Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.

(Acts 18:23; 21:17)



              1. The Departure: Occasion; Date; St. Paul’s Companions.


              2. Visitation of the Galatian Churches.






              1. Political and Religious Conditions of the Roman Province of Asia.




              2. In Ephesus:

              The city and its worship of Diana.


                            St. Paul’s successful preaching.


                            The outbreak of the silversmiths.




              3. The Other Churches in the Province of Asia.






              1. Extensive Missionary Labors in Macedonia.


              2. Sojourn in Corinth (Its Principal Object).






              1. Through Philippi, Troas and Miletus.


              2. The Voyage from Miletus to Cæsarea.


              3. Arrival at Jerusalem.


§ 1. Early Part of the Journey

1. The Departure. It has been recently assumed that during his sojourn in Antioch at this time St. Paul received rather disquieting news about the churches of Galatia, and that this led him, first, to write his Epistle to the Galatians, and, next, to start on his third missionary journey. It seems more probable, however, as stated in the preceding chapter, that this painful intelligence had reached the Apostle soon after the Council of Jerusalem, and had then been followed by the writing of the epistle to the Galatians and by St. Paul’s departure for his second missionary tour. Of course he was glad when starting on his third mission to the Gentiles to have the occasion of passing through Galatia and of confirming in the faith the Christian communities of that province, but there is hardly any doubt that his chief purpose was rather to fulfil his recent promise to the Jews of the synagogue of Ephesus: “I will return to you again, God willing.” He tarried “some time,” it is true, in the Syrian capital, but this was only natural after a three years’ absence from the Antiochian church, so congenial and in many ways so dear to him, and a careful reading of the sacred text seems to point to Ephesus, where he actually remained upwards of two years, as the main object of his thoughts at this time. After a few months, therefore, or even perhaps after only a few weeks, of stay in Antioch St. Paul started for proconsular Asia, of which Ephesus was the large and flourishing capital.

Among the companions of the great Apostle on this third missionary journey we do not find Silas, who had probably remained in Jerusalem when St. Paul returned to Antioch, and whose presence near the Apostle of the Gentiles was in fact no longer so necessary as on the preceding journey, when he could bear official witness to the personal and doctrinal authority of one whom the Judaistic teachers had slanderously represented as claiming a power which he did not possess. But we find with him Timothy, who most likely accompanied his beloved master from the beginning of the journey, and a certain Erastus, a Corinthian Christian, who had been with St. Paul on his voyage from Achaia to Jerusalem, and who appears at his side in Ephesus. At what exact time the two Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus, whom the book of the Acts calls St. Paul’s “companions,” joined him cannot be defined in the present day; and the same must be said about Titus, a faithful disciple who has been already mentioned in connection with the Council of Jerusalem, and to whom the Apostle willingly entrusted important or delicate missions.

2. Visitation of the Galatian Churches. St. Paul’s third missionary journey opened, like the second, with a visitation of churches already founded. The exact route is not indicated, and in fact, of this early part of the journey, we are simply told that “he went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, in order, confirming all the disciples,” whereby we are given to understand that his visit, though rapid, was systematic and yielded abundant fruits.

While St. Paul was thus making all haste to Ephesus in fulfilment of his promise, a certain Jew named Apollo, a native of Alexandria, had succeeded him as a teacher in Ephesus, and by his eloquent preaching from the Scriptures which he interpreted in favor of the Messiahship of Jesus, was powerfully preparing the minds of the Jews of that city for the ministry of the great Apostle. Docile to the instructions of Priscilla and Aquila, who were then in Ephesus, this great and good man, who had hitherto known nothing of the Christian Baptism and simply given to those who believed his words the baptism of John, became a full-fledged Christian. He seems to have started for Corinth before all those to whom he had administered the baptism of the holy precursor had received the Christian Baptism, and we see from the sacred narrative that the test used by St. Paul after his arrival in Ephesus to discern between the two classes of believers was the question, “Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?”

§ 2. Apostolic Work in Proconsular Asia

1. Political and Religious Conditions of the Roman Province of Asia. The western part of Asia Minor, the highlands of which St. Paul traversed on his way to Ephesus, was at the time a large senatorial province which comprised such important regions as Caria, Lydia, and Mysia, together with a considerable part of Phrygia. The chief representative of the Roman senate in the province was a personage who had been a consul at Rome, and who, with the title of proconsul, conferred annually, was allowed to display all the ensigns of his former consular office and given extensive civil and military powers. The officers under the proconsul were a quæstor, and three assessors or legates appointed also by the Roman senate, while near him there was a powerful procurator directly appointed by the emperor and having charge of the financial affairs of the whole province.

