Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over the usefulness of Barnabas’s cousin John-Mark, with Paul arguing that John-Mark had deserted them on their first missionary Journey. The result of this rift is that for Paul’s next journey, he would have Silas as his companion.
The Second Journey
Paul and Silas traveled to Derbe and Lystra, towns in which Paul and Barnabas had previously established communities of believers. In Lystra, Paul and Silas picked up another companion, a young man named Timotheus (Timothy), a member of the Christian community. Timothy’s father was Greek, and his mother a Jew. In light of the recent council and its pronouncements, what Paul has Timothy do is surprising:
Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek (Acts 16:3)
The reason would seem to be that Paul, whose plan as always would be to first go to the synagogue, wanted Timothy to be “less” of a Gentile and more of a Jew.
From Lystra they made their way to Troas, where they picked up Luke. In the book of Acts, written by Luke, you find the subjects of travel changing from “Paul and his companions” to “we”, indicating Luke’s inclusion.
Paul intended to head toward Ephesus, an ancient Greek city and capital of the Roman province of Asia. The Holy Spirit had other plans, and He blocked their way. In Mysia, once again the Sprit blocked their planned route. Finally, the Spirit gave positive direction: Paul had a vision of a Macedonian asking for help. Paul and his three companions (Silas, Timothy, and Luke) agreed that they were being summoned to Macedonia. So the four of them crossed the north Aegean into Macedonia.
Upon landing in the port town of Neapolis, they traveled on a great Roman highway to the town of Philippi. Philippi had been a Roman colony since 42 B.C., when Antony and Octavian settled their veterans there after their victory over Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar.
The missionaries did not, as they usually did, go to the synagogue. The reason is that there were not enough Jews in Philippi to warrant one. (The quorum for a synagogue was and is ten Jewish men.) Instead, the Jews and God-fearers met to pray on the bank of the river Gagites outside the city gate. One of those present was a dealer in purple cloth by the name of Lydia. She and her household were baptized, and she opened her house to Paul and his companions.
Paul and Silas proceeded to get themselves in trouble with the authorities when they exorcized a demon from a slave-girl. This particular girl had a quite interesting method of attacking Paul and Silas: she followed them around singing their praises:
17This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." 18She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:17-18)
Her message was good and true, but she must have been delivering it in some annoying and disruptive manner.
Casting out the demon is of course a good thing, except that it left the girl unable to earn money as a fortune teller, which enraged her owners, who filed a complaint. The chief magistrates heard the complaint, handed Paul and Silas over for a beating and imprisonment. The next day, the magistrates were mortified to discover that the two were Roman citizens. Paul and Silas received an apology but were sent packing, the responsibility of protecting the two unpopular Roman citizens was too great for the local authorities. Paul, Silas, and Timothy left, while Luke remained behind.
Continuing along the highway (the Egnatian Road), the next significant stop for the three was at Thessalonica, capital of the province of Macedonia. Here the familiar pattern is mostly followed: speaking at the synagogue, proclaiming that the ancient prophecies are fulfilled by the risen Christ, establishing a new community comprised of God-fearers and some Jews, and then being run out of town, this time by a professional mob that the Jews had recruited from the market place.
However, there are some variations. This time the message, while appealing, as always, to the common classes, was also received by prominent woman, but not their husbands—who presumably were local leaders of the community.
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. (Acts 17:4)
Also, a new friend of Paul’s had to put up a monetary guarantee that Paul would not return and cause more commotion:
Then they made Jason [who was housing the missionaries] and the others post bond and let them [Paul and Silas] go. (Acts 17:9)
Although the community they established thrived, it is likely that the husbands of the prominent woman converts denigrated Paul and Silas—perhaps by asking what type of men would stir up trouble only to run away at the first sign of personal risk. This sense that their characters had been assaulted was evident in the letter that Paul wrote to the community at Thessalonica shortly after leaving.
1You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. (1 Thess. 2:1-2)
Paul wanted to return to set the record straight and face his detractors. However, his hands were tied, for in doing so he would cause Jason to lose the bond he had paid to ensure that Paul would stay away. Paul saw his dilemma as being of sinister origin.
