Paul's Third Missionary Journey

What was Paul's Third Missionary Journey?

The third missionary journey of the Apostle Paul occurred in 52/53-57/58 AD and is recorded in Acts 18:23-21:14. The stay of Paul at Antioch is described as "sometime" (Ac 18:23). Denney (Standard Bible Dictionary) conjectures that Paul's brief stay at Jerusalem (see above) was due to the fact that he found that the Judaizers had organized opposition there against him in the absence of the apostles, and it was so unpleasant that he did not stay. He Suggests also that the Judaizers had secured letters of commendation from the church for their emissaries (2Co 3:1) to Corinth and Galatia, who were preaching "another Jesus" of nationalism and narrowness, whom Paul did not preach (Ga 1:6; 2Co 11:4).

Both Denney and Findlay follow Neander, Wieseler, and Sabatier in placing here, before Paul starts out again from Antioch, the visit of certain "from James" (Ga 2:12), who overpowered Peter for the moment. But I have put this incident as more probably before the disagreement with Barnabas over Mark, and as probably contributing to that breach at the beginning of the second tour. It is not necessary to suppose that the Judaizers remained acquiescent so long.


Paul seems to have set out on the third tour alone--unless Timothy came back with him, of which there is no evidence save that he is with Paul again in Ephesus (Ac 19:22). What became of Silas? Paul "went through the region of Galatia, and Phrygia, in order, establishing all the disciples" (Ac 18:23), the opposite order to Ac 16:6, "through the region of Phrygia and Galatia." According to the North-Galatian view, here followed, he went through the northern part of the province, passing through Galatia proper and Phrygia on his way west to Ephesus. Luke adds, "Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus" (Ac 19:1).

The ministry of Apollos in Ephesus (Ac 18:24-28) had taken place before Paul arrived, though Aquila and Priscilla were still on hand. Apollos passed over to Corinth and innocently became the occasion of such strife there (1Co 1:1-31 through 1Co 4:1-21) that he left and refused to return at Paul's request (1Co 16:12). Paul has a ministry of 3 years, in round numbers, in Ephesus, which is full of excitement and anxiety from the work there and in Corinth.

He finds on his arrival some ill-informed disciples of John the Baptist who are ignorant of the chief elements of John's teaching about repentance, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (Ac 19:2-7), matters of which Apollos had knowledge, though he learned more from Priscilla and Aquila, but there is no evidence that he was rebaptized as was true of the 12 disciples of John (Robertson, John the Loyal, 290-303).

The boldness of Paul in Ephesus led in 3 months to his departure from the synagogue to the schoolhouse of Tyrannus, where he preached for 2 years (Ac 19:8-10) with such power that "all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord." It is not strange later to find churches at Colosse and Hierapolis in the Lycus Valley (compare also Re 1:11). Paul has a sharp collision with the strolling Jewish exorcists that led to the burning of books of magic by the wholesale (Ac 19:11-20), another proof of the hold that magic and the mysteries had upon the Orient.

Ephesus was the seat of the worship of Diana whose wonderful temple was their pride. A great business in the manufacture of shrines of Diana was carried on here by Demetrius, and "this Paul" had hurt his trade so much that he raised an insurrection under the guise of piety and patriotism and might have killed Paul with the mob, if he could have got hold of him (Ac 19:23-41).

It was with great difficulty that Paul was kept from going to the amphitheater, as it was. But here, as at Corinth, the Roman officer (the town clerk) defended Paul from the rage of his enemies (there the jealous Jews, here the tradesmen whose business suffered). He was apparently very ill anyhow, and came near death (2Co 1:9). All this seems to have hastened his departure from Ephesus sooner than Pentecost, as he had written to the Corinthians (1Co 16:8). His heart was in Corinth because of the discussions there over him and Apollos and Peter, by reason of the agitation of the Judaizers (1Co 1:10-17).

The household of Chloe had brought word of this situation to Paul. He had written the church a letter now lost (1Co 5:9). They had written him a letter (1Co 7:1). They sent messengers to Paul (1Co 16:17). He had sent Timothy to them (1Co 4:17; 16:10), who seems not to have succeeded in quieting the trouble. Paul wrote 1 Cor (spring of 56), and then sent Titus, who was to meet him at Troas and report results (2Co 2:12 f). He may also have written another letter and sent it by Titus (2Co 2:3 f).

The sudden departure from Corinth brought Paul to Troas ahead of time, but he could not wait for Titus, and so pushed on with a heavy heart into Macedonia, where he met him, and he had good and bad news to tell (2Co 2:12 ff; 2Co 7:5-13). The effect on Paul was instantaneous. He rebounded to hope and joy (2Co 2:14 ff) in a glorious defense of the ministry of Jesus (compare Robertson, The Glory of the Ministry; Paul's Exultation in Preaching), with a message of cheer to the majority. of the church that had sustained Paul and with instructions (2Co 8:1-24 and 2Co 9:1-15) about the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem, which must be pushed to a completion by Titus and two other brethren (possibly also Luke, brother of Titus, and Erastus).