“Subject to this despotic dominion of the proconsul qualified by the power of the procurator, the province governed itself. Matters of general interest were debated in Congress (Sunedrion), a council composed of representatives from the different states of which Asia consisted, and subordinate to this collective legislature were the separate governments of the cities which returned members to Congress.”

For judicial purposes the province was divided into assize districts, of which the proconsul made a yearly circuit, “sitting either in person, with the assistance of a jury, or nominating judges to act as his deputies,” and there is no doubt that law was generally administered with justice and equity.

Like the rest of the peninsula of Asia Minor, proconsular Asia was given to forms of idolatry which closely resembled those of Greece and Rome. It was in that province that some twenty-five years before Christ the worship of Rome and the emperor originated, and that soon afterwards not only in Ephesus, but also in Smyrna, Sardis, Laodicea, Philadelphia, etc., temples were built to the deified Cæsars. Each year delegates from the chief cities of the province elected a priest, among the wealthiest of Asia, and entrusted to him, with the titles of high priest and Asiarch, the presidency of the annual games celebrated by an assembly of the whole province in honor of Rome and the emperor. Unfortunately here also, as in the rest of Asia Minor, pagan worship approved of or even ordered immoral practices, and Ephesus, the political head of proconsular Asia, was also its worst city.

2. St. Paul in Ephesus. Of all the cities which St. Paul visited in his missionary journeys, Ephesus is the one in which he made the longest stay, owing probably to the splendid opportunity he found therein freely to announce the word of God and to spread it through the whole province. In point of fact no other city of proconsular Asia could compare with Ephesus in respect not only of political but also of commercial, intellectual, and religious importance. Situated partly in a large and delightful valley at the foot of Mount Prion or Pion, partly on that mount and on Mount Coressus, it communicated with the Ægean Sea by an extensive lake turned into a broad harbor artificially embanked and connecting with the Kayster River by a large canal. This situation was favorable alike for maritime and for inland commerce, as it made of Ephesus a populous centre on the main road of traffic between the East and the West, and there is no doubt that the author of the Apocalypse, writing from the island of Patmos, well nigh opposite that great city, appealed to his recollection of the riches and commerce of this most flourishing metropolis of Asia to describe the riches and commerce of his Babylon or great mistress of the world. Nor was the intellectual atmosphere of Ephesus less favorable to the spread of the Gospel than its commercial relations with the rest of the world. It was at the time one of the principal seats “of literary and scientific culture, where Greek philosophy and Oriental mysticism found eager and enthusiastic representatives, while every encouragement was given to eloquent defenders and expounders of the most curious views by a population whose natural temperament made them welcome, like the Athenians, the announcement of any new thing.… The variety of schools represented, as well as the reputation of individual philosophers and rhetoricians, attracted large numbers of young men from all parts of the world.”

There was, however, in Ephesus an influence at play which was likely to even more than counterbalance the advantages which the intellectual and commercial importance of the city would offer for the preaching and spreading of Christianity. This was the wonderful influence which the worship of Artemis or Diana, the great deity of the Ephesians, exerted upon the cities and rural populations of proconsular Asia and of regions far beyond its limits. The magnificent temple of Diana “was to the Asiatics what the temple of Jerusalem was to the Jews.” Built at the joint cost of all Asia, out of the purest marble, adorned with 127 columns, each one the gift of a king, enriched with the most beautiful sculptures and paintings of Greek art and with the costliest offerings of Asiatic potentates, it was justly regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world. Nor did the rude and monstrous statue of Diana venerated in Ephesus appeal less powerfully to the imagination of its worshippers, for it was supposed to have fallen down from the skies, and the religious rites carried out in its honor by a numerous and wealthy priesthood were exactly suited to the sensual instincts of the degraded pagan populations. The whole month of May was consecrated to the honor of the goddess, and several cities, like that of Ephesus, gloried in the title of Neocoros, or humblest devotee of Artemis.

In truth the very attempt to undermine this sensual, national, and long-cherished worship of the Diana of Ephesus must have seemed even to St. Paul a bold undertaking, and it is not surprising that he should have remained something like three years in this great centre of paganism to rear the structure of a church “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, and that should be holy and without blemish,” as he conceived the Spouse of Christ should be.

In Ephesus the Apostle probably stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, for during his long sojourn in this metropolis he earned his support and that of his friends by manual labor. As he had come to redeem his promise to the Jews of the synagogue, he naturally preached first to them the word of God, but as after three months it was plain that his words were no longer welcome, and that even his efforts to persuade his hearers gave occasion to public blasphemies against Christianity, he withdrew with his converts, and started a daily course of public instruction in the school of a certain teacher named Tyrannus. This he pursued during two years with the greatest success, due to a large extent to the numerous miracles which it pleased God to work out by the hands of His servant; conversions multiplied, and their deep earnestness was evinced by the burning of magical books to the value of fifty thousand pieces of silver, or $9000.