17But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18For we wanted to come to you--certainly I, Paul, did, again and again--but Satan stopped us. (1 Thess. 2:17-18)
From Thessalonica the three headed south to Berea. There they enjoyed one of their easiest stops in the sense that they were warmly received at the synagogue by the Berean Jews and God-Fearers, who were “nobler” than the Thessalonians and famously studious when it came to the scriptures. Here, for the first time, they might have taught in peace. No, it wasn’t to be. Once again a posse of angry Jews rolled into town, this time from Thessalonica. With Timothy and Silas staying behind in Berea, the brothers escorted Paul to Athens. Paul sent word for Timothy and Silas to join him as soon as possible.
Paul at Athens
Athens’s glory days were behind her, but she was still regarded as a center of thinking and culture. As in the days of Pericles and Demosthenes, the Athenians gathered at the Agora (marketplace) to engage in public debate.
Paul, brought up with respect for the second commandment, was disgusted by this city full of idols.
At the Agora, Paul debated with followers of at least two of the great schools of philosophy that were flourishing, the Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans were borderline ascetic, championing life’s “simpler” pleasures and tranquility and freedom from fear through knowledge, friendship, and temperate living. The Epicureans are the presages of the scientific classes, and they denounced superstition and divine intervention and the afterlife. The Stoics were like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock: free of the passions of love, hate, fear, pain, and pleasure. Some translations use the word “babbler” to depict how these philosophers described Paul and his arguments, but the actual word was Athenian slang: spermologos, which was used for a sort of pseudo-intellectual charlatan who retailed scraps of learning that he picked up during his travels.
Actually, Athens was a pseudo-intellectual paradise:
(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) (Acts 17:21)
The two predominant terms in Paul’s discourse, Jesus and Anastasis (resurrection) were interpreted by the listeners as something along the lines of “healing” and “restoring”, and so they thought that these were two new deities (foreign gods) that Paul was commending for their worship, and so they ridiculed him.
But Paul’s teaching did intrigue enough of his listeners that he was invited to the Aeropagus. Once the city’s homicide court, by Roman times it was a sort of aristocratic court or council of religious and moral thought with control over public lectures.
For the text of Paul’s speech, he used an inscription he found on an altar in the city: Agnosto Theo, “To the unknown God.” Elsewhere it is written that once, during pestilence, the Athenians send for the Cretan wise man Epimenides (6th century B.C), who advised them to release some sheep on a hill, and to offer sacrifices at the spot where the sheep rested. As a result, “anonymous altars” were found in the region as late as the third century A.D. It was one of these altars that Paul saw. To the assembly at the Aeropagus, Paul said “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” He continued, telling them of the God who revealed himself in creation, the God of whom all men are offspring. No race could claim superiority, as the Athenians did. This message would have appealed to some, for it describes God in much the same terms that Epimenides used in describing Zeus:
They carved a tomb for thee, O holy and high one!
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies!'
For thou dost not die, thou art ever alive and risen
For in thee we live and move and have our being.
Paul even quotes this quatrain in his letter to Titus:
Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." (Titus 1:12)
The Cretans were “always liars” because they refused to retract their claim that Zeus’s tomb was on Crete.
After connecting with (at least some) of his audience with a description of God, Paul went on to a distinctly Christian message, saying that while God had overlooked their ignorance, that had now ended, for all men have been called to repent, and that God had assigned the day when all would be judged. The man through whom the judgment will occur has been appointed, and “He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Here, he alienated many of the philosophically oriented, for they viewed the body as a prison that, upon death, the soul was only too glad to cast aside. Immortality was acceptable (except for the Epicureans) but resurrection was utter nonsense. It was represented in their literature that the Greek god Apollo himself had said:
But when the earth has drunk up a man’s blood,
Once he is dead, there is no anastasis (resurrection)
The anastasis proclaimed by Paul was even more bizarre than they had thought—for it was the ultimate fate of all men. Some were polite and asked Paul to speak again, some scoffed at Paul’s strange views, but a few did believe, even a member of the court of the Aeropagus, Dionysius who it believed eventually became Bishop of Athens.
Paul had been in Athens for just a few days when Silas and Timothy arrived. Paul sent them back to Macedonia, for he was interested in how the churches he started were faring, and in particular he was concerned about the believers in Thessalonica.
