Paul's First Missionary Journey

What was Paul's First Missionary Journey?

The first missionary journey of the Apostle Paul occurred in 47-48 AD and is recorded in Acts 13:1-52 and 14:1-28. Paul had already preached to the Gentiles in Cilicia and Syria for some 10 years. The work was not new to him. He had had his specific call from Jerusalem long ago and had answered it. But now an entirely new situation arises. His work had been individual in Cilicia. Now the Holy Spirit specifically directs the separation of Barnabas and Saul to this work (Ac 13:2).

They were to go together, and they had the sympathy and prayers of a great church. The endorsement was probably not "ordination" in the technical sense, but a farewell service of blessing and good will as the missionaries went forth on the world-campaign (Ac 13:3). No such unanimous endorsement could have been obtained in Jerusalem to this great enterprise. It was momentous in its possibilities for Christianity. Work among the Gentiles had been sporadic. Now a determined effort was to be made to evangelize a large section of the Roman empire.

Travel plans

There is no suggestion that the church at Antioch provided funds for this or for the two later Campaigns, as the church at Philippi came to do. How that was managed this time we do not know. Some individuals may have helped. Paul had his trade to fall back on, and often had resort to it later. The presence of John Mark "as their attendant" (Ac 13:5) was probably due to Barnabas, his cousin (Col 4:10). The visit to Cyprus, the home of Barnabas, was natural.

There were already some Christians there (Ac 11:20), and it was near. They preach first in the synagogues of the Jews at Salamis (Ac 13:5). We are left to conjecture as to results there and through the whole island till Paphos is reached. There they meet a man of great prominence and intelligence, Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul, who had been under the spell of a sorcerer with a Jewish name--Elymas Bar-jesus (compare Peter's encounter with Simon Magus in Samaria).

In order to win and hold Sergius Paulus, who had become interested in Christianity, Paul has to punish Bar-jesus with blindness (Ac 13:10 ff) in the exercise of that apostolic power which he afterward claimed with such vigor (1Co 5:4 f; 2Co 13:10). He won Sergius Paulus, and this gave him cheer for his work. From now on it is Paul, not Saul, in the record of Luke, perhaps because of this incident, though both names probably belonged to him from the first. Now also Paul steps to the fore ahead of Barnabas, and it is "Paul's company" (Ac 13:13) that sets sail from Paphos for Pamphylia.

There is no evidence here of resentment on the part of Barnabas at the leadership of Paul. The whole campaign may have been planned from the start by the Holy Spirit as the course now taken may have been due to Paul's leadership. John Mark deserts at Perga and returns to Jerusalem (his home), not to Antioch (Ac 13:13). Paul and Barnabas push on to the tablelands of Pisidia. Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler, 93) thinks that Paul had malaria down at Perga and hence desired to get up into higher land. That is possible.

The places mentioned in the rest of the tour are Antioch in Pisidia (Ac 13:14), and Iconium (Ac 13:51), Lystra (Ac 14:8), and Derbe (Ac 14:20), cities of Lycaonia. These terms are ethnographic descriptions of the southern divisions of the Roman province of Galatia, the northern portion being Galatia proper or North Galatia. So then Paul and Barnabas are now at work in South Galatia, though Luke does not mention that name, using here only the popular designations. The work is wonderfully successful. In these cities, on one of the great Roman roads east and west, Paul is reaching the centers of provincial life as will be his custom.

At Antioch Paul is invited to repeat his sermon on the next Sabbath (Ac 13:42), and Luke records at length the report of this discourse which has the characteristic notes of Paul's gospel as we see it in his epistles. Paul may have kept notes of the discourse. There were devout Gentiles at these services. These were the first to be won, and thus a wider circle of Gentiles could be reached. Paul and Barnabas were too successful at Antioch in Pisidia. The jealous Jews opposed, and Paul and Barnabas dramatically turned to the Gentiles (Ac 13:45 ff).

But the Jews reached the city magistrate through the influential women, and Paul and Barnabas were ordered to leave (Ac 13:50 f). Similar success brings like results in Iconium. At Lystra, before the hostile Jews come, Paul and Barnabas have great success and, because of the healing of the impotent man, are taken as Mercury and Jupiter respectively, and worship is offered them. Paul's address in refusal is a fine plea on the grounds of natural theology (Ac 14:15-18).

The attempt on Paul's life after the Jews came seemed successful. In the band of disciples that "stood round about him," there may have been Timothy, Paul's son in the gospel. From Derbe they retrace their steps to Perga, in order to strengthen the churches with officers, and then sail for Seleucia and Antioch. They make their report to the church at Antioch. It is a wonderful story. The door of faith is now wide open for the Gentiles who have entered in great numbers (Ac 14:27). No report was sent to Jerusalem. What will the Pharisaic party do now?


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