All these conversions, however, had not taken place without arousing in several quarters deep feelings of aversion against St. Paul’s doctrine and person. This was the case in particular with the silversmiths of Ephesus, for by his preaching against idolatry he had sensibly reduced the number of those who formerly bought silver shrines of Diana (that is, small models of her temple which contained an image of the goddess) and had thereby greatly lessened the gains of those artificers. At length one of them, named Demetrius, so wrought upon the angry feelings of his fellow laborers that a frightful tumult ensued. Fortunately the rioters did not succeed in securing the person of the Apostle, who at first had wished to venture among the multitude crowded in the theatre and shouting, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” but who finally had been prevailed upon by his disciples and by friendly Asiarchs not to expose himself “to the wild beasts of Ephesus,” as he figuratively called them later on. At length the town-clerk of the city, a man of the greatest importance in Ephesus, succeeded by his skilful address to the multitude in calming the popular fury and in dismissing the assembly.

3. The Other Churches in the Province of Asia. The chief reason which the silversmith Demetrius alleged to his assembled fellows to stir up their anger against St. Paul was that the Apostle had “drawn away a great multitude, not only of Ephesus, but almost of all Asia,” from the worship of Diana. This was unquestionably the fact, for either by himself personally, or by his fellow-workers whom he had sent to the principal cities of the province, or even by the natural intercourse and influence of the Ephesian converts, large and flourishing Christian communities had been started in the leading cities of proconsular Asia before St. Paul left for Macedonia. It was at this time, for instance, that churches arose in Laodicea, Colossa, and Hierapolis, and most likely also in the other cities mentioned in the Apocalypse (1:11).

It was also during this sojourn of St. Paul in Ephesus that he wrote his First Epistle to the Corinthians. Besides disclosing the trials or abuses peculiar to the church of Corinth, this letter makes us acquainted with the general temptations and doctrinal difficulties which naturally beset Gentile converts living in the midst of idolatrous and immoral populations, and with the tender, yet authoritative, manner in which the Apostle of the Gentiles deals with the various topics of which he had been apprised, either by letter or by men come from the capital of Achaia.

§ 3. St. Paul’s Work in Europe

1. Extensive Missionary Labors in Macedonia. When St. Paul left Ephesus soon after the outbreak of the silversmiths he apparently intended to carry out at once his long-cherished project of visiting the churches of Macedonia. It seems, however, that the ship he took was bound for Troas, and that, once arrived in that city, he tarried long enough to found a church, which he revisited on his return from Greece. Here also he anxiously waited for Titus, whom he had deputed to Corinth, but this faithful friend rejoined St. Paul only after he had sailed for Macedonia. As the news brought by Titus was of a comforting kind about the condition of the Corinthian church, the Apostle felt free to remain long months in Macedonia, and was satisfied for the time being with writing his Second Epistle to the Corinthians.

Of this long stay of St. Paul in Macedonia we are simply told in the book of the Acts that “when he had gone over those parts, and had exhorted them with many words, he came into Greece.” But it is very probable that, as in his second missionary journey he had already evangelized the three first districts of the province of Macedonia, he now visited the fourth or Macedonia, Quarta, for when he wrote not long afterwards to the Romans he could say: “From Jerusalem round about as far as unto Illyricum, I have replenished the Gospel of Christ.”

2. Sojourn in Corinth. At length St. Paul passed into Achaia, and, as he had promised to them in his first epistle, he remained long, perhaps the whole winter months, with the Corinthians. His chief object was evidently to set all things right in that weak, yet well-disposed, Christian community; and it seems that his presence and his admonitions at this juncture completed the good which his two epistles to the Corinthians had already so powerfully begun, for this much can be inferred with tolerable certainty from the words which St. Clement of Rome, writing to the same church some forty years later, uses concerning their past well-known brotherly love.|

It was from Corinth that St. Paul, now about to retrace his steps without visiting Rome, wrote his Epistle to the Romans, first to excuse himself for not visiting them at this time, and next to announce to them his intended coming.

§ 4. The Return

1. Through Philippi, Troas, and Miletus. By this time the collections for the Christians of Jerusalem which St. Paul had been making during his visit through the churches of Macedonia and Achaia were completed, and he now purposed to reach the Holy City before the Paschal festival. With this in view he was about to take a pilgrim ship carrying Jews from Achaia and Asia to the Passover, when the discovery of a Jewish plot against his life led him to give up his project and to pass into Macedonia, where he arrived in time to celebrate the Paschal festival in Philippi.

