Scholars are generally agreed that Luke recounts three missionary journeys in Acts. Paul’s second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16-19) read like an ancient travel log. Paul, Silas and later Timothy, travel through the central part of what is now modern day Turkey. Initially they seek to visit the new Churches Paul founded in Syria, Cilicia and Galatia, travelling until they reach the coast at Troas. In the night Paul experiences a vision and he immediately sails across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia (Acts 16:9).
The narrative perspective becomes more vivid at this point as Luke begins to narrate as an eyewitness of this part of the journey. He notes, “we sought passage to Macedonia at once” (Acts 16:10). They soon arrive at Philippi which was a leading city of that region and a Roman colony (Acts 16:12).
On the Sabbath Paul and Silas begin ministering to the Jewish community. In this section Luke recounts two conversions, one of a prominent women and one of a man. It appears that Philippi did not have a quorum of men to found a Jewish synagogue. Paul visits “a place of prayer” by the river and preaches to a number of women. One of the women is a wealthy merchant named Lydia. Luke calls her a “worshiper of God” (16:14) and this may imply that she was a Gentile who was attached to Judaism but not yet a convert. Lydia “listened, and the Lord opened her heart” and she came to believe. As a result Lydia and household are baptized.
Later Paul and Silas cast out a demon from a slave girl who makes money for her owner through divination. The owner of the slave had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten and thrown in jail. Later Paul and Silas are miraculously freed from jail by God through an earthquake. The Philippian jailer, thinking he has failed his superiors and allowed the prisoners to escape, tries to fall on his sword. Paul stops him and the jailer and his entire household believe and are baptized. The authorities finally discover that Paul and Silas are Roman citizens and apologize for their illegal mistreatment but nevertheless ask them to immediately leave their town (16:40).
Paul and Silas then travelled to Thessalonica, the capital city of this province, where they preached for three weeks in a Jewish synagogue and persuaded many Jews and a great many devout Greeks and even a few of the leading women to become believers (17:4). Soon after this some of the others Jews became jealous and “set the city in an uproar.” Paul and Silas were forced to leave and to travel on to Borea. In this city they again began to preach in the synagogue and are very successful. Many Jews and Greeks believed. Luke tells us that the Jews in Beroea “were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all willingness and examined the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Soon the Jews in Thessalonica heard about Paul’s ministry in Beroea and they came “stirring up and inciting the crowds.” Paul leaves by sea but “Silas and Timothy remained there.”
Paul arrives in Athens and preaches in the synagogues and market place each day. Eventually he meets some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who invite him to speak in the Areopagus. Paul attempts to connect the message of the gospel to an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God’ (17:23). Initially Paul intrigues them with his talk of the “God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands” (17:24) but when he mentioned the resurrection of the dead, some began to mock him but a few believed (17:32).
“After this he left Athens and went to Corinth.” (18:1). Here Paul met a Jew named Aquila and his wife Priscilla who were also tentmakers by trade, so Paul lived with them. Following his usual pattern Paul preached in the synagogues attempting to convince both Jews and Greeks. After the arrival of Timothy and Silas, the local Jews opposed and reviled him so he moved next door to the synagogue to “a house belonging to a man named Titus Justus.” Many Jews and Greeks were baptized including Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, “together with his entire household.” (18:8). Paul, having received a vision, “settled there for a year and a half and taught the word of God among them” (18:17). Again persecution broke out and Paul was brought before Gallio the proconsul of Achaia, but he dismissed the matter. After staying a while longer Paul sailed for Syria, together with Priscilla and Aquila. He stopped briefly to preach in the synagogue of Ephesus and then sailed to Caesarea and returned to Antioch (18:18-22).
After staying some time in Antioch Paul begin a new missionary journey travelling again in orderly sequence through Galatia and Phrygia and arriving in Ephesus. Here Paul and his companions met a Hellenistic Jew from Alexandria, named Apollos, who had apparently been instructed about Jesus but was not baptized. Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos preach and “they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.” At Ephesus, Apollos “vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.” (18:28)
While ministering at Ephesus, Paul met an unusual group of disciples who had only received John the Baptist’s ‘baptism of repentance’ rather than a Christian baptism. As a result they had not received the Holy Spirit. Paul preached to them and baptized them, laying his hands on them. They immediately received the gift of the Holy Spirit. At Ephesus Paul once again begins preaching in the synagogue until he faces rejection. Luke tells us that Paul preached daily for two years performing many miracles in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. As a result of these miracles and exorcisms many who practiced magic arts were won over to the faith. Luke reports, “And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all” (19:19).
The history of the early church reminds us that the Christian faith is life transforming and that as Christians begin to live the holiness of their common Baptismal calling society and culture are transformed by this live giving encounter with Christ.
Scott McKellar is Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.
© Scott McKellar published in the Catholic Key newspaper May 11th, 2012.