Facts about Paul’s 3 Missionary Journeys

Let’s start with the question: why does he have three so-called “missionary journeys” when it seems he was engaged in mission work (Acts 9:19b-20, 23, 26-27; 11:25-26) before the dating of the “first” journey?

The three journeys of Paul do not indicate when he first commenced mission work.  The three journeys, instead, have a common launching point: Antioch of Syria.

Paul’s first journey from Syrian Antioch is highlighted in Acts 13–14 (13:1-3; 14:26-28).  He launches from, and then returns to, that city.

Paul’s second journey from Syrian Antioch is highlighted in Acts 15:36–18:22 (15:36-41; 18:22).  Paul launched from, and returned to, that city.

Paul’s third journey from Syrian Antioch is highlighted in Acts 18:23–21:16 (18:23; 21:16).  Although Paul launched from Syrian Antioch this third time, he didn’t return there.  Instead, his journey ended with his arrival in Jerusalem (21:17), soon after which he was arrested (21:27-36).

When scholars talk about Paul’s three missionary journeys, then, they are referring to the three mission ventures that were each launched from Syrian Antioch.

Now let’s talk dates (which, of course, are probable estimates):
(1) AD 46-48, Paul’s first journey from Syrian Antioch (Acts 13–14)
(2) AD 50-52, Paul’s second journey from Syrian Antioch (Acts 15:36–18:22)
(3) AD 53-57, Paul’s third journey from Syrian Antioch (Acts 18:23–21:16)

At the beginning of the second (16:1-6) and third journeys (18:23), Paul revisited churches in southern Galatia that he established during the first journey (13:4–14:26).

In his second missionary journey, Paul mainly focused on Corinth (18:1-18), remaining there for a little less than 2 years.

In his third missionary journey, Paul mainly focused on Ephesus (19:1-41), remaining there for almost three years (20:31).

Understanding these aspects of Paul’s three missionary journeys is important, since their narratives comprise almost all of Acts 13–21 (the exception being the event and outcome of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1-35).  Therefore, neglecting study of Paul’s missionary journeys will handicap one’s grasp of a large chunk of the Book of Acts.

The Sound of Predestination in Acts 18:10

When Jesus told Paul (in a vision) to stay in Corinth despite rising Jewish opposition, the Lord gave three reasons to support His command:

(1) “For I am with you” (Acts 18:10a)
(2) “No one is going to attack and harm you” (Acts 18:10b)
(3) “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10c)

While the first promise is a familiar reassurance of divine presence and the second promise is a unique promise to Paul applicable only in Corinth, the third promise is strange because of the seeming ambiguity of who the “many people” are.

I see only two possible interpretations of the “many people” here:
(1) The “many people” are Christians
(2) The “many people” are not yet Christians–but will be

I don’t think the “many people” can be those who have converted already.  This third promise of v. 10 is given as a reason for the second promise (“no one is going to attack and harm  you, because I have many people in this city”), and it doesn’t make much sense to promise Paul that he won’t be persecuted because there are already Christians in Corinth.

After all, Paul was persecuted in Philippi (Acts 16:22-24) after believers were converted (Acts 16:14-15).  There seems to be no reason in Acts that Paul shouldn’t worry about persecution simply because of the presence of other believers.

However, there is reason to think that Paul shouldn’t worry about extreme opposition (namely, martyrdom) if the Lord promised that people will still believe under his ministry.  In other words, if people will still believe under his ministry, it’s because he is still around to have a ministry!  Any opposition he faces in Corinth, then, will not physically harm and destroy him.

So I think it’s best to interpret “many people” (Acts 18:10c) as those who have not yet believed but who will believe under Paul’s preaching.

But what about the first part of the third promise found in Acts 18:10c?  Jesus said, “I have many people in this city [Corinth].”  What would such a possessive statement indicate?  The people aren’t yet saved, but the people are in some sense…His.

Could Jesus’ possessive words be akin to John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away”?  The “many people” in Acts 18:10 would be those who the Father has given to Jesus and who will come to him in faith.

Jesus’ words in Acts 18:10 probably sound the same notes of predestination as Acts 13:48: “…and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

In summary, the appointment preceded the believing (Acts 13:48), being given to Jesus preceded coming to him in faith (John 6:37), and–in the passage in question–Jesus has “many people” before they are ever converted (Acts 18:10).

In Acts 18:10, Jesus told Paul to remain in Corinth and keep preaching, because He had “many people” there.  These “people” had not yet been converted, yet they were already His by virtue of being appointed to eternal life.  Jesus is saying, “Paul, stay in Corinth a while longer, because there are many elect ones of mine who have not yet believed–and who will believe under your ministry.”

So Paul stayed (Acts 18:11).

A Promise Made to Paul, Not to Us

In Acts 18:1-17, Luke briefly narrates the account of Paul’s first visit to Corinth that resulted in the founding of a church, as well as persecution from his opposition.

Like similar accounts of his ministry resulting in opposition (Acts 13:50-51; 14:5-7, 19-20; 16:22-40; 17:5-10a, 13-14), Paul intended to leave Corinth and move onto the next place.

But Jesus came to Paul in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you…” (Acts 18:9-10).  And Paul stayed for 18 months (Acts 18:11).