As for Paul, he went on to Corinth where he met Aquila and Priscilla, recently arrived from Rome. When Silas and Timothy returned with a good report from Macedonia, Paul had his strongest team yet. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half and built up a large community, which we discussed in Lesson 2.
“Diana” of the Ephesians
Since we have already discussed Paul’s work at Corinth, we will move on to Paul’s next stop: Ephesus. He arrived in the autumn of A.D. 52 and spent two and a half years there. To say that he left his mark on Asia Minor is an understatement. The Christianity established at Ephesus lasted until 1923 when the Greeks were expelled. While Paul spent most of this time in Ephesus, he sent his colleagues out to the cities of Asia. It is likely, for example, that the seven churches of Revelation were founded at this time. Also the “cold” church at Colossae and the “hot” church at Hierapolis (in addition to the lukewarm church at Laodicea.
It is likely that Christianity reached Ephesus ahead of Paul, but not under apostolic direction (for Paul had a policy of not building on another apostle’s foundation—rather Christianity arrived by “unofficial” word of mouth, not surprising considering the traffic that passed through Ephesus.
One evidence that Christianity had already arrived are encounters such as this:
Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. 4Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-6)
Paul’s work had an impact on a widespread practice in Ephesus: magic. So common was this practice, that the name used throughout the region for scrolls containing magic instruction was “Ephesian letters.” Luke gives us an interesting account of the fate of many of these scrolls:
18Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. (Acts 19:18-19)
One interesting tidbit has been learned about the content of these scrolls: The ineffable name of the God of Israel was blasphemously employed in the most powerful of the magical spells. The arrival of a new name to invoke illegally is behind one of the more humorous accounts exorcism which took place in Ephesus:
13Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (Acts 19:13-16)
If it had been a practice at the time, Luke would have used quotes in this passage, i.e., “Jewish chief priest”.
Mostly through his epistles, we can surmise that Paul faced many life threatening episodes while in Ephesus. Consider:
If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Cor. 15:32)
By the syntax used, many believe this does not refer to a literal occurrence where Paul faced actual lions, but a metaphorical reference to some other life-threatening danger that he faced. At another point, things were so bad that Paul despaired of life itself:
…about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. (2 Cor. 1:8-10)
However, of all these perils, the danger most linked with Paul’s stay in Ephesus is the riot of 55 A.D. started by the artisans who made their living supporting the widespread worship of Artemis of Ephesus.
The KJV and NKJV refer to her as Diana. The NIV and NASB refer to the goddess as Artemis. Sorry KJV only types: you are wrong in this case. Diana was the name of a Roman goddess whom they identified with the Greek goddess Artemis, and for some reason the KJV made the decision to use the Latin names of Roman counterparts when discussing Greek gods.
Artemis (who was not the Artemis of Greek mythology) was worshipped in Ephesus with a special veneration. An earlier temple had burned down. Its replacement was so magnificent as to be named one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. And the image of the goddess enshrined in her temple was not made by man, it fell from the heavens:
After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, "Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? (Acts 19:35)
It was, evidently, a meteorite, and there are other instances in ancient times of meteorites becoming objects of worship.
The silversmiths of Ephesus drew the bulk of their income creating miniature Artemis shrines, some of which had survived. With the work of Paul, the supremacy of Artemis began to wane, as former devotees turned to the Way. This was bad for the shrine business. The guild held a meeting under the leadership of Demetrius, in a theater that later excavation revealed to boast of a capacity of 25,000. The demonstration was ostensibly for the goddess Artemis, in reality it was against those who did not worship her: Jews and Christians. The fact that the Jews were not responsible for their loss of business was too fine of a distinction, even though the Jews tried to disassociate themselves from the Christians. It took a clever town clerk, fearful that rioting would bring in the Roman army, to quite and disperse the mob.
This would not be the last time that Christianity was blamed for the hard times of a local business. For example, sixty years later in Bithynia (north-west Asia Minor) the business that catered to the sacrificial system (animals, fodder) would complain—because Christianity had reduced the need for commodities related to animal sacrifice.
And the end of his stay, Paul headed to Jerusalem. After that he had his dream trip on his mind: Spain and Rome.