The Second Missionary Journey
Back in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas nurtured the church and engaged in further evangelistic work. This was seemingly the last time they worked together, as a sharp disagreement led to their separation. The reason for Paul and Barnabas’s disagreement was Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (Col. 4:10). When Paul invited Barnabas to return to the places they had evangelized in their previous journey, Barnabas wanted to take his cousin along, but Paul was against it because of Mark’s past failure (Acts 13:13).
Paul and Barnabas’s separation, however, was turned into a blessing, because in dividing their efforts they could cover a wider area than they had first planned. Barnabas took Mark and returned to Cyprus, Barnabas’s homeland (Acts 4:36). Meanwhile, having invited Silas to join him, Paul went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there. Before coming to Antioch the first time, Paul had spent several years in Tarsus (Acts 9:30; 11:25, 26). Now he had the opportunity to revisit the congregations he had established there. Nevertheless, God’s plan for him was much greater than Paul first conceived.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, September 1.
Luke’s selective choice of events brings Paul almost straight to Derbe and Lystra. About Syria and Cilicia, the only thing he says is that Paul went through those regions confirming the churches (Acts 15:41).
Though Timothy’s father was a Gentile, his mother was a Jewish Christian; her name was Eunice. Despite being uncircumcised, Timothy knew the Scriptures from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15), implying he was also a pious person. As a Christian, he already had earned the respect and the admiration of all the local believers.
Because Jewish identity was passed on through the mother’s line rather than the father’s, Timothy was a Jew. He had not been circumcised on the eighth day after birth, perhaps because his father, a Greek, viewed circumcision as barbaric.
Wishing to have Timothy as a co-worker and knowing that, as an uncircumcised Jew, he would be forbidden to enter the Jewish synagogues under the charge of apostasy, Paul had him circumcised. Paul’s motivation for doing so, therefore, was entirely practical and should not be seen as a contradiction to the gospel he preached.
After revisiting the places that he had been in his first journey, Paul decided to go southwest, possibly to Ephesus, in the province of Asia, but the Holy Spirit prevented him from doing so. He then moved north, trying to go to Bithynia, but again in some undisclosed way the Spirit prevented him from going there. Because he already was passing through Mysia, Paul’s only option was to go westward to the seaport of Troas, from where he could sail in a number of directions.
In a night vision, however, God showed him he should sail across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia. When his companions learned about the vision, they concluded that God had indeed called them to share the gospel with the Macedonians.
Once in Macedonia, Paul and his companions traveled to Philippi, where they established the first Christian congregation in Europe.
Whenever Paul arrived in a city, his practice was to visit the local synagogue on Sabbath in order to witness to the Jews (Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 17:1, 2; 18:4). That in Philippi he and his group went to a riverside to pray—together with some women, both Jewish and Gentile worshipers of God—probably means there was no synagogue in the city. The significance of this is that Paul did not go to Jewish synagogues on Sabbaths only for evangelistic purposes, but also because this was his day of worship.
Paul and Silas’s answer to the jailer’s question is in full harmony with the gospel, since salvation is entirely through faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:28, Gal. 2:16). What we cannot conclude from the episode, however, is that belief in Jesus is all that is necessary for baptism, at the expense of the proper doctrinal and practical instruction.
What do we know about the jailer? Was he a Jew or a Jewish proselyte? In either case, what he needed was to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. What if he were a Gentile who already knew and worshiped God, such as Cornelius, Lydia (Acts 16:14), and several others in Acts? What if he previously had attended Paul’s evangelistic meetings in the city? Whatever the facts about him, the brevity of the account should not be used as an excuse for quick baptisms.
When Paul and Silas were released from prison, the missionaries departed from Philippi (Acts 16:35–40). From Philippi, Paul and his companions went straight to Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia.
Once again we see Paul looking for the synagogue where he could share the gospel. Many devout Greeks and not a few prominent women were persuaded by Paul’s message. That these converts “joined Paul and Silas” (Acts 17:4, NKJV) seems to mean they formed a separate group and met apart from the synagogue, probably in Jason’s house.
Moved with jealousy, their opponents started a riot. Their intention was to bring Paul and Silas—Timothy is not mentioned—before the city’s assembly and accuse them. As they could not find the missionaries, Jason himself and a few other new believers were dragged to the local authorities under the charge of sheltering political agitators.