Jesus made a unique promise to Paul: “no one is going to attack and harm you.”  And this promise seems to apply only in that unique setting in Corinth, for Paul was harmed before arriving in Corinth (for example, in Philippi in Acts 16:22-24).  And according to church history, Paul was martyred in the mid-60s under Nero’s reign.

We must be careful so as to avoid a serious error when reading Acts 18:10.  That error would be thinking, “Jesus promised Paul he wouldn’t be harmed, so we can claim that promise when we are engaging in missions.”

The reason such an interpretation would be a mistake is based on Paul’s teaching in other churches that conveys the exact opposite: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  Elsewhere he said, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).  And the Lord told Ananias concerning Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16).

So it is a mistake to interpret Jesus’ promise to Paul as a promise to every believer.  Instead of gospel-work being comfortable and easy, the opposite is promised to us in the New Testament: we will face persecution and the world will hate us.  That is what we’ve been promised.

Paul not experiencing physical persecution in Corinth seemed to be an exception to the rule.  Read Paul’s own recollections of what he endured while on mission for God (2 Cor 6:4-10; 11:23-27).

16 Truths about God from Paul’s Speech in Acts 17:24-31

Last night, our Sunday evening message brought Acts 17 to a close, and below is a summary of what we went through as we dissected Paul’s speech.

There are many truths to learn about God from Paul’s speech in Athens.  In Acts 17:24-31, Paul exalts the nature of God that the Athenians have so poorly distorted in their idolatry and pagan philosophies.

1.  God is the maker of all creation (17:24)
2.  God is the ruler of all creation (17:24)
3.  God is self-sufficient (17:25)
4.  God sustains all creation (17:25)
5.  God is purposeful when he creates (17:26)
6.  God is providential in his creation (17:26)
7.  God is God-centered (17:27)
8.  God is omnipresent (17:27)
9.  God is the source of human life (17:28)
10.  God is the father of all people as their creator (17:28)
11.  God cannot be materially represented (17:29)
12.  God is superior to his creation (17:29)
13.  God is patient (17:30)
14.  God is a jealous God (17:30)
15.  God is the judge (17:31)
16.  God is righteous (17:31)

That’s two theological truths from each verse of the speech.  After spending only one sermon on that speech, now I realize there were 16 messages buried there.  What a wonderful series on the doctrine of God that would make…

Jesus Takes Persecution Personally

In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus is journeying to Damascus to do what he loves to wake up in the morning for: persecute Christians.  But in a life-changing encounter, the risen and exalted Lord Jesus speaks to him on the Damascus Road:

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he said (Acts 9:5).

Those words were shocking to Saul, for two reasons.  First, he now realized that Jesus was not a dead false Messiah but the risen and exalted Messiah.  Second, he learned that his actions against Christians were ultimately against Jesus himself.

Jesus takes persecution personally.  While Saul was persecuting the church because of his zeal for the name of God, he had actually aligned himself against the purposes of God by persecuting the followers of the Messiah.

When people across the world persecute believers, Saul’s lesson on the Damascus Road needs to be relearned again and again: Jesus takes persecution personally, and aligning yourself against God is no safe place to be.

Asking Questions of a Narrative

I think it is helpful to ask questions of any narrative text we are reading.  We should ask questions to aid our thinking and reflection, not because we intend to force answers to all of the questions.  Some questions won’t be answered.

For instance, take the familiar account of Paul and Silas in prison in Acts 16:25-34.  When I preached the passage last Sunday evening at FBC Santo, I posed the following 10 questions:

(1) Why were the other prisoners up at midnight with Paul and Silas while the jailer was sleeping (vv. 25, 27)?

(2) How aware were the city’s authorities that an earthquake shook the Philippian prison (vv. 26, 35)?

(3) Why did everyone’s chains come loose (v. 26) when Paul and Silas were presumably the only believers in the prison?  Why did the Lord not free just Paul and Silas?

(4) If the jailer saw that prison doors were open, why didn’t he check to see if the prisoners were still there before he decided to end his life (v. 27)?

(5) If the jailer called for lights because he couldn’t see (v. 29), how did Paul know that the jailer was about to kill himself if it was so dark (v. 28)?

(6) If the jailer was sleeping during the singing and praying (vv. 25, 27), what did he want to be “saved” from (v. 30)?

(7) If all the prisoners’ doors were opened and shackles dismantled (v. 26), why didn’t the prisoners try to escape (v. 28)?

(8) When the jailer took Paul and Silas to his house in the middle of the night (vv. 30, 32), what happened to the other prisoners?

(9) When Paul and Silas had evangelized and baptized the jailer and his family (vv. 31-33), why did the two missionaries return to prison (v. 35) instead of escaping?

(10) Why did Paul postpone professing his and Silas’ Roman citizenship (v. 37) until after being beaten and imprisoned (vv. 22-24), when professing it earlier could have avoided such treatment?

I think there are clear answers to some of the questions, less clear answers to others, and disputed answers to the rest.  But my point stands: asking questions of a narrative helps us think about the content and reflect on the relationships between some scenes to other ones.

Feel free to pose some answers to the preceding questions in the comments.  Happy reading.