First Missionary Journey

 

Summary of the First Missionary 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:

"Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which 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  BC  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, 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.

 Below, satellite view of the ancient port of Seleucia ad Pieria

satellite view of ancient port of Seleucia

Below, modern Samandağ, near the site of ancient Seleucia, with Mount Cassius.

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. Today the ruins can be seen near the modern village of Samandäg, about 16 miles southwest of Antakya, Turkey. In its heyday the port town had a population of 30,000. Seleucia was destroyed in 1268 and never rebuilt.

north end of seleucia harbor

Below, remains of the Seleucia city walls.

remains of the Seleucia city walls.

Below, Titus (or Gariz) Tunnel, driven through solid rock at the time of the Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus in an attempt to divert the flow of water and save the harbor from silting up (it didn't work).

titus tunnel

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.

Cyprus

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.

Cyprus satallite view

Historically, Cyprus was an important source of copper and timber, used in shipbuilding. Between 2000 and 1000  BC, Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Crete, the Aegean Islands and Greece all conducted trade with Cyprus. After 1000  BC , 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.

ship from the time of paul

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

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.

Below, remains of the gymnasium at Salamis, built in the 1st century AD over the ruins an earlier structure destroyed by an earthquake.

gymnasium at salamis

 Below, gymnasium swimming pool surrounded by statues.

ymnasium swimming pool surrounded by statues.

Below, Palaestra (exercise area) of the gymnasium.

Palaestra (exercise area) of the gymnasium.

Theater at Salamis, built towards the end of the 1st century BC , with seating for 15,000.

salamis theaterwith partially intact seats

 

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:

"When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper." (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. (Below, the Troodos mountain range stretching across most of the western side of Cyprus.)

troodos mountains on Cyprus

Continue to Paphos, Cyprus