“It is clear that the plot was discovered at the last moment, when delegates from the churches had already assembled to carry the alms of their respective communities to Jerusalem. The European delegates were to sail from Corinth, the Asian from Ephesus, where doubtless the pilgrim ship would call. When the plan was changed, word was sent to the Asian delegates; and they went as far as Troas to meet the others, for in ancient voyages it could be calculated with certainty that Paul’s company would put in at that harbor.”

In point of fact after the Paschal celebration St. Paul and his companions—among whom was reckoned the writer of the Acts, who uses again the first person “we” in his narrative—sailed from Philippi, and reached Troas in five days. There they remained a week; but in connection with this sojourn we are given an account only of what occurred on the last day before St. Paul’s departure. We are told how on “the first day of the week” (our Sunday), when the Christians had gathered “to break bread,” the Apostle continued discoursing until midnight. Then, owing to the great heat of the upper room wherein the assembly was held, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the window, was overcome by sleep, fell from the third story, and was taken up dead; but the young man was restored to life by St. Paul, who, having spent the rest of the night conversing with the faithful of the place, so eager to listen to him, took leave at daybreak for Assos. This was a seaport of proconsular Asia, more than 40 miles distant by sea, but only about 20 by land, and the Apostle, for some unrecorded reason, chose to go thither on foot, while his companions sailed round the promontory of Lectum. At Assos St. Paul took to ship again with his companions, and, having touched at Mitylene, the capital of the island of Lesbos, and at Samos, a populous island off the coast of Lydia, reached Miletus, from which he intended to sail as soon as possible in order to arrive at Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.

In thus coasting along the shores of Asia St. Paul had purposely omitted calling at Ephesus, lest he should be detained too long there; but as his vessel had to remain a few days in Miletus, he profited by the comparatively short distance between the two cities to send word to “the ancients of the church” of Ephesus that they should come and meet him. When these were assembled, he delivered to them his celebrated farewell address, a touching model of paternal solicitude, and of apostolic zeal for their own welfare and that of their flock. Finally the time came for parting, when all, falling on their knees, united in fervent prayer with St. Paul, and then surrounded him with the most sincere marks of attachment, chiefly because he had said “that they should see his face no more.”

2. The Voyage from Miletus to Cæsarea. The second part of St. Paul’s journey to Jerusalem was mostly by sea. The ship which carried him and his companions sailed first to the island of Coos, about 40 miles to the south of Miletus, and the next day to the island of Rhodes, and thence to Patara, the harbor of Xanthus, the capital of the Roman province of Lycia. There they changed ship, and took one which sailed direct to Tyre, in Phenicia. St. Paul spent a week with the Christians of Tyre, and, despite their predictions of the great dangers which awaited him in Jerusalem, went on board again, and finally reached Ptolemais (Acre), where the voyage by sea came to an end.

The next day after landing, the Apostle and those with him were on their way to Cæsarea of Palestine, a city some 30 miles distant, and in which the deacon St. Philip lived with his household in the midst of an old and large Christian settlement. Of course the holy deacon welcomed most heartily St. Paul and his companions into his house, and the Apostle, on his part, accepted with joy and gratitude a lodging in a house so manifestly blessed by God, that the four daughters of St. Philip were endowed with the gift of prophecy. It was during this short sojourn in Cæsarea, that the prophet Agabus, who had formerly predicted the famine which occurred under Claudius, came “from Judæa” to warn St. Paul of the danger he was running in going up to Jerusalem. Whereupon, the companions of the Apostle and all the Christians of Cæsarea besought him not to expose himself; but to all their words, accompanied by tears, the undaunted missionary simply replied: “I am ready not only to be bound, but to die also in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

3. Arrival at Jerusalem. About 70 miles separated Cæsarea from Jerusalem, and as the Pentecost festival drew near, St. Paul started for the Holy City in company with several disciples of Cæsarea. They had with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, whose faith of long standing had proved him perfectly reliable, and who, possessing a house of his own in Jerusalem, was but too glad to place it at the disposal of St. Paul and his companions. At his arrival in Jerusalem, the Apostle was joyfully received by those Christians who were made aware of his presence, and the next day “he went in unto James,” with whom were gathered all the ancients of the Church.

Thus terminated St. Paul’s third and probably most important missionary journey, in respect both of the extent of ground covered and of the number of churches founded. It lasted four years or perhaps a little more, from about 49 to 53 A.D.

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