Paul’s Missionary Journeys

Paul, who we read about in the Biblical book of Acts, was the first person to travel widely telling people about Jesus. He is considered the first missionary – a word meaning someone who is sent out. You can read about the beginning of the church and how Paul became part of it on the page church history begins.┬áPaul and Barnabas were part of the church of Antioch (in Syria) when they were called by God to leave their homes and travel abroad. We don’t know the exact date when this happened, but it was probably in about the year AD 44 – around ten to twelve years after the death of Jesus. In those days travelling was obviously more difficult than it was now, and considerably slower.

The first of Paul’s┬ámissionary journeys

They set sail and travelled first to Cyprus, then on to Turkey. Paul spoke mainly to people who were Jews – who already knew God and tried to keep his laws – and explained how Jesus fulfilled some of the prophecies that the Jewish people believed. Many of them believed him, although there were others who objected strongly to what they said. Sometimes they had to leave a town, if the authorities objected too strongly.

In one of the cities in Turkey, Paul was able to heal someone who had been crippled from birth. Unfortunately the people who saw this didn’t understand that the healing power came from God. Instead, they thought that Paul and Barnabas were themselves gods. They weren’t able to persuade them that they were just ordinary men; then some of the Jewish authorities, who did not like the message about Jesus, turned the crowds against them until they threw stones at Paul.

On the return journey they visited most of the cities where they had been on the outgoing trip, and tried to encourage the groups of believers they found. They appointed elders – older, wiser people who would keep an eye on the younger people and try to ensure they learned as much as possible about Jesus. There is no indication that there were individual ‘churches’ as we know them – the believers in each city were the church of that city, whether or not they gathered together regularly.

You can read about Paul’s first missionary journey in Acts chapter 13.and chapter 14. It all seems to happen quite rapidly, condensed as it is into these two fairly short chapters of the Bible. But given that travel on land was generally on foot, and that by sea was in sailing ships, this first trip probably lasted at least two years, perhaps more.

The second of Paul’s missionary journeys

After they had been home for a while, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they re-visit the places they had been to before, and see how they were doing. This probably happened in about the year AD 49. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, a young man who had been with them part of the way on the first journey. But Paul disagreed, and they couldn’t resolve the conflict. So they decided to go separately. Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus, while Paul chose another man called Silas, and started out through parts of Syria en route to Turkey via land.

Paul had planned to go into Asia, but God stopped him from doing that and sent him instead to Macedonia – part of what we would now call Greece. This was the start of the church in Europe, where it has been significant for 20 centuries. Macedonia was mostly a pagan town, under Roman authority, so the Paul’s audience was rather different from the mainly Jewish groups he had previously spoken to. Not surprisingly there was opposition to their message about Jesus, and Paul and Silas were thrown into jail.

A violent earthquake led to the destruction of the jail, and Paul was able to tell the jailer and his family about Jesus. The following day he let the authorities know that he was himself a Roman citizen as well as Jew, and that they had no right to imprison him! He continued to other parts of Greece, speaking sometimes to Jews, sometimes to Greeks who believed in God, and sometimes to others. In each city some people believed in Jesus, and others didn’t. He stayed variable amounts of time in each city, with a particularly long spell in Corinth, another Greek city.

You can read the Biblical account of Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts chapter 16, chapter 17 and chapter 18. Once again, it all sounds fairly fast-paced, but with the long stay in Corinth as well as the extensive travelling, this trip is likely to have lasted at least three years. Paul wrote several letters during this journey, some of which became part of the New Testament section of the Bible.

The third of Paul’s missionary journeys

After some time back home, where Paul encouraged people in Antioch and helped to settle some disputes, he set out once more for his last missionary journey. This probably began in about the year AD 53. Once again he travelled by land through Turkey, and on to various cities in Greece. He encouraged the believers, taught them, and helped to sort out some of the difficulties that arose. Some of the local silversmiths, who made money from selling statues of the Greek pagan gods, were angry; if people believed that there was only one God, and that he didn’t want idols made, they would lose money!

Paul stayed as long as was necessary in each town, as he was fairly sure that he would not return again. He knew that he had to go to Jerusalem, and was fairly sure he would die there. So part of the reason for this trip was to say goodbye to some of the people he had come to regard as brothers and sisters in the ever-increasing church around the area.

You can read about Paul’s third missionary journey in Acts chapter 19, chapter 20 and chapter 21. Chapter 21 shows us Paul finally arriving in Jerusalem, and subsequent chapters explain in detail about Paul’s arrest, his defence, and his trials. He was eventually (after some years) sent to Rome, and shipwrecked on the way, leading to a lengthy detour in Malta. In Rome he was arrested again, and while awaiting his trial he wrote several more of the letters that became part of the New Testament. At last he was freed, claiming his rights as a Roman citizen once more.

The book of Acts ends with Paul still in Rome, teaching people in the house he was renting. It’s likely, however, that he was eventually arrested again, found guilty, and beheaded, in around the year 68 AD.

You can see visual outlines of Paul’s travels on this page of maps of Paul’s missionary journeys or this page showing a map of Paul’s first missionary journey, which has links below to maps of the second and third as well.

More church history pages:

Church history begins
Early church persecutions
Christian martyrs in the third century
Early church heresies
Constantine and the council of Nicea