The capital of the Roman province of Syria, and the place where Christianity first came into contact with Greek and Roman worlds, Antioch was located on the Orontes River, 15 miles from the Mediterranean Sea.
From Jerusalem, Christianity spread along the main land and sea routes. The main missionary centers were Antioch in Syria, Ephesus in Asia, Thessalonica in Macedonia and Corinth in Achaia.
After Rome and Alexandria, Antioch was the third most important city of the Roman Empire:
- Antioch is the metropolis of Syria, and, without dispute, deserves the place of the third city in the habitable earth that was under the Roman empire, both in magnitude and other marks of prosperity. (Josephus, Wars 3.2.4)
Antioch’s prosperity came from its political position, from its location on an important trade and communication highway, and from the products it produced. The latter included leather shoes, perfumes, spices, textiles, books, and jewelry.
Sea trade came through Seleucia, Antioch’s port on the Mediterranean Sea. Desert trade came through Antioch itself. To the east were the Euphrates River and Parthia; to the south were Damascus, Tyre, Berytus (Beirut), Judea, and the highway to Egypt (the Via Maris); to the northwest were provinces of Asia Minor; and to the west were Greece and Italy.
As Josephus described it, Antioch had a large Jewish population in the 1st century A.D.:
- For as the Jewish nation is widely dispersed over all the habitable earth among its inhabitants, so it is very much intermingled with Syria by reason of its neighborhood, and had the greatest multitudes in Antioch by reason of the largeness of the city, wherein the kings, after Antiochus, had afforded them a habitation with the most undisturbed tranquility. (Josephus, Wars 7.3.3)
Josephus also wrote that the Jews “made proselytes of a great many of the Greeks perpetually, and thereby, after a sort, brought them to be a portion of their own body”.
The Christian Jews who fled Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen were the first to preach the gospel to the Jews in Antioch:
- Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. (Acts 11:19)
Some of the Jews who initially fled to Cyprus and Cyrene afterward came to Antioch and there “spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20-21).
After receiving word about the success of the work in Antioch, the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem sent an envoy to Antioch “to survey this new congregation, and judge of its worthiness; and Barnabas was selected for the purpose”
Barnabas “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord” (Acts 11:23-24).
Remembering his earlier experience with Saul of Tarsus, and knowing that Saul’s talents and background were well suited to preaching the gospel in Antioch, Barnabas went to Tarsus and brought Saul back with him to Antioch:
- For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians (Acts 11:24-26).
Paul may have arrived in Antioch in A.D. 43. After a year of preaching the gospel, Antioch became the center of his missionary activities (see Acts 13:1-3; 14:26; 15:35-36; 18:22- 23). “With the exception of Jerusalem,” wrote Metzger, “Antioch in Syria played a larger part in the life and fortunes of the early Church than any other single city of the Greco-Roman
Empire.”8 Likewise, Ramsay wrote:
- With the advent of Barnabas and Saul, [Antioch’s] history enters on a new phase. It became the centre of progress and of historical interest in the Church.
Antioch had a reputation for being morally profligate. Its citizens were devoted to “luxury, ease, and licentious pleasure.”9 Two earthquakes, which shook the city just before the arrival of Christianity, may have helped prepare the people to receive Paul’s message. One was during the reign of the infamous Caligula (A.D. 37 to 41), and one during the reign of
Claudius (A.D. 41 to 54). Disasters have a way of softening people’s hearts to hear the word of God, by reminding them to “turn away from man in whose nostrils is breath” (Isa. 2:22).
- [For] all flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.” (Isa. 40:6-8
Bible Study (Antioch)
Acts 6:5. Nicolas of Antioch was one of seven chosen to distribute food to widows. “All Church work requires to be performed in the power of the Spirit, and not least the management of charity and finance” (Dummelow, p. 825).
Acts 11:19-27. Persecution led to the foundation in Antioch of the first great Gentile church. After word reached Jerusalem that “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord,” Church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch, who “exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”
Acts 11:27-30; 12:25. One of the prophets who came to Antioch, named Agabus, warned of a great famine. Thus, certain disciples hearkened to his message and sent relief to Judea “to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”
Acts 11:26. Antioch was the birthplace of the name Christian: “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
Acts 13:2; 14:26; 15:25-41; 18:22-23. Antioch was the center of Paul’s missionary labors in Syria. Christianity in Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece spread along the trade routes to the great commercial centers of the day.
Acts 15:1-21; Gal. 2:11-21. Dissension over circumcision arose at Antioch. The issue was decided in Jerusalem by the apostles.
1: And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
2: And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,
3: Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
4: But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,
5: I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:
6: Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
7: And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.
8: But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.
9: But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
10: And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
11: And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.
12: And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:
13: And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;
14: Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
15: And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
16: Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
17: Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
18: When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
19: Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
20: And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
21: And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
22: Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
23: Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
24: For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
25: Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
26: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
27: And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
28: And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
29: Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:
30: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
1: Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
2: As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
21: And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,
22: Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
23: And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
24: And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.
25: And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia:
26: And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.
27: And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
28: And there they abode long time with the disciples.
22: Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
23: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:
24: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
25: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
26: Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27: We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
28: For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
29: That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
30: So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:
31: Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.
32: And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.
33: And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles.
34: Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.
35: Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
22: And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.
23: And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.
24: And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.
25: This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
26: And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
27: And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:
28: For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
1: Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.
2: And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
3: But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
4: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
5: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
6: But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:
7: But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;
8: (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)
9: And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
10: Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
11: But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
12: For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.
13: And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.
14: But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
15: We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
16: Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
17: But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
18: For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
19: For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
21: I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.