If we ignore the details of Paul’s journey, we miss out on the heart of why Paul did what he did. So let’s take a close look at Paul’s three missionary journeys.
Paul's First Missionary Journey (Acts 13-14)
When the church was worshiping and fasting in Antioch, the Holy Spirit marked Paul and Barnabas for a unique missionary journey. This journey was to start at the port city of Antioch and head to the island of Cyprus, Barnabas’ home.
When they reached Cyprus, John Mark assisted them as they proclaimed the gospel to the synagogues (Acts 13:5). They traveled from the port city of Salamis to Paphos on the opposite shore of Cyprus. At Paphos, a sorcerer named Elymas greeted them. It seems that the governor of that province—a man named Sergius Paulus—had sent for the missionaries because he wanted to hear God’s Word. This was a message he was familiar with because, after the stoning of Stephen, many Christians had fled to Cyprus (Acts 11:19).
Elymas resisted Paul and Barnabas in an attempt to keep Paulus from faith. Paul called the sorcerer out as a child of the devil, and Elymas was struck blind for a time. When Paulus saw this, he became a follower of Jesus (Acts 13:6–12).
From Cyprus, the companions traveled to Perga in Pamphylia (modern-day Turkey). At this point, John Mark decided to abandon the team and return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). This separation must have been the result of a large falling out because Paul and Barnabas fought about including John Mark in any further journeys.
Paul shared the gospel in the synagogue, and at first, it was well received. The Jews invited Paul and Barnabas to return, but when they saw the crowds gathered to hear them on the following Sabbath, they were jealous and began to argue and insult Paul (Acts 13:45).
In response, Paul instructed the crowd that he was no longer going to focus on ministering to the Jews and intended on sharing the message with the Gentiles. The Gentiles who were present received this news with joy, but the Jews started persecuting Paul and his companions, and they were forced to leave.
In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas attended another synagogue and spoke so effectively that many Jews and Gentiles accepted their words. But the Jews that didn’t went out of their way to stir up trouble. Even though Paul and Barnabas were able to perform miracles that accompanied their teaching, the city was divided against them, and a plan was hatched to have them stoned (Acts 14:1–7). The missionaries fled to Lystra.
While they were in Lystra, Paul healed a man who was lame, and the crowd thought that the Greek gods had come to the land. They assumed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes (because Hermes was Zeus’s messenger). Some priests from the local temple brought out bulls to sacrifice to the two Christians. Paul encouraged them to stop and shared that they were merely humans with testimony from God. Even after this, the crowds still tried to make a sacrifice to them.
At this point, Jews showed up from Antioch and Iconium and turned the crowd against the companions. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, leaving him for dead. But Paul was revived, and they headed to Derbe.
While they were in Derbe, they won many disciples. Afterward, they retraced their steps, returning to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch where they encouraged the new converts, appointed elders in new churches, and committed them to the Lord.
They then returned to Antioch and reported everything that had happened and how they had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:21–28).
Paul's Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36–18:22)
Paul’s next missionary journey started with an invitation to Barnabas to get the old group back together and hit the road again. When Barnabas suggested that they bring John Mark, Paul disagreed, because he had abandoned them on the previous missionary journey. The argument was so tense that they split up. Barnabas took John Mark and set off for Cyprus and Paul left again for Asia Minor with Silas.
Timothy in Lystra
This time, Paul went the long way around instead of sailing to Asia Minor. He came through the Amanus Mountains to Cilicia and on to Derbe and Lystra. In Lystra, he joined up with Timothy, a disciple whose mother was a Jew and father was a Greek.
Despite the fact that the Jerusalem council had decided it was unnecessary to force Gentile believers to observe Jewish customs (Acts 15:1–29), Paul circumcised Timothy. Since Timothy was going to join Paul in his travels, it was necessary for Timothy’s background not to be a distraction for the Jews.
Phrygia and Galatia
The Holy Spirit propelled Paul’s team northwest toward the regions of Phrygia and Galatia. When they attempted to enter the district of Mysia, the Spirit blocked their way. In response, the travelers headed toward Troas. During the night, Paul received a vision of a man from Macedonia begging the disciples to help them. After the vision, they left for Macedonia (Acts 15:6–10).
From there, the team sailed across the Aegean Sea to Neapolis in Macedonia, currently part of Greece. Once they hit land, they headed toward Philippi—a critical city in Macedonia—where they stayed for several days.
On the Sabbath, the companions headed outside the city to the river where they expected to find Jews praying. They met some women there including Lydia, a dealer in expensive purple cloth. The women believed Paul’s message and received baptism. Lydia then invited the disciples to stay at her home (Acts 16:13–15).
One day on the way to the river, the missionaries met a slave girl who was possessed by a spirit which allowed her to predict the future. Her owners exploited this situation to make money off the girl. When she saw the disciples, she followed them around screaming that these men were prophets of God. Paul was so annoyed that he chastised her and cast the spirit out.
Her owners were furious that their source of income had been neutralized, so they dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities. Complaining that the disciples were throwing the city into an uproar, the slave girl’s owners turned the town against them and the authorities had them stripped and beaten with rods.
Afterward, the two were thrown into prison. God sent a dramatic earthquake which opened all the prison doors and loosed everyone’s chains. The jailer was startled awake and, sure that the prisoners had gotten away, was about to kill himself. When Paul assured him everyone was accounted for, the jailer believed in Jesus, and his whole household was baptized.
