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Article Info
published: 3/31/13

Antioch in the Bible



Antioch in the New Testament

paul raphael
Paul by Raphael

Antioch of Pisidia was so called to distinguish it from the many other cities of the same name founded by Seleucus Nicator (301-280 BC) and called after his father Antiochus. It was situated in a strong position, on a plateau close to the western bank of the river Anthios, which flows down from the Sultan Dagh to the double lake called Limnai (Egerdir Gol).

It was planted on the territory of a great estate belonging to the priests of the native religion; the remaining portions of this estate belonged later to the Roman emperors, and many inscriptions connected with the cult of the emperors, who succeeded to the Divine as well as to the temporal rights of the god, have survived. (See Sir W. M. Ramsay's paper on "The Tekmoreian Guest-Friends" in Studies in the History and Art of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 1906.)


The plateau on which Antioch stood commands one of the roads leading from the East to the Meander and Ephesus; the Seleucid kings regularly founded their cities in Asia Minor at important strategical points, to strengthen their hold on the native tribes. There is no evidence that a Greek city existed on the site of Antioch before the foundation of Seleucus. Ramsay must be right in connecting Strabo's statement that Antioch was colonized by Greeks from Magnesia on the Meander with the foundation by Seleucus; for it is extremely unlikely that Greeks could have built and held a city in such a dangerous position so far inland before the conquest of Alexander.

Pre-Alexandrian Greek cities are seldom to be found in the interior of Asia Minor, and then only in the open river valleys of the west. But there must have been a Phrygian fortress at or near Antioch when the Phrygian kings were at the height of their power. The natural boundary of Phrygian territory in this district is the Pisidian Mts., and the Phrygians could only have held the rich valley between the Sultan Dagh and Egerdir Lake against the warlike tribes of the Pisidian mountains on condition that they had a strong settlement in the neighborhood. We shall see below that the Phrygians did occupy this side of the Sultan Dagh, controlling the road at a critical point.

The Seleucid colonists were Greeks, Jews and Phrygians, if we may judge by the analogy of similar Seleucid foundations. That there were Jews in Antioch is proved by Acts 13:14,50, and by an inscription of Apollonia, a neighboring city, mentioning a Jewess Deborah, whose ancestors had held office in Antioch (if Ramsay's interpretation of the inscription, The Cities of Paul, 256, is correct).

In 189 BC, after the peace with Antiochus the Great, the Romans made Antioch a "free city"; this does not mean that any change was made in its constitution but only that it ceased to pay tribute to the Seleucid kings. Antony gave Antioch to Amyntas of Galatia in 39 BC, and hence it was included in the province Galatia (see &GALATIA) formed in 25 BC out of Amyntas' kingdom. Not much before 6 BC, Antioch was made a Roman colony, with the title Caesareia Antiocheia; it was now the capital of southern Galatia and the chief of a series of military colonies founded by Augustus, and connected by a system of roads as yet insufficiently explored, to hold down the wild tribes of Pisidia, Isauria and Pamphylia.

Pisidian Antioch

Much controversy has raged round the question whether Antioch was in Phrygia or in Pisidia at the time of Paul. Strabo defines Antioch as a city of Phrygia toward Pisidia, and the same description is implied in Acts 16:6, and 18:23. Other authorities assign Antioch to Pisidia, and it admittedly belonged to Pisidia after the province of that name was formed in 295 AD. In the Pauline period it was a city of Galatia, in the district of Galatia called Phrygia (to distinguish it from other ethnical divisions of Galatia, e.g. Lycaonia).

This view is certain on a study of the historical conditions (see Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, 25 f); and is supported by the fact that Phrygian inscriptions (the surest sign of the presence of a Phrygian population, for only Phrygians used the Phrygian language) have been found around Antioch. See &PISIDIA. This corner of Phrygia owed its incorporation in the province Galatia to the military situation in 39 BC, when Amyntas was entrusted with the task of quelling the disorderly Pisidian tribes.

No scheme of military conquest in the Pisidian mountains could omit this important strategical point on the Northwest. This fact was recognized by Seleucus when he rounded Antioch, by Antony when he gave Antioch to Amyntas, and by Augustus when he made Antioch the chief of his military colonies in Pisidia. A military road, built by Augustus, and called the Royal Road, led from Antioch to the sister colony of Lystra. According to the story preserved in the legend of "Paul and Thekla," it was along this road that Paul and Barnabas passed on their way from Antioch to Iconium (Acts 13:51; compare 2 Tim 3:11; see Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, 27-36).

Language and Religion

Latin continued to be the official language of Antioch, from its foundation as a Roman colony until the later part of the 2nd century AD. It was more thoroughly Romanized than any other city in the district; but the Greek spirit revived in the 3rd century, and the inscriptions from that date are in Greek. The principal pagan deities were Men and Cybele. Strabo mentions a great temple with large estates and many Grk: hierodouloi devoted to the service of the god.

Paul at Antioch

Antioch, as has been shown above, was the military and administrative center for that part of Galatia which comprised the Isaurian, Pisidian and Pamphylian mountains, and the southern part of Lycaonia. It was hence that Roman soldiers, officials, and couriers were dispatched over the whole area, and it was hence, according to Acts 13:49, that Paul's mission radiated over the whole region.

The "devout and honorable women" (the King James Version) and the "chief men" of the city, to whom the Jews addressed their complaint, were perhaps the Roman colonists. The publicity here given to the action of the women is in accord with all that is known of their social position in Asia Minor, where they were often priestesses and magistrates. The Jews of Antioch continued their persecution of Paul when he was in Lystra (Acts 14:19).

Paul passed through Antioch a second time on his way to Perga and Attalia (Acts 14:21). He must have visited Antioch on his second journey (Acts 16:6; Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, 74 ff), and on his third (Acts 18:23; ibid., 96).

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Source:

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).