The term eugen - es (Acts 17:11) originally meant “well born” or “of noble birth” but came to denote more generally a “fair-minded” attitude, which is likely the case here. The Jews from Berea are praised not simply because they agreed with Paul and Silas but because of their willingness to examine the Scriptures for themselves and on a daily basis to see if what the missionaries were saying was correct. A merely emotional response to the gospel, without the necessary intellectual conviction, tends to be superficial and short-lived.
Before long, however, persecution interrupted Paul’s productive ministry in Berea, compelling him to move farther south, to Athens.
Athens, the intellectual center of ancient Greece, literally was given to idols. Marble statues of persons and gods were found everywhere, especially at the entrance of the agora (public square), which was the hub of urban life. Paul was so distressed about such dominant idolatry that he changed his usual practice of going first to the synagogue, and pursued a dual course of action: he disputed weekly in the synagogue with Jews and devout Gentiles, and daily in the public square with the Greeks. (See Acts 17:15–22.)
As the Athenians were always ready to hear something new, some philosophers took interest in Paul’s teaching and invited him to address the Areopagus, the high council of the city. In his speech, Paul did not quote from the Scriptures or recap the history of God’s dealings with Israel, as he did when speaking to a Jewish audience (compare with Acts 13:16–41); this approach would not make much sense with this audience. Instead, he presented some important biblical truths in a way that cultured pagans could understand.
Most of Paul’s words sounded ridiculous to that sophisticated pagan audience, whose concepts about God and religion were distorted greatly. We do not know how Paul intended to end his message, for he seems to have been interrupted the very moment he referred to God’s judgment of the world (Acts 17:31). This belief collided head on with two Greek concepts: (1) that God is utterly transcendent, having no dealings whatsoever with the world or concern in human affairs, and (2) that when a person dies there can be no resurrection at all. This helps to explain why the gospel was foolishness to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23), and the number of converts in Athens was small.
Yet, among those who came to believe were some of the most influential people of Athenian society, such as Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, and Damaris, whose mention by name implies she was of some status, if not also a member of the council herself (Acts 17:34).
Acts 18:1–11 recounts Paul’s experience in Corinth, where he would stay for one and a half years. Aquila and Priscilla would become Paul’s lifelong friends (Rom. 16:3, 2 Tim. 4:19). The account implies they were already Christians when they came to Corinth, probably because of the deportation of Jews from Rome by the Emperor Claudius. Roman historian Suetonius seems to indicate that the deportation occurred due to disturbances in the Jewish community associated with the name of “Christ” (Claudius 25.4), which would perhaps be the result of the preaching of the gospel by local Jewish believers. Thus, it is possible that Aquila and Priscilla themselves had been involved in such activities.
In any case, besides sharing the same faith and the same Jewish background, Paul and his new friends also shared the same trade.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, they brought some financial support from the churches there (2 Cor. 11:8, 9), which allowed Paul to devote himself entirely to preaching. Paul’s policy was to live at his own expense during his ministry, though he also taught that “those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14, NKJV).
Despite the strong Jewish opposition to Paul’s message, some Jews did believe, as well as some Gentile worshipers of God. Among the converts were Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household.
Many Corinthians also believed and were baptized. The situation among the Jews, however, was rather tense, as the following episode demonstrates (Acts 18:12–17), and Paul possibly was planning to leave Corinth soon, but in a night vision he received divine encouragement to stay on (Acts 18:9–11).
On his way back to Antioch, Paul took Aquila and Priscilla with him and left them in Ephesus, where he spent a few days before resuming his trip. While there, he had the opportunity to preach in the local Jewish synagogue, whose positive response made him promise that, God willing, he would come back (Acts 18:18–21). This happened right in his next journey.
Further Thought: “Those who today teach unpopular truths need not be discouraged if at times they meet with no more favorable reception, even from those who claim to be Christians, than did Paul and his fellow workers from the people among whom they labored. The messengers of the cross must arm themselves with watchfulness and prayer, and move forward with faith and courage, working always in the name of Jesus.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 230.
“If, in the closing scenes of this earth’s history, those to whom testing truths are proclaimed would follow the example of the Bereans, searching the Scriptures daily, and comparing with God’s word the messages brought them, there would today be a large number loyal to the precepts of God’s law, where now there are comparatively few. . . .
“All will be judged according to the light that has been given. The Lord sends forth His ambassadors with a message of salvation, and those who hear He will hold responsible for the way in which they treat the words of His servants. Those who are sincerely seeking for truth will make a careful investigation, in the light of God’s word, of the doctrines presented to them.”—Page 232.