The next day the magistrate had Paul and Silas released and encouraged them to leave. Paul told the officers that he and Silas were Roman citizens who had been beaten and imprisoned without due process and they wouldn’t go unless the magistrates escorted them out themselves.
When the authorities heard that Paul and Silas were Romans, they became nervous. They rushed to the prison to tried to appease the two. Paul and Silas left the prison, and the disciples left town. (Acts 16:16–40).
For three weeks, Paul preached in a synagogue at Thessalonica. This captured the imagination of a few Jews and quite a number of Gentiles. The other Jews were jealous of the attention Paul was receiving and started a riot with some local toughs from the marketplace. When they couldn’t find Paul and Silas, they rounded up some of the Christians who were helping them before the city officials.
The rest of the Christians snuck the disciples out of town (Acts 17:1–10).
The Jews in Berea were studious and paid close attention to Paul’s message. Then they went to the Scriptures to examine his teaching for themselves. Many Jews joined the church as well as many Gentiles.
But the Jews from Thessalonica followed the disciples to Berea and started stirring up trouble there, too. Paul went to Athens via the coast and Silas and Timothy stayed behind in Berea (Acts 17:10–15).
While Paul was alone in Athens, he became upset about all the city’s idolatry. When he wasn’t preaching in the synagogue, he was in the marketplace reasoning with the Greeks. After sharing the gospel with the crowds in the market, many jeered but others were interested in hearing more. By the time Paul left Athens, he converted a number of citizens.
In Corinth, Paul met a Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla. Paul hit it off with them. Like him, they were tentmakers, and they invited Paul to stay with them while he shared the gospel in the local synagogue.
After he was reunited with Silas and Timothy, he devoted himself to preaching to the Jews. But eventually, they became abusive and, once again, Paul vowed to focus his attention on preaching to the Gentiles. He introduced a number of Corinthian Gentiles to Jesus.
After Paul received a vision from the Lord to be courageous and keep preaching, the Corinthian Jews attacked him, dragged him before the proconsul, and charged him with blasphemy. But Gallio, the proconsul, wasn’t interested in hearing about a Jewish disagreement. The crowd turned on Sosthenes, the local synagogue leader who had allowed Paul to preach, and beat Sosthenes in front of Gallio.
Ephesus and Caesarea
Paul stayed in Corinth for some time. When he was ready to shove off, he left Silas and Timothy and took Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus. There he reasoned in the synagogue. The Jews asked Paul to stay, but he declined, promising to come back if it was God’s will. He left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus and went on to Caesarea before heading back to Jerusalem.
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23—21:14)
After a brief stay in Antioch, Paul set off again to Asia Minor. He started by strengthening the believers in Galatia against the Jewish brethren who were stirring up controversy around the law. But then he headed back to Ephesus.
Paul arrived in Ephesus and instructed believers on the difference between water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then he spent the next three months preaching in the synagogue. When the Jews became too difficult to get along with, Paul began speaking in a local lecture hall. He stayed in Ephesus for two years.
During this time, Paul was performing a lot of miracles, and many Jews were trying to copy him by invoking the name of Jesus. The sons of a local priest named Sceva had attempted to cast out an evil spirit “in the name of Jesus who Paul preaches.” The evil spirit let them know that he recognized the name of Jesus and Paul, but he was unfamiliar with these guys. Then the spirit caused the possessed man to beat the seven men.
The result was that many Jews and Gentiles had great reverence for Jesus. Those who were practicing sorcery burned their expensive scrolls and teachings. Because of this, the Word of God spread.
About this time, a silversmith named Demetrius who made his living casting idols began stirring up dissension. He told the artisans around Ephesus that this God who Paul preached was going to end up driving them out of business and discrediting the local temple of Artemis. The whole city erupted into pandemonium. Paul wanted to address them, but the disciples and city officials wouldn’t let him.
Eventually, the city clerk instructed Demetrius and the other craftsmen to either bring a legitimate charge against Paul or drop it. If they didn’t, they would be charged with rioting. And the whole issue was dropped (Acts 19).
Macedonia and Greece
From there, Paul set off for Macedonia and traveled around strengthening the churches. He ended up in Greece where he stayed for three months, but a Jewish plot sent him back through Macedonia.
While preaching in an upstairs room in Troas, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep and tumbled out of the third-story window. The fall killed Eutychus, and Paul went down and raised him from the dead—then they went back upstairs and ate.
Back to Asia Minor
The companions boarded a ship and sailed around the bottom of Asia Minor, hitting Kos, Rhodes, and Patara. From there, they sailed on to Tyre and stayed with disciples there for a week while the ship unloaded its cargo.
After being warned by the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem, they moved on to Ptolemais where they stayed a day with some believers. Then on they went to Caesarea to visit with Philip the evangelist.
After a few days in Caesarea, a prophet from Judea came and prophesied to Paul that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were going to bind him and to hand him over to the Gentiles. The people who heard this begged Paul not to go back to Jerusalem, but Paul trusted in the Lord’s will and the companions headed back to Jerusalem.
Paul's Commitment to the Gospel
As the prophecy suggested, Paul was captured and sent to Rome. The book of Acts ends before Paul’s complete story was told. Paul was beheaded by Nero between 64–65 CE.
All told, Paul’s missionary journeys took him over 10,000 miles and lasted around nine years. His commitment to the gospel helped spread God’s message throughout the near east.
A clear picture of Paul’s journeys can improve our understanding of Paul’s relationship to the churches addressed in his epistles. But the best takeaway from familiarizing ourselves with Paul’s work should be a deeper passion for reaching people with the gospel so that all nations with one voice will bring Glory to our great God!