter, Paul departed for Macedonia and Greece, fulfilling a previously expressed desire to revisit the troubled church at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 1:15-16. His route is not stated, but he probably sailed from Troas, as in his earlier visit.

After exhorting believers in Macedonia, Paul went to Corinth for a three-month visit. When spring came, he determined to sail for Syria. A plot on his life forced Paul to retrace his steps back through Macedonia, where he sailed for Troas.

At Troas, Paul restored life to the unfortunate Eutychus who, while slumbering during Paul’s sermon, suffered a deadly fall.

Traveling on to Assos by land, Paul re-joined his ship and passed through the Samos Straits to Miletus, where he said farewell to the elders of Ephesus. From Miletus, Paul journeyed homeward to Jerusalem, going first to Patara by way of Cos and Rhodes and then to Caesarea with stops at Tyre and Ptolemais.

Although repeatedly warned by friends not to go up to Jerusalem for fear of reprisals because of his work among the Gentiles, Paul nonetheless was determined to report his work to the Jerusalem church.

Paul’s Voyage to Rome. Acts 27:1 – Acts 28:16

Paul remained in Caesarea under arrest until Porcius Festus replaced Felix in A.D. 60. Festus and Agrippa II heard Paul’s eloquent testimony but remained unmoved, even though they agreed Paul had done nothing to deserve imprisonment or death.

Had Paul not appealed to Caesar as was his privilege as a Roman citizen, he might have been set free. However, Paul’s appeal set him on a voyage to Rome, Acts 27-28.

Sea journeys on the Mediterranean from east to west were difficult due to the prevailing north-westerly winds, the ‘Etesian Winds’. Moreover, Paul began his voyage late in the sailing season when unexpected storms threatened.

Accompanied by Aristarchus from Thessalonica, Acts 19:29 / Acts 20:4, Luke, and in the custody of the centurion Julius, Paul joined other prisoners for a two-thousand-mile voyage to Rome. Paul embarked on a small trading vessel heading to home port at Adramyttium, a city on the northwest coast of Asia Minor.

The initial phase of the trip followed the coast to Sidon and then headed northwest past the lee of Cyprus ‘because the winds were against us’, Acts 27:4

Upon arrival at Myra in Lycia, the centurion located a much larger Alexandrian grain freighter bound for Rome.

These great ships supplied Rome with wheat; the largest freighters measured 180 feet long with a beam width of 50 feet. Paul and his party joined the 276 crew members and passengers bound for Italy. The heavy cargo and passenger load increased the risk of sailing, especially so late in the season.

Making for Salmone on the eastern tip of Crete, the pilot sailed to Fair Havens, a small harbour in southern Crete. Paul considered remaining in Fair Havens for the winter, but those in charge suggested wintering at Phoenix on the Cretan coast, some forty miles to the west.

The dash toward Phoenix following favourable light winds became a fourteen-day nightmare when gale-force winds drove the ship south-westward to the small island of Cauda. The crew fought to gain control of the vessel, using sea anchors and jettisoning cargo in a desperate bid to avoid the deadly shallows off North Africa known as Syrtis Major. Drifting helplessly for several days, the crew lost any hope of rescue.

Paul received a vision in those dark days that he and the crew would be divinely spared. On the fourteenth night, the vessel approached land, and the crew feared the ship would be smashed against the rocks. After an aborted attempt to abandon ship, the crew deployed sea anchors to slow their drift and prayed for daylight. Dawn revealed an unfamiliar land with a bay.

Risking everything, the crew set a course for the beach but ran aground on a reef, the ship breaking up under the pounding waves. The centurion, ordering his soldiers not to kill the prisoners to prevent escape, gave the command to abandon ship and swim for shore. Those who could not swim clung to debris as they washed to shore.

After washing up on shore, the survivors discovered they had landed on the island of Malta. Publius, a leading citizen of the island, provided help and hospitality to Paul and his companions. The group wintered in Malta, awaiting the arrival of favourable weather conditions. This allowed Paul opportunity to exercise a healing ministry that included relief given to Publius’ father.

Three months later, in the custody of Julius, Paul boarded another Egyptian grain ship bound for Italy. The ship put in at Syracuse in Sicily and then sailed on to Rhegium. Catching a favourable wind, the ship sailed on to Puteoli in the Gulf of Naples.

Puteoli was a major port receiving the grain supply from Egypt vital to Rome. During the reign of Claudius, the port of Ostia increasingly supplied Rome’s needs. Located at the mouth of the Tiber, Ostia had a new harbour just north of the city named Portus.

Believers at Puteoli hosted Paul for a week, and then, after adequate rest, Paul’s party headed north along the Via Campana to Capua and then by the Via Appia to Rome. Upon hearing of Paul’s arrival in Italy, groups of Roman Christians went to greet the apostle at two-way stations on the Via Appia, the Forum of Appius, forty-three miles from Rome, and Three Taverns, thirty-three miles from Rome.

According to Acts, Paul spent two years in Rome, preaching the gospel with confidence and boldness, awaiting the adjudication of his appeal to Nero.

Paul marching on Rome!

Think about that! How successful does he expect to be? What does he hope to gain?

Well. I don’t suppose that he had any illusions about the size of the task. He knew about Rome. He knew about Roman might and Roman hardness, and Roman brutality, but he also knew that secret of success did not lie in any ability he might personally possess, but in the power of the Gospel of Christ.

And he also knew that if Rome were to yield to the Gospel, the impact would be felt throughout the world of that time. Of course, today, you and I understand all this, and we can share Paul’s feelings, his enthusiasm, and his confidence in the power of the Gospel.

But, put yourself in the place of a Roman and listen to these words as though you were a Roman.

‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God to salvation.’ Romans 1:16

And then look at this insignificant little Jewish Tentmaker, who has a head full of fantastic notions about a young Jewish preacher named Jesus, who has been crucified under the governorship of Pontius Pilate, in Judea, only about 33 years old at the time, and this little man, Paul, entertains the idea of marching on Rome!


If the Romans even noticed this travel-stained man, trudging wearily up the Appian Way into Rome and had been told that he believed that the most powerful thing in the world had been committed to his trust, they would either have smiled tolerantly, or laughed outright in contempt!

How did it all work out?

Let Gibbon tell us, ‘….and finally erected the standard of the cross on the ruins of the Roman Empire.’



"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."