Timothy and Erastus had been sent on ahead to Macedonia from Ephesus (Ac 19:22), and Timothy sends greetings with Paul to the Corinthians in a letter (2 Corinthians) which Paul now forwards, possibly by Titus. The latter part of the epistle (1Co 10:1-33 through 1Co 13:1-13) deals with the stubborn minority who still resist the authority of Paul as an apostle. On the proposed treatment of these chapters as a separate epistle see the earlier part of this article. Paul seems to wait a while before going on to Corinth. He wishes the opposition to have time to repent. During this period he probably went round about to Illyricum (Ro 15:19). He spent three months in Greece (Ac 20:2 f), probably the winter of 56 and 57.

We have placed Galatians in the early part of this stay in Corinth, though it could have been written while at Ephesus. Romans was certainly written while here, and they both treat the same general theme of justification by faith. Ramsay (Expos, February, 1913, 127-45) has at last come to the conclusion that Gal belongs to the date of Ac 15:1 f. He bases this conclusion chiefly on the "absolute independence" of his apostleship claimed in Ga 1:1-24 and Ga 2:1-21, which, he holds, he would not have done after the conference in Ac 15:1-41, which was "a sacrifice of complete independence."

This is a curious interpretation, for in Ga 2:1-10 Paul himself tells of his recognition on terms of equality by Peter, John and James, and of his going to Jerusalem by "revelation," which was just as much "a sacrifice of complete independence" as we find in Ac 15:1-41. Besides, in 2Co 11:5 and 2Co 12:11 Paul expressly asserts his equality (with all humility) with the very chiefest apostles, and in 1Co 15:10 he claims in so many words to have wrought more than all the apostles. Perhaps messengers from Galatia with the contributions from that region report the havoc wrought there by the Judaizers. Gal is a tremendous plea for the spiritual nature of Christianity as opposed to Jewish ceremonial legalism.

Paul had long had it in mind to go to Rome. It was his plan to do so while at Ephesus (Ac 19:21) after he had gone to Jerusalem with the great collection from the churches of Asia, Galatia, Achaia, and Macedonia. He hoped that this collection would have a mollifying effect on the Jerusalem saints as that from Antioch had (Ac 11:29 f). He had changed some details in his plans, but not the purpose to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome.

Meanwhile, he writes the longest and most important letter of all to the Romans, in which he gives a fuller statement of his gospel, because they had not heard him preach, save his various personal friends who had gone there from the east (Ac 16:1-40). But already the shadow of Jerusalem is on his heart, and he asks their prayers in his behalf, as he faces his enemies in Jerusalem (Ro 15:30-32). He hopes also to go on to Spain (Ro 15:24), so as to carry the gospel to the farther west also. The statesmanship of Paul comes out now in great clearness. He has in his heart always anxiety for the churches that consumes him (2Co 11:28 f). He was careful to have a committee of the churches go with him to report the collection (2Co 8:19 f).

Paul had planned to sail direct for Syria, but a plot on his life in Corinth led him to go by land via Macedonia with his companions (Ac 20:2-4). He tarried at Philippi while the rest went on to Troas. At Philippi Paul is joined again by Luke, who stays with him till Rome is reached. They celebrate the Passover (probably the spring of 57) in Philippi (Ac 20:6). We cannot follow the details in Acts at Troas, the voyage through the beautiful Archipelago, to Miletus.

There Paul took advantage of the stop to send for the elders of Ephesus to whom he gave a wonderful address (Ac 20:17-38). They change ships at Patara for Phoenicia and pass to the right of Cyprus with its memories of Barnabas and Sergius Paulus and stop at Tyre, where Paul is warned not to go on to Jerusalem. The hostility of the Judaizers to Paul is now common talk everywhere. There is grave peril of a schism in Christianity over the question of Gentile liberty, once settled in Jerusalem, but unsettled by the Judaizers.

At Caesarea Paul is greeted by Philip the evangelist and his four daughters (prophetesses). At Caesarea Paul is warned in dramatic fashion by Agabus (compare Ac 11:28) not to go on to Jerusalem (Ac 21:9 ff), but Paul is more determined than ever to go, even if he die (Ac 20:13). He had had three premonitions for long (Ac 20:22 ff), but he will finish his course, cost what it may. He finds a friend at Caesarea in Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, who was to be the host of Paul in Jerusalem (Ac 21:16).


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